Fishing on the Wilson River

The Bite, the Fight and the Ultimate Prize

Nick threads the hasp with intense precision. Fish cannot be fooled with a careless rigging. Nick’s 12 years on this earth, and five on Oregon rivers, have taught him this. Undaunted by a merciless torrent of winter rain, he moves deftly through his tackle box – corkie, yarn and leader.

When the line is threaded, tied and knotted to his satisfaction, he hands me a ten-foot pole with a pink worm, a matching bead, and a weight made from shoestring and shot. The chalk-green river rushes behind me. The steelhead are coming home. And I am ready.

Cast and float, I watch the bobber follow the river’s current, taking it where it will, to where the fish pause, tired, hungry, mad. I am conjuring a violent tug on my line, calling the fish to the bait. Over and over the same routine: cast, float, wait, reel.

The Wilson River runs 33 miles from Devil’s Lake in the Northern Coast Range to the Pacific Ocean at Tillamook Bay. Steelhead, returning to their home waters after years in the great blue sea, travel up this river to spawn, and die. In the mean time, they make good eating and great sport fishing.

To catch the allusive steelhead is a marvelous thing. The bite, the fight, the patient tiring of the fish. Give a little, take a little more, until the prize is on the shore. Not that I would know, personally. But this I understand perfectly: the river calls to us, beaconing us to its currents, like the salmon years and miles from home.

The river has its secrets and its treasures. Some we take home; most the river keeps to itself. This is why we stumble over roots and rocks to reach the best fishing holes; why we stand for hours in the rain, casting and reeling; why we stretch out our lures and bait, over and over again.

Some day I’ll return to the Wilson, like so many fish and fishers before and after me, to cast about for that allusive tug on the line. To engage in the fight. To test my mettle against nature’s currents, and perhaps this time, to bring home the prize.

In the mean time, I’ve taken home treasures of my own: the feel of wet stones under my feet, the thrush of a heron’s wings, and a day in the rain with a golden dog and a 12-year-old fisher boy. -KMC

Link to Google Map

Hungry? Alice’s Country House sits on the Wilson River, promising good old-fashioned home cooking (17345 Wilson River Highway; 503/842-7927).

Spring Fishing Forecast from Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife.

More about the Wilson River from ODF&W:

Getting There: Bank access is along Highway 6. It is also known as Wilson River Road, which runs west from Forest Grove. There is excellent bank access at Fall Creek, Herd Hole, Kansas Creek Bridge, Lee’s Bridge, Mining Creek, Siskeyville and Zig Zag Creek.

Top producer of spring chinook salmon, summer and winter steelhead, resident cutthroat trout.

Facilities: Vanderzanden, Siskeyville and Mills Bridge boat slides; public boat access at Solly Smith; accommodations available in Tillamook.