The success of the recent summer and fall silver and chinook salmon run was a boon for coastal businesses.
While fish limits were netted in the ocean, dollars were being collected by Winchester Bay and Reedsport businesses.
There were days when more than 300 fishing boats trolled lines in the Pacific Ocean off the mouth of the Umpqua River at Winchester Bay. There were July mornings when 60 rigs and boat trailers were lined up to launch at Salmon Harbor.
The word quickly got out this summer that salmon were filling daily limits and the rush to the area was on. The ocean fishing season began in mid-March, but it wasn’t until June that interest began to increase. Fishing success increased through July. It was great in August. There was barely a letup in September, and the fishing remained good into October with pockets of fish found in the ocean, bay or lower Umpqua.
“Fishing was awesome,” said Liz Adamo, owner of Stockade Market and Tackle at Winchester Bay. “The ocean fishing season was pretty stellar, probably the best season in the past 10 years.”
Scott Howard, owner and guide of Strike Zone Charters of Winchester Bay, said the chinook fishery was “incredibly good.” Howard grew up in the area and has 35 years of experience fishing, first as a charter boat deckhand and then as a skipper.
Paul Stallard, the manager of Salmon Harbor Marina and the Winchester Bay RV Resort, said one native of the area said he hadn’t seen so many boat trailers at Salmon Harbor since the early 1970s.
“Whenever the fishing is good, everybody does well, the tackle shops, the little markets, the restaurants, all the little businesses sure did well,” Stallard said, adding that camping sites, with and without RV hookups, also filled up.
Conditions came together to produce a successful season. There were no restrictions or quotas to end the season early. The ocean and weather cooperated, allowing boats to cross the Umpqua bar. There were plenty of fish, and they were on the bite.
There were days there wasn’t an empty parking space at the marina.
Stallard said normally there are 10 to 15 guides who launch their boats at Salmon Harbor, but he said this year’s fishery attracted close to 40. When ocean conditions were right, many guides booked morning and afternoon fishing trips, increasing the number of out-of-town visitors. Adamo said a lot of fishing licenses were sold at the Stockade store to people from California, Washington, Idaho and Canada, especially in August and September.
“There were a couple months there that were pretty intense,” Adamo said. “We rely on four or five months of the year to keep us going year-round. That time is crucial. It’s the difference between getting through the slower winter and not getting through the winter.”
Adamo said she was somewhat surprised business remained strong through September because usually there is a drop-off after kids return to school.
Joe Coyne, president of the Winchester Bay Merchants Association, said there was concern early in the year because reservations were slow to come in. But he said beautiful weather, the annual Dunefest and the fishing season eventually combined to boost business.
“The summer season started a little bit slow, then picked up and finished with a flurry,” Coyne said. “People spend a lot of money to catch those fish.”
Howard agreed fishing is critical to the area’s economy. He said that in the mid-1990s when restrictions eliminated the salmon fishing seasons, Salmon Harbor became a ghost town. The salmon seasons returned about a dozen years ago.
“The fisheries here are vital to the local economy,” he said. “It’s about all the area has to offer other than ATVs on the dunes. But a lot of those people come from Eugene and Roseburg and are stocked for the weekend and don’t patronize many of the merchants here. Fishermen come from all over and are more likely to do business here.”
A few boats are still venturing out on the ocean. Some people are fishing in the lower Umpqua, and some are fishing off the banks of the bay.
“They’re not limiting out every day, but there’s still plenty of fish being caught,” Adamo said.
Adamo is also a real estate broker, and she said there was an increased interest in properties during the fishing boom. She said there were “a ton of inquiries and I had a pretty good fall” of sales.
“When people come here and catch fish, they want to live here,” she said, noting most inquiries were about purchasing a second home.
Howard said people are beginning to figure out the Umpqua fishery is worth the drive.
“The bay, the bar, the lower river, it’s as good as any fishery on the West Coast,” Howard said.
• News-Review business reporter Craig Reed can be reached by calling 541-957-4210 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.