Land ’O Lakes
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Tom Baake
June 6, 2024

A visitor admires the view from the 40-acre pond in Powers County Park.

Whether you’re a local or a visitor, if you like lakes, you’re in the right place. In addition to lakes in forested settings up in the Coast Range, there are in-town lakes in just about every South Coast community. Even relatively small towns such as Powers and Winchester Bay have lakes.

Some, such as Eel Lake in William Tugman State Park near Lakeside, support an impressive variety of activities, from competitive distance swimming events to kayaking geocachers, plus swimming, fishing and sunning. Like most coastal lakes, it’s regularly stocked with trout and is open for fishing all year round.

Other lakes, such as Bradley Lake in Bandon, cater to a narrower user group. All the land around the lake is private property so there’s no place to stop and get out. There’s not so much as a picnic table in the day-use area, although there are some relatively new vault toilets and floating docks at the boat ramp. So this is pretty much a bring-your-own-watercraft situation, and get ready to just drift around or, perhaps more productively, go fishing.

Speaking of fishing, at least one lake is completely dedicated to that – Arizona Pond at Arizona Beach State Recreation Site north of Gold Beach. It, too, is stocked year round, but open exclusively for anglers 17 and under. All regulations apply and juvenile licenses are required for anglers 14 to 17.

Other lakes are mostly just for looks, such as several in the Bureau of Land Management’s New River area south of Bandon. Some of them are sparkling blue bodies of water and others are in an almost swamp-like setting, framed by huge trees with long drooping veils of Spanish moss.

Floras Lake, near Langlois, is another lake with what might be called specialized uses. Owing to steady wind, the lake draws windsurfers, kiteboarders and other wind-dependent vessels. Thanks to that wind, you don’t see many people swimming or fishing in Floras Lake.

Some bodies of water with earlier specialized uses are now picturesque recreation sites, such as Johnson Log Pond outside of Coquille (now a county park), and 40-acre Powers Pond in Powers County Park, both of which were formerly used as log storage ponds for sawmills.

There’s even a Coos County lake that disappears. That would be aptly-named Winter Lake, which “appears” annually during the rainy season, inundating vast tracts of the Coquille River Valley. As the rains subside, the shallow waters slowly dry out, leaving behind a new layer of rich sediment.

Seasonal lakes are also found throughout the Oregon Dunes, completely flooding some areas in raintime and then just as completely drying up in summer, leaving basins of crusty sand .

Other Dunes Country lakes hold their water year round. Tahkenitch and Siltcoos south of Florence have dams that keep summertime lake levels consistent. At 3100 acres, Siltcoos is the largest lake on the Oregon coast, and adjacent Woahink is deepest.

The levels of some lakes, such as Garrison Lake in Port Orford, vary with the  seasons , as does Ten Mile Lakes in Lakeside. Ten Mile Lakes and Siltcoos Lake both have picturesque outlets to the sea; the Siltcoos River Canoe Trail is an officially-designated paddler trail.

Just north of Florence, Mercer and Sutton have boat ramps.

Some have sandy beaches, such as Winchester Bay’s little Lake Marie, Eel Lake and Ten Mile Lakes in Lakeside, Empire Lakes in Coos Bay, and Loon Lake in the mountains east of Reedsport.

As might be deduced, whether you’re into fishing, boating, paddling, or just want to splash around in the water, you don’t have to go far in Oregon’s South Coast region to get, well, wet.

(Shopper columnist Tom Baake is author of regional guidebooks.)

Consider the Clam
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Tom Baake
May 30, 2024

Clam-diggers bear down on their quarry on the flats south of the Charleston Bridge

You can’t go far on any given weekend this time of year without encountering fairs, festivals, concerts, races, special events or some kind of fun in our South Coast communities. Add in graduations and end-of-school-year activities and the calendar fills up quickly.

Or make your own adventure: how about a clam-digging expedition during one of this month’s many very low or minus tides?

Clamming on the shorelines of the Coos Bay Estuary can be rewarding and fun, if not sometimes messy. But with dinner in the offing, I’m willing to get a little wet and muddy. It’s also satisfying because you rarely get “skunked.”

Perhaps the first thing to learn is that each kind of clam has several different names, depending, I guess, on where you are. The exception is the cockle, which blessedly has just the one name and is easily recognizable as it resembles a little version of the old Shell gas station symbol. Otherwise be ready for a sometimes-bewildering array of names for the same things. I suppose it’s no more confusing than remembering the various salmon names: a coho is also referred to as a sliver salmon while the Chinook is also called a king salmon. Or consider the lowly crawdad. AKA crayfish, mud bug or ‘dads. You get the idea.

Meantime, back to clamming. There are several varieties found in local waters and many options for gear.

For example, when gathering cockles, which live on the topmost layer of sand, a rake is most effective. Simply step out into the water about six to eight inches deep and start raking. You’ll feel when the tines grab one. Cockles can also be found just up from the waterline, in which case they’re among several varieties of clams that reveal their presence by spouting a little jet of water called a “show.” Gotcha!

Coos Bay’s most notable clams are the gaper or horseneck or Empire. Cream-colored and oblong, they’re among the largest clams, growing as much as 8 inches long. They’re named for their distinctive siphon (or “neck”) that seems outlandishly large. The siphon can be partially retracted, although never pulled in fully.

For these guys, a shovel is required, as they can be lodged in the sand down two or three feet. A long-bladed shovel is obviously an advantage. Gapers also send up a tell-tale squirt, at which point you should start digging, using care not to damage the shell.

The best way to locate them, however, is to find a small hole, about an inch in diameter, and stick your pinky finger in it. If you feel movement, that’s the clam’s siphon moving away quickly. Be quick yourself and dig carefully around the show. You must keep any clams you inadvertently crush.

A lot of peoples’ favorite bay clam is the Martha Washington or butter clam or quahog. Perhaps the most delectable and elusive are razor clams, found only on ocean beaches, exact locations fiercely-guarded secrets. Razors also reveal themselves with a “show.” If you spot one, dig like mad, because they burrow fast. Other people use tubular “clam gun” siphon devices.

As usual, there’s more information on line, as well as YouTube videos demonstrating techniques. Cleaning clams to eat is another story, as there are parts you’ll definitely want to discard.

A yearly shellfish license is required. The season’s open all year, although closures are sometimes required because of naturally-occurring toxic algae blooms. By the way, no oyster collecting is allowed. The beds are the property of commercial growers who’ve planted the oysters there.

Okay then, where to clam? While there’s accessible bayshore off Empire Blvd. between Empire and Charleston, the easiest place is right in Charleston. From the bridge during any low tide, walk south on the flats. With luck, the clams will be waiting there for you, waiting to give you a show!

(Shopper columnist Tom Baake is author of regional guidebooks.)

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