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Winter Boating in Oregon
Wickiup at Sunset
Winter boating is unique and exciting, but requires special care
For hunters, crabbers and anglers, winter offers some of the best opportunity of the year. Sturgeon fishing, coastal crabbing, waterfowl hunting - even trout fishing in some reservoirs - is at its best. Winter is often a solitary time on Oregon's waterways - if dressed appropriately, it can be beautiful and quiet. Here are some things to consider before heading out.
  • Crabbing: Crabbing in the winter is very weather dependent, but on a calm day with moderate tides and river flows, it can be extremely productive. Wind, rain and fog are the challenge - make sure you check tides before heading out, and you might want to look at riverlevels, too. Typically, strong outflows of fresh water reduce crabbing success, so avoid going out after big storms or high tidal swings. Also, the water and weather combine for potentially cold conditions - dress appropriately, wear your life jacket and avoid the mouth of the river on an out-going tide when breakers often form without warning. Check here for ODFW's Fishing report.
  • Fishing: Sturgeon in the Columbia, salmon and steelhead in streams, trout in reservoirs - there is actually quite a bit of fishing opportunity this time of year. Winter waters are VERY cold, often in the 40s or lower. Again, take plenty of clothing and wear your life jacket. Avoid boating if storms are forecast, especially on large waterbodies where waves form quickly. Watch for debris in rivers, including dislodged tree trunks, deadheads and hidden gravel bars. Many reservoirs are drawn down for flood control, so access can be difficult. Check here for reservoir levels.
  • Waterfowl hunting: Waterfowl hunters often depart before light to set up decoys and blinds. The Columbia, Willamette and other larger rivers are popularly used this time of year. All boats must display running lights before sunrise or after sunset. Check here for additional information on waterfowl hunting from a boat.
  • Wildlife viewing: Waterfowl is the main show this time of year: wood ducks, teal, scaups, mallards and numerous others frequent backwaters and sloughs.
Be especially aware of hypothermia this time of year. Consider gear especially designed for winter use. Dress in layers, carry high-energy food and always wear a life jacket. There's a rule: A 50-year-old swimmer has a 50/50 chance of surviving a 50 yard swim to shore in 50 degree water. The shock of immersion in cold water immediately reduces blood flow to extremeties, increases resperation and inhibits your ability to rescue yourself. A life jacket, or better yet, a float coat, will reduce the shock, slow the onset of hypothermia and help you rescue yourself. Physical condition and swimming ability are only a minor asset here - it is best to be prepared.