The sun is still tucked away behind the eastern hills as I wipe the sleep from my eyes and pull my 96 Buick into drive. The car is filled with fishing gear, and by that I mean a 24 pack of PBR, a coffee thermos full of bottom shelf whiskey and two of my closest friends Katy Weaver and Mikael Stadden. We drive through the dawn to River Forks Park, hoping to catch some Steelhead where the North Umpqua meets the South Umpqua River.
Expecting to be the first lures in the water, we’re shocked to see that there are already three boats drifting in the middle of the river. Given that the park opens at sunrise, these guys must have woken up even earlier than us. I had no idea that there was an ‘earlier’ than 5:30 AM.
After casting out a few dozen times and only catching sticks that live on the riverbed, we walk upstream to find a better spot. The North Umpqua is known for its world-class steelhead fishing, but it’s about a month too early to catch anything good. After my friends down a few PBRs but only get one bite, we figure we might have better luck downstream along the main Umpqua River. Back into the Buick we go.
Fifteen minutes later we step out onto the James Wood Boat Ramp, which after hours of research confirms that it wasn’t named after the actor with the same name. The location seems almost unreal; towering Doug Firs, Osprey flying overhead, Mergansers floating downstream amongst mossy rocks that line the banks of a surging river. Epic right?
Wrong. This surging river lacks the one thing we need most. Fish.
After a couple of hours with very few bites and half of a fishing pole gone (don't ask), it’s time to cut our losses and head to one of the best bakeries in the area.
Lighthouse Center Bakery is located in Umpqua, Oregon, which literally consists of a post office and a bakery. Despite being located in the middle of nowhere, this bakery’s sticky buns rival any brioche-baked pastry I have ever had. The unhealthy amount of butter and sugar injected into these sticky buns is completely ignored as we stuff our faces to quell the pain of an empty-handed fishing endeavor. The walnuts topping the buns complement their texture and gave a nice meaty crunch to this vegetarian bakery’s best baked sweet treat. In addition to baked desserts, Lighthouse Bakery also serves vegetarian sandwiches and fresh bread. Our butter-induced coma makes us unable to resist the latter, so I purchase a still-warm loaf of their sourdough as we leave to go.
Since we are still in the mood for fish we decide that some grilled steelhead would go great with the freshly baked sourdough, even if the fish is store-bought. Braving the crowd at the Roseburg Costco on a Saturday seems even more difficult than actually catching a fish. After stuffing our faces with every single free sample we could spot, it was back to the house to fire up the grill. And yes, if you are a loyal “eat local” Portlander and are upset that I bought farm-raised steelhead, please send your angry letters to former mayor Sam Adams.
As I prepare dinner, everyone else takes a nap on the lawn to enjoy the few rays of sun us Oregonians are graced with every April. After every single part of the meal is grilled, we dig in, and it all feels perfect for a spring day. I’ll admit I did this on purpose. Though getting up at 5:30 was a wasted effort and we didn’t reel in anything other than sticks, I’ll probably try to catch another fish or at least the lost part of my favorite fishing pole later on in the season.
Grilled Myrtle Wood Steelhead
- 1 pound Steelhead Fillet
- 1 Lemon sliced
- 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 1 teaspoon Sea Salt
- 5 Myrtle Wood Leaves or Bay Leaves
- 3 feet of Aluminum Foil
- Light the grill. Charcoal or gas will work with this recipe given that the fish will be cooked in an envelope of foil.
- While the grill is heating up prepare the fish. Place the fillet on the foil. Drizzle the olive oil on top and sprinkle the salt on.
- Layer the sliced Lemon on the fillet and be sure to cover as much surface area as possible while still making it look pretty. Evenly space the myrtle wood leaves along the fillet.
- Fold the foil over the fish to make a nice cooking envelope that will keep the fish from drying out.
- Place the pouch on the grill. Cook until the center of the fillet is that nice light pink color that only appears on cooked salmon.
- Serve with grilled sourdough from Lighthouse bakery (or from wherever) and grilled asparagus.