When the opportunity for a guy’s weekend presents itself, three things come to my mind: golf, fishing and my old friend Ken Matsumoto, whose situation allows for short-notice escapes. When such an opportunity presents itself in the winter months, I set my sights on the southern coast of Oregon, where world-class golf courses, first-rate steelhead rivers, and more clement weather await…more clement, at least, than Portland.
We arrived at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort on a Friday night in March in a light rain, but the enthusiasm of the crowd inside McKee’s Pub was hardly dampened. Listening to fellow linksters recount their rounds, we ordered a few libations, by way of Bend – for me, a Mirror Pond Ale by Deschutes Brewing Company, for Ken a martini featuring Cascade Mountain Gin from Bendistillery. The following day we’d be playing 36 holes. We had much good fortune to toast, but with an early tee time, we turned in well before midnight.
It was drizzling when we arrived on the first tee the next morning, but that’s what wind jackets were made for! Bandon Dunes was designed by a Scotsman named David Mclay Kidd, and is very true to the Scottish vision of links-style golf courses – rolling, rough and ready! The fairways are wide and the greens are large, but there’s no room for complacency. Accuracy is necessary to stave off impossibly long putts. And if the wind comes up (as it often does), the course can play very differently. It was up this day, but seemed to blow in the right direction – on the number one handicap 5th hole, both Ken and I hit 270-yard drives (thanks to the wind) and had easy approach shots.
After a quick snack, we headed to Pacific Dunes, which boasts elevated tees overlooking vast dunes, fields of gorse, gaping bunkers and the ever-present Pacific. Thanks to architect Tom Doak’s mysteriously sloping putting surfaces, great finesse is required—seemingly perfect chips may roll back to your feet. The rain came and went and the wind howled, but we hardly noticed. Such is the joy of experiencing this course!
Giddy with golf glory, we headed south to Port Orford and Steel Blue Chameleon Lodge. Owner Mark Kimball was waiting for us with cold beers in hand and a fire smoldering in the barbecue. “Steel blue is for the color of a steelhead’s back when it first enters the river,” Mark explained as he showed us his home-grown smoker. “Chameleon is for the Elk River’s ever-changing shades of green.” Though modest in size, the Elk supports one of Oregon’s most robust runs of Chinook salmon and winter steelhead. “The Chinook runs are so tremendous in late fall,” Mark said, “our anglers often limit out by mid-morning.”
We sat down in the lodge’s dining room, amidst mounts of giant salmon and game, and were joined by Scott Wolfe, a longtime Oregon fishing and hunting guide. The ribeyes Mark presented were the biggest I’d ever seen; none of the carnivores assembled make it through more than half. “The South Fork of the Coquille is fishing well right now,” Scott said between bites. “I had two guys out there today, and we hooked four.”
We went to sleep with visions of steel-blue backs dancing in our heads.
After a hearty breakfast, we headed east to the South Fork of the Coquille. We launched Scott’s driftboat near the small burg of Powers, and began casting. You do a lot of casting when chasing steelhead, and not always a lot of catching, and that was our morning. But after savaging some steak sandwiches at lunch (courtesy of our leftovers), things changed. Wading upstream from me, Ken’s flyrod bent down twice. Neither fish came to hand, but we were heartened. With the boat pull-out in view, Scott beached the driftboat at one last spot. A fish rolled upstream. “You should try up there,” Scott suggested. Two casts later, I was fast to a heavy fish. Soon, Scott was tailing a 14 pound steelhead.
I felt a bit weary on the ride back to Portland. But the many memories we’d made kept me smiling and alert as we moved north.
Bandon Dunes: 888-345-6008; www.bandondunesgolf.com. Bandon has a variety of accommodations available; late fall and winter visitors get deep discounts from high season rates (call for availability/pricing).
Steelblue Chameleon Lodge: 541-332-3140; www.steelbluelodge.com. Chinook salmon fishing peaks in November/December; steelhead fishing on the Elk is excellent through March. 2-day packages are $700 per person and include one day of guided fishing, 2 nights lodging and meals.
This story originally appeared in Travel Oregon.