TILLAMOOK BAY — Tidepools are the most precious and unique part of the Oregon coast.
Not only do they instill wonder and trigger the imagination for children and those adults who never outgrew their sense of sublimity, they provide one of the only playgrounds that changes enough to hold our attention over the din of a high-definition digital world.
After all, they literally change with the tides.
Plus, they’re also home to one of the coolest fishing opportunities around.
Unlike your favorite lake or stream, tidepool fishing is not something you can just go to on a whim; it requires some basic planning.
First, you have to be aware of the rules protecting the fragile ecosystems contained within the intertidal zone. While parts of the country completely close tidepools to human access, all of Oregon’s tidepools are open to the public for access and viewing, but some are closed to angling.
For details on where you can and can’t fish, visit www.oregonmarinereserves.com/rules.
That being said, there are dozens of tidepools with no restrictions found in Oregon, including half a dozen in the Tillamook Bay alone — all of which provide consistent action.
No two tidepools are the same. Some butt right up against the ocean in rocky, weatherbeaten surf breaks. Others have gently sloping sandy bottoms protected by rock walls well away from the pounding Pacific.
Because of this, you’ll need an accurate, localized tide table. I have an app on my phone that was completely free. Tides vary widely from one city to the next, and even the short span from Newport to Waldport or Garibaldi to Rockaway Beach can result in a difference of an hour or more between low and high tides.
Further, tidepool fishing is a low tide activity.
Tidepools also vary in elevation, so while a low tide of +1.50 feet might be perfectly fishable in one tidepool, another may require a low tide of -1.50.
My advice? If you’re just getting started, only try fishing tidepools on days with a minus tide.
That is any low tide that drops below sea level, identified in your tide table with negative numbers.
Arrive two or three hours before the low tide and fish two or three hours after it. You’ll be able to see when exactly the water becomes fishable and be able to make a note for next time.
In freshwater, conditions matter. The barometric pressure, cloud cover, wind speed, water temperature and even moon phase can impact the fishing. But poor conditions almost never prevent you from fishing if you really, really want to.
Not so in the ocean.
If you fish tidepools, you’re sight-fishing, which requires ideal conditions. Too much wind or precipitation will make it impossible to spot the tiny denizens of the deep you trekked out there to catch.
A little wind or rain is OK, but the calmer, the better.
To date, I’ve caught more than 20 species of fish in Oregon tidepools.
The specific tidepool will impact what you catch, but the most common species I’ve found is the tidepool sculpin (no kidding) that rarely tops four inches in length. These guys like sandy or aggregate bottoms the best and much more active at night.
Over sandy bottoms, you’ll also catch Pacific staghorn sculpin in abundance.
In vegetated, rocky areas close to or right up against the ocean, you’ll find a lot of juvenile kelp and rock greenling and cabezon.
Handle fish with wet hands and treat them gently because they are delicate. Though small, they’re gorgeous, so be sure to get a few pictures.
At the most basic level, you will need a few things to fish tidepools: ultralight rod and reel, micro hooks, split shot, scissors, bait and a small net.
I use a five-foot ultralight rod with a small spinning reel spooled with at least 20 feet of six-pound fluorocarbon line.
Tie a loop knot to the end of your mainline just like you would when flyfishing. If you don’t know that knot, learn it by watching this short video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UL26t2SWT3U.
To that loop knot, you will tie a snelled hook.
Understand that the fish you will catch are almost all under six inches in length and require very small hooks. The most readily available “micro” hooks, Owner New Half Moon snelled hooks, can be found on Amazon. A package of 10 sells for $6.
These are even smaller than you’re imagining, and they come on red line that is the equivalent of about one-pound test, so they’re not meant for anything bigger than your hand.
Put a small, non-lead splitshot about an inch above your hook.
Using scissors, cut a tiny piece of bait (I prefer cooked cocktail shrimp or nightcrawlers) and put it on the hook. Slide it up the shank to leave the point exposed.
Now you have everything you need to start fishing tidepools, but should you fall in love with this type of fishing as I have, you might also consider a headlamp (for night fishing), a small net, a clear box for fish pictures and other specialized microfishing gear. Fortunately for you, a complete shopping list can be found on my blog at http://caughtovgard.com/gear-up/gear-up-micro/.
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