Fishing guide Val Early, left, shown with client Linda Carpenter, was recently appointed to the Oregon State Marine Board. - Courtesy Oregon State Marine Board

Marine Board rookie was made for the job

As a youngster in the early 1970s, Val Early vividly recalls her front-row seat watching her father, Cal Wade, navigate through tense boating-safety arguments as a member of the Oregon State Marine Board.

Congress a few years earlier had passed the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and added a chunk of the Rogue River, the Wades' home waters, on that initial list. Wade, a Grants Pass-area lodge owner and outfitter, and the other four Marine Board members had to craft rules to police boating safety for the traditionally don't-tread-on-me community of river guides working the wild Rogue.

"There were some pretty heated exchanges," recalls Early, 51, of Brookings. "I remember how exciting it all was."

Now Early finds herself following in her father's exciting footsteps once again.

The 30-year fishing guide and Alaskan lodge owner is the newest member of the Marine Board, ready to take on issues of boating safety and the ever-evolving competing interests on the water, and she's bent on using more education and a leery eye toward additional regulation.

Early enters the board as more Oregonians than ever are working and playing on the state's lakes, streams and the ocean — and they are nearly evenly split between motorized and nonmotorized boaters.

She expects her Marine Board tenure to be focused on finding ways for these myriad interests — from powerboaters and floaters to stand-up paddleboarders, fishing guides and citizen anglers — to settle conflicts more by helping these groups understand each other than by relying on the Oregon Revised Statutes.

"We really need to rely on education so the variety of user groups can get along," Early says. "I think we have enough regulations already."

Early's problem-solving approach and extensive volunteer background in water-related activities is what drew the Marine Board's interest in her.

She's been a growing blip on their fish finder since the mid-2000s, when the Marine Board grappled with growing controversies on some south coast streams between driftboaters with motors, those without motors and bank anglers stuck in the middle.

Requests to ban motors from rivers such as the Chetco, Elk and South Fork of the Coquille became fighting words. Over time the conflict was quelled not with bans but with Early and others stressing a self-policing of their home waters and ways to respect each others' space.

Marine Board policy analyst Randy Henry spent a day in Early's driftboat seeing for himself what and where those conflicts arose on the Chetco. He came away with a better understanding of the issues on the Chetco and of Early as well.

"I just really liked the thought process she put toward multiple use, mixed use, and how to use local resources to solve problems," Henry says.

Henry asked whether Early was interested in serving on the Marine Board, which sets the state's boating regulations and oversees the guiding and outfitter industry here.

Coos Bay fishing guide George Tinker's tenure on the board was to expire this year, so Early sent a resume and application to Gov. John Kitzhaber's office.

Kitzhaber nominated her in late August, and the Oregon Legislature confirmed her Sept. 12. She sat in on her first meeting Oct. 23 in Maupin along the Deschutes River.

She brings to the table a keen interest in boating etiquette and safety and getting more kids exposed to fishing and boating, as she was.

Her parents owned the Grants Pass area's famed Weasku Inn, where Early began her career as a teenager guiding raft trips. She became a full-time fishing guide at age 21, at a time when women rarely sat in the front seat of a driftboat, let alone on the oars.

Over time she and husband, Gary Early, guided in Oregon, California, Washington and out of their own lodge on Alaska's famed Kenai River.

She expects the Marine Board to spend its collective energy updating Oregon's ancient and somewhat archaic guide and outfitter regulations as well as revisiting charterboat rules to better define that subset of the fishing/boating industry.

"We need to bring those into the next century," Early says.

She also expects to continue her lifelong work of helping the next generation of boaters and fishers to push away the Xbox and experience the real world, albeit in a safe and conscious manner.

"I think it's really important to get our next generation of boaters and fishers safe and being good stewards," Early says.

"I've really been involved in getting kids excited about the outdoors," Early says. "That's how I got my start.

"If you want to live a life with the love of the outdoors and water, you have to be there."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email Follow him on Twitter at

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