It’s 9 am on the Willamette Channel and Russ Burns is busy opening Fred’s Marina. Burns, who lives in Scappoose, says he’s been working the docks since 2007. He’s seen fishermen, pleasure boaters and jet skis float by his fuel pump every weekend for more than 16 years.
This weekend is no different—except the traffic already on the water hints that summer is near.
Across from the southern tip of Sauvie Island, where the Willamette River splits between the channel and the main current, Fred’s has been open since 1946. It gases up boats and other watercraft, serves a selection of refreshments for parched and hungry riverfarers, and offers a place for boats to call home at night.
“Four generations of Fred’s family have worked and lived here,” Burns says.
Much of Portland’s future seems uncertain. But if there’s one thing that brings people together when the weather turns warm, it’s the river.
The Willamette, which divides Portland’s east and west, remains a common experience for residents of a city seemingly split in every other way. Its enthusiasts range from fishermen who have been harvesting salmon for generations to flashy speedboat fanatics, sunburnt Sea-Doo riders, influencer wakeboarders, birthday boaters, and everyone in between.
And one dock serves them all: Fred’s.
In 2021, Alexander “Fred” Fredrick’s daughter Cherie Sprando and her husband, Greg, decided it was time to retire and sell the marina. After all, the Sprandos’ daughter had a “real job,” Burns says, and had no time to take on the responsibilities of owning a marina. In 2021, they sold to a Lake Oswego company, Miller Creek Holdings LLC. Today, Fred’s is branded with a logo emblazoned on hats, shirts and a sleek website.
On one of the first hot and sunny weekends of the season, this photographer went to Fred’s to document its visitors: everyone who stopped in to fill up, grab a snack, or simply say hi. What follows are the rhythms of life as seen from shoreline—and a reminder that even a tense city still manages to relax now and then.
By 9:30 am, fishermen are already floating by with the early morning catches. They’re pros like John Shmilenko, known on the river as the Sultan of Sellwood, and already back from a morning on the water with his family. His 15-year-old grandson, Mason Waddle, has wrangled a 12-pound chinook.
“One of the first fish he’s caught [this season]. Certainly the biggest,” the Sultan says.
They’re joined at the dock later by Casey Brewer, who’s also landed a chinook. Pumped full of gas from the marina, adrenaline from his catch, and a little beer from the cooler, he’s amped to return to the river for another round.
“Today’s a good day. First good day of the season,” Brewer says as he hoists his salmon overhead.
The Sultan is equally as enthusiastic about this weekend and ready to head back out to the water. “Salmon season is really just starting, and the spring chinook is what we’re after. It’s a much oilier, richer fish,” he says.
POPSICLES AND SIX-PACKS
Later in the day, families and groups of friends stop in to fuel up, preparing for an afternoon on the water. The weather, forecast at a perfect 80 degrees Fahrenheit, brings out a crowd, including a man who gives his name as Chris. He’s stopped by to fuel up his Chaparral sport boat. He and his boating partner have no plans but to “have fun and enjoy the weather,” Chris says.
Everyone has a refreshment of choice. If it’s up to Maureen Routt, it’s a lime-flavored popsicle. Ask self-proclaimed social media influencer MacLayne Westberg and it’s a healthy shot of liquor in a pint glass. Other families choose to see what Fred’s has to offer inside its snack shack.
At 5 pm, Burns is ready to close up shop and head home to Scappoose. He flips the “OPEN” sign to “CLOSED,” locks the doors, and turns off the lights. He checks the restroom and ice machine to make sure not too many bugs have snuck in again. At that, he heads out until next weekend when he’ll take the helm at Fred’s Marina again.
But in its off hours, Fred’s is hardly deserted. “We have otters, mink, turtles, deer, coyotes and raccoons on the property at times,” Burns says, pointing toward the shore. “And an osprey nest this year on a power pole!”