Signs of spring include steelhead

The best late winter steelheading has been on the Umpqua River. The action has shifted upriver to around Umpqua on the main river and to the North Umpqua around Glide. Frank Armendariz

The big picture …
As I prepare this report the hints of spring are everywhere. Yeah, plants are starting to bloom. But more importantly to anglers, I can report that the very first Willamette River spring chinook swam past the counting cameras in the Willamette Falls fish ladder at Oregon City last week.
The cameras also recorded video of a couple of dozen summer steelhead passing through the falls fish. All heading to the tributaries in the southern valley like the Santiam, McKenzie and the middle and coast forks of the Willamette River.
This is just the tip of the spring and summer runs of these migrating fish, expect catchable numbers of spring salmon to arrive in the south valley around the first of May.
I plan to begin my summer steelhead season on the McKenzie in the second week in May. By then, catchable numbers of steelhead should reach the southern valley rivers.
By mid-June all the valley’s salmon and steelhead fisheries will be hitting on all cylinders. But on the McKenzie – and only the McKenzie – thousands of hatchery rainbow trout raised at the Leaburg hatchery will also have been planted by mid-June, creating a trifecta of angling opportunities like few other rivers have.

Trout updates …

Like in collegiate basketball, March also brings a little ”madness” to local fly fishers, including this reporter as the first of the big bug hatches on the McKenzie River have started to emerge and mark the beginning of the river’s native trout season.
Stimulated by gradually increasing water temperatures and longer daylight hours the proliferation of insect life brings actively feeding trout to the surface, consistently for the first time this season. Caddies hatches will follow in April and carry the season well into next fall.
The hatch of the western March Brown, a species of mayfly common to many western rivers, not only brings the trout up from their winter holding water but also attracts fly-fishing anglers from all over the country. That activity can be seen at every boat landing on the lower McKenzie River and it gets the local fly shops and guide businesses humming.
The best early season wild trout fishing on the McKenzie is below Leaburg dam and extends down river to the Willamette River all the way to Harrisburg. Where three- to five-pound wild rainbow trout and big numbers of cutthroat trout are fairly common. The fly fishing is not terribly technical this time of year; most fly fishing anglers with intermediate skills will be successful. Those fishing from a boat or with a river guide will have a definite advantage.
The lower McKenzie has fair bank access from the parks and boat landings that dot its shores. The best access for bank anglers is from Armitage Park in north Eugene. A Lane County park, Armitage also has a popular and convenient boat landing for drift boat anglers. Most trips on the lower McKenzie end at Armitage and it is the launch site for a float on Willamette to Harrisburg.
Unfortunately on the Willamette between Eugene and Harrisburg, anglers will find bank access pretty lean. Set on a roadless section of river, with abundant wild trout, it is a drift boat angler’s paradise. This section of the Willamette is part of the Willamette River Greenway and you can even camp overnight on the river.
The lower McKenzie and Willamette from the confluence of the McKenzie to Harrisburg is managed entirely for wild trout. You have to fish with flies or lures and all trout must be released. The management plan has produced a fishery that is fairly dense with wild trout and the catching on most days can be pretty sensational. Spring is the time to fish and both rivers are in excellent condition right now.

The river can be hazardous …

To improve the habitat for fish in the lower McKenzie and Willamette River, sections have been allowed to meander across rivers’ flood plain. The water is continually shifting the gravel bars around and this is particularly true in the sections on the McKenzie downstream from Hendricks Wayside and Park. There are a couple of partially obstructed channels and a third that you will have to portage.
Always remember, the river habitat is dynamic and is constantly changing. A river obstruction can happen at any time but are most common in the spring as water levels drop and river debris shifts around. A windy afternoon can also cause a tree to fall into a channel on any day all year, so always approach every blind bend with care and take the time to scout if you can’t see down stream.
The Oregon State Marine Board maintains a river hazard warning website.
The site is updated regularly but as I mentioned, river hazards can pop up in real time and when least expected so always wear a life jacket.

Steelhead season winding down …

The mild and relatively dry weather has been good for the McKenzie trout fishery – but not so good for the winter steelhead fishing on the mid-Oregon coast rivers.
The Siuslaw, Alsea and Siletz rivers have all dropped to low and clear levels. Without more rain, by this weekend, they will likely fall to levels that will no longer be boat-able for the season. There are actually a lot of steelhead in all those river systems; there always is until the end of March. But the fish are very weary in the clear water and just very hard to catch.
On the Umpqua River, conditions are much better. The South Umpqua is beginning to slow down but fair numbers of hatchery steelhead are still spread throughout the system upriver to about Canyonville.
Most river guides and other anglers on the Main Umpqua have moved upriver to near Umpqua and to the North Umpqua around Glide. The catch-and-release wild steelhead fishery remains consistent.
Seasoned anglers are releasing several of the magnificent fish on many days. Back trolled diving plugs have been the lure of choice for the most successful anglers on the Umpqua this season.

Contact Frank at [email protected]



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