No longer sheltered …

Armitage Park in north Eugene is a favorite for river floaters and fishermen and can be very busy on a warm day. Social distancing can be a challenge in the parking lot.

Like a heavy, wet snowfall, COVID-19 sweeps over communities, clearing our streets of people, traffic and many of the other endeavors of our normally productive citizens. It wasn’t just a dusting, it snowed and snowed, keeping most of us sheltered in our homes for nearly eight weeks.

For now, it looks like the worst of the storm over Oregon has passed. But just like the passage of every large weather event, there is still a lot of “trailing instability” in our social atmosphere. And the fact is, COVID-19 could be a disruption for some time and the need to protect yourselves and your family from this insidious virus is as important as ever. It will be for some time.

In addition to all regular warnings about being on the water because of COVID-19, public health officials also recommend you not share your life jacket or any of your fishing equipment before cleaning with soap and water.

Fortunately, getting outdoors, fishing, boating, hiking, etc., while observing social distancing recommendations, are some of the safer activities you and your family can engage in. The good news here is as the whole of Oregon slowly “reopens” under Gov. Brown’s Phase 1 reopening plan, day-use recreational facilities, like parks and boat landings have also begun to be reopened for public use. Public facilities on all of Lane County’s lakes and rivers, including the Port of Florence on the lower Siuslaw River, are generally now ready for visitors. 


Speaking of the Port of Florence, the bar at the river mouth of the Siuslaw was dredged last winter and thousands of yards of silt was removed. The deepened channel should make venturing out past the jetties a little less hazardous come tuna and ocean salmon season. In the larger view, the Port has only been reopened for a couple of weeks and the fishing pressure has still been light. But with summer only a couple of weeks out, you should expect the ocean fishery will ramp up and the port ramp to be busy. I have plans for a trip out past the jetties on the Siuslaw in late June, for bottom fish. I was turned away from a bar crossing a couple times last year. So I am among those looking forward to any improvement and for more days that the bar is passable in a recreational craft. I will update you …


Since reopening a couple of weeks ago, the Port of Florence — aside from a small handful of bottom anglers — has been relatively quiet. But you should expect the landing traffic to pick up at any time as tuna and ocean salmon fishing kicks off.


The Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife has suspended all of its public “learn to fish” events and other activities where they encourage the participation of the public for the rest of 2020. But the department has continued to plant trout in all the usual locations. The Coast Fork of the Willamette, Row River Nature Park, Alton Baker Canal, Junction City Pond and the McKenzie River are all currently planted with hatchery trout. Most places have had multiple trout plants including the McKenzie River. That for the first time in three years, has been planted with Cape Cod stock trout raised at the newly funded and reopened Leaburg hatchery. 

Let me remind you that Desert Springs Trout Farm had been contracted for 2020 to provide trout for the entire southern valley, including the McKenzie River. When Leaburg Hatchery came back on line, the Desert Springs trout planned for the McKenzie were added to the allotments destined mostly to the southern valley’s lakes and ponds. So there are a lot of trout out there, up to a third more than in previous seasons. Hills Creek, Forster and Detroit reservoirs are among the most heavily planted lakes in the southern Willamette Valley. All had been scheduled to receive oversized trout plants before COVID-19 hit and I doubt that has changed.


June 6 & 7 have been designated a “Free Fishing Weekend.” You still have to abide by the regulations but a fishing license, endorsement fees and species tags are not required. And across Lane County thousands of extra trout have been planted, in rivers, lakes and many ponds.

Limits remain in place for trout, steelhead and salmon, as do catch-and-release regulations on designated river segments. A word to the wise: “Free” in most cases does not extend to Lane County parks or boat landings, some of which are popular and convenient access points but require a park pass.

The trout stocking schedule was taken down from the ODFW website in March and won’t return soon. But I can tell you that the ODFW always adds extra trout prior to free fishing events and the weekends are generally successful for many. With all the trout available to local managers particularly here in Lane County, it could be a weekend to remember for a lot of trout fishers.


Disappointing to many is another anemic spring salmon run on the McKenzie, Willamette and Sanitam rivers. Although slightly ahead of last year’s salmon run (2019 was anything but great) 2020 looks to fall short of the 30,000 salmon that were hoped for by about a third. The fishery generally peaks in early June and even though the run is smaller than expected, McKenzie and Willamette spring chinook are “good biting fish”. The catch is always disproportionate to the run size. Back-bouncing salmon eggs is the choice of successful boaters and salmon eggs and bobber are most preferred by successful bank anglers.

Also a disappointment is the small number of summer steel that have entered the Willamette system. Which are struggling to even reach last year’s depressed numbers. The summer steelhead run was introduced to the upper Willamette basin in the 1970s with steelhead trapped on a Washington State stream. In the 1980s through 1990s the summer run was a fun and very productive fishery but over the last decade much of the shine has come off. It’s a little early to write the run off this season. In all honesty, it’s not looking good.

Finally, after years of planning, Lane County Parks will be closing the very popular boating access at Hendricks Wayside Park along the lower McKenzie River for repairs and to reconfigure the boat ramp. The ramp currently jets straight into the river and the lower portion has been washing away almost every year for decades. The reconfigured ramp once completed will be welcomed but will have the popular landing closing on June 6 and the ramp is currently not scheduled to reopen until Oct. 1. Essentially out of service for the 2020 season …

You can reach Frank via email at [email protected].



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