Coronavirus still making us all stop and pause

Rainbow trout and the cool, clear McKenzie River go hand in hand. This hatchery trout fell to a drifted #10 black-headed wooly booger.

Traveling to distant recreation sites to fish or camp is a problem we will have to deal with for the foreseeable future. At press time Gov. Kate Brown’s “pause” in the reopening is still in place. The governor is also now asking that everyone in seven counties, which are mostly in the northern Willamette Valley plus Lincoln County over on the coast, wear a protective face mask. The pause also continues to limit services at many recreation sites in those counties, particularly those encompassing the western slopes of the Cascades and the popular fisheries they hold. In the case of Lincoln County, a protective face mask is now required in all indoor and all public settings. My wife and I had dinner in Yachats last weekend and every establishment had a sign requiring a protective mask on the door. In Newport an outbreak at a fish-processing plant has heightened awareness in the harbor and a great disappointment as surrounding Lincoln County struggles to even achieve Phase One reopening conditions. If you still plan to travel be sure to do a little research ahead of time and go prepared.

Deeper into the weeds, I got mired into the muck on this myself. If you plan to camp anywhere this summer be sure to make a reservation well in advance of your outing. Short-term budgetary problems created by Covid-19 have forced the closure of several very popular Oregon State Park and camping destinations, forcing a scramble for any and every other available picnic table and campsite in the state. Making matters somewhat more difficult, earlier this year the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management closed all “dispersed camping” in the management zones they regulate and no reopening date has been set. As you all know, I live in Florence where the closure of Washburne State Park — which is just a few miles north of town — has rippled south, leaving those without camp reservations sleeping in turnouts along the side of the highway last weekend.

Evan Wills of Springfield collects this trout on a black Mepps spinner, “slow rolling” his lure in and around a patch of submerged boulders on the Leaburg Town run to Taylor Landing.

But not everything is “doom and gloom.” Some things continue to operate to our recollection of the time before Covid-19. I can’t recommend you exhaust much energy in chasing steelhead in the Willamette below Dexter or the McKenzie below Leaburg in this report. But the salmon run saw a decent surge over the last couple of weeks and the trout fishing in many of the lakes and rivers in Lane County has so far this season been excellent. Salmon anglers out at sunrise are finding plenty of the Kings in the deeper holes falling to a back trolled sand shrimp. 

For trout fishers, you may recall that the ODFW’s South Willamette District has an overabundance of hatchery trout (about one-third more) available for fisheries managers to plant this season. Prior to Covid-19, no distribution plan for the fish had been established, as to whether the number of trout planted to the last published schedule would be increased, or to plant fish later into the season. Trout stocking generally ends shortly after Labor Day, but stay tuned for updates and prepare for some great fall trout fishing this year. 

The key to bringing home a limit of trout as we drift into summer is to seek out water bodies that maintain water quality needed to keep trout actively fed. Too warm or a lowered oxygen content will have the fish sulking on the bottom. With that in mind, this is the time of year that our urban fisheries take somewhat of a hit and drop off in productivity. The action at Junction City Pond and Row River Nature Park has really slowed but the channel at Alton Barker, fed by the Willamette River, has been decent and so has the McKenzie River up to Blue River which is hands down the best for taking home hatchery trout.

Fly anglers casting caddis imitations, early and late or drifting nymphs midday are limiting out. Spin-and-bait fisherman have been equally successful finding plenty of action in the cold and clear McKenzie. Locating places to bank fish can be challenging on the McKenzie, focus on the landings and County Park that dot the river’s bank from around Leaburg up to Blue River. Trout in the McKenzie River are primarily spread by boat. The “boat stocking” distributes the fish into holding water all down through the river. Additionally a couple popular bank access points at Ben and Kay Doris Park and Silver Creek Landing get a few hundred trout stocked by truck generally every other week. Both sites are east of Leaburg along Hwy. 126 and about a 30-minute drive from Springfield. 

I’m big into preserving the quality of the fish I catch so I immediately kill and bleed all the fish I plan to eat later, including trout. The process assures that the quality of the meat will remain fresher up to the time you prepare it. A fish dying slowly in your cooler will generate a number of enzymes that generally turn the flesh mushy, causing the meat to quickly lose that “fresh-caught taste.” Making your valuable hard-earned (on some days) catch far less than appetizing. You will find a wonderful tutorial about how to catch trout on the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website at this link: myodfw.com/articles/how-fish-trout

A good-looking hatchery trout raised at Leaburg hatchery. Processing these little beauties shortly after catching will assure that the quality meat will be preserved as excellent table fare.

You can contact Frank via email at [email protected] and check out the perfect river levels at rivertrailoutfitters.com.



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