‘Dog days of summer’ drive fish to the depths

Wade Hanel of Eugene. Wade can usually be found guiding a whitewater raft or rowing drift boat with fishermen for me in my whitewater and McKenzie River fish guide service. But, in light of the pandemic, I chose to suspend my operations for at least this season, leaving all of us more time to fish. I estimate that Umpqua bass to be 5-plus pounds and it was caught on a deer hair popper.

Steelhead fishing, some say, is a little like looking for that needle in a haystack. But that is the mystique and the challenge of being a steelheader. Black- and purple-colored steelhead flies dominate by fly box for a reason. The color theme also applies to jigs and spinning lures.

It took awhile this year but the hot weather has finally arrived. All this week we had temperatures in the ninety degrees range, ushering in those “dog days of summer“ and the hottest weather of the year. The heat, baking the ground and warming the water in most lakes and ponds. Sending trout, kokanee and the other cold water fish to the depths. Seeking a cooler and better oxygenated summer habitat and where they will mostly stay, deep in the depths, until colder weather again returns in the fall.

The hot weather conditions is not news, it develops every year and to reach beneath the surface heat enthusiastic lake and reservoir anglers, have learned to employ a fair amount of specialized gear. Enhancing the probability of finding holding fish at depths that in the summer could range from fifty to over two hundred feet deep. Then successfully present a lure or bait to fish at those depths. 

Historically a hit-or-miss proposition but temperature sensing down riggers and modern fish-finding electronics have become extremely popular and useful for those anglers persistently seeking the large rainbow trout, the big lake trout and the other species of char and salmon that are commonly planted or naturally occur in the deep Cascade lakes of eastern Lane county. 

There are almost always several hatchery steelhead on this flat by the end of July. It’s perfect steelhead water, 4 to 6 feet deep, and moves at a fast walking pace. But I worked the water hard which usually pays off but on this day we got no bites. I’ll be back next week.

When you do locate fish holding at depth, they will always have plenty of friends around. The fish are actually forced in to deeper but smaller portions of the lake or reservoir and in these instances fish-finding electronics really pay off at finding and keeping you “in the zone”. 

Admittedly, the sweltering summer conditions are a difficult time for bank anglers to fish the larger lake in Oregon. But there are days that will be the exceptions. Most of those windows will come with a temporary temperature cool down. A 10- or 12-degree differential can be a bit of a game changer and long-range weather forecasts are easy to find and plan for. 

Under a temporary cool down, game fish common to the high lakes will follow small bait fish and emerging insects into the shallows near the bank. Those windows of opportunity as I mentioned are small, will mostly happen in the cover of low light in the early morning and in the last couple of hours before sunset. 

But, fish or no fish, a day at the lake is hard to beat” and it’s the attitude I personally adopt in the hottest days of summer. The heat is always a challenge for anglers in a boat or on the bank and it is called “fishing” for a reason.


In the southern valley salmon fishing with the warming weather is quickly winding down for the year. In the McKenzie and Willamette many of the fish are now dark and would be very poor table fare. You will find wild salmon on the redds, spawning but they should just be left alone to reproduce now. 

Looking back at the spring salmon run it turned out to be a little better than fair this season. Hatchery salmon continue to struggle in the wild at sea but this year the returning numbers of wild spring salmon ticked upward again. The wild salmon are proving to be more resilient and are apparently faring better in the changing climate. Another factor may be the efforts of the McKenzie Watershed Council and the McKenzie River Trust. That in conjunction with a number of state and federal agencies have been working hard to restore wild salmon spawning habitats on the upper McKenzie for nearly three decades now. 

The salmon fishing out of the Port of Siuslaw has been slow since the opener. The fish are pretty far offshore still but will move closer to the shore in August.

We may now be seeing the fruits of those restoration projects too. 


The unique nature of the McKenzie River watershed helps keep it cool all summer but even the McKenzie sees a midday slowdown of fish activity on these 90-degree days. The trout fishing never really shuts down in the heat but can get very slow. 

For the next 45 days the best catching of the day will be in the cooler early morning and in late afternoon when the trout bite can be at times, be phenomenon. It is quite a sight to see thousands of trout rising to the clouds of emerging caddis in the McKenzie.

I spent a couple of unsuccessful days fishing for steelhead below Leaburg Dam with a friend and his father last week. Conditions were ideal and there are several hundred steelhead in the McKenzie but on those hot, sunny days I could not convince them to bite. Although the run size is way down again this year the steelhead that have returned will be in the McKenzie and Middle Willamette until late winter so there is no rush. There will be another day.


An interesting development on the McKenzie River, at their June 13 virtual meeting Eugene Water and Electric Board commissioners discussed the fact that repairing the Leaburg canal which is leaking badly and bring the Leaburg Power generators back on line could cost EWEB more than $37 million. And because of the growing expense of hydro power and the very low return on investment. 

The commissioners addressed the notion that the money to repair the canal might be better spent decommissioning both the Leaburg and Waterville canal projects and possibly even removing Leaburg Dam. Returning the McKenzie to its historic channel and real time water flows. This is a long way from reality but it is easy to argue that returning the lower McKenzie to its historical channel and flow rates would be a positive development for the wild salmon, bull trout and rainbow trout native to the river. 

A lot have noticed that with the Leaburg canal out of service the river below Leaburg Dam the river has been running at pre-canal levels for two years now. Which have been a couple of pretty good seasons for the salmon anglers on the McKenzie. 

Very few people can speak to the time before the canal projects were built on the McKenzie. But many now see that returning salmon bite a lot better in the higher flows caused by the shutdown of the leaking Leaburg canal. Although anecdotal information, it speaks to the possibilities. Stay tuned, this could be a very big deal.


Lake and reservoir levels can be found at waterdata.usgs.gov/or/. The graphic shows how quickly Fall Creek Reservoir has fallen in seven days. The story is similar across the state.

Over on the coast, the ocean salmon opened last week in what has been a very typical July on the central coast. With a strong northwest wind that comes up about midday every day and coastal fog hugging the shoreline into the late mornings. The stiff north winds have keep many smaller boats moored to the dock or only venturing out short of the bay bars to crab (which has only been fair in the Siuslaw).

Larger boats able to safely navigate through the conditions are finding that the salmon are still pretty far off shore up to three miles or more. But the trip has been worth the effort and the chinook have been big. Expect that in August salmon, both coho and chinook will begin to stage closer to shore before slipping into the coast bays starting in September.

Speaking of offshore, it you love tuna like I do it’s time to book that trip. Honestly fishing reports are lean but the timing is perfect and I would not hesitate to now seek out a charter operation. I would recommend a Google search for tuna charters out of Winchester Bay, Newport and Garibaldi. Again the time to book is now.


In the last Angler’s Log I covered the Umpqua River in detail and wrote about the marvelous smallmouth bass fishery on the river that has grown in reputation and popularity. 

Well, in this report I save the best for the last, with three back-to-back seasons of fairly moderate winter river flows and no big flood events in a decade has been a bonus to the bass in the Umpqua. And the river has been kicking out some spectacular smallmouth bass this season. Again the river is best fished from some class of river craft (always wear a life jacket) but with a little exploration bank anglers won’t be disappointed. The bass fishing in the Umpqua River should be good through September.

Contact Frank at [email protected].



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