Hatchery officials expecting plenty of pent-up demand among anglers


“The tug is the drug to those eternally driven (or dammed) to catch the fish of a thousand casts.” Just to be sure, on this day I made 1,001 casts … without a single tug. On some days at Smith River Falls, above, steelhead and salmon can be seen jumping the falls by the dozens.

I chat with Jeff Ziller, the managing biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Southern Willamette Valley district, on a regular basis. I appreciate his time and the information he is able to share, and we had one of those exchanges last week. 

With a sense of relief in his voice and after having to start from scratch this year, Ziller was happy to tell me that trout production at Leaburg Hatchery was ramping up sooner than expected. Also, he realized that with the various coronavirus vaccines, angling opportunities will more than likely be in especially high demand this coming year, and he anticipates the release of a lot of pent-up demand.

If the number of anglers already taking advantage of the southern valley’s urban fisheries is any indication, Ziller and his hatchery crew will have their hands full this season. 

I checked in at the Junction City pond to find a good gathering of anglers for the midweek. It had been a decent morning of fishing and I arrived just as several people were packing up with a limit of trout for the day. The JC pond, Alton Baker Canal and Row River Nature Park were all planted (a fourth or fifth time) this week with hundreds of pan-sized trout.

Revved up with several hundred one-pound rainbows that were divided up and spread into the three water bodies, the trout fishing opportunities keep growing too. For the first time this season Cottage Grove Reservoir was stocked with about 2,000 “pounder-size” rainbow trout and Dexter Reservoir along Highway 58 got 2,000 of the oversized trout last week too. Open year-round, on the McKenzie below Leaburg Dam, there are still hatchery trout in the river from last fall’s emergency hatchery release forced by the Holiday Farm Fire. No bait is allowed until late April on the McKenzie but you can still harvest five hatchery trout using flies or spinners.

Fly fishing for the wild trout on the lower McKenzie River has turned on, too. Hatches of blue wing olives and March brown mayflies have begun in the lower river and will spread upriver as we get deeper into spring. Stimulated by the increasing daylight hours the mayfly larvae release from the river bottom by the millions. They are a vital early-season food source for trout. I prefer subsurface nymph fishing in the early part of the wild trout season but be prepared to adapt to conditions that can change quickly in early spring. The catch-and-release wild trout fishery extends down river from Hendricks Wayside Park on the McKenzie through Springfield and up to Harrisburg City Park on the Willamette River. Flies and spinners only on this very productive year-round wild trout fishery.

After a couple of sunny days a few eager bass fishermen hit the lakes in the far west part of Lane County last weekend. Siltcoos and Tahkenitch both had a few bass fishermen working the bank-side structure in what was some fairly mild coastal weather for mid-March. Cool and damp weather returns this week and tells me that good bass fishing is still several weeks out. I generally plan for mid-April, look for nighttime temperatures to stabilize in the mid-40 degree range and hit the lake after a couple of days of stable barometric pressure.

On nearly every coastal winter river, steelhead angler pressure has dropped off, leaving most of the steelhead rivers to the “die-hards.” I have always done well in late March and it is my favorite month to fish for winter steelhead. Even this year I still have a lot of late-season optimism. “Wild steelhead” are relatively more plentiful as the winter fishing sunsets for the year and this season is typical. River levels steadily decline and the water becomes gin clear. Fishing is an exercise in stealth, finesse and the ultimate challenge for a die-hard steelheader. 

If there is enough river water, I’ll use my drift boat for access but park the boat well about where I plan to fish and wade into position to cast. Otherwise, I just wade-fish but I still prefer to fish downstream. In the diminishing flows and challenging conditions of late March, my 7-weight 10-foot fly rod becomes my tool of choice and I cast small black or purple attractor-style flies. 

Tami and I spent time on the Smith River last weekend and we’ll fish there again before you read this report. A tributary of the Umpqua River, it has been managed for wild steelhead for more than a generation. 

We didn’t catch a steelhead on our most recent outing, but it wasn’t for the lack of trying. It was a rare day that Tami and I had the river all to ourselves. The signs of spring were everywhere. It all made for a very lucky day of fly fishing, just my wife and me.

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