Trout are plentiful; beware fire dangers

FRANK ARMENDARIZ/PHOTO Bass fishing on the dune lake near Florence picked up over the Memorial Day weekend. Although no trophy fish were caught (at least not in our boat) it was a fun and productive weekend of fishing.

Author’s note: I had the opportunity to join an angling trip in southern Oregon and will return in a couple of weeks with my final installment on bass fish around Lane County. I prepared this up-to-date report as I traveled.

In spite of the rain that fell last week, conditions across the county are dangerously dry. Sadly, the persistent drought that grips us now looks as though it will last through the summer and into early fall. Across the county (and state), reservoirs never reached “full pool” levels and all the natural lakes in the western part of the county are much lower than in an average rainfall year.

I recently fished on Mercer, Wohink and Siltcoos lakes, all three are low but the public boat landings (on June 1) were still usable. In general, if you plan to use a lakeside boat landing this summer, in any part of the state, it’s a good year to call ahead. With the low water, our fisheries will struggle but those could be the least of our concerns as many Oregon communities will also struggle with domestic water shortages this summer.

The major rivers that originate in Lane County, the McKenzie and the Willamette as they descend to the valley floor, are recipients of reservoir storage and remain at levels enough to float. Environmental regulations dictate minimum water flow so they will likely be floatable all summer. Although the many trout-bearing Cascade creeks in their upper drainages are also much lower than in recent years, and this is generally the story across the state; river conditions are good but the potential to diminish is pretty high as we move into the historically dry months of summer. 


John Landau of Eugene with a Leaburg Hatchery-raised rainbow trout caught in the McKenzie River. It’s an aggressive little trout that is fun to catch and delicious to eat. This one took a #8 black bead head wooly bugger.


Despite the ominous predictions of future conditions, the fishing in late spring has been pretty good. Spring chinook have reached the upper Willamette basin, and they are now present in Coast Fork to Cottage Grove and Middle Fork of the Willamette all the way to Dexter. Over on the McKenzie the spring run has reached all the way up to Leaburg Dam. Here at the end of May about 16,000 spring salmon have passed over the Willamette Falls at Oregon City, which is on par for the date and about equal to last season. That saw about 32,000 chinook in total reach the upper Willamette, its tributaries and its fishermen. 

Hatchery trout fishing in the southern valley has also been very good this spring. Since the Holiday Farm Fire and after having to emergency release all the fish that were being raised at the Leaburg hatchery on the McKenzie River, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has been diligent at bringing fish production at their Leaburg facility back to levels prior to the fire. An excellent biting fish, the primary recipient of the hatchery is the McKenzie River. But Leaburg trout are spread across the southern valley’s lakes and ponds, too. Raised on a special trout meal mixture, their flesh is pink and firm and they make very good table fare. Over the next three months the McKenzie will get a fresh batch of hatchery trout about every other week.

Wild trout fishing on the McKenzie has also been very good this spring. A popular catch-and-release fishery among fly fishers, the best fishing has been on the cooler, overcast days. But as we get closer to summer and warmer daytime temperatures the best fly fishing bites will shift to mornings and late afternoons.

I’ve been steelhead fishing on the McKenzie for over 40 years and I remember some wonderful returns of 15,000 to 20,000 steelhead. But for several seasons now the Willamette basin-hatchery summer steelhead run has been disappointing. By the end of May in 2020, 1,500 of the chrome-bright fish had passed over the Willamette Falls heading into the southern valley. So far this season only 800 steelhead have been counted at the falls’ viewing window. Which makes an intentional steelhead float trip similar to finding a needle in a haystack, not impossible but truly daunting. This is an entirely hatchery-produced run and certainly a few steelhead will be caught on some days, but most will likely be incidental to a trout or salmon fishing outing. 


Over in Florence on the lower Siuslaw and other lower-river estuaries the crabbing has been good. A variety of baits will work to attract them to your trap but uncooked chicken appears to be among the best this season. Out past the breakwaters the ocean has been fairly cooperative on some days and the bottom fishing off the Lane County coast has been very good. Heading toward summer, ocean conditions should become more predictable, increasing the opportunities. No reports of albacore tuna yet but we may have those on our horizon soon. 


Bass fishing in the dune lake of western Lane County was good over the Memorial Day weekend. Water temperatures have reached the upper 60-degree range and will just continue to improve into June. The spinner bait bite was good in the mornings and soft plastics were most productive in the afternoon.

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