The Angler’s Log: Wildfire threats limit options

FRANK ARMENDARIZ/CHRONICLE PHOTOLarge and smallmouth bass are abundant in western Lane and other neighboring counties. Pictured here a hefty smallmouth caught along the BigK Ranch on the Umpqua River. A “pay-to-play” fishery, call 541-584-2295 or go to [email protected] for info.

A couple of weeks ago a monsoonal weather front with plenty of imbedded thunderstorms pushed its way along the crest of the Oregon Cascades and ignited a number of fires. The largest are mostly south of the Santiam Pass, including the Middle Fork Complex fire in eastern Lane County. The pyrocumulus clouds from the Middle Fork Complex Fire could be seen from downtown Creswell this week. 

Because of the fires many popular central Cascade fishing and recreation sites at both mid and highway pass altitudes were very smoky last week and breathing the air at a few locations was deemed a temporary health hazard. The fires have also forced some campgrounds, day-use facilities, and hiking trails to close. Additionally, the extreme conditions have prompted the Forest Service, the state of Oregon, and county park managers to ban campfires, charcoal barbecues, and any other open flame on lands they manage and at the campgrounds and day-use areas they operate.

In short, east of I-5, the woods have been a little messy. 

At press time, a favorable weather pattern for Oregonians had set up, temporarily pushing the smoke east. Where smoke from fires in Oregon are currently affecting the air quality in towns as far away as Salt Lake and Denver. So long as the fires keep burning, a change in wind direction could cause the smoke to drift back at any time. Another round of extreme temperatures is on the horizon and will likely worsen the tinderbox conditions; stay informed to be safe. All the fires will likely keep burning until rains come in the fall.

But there are still places to fish …

Local and outside of the “hoot owl” regulation zones, both the Alton Baker Canal, which is a side channel of the Willamette River, and the McKenzie River with its unique hydrology that keeps it cool, were recently stocked with hatchery rainbow trout. As was Leaburg Lake, a small impoundment on the main McKenzie only a few minutes drive east from Springfield. 

West of I-5 has mostly been spared the smoky conditions. Although just like the rest of the state, it is extremely dry. Lake and river levels are low and getting lower by the day but generally still accessible by boat. Warm water species are more common west of I-5 and their tolerance of the lower and warmer water temperatures are far greater than salmonids and trout. So fishing on the dune lakes around Florence has been about as good as it can be for summer conditions. Mercer Lake was an exception; the water level last week dropped to the very end of the ramp at the Lane County boat launch. Boat ramps at Woahink, Siltcoos, and Tahkenitch lakes are in good shape. Ideal for summer bass fishing, water temperatures have settled into the low 70s.

I spent a couple of very productive days fishing with my wife Tami and some friends on the Umpqua River just upstream from Elkton for smallmouth bass. We went in at the Big K Ranch and fished two different stretches on consecutive days. On day one we put in at Brads Creek and motored upriver in a drift boat past the eastern boundary of the Big K property. We spent several hours fishing back to the start point. Day two we fished downstream from the ranch to near Smith Ferry Rapid then motored the drift boat back up river to the landing. On both days I caught and released about 18 to 20 smallmouth per hour right up to the 2 p.m. hoot owl closing. I have fished the Umpqua along the Big K a number of times since the Kesteron family opened their ranch to visitors 28 years ago and had never seen the water so low. Water temperatures were in the upper 70s and the river was very mossy but the conditions had little effect on these incredibly powerful and resilient fish. Fishing guides contracted to the BigK have scheduling priority but private fishing parties, for a fee, are welcome to fish from the ranch’s private boat landings. Overnight lodging is available and the ranch restaurant is open for breakfast and dinner in the summer. 

Ocean conditions have been on and off for several weeks now; strong winds have been difficult to navigate in and have welled up cold water pockets that depress the salmon bite. But generally we are having a “good” ocean salmon fishing season. 

The productivity slowed a bit at the end of July but some ports on the central Oregon coast reported about 1.3 fish per angler for July. Captains fishing out of Newport, Port of Siuslaw, and Salmon Harbor were among the top producers in the state. Hatchery coho are plentiful this year, chinook less so at about one per every eight coho. A little further at sea, the conditions that bring albacore tuna within range of sport fishing boats have set up about 30 miles out. The best bet for sport anglers is to book with a charter boat operator.

Nearest to the Willamette Valley and home port for several sport tuna operators are Charleston Harbor in the lower Coos Bay and Salmon Harbor on Winchester Bay. Now is the time to book. 


FRANK ARMENDARIZ/CHRONICLE PHOTOThanks to the efforts of the members of “The Eugene Fishing Scene” and group leaders Jon Russell and Tony Cantu, a few of these wildlife-saving, fishing-line collection tubes will soon appear at several popular fishing access points on our local rivers. The group will also erect and maintain the tubes.

A couple of years ago as part of a path to healing from difficult times, two local men started a Facebook group. They had found fishing as a way to dilute some of the bad times, and wanted to share that with other people and started “The Eugene Fishing Scene.” They share fishing info with other local anglers and hope it might help others to also overcome some of life’s negativities. The group has over 1,900 members – I say because of Jon Russell and Tony Cantu’s unpretentious personal styles and their patience with people new to fishing.

Harnessing positive energy, Jon and Tony proposed to the digital group a real-world project. And they petitioned the ODFW for funding to install five “line collection tubes.” Discarded fishing line is a known hazard to wildlife. Last week their petition was granted and they are now evaluating several locations to place the discarded fishing line reciprocals. Good people, doing good things for wildlife and other people, we could use more of that.

Email: [email protected]



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