Angling adventures can be found down and around most bends in the road this time of the year. A wet spring filled the reservoirs, the lakes and ponds of western Oregon. Our rivers, streams and creeks are also the beneficiaries of the ample spring precipitation, and in some instances, a healthy snowpack. From the crest of the Cascades to the Pacific shore, pick your spot, lake or stream and you will find good fishing there.
The ocean has not been entirely cooperative on some days this season. On days with good conditions, the sea has been giving up limits of lingcod, halibut, a variety of rock fish, and over the past couple weeks, a lot of coho but a few chinook salmon.
I shared in my last report the details of my morning of ocean salmon fishing out of Newport. Since then, the ocean salmon fishing has only gotten better. There is a combination of Columbia basin hatchery coho mixed with mostly wild coastal river stock. Eventually, the Columbia coho will head home, leaving only chinook. There are a lot of wild coho, the ODFW has already announced additional retention opportunities and has suggested that there could be others.
Time to make those fall salmon fishing plans. I expect a decent season still to come. Focusing down on the Southern Willamette Valley, spring chinook salmon are still finding their way over the falls at Oregon City, into the Middle Willamette and McKenzie rivers, in what are still very impressive numbers.
In fact, the spring salmon run is so robust, it looks like it has the potential to easily exceed 36,000 migrating fish. As I prepared this report, just over 33,000 fi sh had swum into the southern valley, at an average of 350 – 400 per day. If those numbers hold, we could reach 40,000 salmon in just the next week or two. Relative to recent years, that would be a “banner event.”
This is a culmination of a wonderful spring salmon season for anglers in the southern Willamette Valley. It is also good for the watershed, where the bodies of dead post-spawn salmon will feed billions of microbes, consumed by millions of aquatic insects, that will feed hundreds of thousands of salmon (and wild trout) fry and complete an important part of the cycle of the life of a salmon.
The summer steelhead run in the southern Willamette Valley is also shaping up to be one of the better returns in a few seasons, too. As I prepared this report, the summer run was inching toward 6,000 steelhead – likely not a pace that will get us to 10,000. But enough that it will likely warrant a standalone trip exclusively for steelhead this summer – a trip I haven’t been able to recommend investing the time or expense for a few seasons.
Admittedly 6,000 is not that great; however, there is still plenty of time this summer to see those numbers build. The Eugene town run is likely still out there; the head of the run usually passes the Oregon City Falls in late August and potentially could add another 2,000 steelhead to this season’s return.
There are a number of “what ifs,” but if they play out, steelhead fishing in late August, September and October in the southern valley could be close to excellent and last until about Thanksgiving.
This is also primetime for trout all across Oregon, too. On a personal note, I was finally able to coordinate conditions and my calendar to spend a couple of days fly fishing for trout and steelhead on the McKenzie River, just down river from the hamlet of Leaburg.
The McKenzie had just been planted with hatchery trout and we figured that we were catching a plump, feisty hatchery fi sh. With plenty of runoff this season, the McKenzie has been running a couple of degrees cooler than it often is in July and the trout are responding incredibly well to the conditions.
Don’t forget that a steelhead is nothing more than a seagoing rainbow trout. When in the river, summer steelhead in particular, quickly revert to the trout-like behaviors they had as smolts. As adults they can often be found in the same holding water as trout and respond well to wet flies, spinners and baits. I dry fl y fi sh all spring but when the summer run comes in, I switch to techniques to attract both trout and steelhead. We did take home a couple of limits of rainbow trout but the steelhead remained elusive to us … for now. There will be other days but for the first time in several seasons, I am very much looking forward to late summer and fall fishing in the rivers of the southern valley.