Gear up for spring trout fishing season

It’s a function of the lengthening daylight hours to chase the chill of winter and usher in the spring each year. The sunshine buds out the river’s edge foliage and, most importantly to anglers, stimulates the first of the aquatics to release their hold from the bottom of our local rivers. Emerging into the atmosphere in a life cycle that often lasts for only a couple of days are  the resident rainbow trout that have also spent the last four months in river conditions that slowed their metabolism. That lessened their need to surface feed. But now as the winter months slide away, so does that semi state of stasis that the resident trout had settled into late last fall. 

Across the whole state of Oregon, trout are incredibly common. Their habitat ranges from the high deserts of eastern Oregon to the edge of the Pacific Ocean and from California north to the banks of the Columbia River. According to the ODFW the resilient cutthroat trout is the most common and can be found from the brackish waters of our coastal bays to the clear, cold and pure waters of the west slope of the Cascades – a hardy little trout that is also more tolerant of warmer water temperatures and lower oxygen content than rainbow trout. “Sea run cutthroat,” in a lifecycle that somewhat resembles the life of its trout brother the Pacific steelhead. Also spending a portion of its time foraging beyond the edges of our coastal bays, in nearshore waters of the Pacific Ocean, all the cutthroat trout in Oregon are naturally occurring, spawn in the wild, and their numbers are not enhanced by hatchery releases.

In terms of natural production, rainbow trout fall directly behind cutthroat. Now you could make the argument that there are actually more rainbows in Oregon. The rainbow trout has been for many years and still is the favorite trout of fisheries managers. Over the years millions of pounds of hatchery-reared rainbows have been planted in suitable habitats all over the state. In some cases augmenting wild populations that now have harvest restrictions or are managed entirely as catch-and-release wild trout fisheries.

Locally a prime example of that co-management approach is our McKenzie River. Where the entire length of the river. Extending downstream past the confluence of the Willamette. Then north on the main Willamette to the town of Harrisburg, was set aside in the early 1990s as a wild trout, catch-and release only.

Except for the section of the McKenzie extending up river from Hendricks Wayside & Park landing to the town of Blue River. Where close to 80,000 rainbow will be stocked in batches beginning in the last week in April and continuing to just past Labor Day – somewhat matching the regulations that allow the use of bait in the planted section from May right up to the last day in November. All other times of the year from December through April of the following year. Anglers on the McKenzie are restricted to flies and lures only and again those restrictions extend down the McKenzie and include the Willamette River to Harrisburg. 

Through the winter months a couple of days of sunshine can simulate what are relatively modest bug hatches. The blue wing olive, a small dainty mayfly, favors these harsher conditions and can be found emerging in the quiet bank side eddies on the lower McKenzie River, as well as other rivers in western Oregon.

Then in mid-March, with the increasing daylight hours, a substantially larger mayfly begins to emerge, appropriately named the “March Brown.” The hatch is prolific, contains billions of mayflies and stimulates the trout to actively rise to surface feed. A behavior they will continue for about the next seven or eight months.

Recent storms had pushed the McKenzie’s water levels up into the river banks riparian foliage. But as I prepare this week’s Angler’s Log, the river has begun to recede and should reach a productive level about the time you read this week’s column. Remember, we are still five weeks from the beginning of the hatchery trout season and catch-and-release regulations are still in place. But some of the best C&R for McKenzie trout happens every spring, bringing in the trout fishing season of each year and that time is now. 

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