It’s been a challenging season of sport fishing, a lack of consistency between fisheries and regions being the main driver. Fall fishing was good in a few places, fair on some rivers and poor on most others. My fall favorite has always been steelhead fishing on the McKenzie. In good years there would be plenty of steelhead on the Leaburg run this time of year and in seasons with an ample-sized return, steelheading on the McKenzie and Willamette rivers would hold up beyond Christmas. So it was a major disappointment for me and others that only about 1,000 summer steelhead made the leap past the Willamette Falls at Oregon City and finding those fish in the tributaries has been about as hard as locating a needle in a haystack.
The North Umpqua’s steelhead fared no better this season either; in fact the river was completely closed for the second time in three years. The runs became so diminished that many wondered how much longer the North Umpqua will be able to sustain any kind of summer steelhead fishery. Adding to the calamity, a poorly conceived plan to repair the badly leaking Winchester Dam likely caused the die-off of dozens or maybe hundreds of wild steelhead and thousands and thousands of lamprey.
So bad was the die-off that the ODFW took the rare move of fining the dam owners over $2 million for their indiscretions; that lawsuit is yet to play out … and for steelheaders these are some very sad times.
Understand that steelhead fishing is described in some quarters and among anglers to actually be an “affliction.” An impulse so intense that it can cause the “afflicted” to stand waste deep in a freezing cold river for hours at a time; or run crazy class four rapids in your drift boat and making thousands of casts to a curry often referred to as “the fish of a thousand casts.” Knowing that the only cure is the “tug.” And it is a tug like no other, best experienced with a fly rod in hand, among the yellowing leaves and the chilling air of the fall in Oregon. More specifically “the tug is the drug” and not finding any local relief the wife and I headed to the Rogue River … where we spent eight wonderful fall days floating the canyon and steelhead fishing.