March 11, 2012
North Umpqua Winter Steelhead

            I’ve been away from home waters for about a month now and I was really getting the itch to swing a fly for steelhead, so Thu and I headed down to the North Umpqua last weekend to scratch that itch.  I had checked the forecast before we left and knew we were heading into some bad weather and most likely a bump in the water levels, but we were desperate to fish and went anyway.

            We arrived to find the river at a constant 1,700cfs, with that winter emerald color and a temperature of 41 degrees. We geared up and started fishing our way downriver heading for Glide where we were staying for the night. After fishing a couple of spots upriver without and luck, we were driving past camp water in the middle of the day and noticed that there was nobody fishing. Not a common sight in the most fabled waters of the North Umpqua River, so we turned around and headed for the trailhead to the camp water. We hiked down the trail and stepped into one of the most popular runs and started working our flies through the green water. I did manage to get a hookup about halfway through the run, but it was short lived. My line came tight, there was the confirming headshake of a fish with 10 feet of line slipping from my reel and then everything went slack. I hate it when that happens!!!

            We continued fishing downstream and with every little nook and cranny along the road gushing with runoff as well as all the major tributaries, we could see the river starting to get bigger and a little more off color the farther downstream we got. We opted for a hot shower, an early dinner and a couple games of cribbage (let just say, I didn’t win).

            The next day was a wet one with intermittent rain showers mixed with short heavy downpours. The river was definitely getting bigger and the flows increased close to 300cfs during the day while we were fishing. We decided to drive upstream and start in the fly water since the river seemed to be getting bigger by the hour and was pretty off color in the Glide area. We had a lazy morning and got on the water late, so when we arrived at the run we wanted to fish, there was already someone parked in the turnoff. I knew they were probably the first one through and should be about finished, so I hiked down the road to take a peak, and sure enough a spey fisherman was close to the end of the run. When the run was free, Thu & I hiked down and split up the run. We fished through run in the rising water and hooked a few really nice sea-run Cutthroats that ate our flies on the swing. As I approached the end of the run and just as I swinging what I thought would be my last cast before I reeled up to move to a new spot, a bolt of electricity shot up my line and into my rod with a hard hitting fish that just hammered my fly and scared the crap out of me. Then the fight was on! This fish jumped from the water and shot downstream ripping line from my reel well into my backing and into the tailout in seconds. There was no way I could follow the fish through the next set of rapids, so I put the heat to her thinking it was now or never, and she finally turned her head and stopped at the end of the tailout. I slowly took line and she dogged me all the way up stream with short bursts just to let me know she was still there. I finally got her around some big boulders and brought her to hand for a quick photo and release.

            We fished two other spots working our way upstream with no other takers. The weather was getting pretty bad with rain turning to snow and the water wasn’t getting any better, so we decided to call it a day and head home. There’s always another day and I was lucky enough in the short time that we fished, to get some action and land a beautiful wild North Umpqua Steelhead.

            Remember, this is the time of year when these beautiful fish start to move onto the spawning beds. Watch out for spawning fish and avoid fishing or wading over spawning beds. If you find some active fish, sit down and watch for a while. It’s amazing what you learn just buy watching them.


The Patient Angler

Peter Bowers

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