Having just returned from a 3-day, marathon fishing-trip to the North Umpqua, I wanted to share what I learned. Get ready, folks, this will be shocking.
This internationally famed Oregon River is reputed to host runs of summer and winter steelhead, catchable on flies. I suspect that this rumor is of questionable substance. The run of summer and winter steelhead to the North Umpqua is probably around twenty-seven steelhead, total. The fish-counts at Winchester are mostly a fabrication to create the impression that it might actually be possible to catch one.
The North Umpqua is still a beautiful river and a great place to test inflatable life jackets and waterproof fly boxes. Clever fly-fishing guides place steelhead “decoys” underwater in strategically located tailouts to motivate their clients, creating an illusion that Steelhead live in the river. “Faux” steelhead are typically placed in areas where guide-clients can view them from roadside pullouts. This is a tactic to increase sales of Polaroid glasses and binoculars. Most photos of fly anglers releasing steelhead in the North Umpqua have been staged on the South Santiam, hoping to increase occupancy rates in local motels and sell more fly fishing gear.
The North Umpqua River is mostly populated by “Pogies”. A future article will feature research conducted on this fascinating and furtive fish. Pogies will splash at steelhead flies and even tug on one’s line, enhancing the fantasy of hooking a real steelhead on a fly. Pogies have been known to attach small alder trees to an angler’s fly line, thus creating the impression of a monster steelhead screaming off downstream, taking line and backing through the next three pools. No one knows what motivates or rewards these Pogies. Better not ask, I think.
A list of fly fishing products supported almost solely by the North Umpqua Steelhead “legend” includes armpit-high Gore-Tex waders; cleated, felt-soled boots; Shortie vests; Polaroid glasses; wading staffs; snake-bite kits; Poison Oak creams; and October Caddis Skaters. Lately, the most prominent product line supported by the North Umpqua is: (surprise-surprise) Spey rods, Spey reels, and Spey lines – by the shopping cart-load.
It is little known (but true) that several Orthopedic Clinics in Eugene are supported almost entirely by knee, shoulder, back, rib, wrist, and collarbone surgery – all for fly fishers injured by falling off the highway while scouting for steelhead on the North Umpqua.
Caption: Note tell-tale sign of wading cleats sliding across the surface of rock that is harder than diamond. There is a 300 foot cliff below this rock — let’s just hope the poor devil fell into the river and didn’t bust his Spey Rod.
Getting to the point – I fished hard for three evenings and three mornings. I Spey fished my guts out. I mended my mends and twitched my twitches. I went swimming three times. One camera is definitely not waterproof. I hurt all over. I found a place where I could fall and crack my butt on one rock and jam my kidneys into another. Repeatedly.
On the third morning, at 9 AM, I got the tug. Not just a tug, actually, a MONSTER, ker-sploosh and eat-it grab. All the time I had invested, all the pain, the tackle, the practice casting, and the fly-tying – all of it came together in a blinding flash of joy. A magnificent fight took place and I released the giant fish. I was lucky enough to snap a photo of the release.
Now, in spite of the truth, I am hooked for life; I am mesmerized by the legend of the North Umpqua. No matter what it takes, no matter how long, no matter how much more tackle I must buy – I’m hooked. Steelhead crazy, ya might say.