Last weekend The Caddis Fly Shop hosted the fourth annual McKenzie River Two-Fly Tournament.
It started Friday night, with a group of anglers, conservationists, and family gathering around a fly shop, buzzing with fishing chatter and local Ninkasi beer on tap. Mazzi’s portable woodfire pizza oven in the parking lot, kids piling ripe local tomatoes and basil on fresh tossed dough.
A warm night, we sat outside and listened to Joe Moll, Executive Director of McKenzie River Trust talk about the work that organization was doing. Good work, taking care of the land around our river and putting it back into the floodplain, repairing broken, nearly invisible systems that are integral to the river’s survival into the coming decades.
Chris explained the rules, to a largely repeat audience: Pick two flies. Take photos of them, don’t lose them. Fish 9am to 5pm. Guides are judges, tape your biggest fish and take a digital snapshot. Your three biggest fish might add up to a win.
The guides had sacrificed a day’s pay in the best part of the year to give to the Trust, and they joked with clients, ribbed each other, plotted strategies, picked through the fly bins.
I’d pulled Rob Russell into the tournament as my partner on short notice , after a tweaked back had knocked him off his usual chinook program. We drew our guide: Capt. Lou Verdugo – Team Beast. Lou had won the very first McKenzie Two Fly Tournament, and had been looking to reclaim his crown ever since.
The next morning, we met Lou at the Bellinger Boat Ramp. The plan: Run this short productive stretch of McKenzie River twice, once fresh in the morning, once with the shadows on the water. I knew this run well, mostly from spring fishing and thought it was an excellent call. The lower river had put out the biggest tournament win ever – 54 inches a few years back, Jeff Carr’s team hauling in 20, 18 and 16-inch wild redsides. You know you’ve likely won when the fish hangs over both sides of the official ODFW trout ruler.
Rob and I picked our flies on the drive. I’d tied two special possie buggers, one size 12 with black UV ice dub at the head, one size 8 with red wire ribbing and tungsten bead. Both had been tied the night before with extra whip finishes and Zap-a-Gap at every step. Rob settled on a small prince nymph, and a huge buggy thing that looked like a possie-megaprince hybrid. We knew bankers hours on the lower river would be a down and dirty game.
Lou rowed us out into the muggy bottomland of the McKenzie, a cottonwood and invasive vine jungle lining the banks. The first few fish were wild, small but pretty redsides. Then Lou pointed out a side channel with a deep green slot near fast water, accessible by wading only. First cast, the biggest fish of the day pounded the small possie bugger, and didn’t have anywhere to go. I fought it in the small pool till it tired, netted it and taped it out at 16-inches.
Rob caught a hatchery trout that had drifted down from the put-and-take section upriver, and he cleaned it for dinner. The fish was full of October Caddis, big orangey bug-bits mixed up in its gut. We ate greasy beautiful smoked Fall chinook, one of Rob’s first of the year, and enjoyed late summer conditions, cans of beer sweating on the line deck.
We finished the run at Hayden Bridge, just below the rapid, plumbing the swirling, deep pools for the tournament winning fish. No luck. We ate the excellent sandwiches Shauna made, and pulled out and shuttled for round-two.
On the afternoon drift, we found a few more fish, but nothing to put us over the 40-inch mark on our total, so we headed back to town to hear from the winners.
Special Thanks to all of the guides: Chris Daughters, Barrett Christiansen, Matt O’Neil, Ty Holloway, Clay Holloway, Karl Mueller, Mike Reardon, and Lou Verdugo.
-Joan McCreery and Darlene Dolby won the tournament with 46 ¾” on the Middle Fork Willamette, Ty Holloway Guide.
-Andy McWilliams and Randy Dersham came in second with 46 ½” on the Upper McKenzie, Mike Reardon Guide.
-Chet Croco and Joe Palanuk took third with 45” on the Upper McKenzie with Karl Mueller, guide.
One steelhead hooked and lost, one broken Oar, 2 broken rods, nobody injured. All had a good time.
First prize is a stay at, Wild Billy Lake. The second prize winners will take home two Echo Ion reels, lines, leaders, hats and Frisbees and the third prize winners will receive hundred dollar gift certificates to The Caddis Fly Shop.
Special thanks to Trout Unlimited Chapter 678 for their support of this event.