The North Umpqua Chronicles: Q&A with Pat McRae

Saturday, I was fishing with Pat McRae, author of the new steelhead diary The North Umpqua Chronicles on his home water – the famed pools of the North Umpqua. McRae’s book will be available in August — it covers fishing twelve months on the river. We sat down to breakfast at the Steamboat Inn and chatted about why he wrote it.

Why the North Umpqua?
In 1974, I read an article in The Oregonian about one of Zane Grey’s children, describing the river, sun slanting through the trees, beautiful green water. And I wanted to go see it. I came down, and once I was here I was hooked.

When I first started, I knew three or four pools and I fished them over and over again. There are about 140 pools, and each one is different. As time passes, you learn them pool by pool. You learn the details of each pool little by little, and after 34 years you know it pretty well.

Your method is very specific: Spey-casting on a single hand rod, with floating line, long leader and sinking fly. How’d you come to that system?
It’s a specific river. It’s not like you’re on the Deschutes where you cast and take two steps down. When you go to a pool, you’re hitting specific spots and trying to get your fly to do what you want it to do in front of the fish’s eyes.

Can you tell me about your flies and how you fish them?
The Blue Captain Nemo is predominantly a blue flashabou fly. I like the way it looks in the water, with a gold head, and a black marabou tail. Every steelhead fly has got to have a little black in it. And it moves.

I never actually want the fly to be on a tight line. I want to be in control, connected to it, but not tightly. When I have a fly swinging, I’m constantly trying to provide a little more slack to it so it can move.

So why did you write the book?
I started keeping track of the steelhead I hooked with the very first one. I used to keep a ledger. The logbook would have the date, male-female, the size. And then I started wanting to write a little more about the day and the fish. So I kept journals. I have a big huge stack of them down at the cabin.

I’ve got steelhead fishing friends all over the place that can’t fish except when they get down here for their summer vacation. And I started writing for them. Check this out guys, don’t you wish you were here?

At one point, Peter Tronquet said, “you have a book here.” So I started taking stuff out of the journals, cleaned it up and showed it to Jim Van Loan. And he thought I had something. He proofread it three times and taught me some things about proper English. And out of that came the book.

What do you want people to get out of the book?
I hope they enjoy it. I hope they like the way it’s written. It’d be nice if it brought more lovers of this river here. The more people that love this river, the more people will help us take care of it.

Conservation is a form of giving back. There was a period of time in my life when I was depressed and steelhead fishing got me out of that. The river and fish did that for me, so I’ve always wanted to give back for that reason.

Stay tuned for this book’s release in the coming weeks.


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2 Responses to The North Umpqua Chronicles: Q&A with Pat McRae

  1. Dale says:

    Jay, this looks like if I write something in here, you’ll see it. One of the Steamboaters sent this link to read the interview with Pat McRae. I got done and noticed your name here. Fishing is still slow and seems to be getting slower. I found one on the upper river the day after you left, went back that evening and he crushed my skater, a 9 1/2lb buck, nice fish.

  2. jay nicholas says:

    Dale, it is wonderful to find a friend who is as Internet-challenged as I am. Thanks for the report. You need to read further down the Blog to see the North Umpqua Report that I wrote (separate from this Interview article by Matt. I am pleased that the River gave you the joy of that fish. I miss our time up on the River already, and hope we can get together soon to begin our writing project!


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