Spring Fly Fishing on the McKenzie

mckenzie river rainbow trout

In general, there is a lot of great fishing around Eugene in the early Spring. This time of year offers some great opportunities to fish for wild trout on the McKenzie and Willamette, and the tail end of winter steelhead season can be spectacular. This year, however, the weather just has not been very cooperative. We had only two days last month without precipitation, which led at times to a lot of high water, muddy rivers, and associated cabin fever. That being said, these last few weeks have not been without their highlights.

mckenzie river trout

The trout fishing on the lower McKenzie and Willamette has been good whenever the rains have granted us a brief respite. The McKenzie has many charms, but amongst its finest qualities is its clear water and its resistance to turbidity: the river maintains its clarity very well even when it is quite high. Fishing in high water can be intimidating, and can take some getting used to. But remember, you are fishing for trout, and they need to eat. The same spots that you like to fish when the river is at a more normal level may not work well, but the fish will be feeding somewhere. Look for soft water. Look for spots that have the same characteristics as the ones that fish well for you when the water is lower, though they might be in different locations given the higher flows. Some of the areas that fish well at lower flows will continue to produce; the bucket might just move a little more to the inside, while others will wash out entirely. It is rewarding and educational to fish a familiar river at unfamiliar flows. It gives you a chance to look at it with new eyes, and learn a lot about fish behavior and water selection. When the river is high and rising, the fishing is almost always tough, but if the flows are stable or dropping, the river can fish very well at a surprisingly high volume.

mckenzie drift boat

The March Brown hatch has been inconsistent, which we can probably blame on the weather. It has come off in fits and starts, with good abundance of bugs on calm, warm, overcast afternoons. Sadly, we have had too few days like this. When we have seen good hatches and fish feeding on the surface, various dead drifted dry flies and swung wet flies have been effective.
With some notable exceptions, nymph rigs have been finding most of the big fish. When the river is up, I don’t fish many small flies, in favor of substantial meat-and-potatoes nymphs like the Possie Bugger, Mega Prince, and various Stonefly nymphs. Fished in tandem 6-7 feet under a thingamabobber, the McKenzie’s wild rainbows react well to this type of extra value meal. Don’t be afraid to add a split shot to your rig if it needs a little help getting down, but don’t overdo it with the lead. A good drift gets more fish than a fistful of BBs every day of the week.

mckenzie river fly fishing

I guided the last three days with pretty good success, finding some nice wild rainbows and cutthroats each day. Saturday and Sunday were particularly good with high water receding, good afternoon hatches of both caddis and march browns, and some nice fish feeding on the surface. I saw very few other anglers on the river over the last several days. I think most people were scared off by the relatively high water.

Unfortunately the river blew out again today and another inch of rain is in the forecast for tonight and tomorrow…Ouch! Let’s hope that we are about to turn the corner, and a drier weather pattern is in our future. Meanwhile, don’t wait for our rivers to come into “perfect” shape to get out and go fishing. At this rate, who knows when that might happen?–EN

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5 Responses to Spring Fly Fishing on the McKenzie

  1. Rob R says:

    Oh yeah, dry weather is just two short months away!

  2. Jeremy says:

    I think we all want to be able to see around that corner and begin the turn. The cabin fever that we in my group are feeling, is horrid, and we ran out of good beer drinking stories for the time being. It’s time that all of us here in the Willamette Valley get the chance to go write a new script of fishing stories hopefully. Among us, our hope is that the water shapes up sooner rather than later so we can wade fish an orgy of a march brown hatch before their magic has ended in 2011. Fingers are crossed!!!

  3. David Jensen says:

    This is just another way to experience fly fishing in Oregon in the Spring. You put your boat in, and you fly down the river.

  4. Levi says:

    great pictures and gorgeous fish!

  5. Frank S Aubel says:

    I am very hopeful for a great spring fishing season.

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