McKenzie River Fly Fishing and “The Biggest Trout I’ve Ever Seen on the McKenzie”

wild mckenzie rainbow

One of the reasons I go fly fishing is the unknown. What’s around the bend? What will that spot fish like this year? How will it be in high water? What changes will I find this year? The list goes on. The unknown keeps us coming back, it keeps us casting and it makes us push the outer edges of fishing conditions.

high water on the mckenzie

Thirty years fly fishing the McKenzie the fish pictured is the biggest baddest fish of all. A shocking specimen that blew my mind. For those who feel the McKenzie lacks biomass to hold wild fish like this one, well here you go, discussion over. Imagine a river where fish like these were not dredged off the bottom with worms all summer long. It happens folks, and fish like these caught on treble hooks do not get let go alive, and most of the time they get wacked. When the the no bait regulation comes up for the McKenzie please be active. But that’s way to depressing, back to the fishing report.

I had a great week fishing the McKenzie and Middle Fork of the Willamette Rivers. Tuesday the Middle Fork was still at 1000cfs for an outflow at Hills Creek Dam (today it’s 2500cfs). It fished well with heavy nymphs. We had nice weather and the river to ourselves. Wednesday and Thursday were spent from Armitage down hammering on small to medium Cutthroats swinging classic wets. The Coachman wet was the clear winner on both days it out fished the Mega Prince and March Brown Beadhead wet. The river rose on us Thursday afternoon and the fishing got a bit tough, but the sun was out! Friday was exploratory or at least that is what I told my guests. My first trip up above Leaburg dam for the year. Fishing was really pretty good but the a 12lbs Bull Trout attacking a hooked Whitefish, and the big rainbow over-shadowed everything else.

High water is just going to be a fact of life on the McKenzie and Willamette Rivers for a while and I was seeking water stability more than anything else. Fishing the McKenzie when it’s running as high as it is now is like fishing a different river. In some ways it’s limiting, only certain areas are slow enough to get quality drifts and hold the boat for any reasonable amount of time to effectively fish an area. Many of the pockets and mid-stream boulder patches that hold fish are simply washed away and way to fast. The runs that do have moderate speed and 3-8ft of depth are really holding fish though, and fishing is very good. The wild trout on the upper McKenzie River are not bothered by 43 degree water temps, they live in cold water all year long. These are gorgeous, hard bodied trout that fight hard under any circumstances but add 7000cfs to the mix and they can leave the pool/run and force you to give chase.–CD

wild fish on the Mckenzie river

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19 Responses to McKenzie River Fly Fishing and “The Biggest Trout I’ve Ever Seen on the McKenzie”

  1. Arlen says:

    A most excellent reward for doing some “exploring”; what a beautiful, trophy-size McKenzie native redside. What’s your estimate on its length?

  2. Michael Lewallen says:

    A beautiful trout, what amazing color and size.

  3. Gabe O'Campo says:

    While I respect the author of this article and can appreciate his passion for this sport. I can not agree with the opinion expressed about banning bait on the McKenzie river. It is a natural resource that is available to all anglers. Now I can see where certain stretches of the river can be made fly fishing only, to completely restrict the use of bait is totally unacceptable. The question comes to mind, how did that particularly large fish attain such size.? Did it grow to this size in only one season? I do not think that was the case. Why deny others the chance to fish such a wonderful fishery so very close to town.
    The author mentions how fish will be taken with bait and whacked. Well that very same thing is likely to happen anyway with out more law enforcement. The generalization that all bait anglers would harvest wild is taking that idea a little too far.

  4. Tom Lambert says:

    Chris, what an awesome fish.

  5. rick Allen says:

    Nice fish Chris! Was that your’s or a client’s? Awesome!! Thanks for the report.

  6. Snoopy Rodder says:

    Yes the McKenzie River needs more protection, using bait has to stop!


  7. Marc Robershaw says:

    what? you appropiated that specimen from the viewing pond at Leaburg. And then stuck a megaprince in its mouth for the pic. Now come clean. Do size #14 bright crimson yarn eggs count as bait? even if i smash the barb?

  8. moon says:

    Wow, what a beautiful fish…..

    Hey – Gabe, quit your BS. You know damn well no one is asking for flyfishing only on the Mac. But just in case, let me state it again right now – no one is asking for flyfishing only waters. If you will read the studies done by the Bio’s from ODFW and the Corps of Engineers on our watersheds going back as far as 1983 – it is them theirselves who report the number one and two reasons for mortality on our native fish stocks are

    (1) – hatchery fish
    (2) – the use of bait

    Again, remember – nothing we are saying as we fight for a 100 percent wild fishery on the Mac, comes from bob’s blog – everything we/I use in a public setting comes from ODFW and Corps of Engineer Bio studies….. This is what the science says, and that fish is what were fighting for.

    Anyway – nice damn fish.

  9. G Hatten says:

    Nice fish and great report Chris…. Gabe, I couldn’t disagree with you more, brother. Angling with bait is the most lethal kind of fishing – swallowed bait, swallowed hook, high mortality rate. It should be banned on the McKenzie River (along with glass containers – another issue) to give these magnificent native redsides a chance to come back.

  10. Karl Mueller says:


    As someone pointed out no one is asking for fly fishing only regulations on the Mckenzie River. Furthermore no one is denying anyone an opportunity to fish the Mckenzie. To say that is like saying I am denied the opportunity to drive because I can’t legally ride a quad on the Interstate. Anyway, the following is a list of items that may be cast utilizing a spinning rod and this is no by no means exhaustive: jigs; spinners; spoons; plugs; etc. Are you saying that these lures are not readily available? Your version of management isn’t sharing. By utilizing bait on such a wonderful resource all anglers are being denied the opportunity to have a vibrant wild fishery. Given the quality of the Mckenzie and it’s habitat there is no reason the creel should show 23 hours of angler effort between wild fish in half the river …..

  11. Rob R says:

    Awesome rainbow!!! Wow, 30 years of fishing to find that guy?

    Thanks to Gabe for his classic mis-characterization of the debate between pro-bait and pro-trout. Banning bait does not exclude anyone from participation. In fact, it allows more people to enjoy the river and fish.

  12. Mike says:

    Great fish.I have fished with spinners and spoons on the Mckenzie and Willamette for almost 25 years and have only recently switched to flies almost exclusively and here is my take on this discussion.A bait ban =less dead fish period.A no treble hook rule for lures will do the same thing.I cringe when i see anyone especially the inexperienced trying to remove a treble hook from a fish that is to be released.My wife is the one who convinced me that trebles are too harmful to our fish and i have taken her advice.I think if more people could see one of these large awesome redsides up close they would understand the need treat them with the care they deserve.Sorry to steer away from the fly fishing aspect of this story but i feel my points are worth sharing.

  13. Scott K says:

    Tremendous fish, Chris!

  14. steve says:


    You seem to be in love with the upper river… Someday I would like to learn those waters on the stick’s.. But right now, I’m too chicken…

    Keep up the good work!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Steve Crook

  15. David Jensen says:

    The upper river is worth learning as you get better on the sticks. Consider hiring Chris before to show the technical water, and the fish. By the way, I was home burning and saw Chris flyfishing by my house Friday: the river was so high Chris was flyfishing by. That is the boat flying down river, and no fishing because of high water. If the second photo is between my place at Brown’s Hole and Marten Rapid and if it shows where this beautiful fish was caught, its not on the upper river. It is above Ben and Kay Dorris Park, and in a place that at that level I wouldn’t tossed a cast. A great job by Chris, whether he or his client was fishing.

  16. Nate K. says:

    Wowza! What a gorgeous rainbow! Looking forward to seeing more fish like that with improved regulations in the future. Thanks for fighting the good fight down there, guys.

  17. Token Trees says:

    Looks like chris is licking his chops in the last picture, hopefully the fish made it back in the river ; )

  18. Flylooper says:

    I’ve been fishing the Mac for quite a few years and I agree that the portions of it should be reserved for fly fishing and native release only. Bait fishing is ruinous to trout fisheries and should be allowed only wherever they plant hatchery fish. Once a trout has swallowed a Power Baited hook his fate is pretty much sealed.

    And ban trebles, too. Dang! Might as well drop a stick of dynamite in the water.

  19. jayareewing says:

    Beautiful fish man. I also enjoy fishing the willamette and as an oregon native I don’t get bothered by live baits. The fact is plenty of farmed fish are dumped every few weeks and they end up in slow ponds and realisticly baits won’t hurt those ecosystems as much as our industry/ infrustucture already has. True anglers use lures for the sport and any one who fishes the willamette or mckenzie regularly knows live bait gets pulled of your hook immediately in the fast waters. Fake salmon eggs work well for trout

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