Winter Storm Brings Much Needed Water to Willamette Basin

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The Willamette Basin and Oregon in general has had another very mild winter. Lack of snow pack and precipitation is great for early spring fishing (its been a fantastic March Brown Hatch) but late spring and summer low water increases water temps and puts added pressure on fisheries. The storm we are experiencing right now has really helped, let’s hope it continues to add snow and precipitation through April.

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The above graph is from this morning and as you can see the McKenzie is not going up super fast. I am hoping that the cooler temps in the mountains are helping to keep this precipitation in the mountains as snow.

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The predicted flows shown above are higher, but not too high to fish by any means. Additionally flows are above the historical mean which is really good for trout spawning.

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The Middle Fork of the Willamette below Hills Creek Dam has also come up but is still very fishable. It’s harder to find water in the upper reaches near Oakridge but as you get closer to Black Canyon campground the overall water level is just fine.

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While this graph shows the Middle Fork going up it’s not to high to fish. When we get to 5000-6000cfs things get way more interesting in terms of finding fish and wading is pretty much off the table in most areas.

The last couple of times I have been out on the water hatches have been excellent. March Browns, Blue Winged Olives, Grannom Caddis and even Salmon Flies. The Salmon Fly thing is really interesting. As water conditions rise, and the surface activity potentially suffers, keep in mind Salmon Fly Nymphs are heading to the short to crawl out and become adults. Using larger black stone nymphs is really effective to match this activity this time of year. The Salmon Fly and Golden Stone emergence is really interesting on the McKenzie and Willamette as it can start as early as March and continue through early July. By no means do we have the numbers of insects famed hatches on the Deschutes and Madison have but this sporadic emergence does not go unnoticed by the fish.

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The two tables above are taken from ODFW Willamette Falls Fish Counts. Many local anglers are wondering where all the hatchery summer steelhead have gone. In years past we have had much larger returns of summer steelhead to the Willamette Basin, check out 2016. Since 2016 numbers of returning hatchery steelhead have been much lower. I recently asked long time local ODFW biologist Jeff Ziller what he thought the key factors of the lower returns. Jeff indicated that the state was planting the same number of fish and the same species of fish. He suggested two significant factors in his mind that are contributing to the low returns: (1) Poor escapement due to lower spring flows (2) Poor ocean conditions. The low flows are evident and without the push of high spring water all “out-migragting” fish suffer from predation, anglers, and simply not leaving. The ocean conditions are a huge unknown.

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