McKenzie and Willamette River Resource Guide

Stopping by your local fly sh0p to get water conditions, fly recommendations and information on tactics is still the very best resource for the angler. Chatting with a fly shop employee who was on the water recently will give you the best understanding of hatches, timing and location. We have been writing fishing reports on since 2008, so a quick search of fishing reports or specific rivers on OFFB will also be useful.

Online Resources:

Oregon Levels is a super useful site for a quick check of water levels for rivers in the state of Oregon. I use this site almost daily to check current and past river levels. This past trend helps me determine what to expect on the day I head out.

The screen shot above is from Oregon Levels and gives both a gauge height and a CFS (cubic feet per second), both are useful. It pays to check these levels frequently to understand what the numbers really mean. For example, the only, “low” reading you see is on the Middle Fork of the Willamette at Oakridge. This calculation is basically the release of water at Hills Creek Dam. 400 CFS is about as low as you will see it. It’s really nice for wading and really skinny for boating from the top slide near the dam to Greenwaters Park. The, “Below NF-MF” refers to the Middle Fork after the North Fork of the Middle Fork enters it, basically the volume of the river that you would see at Black Canyon Campground and the inflow to Lookout Point Reservoir (graph below.) This number is greatly affected by the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette. Late winter and spring flows from the North Fork can really make the river jump so keep an eye on the “Below NF-MF” as well. A good range of fishable levels for the Middle Fork at Oakridge are from 400-1200cfs, from Hills Creek or “Oakridge” and 1500-4500cfs “Below the North Fork.” 4500cfs is big water and wading will be limited but if the river has been stable for while we find the fishing to be just fine.

Below is another screen shot from Oregon Levels, this one gives the key data for the McKenzie. When you click the CFS number, a graph expands so you can see the past 10 day trend (following image below).

Starting from the top of the screen shot is, “Above Cougar,” is the inflow to Cougar Reservoir. Anglers generally want to see this number pretty low for the best wading opportunities. 200-800cfs is a nice range, but the time of year is also important when speaking about the South Fork above Cougar. Early season runoff can be really cold so we look at this one a little later in the year.

The next reading, “SF McKenzie nr Rainbow,” indicates the flow leaving Cougar Dam, or the South Fork below Cougar Reservoir. The South Fork can be a significant contributor to the overall flow of the main-stem of the McKenzie, as is the case at 2700cfs. The South Fork is not a “boatable” river and waders will have a much easier time when flows are between 300-800cfs.

The next line “McKenzie River” “Trail Bridge” refers to the very top of the McKenzie, this is the water level from the dam release at Trail Bridge Reservoir. This number tends to be lower in winter as runoff is curtailed with cold temps in upper elevation. Spring flows can increase the outflow but the river remains clear. As the season progresses, June-October, there is a steady decline of water down to sub 600cfs. The lower the river is in this upper section the easier it is to wade. The elevational drop from Trail Bridge to McKenzie Bridge is considerable so the river is fast up here regardless of flow. Gorgeous pocket water and beautiful fish occupy this section but access is tough as the banks are tree lined and the fast flows make it difficult to get around. The McKenzie River Trail does follow the river most of the way and anglers can jump off the trail to find fishable water.

The “McKenzie River” at McKenzie Bridge includes numerous tributaries below Trail Bridge including Horse Creek which typically kicks in a decent amount of water especially in spring. You can see how the water can start to add up and we have yet to get down to the dam release from Blue River. The McKenzie at Vida includes all of what we call the, “upper river.” This is the majority of the McKenzie and the gauge I use the most. The next line, “Leaburg Dam,” is basically the same as Vida as they are super close to each other.

Next in the table, “Walterville,” flows are actually less. How can this be? Well, the Walterville canal diverts water for a minor hydro project and then kicks it back into the McKenzie between Hendricks and Belinger Boat landings. Hence the reading at “Springfield” of 6490 in the table. At this point, you have virtually all the water that flows to the Willamette north of Eugene. Some reliable flows to fish and float the McKenzie are 1-3ft in terms of gauge height at and 1500-6000cfs at Vida. Of course, stability is key, so I don’t love fishing the river if it’s rising from 2000-4000 in a given day. It’s likely that your results will be poor. At 6000cfs you need to be really careful as the water is high, cold, and not something you want to be swimming in at anytime of year.

Northwest River Forecast Center is a super useful site for examining potential changes in flow. I use this site a lot in the spring and less during really stable times. We have a prime example currently. As you can see the past 10 day trends have been on the decline (graphs above). As a matter of fact, this Wednesday and Thursday nymphing was excellent on both the upper and lower McKenzie and Middle Fork of the Willamette. Anytime you have this downward trend in water, you have a good shot at solid spring fishing. However…. (observe graphs)

You get to the graphs above on the NRFC site by searching a given river and then clicking down to each gauge site. Not every gauge has a predictive hydrograph, but we can certainly make some deductions by using this info. According to this graph, the McKenzie would definitely be out 29 Feb to March 3. The Willamette must jump on the Middle Fork, North Fork, and Coast Fork in order for the water increase at the Eugene gauge. We can assume a challenging week ahead for fishing around Oakridge. The exception might be the release right at the Hills Creek dam. Of course you would be able to check that gauge before you make the trip. Anglers looking to trout fish next week in the Willamette Valley should probably head east to the Metolius, Fall River, and the Crooked… I will add, that these predictive hydrographs tend to be exaggerative. Meaning, checking them each day during wet weather in your area can lead you to find a given river returning to shape sooner rather than later.

Guided Fly Fishing Trips. The Caddis Fly Angling Shop has been running guided trips on Willamette Valley rivers since 1975. We provide an instructive guided trip that aims to help you gain knowledge of not only our area, but of specific tactics that will help you catch fish anywhere. Book your trip by calling the shop at (541) 342 7005.

Introduction to Fly Fishing Courses. Since 1975, The Caddis Fly Angling Shop has provided casting instruction to burgeoning anglers. Our 6 hour course will hone your casting skills, speak to tackle and knots, and give you an idea about ideal gear for your pursuits. Zero experience required. Call (541) 342-7005 to book your spot. Click here to see the 2024 schedule.

McKenzie River Map with Hatch Chart. We have developed a map with river access via walk and wade, boat launches, and hatch charts for the McKenzie and Middle Fork of the Willamette. Call or stop by The Caddis Fly in Eugene to grab a map.

Shuttle Services on the McKenzie River. For 2024 The Caddis Fly Angling Shop and Caddis Fly Guide Service recommend “McKenzie River Shuttle Service” Casey Chafin can be reached at (541) 912-0044. For the Middle Fork of the Willamette Dan Craft, Dan can be reached at (541) 600-5094.

Fishing License. Anglers can purchase fishing licenses at Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Clean Water Partners. If you value clean water and habitat restoration we suggest the following organizations. McKenzie River Trust, Middle Fork Willamette Council, McKenzie Watershed Council, Oregon Wild, and Cascadia Wildlands.

Oregon State Marine Board Boating Obstruction Dashboard. You can see and report navigation hazards by viewing this website:

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