It is no secret that we have had a great summer steelhead return this season in the Willamette River and its tributaries. The dog days of summer, however, are often not the most productive of the year. When air temperatures soar, water temperatures climb, the sun hangs high in the sky, and the wind blows, the fish just don’t bite as well. A fish has to be in the right mood to take a swung fly. Unlike a trout that is feeding, a steelhead’s motives for biting a fly are opaque. Is it aggression, inquisitiveness, an instinctive feeding response, or a combination thereof? In any event, it is clear that happy fish bite better, and the cool, overcast, and even rainy weather of late has done a lot to improve their mood.
After a summer of marginal water conditions, the levels on both the McKenzie and Willamette are perfect, and the clarity is great. Though it is hard to go wrong with a sink tip and some sort of leech pattern, I have had good success recently fishing traditional wet flies (#2-#6) on a clear tip or floating line. Yesterday I took the fish pictured below on a riffle-hitched muddler skated on the surface. I have caught good numbers of steelhead using dry flies on other rivers like the N. Umpqua and Deschutes, but in the past haven’t spent a lot of time fishing them on our local streams. This was one of the best grabs in my steelheading career. The fish threw itself at the dry fly with all the fury its 30 inches and 10 pounds could muster. I have seen a lot of exciting fishing scenarios unfold, and pride myself on maintaining my composure in the heat of the battle. The way this fish took my fly, however, left me slack-jawed.
On average, the fall is certainly the most productive time of year to flyfish for steelhead on the McKenzie and Willamette Rivers. The reason the fishing has been so good the last few days is because of an early dose of fall conditions: low, clear, cooler water, overcast, showers, and light pressure. I am sure that we will have another dose or two of summery weather before fall is here for good, but the good news is that we have two more months of prime conditions to look forward to. Winter will be here all too soon. Now is the time to get out there, enjoy the cooler weather, and catch a few fish.
I still have some dates available this month and next, if anyone out there is interested in experiencing some of the best steelhead flyfishing our area has to offer, please call or email. I am an expert spey caster and casting instructor, and can show you how to effectively fish water of various types, and more importantly, how to read and select water to focus your efforts.