Although the weather can always be volatile here in western Oregon during the late winter and spring, this year has been particularly wet, with rainfall far exceeding historical averages and many days with unseasonably cool temperatures. March and April are usually great months to fish the lower McKenzie for wild trout, but unfortunately the river has been swollen and out of shape for much of the last six weeks or more. This is not to say that this spring has been without good trout fishing opportunities; whenever the McKenzie or Middle Fork Willamette have dropped into reasonable shape they have fished well, there have simply been a lot fewer fishable days this Spring than we usually get.
I am not too picky about water levels; the McKenzie can fish well when the water is quite low, but good fishing can also be had when it is at 10,000 cubic feet per second or more. I talk to a lot of anglers who neglect to go fishing unless they think the river is at an ideal level. This year, waiting until things look perfect might mean not fishing until Memorial Day. Trout need to feed whether the water is high or low, and good fishing can be had when the water is surprisingly high. It is true that high water severely limits wading access, but fishing from a drift boat allows you to get to where the fish are. There are, of course, extremes of high water that make the fishing very difficult, and rarely is the fishing very good when the flows are coming up in a hurry, but I have had surprisingly good fishing over this last week at quite high water. The McKenzie is very resistant to turbidity; even when it is way up, it typically maintains a green color with several feet of visibility. The pictures in this report were taken on a day when the lower McKenzie was running between 13000 and 14000 cubic feet per second at Hayden Bridge.
Fortunately, conditions seem to generally be on the mend. The McKenzie came down into very reasonable shape this Sunday and Monday, though it is back up a little bit today, it looks like the long term trend is for the weather to become more seasonable and for the flows to fluxuate at a relatively high, but very fishable, level.
Though big, leggy nymphs are still taking most of the fish, the last several days have seen much better surface activity. The water has warmed up by a couple of degrees, and there have been some decent afternoon mayfly hatches with a mix of blue-winged olives and some lingering march browns. The surface fishing will really improve over the next couple of weeks as the water continues to warm. The big green caddis hatch will start to materialize sometime soon. When these bugs hatch in decent numbers, can make for some of the best dry fly fishing of the year.
May is usually a great month on the McKenzie and Middle Fork Willamette. With a wet March and April behind us, hopefully May has some drier weather in store so we will have more opportunity to get out and fish.