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Long before “A River Runs Through It” sent gear-giddy wannabes scuttling streamside, the Pacific Northwest boasted a devoted fly-fishing populace. It’s no wonder. From diverse native trout populations to steelhead and salmon that migrate from the Pacific, from lush rainforest streams on the coast to the high desert rivers east of the Cascades, the region offers anglers unparalleled diversity. Put simply, it’s pretty hard to get bored here as a fly fisherman or fisherwoman. Late autumn in Oregon can be an angler’s dream come true. Large rainbow trout look to gorge themselves before winter arrives in the high lakes — Crane Prairie Reservoir and Klamath, Hosmer and Davis Lakes. Coho, chinook, and chum salmon move into coastal streams, and will sometimes take a well-presented fly. For the hard-core, however, the fall fly game is steelhead. Steelhead — a species of ocean-going rainbow trout — are among the Pacific Northwest’s most prized game fish. Ranging from 4 to over 20 pounds, steelhead return to northwest rivers each year to spawn. (Unlike Pacific salmon, steelhead don’t necessarily expire after spawning; many fish return to the ocean for another cycle.) Steelhead don’t actively feed once they arrive in freshwater, and no one can say exactly why they’ll take a fly. Some flies mimic the shrimp of the steelhead’s ocean-going diet; some patterns mimic insect life that the fish may recall from their early days in the river; still others resemble nothing from the natural world. Many believe that the fish strike a fly as a territorial response; hence, some patterns are meant to provoke them.
Favorite Rivers “I first fly-fished for steelhead and camped on the North Umpqua my first year in law school. That was almost 45 years ago. I soon began staying at Steamboat Inn. I made a lot of my closest friends at Steamboat, and because I was there so much, I developed a substantial legal practice along the river, including Umpqua Feather Merchants, my largest client. The river was also the genesis of my photography career. For me, the North Umpqua and Steamboat have become a way of life.” — Dan Callaghan Solo practitioner and noted outdoor photographer Salem, Ore. “One thing that draws me to the Metolius is that it does not play favorites — you do not have to be skilled at moving a lot of line or be a strong wader. My favorite time to fish is during February and March. There is less pressure on the river, and the days are beautiful. Just a day trip from Portland, the Metolius produces beautiful rainbow, brown and brook trout, as well as big bull trout.” — Krista Born Associate (environmental law), Stoel Rives Portland, Ore. “Every fisherman has a favorite river — mine is the Deschutes. The last 100 miles of the Deschutes offer both wild trout and summer steelhead. Few rivers produce both; the Deschutes produces both in good numbers. In the lower stretch of the river steelhead arrive in early July, and good fishing continues through the end of the calendar year. All this within two hours of Portland!” — Tom Tongue Partner, Dunn Carney Allen Higgins & Tongue Portland, Ore.

The steelhead’s inscrutable nature, combined with their powerful fighting ability and streamlined beauty, lend them a mystique among the angling cognoscenti. An angler may log many days on the river before feeling their vicious strike; most agree it’s worth the wait. Steelhead are flesh-and-blood torpedoes. One thing’s for certain: You’ll never forget the experience that comes with hooking the first one. Steelhead techniques differ from standard trout fly-fishing protocol. Long casts are generally the order of the day; fly presentation is everything. Steelheaders needn’t worry much about “matching the hatch.” Instead, the angler will find success by locating the right water — slow, but not too slow — and controlling the speed and depth of the fly. If the fly gets in front of the fish at the right speed, odds are decent that they’ll take it. During hectic times in conference rooms, I like to recall fall days on the North Umpqua or Deschutes — my favorite Oregon steelhead rivers. As the low fall sun dances off the canyon walls, I cast toward the far bank, mend my line, and watch it drift across the river; take a step … and repeat the whole process again. It’s a Zen of sorts. Until the drifting line stops, I somehow remember to raise the rod, and the line screams from my reel. Then chaos returns in the shape of a chrome bright steelhead, a fish that’s swum thousands of miles to meet my fly, and is now tailwalking a hundred yards downstream to shake it loose. It’s a good kind of chaos.

If You Go From early autumn until the end ofthe year is an excellent time for steelheading in Oregon. The following guides/outfitters can lead you to likely steelhead lies on their home water … but hooking up is a matter of perseverance. Deschutes River Mark Bachmann (extended floats) www.flyfishusa.com Telephone: (800) 266-3971 John Hazel & Co., Inc. (day trips) www.johnhazel.com Telephone: (541) 395-2441) Grande Ronde River Little Creek Outfitters (for extended float trips) http://data.ucinet.com/~littlecr/grr.html Telephone: (541) 963-7878 North Umpqua River Larry Levine Telephone: (541) 496-0326 Accommodations: www.steamboatinn.com Telephone: (800) 840-8825

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