The North Umpqua’s fly fishing only stretch has been called "The finishing school for steelheaders". With good reason. No other steelhead river will test your skills like the Umpqua. To begin with, just wading the river is an adventure by itself. The term, "Full contact" comes to mind. This becomes brutally obvious when you see the river in full day light. It’s huge boulders and basalt ledges give new meaning to intimidating. While numerous classic "riffle, gut, tail-out" runs do exist, many of the lies are covered from a single casting station. This is often a rock that may take considerable effort to get to. It’s not uncommon to see even the strongest waders using stream cleats & caring a wading staff on the North. More so, she is a strong, pushy river. This effects not only your wading, but your fishing as well. Line control is critical for success. The huge structure and swift currents make this a challenge. In addition, you’re often trying to move fish from a long distance. Thus, large flies and long casts are often necessary to find fish. Another unique aspect of the river is it’s special regulations. No weight may be added to the fly or leader during the summer months. It should also be noted that strike indicators are prohibited by law. Like we said, the river is steeped in tradition. While the river is a challenge to fish, those who spend the time learning her secrets find huge reward. If you don’t have a lifetime to devote, consider hiring a guide. They know the wading lines and will insure your safety and comfort.
Both summer and winter fish grace the green waters of the Umpqua. Her summer fish, destined primarily for Steamboat Creek, start ascending the river in mid June. The summer run continues well into the fall. One can still find fresh fish as late as mid November or later on good return years. Guide Scott Howell believes the Umpqua’s summer fish and winter fish are two completely different animals. Scott fishes dry flies almost exclusively for summer fish. However, his flies and techniques are anything but ordinary. He believes surface disturbance is the key to moving fish from a long distance. Scott will occasionally switch to a heavy sink-tip and a big un-weighted leech if fish aren’t responding to his surface presentations. Though speaking with him, it’s obvious he prefers to get them on top.
Ironically, while the summer fish are so surface oriented, he says a winter or spring fish will never rise to the surface even in comparable water temperatures. "They’re just different fish", says Scott. The Umpqua’s winter fish will trickle in all winter, though the big push begins in February. The winter fishing peaks in March and continues well into April. If you do fish the river during this time, please be aware that many summer fish will still be spawning. Scope out tail-outs before you fish them. If there is any sign of spawning fish, even the presence of unattended redds, move to another piece of water. The Umpqua’s winter fish like to eat big critters. Weight is allowed on the fly during the winter and you’d be best advised to use it. While many traditionalists still fish single hand rods with full sinking shooting heads, heavy sink-tips deployed with two-handed rods are the tool of choice. Leave the green-butt skunks at home during the winter, large intruders, leeches, & prawn patterns will move these monsters from the depths. Unlike the summer, it’s not uncommon to walk into camp water and find yourself in complete solitude during the winter. More so, landing a North Umpqua winter steelhead is damn near a religious experience. If you are fortunate enough to bring one to hand, relish the moment, for they are truly amazing animals that are not an every day occurrence.
There is a definite feeling of community on the North Umpqua. After a long morning on the water, The Steamboat Inn is a wonderful place to find a hot cup of coffee and a home cooked breakfast. It’s not uncommon to bump into old friends or make new friends at Steamboat. At times, it feels like the center of the steelhead universe. Even if you don’t find a friend, there’s an overwhelming sense of place for any steelheader. The old pictures and books remind us of our heritage and community. And when you hold a North Umpqua steelhead for the first time, you can’t help feeling like you’ve just become a part of that community. One thing is for certain; When you do finally walk away from the river, you will leave a part of your heart with it.
Season: Summer Steelhead- Late June through mid November
Best accommodations: The Steamboat Inn 800.840.8825
Best place to get a burger and a beer: Bring a grill.
Fishing license dealer: Fred Meyers in Roseburg, Or. 541.957.3041
Road accessible water: 100%
Boat access: None