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Winter fly waters.

Byline: Mike Stahlberg The Register-Guard

It's mid-January in Oregon. Frozen frost coats the needles on a ponderosa pine overhanging a favored trout hole on the Deschutes River below Bend. Two days later, amid temperatures in the mid-60s, golden light from the late afternoon soon reflects off the water surrounding an angler in the Middle Fork Willamette River near Oakridge.

In cold weather and warm, east of the Cascades and west, anglers are wading into Oregon's year-round fly-fishing opportunities.

And why not? Fish aren't bears - they eat all winter long.

Once limited to a six-month window of opportunity, fly-fishers in recent years have gained 12-month access to more and more of the state's best trout waters.

Catch-and-release is the rule during the winter months at most (but not all) of the year-round streams. But that doesn't seem to discourage dedicated fly-flingers. Nor does a little streamside snow, or an ear-flaps-down cold wind.

To be sure, balmy winter weather like that experienced by most of Oregon over the past 10 days definitely makes the fly-fishing more attractive - and the insects and the fish more active.

Eugene-Springfield area anglers are blessed with two exceptional year-round trout streams - the McKenzie River and the Middle Fork Willamette River near Oakridge. In addition, several good trout streams in Central Oregon are within an easy day's drive.

Here is an overview of six of Oregon's best winter trout waters:

Middle Fork Willamette River: The section of the Middle Fork between Hills Creek Dam and the head of Lookout Point Reservoir is open to trout fishing year-round, with angling limited to artificial flies and lures.

Warm water drawn from the bottom of Hills Creek Reservoir assures insect activity in the tailrace throughout the winter months. Too much water discharged from the dam, however, can wash out the fishing opportunities, so anglers tend to key in on flows of 300 to 800 cubic feet per second.

In that case, anglers often move over to the North Fork of the Middle Fork Willamette, a free-flowing tributary that also provides some good late-winter fishing.

One new provision of the Oregon Angling Regulations allows adipose fin-clipped trout to be harvested year-round from the Hills Creek to Lookout Point section of the Middle Fork Willamette.

Some anglers took the rule change as a sign that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has decided to begin stocking hatchery trout there.

In fact, said district fishery biologist Jeff Ziller, the new rule is designed to minimize the impact of hatchery "strays" on a fishery managed exclusively for wild trout since the early 1990s.

Fin-clipped hatchery trout released in Salt Creek and Salmon Creek, both tributaries to the Middle Fork, tend to wander downstream. In addition, fin-clipped hatchery trout released in Hills Creek Reservoir pass through the dam.

State biologists decided anglers should be encouraged to harvest these fin-clipped trout to prevent them from spawning with wild fish.

McKenzie River: The lower McKenzie (from the mouth upstream to Hayden Bridge) was among the first waters in the state to be opened to year-round angling with artificial flies or lures.

Three years ago, an additional 20-mile section of the McKenzie (from Hayden Bridge upstream to Forest Glen Boat ramp near Blue River) was opened to year-round angling. From Jan. 1 through April 22, fishing is catch-and-release with flies or lures only. The harvest of adipose fin-clipped trout (as well as the use of bait) is allowed from April 23-Dec. 31.

The winter fly-angling effort is focused on native redside and cutthroat trout that feed on midday mayfly hatches, most notably the March brown. But the McKenzie has a rich and varied insect population that includes year-round caddis hatches.

When water levels in the McKenzie are a little too high for good fishing, anglers can improve their chances by fishing downstream from one of the two Eugene Water and Electric Board power canal intakes. Those canals remove about 2,500 cfs from the main river.

Fall River: Fall River, a spring-fed tributary to the Deschutes River, is located southwest of Sunriver. The section from the headwaters down to Fall River Falls is open year-round. One of the most popular areas to fish is the area around Fall River Hatchery, which always seems to have plenty of "planters" left over from the May through stocking season.

A blue-winged olive hatch that comes off most afternoons from February through April provides the best opportunity for winter dry fly-fishing. The hatch is most intense on warm, cloudy afternoons. Nymph fishermen do well with tiny midge pupae.

Because the water is so clear, fine tippets are usually needed to fool the fish.

Crooked River: The first eight miles of Crooked River downstream from Bowman Dam southeast of Prineville is arguably the easiest place in the state to catch trout on flies during the winter.

That's because the odds are definitely in the angler's favor. State fisheries biologists estimate there are between 4,000 and 4,800 fish longer than 8 inches per mile of river. In addition, the water tends to be slightly muddy, so the fish aren't spooked by anglers as easily as on spring-fed streams such as the Metolius and Fall River.

As a result, reports of anglers catching and releasing two or three dozen trout in a winter afternoon are not uncommon.

Water temperatures - moderated by Crooked River Reservoir and the river's canyon setting - are relatively warm year-round. There's a diverse selection of hatches, but orange scud or green leech patterns are good places to start.

The use of bait and the harvest of two trout per day is allowed during the general trout season, but winter fishing is catch-and-release with flies and lures only.

Middle Deschutes River: More and more anglers are discovering that the Deschutes River between Bend and Lake Billy Chinook can be a fun winter fishery, especially during the weeklong periods when the watermaster diverts one-third of the river's flow to area irrigation canals.

Red-band trout are the dominant species, but anglers tossing lures or streamer flies also tangle with the occasional brown trout.

Small black stoneflies are the most common winter hatch, although there are also intermittent showings of blue-winged olives and midges. Various mayfly nymph imitations are said to be the most reliable cold-weather option.

The Middle Deschutes is limited to artificial flies and lures year-round. However, it is one of the few streams where the harvest of trout is allowed throughout all 12 months. The limit is two per day.

Metolius River: Located northwest of Sisters, the Metolius is one of Oregon's more challenging fly streams. Success can be elusive, summer or winter, because there are no hatchery releases and the native rainbow and bull trout are extremely elusive.

Fooling one of them in the gin-clear water takes a fine tippet and a natural presentation.

That being said, skilled fly-anglers have success fishing blue-winged olive emerger patterns in the Camp Sherman area throughout the winter. Also, a stonefly known as the "Little Winter Blackstone" appears in January, and the March brown mayfly hatches usually begin in February.

Mark Morical of The (Bend) Bulletin contributed to this report.


Part of the North Fork of the Middle Fork Willamette River is open to harvesting adipose fin-clipped trout year-round to protect the wild fish. Mike Stahlberg / The Register-Guard It takes a hardy angler to head into the wilderness during the winter. Mike Stahlberg / The Register-Guard Gary Lewis uses small beadhead nymphs and tiny red and orange midge larvae to catch rainbows feeding near the bottom of Fall River during the winter months. Mike Stahlberg / The Register-Guard A fly-angler and his dog work a riffle on the Middle Fork Willamette River on Friday. The Middle Fork is one of several Oregon streams that provide good fly-fishing opportunities throughout the year. Even during the winter months, fat rainbow trout are swimming just below the surface of Fall River.
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Title Annotation:Recreation; Winter fly-fishing opportunities abound in Oregon's waterways
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 27, 2005
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