One day with a McKenzie River guide
He knows the river’s secrets.
Where to hook a steelhead, or cast for wild rainbow trout.
How to fish quiet pocket water amid tumbling rapids.
The best fly pattern for time of day and season.
The best recipe for a midday fish-fry along the river.
Best of all, the way into a legendary McKenzie River realm of vivid beauty, of passages through sparkling tranquility and brisk white water.
A day for you
Today you’re a special guest.
Bring a fishing license, proper clothes, perhaps a snack and your favorite rod, if you like.
But leave every detail to your guide: all the tackle, rods and reels, life jackets, boat.
He will tie your flies. Rig up your rod for bait. Choose just the right river run for the day’s fishing.
He will coach you on how to cast. Share history about the river.
Will you choose a lunch? He’ll do it all while you fish from the bank or relax in a folding chair.
Hatchery trout fishing
It’s a keeper.
In a flash, merely a glint in the riffles, the rainbow took your fly and skirted to faster water.
Your rod bent double, the reel screeched. The fight was on.
And now it’s yours to keep: a plump, fin-clipped rainbow, perhaps up to 15 inches long. If you’re lucky, two fish to a pound.
Just 40 percent of the McKenzie River is planted with hatchery trout, but the feisty delicacies – with pink meat like salmon – add timeless excitement to the river.
That’s because you get to keep your limit of hatchery trout. Your guide will choose the fly: maybe a nymph below the surface, perhaps an attractor dry fly. Maybe bait for the kids.
Cooked by your guide over an open fire or small camp stove on the riverbank, hatchery trout make for great memories in more ways than one.
Wild trout fishing
Some days, the McKenzie River percolates.
It’s a bug hatch, and the sight of rising fish exhilarates even the most experienced anglers.
Wild trout feast on the morphing March browns, mayflies, blue-winged olives and caddis flies, setting the stage for a fantastic day of catch-and-release fishing.
Early in the season, around May, your guide may drift the lower McKenzie, hoping for a hatch in warmer water close to town. With the heat of summer and fall, he may run the upper McKenzie, holding sway against tumbling rapids while you cast for wild trout in quiet pocket water.
No bug hatch just yet?
Not to worry. Your guide can hook you up with nymph flies for fishing below the surface, where wild trout gather 90 percent of their food supply anyway.
Down the rod goes, heavy and hard. Will it snap?
No, but listen to your guide, because you must play these trophy fish just right.
McKenzie River steelhead, true fighting machines, typically weigh in at 6 to 10 pounds. And they’re almost always keepers, having been spawned and fin clipped at the Leaburg Dam hatchery before released as fingerlings downstream.
Fattened up in the sea for two to three years, the giant rainbow return to the lower McKenzie in springtime, usually April into June.
Your dry or wet fly may strike silver, but chances are your guide will have you dangling roe or casting a lure or plugs.
If a giant spring Chinook strikes instead, savor the fight. But released it must be.