Gary Lewis has been fishing on some of the Northwest’s finest rivers for over 20 years. He is award-winning author, TV host, speaker and photographer from Central Oregon. He has hunted and fished in seven countries on two continents and in the islands of the South Pacific. For as many trophy fish as Gary has helped people catch, he never seizes to take the chance to bag one of his own. In this addition to Filson Life, Gary goes into detail about one of his favorite Steelhead spots on the North Umpqua.
It was late August, towards the end of a busy summer. I craved a day in the water, the current swirling about my legs. I called my old friend Geoff Hill, packed my Filson bag, grabbed my waders and jumped in Geoff’s rig for the three-hour run south and to the west to one of Oregon’s beloved steelhead streams.
Mark Stangeland knocked on our door at the Dogwood Motel at 5:45 in the morning. We were headed downstream to start in the lower reach of the North Umpqua’s fly-fishing-only water.
With a long stretch of highway that parallels the river for much of its length, the North Umpqua’s 31 miles of fly water are accessed from the road. Wonder where to fish? Stop at an unoccupied pullout and follow the trail to the river.
The North Umpqua was low and clear. There were clouds in the sky, a marine layer that just might give the fish enough added confidence to take a fly on the swing.
At the first run, a pool with a boulder and a long riffled tail out, Stangeland pointed me downstream and handed me a 13-1/2 foot two-handed rod with a Scandi line and a sparse purple pattern on ten-pound tippet.
Geoff and Mark started upstream at the boulder.
I began with short casts, lengthening each by two feet till I was casting the head with long, smooth strokes and an upstream mend.
Cast, mend, swing, step.
Cast, mend, swing, step.
Muscle memory returned and I held 20 inches of shock loop pinned to the cork.
It was 6:40 in the morning and I had made about 30 casts when there was a tug about a third of the way into the swing. Time seemed to stand still. Out went the line beneath my index finger, six inches, twelve inches, and another six inches for good measure. When I could stand it no longer, when I judged that 30 inches of ocean-fueled trout had turned, I lifted the rod and felt its pulse, the electricity of its life conducted up through the fluorocarbon and into the graphite.
When the eight-pound wild hen kicked away, back to its lie in the riffled water, we climbed back in the truck and headed upstream to fish several more drifts.
On the last run of the morning, we employed the binoculars and spotted three fish holding at the tail out of a pool. There was room for one angler, perched on a shelf of a slippery boulder.
Geoff cast upstream and threw a series of mends, stacking the line to let the non-weighted fly sink in the fast water. On the tenth cast, the line straightened out and a fish pulled.
Mark counseled Geoff to lengthen the line and stack it farther upstream on the next cast and the next. Straight downstream the line pulled again, about five feet this time and Geoff lifted. Line streaked off the reel.
Brought to hand, the steelhead proved to be a buck, about eight pounds with an adipose clip, a hatchery stray. Mark applied the wood shampoo.
Back at the road, I lifted the binocular again. No steelhead showed in the green water, but I will stop there again and peer down among the alders.
A lot of people are intimidated by the thought of fishing for steelhead with a fly. Truth be told, it is one of the easier techniques to master. At its simplest form, fly-fishing for steelhead consists of mastering the wet-fly swing:
1. Cast across the current quartering downstream.
2. Throw an upstream mend.
3. Let the fly swing through its drift to finish directly downstream.
4. Take two steps down and cast again.
In this manner, a fisherman can show the fly to all the fish within casting range. The wet fly swing attracts the most aggressive steelhead. At the strike, the angler may feel a ‘peck’. He should let the fish take about 20 inches line and then lift the rod tip for the hook set.
Gary Lewis is an award-winning author, TV host, speaker and photographer from Central Oregon. He has hunted and fished in seven countries on two continents and in the islands of the South Pacific.