2015: Season of the TYEE


The 2015 Fall Salmon Season has been a study in extremes.  In the mild weather of late August and September, fly fairies like us spent days off getting our hands stinky down in the bays, trolling plug-cut herring for ocean-fresh chinook and coho.


As the days got shorter and the weather changed to autumnal rains, effort shifted from the bays to the rivers.  In between spates and blow-out conditions (see exhibit A, below), when the rivers turned that perfect shade of jade, kings were biting flies.


Timing is everything when trying to line up the fly-grab for tide-running Kings. When the elements align, however, the fish of a lifetime can appear at any moment.  A case in point: last weekend, Fred and I made a three-day trip during waves of storm activity that blew out many coastal rivers.  Forecasts varied enough that success would be no sure bet.  We hoped for the rain to hold off long enough for the brown waters to transition to green. Lots of time watching movies and eating bad diner food ensued.  But on our last morning, we found the rain had held off overnight, the river had dropped and started clearing.

We had the river to ourselves (more or less), the rain was light and intermittent, and for a few hours, the salmon gods were smiling.  After hooking and landing 5 sea-liced chromers, we were both tired and sated enough for a leisurely float to the take-out.  The glow of the day and a cooler full of fresh filets carried us happily through the white-knuckle drive home in torrential rain and powerful gusting winds. As the rivers blew out yet again, we were warmed by the thought of all those magnificent Kings, ascending the river and making it unmolested to their spawning grounds.

And that fish of a lifetime?  Fred let him go. Although he and Fred were a bit more tired than they had expected to be, the great fish too got to continue his journey upriver to close the circle for the next generation.



October Steelhead Swings

IMG_3544We’re comfortably settled into our favorite time of year for summer steelhead action.  The 2015 season has been distinguished by an unusually low return of steehead to the upper Willamette basin.  But angler effort has remained commensurately low, meaning those who put in their swings have had the river to themselves.

IMG_3656All that being said, steelhead fishing has been steady.  I can’t think of any full days out where we didn’t have at least one encounter with one of these incredible pelagic voyagers.  Some days the planets aligned, and we ran into several, reminding us that hope and diligence are always rewarded. . .  eventually.  Striving for these moments is what steelheading is all about.


IMG_3570IMG_3674IMG_3583IMG_3551IMG_3673One memorable encounter illustrates:

Floating through a broad tail out one afternoon, I happened to spot a bright fish laid up in particularly shallow glassy water.  We landed the boat downstream. My  guest, Will, and I grabbed his two spey rods: a dry line with a skater and a sink tip with a leech, and waded carefully back upstream to get into position to get the swing to the fish’s lie.

Beginning with the skater, Will worked out progressively longer casts until the fly was swinging through water that from our vantage appeared to be too fast to hold a fish.

“Here he comes!”  I said, as a series of wakes rose up behind Will’s pulsing skater.  The fish boiled the fly three times, finally opened its mouth, and sucked it in.  Will tightened up, but the fish wasn’t hooked.  The fly skated free.

“Holy S***!” Will exclaimed, giggling.  “Did that just happen?”

“Let’s give him a wet fly,” I offered.  My hands were shaking as I tied on a sparse White-Winged Blue.

The next swing through, the fish again pushed a wake behind the fly, again boiled the water, but didn’t connect.

The process continued. A larger Purple Spey got another chase this time with a solid grab, buzzing line from the reel, but again no hookup.

At this point Will and I were laughing uncontrollably.  Could this fish still be in play?

A big black leech on the floating line received a less enthusiastic boil well behind the swing.

“Time for the leech on the tip,” I advised.  After measuring the line length to match that of the floater, I swapped rods with Will.  His first swing: nothing. A foot longer: nothing.

Three fruitless swings, and Will wondered aloud if the show was over.

“Give it one more,” I offered. “This one should be right in his face.”

About half way through the next swing, the line tightened up and came solid with a startled eruption of water that could only mean one thing:  Fish On!!

After a spirited battle, Will landed and released the fish, adding an incredible memory to his (and my) steelheading archive.  We’ll never forget the fish that rose to 5 different flies before finally closing the deal!

IMG_3565As we float into the latter half of October, steelhead opportunities continue.

IMG_3655IMG_3640Meanwhile, trout fishing has been excellent at times (of course) lately.


IMG_3677But that’s another story. . .


September in Oregon

Taking a sabbatical from Mongolia this season has been a mixed blessing.  Hearing the reports trickling out of camp over there (Ganzorig got a 54-incher…, etc) it is hard not to miss it.  But at the same time, it has also been simply wonderful to be home.

The McKenzie continues to fish very well, with daily hatches bringing plenty of wild trout to the surface.

This past week, I got to reconnect with some old friends on a 4-day drift through the Deschutes Canyon in search of spey-rod steelhead.  My dad joined the trip to round out the party, and the swing was on.

Although the catch rates were, shall we say, “less than spectacular,” the trip was a complete success.  We were reminded daily how special these times on the river are for everyone involved.  Chuckboat2015Cougar2015Lynn2015FredMiltFish2015Jim2015MiltPano2015When you have the river to yourself, it’s almost easy to forget that you’re actually trying to catch a fish!

McKenzie Trout Action Heats Up as Weather Cools

IMG_3064With cooler nights and longer shadows on the river, fall is in the air.  The wild Redside trout on the McKenzie have noticed.  Fall drakes have been hatching daily, leading to some excellent dry fly fishing for actively rising trout.

JSRedside2015IMG_3103 - Version 2Meanwhile steelhead numbers continue to underwhelm.  That being said, we’ve managed to run into one or two now and then.  And the fish that have returned seem to be running larger than usual this year.  Here are a couple of whoppers caught by 16 year-old Jacob on his annual outing with his Grandpa.

IMG_2926IMG_2950Looking forward to the first Oregon September since 1994!  See you on the water.


Fly Fishing Through the Mid-Summer Drought

IMG_2597Despite historic drought conditions here in western Oregon, fishing has been good.  The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has imposed unprecedented restrictions on recreational fishing, closing most waters statewide from 2 p.m. to 1 hour before daylight, with the goal of protecting fish from additional stress during the warmest hours of the day. Fortunately, the cold spring-fed McKenzie and Middle Fork Willamette rivers are exempted and remain open to fishing throughout the daylight hours.  Whew!

During heat waves, there are not many better places to play than on the upper McKenzie.  Clean, clear, and cold, the McKenzie’s waters are a welcome respite from the hot, dry, and dusty Willamette Valley.  Early starts have been the key to getting into some great fishing action followed by some bracingly refreshing swimming after lunch.IMG_2686IMG_2721IMG_2708 - Version 2

In addition to the steady fishing on our local rivers, a highlight this summer has been the fishing on the high lakes of the Cascades.  Many reservoirs dependent on snowmelt are at unprecedentedly low levels. For example, check out this shot from the resort at southern Oregon’s Howard Prairie Reservoir:IMG_2767

However, low water concentrates fish over cold springs and around deeper water structure, making for an easier task of finding feeding trout.  Here are some shots from a recent camping and fishing adventure in the high Cascades.IMG_2503IMG_2492IMG_2544IMG_2426IMG_2625

As we roll on into the traditional “dog-days” of summer, opportunities for good fishing continue.  See you on the water!

June is the new August

Now one month into the summer season here in the Valley, the drought is official.  Rivers are already running at late-summer levels.  No one around here can remember a drier first half of the year.  Fire restrictions are in place throughout Oregon in both urban and rural environs.

Luckily, the upper McKenzie has provided a welcome respite from the heat.IMG_2241 Charged by the upper Cascades aquifer, the river flows cold and clear despite the lack of snowmelt.  So even now at minimum annual flow, there is plenty of water, and the fishing has been good.  If the weather is hot, a quick dip into one of the McKenzie’s  crystal cold green pools is guaranteed to refresh!

This summer in addition to standard hopper/dropper-style fishing, we’ve also been enjoying the novelty and fun of trouting with our Tenkara rods.

IMG_2212 Perfect for beginners and experts alike, Tenkara is quickly becoming a go-to technique when chasing midsummer McKenzie trout.

IMG_2215IMG_2204Towards the end of the month, I slipped away for a couple of 5-day trips through the Canyon over on the Deschutes.  Caddisfly fishing for subtle sipping risers with #16-#20 dries was fair-to-good, with some excellent fish testing anglers’ backing knots and 5X tippets.  Here are some highlights:

IMG_2250 - Version 2IMG_2349IMG_2360IMG_2256IMG_2343IMG_2282IMG_2247Now back home for the summer, McKenzie trouting is the focus.  Although summer steelhead numbers over Willamette Falls are relatively woeful thus far, angler effort has been correspondingly low. Those who have been diligently putting in their swings have been rewarded as often as not.Salerno2015

We will be out there in the weeks to come.  Stay tuned for fresh updates from the field.  And pray for rain!


Deschutes Salmonfly: 2015 Highlights

IMG_1875The annual rite of spring that is the Deschutes River salmonfly hatch is in full flower.  We’ve been putting in some steady time on the oars in the last few weeks.  Up out of the canyon for a brief moment, back tomorrow for 7 more days. It’s a feast of great fishing!

Here are some fresh images from the high desert.  See you in June!


2015 Agua Boa Amazon Lodge Highlights

Another amazing adventure in the Brazillian Amazon!  Ultra low water conditions on the Rio Agua Boa made for some epic sight fishing for huge peacock bass and an incredible array of other species.  Before taking up the oars again around here,  let’s take a quick look back at some of the highlights from the equatorial rainforest.  Enjoy!IMG_1194

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Warm Winter Redsides Spring Special

FullSizeRender(3)Winter has more or less given western Oregon a pass this year.  Temperatures have hovered in the 50’s for weeks with very little rain.  Skiers are bummin’ out. . .

Fishing, meanwhile has been pretty good.  When balmy weather and stable river levels coincide, for a few hours of the day, sometimes for a few minutes of a day, McKenzie redsides have been biting.

IMG_0517FullSizeRender(1)IMG_1876 - CopyOnce again, we’re offering our annual Spring Special Trip:  $300 for 4-5 hours on the water, byo lunch.

Tight Lines!

2014: A Fishing Year for the Ages!

My father told me, as he handed me my first fly rod back in 1977, “Point this rod, and it will lead you to some of the most beautiful places on earth.”  At the time, I was picturing hopping on my bike with my buddy, Kevin, and pedaling the mile or so out to Oak Creek to try for some native cutthroat.  My 7-year-old imagination could not possibly have envisioned the panoply of fly fishing adventures in store over the coming decades.

Now looking back over all the years and all the people, places, and fish I’ve known, I see how truly prophetic Fred’s words were.  Following my fly rod has truly been a guiding principle throughout my life.  And it has yet to fail as a divining rod for beautiful waters and true experiences.

2014 has been a crystalline example of this theme.  And as we look ahead to another year of fly angling excitement in 2015, I want to share this look back on a year of globe-trotting, rod-bending, reel-screaming, wet-wading, finger-numbing adventures for the ages:

2014: The Year In Pictures

(Activate links to view blog posts)

IMG_8344January began with a persistent lack of rain in Western Oregon, leading to some of the best fly fishing for winter steelhead in recent memory on some of our larger river systems.

IMG_8371Fishing was amazing at times, so much so, that the old adage, “that’s why they call it ‘fishing,’ not ‘catching,'” was turned on its head.  Some days were actually just “steelhead catching.”

In February, I received an unexpected last-minute invitation to work as the host at the legendary Agua Boa Amazon Lodge in northern Brazil.  After discussing the prospect with my family, and (of course) with Gumby, I decided I had to act on this possibly once-in-a lifetime opportunity: five weeks in the Amazon Rainforest fishing for peacock bass, bathing daily in DEET, dodging cayman and jaguars, and drinking caipirinhas.P3290099

Wild 078IMG_9513IMG_9438DSCN0496IMG_8960This trip was truly mind-blowing!  I made some great new friends, caught several fish-of-a-lifetime,  and added a new continent to my angling life-list. I even managed to avoid being eaten by a cayman, despite a couple of uncomfortably close encounters.

Returning in late March, all aglow from the trip to Brazil, I had little time to decompress before hopping another cross-country red-eye for a long-planned trip to the Bahamas for some bonefishing with my father.  This was  his first try for the elusive ghost of the flats, and a return after an absence of some 20 years for me.IMG_9752

IMG_9773download-9Despite some sub-optimal weather, we had a wonderful 5-day stay at the exquisite Mangrove Cay Club on South Andros Island.  And we each got to catch quite a few bonefish together in a new and certainly beautiful location.IMG_9788

On returning from these exotic locales, I settled in for the heart of the guiding season here in Oregon.  No matter where I have been fortunate enough to travel over the years, I am still constantly reminded of the reason we call this place home.  Oregon is an anglers’ paradise on par with anywhere in the world.  Some highlights from the Spring and Summer on the home waters:

IMG_0189 - Version 2Late April and early May saw some great fishing for trout on the McKenzie followed by the annual extravaganza that is the Deschutes River Salmonfly Hatch.  Big, explosive, fast-water rainbows and bushy dry flies shake the winter doldrums from the hearts of anglers who mass on the riverbank (like the salmonflies themselves) to enjoy this incredible orgiastic phenomenon.

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After the fervor of the Deschutes, June on the home waters of the Eugene area is a welcome refuge, playing host to quieter times and glorious fly fishing for trout and summer steelhead.


In July, I wedged a few days out of a busy guiding schedule to take the family on a camping trip to central Oregon’s East Lake.  It was a wonderful relaxing time in one of Oregon’s prettiest places.  Fishing was casual yet compelling.  A simple assortment of dry flies and an heirloom 5 wt remained in the boat for whenever trout were rising within casting range.



The heat of August coincided with some of the best summer steelhead fly fishing of the year here in the Valley.  Spey casting and swinging flies in the cool of the morning, punctuated by a sharp tug, a powerful line-stripping run, and the arcing leap of a bright steelhead: is there any better way to start a day?IMG_0942


Towards the end of August, I packed up the duffel bag for my 17th annual month-long expedition to Outer Mongolia.  It is hard to imagine a year without this trip anymore.  Back in 1998, when I first stepped into the waters of the Selenge drainage, I never would have believed that I would still be returning to this place all these years into the future.  The very real possibility of encountering the fish of a lifetime on every cast makes this a true apex for my guiding year.

Photo 27Photo 23Thanks to early conservation efforts by Sweetwater Travel Company, and diligent guidance by Charlie Conn of The Taimen Fund, taimen are still not only surviving in Mongolia, but in many cases, populations are thriving.

This season renewed my faith in the resilience of this incredible yet vulnerable fishery.  One day on the river was a case-in-point:  A fellow Oregonian and I shared a day of incredible taimen action in which he rose 20 taimen to a mouse pattern and landed a dozen, all around three feet long.  IMG_1117It is days like this that remind me how lucky I am to be a fly fishing guide.  Any day can be the most memorable of an angling lifetime.

Returning from Mongolia for a busy October, I was again happy to be home and guiding for steelhead and trout.  The cooler weather and stable river conditions consistently make this some of the finest fishing of the year.  2014 was no exception.  A multi-day float on the Deschutes was epic.

IMG_1614IMG_1608Meanwhile, the fishing close to home was just fantastic.  How great is it to share awesome steelhead and trout fishing with old friends 15 minutes from the house?


As the weather changed in early November, and the leaves filled the rivers, attention shifted to the coast and fall salmon fishing.   Part “busman’s holiday,” part guide opportunity, late fall salmon fishing is a great way to wind down the year.

cwvDm9asA_Lw9YsGTQNy8vW7Zxw-4Days spent with friends, putting away some fresh filets for the winter, and nursing sore muscles from pulling as hard as you can on big bright fish, all make it easier to face the coming months of winter.


Taken as a whole, the 2014 season truly embodied my dad’s promise of so many years ago.  As it has for most of my lifetime now, my fly rod pointed the way to an incredible array of unforgettable experiences.  As this year winds to a close and we unfurl the promise of 2015, remember to follow your fly rod toward all the memories yet to come.

Peace! — MR