Upper Willamette River

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Upper Willamette River
Fly Fishing Festival
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Upper Willamette River
Summer Steelhead on “The Town Run”

By Dean Finnerty

5 Rivers Guide Service's "water taxi", a 20' in-board jet boat, at anchor on the "D" Street run awaiting its "fares" to load up and move on to the next run.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife got it right about a dozen years ago when they elected to introduce summer steelhead to the upper Willamette in the area of Eugene/Springfield.  Biologists, at the prompting of local guides, decided to start a run of summer steelhead, where none had existed before.  Cutthroat Trout, a few Rainbows and Spring Chinook salmon were the only inhabitants of this section of river.  Yet every time I fished it for these species, I always thought “what a waste of some great looking steelhead fly water”!

Because of these stockings of hatchery steelhead, the “town run” as its come to be known, is one of the best urban steelhead fisheries around.  The run arrives early each year, generally beginning in April.  Fish continue to arrive throughout the summer and into the fall and the fishing holds up well, clear into late December.  This is due in large part to warmer flows coming out of Dexter and Lookout Point reservoirs.  I commonly have clients skating dry flies in December when water temps are still in the upper 40’s and low 50’s.     In fact, one of my fishing partners was still hammering them this past January when everyone else was chasing winter fish. 

When steelhead smolts are introduced into the “town run” they are liberated at several parks and boat launches.  This causes the steelhead to acclimate to these areas and return here.  Thousands of adult steelhead will mill about these areas, giving anglers an easy opportunity to locate some willing fish.  Favorite haunts include the water downstream from Island Park in downtown Springfield, Oregon.  The “D” street launch down to Valley River Center through the heart of Eugene also offers plenty of great fly water.  The drift from Valley River Center down

Joe Hill from Henderson, Nevada with an October "town-run" steelhead taken on a spey rod near Island Park in downtown Springfield, Oregon.

to the gravel bar off of gravel bar off of Beltline Hwy. is also very productive.  Bank anglers can find some great runs in Alton Baker Park near Autzen Stadium and upstream along the bike path at

 "M.O.A.L." leeches are deadly on the "town run".

“D” Street in Springfield.  This is classic “big water” and the ability to fish long lines effectively is a huge advantage.  Spey rods are my favorite tools for this type of water.  Sink-tips are not necessary, but if you prefer fishing them, they work fine.  Most of my summer time work is done with full floaters as these fish are usually aggressive and will rise to take surface and sub-surface presented flies. Favorite patterns include Silver Hilton’s in size 2-6, purple and pink or purple and black MOAL leeches and several variations of Ed Ward’s “Intruder”.  For

surface flies, just about any skater that leaves a distinct and visible wake will draw savage takes from these hatchery fish.  One guide friend of mine swears by any pattern with bright green in it.

I use my 16’ driftboat and a 20’ inboard jet boat on the town run.  The boats are generally just used for transportation from run to run.  Wading the cobble bottom and “step, cast, stepping” down these incredibly long runs are such a pleasure to fish.  For first time anglers to this section of the upper Willamette or for boaters who are less experienced, I highly recommend spending some time with a knowledgeable guide before going out on your own.  There are several places where mistakes here can cost you a boat or worse.  I have several friends who are very experienced jet boaters that can attest to the damage this river can inflict on your boat.  And it seems every year, someone either dumps a drift boat or is drown when one of many obstacles found throughout this section causes a catastrophe.   If you are the type who just has to go it alone, I would recommend the float from Valley River Center down to the Division Street takeout.  This section is probably the easiest section with the fewest number of obstacles. 

By the end of October 2005 the counts for summer steelhead over the falls at Oregon City totaled 14,063. The 2006 count totaled 19,373 summer steelhead.  As of June 4, 2007, 6,375 summer steelhead have passed Willamette Falls. Granted, all these counts have to be divided between the Santiam, McKenzie and upper Willamette river systems.  But the bottom line is, there are plenty of fish to be had, where once none existed.  The “town run” offers fly anglers one of the best opportunities for multiple fish days in an urban environment of any river in the Northwest.

Summer chrome!  These early arriving summer steelhead are HOT!  Long runs, specatacular leaps and an all around "bad attitude" make these fish a lot of fun to target.

What Happened At The 2007 Fly Fishing Festival ?
To make the story short, it rained most of the day, but over a hundred people showed up anyway.
We had fun. The lectures were educational and entertaining. Lots of prizes were given away.  Jerome Todd won the 590-4 Echo2 rod in the casting contest.  Her are a few pictures.
Ron Lauzon teaching a class in basic fly fishing.

Clackamas County Tourism Van Greg Snider with the newest Hardy reels.
Eric Newfeld watches Mark Williamson tie flies. Our store was crowded.
Ron Lauzon teaching a class in basic fly fishing. George Cook demonstrates the finer art of casting from a sitting position as if from a float tube.

The Measure Net
Small               Medium               Long-Handle

The Measure Net is made of strong aluminum tubing with a durable rubber handle that allows the net to float.  The netting is very soft fish friendly nylon.  The rubber handles make each net easy to hang on to. The most unique feature of these nets is that they measure your fish while they are in the net bag.  No more guessing about the exact length of your fish.  Offered here are three models which will cover most trout and bass situations.  The smallest net will measure fish to 20".  The largest will measure fish to 28".  The next most amazing thing about these nets are the prices.  Also consider that each net bag can be removed with a zipper, then be tossed in the wash machine to eliminate the odor of decaying fish slime.  All in al you will find The Measure Nets hard acts to follow.

Three sizes of The Measure Net.

Small Aluminum Measure Net
This is perfect trout stream size net.  It is large enough to measure trout found in most streams, and not so large to get in the way.


Full Length: 19.5"
Net Length: 12.5"
Net Width: 8.5" at top
Fish Measure Length: 20"

Average trout size.
Item Description Size Price To Top
MEASURE-1 Aluminum Measure Net Small $20.00


Medium Aluminum Measure Net
This is a good net for use while fishing rivers and lakes with larger fish.


Full Length: 25"
Net Length: 16"
Net Width: 8.5" at top
Fish Measure Length: 24"

Larger trout size
Item Description Size Price To Top
MEASURE-2 The Measure Net Medium $23.00


Long Handle Measure Net
This is a great net for a boat or float tube.  Large trout, small steelhead, shad, bass, sea trout and bonefish will all fit in this net.  the telescoping handle extends your reach.


Full Length: 33" to 42"
Net Length: 18"
Net Width: 10.5" at top
Fish Measure Length: 28"

Perfect for fishing from a boat.
Item Description Size Price To Top
MEASURE-3 The Measure Net Long Handle $30.00


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Fish long & prosper,
Mark & Patty


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