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Sunday, July 21, 2013

North Umpqua Gathering

Finally putting this late report together about a wonderful trip that I helped organize on the North Umpqua (NU for short) in mid July 2013.  The plans begain with Adrian Cortes and I talking about taking a trip to the NU.  Adrian thought to invite fellow in-hand salmon fly tyer/feather merchant Aaron Ostoj, then Marc Willamson (president of the Christian Fly Fishing Roundup) was added to the list along with my regular fishing friends Craig Coover, Keith Tymchuck, and Tony Torrence.  Group emails went back and forth and the plans came down to Aaron and Marc going down on Sunday, with Adrian and me going down on monday, and Keith and Craig going over on tuesday.  Tony was not going to able to make it due to scheduling issues.

I went over early Monday morning, leaving my home in Springfield at around 3am (insanity?).  I arrived at the river at daybreak and hit a few of the lowest pools in the fly water with no signs of fish.  I continued up to the campwater and fished a couple more pools before catching up with Aaron and Marc at the campground and was able to to get a campsite right next to them.  Aaron reported that he raised a fish to a muddler the day before in the campwater, but couldn't get it to come back.

I got my tent setup and and settled into a mid-day break as we waited for late afternoon for the evening fishing session to start with shadows on the water.  Aaron came over and took out his fly tying kit which fits in an old cigar box as he set out to tie a "Golden Olive", a traditional Irish pattern,  in hand:

Talk about amazing skills!

We set out at around 3:30pm to hit the evening session.  I guess I was a bit over anxious as sun was still on most runs, so we started at one the popular access points in the lower fly water that I recalled came into shade early.  I ran into long time NU guide Tony Wratney and we chatted and got caught up on the current fishing conditions.  I think Tony knows all the spots where fish live on the NU so I took as many mental notes as possible and we exchanged skaters.  The next spot we hit was a popular riffle, then we headed to another spot where I put Aaron and Marc in another shorter choppy riffle and I hit the tailout of the pool below.  I managed to raise a fish, midchannel in this tailout, and while my adreanline and hopes were high, two fly changes and repeated casts would not bring this fish back.  Adrain arrived monday evening and got his one man tent set up as we got caught up and discussed our plan of attack for the following morning.  Talks of a 4am wake up call and starting low in the fly water came together.  Adrian had just purchased a beautiful Reid cane spey rod, a 12' 6/7 wt, and he was anxious to put it through it's paces on one of the most famous steelhead rivers.

4am Tuesday morning came quickly and three fanatics - Adrian, Aaron, and I emerged from our tents and ready to chase steel.  I cooked a quick breakfast of bacon and eggs and we were off.  "Nevada Bill" was at Famous, so I showed Aaron and Adrian the flats and we proceeded to hit a few lesser fished runs.

 In one of these spots, I was chatting with Adrian as he was fishing a skater in the lower half of the run.  I was standing on a gravel bank a few feet above the water and as I glaced at Adrian's skater coming across, I saw a steelhead of about 8lbs casually tracking the skater from below.  I told Adrain about this and he would have had no idea that a fish was following his fly from his vantage point.  Subequent fly changes and repeated casts didn't bring the fish back, but Adrain did feel a pluck at a wet fly on the handown so the fish may have settled in right below him.  We fished til about 11 am then returned to camp to cool off.

Keith Tymchuck and Craig Coover showed up and grabbed another campspot together.  As we visited, "Nevada Bill" came over to talk.  If you fish the river much, you will see this guy around - he is in a red Chevy pickup/w camper shell, with Nevada plates.  He stays in Idleyld for 4 months each year and fishes the NU daily during that time.  Bill went on to tell us that he had gotten into 3 fish since 6/20/13, including one he got that day in one of the lower fly water pools.  He revealed that he fishes a riffle hitched muddler.  He shared his opinon that "chugging" skaters puts down fish and has ruined the river.

After a bit, I noticed that I had gotten a text from Tony Torrence - he was making it down after all.  I texted back our camp spot and he arrived a bit later with Ty Holloway who works at the Caddisfly shop.  I introduced everyone to each other and it was great having us all together.  Tony and Ty would be spending the night at the Dogwood motel and they would check in with us periodically.

After our midday break, we set out for the tuesday evening session.  Aaron and Marc would take a break and Adrian and I would get out in my Honda and Keith and Craig would set out together in Keith's truck.  Tony and Ty would be checking in at the Dogwood then hitting a few evening spots.  I took Adrain up to one of the famous campwater pools and after fishing through the upper sections, I stopped along the trail on the way back to the car to see if any steelhead were holding in the tailout.  I spotted one fish alongside a rock in the tailout and offered Adrain to fish to it while I spotted for him from above.  I helped guide Adrian's swings until he was putting his wet fly right in front of the fish multiple times, no dice.  I suggested Adrain change his fly - again multiple swings right in front/over the fish, nothing.  Adrian did feel a tug at one point which could have been the fish nipping at the fly, but no hookup resulted.  The fish never spooked from it's position so perhaps the bright conditions discouraged this fish from making a full committment to the fly.

I showed Adrain a few more pools just below the campwater and in the middle fly water until evening approached.  Neither of us raised any fish, but Adrain was having a wonderful time experiencing the NU for the first time and I was enjoying sharing my little bit or river knowledge with him.

At camp that evening, we compared notes and found that Craig Coover had a fish charge at his skater twice and then on his third cast, the fish jumped out of the water, taking his skater on the way down!  The fish, which appeared of decent size, gave Craig a good battle before coming unpinned.  Craig had a witness as Keith attested to seeing it all unfold.  Well, that was all the encouragement the rest of us needed.  Before turning in for the evening, more fish stories were told and  a few of my foam skaters were given to my friends who give me the honor of actually fishing them, even despite their own high caliber tying skills.

Alarms go off at 4am Wednesday morning and Adrian, Aaron, and I emerge for another morning assault on the river.  Bacon and eggs were cooked again and we jumped into my trusty Honda and hit the water by daybreak.  Neveda Bill was in his usual spot so we split up into the two pools below. 

After hitting the lower pools, we decide to head to the campwater to look around, especially since Adrian is brand new to the river and Aaron has just recently started fishing the NU.  It is mid morning so I figured "Station" would be open and it was.   We negotiated the tricky wade out to what is probably the NU's most famous of pools.  I put Aaron and Adrian through first to split up the little run and Aaron hooks into a half pounder sized steelhead.

We hit a few more the the famous campwater pools before calling it good for our morning session.  Back at camp, it was time to compare notes again.  Tony and Ty came by and Tony had "the look".  I'm like "ok, Tony, tell me the story"...  Tony recounts that he was fishing one of my foam skaters at daybreak and a fish charged at his fly but he didn't see it.  Ty was watching and had actually seen the explosion at the fly so Tony tries again, but the fish wouldn't come back to the skater.  Tony goes back with a small purple muddler and the comeback fly does the trick.  Tony feels a sold pull on the fly and gets a few headshakes before the fish is off.  Tony is totally jazzed and determined to get his first topwater steelhead.

After breaking camp, I bid goodbyes to my good friends and hit one last pool, a new one to me, on the way home.  Not surprisingly, I just got casting practice in a new spot, but on the drive home I reflected on the blessed time I had with a wonderful group of friends on one of the most beautiful rivers in God's Great Creation.  I also enjoy solitary fishing, but our first NU get together was very special and likely to become an annual or bi-annual event!

Adrian and Keith continued on until the following day, thursday.  They fished a couple spots together before splitting off to fish independently.  Keith had hooked into a good fish on a muddler which came unpinned and in another spot, Adrian later emailed that he had a fish come up to a foam skaker I had given him that took a few clicks off his Dingley, then was off.

Just this past week, I got a text/call from Tony that he landed is first dry fly steelhead on the NU - congratulations to Tony on what I hope is an event that will change his fishing for good!  I think he may understand my conviction with fishing surface flies a bit better now.  Tony was fishing with Craig Coover and Craig proceeds to hook into two more surface steelhead and unfortunately both got unbottoned after a good fight.  Wished I could get Craig's fishy mojo to rub off on me - think I need to start smoking some of his cigars.


  1. Thanks for a nice report Todd.
    It sounds as if your group had quite a bit of
    "action". They don't seem to do a very good job of keeping the Winchester fish numbers up to date, so it's encouraging that you guys got into

  2. Nick:
    Yes, we couldn't complain of the fish encounters. The NU is a tough river no matter what. I figure to fish as well as I can consisently when I'm down there and the fish will eventually come. Sooner or later you will be at the right place at the right time for a surface grabbing fish.