The Middle Fork of the Willamette

I had been looking at the weather forecast over the last couple of weeks, waiting for a break in the rain to get some fishing in. Today was that day, so after work I drove to one of the few rivers nearby that wasn’t the color of chocolate milk or swelling past its banks. This was a tailwater, and the US Army corps of engineers must still be filling up the reservoir because there was barely a trickle coming out of the dam. Too little, I realized very quickly after beginning to wade downstream. My favorite pools were puddles and the runs were so shallow I knew no self-respecting trout (or one that wanted to survive an osprey’s claws) would be hanging out there. I decided to give it a go, anyway. Nothing was rising, though there were a bunch of caddis flitting about. After swinging soft hackles for a little bit, I switched to a dry caddis (Kelly Galloup’s high floating Butch Caddis pattern) with a size 16 bead-head prince nymph dropper.  I tied a few of these recently after listening to Kelly talk about what a great floater this pattern is because of the inclusion of the hollow part of the deer hair.  He’s not wrong – it is a great dry fly to drop something off of.

I caught a mountain whitefish on the dropper out of one of the puddles and after I let him go I realized that I had already waded half the water I was intending on fishing. I decided to quit while I was ahead to make my way to the middle fork of the Willamette. It wasn’t too high, according to the USGS website, and not that far away from where I was. I drove over there and was relieved when I pulled up and saw no cars.  On a day like today when there weren’t many other options for good water I counted myself lucky to see no one.

I went to the bottom of the topmost riffle of the very long inside turn that would take me an hour or two to fish if I did it thoroughly. There were bugs flying about; caddis and various mayflies heading upstream and some diving to lay eggs. Not a major hatch, but enough to bring some fish around I thought. But no trout were rising as far as I could see. I tried my caddis dry/prince dropper combo to start with absolutely no luck. I briefly considered swinging soft hackles but concluded that if the fish didn’t want to rise for a juicy caddis or the prince nymph hanging a foot under, they weren’t going to rise for a size 16 soft hackle either.  Another one of those times when I came to the river really wanting to fish the surface but had to admit that it just wasn’t happening. Time to go deep.

I tied on a size 8 mega-prince as a lead fly and then an unweighted size 16 pheasant tail off the bend of the hook. I put a couple of tin-pellet shot on about 18 inches up from the prince to get it down quickly.  I started working the water and quickly had a grab by something fair sized.  The hookup lasted only a few seconds before the fish broke off. I wondered which fly he had taken. I worked the run for the next 45 minutes with nothing more, until finally my cork indicator took a dive and I set the hook on a fish I knew was big.  After a short fight I brought in a beautiful 18 inch wild rainbow with my mega-prince in his mouth.  As I unhooked it I smelled cigarette smoke and realized there was someone waiting near the spot where I had parked.  Waiting to fish, I guessed.  Feeling satisfied with my result, and figuring I should give someone else a turn, I decided to call it a day.  As I walked back I saw three cars next to mine with fly rods inside.  Too late, suckers, I got the big one!