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  • Writer's pictureMarvin Olmstead

Oregon Is Made For Nature Lovers

Updated: Aug 28, 2021

McKenzie river
Fig. 1: Sometimes the river is so smooth it becomes a mirror.

It has been almost two decades since I relocated from Ohio to Oregon and in doing so I greatly increased the opportunities I would have to pursue my primary outside-of-work interests of fishing and nature/landscape photography. I will let the photographs I have included with this article speak to the photographic side of my interests. If I have achieved my goal, they will visually help tell my story.

As to my interest in fishing, there are a few things you need to know about me and Oregon. First, the "wanting-to-fish" gene was passed on to me from my father, who loved to chase our finny friends around the lakes and streams of northern Maine. My opportunities in Ohio were limited to trips to Lake Erie in search of the elusive walleye. When I moved to Oregon there were rivers full of trout, steelhead and spring and fall Chinook salmon all around me. (Figure 1) I could have tried bank fishing but access to fishable water is limited to relatively small areas. I could have bought a boat. For the rivers in Oregon most commonly you have a McKenzie boat because it is designed to sit high in the water thus allowing passage over rocks that are just below the waters surface. They are wide in the middle so you can safely stand in them in calm waters. Then I would have to learn how to navigate the rivers and figure out where in the river the fish would most likely be. Of course, this would also require buying a truck/SUV and trailer to move the boat around. I decided finding a fishing guide would give me all that I needed to fish Oregon waters and save me a lot of time and money.

It did not take long to discover that not all guides are the same. You will be spending an average of 7 to 10 hours in the boat with your guide and possibly a fishing buddy during a day long float and covering 8 to 15 miles of the river. With this in mind, it is obvious that you will want to go out with a guide that will help you fulfill your goals. Improve my flyfishing skills was one of my main goals. One of the guides I went with told me it “didn’t matter how your line landed on the water because the current would straighten it out anyway”. He clearly did not adhere to the teachings of Reverend Maclean from “A River Runs Through It”, who said, “Anyone who does not know how to catch a fish, should not disgrace the fish by catching it.” Needless to say, I went on to the next guide and in Oregon finding a new fishing guide is easy. The phonebook is full of them. It is finding the right guide that is hard.

Figure 2. Stan navigates the river.

One of the guides I went out with was named Stan. He asked me while we were loading the boat what I wanted to achieve during that day’s trip. I had never had a guide ask that question so early in the excursion. In fact, most guides did not ask that at all. My reply to Stan was, “I want to catch a steelhead on a fly.” He rowed the boat to the middle of the river and set the anchor. He then asked me to cast a fly. I made an attempt at casting but much to my dismay my line land on the water looking like a wiggly snake. “Can I show you something? Stan asked. “Of course.” I replied. As he cast his line onto the water, I knew I was in the presence of a Master. He then demonstrated for me the elements of a proper cast. I learned that while you lift your rod with one hand to bring your line off the water, you are pulling down on the line near the reel with the other hand to load energy into the line coming off the water. You bring your rod quickly to the 2 o’clock position and allow the line to fully load up in the back cast. You then bring the rod sharply to the 10 o’clock position and the line will shoot forward toward your target, land tight and straight on the water, as the fly uncurls in a small loop at the line’s end. It takes lots of practice to get it right. I then noticed the small patch on Stan’s shirt which read “Certified Flyfishing Instructor”. I had found my guide! (Figure 2) The rest of that day was spent casting and learning with guidance thrown in where it was needed. I really appreciated that I was given time to try and learn on my own before Stan made comments or suggestions. Stan is also an expert in all types of fishing so we could do what was necessary to bring home some hatchery breed fish for the grill. Keeping wild fish is not allowed in Oregon, so if you happen to catch one you release it as gently and as quickly as possible. Hatchery fish have their small adipose fin removed before they are set into the river so they can be easily identified when caught.

Steelhead trout caught on a fly rod.
Fig. 3: My first steelhead on a fly.

I have floated many of Oregon’s rivers with Stan and caught not only the steelhead on a fly (Figure 3), but also my share of other types of fish over the years. I soon found that the fish were really secondary to getting on the river and enjoying what the day offered. Dawn is a great time to put the boat in the water. The sounds of flowing water fills the air like a soothing melody. The cool air from the night mixes with the cool air rising off the water. Starting in nearby mountains with snow and ice, the temperature of the water never gets a chance to become very warm. You are glad for warmth provided by the layers of clothing you are wearing. You notice how clear the water is as the bottom is visible for much of the way as the boat moves to the middle of the river. (Figure 4)

Figure 4. The water is clear, allowing a view of the river’s floor.

Blue skies with high wispy clouds frame an inviting road of water lay before of you. Trees and bushes line the bank of the river and you are surrounded by evergreen covered mountainous terrain.(Figure 5)

Figure 5. The beauty of the “road” ahead.
Figure 6. This osprey caught an eel for breakfast near the mouth of the Rogue River.

You become aware of all the living things around you. High over your head an osprey is seen drifting in the air currents. Its eyes are fixed on the river below. Then it begins to hover some 40 feet above the water. Without warning it folds its wings, arches its body so its talons are projected forward just in front of and below its head and hurtles toward the water in what looks like a life ending dive. It hits the water with a large splash, flaps it wings enough to get 10 feet off the surface and shakes water off like a wet dog. You then notice that it has a large fish or other creature of the river grasped firmly in its talons. To make sure you see its breakfast, the bird will take a large looping flight path that goes directly over your boat. You have just been told by an osprey, “That is how it is done!” (Figure 6) Of course, the osprey does not want to get too sure of itself because there may be a bald eagle lurking near by who would just love to have that fish for its own. So, if you see an osprey flying as fast as it can in a straight line, look behind it and you might see our national bird hot on its tail with every intension of making the osprey go hungry. (Figure 7) Birds are not the only creature you see. Beaver, otters, nutria, mink, deer and rarely bear have been known to show up either in the water or on the bank. (Figure 8) While it is fun to watch these animals go about their lives, the guide may not be too happy as some of these critters will have an adverse effect on the fishing.

Figure 7. A bald eagle rests before resuming it's patrol of the river.
Figure 8. Nutria is an invasive species that was released to the wild when the market for its fur dried up.

I hope what I have written here and the photographs I included have given the reader an idea why Oregon is made for nature lovers. This last year it has been hard if not impossible to pursue my interests. I did not do a float trip all year and have only been out to take some photographs a few times. Stan, who is now over 80 years old has decided it is time to retire so I will be looking for a new guide when it is safe to go back on the river. The good news is that Oregon is still out there waiting for all nature lovers to enjoy.

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