Upper McKenzie River


The fly fisher’s dream! This river is talked about in just about every fly fishing book, and even has a boat named after it. I went to U of O, and although I’d already started fishing, didn’t realize I had so many great fishing rivers so close at hand. It wasn’t until my final year in Eugene that I started exploring the Willamette and McKenzie that were so close by.

For the first time in awhile, I made a trip to the local fly shop to load up on flies for a specific river. After over a year straight of hardware fishing, it seemed strange to be checking hatches and trying to remember fly names in preparation for a few days on the river. Here, green seems to be the go-to color, and it didn’t disappoint.

The upper river comes straight out of a spring in Clear Lake, and it is super cold! I really wasn’t expecting it to be as cold, clear and fast as it was; I definitely found myself wishing I’d brought my waders.

IMG_0324 2

Guess why they call it Clear Lake…

Below McKenzie Bridge, there isn’t a whole ton of access. Most of it can be found at campgrounds. Above McKenzie Bridge, the McKenzie River Trail follows the river all the way up to its headwaters, which provides a lot of access, but it is very fast, and didn’t look nearly as “fishy” as downstream.


Sahalie Falls

The flip side to heading downstream is that there isn’t as much bank access. The McKenzie definitely looks like a floater, much more conducive to a McKenzie River drift boat than bank stomping. The furthest downstream I made it from McKenzie Bridge was Finn Rock, a kayaking takeout with a bit of bank access.

Although I’d spent $30 on flies, I ended up using just one spinner with great success: a #2 black body and brass blade with green tape. There are lots of redsides in the river, and there’s enough action to keep any angler happy. I hooked two decent fish in five minutes, although they both threw the hook as I tried to net them.

The following day I returned to the same spot to give my sister-in-law her first fishing experience. After some casting work and a couple tips about where to target fish, she also managed to hook her first rainbow, but it too managed to escape before I could get out the camera. It was my first time taking someone else out for their first time fishing, and it is as exhilarating putting someone else on a fish as it is feeling the tug myself.


There’s a lot of river to explore on the McKenzie, and I was only able to fish a tiny portion of it. It is easy to see why this river gets so much press. It’s in a beautiful setting, there are plenty of fish just waiting to be caught, and there’s a lot of river to fish.


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