North Fork Santiam – Detroit to Marion Forks

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Highway 22 traces the North Fork Santiam from Salem to the Santiam Pass for close to 60 miles. The river below Big Cliff Dam is home to salmon, steelhead and trout. I focused on the 15-mile stretch between the head of Detroit Reservoir and the Marion Forks Hatchery. It is exclusively a trout fishery with plenty of planted and wild rainbows and a five-fish limit. Above Detroit the river access is pretty wide open with the road following the river and numerous campgrounds and pullouts, which make it really easy to get down to the river.

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The fast pocket water is something fly anglers love, but I didn’t seem to have much luck at all pulling fish out from behind rocks, and found them hanging more in the riffles and tailouts than anywhere else. Ever the pragmatic fisherman, I packed both my trust fly rod and dusted off my summertime ultralight spinning rod for the trip. Both produced fish, with drifted beadheads and wooly buggers working well on the fly, and brass and then a small, blue Blue Fox absolutely killing it on the ultralight. Generally, I’ll first fish through a hole with a fly, and if it doesn’t work, go back through with a spinner to pick up any stragglers.

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There are a few bridges over the river. This 15″ native was hiding under one of them.

Quartering downstream and swinging across the current made for some fun hits with aggressive fish rising off the bottom to strike the lure, and oftentimes following it up to within a few feet of the shore, only to see me and return to the depths. The fishing books, which might be outdated, said the fish average 6–10 inches, but there were more than a couple wild fish in the 15-16 inch range, more than enough for a good time on a light rod.

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The “old man” still knows how to get it done…

As far as summer trout fishing goes, the North Fork Santiam is a great place to spend a day, or to make a pit stop from the valley over to Central Oregon. The only caveat is that the river runs entirely on the south side of the road—the right side heading towards the pass—and is much easier to fish heading upstream than down as you don’t ever have to cross the highway to park. Even though I fished it on a weekend during vacation time when all the campgrounds were full, I only saw one other angler the entire day. This gin-clear stream with a mix of fast water, boulder gardens, riffles and pools is amazingly easy to access, in a beautiful backdrop flowing out of the mountains, will provide any trouter with a fun day of fishing.

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