Oregon's North Santiam River
By Peter B. Hiatt, Sisters, Oregon
Fishing with friends is the best! Today three of
us from FAOL got together and did some steelhead/salmon
fishing on Oregon's North Santiam River. Gray Ghost
(Ray), halcyon (Bruce) and I (Whopper Bubba) wet
some lines in the middle of the steelhead/salmon
run. Bruce has just moved from North Carolina and
getting partially unpacked was excuse enough to go
fishing. Everyone knows a stiff back is cured by
The Willamette Valley is the site of Oregon's main
population center from Portland to Eugene. The
Willamette River flows North and enters the Columbia
near Portland. The North Santiam is a tributary of
the Willamette rising from the West slope of the
ascade Mountain Range and captured by Detroit Dam
(which has a fishery of rainbows, cutthroats, and
Atlantic salmon). The dam has no fish ladder. The
river flow as regulated by the dam has a level
variance of about three feet over the year. There
is both a Spring and Fall run of Chinook in the
lower river, and a Summer and Winter run of steelhead.
The Summer steelhead start arriving in late May and
some do not spawn until the next Summer. That gives
the river year around steelhead fishing.
Year around steelhead fishing! Our Fish and Game
Department has done a marvelous job of increasing
the number and quality of runs in many Oregon rivers.
There are many more important runs of Summer steelhead
than when I started 40 years ago. F&G has also started
a WINTER run of Chinook salmon on the coast, and that
fishery is expanding. I would not hesitate to recommend
to other fisheries across the world that this is a
significant improvement. It really is a blessing for
fishermen and local businesses.
There is a lot of concern these days about native fish.
In Oregon, as a general rule one cannot keep native
steelhead or Coho salmon. Kings have mixed rules with
keeping them not allowed on the North Santiam River.
Many runs of fish are the largest the last few years
than any time back to 1932 when counting began of
fish going over the Bonneville Dam. Other runs are
in need of more help. This does not mean that our
Fish & Game Department has its act together in all
cases, but it is trying.
The F&G got very bad press several years ago by clubbing
to death many thousands of hatchery Coho salmon even
when regulations imposed harsh rules on sportsmen
catching them in that particular river. Evidently, the
state could not be in competition with private industry
(by selling or giving the fish to the needy) and they
felt this was the best option. There was a public outcry
when the wastage was seen on TV, and the F&G has attempted
since then to be more responsible to the public. Adipose
fin-clipped steelhead and salmon may be kept.
When the run is exceptionally large, as this year, the
bag is often increased in certain rivers. Trout may not
be kept in this river as Fish & Game wants to protect
smolts. The hatchery on the North Santiam now traps
all hatchery fish and keeps recycling them downstream
to run upstream again. One other river traps their
hatchery steelhead and plants them in a local lake
providing some fantastic fishing experiences. These
efforts provide more chances for fishermen. This may
all seem strange to Great Lakes fishermen and even
Fish & Game biologists. The current thought in the
Northwest is to keep the runs of wild and hatchery
fish separate. This is too great a subject to go in
to detail in this article. The bottom line is that
the hatchery fish are for the sportsmen and not allowed
to spawn outside the hatchery unless they spawn
downstream from the hatchery. The hatchery fish are
not allowed to spawn above the hatchery on the North
Santiam. We either catch and eat them or they go to waste.
Being close to major population centers means less
public water than on the East side of the mountains.
However, there are numerous parks in close proximity
and with the help of local knowledge, there is a lot
of open water to fish. I was actually surprised to see
other fishermen on a Wednesday, but they were only a
couple in number.
We started fishing mid-morning and discovered we should
have brought more weighted flies. The water is swifter
than it looks and a weighted fly is a real help. We
found the river quite clear and both fresh fish and
spawners were jumping. The area we fished included
an upper flat area with some protective structure,
followed by long riffles dropping into a deeper area
with large rocks and a deep and long runout with a
great deal of wadable area. Lots of variety. Leeches
are always popular in black, purple, and olive colors.
GG had a hit on an egg sucking leech. The fish left
halcyon alone. They probably were transfixed by his
beautiful casting. Bruce can really fling a line. The
water was coolish and the day warmish. GG and halcyon
found the same nice hole as they waded. It was one of
those surprises that gets deeper the closer to shore
you go. GG cooled off the most, but kept his cap dry.
The run is large both in number and average size this
year with 12 pounds being about the average steelhead.
I switched to a Pete's Red & Black which has produced
most of my steelhead in this river after I started
using the fly last year. The marabou gives it life and
a leech like appearance and red is never out of place
on a steelhead fly. I was rewarded with a 27 incher.
It was an exceedingly bright fish with no adipose fin
so was a keeper. I was using a Gatti 10 foot 8 wt. and
a Martin Model 72 Multiplier reel. I get serious about
steelhead. I missed a good strike and all too soon, it
was time to head on home.
We have an Oregon Fish-In this July 24-27, 2003 on the Metolius
River, and we will probably take a day for the hour trip
over to the North Santiam for steelhead for anyone who
wants to join us. ~ PBH
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