North Umpqua River

In many ways, the North Umpqua is all steelhead rivers: As it gouges a path through steep canyon walls, the North Umpqua creates every imaginable kind of steelhead water and all of it in abundance. From glass-smooth tailouts and choppy runs, to gliding bedrock-rimmed chutes and deep pocket water, the North Umpqua offers something for everyone and in doing so becomes unique unto itself.

Upper River

The magnitude of the river is impressive, not so much for the 33 miles set aside for fly fishing, but for the countless steelhead lies found through this section and for the diversity of their natures. In one place you scramble down the steepest of inclines, picking your way through riprap and blackberries, always just one wrong step away from getting to the bottom much more quickly than anticipated. When you finally emerge at river's edge, you find all your efforts will yield but a single casting station - a single rock scarred with cleat marks from seasons past.

A handful of casts might cover this pool and then your are left with the prospect of renegotiating the highway embankment. The next pool offers stark contrast: You park alongside the highway on a gravel pullout and follow a well-worn path through a canopy of maples and douglas firs to reach a sprawling pool whose cobblestone bottom in entirely wadeable from top to tailout. An hour and dozens of casts pass before you have entirely covered this elegant pool.

The North Umpqua is renowned for its treacherous wading, but an angler could spend an entire season fishing just those pools where sure footing is abundant; conversely, one could spend that same season negotiating pools where a thorough dunking is nearly as sure as the morning sun. In fact, I often think one ought to just sit down in the river first thing in the morning just to get it over with.

Author tying purpil peril The fly water begins at the angling deadline about a half mile downstream from Soda Springs Dam. Here the river is characterized by a steep gradient and tumbling pocket water. Lightly fished, this upper end of the fly water is accessed by either Boulder Creek Trail or by a forest service spur that crosses the river just below the dam on a precarious little bridge. A number of steelhead negotiate this upper section of the fly water and some are taken each season; most of the fish - summer steelhead and especially winter steelhead - end their upriver journey's short of Soda Springs Dam.

North Umpqua in Summer

A couple of miles below the dam, Boulder Flat Campground and Eagle Rock Campground offer access to a handful of steelhead pools and runs. Following Hwy. 138 downstream from Eagle Rock Campground, you cross the river at Marster's Bridge. During the fall, Chinook salmon can be observed on their spawning beds along the edges of the wide gravel flat around the corner from the bridge.

Forest Service Road No 4770 heads off to the south just above Marster's Bridge and a short distance up this gravel road lies the uppermost trailhead for the train system (Mott Trail) that follows the river's south bank. Anglers willing to hike this trail can fish pools not accessible from the highway side of the river.

From Marster's Bridge to Dry Creek, anglers can access the river from either the trail on the south bank or from the highway, now on the north bank. Below Dry Creek some of the more productive pools require a laborious (and at times treacherous) plunge over a long, steep grade off the highway embankment. Just over a mile below Dry Creek, the river sweeps through a long bend, hence the name of Horseshoe Bend Campground.

Between Horseshoe Bend and Apple Creek campgrounds, some three miles of river are characterized by a steep climb down to water's edge and widely varied steelhead runs. Above Horseshoe Bend, the North Umpqua's gradient lessens some, and long, wadeable pools become more prevalent. Mott Trail follows the south bank through most of the fly water and, in a few instances, can provide access to pools and runs that are difficult if not impossible to fish from the highway side. Some sections of this trail hang precipitously from the canyon wall and leave little if any access to the river below. This is especially true downstream from Camp Water. Nonetheless, the Mott Trail allows more adventurous anglers to escape the crowds that often accumulate along the highway.

Mott Bridge

About four miles below Apple Creek, just around the corner from Island Campground, Mott Bridge crosses high over the river a short distance upstream from Steamboat Creek. Anglers can park just across the bridge and follow a short section of the Mott Trail that leads to the famed Camp Water.

So named because of its proximity to Mott's Camp (later Clarence Gordon's North Umpqua Lodge) that once stood on the south bank, the Camp Water is comprised of a number of revered, well-known steelhead pools. At the top, just below Mott Bridge is the Bridge Hole. From atop the bridge, one can often spot steelhead holding in the channel between reefs of ledgerock. Below the Bridge Hole, the main current flows through a chute bordered on both sides by sheer ledges. This long, narrow glide is called Sawtooth, its name deriving from a section of sharp-edged, jagged reef that is famed for its ability to separate a steelhead from the angler on the other end.

Camp Water in high water

Just below Sawtooth is Hayden's Run. Toward the highway side and just above the confluence of Steamboat Creek is Sweetheart, followed by the Confluence Hole and then the Station Hole. The latter, named for the forest service station that once stood atop the bank, was also called the "Plank Pool" because of a wooden platform that was built out over the water enabling anglers to position themselves for an easy time of it fishing this gliding reef-bound run.

Below Station, the river surges through a short rapids before fanning out into the most magnificent of steelhead pools, this one known as the Boat Hole. Upper Boat (or "Top of the Boat") is a narrow chute above the main pool; Middle Boat and Lower Boat sprawl out over a tremendous cobblestone bar, studded here and there with bedrock reefs.

Major Jordon Lawrence Mott, who set up the first camp on the river's south bank in 1929, hired Zeke Allen, a local guide, as his cook and assistant at the fly fishing camp that first year. Visitors would signal the camp via a bell on the north bank and Allen would then ferry them across on a rowboat, hence the pool's name.

At its lower reachers, the Boat Hole tails into a narrowing chute of bedrock reefs, forming the Kitchen Pool, so named because it was overlooked by Mott's kitchen tent. Later, a trail led from Clarence Gordon's dining hall down the bank to the Kitchen Pool.

Brown Trout too

Below Kitchen, the flow glides through a series of ledgerock pools: The Fighting Hole, Upper, Middle and Lower Mott, Glory Hole and Gordon.

From the Bridge Hole to Gordon and beyond, the flow glides over and through ledgerock reefs and channels, forming what Trey Combs called "the most celebrated water in all of steelhead fly fishing." (Combs, Steelhead Fly Fishing, 1991).

Author with Steelhead

These storied pools continue around the next bend, below Steamboat Inn: Maple Ridge, Jeannie, Abernathy, Takahaski (named for Zane Gray's Japanese cook, George Takahashi), Krouse. Further downstream ones finds The Ledges, Tree Pool, Divide Pool, Williams Creek Riffle, The Log Pool and Discovery Pool. The popular Archie, a deep reef-bound tailout, lies some half a mile downstream from The Discovery Pool, with ample fishable water in between. Another mile or so downriver is Bogus Creek Campground and from there to the lower boundary of the fly water (about 12 miles), the Umpqua offers countless pools and runs where steelhead lie during both the summer and winter seasons.

The popular pools are easy for find: Look for pullouts along the highway. These same pools generally feature the same worn path of rocks scarred from wading cleats. Hence if you find yourself wondering which rock is the casting station, just look for the one decorated with cleat scars.

Throughout the North Umpqua (and especially from Apple Creek to the lower end of the fly water) dry fly anglers will find a number of perfectly smooth tailouts where a skating fly might bring an explosive boil first thing in the morning or at last light - maybe any time of day when the river is uncrowded. ~ John Shewey

For a MAP of The North Umpqua River, click here.
For the FLIES for North Umpqua River, click here.
To ORDER North Umpqua River direct from the publisher, click HERE.

Credits: From North Umpqua part of the Steelhead River Journal series, published by Frank Amato Publications. We greatly appreciate use permission.

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