About 200 miles southeast from Portland is the dream getaway of any fisherman or fisherwoman. If you follow the North Umpqua River through its twists and turns of placid pools, juxtaposed with sections of rapid currents, you will enter into 31 miles of fly-fishing only territory. You will also find an inn that embodies the true spirit of fishing from its rich history to its nightly fisherman’s dinner. Gather your poles and tackle box for a getaway filled with fine food, famous fishing spots and even a massage.
The North Umpqua river and its famed heavy runs of summer steelhead first found recognition when writer and sports angler Major Lawrence Mott, dubbed the millionaire reporter, established a fishing camp in the area in 1929. In 1931, the area garnered more attention when one of the most famous western novelists of the time, Zane Grey set up camp and began fishing the waters.
Today, many of the area campgrounds, bridges and fishing pools are named after or in honor of these two men who helped put this world famous fishing spot on the map.
Begin your day by checking into the rustic and quaint Steamboat Inn. Located in the middle of this famous stretch of premier fishing, the inn dates back to 1935. At that time the resort consisted of several tents, a dining room and kitchen. Today the inn is more than a place to rest your head after a day of fishing, it is a destination in itself.
Accommodations range from cabins and cottages to luxurious suites and even three bedroom houses that were built on the site of the old tent camp across the river from the inn. After you have settled into your room of choice take time to wander the grounds and check out the raging river.
Next, it’s time to experience the river first hand. And the best way to get your feet wet on this river that many consider one of the most beautiful and most difficult places in the world to catch these incredible fish is with a private fly fishing guide. Tony Wratney of the Summer Run guide service will have you geared up in wader pants and boots, in possession of a daily angling license and standing in the middle of the North Umpqua in no time flat.
Part of what makes this river challenging is merely making your way into the water. The combination of an extremely slippery rock bottom, a fast and strong current as well as navigating depth, makes each step tricky. It’s no wonder it is considered home to some of the most challenging steelhead angling and why even experienced fisherman opt to hire a guide.
Once you are thigh deep at your starting point at Boat Pool and with secure foot placement it will be time for the cast. Wratney will most likely start you out with a Spey two handed rod and teach you the Snap T cast off the left side. With each new cast, he’ll show you how to let out a bit more line and move downstream a step or two. Once you get into the flow, you’ll find the motion, movement and repetition are meditative, relaxing and a bit addicting.
If you are lucky, Wratney may move you to the more difficult Upper Boat Pool. He may demonstrate a few new casts for you here before you try and venture out into deeper and more turbulent waters.
Another favorite spot is another 10 miles down the road at Susan Creek. A bit of a hike down a trail, through brush, in and out of the water will bring you to a small coved section where you can wade out and either work on casts or try to cast off your other side.
The North Umpqua offers the longest summer steelhead season of any river in the world-running from June until mid November. Steelhead, a type of rainbow trout, return to their original fresh water hatching ground to spawn after descending the river to the ocean, where they stay at sea for one to four years. Unlike some types of fish, steelhead do not die after spawning, and make this journey up to four seasons. The average North Umpqua steelhead weighs eight pounds, with an occasional fifteen pounder and all fish are meant to be released.
After your time on the river, head back to the Steamboat Inn, and what could be better than a massage to soothe tired muscles? In the busy summer season the inn offers this service in a river front cabin.
Next, make sure to partake of the evening cocktail hour located in the Steamboat Inn Library where aperitifs and hors d’oeuvres are offered.
Then, holding true to tradition and the early days of the inn, a fisherman’s dinner is served every evening in their dining room. With their large group tables, it’s the perfect place meet fellow anglers, trade fishing tips and tricks of the trade.
What & Where:
The Steamboat Inn (42705 North Umpqua Hwy, Steamboat; 800-840-8825)
Summer Run Guide Service (541-496-3037)
The summer Steelhead season runs from June until mid November.
Directions: From the 5 Freeway, head East on Highway 138 about 40 miles.
Other things to do in the area: Hike the North Umpqua Trail which runs along the river for over five miles. Visit nearby waterfalls such as Watson, Toketee, Clearwater and Fall Creek Falls.
For more information on fly fishing on the North Umpqua check out the following books: North Umpqua Angler’s Guide by Doc Crawford (Frank Amato Publications) or Steelhead River Journal: North Umpqua by John Shewey (Frank Amato Publications). For fishing accessories click here
The Steamboat Inn is one of many Unique Inns within Oregon. For information on the Steamboat Inn and many other unique locations please visit uniqueinns.com.