McKenzie River Oregon fly fishing is something special. This river has a rich history in the fly fishing world.
It is a good-sized river with a good mix of redside rainbows (6-20"), cutthroat (6-18"), cutt-bows (6-18") and of course steelhead (6-10 pounds).
You would think that with this river being close to population centers (Eugene and Springfield) and with Hwy 126 paralleling the river it would have good access. That is simply not the case. The river runs through mostly private land and bank access is not easy.
Most of the bank access will be found at parks or boat ramps.
Well, that depends. If you have access to a drift boat and a skilled, knowledgeable rower the answer is easy.
Bank fly fishers on the other hand have a more difficult time finding access. Bank access will also vary depending on the section you target.
We will look at the McKenzie River as two totally different sections each with a unique personality.
The section from Armitage Park in Eugene to the Leaburg Dam has wade opportunities at Armitage Park, Deadmond Ferry, Bellinger Landing, Deerhorn County Park and Hayden Bridge. This lower section is also easier to float in a drift boat.
Most of the fish in this lower section are wild. As a result catch and release is the general rule here. Be sure to know exactly where you are on the river and the state regulations. There are four different sets of regulations for this section alone.
If you don't mind the sound of the freeway or just have part of a day you might want to check out Armitage Park in Eugene. At the downstream edge of the park there is a gravel bar that will give you good access.
A good run of summer steelhead begins returning to the lower section in May. They are all headed for the Leaburg hatchery. Anadromous steelhead are not able to go above the Leaburg Dam.
If you are going to the upper McKenzie River for Oregon fly fishing, it can be very memorable. This section is very scenic with forested canyons, and deep clear and angry waters.
The rapids on the upper McKenzie are not for novice boaters. This section is run by white water enthusiasts. The McKenzie drift boat is the best way to run the rapids and take in the scenery. In fact this boat was developed for this river. Even with a guide it is not a section for the faint of heart.
Do not try to wade this section. Bank access is very limited here. There are however some access points along the McKenzie River Trail if you are willing to hike in.
Both wild and hatchery fish inhabit this section. Hatchery trout have a clipped adipose fin and wild fish should be released. Up to 130,000 fish are stocked here every year.
You can fish the McKenzie River year round between the mouth and Leaburg Dam. Parts of this section are catch and release and other parts are artificial flies only. Upstream of the Leaburg Dam is open April 26th to Oct 31st.
Always be sure to read the Oregon Fish and Game Regulations.
One of the nicest times on the McKenzie is the autumn when the recreational use slows down. This is a great time for waders because the water level is lower.
Winter time does not offer a lot of chances to fish the McKenzie. Between December and February with the short days and almost endless rain, most locals spend their free time tying flies.
January to March
March to July
April to August
August to November
During the summer months consider a 12-foot leader and a 6X tippet. On overcast days you can use a 9-foot leader with a 5X tippet.
A bead head nymph dropped under a dry fly (or with an indicator) is a good idea.
On the lower river I always spend some of my time swinging a streamer down and across to entice a nice steelhead.
Springfield and Eugene on each side of I-5 are your best bets for lodging if you are coming from the west. Sisters is the best choice if coming from the east.
Camping can be done at Armitage Park if you need to stay close to Eugene.
These campgrounds in the upper section of the river are well worth the drive.
See Willamette National Forest Campgrounds for more information:
The Caddis Fly Shop (Eugene)
The Fly Fishers Place (Sisters)
If you have never run this river before it is a
real good idea to hire a guide. The upper river is not a river for a drift boat
novice. Save up your money and hire a guide. It is worth every penny. McKenzie River Guides Association
If Oregon fly fishing is in your plans the McKenzie River can be a very scenic and memorable experience. This river is a quality trout stream west of the Cascades and near the population centers of Eugene and Springfield. You should see and fish this river. You will not be disappointed.