When I was a kid, I was always on the hunt for new water where I could wet a line. You could usually find me pedalling around on my beat up bicycle with my fly rod looking for ponds and creeks. I definitely spent more time looking than I did fishing.
If I had grown up in Oregon, finding new water to fish would not have been a problem. The fly fishing opportunities in Oregon are unrivaled. Whether you want to stalk redband trout in the desert or wear yourself out fighting a fresh steelhead in coastal rivers, Oregon has it all.
Portions of the state receive over 200 inches of a rain a year, and most of that precipitation flows into a plethora of rivers and lakes to support a wide range of fish species from steelhead to largemouth bass.
1. McKenzie River
The McKenzie River flows out of the Cascade range and is home to incredible flora, fauna, and plenty of fish. The river is named after a famous fur trapper, Donald McKenzie, who explored the region in the early 19th century. While the area is certainly more developed now then it was when Donald was tramping around looking for beavers, large tracts of the river flow through public lands and there has been very little residential and agricultural developments along the river. This all translates into a scenic and healthy river with good populations of Chinook salmon, rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, and even bull trout. This wild river is also home to all sorts of wildlife including ospreys, dippers, and bald eagles.
Where to Fish on the McKenzie River
The McKenzie River flows for over 90 miles, and there are numerous access points. The lower stretches of the river before it dumps into the Willamette River have solid populations of trout, but I prefer the stretch starting at the Lower McKenzie Trail Head. No bait fishing is allowed on this section, and there are still good numbers of fish.
The Oregon Dept of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) stock the McKenzie River with thousands of rainbow trout, but please keep in mind that all non-adipose fin-clipped trout must be released. I usually bring my 9 foot, five weight rod, and you want to be sure to have fluorocarbon tippet when you are fishing these gin-clear riffles.
Park at the Lower McKenzie Trailhead and start hiking until you find a likely riffle.
Recommended Flies for the McKenzie River
- Stonefly nymphs like Copper Johns and Pheasant Tails are productive year-round. I like to have Pheasant Tails in Size 12-16, and red or black Copper Johns in Sizes 12-18.
- Woolly Buggers, Size 6-8. The McKenzie River is pretty big, and you can cover a lot of water with a black, olive or white Woolly Bugger.
- BWOs, Size 14-20. BWO hatches take place year round, and when fish get locked into these bugs you definitely do not want to be without a couple BWO flies. The Parachute Adams or Klinkhammer are great patterns that can trick most fish during a hatch.
- San Juan Worm, Size 16. The Cascade Range sees a lot of precipitation, and if it raining upstream you can bet there are worms in the water.
2. Crooked River
The Crooked River is a tributary of the Deschutes River. The upper stretch of the Crooked River does not fish particularly well, but the 10-mile stretch beneath Bowman Dam provides some of the finest and productive fishing in Oregon. Cold water released from the dam flows through a deep basalt canyon and supports healthy populations of redband trout. When you add eager fish, plenty of fishy features and loads of insect habitat, you have a recipe for phenomenal fly fishing.
Where to Fish on the Crooked River
It is hard to pick a spot on the ten miles of river beneath Bowman Dam, but I like to start at the Chimney Rock Trailhead. I park at the trailhead and then hop across the road and wade into some of the finest canyon waters in Oregon. This stretch is wadeable, but a wading staff never hurts. The Crooked River isn’t stocked, but the year-round cold flows from the dam and the prolific insect populations keep the wild trout happy and abundant.
Recommended Flies for the Crooked River
- Psycho Prince, Size 14-18. For whatever reason, this flashy little devil slays fish. I like to fish it as my lead nymph and trail a more subtle offering behind it.
- Midge Patterns, Size 16-22. Three of my favorites include: Top Secret Midge Emerger, Griffith’s Gnat, and the Beadhead Zebra Midge.
- BWO, Size 14-20. Although these bugs can hatch any time during the day, expect to see them as the sun drops towards the horizon. Add a little cloud cover or haze and you might be in for an incredible hatch.
- Baetis nymphs, size 18-22. Trail one of these behind an egg or a scud and you will light them up. My favorites: RS2 or a WD-40.
3. Davis Lake
Davis Lake is located in the Deschutes National Forest and offers superb fly fishing opportunities. The lake was formed when a lava flow in the area blocked Odell Creek. The great thing about Davis Lake is that it is a fly fishing only lake, but the use of motors is still permitted. On Davis Lake you don’t have to compete against Rapalas or soft plastics, but you can still motor up to lily pads and drop offs. Rainbow trout between two and five pounds are normal fare in wet years, and the thriving, illegally-introduced largemouth bass populations provide even more sport. Whether you are a fan of bouncing Clouser Minnows off of shelves for trophy rainbow trout or skittering frogs across lily pads for hard-striking bass, it doesn’t get much better than Davis Lake.
Where to Fish on Davis Lake
Davis Lake is hailed as one of the finest fly fishing lakes in the Pacific Northwest, and it holds the trout and the bass to back up the claim. As I mentioned above, motorized (and non-motorized) boats are permitted on the lake and there are boat ramps at the Lava Flow and East Davis access areas.
Given the size of the fish that are cruising around in this lake, I like to bring my 7 weight rod with a reel that has sufficient drag to slow these fish down if they decide to go on a burner. In terms of leaders and tippet, I recommend 0x-3x fluorocarbon. The recent Davis Fire has resulted in several closures in the area, but according to the USDA the Lava Flow Campground is open (excluding wildlife closure months).
Recommended Flies for Davis Lake
- Clouser Minnow, Size 2-6. The Clouser Minnow was originally invented to target bass, but this fly has proven to be irresistible for trout as well. Given that there are rainbows in the lake, I like fishing a red/white clouser, but the black/red or white/chartreuse are equally deadly.
- Bunny Leech, Size 2/0 – 6. A simple fly to tie, and it absolutely slays bass. Mix up your retrieve and fish it around structure. Cast it up against a shelf, give it one long strip and then let it sink and sink and sink… be ready.
- Gibson’s Dragonfly, Size 6-10. If you are going to fish a stillwater like Davis Lake, you better bring some dragonfly patterns. Trout and bass will readily sip (or sometimes smash) this fly.
- Damselfly nymphs, Size 10. These little morsels are hard for fish to resist. I like to make sure I have these in both green and brown. Fish them with a slightly longer leader and slow steady strips.
Download this FREE HATCH CHART to match any hatch on the wild rivers of Oregon.
4. Rogue River
Located in Southwestern Oregon, the Rogue River is incredibly scenic and hosts a variety of fly fishing opportunities. The Rogue River was one of the eight rivers originally named in the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968, and the river supports healthy steelhead, salmon and trout populations. Given the amount of precipitation that the area receives, the Rogue River is subject to high water events which can have adverse effects on the fishing. If you are fishing for steelhead, don’t shy away from dark intruder patterns (black/red is my favorite combination) or nymphing with large stonefly attractor patterns. If you like casting huge dry flies to rising trout, visit the upper stretches of the Rogue River in May and June and make sure you bring a suitcase full of Salmon Flies.
5. Diamond Lake
Diamond Lake, named after pioneer settler John Diamond, offers anglers the opportunity to catch a variety of fiesty trout species while surrounded by incredible vistas. The lake covers more than 3,000 acres and has generous harvest limits for rainbow trout. The ODFW regularly stock the lake with huge numbers of rainbow trout ranging from fingerlings to trophies.
In an effort to combat invasive fish species like the tui chub, the ODFW also introduced sterile tiger trout and brown trout into the lake. These voracious species will readily take baitfish patterns like the Sparkle Minnow or Clouser Minnows. Another tried and true tactic is to throw a tandem rig. Tie on a black or green Woolly Bugger Size 6, and then tie on 18 inches of tippet and a small Copper John or damselfly nymph.
6. North Umpqua River
The North Umpqua River has been inhabited for over 7,700 years, and it is perhaps the most famous steelheading destination in the US. There are healthy summer and winter steelhead runs of big, aggressive fish. The average steelhead caught on the North Umpqua average about eight pounds and every once and awhile you will hook into a fifteen pound fish.
There are also good rainbow trout, brown trout and brook trout populations. During the summer run, steelhead in the North Umpqua will readily take a waking fly, and this experience draws anglers from all over the world. If that isn’t good enough for you, there is a 33.8 mile stretch of the North Umpqua that is fly fishing only. Flows during the winter are much heavier than summer flows. These heavier flows require an 8wt rod, sink tip lines, and bigger flies.
7. Fall River
I am a sucker for spring creek fishing, and the Fall River outside of Sunriver, Oregon is one of my favorites. The Fall River is a tributary of the Deschutes River, and represents eight miles of prime fly fishing only waters. Rainbow, brown and brook trout all call this river home, and while the fish tend to be in the 6in to 12in range, occasionally you will find a much bigger fish holding in the deeper pockets.
You can read about the fly rod I love on this page. The Best Fly Rod, Reel and Line for Nymph Fishing
Given the nature of this creek, I like to bring my 3wt rod, fluorocarbon tippets in the 5x-7x range, and a box of my favorite spring creek flies. BWO cripples patterns are especially effective in sizes 16-20, and having a couple PMD cripples never hurts. The easiest access point to the Fall River is the Fall River Campground.
8. Wickiup Reservoir
Located within Deschutes National Forest, Wickiup Reservoir is the second largest lake in Oregon and home to some massive brown and rainbow trout. There are few lakes that I’ve ever fished where you expect to catch 20in brown trout and occasionally hook into something weighing north of 15 pounds. Formed by the damming of the Deschutes River, the size of this lake combined with an average depth of 20ft make it a fly fishing haven. There are great populations of Kokanee in the lake, and when they spawn in the late summer the brown trout become even more aggressive.
The tricky bits about Wickiup Reservoir are the fluctuating lake levels during the summer and the fact that sometimes the right rig is a huge streamer and other times it is a size #20 chironomid under an indicator. To fish the lake effectively, you really need to fish from a boat. The Reservoir Boating Site of Forest Road 44 is primitive but usually not as crowded.
9. Lower Deschutes River
Some rivers in Oregon are so unique that they warrant being segmented, and the Deschutes River is one of those fisheries. The Lower Deschutes River offers outstanding fishing for redband trout as well as one of the best summer runs of steelhead that Oregon has to offer. The salmon fly hatch in late spring is followed by an incredible stonefly hatch that lasts into June. If you are putting together a dry fly box for this river, make sure that you include salmon flies, big stonefly patterns, Chubby Chernobyls, PMDs, BWOs, and Caddis. In terms of nymphs: Pheasant tails and Copper Johns in Sizes 12-18. I like to trail a small RS2 or Juju baetis behind my stonefly nymph or 18in off the back of my terrestrial dry fly.
10. Upper Deschutes River
I prefer upper stretches of the Deschutes River after mid-summer and during the winter. During the winter, I like to fish the stretch between Benham Falls and Lake Billy Chinook. Czech nymphing is my favorite method during the colder months on this stretch, and there are some great fish to be had if you are willing to brave the colder temps. During the summer I head all the way up the Deschutes and fish the spring creek stretch between Crane Prairie Reservoir and Little Lava Lake. There is plenty of structure in this stretch, primarily downed trees and undercut banks, and ripping streamers along these structures can be really productive.
Other bugs that you want to have in your box include Zebra Midges Size 18-22, Elk Hair Caddis Size 14-18, Pheasant Tails Size 16, Stimulators Size 12-16, and of course, the Parachute Adams Size 12-18.
11. Fern Ridge Reservoir
Fern Ridge Reservoir is 12 miles west of Eugene and offers a quick and productive getaway for bluegills, crappie and bass. Crappie are great practice for kids who are learning to fly fish because they are willing to gobble up little nymphs that are easy to cast.
Learn my tips and tricks for catching bluegills in the article. How to Fly Fish for Bluegills a Complete Guide
If you are bringing your kids out to the Fern Ridge Reservoir to practice casting, make sure that you have a couple big Prince Nymphs Size 10-12, Hares Ears Size 12-14, and little green Mohair Leeches Size 10. While your kids are cutting their teeth on crappie, look for largemouth bass near underwater structure near Coyote Creek off Highway 126 and fish a leech pattern or a white or olive Peanut Envy Size 2. There are good numbers of largemouth bass in Fern Ridge Reservoir, and fighting these aerial-inclined fish is always a good time.
12. Crane Prairie Reservoir
Crane Prairie Reservoir is located on the Deschutes River a half hour drive from La Pine, Oregon. The reservoir is home to Kokanee, brook Trout, and largemouth bass, but the reason to travel to Crane Prairie Reservoir is for the monster rainbow trout. The average depth of the lake is 15 feet and there are dead trees towering out of the shallow water that are utilized by birds of prey for hunting perches.
During the summer when the water of the lake start to warm up, the fish migrate to the mouths of the numerous cold water springs that feed the lake. Start your search on Google Earth and look for these little creeks that feed the lake, but you’re going to want to fish this lake from a boat. There is plenty of insect life on the lake, but the greatest thrill is the damselfly hatch during the summer months. Sight fishing to huge rainbows on Crane Prairie Reservoir is not something you are going to forget.
13. Clackamas River
If you find yourself heading to Portland for a business trip, make sure you pack a spey rod and a couple big intruder flies. The Clackamas River is only an hour away from Portland on Highway 212/224 and has a phenomenal winter steelhead run. The best times to fish the Clackamas River is between November and May, and during these colder months you stand a fair chance of hooking into a piece of angry chrome weighing 15 pounds.
When fishing the Clackamas River, you want to bring Skagit heads, sink tip lines, and both attractor nymph patterns and larger flies to fish on the swing. Some of my favorite flies for the Clackamas River include intruder style flies in purple or orange, and stonefly attractor nymphs.
14. East Lake
East Lake is over half a million years old and is home to some monster rainbow and brown trout. The lake is situated in the Newberry Crater and covers just over 1000 acres. Wade fishing is a good option at East Lake, but I prefer to fish it from a boat because it enables me to fish streamers right along the edge of productive drop offs.
Boat access to East Lake is located at the East Lake Campground where there is a paved boat ramp and a parking area. There can be some great dry fly fishing at East Lake during the summer, but you definitely want to bring a couple big streamers. Some of the most prolific hatches include callibaetis and chironomids, and if I am throwing streamers I like a black Bunny Leech.
15. Metolius River
The Metolius River is one of the finest spring creeks in Oregon. As the name implies, the river is spring fed and the water hovers around 48 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year. This ideal water temperature mixed with the wilderness that surrounds the Metolius River makes it a perfect getaway both for peace of mind and tight lines.
There is no commercial guiding allowed on the Metolius, and from the headwaters to Bridge 99 it is a fly fishing only river. The redband trout populations in the river are great, but the real draw of the Metolius River are the bull trout that migrate up the river every winter from Lake Billy Chinook. These bull trout are aggressive meat eaters and can push 15 pounds. There are numerous campgrounds that provide access along the Metolius River, but I like to pass up the first couple and park at the Gorge Campground.
16. Grande Ronde River
The Grande Ronde River is a tributary of the Snake River and is located in Northeast portion of the state. The Grande Ronde River is a great fishery that has different offerings throughout the year. During late spring and early summer the Grande Ronde River is a trout fishery, during the hot summer months there is great smallmouth bass fishing below Troy, and starting in October the winter steelhead run begins. The great thing about the Grande Ronde River is that is it in the middle of nowhere, and thus the fishing and solitude that you find on its waters are something special. This river is best fished from a drift boat.
Large terrestrial patterns like Stimulators and Hoppers work great, as do smaller dries like the Parachute Adams and Elk Hair Caddis. Make sure that you have some Copper Johns and Woolly Buggers in the box, and if you chasing chrome, it is hard to beat a HoBo Spey on the swing or a dead drifted egg pattern.
17. Williamson River
The Williamson River is located in south-central Oregon and is known for the trophy sized trout that patrol its riffles. Although there are good populations of resident fish in the Williamson River, the cool waters of this river draw huge fish out of Klamath Lake during the warm summer months. These fish start migrating into the Williamson River during mid-July.
Although you can wade some of the upper sections of the river, drifting the Williamson River in a drift boat is generally more effective. Although the Williamson River offers some prime dry fly fishing, I prefer to fish big streamers that imitate small rainbows and sculpins. I have done particularly well with a white/olive Peanut Envy Size 2 on the Williamson River.
18. Klamath River
The Klamath River is unique in the river world because it starts in the desert and flows towards the mountains. This unique river has populations of salmon, steelhead and rainbow trout. Like so many rivers in Oregon, the Klamath River has a variety of seasonal offerings. The middle and upper sections of the Klamath River provide great trout fishing during the late spring and early summer, and during the fall and winter months the majority of anglers target the winter steelhead runs.
If you are wading the Klamath River in search of steelhead, bring your spey rod and swing flies through likely water. Floating the Klamath River is also popular, and many anglers fish nymphs and egg patterns beneath strike indicators while floating the river.
19. Hosmer Lake
Hosmer Lake is a natural lake in the Cascade Range and is another fly fishing only waterbody. The average depth of Hosmer Lake is only 3 feet, but that doesn’t seem to bother the huge brook trout and stocked Atlantic salmon that populate the lake. There are fantastic caddis, callibaetis, and damselfly hatches on the lake, but your presentation has to be perfect to these wary fish.
Read about the techniques I’ve learned to catch Brook Trout in this article. How to Fly Fish for Brook Trout: A Complete Guide
Campgrounds on the south side of the lake provide a paved boat ramp and numerous campsites if you are trying to catch the late or very early bite. If you are feeling adventurous and trust your balance, bring your stand up paddleboard. The shallow waters in this relatively small lake provide great sight fishing opportunities, and creeping up on these fish on a paddle board can be really fun.
20. John Day River
The John Day River is located in northeastern Oregon and is a tributary of the Columbia River. There isn’t a single dam on the John Day River, and thus its flows are entirely dependent on snowpack and rainfall. During the summer, the John Day River is a fantastic smallmouth bass fishery. Smallmouth bass are fierce and strong, and when you add a little current to the mix you are in for a great fight.
During the winter, the John Day River experiences an all-wild winter steelhead run. Although you can wade this river during the summer, most of the steelheading is done from drift boats. Some of my favorite smallmouth bass flies for the John Day River include Clouser Minnows and Deceivers in Size 1/0 or 2.
21. Wood River
The Wood River is a spring creek that is only 18 miles long, but huge migratory redband trout and residential brown trout call this river home. The Wood River flows through a lot of private property, and thus it is best to float this river in a low profile craft with good maneuverability.
The habitat in this river is perfect for a wide variety of insects, and there are prolific hatches throughout the year. Some of the most common hatches on the river include mayflies, damselflies, caddis, and midges, and you should carry both the adult and juvenile versions of these flies.
The grassy banks along the Wood River are home to large terrestrials like beetles and grasshoppers, so you definitely want to have a couple of those patterns in your box as well. Large terrestrial patterns will be especially effective on windy days, and don’t be afraid to give your terrestrial patterns a short skate right when they hit the water.
The easiest access point to the Wood River is a day use site located 33 miles North of Klamath Falls on the Sun Pass Road.
Recommended Gear for Fly Fishing in Oregon
If you are chasing trout in Oregon, a 9ft, 6wt rod is going to cover most of your bases. Given the heavy pressure and gin-clear conditions that often confront anglers, it is imperative that you carry tapered leaders, fluorocarbon tippets, and a selection of stoneflies, midges, BWOs, PMDs and Caddis.
Trout are fickle beasts and it is best to carry both wet and dry fly versions of these patterns. Baitfish patterns like Clouser Minnows, Woolly Buggers, and leech patterns all work well in stillwaters and rivers.
If your quarry is steelhead, an 11ft, 7wt spey rod is necessary for most of these big rivers as are Skagit and Scandi heads on large arbor reels. In terms of flies, HoBo Speys in purple or orange and intruder style flies in red/black or pink are usually safe bets. Chest waders are absolutely necessary in these cold, fast waters, as is a good rain jacket and plenty of layers during the fall and winter.
Official References for Fly Fishing in Oregon
- Oregon Dept of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW): https://www.dfw.state.or.us/resources/fishing/
- ODFW Recreational Resources: https://myodfw.com/
- ODFW Stocking Schedule: https://myodfw.com/fishing/species/trout/stocking-schedule
- ODFW License Info: https://myodfw.com/fishing/licensing-info