Umpqua River Fishing Guide
The Umpqua River is centrally located and one of the premier destinations for Salmon, Steelhead, and smallmouth bass in Oregon. The river is made up of two forks and a main stem. The North and the South Umpqua rivers rise in the Cascades, flow west over 100 miles and join near the town of Roseburg Oregon. The south Umpqua hosts a good run of winter steelhead and a good population of small mouth bass. The North Umpqua is a legendary Steelhead river and considered the pre-eminent finishing school of the west coast for fly anglers wishing to pursue summer or winter steelhead. Because of its origins in the high Cascades and constant supply of snowmelt, it runs cooler than its sister fork to the south. From Roseburg the river flows west through the town of Elkton and down to the town of Scottsburg which represents the highest reach of the tide. The river than enters a large bay starting at Reedsport and continuing to Winchester Bay. The Smith River joins the Umpqua at Reedsport and is also a good salmon and steelhead fishery. Fall Chinook, Spring Chinook or King Salmon and Coho Salmon are in the river making Salmon fishing accessible year round. Most Coho are caught in the tidewater and average a good size of 10-15 lbs. The Chinook are taken throughout the entire river with most fish being caught in the last 10 miles of the Umpqua. The Oregon state record Chinook Salmon of 83Lbs was caught on the Umpqua. Fishing on the Umpqua River is also popular for Sturgeon. A strong population of Green and White Sturgeon are present in the river and Striped Bass are also present in the lower river.
The Umpqua River is approximately 111 miles long and is a principal fishing river of the Oregon coast, draining an expansive network of valleys in the mountains on the western slopes of the Cascade Range. The river, whose entire length is in Douglas County, is formed by the confluence of the North Umpqua and South Umpqua Rivers northwest of Roseburg. The combined river flows northwesterly through the Coast Range and west past Scottsburg. Below this area, the river is subject to ocean tides. The Umpqua receives the Smith River from the north near Winchester Bay and enters the bay at Reedsport.
Several bands of Indians have lived in the Umpqua River valley: the Siuslawan, or Penutian-speaking Lower Umpqua people in the area from present-day Scottsburg/Wells Creek to the coast; the Yoncalla-speaking Kalapuyan people (related to the Kalapuya people in the Willamette Valley) in the north part of the watershed;Athabaskan-speaking Umpqua, or Upper Umpqua people; Molala, or Penutian-speaking Southern Molala Indians in the upper areas near the western Cascades; and the Takelman-speaking Cow Creek Band of Umpqua.
The name Umpqua derives from an Indian name for a place along the river. The river received its current name in 1825 from David Douglas, a British horticulturalist traveling through the area. There have been numerous spellings of the name, including Umptqua, Umqua, Umquah, and Umkwa. The Umpqua River was favored by fur trappers working for the North West Company, who entered the Umpqua Valley in 1819 and trapped beavers in the area for several decades. Fort Umpqua, a fur post, was built in 1836 across the river from Elkton. Fort Umpqua operated until 1854 and was the first non-Native settlement in Oregon south of the Willamette Valley.
The North Umpqua River, which is renowned for its crystal-clear water, rises in the high Cascades, issuing from Maidu Lake in the Mount Thielsen Wilderness. It follows a westward course along the southern side of the Calapooya Divide and passes through the Umpqua National Forest over Toketee Falls. At Steamboat, the river receives Steamboat Creek from the north. The North Umpqua joins Little River from the south at a place called Colliding Rivers at Glide. From there, the North Umpqua continues westward, joining the South Umpqua to form the lower or main Umpqua River. The river is considered one of the best flyfishing streams in the Northwest and is known for its high concentration of native steelhead. It is also popular for whitewater rafting.
The South Umpqua River, which also begins on the slopes of the Rogue-Umpqua Divide, has higher water temperatures and a lower summer flow than the North Umpqua. Its main tributary is Cow Creek. During dry summers, the North Umpqua has a flow twenty times greater than the South Umpqua. The forest area where the South Umpqua begins is more open than the North Umpqua country and has an abundance of drier species of brush, shrubs, and trees, including ponderosa and sugar pine.
Cities and towns along the Umpqua include Reedsport at the mouth of the river and Scottsburg and Elkton along the lower river. Glide and Idleyld Park are located along the North Umpqua River, with Roseburg, Winston, Dillard, Myrtle Creek, Canyonville, Days Creek, Milo, and Tiller along the South Umpqua. Much of the lower river flows throughBureau of Land Management and private land, while the upper reaches flow through the Umpqua National Forest.
There are no dams on the lower river, but there is a small dam at Winchester on the North Fork and eight dams and reservoirs, including the seventy-seven-foot-tall Soda Springs Dam.
The region has long been a timber-producing area. Since the early 1900s, private interests, such as Roseburg Lumber, have actively managed the forestlands. The U.S. Department of the Interior managed the Cascade Forest Reserve in the upper reaches of the Umpqua River from 1897 until 1905 when management was transfered to the new U.S. Forest Service. The Umpqua Forest Reserve was created in 1907 in the Coast Range mountains. The present-day Umqpua National Forest was established in 1908 from portions of the Cascade Reserve. Many of the lower areas of the river have been under the management of the Bureau of Land Management since 1916.
Fishing has been integral in the history of the Umpqua. From the early days the native peoples were reliant on the Spring, Fall, Summer, and Winter runs of Salmon and Steelhead. Today, the river supports 2 runs of Chinook Salmon, one in the spring, and one in the Fall when they share the river with their smaller cousins the Coho. Steelhead have a run in the summer as well as the winter.
- Early Bird Gets the Worm!
The most consistent bite each and every day is before the sun hits the water. Even on the slowest days there are always a few springers caught right at day break. Legal fishing time on the Umpqua starts an hour before sunrise, or 30 minutes before sunrise above the HWY101 bridge The first 2 hours of legal fishing time is often best, and that can mean getting up at 3am to get to the river before fishing starts at 4:30am. Now this doesn’t mean there won’t be a bite all day long, but if you’re trying to take home a fish each time out, getting up early will pay off more often than not. 2. Get Away From the Crowd
If you’ve ever fished for Chinook or Coho Salmon on the Umpqua you’ve seen the huge crowds lining the banks near the hatchery. These holes are popular because they will hold a lot of fish, however, most people fishing these spots are trying to snag. This will put the salmon off the bite making them much harder to catch using legal methods. There are plenty of other spots along the upper river that you can have all to yourself, and still have a great shot at catching a springer. Spending a day exploring, or even hiring a guide, will help you find those spots that produce fish without the crowds.
- Eggs, Eggs, and more Eggs!
The single best bait for springers and fall Chinook is eggs, and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. We use eggs 95%, and there’s good reason for it. Sure there will be days where something else may catch more fish, but day in, and day out, eggs are going to produce consistently. Having eggs that have been well taken care of is also another key. If you’re curing your own that means using fresh, blood free skeins and a quality cure such as Pautzke’s Fire Cure.
- Learn to Back Bounce from a Boat
For those that have access to a boat, back bouncing is the one technique you must learn to have the best chance at catching springers each time out. Back bouncing is a technique where you use a heavy weight to slowly walk your bait out in front of the boat using the current. One mistake I see most people making is using too light of a weight. It’s critical that you feel the bottom every time you bounce it, and if you’re using weight that isn’t heavy enough, you’ll never find the bottom. A heavy weight will also slow your bait down making it easier for a salmon to find it. I use 3 to 5 ounces the most while fishing on the upper main stem of the Umpqua, and I’d rather be fishing directly under the boat making sure I feel bottom every time, versus trying to get my bait way out in the current and not feeling the bottom very often. You don’t have to be an expert back bouncer to see your catch rates increase over using plugs and divers.
- Use Bobbers from the Bank
The most overlooked technique on the Umpqua is bobber fishing for salmon, especially springers. It’s an extremely effective technique, and one of the best ways to fish eggs from the bank. A slip bobber setup is key in the deep holes and slots of the Umpqua . You’ll use anywhere from 1 to 5oz setups with a 2 or 3oz setup being most common. Your weight will be determined on the depth, and current. For deep boily holes you’ll want to use heavier weight to make sure your eggs stay down on the bottom. For shallower holes with less current you can use lighter weight. Use the tips above for your baits, and it won’t take you long before you’re consistently putting springers on the bank.