Copyright 2013 James Marsh
Fly Fishing Guide to the Willamette River Oregon
The North Fork of the Willamette River is a declared Wild and Scenic river. It flows for forty-
three miles from Waldo Lake, which is located in the Waldo Lake Wilderness, to the Willamette
National Forest boundary. It is a beautiful stream with clear water. This lies on the West Slope
of the Cascade range. The river is bordered by Douglas Fir trees. The stream has plenty of
brook trout as well as rainbow and cutthroat trout. Forest Road #19 borders this section of the
river from the wilderness boundary to Oakridge. There is a campground and developed trails
in the area.
The Middle Fork of the Willamette River between Lookout Point Reservoir and Hills Creek
Reservoir is an excellent stretch of wild trout water. Highway #58 parallels the stream and
provides easy access. It flows through National Forest land and has 12 miles of catch and
release only. The Middle Fork of the Willamette starts from several small lakes and tributaries
that are high in the cascades south of Diamond Peak Wilderness. It passes through three
different reservoirs - Hills Creek, Lookout Point and Dexter. The twelve mile long section
between Hills Creek and Lookout Point is managed as a wild trout stream with cutthroats and
rainbows. It is strictly catch and release. Highway #58 follows the river on its south side and the
Forest Road #5852 on its north side all the way to the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the
Willamette River. There is ample access from roadside parking areas or the Black Canyon
Shady Dell Campground. You can also access it at Greenwater and Ferrin Parks.
This section can be fished from a drift boat. There is one boat ramp at Black Canyon
Campground. There are some other places where its possible to launch that are not formal
launch areas. The fishing above the Hills Creek Reservoir is mostly for stocked rainbow and
cutthroat trout. There are some Bull Trout. Highway #21 follows this section of water. The
Middle Fork can get low during the Summer. The best time to fish it is from March through June
prior to the low water levels.
As mentioned in the introduction page, the Willamette River has both a summer and winter run
of steelhead. The winter run supports more steelhead than the summer run because of the
cooler water temperatures. The summer run is productive but most anglers fish the colder
tributaries where the fish will spawn. The average Willamette steelhead runs between eight and
twelve pounds but larger fish are common. The regulations are always subject to change.
The winter steelhead in the lower Willamette River (below Willamette Falls) begins in early
December. They should be available in the lower Willamette through the early part of the
spring chinook season. Many of the fish will be headed for the Clackamas River and tributaries
above the falls including the Molalla, Tualatin, Santiam, and McKenzie rivers. Winter steelhead
are also known to hold in shallow water below the mouth of the Clackamas River. Steelhead in
the Willamette are very lethargic and less prone to taking the bait during low, cold winter flows.
Look for river flows ranging from 12,500 – 20,000 cfs and water temperature from 42-48
degrees for the best opportunity.
Early season steelhead are in the main stem of the Willamette River between San Salvador
and the mouth of the Santiam River. There are greenway access points and you can fish from
a boat launched at one of the four public ramps in this stretch of river. Most of the fish
ascending Willamette Falls are destined for the Santiam River system. Both (North and South)
Santiam rivers are stocked with summer steelhead smolts that return to the rivers after
spending two or three years in the ocean. They begin to show up in the Santiam in mid-April
with the run peaking from May through July.
The Spring chinook salmon run and Summer steelhead should arrive in good numbers during
May and Early June in the Middle Fork of the Willamette. The area from Dexter Dam
downstream to Pengra Boat Landing is a good area. Chinook are caught during May from
boats out of Pengra Landing downstream to the Coast Fork Willamette. The Summer
steelhead should be availble through Fall. There is a "Town Run" of steelhead on the main
stem from Beltline Bridge to the coast Fork. You can only take fin-clipped salmon and
steelhead in the Willamette and Middle Fork Willametter from the McKenzie River to Dexter
Willamette, Middle Fork, below Dexter Dam: ODFW anticipates spring chinook and summer
steelhead will arrive in peak numbers during May and early June, although a few will be caught
before then. Most anglers target the area from Dexter Dam downstream to Pengra Boat
Landing; however, during May anglers with boats catch spring chinook from Pengra Landing
downstream to the confluence with the Coast Fork Willamette.
Willamette River, Oregon
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