Going crazy to stay sane


Last updated 4/2/2024 at 11:49am

Photo by Chester Allen

The first fish in the net makes a long drive worthwhile.

I woke up Sunday morning on fire to fish the March Brown mayfly hatch on the lower McKenzie River - just a few miles from Springfield.

Yes, this spot is about 100 miles from Sisters.

Yes, it was a holiday of sorts - St. Patrick's Day.

Yes, I am nutso.

Yet, being a nutso fly angler is often a good thing, I don't eat or drink stuff that is dyed green and I have a fly fishing truck that is set up for local, medium, and long fishing trips. A day trip to the McKenzie is a long day trip, but that river in early spring can be just great.

Besides, I have a long love affair with the lower McKenzie that goes back to my days at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. While I was grinding through a very challenging J-school program, this stretch of the McKenzie saved my life - or at least my sanity.

Sneaking away

Journalism school at the UO is a rough time. Deadlines hurtle toward you like freight trains, and if you miss one of those deadlines, you flunk the project.

While I was living in Eugene, I quickly learned that the McKenzie River - and the upper Willamette River - were great trout streams. They were also very, very close to campus. I fell into a routine of fly fishing at least once a week, even if it was only for a couple of hours.

When I was on the river, those deadlines melted away. I always felt like a new person after a little bit of time on the water. These short trips to the river taught me that little breaks took much of the stress out of the stressful world of journalism.

I also learned that it's okay to give into temptation, especially when the March Brown mayflies start hatching on the McKenzie in the middle of March. I once spotted one of my professors fishing my favorite water on a Thursday afternoon.

That was a great lesson as well.

A lifelong spot

The upper McKenzie is less than 40 miles from Sisters, but my favorite spot is a ways downstream from the pristine flows of the upper river. My favorite spot is a short drive from the strip malls of Springfield. I love remote water, but I also like finding trout that manage to survive and thrive near a bunch of people.

This part of the river is a big, wide flat with a deep trough down the middle. A massive riffle upstream feeds bugs onto the flat, and the fish slide out of the deep water and ease into the shallows when a lot of insects - say size 12 and 14 March Brown mayflies - levitate off the bottom and hatch into fleets of winged insects that resemble sailboats.

Yet, this hatch - and this spot - are tricky.

Sometimes the March Brown hatch doesn't happen, as water levels play havoc with bugs and fish in this spot. If the water is too high and too cold, the hatch is sparse, and catching can be poor.

I've fished March Brown hatches for decades - they're the first big mayfly of the year on many rivers, including the Middle Deschutes River and our own Metolius River. The McKenzie, as the lower stretch is in the Willamette Valley, warms up faster than our local rivers, and the March Browns hatch much earlier than they do in Sisters Country.

On Sunday, the McKenzie was a little high, but the water had about two feet of visibility, and I figured a day in the high 60-degree range would spark the March Browns. Well, the hatch was pretty sparse - thanks to that higher water - but a few bugs came off.

The trout were focused on the bugs that were slow to break out of their nymphal bodies, so they were very, very silly for Hare's Ear Soft Hackles fished in the shallower, slower currents near shore.

On my second cast, a sleek rainbow trout whacked my soft hackle as it slowly swung through the soft water. The trout pulled a bit of line off my reel and jumped a couple of times.

That first fish - all 11 inches of him - made the long day's drive an act of joy - and sanity. Yes, I'm going back in a week or so, as soon as I can sneak



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