Written by: Ethan Barrow, Adventures Across Oregon
When the vast majority of fly fishing destinations in the northern hemisphere are dealing with intense cold and/or snow, the watersheds in close proximity to Portland, Oregon are oftentimes fishing well! As long as you don’t mind getting drenched, fly-fishing near Portland is possible in all four seasons. Should the rivers be completely blown out and “chocolate milk” due to a large storm, simply arrange for a trip on one of Portland’s local lakes. There are even private lakes that anglers can secure for the day to have completely to themselves. Here are 10 of go-to fly patterns used to target multiple species of fish.
Sea-Run Cutthroat Trout:
1. October Caddis Dry
(Orange; size 10)
Large elk-hair-wing flies drifted or skated on the surface almost always fool migratory sea-run cutthroat trout. We focus on slicks at the bottom of pools and classic trout water, covering water quickly to locate schools of sea-run cutties as they move up or downstream to feed in saltwater estuaries and bays.
2. Beadhead Prince Nymph
We seldom nymph for sea-run cutthroats because dry flies work so darn well on these opportunistic trout, but sometimes finding the schools of anadromous fish can be challenging. Prince Nymphs work awesome for their smaller resident cousins who decide to stick around the river rather than heading out to the bays.
3. Clouser Minnow
(Chartreuse/White; size 2)
King salmon that are leaving the salt and migrating into Oregon Coast rivers when the rains begin to really kick in are used to eating schools of herring and anchovies. Larger Clouser Minnows mimic these baitfish well. Strip these flies fast through deep holes near the tidewater, using a10-weight and a drag setting tighter than you think you’ll need.
4. Miss Molly
(Black/Blue; size 2)
“Black and Blue” steelhead flies work well in the winter on Oregon’s north coast, especially when the rivers are on the drop. Fish them on the swing with an 8-foot section of T-11 lead-core, and rotate through fly sizes and weights rather than constantly switching out tips.
5. Bead Head Egg Gorman
(Fluorescent orange; size 6)
These flies get down quickly when you’re nymphing for winter steelhead in pocket water, and they can also be quite effective used as a dropper.
6. Krystal Bugger
(Black; size 8)
I’s no secret that lakes produce huge rainbow trout, but many folks don’t realize that there are some phenomenal lakes quite close to Portland that fish really well on a year-round basis. Start with an intermediate line and a black Krystal Bugger. Tie the fly on with a loop knot, and use a slow, one-foot-strips retrieves while keeping your rod tip down.
7. CDC Callibaetis Emerger
When the big rainbows are keying on Baetis, they often get a bit selective and tend to reject most dry flies riding high on the surface, even though they seem to be everywhere. Next time that happens, use a floating fly line and tie on an emerger pattern, like this CDC version, which sits a little deeper in the film and more upright. This is a killer stillwater pattern we always have on hand.
8. Chironomid Bomber
(Black/Red; size 12)
These imitate midges that are clearly larger than most, and cruising rainbows on the prowl will locate the fly quickly when you fish it about 18 inches below the surface.
9. Damsel Bugger
(Olive; size 12)
When damselfly larvae are present near weedy shoals or islands, trout go crazy for them. If you’re fishing in 3 to 6 feet of water, use an intermediate fly line; switch to a faster-sinking Type III or V when the vegetation is 6 to 20 feet deep. Quick 2- to 3-inch random strips gives the marabou tail a lifelike motion. Again, keep the rod tip down and use a loop knot that will allow the fly to swim.
10. Peeper Popper
There are some epic smallmouth and largemouth bass lakes on the north coast and valley floor near Portland. During the summer months, try small poppers with a floating line, casting them as close as you can to the tallest grass that surrounds these lakes. As soon as the fly hits the water, keep your line tight and pop the fly immediately with a pause afterwards. This is super fun, and you can often fish for trout in the morning and evening, while targeting bass in the afternoon.
Ethan Barrow, a newly Orvis-endorsed guide, runs Adventures Across Oregon, which provides personal and flexible angling adventures.