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October 27, 2003

North Santiam River Report

The treat probably came before the trick this Halloween. The weather was just like summer last weekend, all the Fall colors were out, and the steelhead were biting some of the time. The football team from Eugene even won a great game. The river volume and temperature were favorable.

Chinook salmon have completed their spawning cycle, and there aren’t any live salmon around the redds. Steelhead have changed position again, since salmon are not chasing them away from the shallower drifts. Large trout are taking flies again, since the overflow salmon eggs are no longer available. Fall caddis and other bugs are hatching and trout are feeding on the emergers. Some of the caddis bugs are 3 inches wide, and that’s a pretty good bite, even for a large trout.

The rapids above Mill City are wild at this water level, and lots of experience and prior knowledge are needed for safe trips between Packsaddle and Fishermen’s Bend. The rapids from Mill City (below the Falls) to Mehama are heavy but moderate at this level. From Mehama to Stayton is an easy drift except for the portage at the diversion dam. It is important to pull in to the very tip of the island and get out of the boat just on the left side of the tip. The boat can then be lined down the wooden ramp, and the rest of the drift to Stayton is easy. Because of recent rains and higher water, it is possible that other logs or tree trunks are in the way of the boating channels between Shelburn and Green’s Bridge. Considering the number of boats that sank there last year (8) it is a place to be taken very seriously. The coast is clear from Green’s Bridge to the Willamette.

Last weekend, we did a scenic raft trip from Mill City to Mehama, and enjoyed the sunshine and great river conditions. The flow from Big Cliff was 1980 cfs, and 2200 at Mehama. Mill City Falls is pretty big at that heighth, but some of the group wanted to get splashed and cool off. The boat ramp at Santiam Pointe is easy to use, and it is only a few hundred yards down to the Falls. We run just a little left of center, and the safe channel is narrow with big waves on both sides. Our exhilarating ride resulted in only a couple of cups of water over the side of the boat, and we picked up the rest of our crew under the railroad bridge. The drifts above and below Mill City Bar were fishable, and the long flat stretch down to DeFord Creek has several ledges that have steelhead most of the time, and we saw several on our trip. DeFord Creek (Snake Creek flows into it a little above the confluence) was quite low this time of year, so few salmon will have spawned in it. During steelhead spawning time, however, the creek is higher and has abundant spawning. About 2 dozen steelhead redds were spotted last Spring about a mile up the creek. The Watershed Coucil is working on an excellent project for improving the habitat and controlling the flooding, so this important tributary will become even better as time goes by. Fishermen’s Bend had several anglers, who walked in from the gate. The river is so fishy there that it is worth the walk in if the park is closed. We saw several steelhead just above the corner and the big rapids. With the volume of water going down the river now, it is a little difficult to spot the fish, but if we know where to look and the angle of the sun allows us to see the bottom, we are able to see fish in many of the good drifts. Below Fishermen’s Bend a mile or so are 4 big rapids all in a row. Cherry Creek, Upper and Lower Indian Rapids, and DeWitt Falls. The higher water has covered over many or the rocks that are navigational problems in these rapids. Although the current is very strong, these rapids are probably easier to row at this level because it is not necessary to row around many of the big boulders. We can just drift right over the top of most of them. DeWitt Canyon is a long Stillwater with half a dozen prime steelhead ledges in it. We saw steelhead on several of them. The salmon spawn heavily in this Stillwater, and there are dozens of fresh redds. The salmon have spawned and died, and the steelhead have returned to their traditional holding water. We observed an otter and dozens of ducks in this section. At summer levels, the river is very shallow in the middle, but it is easy to float right on through at this level. North Santiam State Park had a few anglers enjoying the good day, but they were fishing from shore since wading is difficult with the high water and current. The riffles down to Neal Park are lots of fun, easy to navigate, and good places for fishing, picnics, and just enjoying the out of doors. We saw an eagle soaring near Spring Creek, and we saw dozens of Blue Heron. The osprey are abundant earlier in the year, but they have apparently moved to a warmer, drier climate. Kingfishers and dippers were also active. The Little North Fork is fairly low again, but the next rain will bring even more fish up there.

Solitude is the special quality that we have on the North Santiam this time of year. In addition to the beautiful river and the good fish and wildlife activity, peace and quiet is a wonderful thing after the summer rush.

River levels will rise some after Halloween in order to drain Detroit Lake by December 1. The amount of additional river flow is undecided this week, but we can expect some increase in flow next week. Include this in your river plans.

Great angling opportunities also exist on the South Santiam and in the lower rivers and bays at the coast. The Salmon River had some noteworthy Fall Chinook activity last week, and anglers in all the bays are happy. With all the activity at the coast, the solitude on the Santiam is especially enjoyable.

Bill Sanderson
 
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