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September 15, 2003

North Santiam River Report

Thousands of spawning Chinook were providing nature’s renewal last week in the upper North Santiam. From Packsaddle Park down to Fishermen’s Bend, most of the available redds were busy with fish all over the place. Almost every redd that was used last year had spawning salmon in it, and many new redds were developed. It really is a bumper year for native Chinook spawning. Steelhead were laying in some of the shallow riffles, but most of them were in deeper water, where the Chinook were when they were waiting for spawning time. Now that the time is here, the fish switch places.

Mink were much more prevalent than in August. So were black eagles, heron, and assorted ducks. The overflow salmon eggs provide an abundant food supply for many of the river creatures, especially large trout, which migrate from the lower river in order to capitalize of this excellent but seasonal food supply.

At 1,800 cubic flow per second, there is a lot of serious whitewater between Packsaddle Park and Mill City. There are lots of fish there, but boaters need prior experience in order to navigate this difficult section. Packsaddle Rapids is constant from the boatramp down to the corner, where the Carey homestead is located and Trout creek enters the main river. The long, peaceful fishing hole at Carey’s is noted for a large steelhead population this time of year. The salmon are dominating the river above Carey’s, and this is the upstream place for the steelhead to hang out. An angler could spend hours in just this one hole, and several different fishing techniques can be used there. I like to pull a diver and shrimp there, and Hot-Shots work quite well. However, a bobber and jig can cover much of the water more easily. The top of the hole is perfect for drift fishing, and the lower part of it is good for spoons and spinners. Below Carey’s, the river is a continuous rapid down to the Line Hole, where there are hundreds of Chinook waiting in the deep water. The tail-out is one of the busiest spawning beds on the river, and steelhead lay just below the tail-out. The property owners at the new house there have a large guard dog that would like to steer people away from the river bank. Since the river bank is public property, there is some substantial liability if the dog (large German Shepard) becomes more aggressive.

Below the Line Hole, Johnson Rapids runs right down to the corner and Curtis Rapids. Some Chinook are spawning in the gravel on the sides of Johnson Rapids, but the current is fast enough to make it difficult to stop and fish there. Curtis is a large drop, but the whirlpool at the bottom is still small. As the river increases flow in October, the whirlpool will be a significant navigational difficulty. Below Curtis Rapids, the Minto Stillwater has steelhead all over the middle of the river, especially along the rock ledges at the bottom of the main channel. There are spawning Chinook in all the shallow gravel there. Osprey and mink are very active in this area. Surprisingly, we did not get any large trout to take an orange fly there. The Stillwater is definitely one of the “hot spots” on the upper run. Minto Stillwater is about a quarter of a mile long, and it ends with the start of Minto Bar, which is a long boulder bar half a mile long that ends in Minto Park. There are many ledges and boulders there, and some of the nearby residents wade and cast spinners very successfully in this area. It is kind of difficult to stop the boat in the fast water, and angling from shore is the easiest way to fish it. At the bottom of Minto Bar, there is another deep salmon hole, which breaks into Mad Creek Rapids. The sides of this rapids, and especially the tail-out, are heavenly places to find steelhead. Mad Creek enters from the South side, and fish like to stay around there and sniff the water from this important tributary. Chinook are spawning in the gravel there in large numbers. The cliffs and tall trees on the side of Mad Creek are havens for many large birds, including eagles, osprey, buzzards, and crows. Minto Park has many picnic areas and trails that have been improved by the Steelheaders, and this area has some excellent fishing access. Lower Minto has some fairly slow water with fish, but difficult access. The mile from there to the Gates Bridge has another good rapids at the corner, and the island is a very good place to stop. The rock bar at Linnwood has fish around many of the ledges and boulders, and ends at the Gates Bridge. Bilyeau Bar goes around the corner to the top of the Gorge, and big fish often live at the top of this long and difficult section of whitewater. There is an eddy at the top which is a good place to put lifejackets on before proceeding through the 4 major rapids below. It is an eddy that has double utility: we can expect to get a steelhead or salmon strike there, or even catch some. It is a great place for lunch, and put the lifejackets on for a ride through the best whitewater on the North Santiam. The four rapids in the Gorge are exhilarating, and it is difficult to avoid taking a little water over the bow in Spencer’s Hole. Great fishing places are abundant below the Gorge, and the Lava Island, Turnage Bar, Rock Creek, and the fairly slow moving water down to Kimmel Park are all likely places to find steelhead. Hammond Rapids is fairly easy at this level, and some of the troublesome rocks in the middle are covered over. Pulling over to the right side will allow for easy passage down to Hammond Eddy, which is just above Mill City Falls. The drop at the Falls is steep, with lots of waves on both sides. The rock at the bottom on the left side is well covered over, so the ride through there is straightforward, assuming that the precise channel is taken. There are big penalties for choosing the wrong route here, and it becomes much more difficult at higher and lower flows. From Mill City Falls down to Fishermen’s Bend is about 2 miles, and there are several great fishing places along the way. This would be an excellent 2 mile drift for pontoon boats or even float tubes. Driftboats can anchor along the side and fish all the water, and the section is quite productive. Fishermen’s Bend has been a good place for catching steelhead this month, and the fewer campers there after school started provide some solitude even at this popular campground.

The Steelheaders Salem Chapter meets September 17 at the Salem Library (Anderson Room) at 7:00 p.m. The fishery biologist for the North Santiam, Steve Mamoyac, will talk to our group about possible fish rearing and habitat improvement projects that we may be able to help with here. Steve also knows lots about all steelhead populations in the lower Willamette Valley, so we can learn about both finding steelhead and improving the fishing by work with habitat and fish raising. Guests are welcome, and we even have some fishing trinkets as presents for new member applicants.

North Santiam river flows will continue to be very fishable through October except for periods of heavy rainfall. Fall colors are in full bloom, and this is a great time for some fishing on the North Santiam.

Bill Sanderson
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