It’s March in Montana and I’m thinking about how I should’ve spent more time on the North Umpqua in January. The sun has barely shown itself here and the last couple of weeks were brutally cold. Like below zero kind of cold. Too cold to be productive on the water. Not that it wasn’t cold there, but it was beautiful and the potential for a wild winter steelhead is lurking around every bend.
I left Reno with a plan to spend my time on the coast. It made sense to head north and stop on the Umpqua for a few days first. I’d never been and had no idea how the river and rainforest environment would effect me. Next time I’ll spend at least a week just fishing the North Umpqua.
Driving north through California was a mess with a huge winter storm and terrible road conditions. I crept along, plowing through snow on 2 lane highways with the Safari Van. Several other cars were spun out and one pickup was rolled. I would have stopped but there was no shoulder and law enforcement was on patrol along with plows. Scary stuff through. Eventually I landed in the quiet little town of Tulelake, California. After a burger and a beer at the only open place in town, I hunkered down for a cold night in the van, parked behind a grocery store. Not the best spot but I wasn’t bothered.
I took a morning walk on the railroad tracks while the car ran and defrosted the interior windows. I forgot to crack them and the condensation turned into a thick layer of ice. I drove north to Klamath Falls for coffee and supplies before trekking north again up the east side of Klamath Lake and the Diamond Lake pass turn. The weather was nice and the going was easy until I took that turn.
It started with a light rain then turned to snow and before long, I was in another white out with terrible road conditions. Two days of brutal driving, going 30 mph over ice covered passes was a little stressful and I was ready for a break. After about an hour of rough roads I hit that magical elevation where pines and firs gave way to cedars and rainforest. I really needed a break from the white knuckle driving and pulled into a parking area with a short trail to a waterfall.
This started 2 days of bouncing between short hikes and swinging flies. I could have stayed for a month and felt like I barely touched this place.
I also tried going for a soak in the hot springs but didn’t have the 5 dollars of exact change required by the forest service. I might have snuck through but a ranger was waiting. Take 5 dollars cash if you ever go this way. I should’ve known better as campgrounds always require exact amounts of cash (I usually look for free campsites anyways).
The waterfall hikes here are pretty easy and well marked. Every trail I hit was well worth the stop and Shale dog was happy to get the exercise as well. She gets pretty bored watching me fish for more than a few consecutive hours without a break.
The water had been low before the storm hit and was on the rise when I showed up. Good news as the fishing reports were very slow and the push might bring some fresh fish into the system. Leaving when the conditions were just getting decent wasn’t my best move.
I jumped runs down the river for 2 days, spending one night parked in front of a closed campground gate. I thought I felt a bump on one run but it was probably my imagination. Swinging for steelhead plays tricks on your mind that way. I hear it gets pretty crowded on the river during summer months. I think when I come back, it’ll be another winter trip with a longer window of fishing time.