Salmon, Steelhead and Solitude

North Umpqua River

There are Oregon rivers that can offer better steelhead fishing, but none has the combination of spectacular scenery and challenging fish found on the 31 miles of fly-only water on the North Umpqua. Fall steelhead here are mostly summer-run fish, several thousand of which begin entering the river in June or July. By September and October the upper river usually holds steelhead in fishable numbers.

The riverfront Steamboat Inn on State Highway 138 about 40 miles east of Roseburg is in the center of the action, its various incarnations having hosted flyfishermen since the 1920s. Fabled Western writer Zane Grey fished avidly here in the 1930s, followed a few years later by Ray Bergman, who included a special chapter on the North Umpqua in his classic book, Trout. "The river is wild and beautiful," Bergman wrote, "and at first sight a bit terrifying. You wonder how you are going to be able to wade it without getting into difficulties."

Modern anglers allay that fear by using studded wading shoes to grip slick underwater ledge rocks. Some pools require a long cast to cover the best holding water, with the corollary problem of finding room for a back cast amid overhanging ledges and towering firs. This is not easy fishing, and you'll very quickly find out how good you are. The steelhead themselves average about 8 pounds but range up to 15. Hooking and landing such fish in the river's tumult is no mean feat, and those who accomplish it have made their bones in the world of steelheading.

The Steamboat Inn itself has become world famous for both accommodations and cuisine. Several well-appointed cabins offer decks overlooking the river, and evening dinners (guests only or by reservation) at the inn's long table are as good as it gets. None of this comes cheaply, of course, but for what's likely the world's most elegant steelhead fishing, it's a bargain.

The Steamboat Inn, 800-840-8825; www.thesteamboatinn.com. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, 503-872-5268; www.dfw.state.or.us.