The Steamboater Whistle


               Winter  2014

               Volume 52, Issue 5


North Umpqua River, Oregon


Announcements and Club Events

Membership Dues Reminder


By now everyone has received the 2014 Dues Notice. The response has been good so far, but some have yet to respond.

Our dues are important because it is our only source of income. Let me explain the importance of them: Primarily, this past year we have spent a good deal of money on the Costal Multi-Species Conservation and Management Plan (CMP). This required us to get outside help in order to convince the ODFW of the need for a sustainable wild fishery plan for the North Umpqua for now and into the future.


Remember, your dues are an affirmation of our Mission Statement and a healthy fishery.


Additionally we are a 501(3)C, so any contributions over and above dues are fully tax deductible.


Dick Bauer


Welcome to Our New Members!


Elizabeth Zamba, Idleyld Park
Doug Fidler, Medford, OR
Paul Swacina, Victoria, TX
Dutch Baughman, Southlake, TX
Rob Elam, Portland, OR
Rob Wilde, Bend, OR
Megan Ponder, Portland, OR
Jerry Gospodnetich, Coeur d'Alene, ID
Michael Morrison, Baysfield, LA
Kyle Smith, Brownsville, OR
Bill Bakke, Portland, OR

Francis Reedy, Albany, OR 



Steamboaters Banquet


The annual banquet will be held April 5th at 6:30 at the Southern Oregon Wine Institute on the Umpqua Community College Campus. The program will be a showing of the film, "Mending the Line", by Uncage the Soul Video Productions. The film tells the story of Frank and Jeannie Moore's trip to Normandy to fish the rivers Frank saw as a soldier in World War II. You will be receiving your reservation form in the mail soon; save the date! 

In This Issue
My Pool
President's Message
In Remembrance of Dennis Black
Forgotten Flies
Notes from the Big Bend Pool
Upper and Lower Boat Pool in 1920 Log Bridge across North Umpqua Zeke Allen's fish camp  near Camp Water My Pool by Frank Moore
"My" pool, located just below Surveyor, was so named because it was a pool that I could take a fish out of darned near every time if one of our clients brought a fish in for dinner, but it would not be enough for everyone. I would run down to Maple Ridge below the Cabins, make a couple of cast to a spot that always held fish, but if none would cooperate, I would then drive up to "My Pool", strip out a 100ft of line, make a cast clear across to the bottom of the pool, and 9 times out of 10 (or better) would head back to the Inn with the rest of dinner. Very few people could reach the hot spot, and I usually did not take clients there just in case a fish was needed.
Then just below that place were the Upper and Lower Bridge Pools. The west side of the Upper was one of Loren Greys favorite spots to fish with a huge "Turkey and Red" fly. The east and deep side was the favorite for bait and spinner fishermen, and fished much as some "fly fishermen" do today, dragging the bottom. The "Lower Bridge Pool", is still one of the favorite pools to spot fish in the whole river, with 4 primary lies between the bridge and Upper Sawtooth.

President's Message by Lenny Volland  


The Steamboaters lost two of its membership in 2013.  In early December, Dennis Black, founder of Umpqua Feather Merchants died (Dennis' biography  by Randall  Kaufman is within this issue of the Whistle).  Then at years end, Leonard Case , a resident of Roseburg, passed away.  With Leonard's death I started thinking about the importance of mentors in our lives.  It was a discussion with Leonard way back in 2005, in church, that he directed me toward  the Steamboaters and the uniqueness of the North Umpqua river system.  He owned a place just down river from the I5 freeway bridge, and fly fished consistently behind his house when he was younger.  So I started thinking about other folks that served as mentors in my own life.  Would I ever have used a dry fly for summer steelhead if it wasn't for Lee Spencer and his skaters?  Would I ever have switched to left handed casting if I never tried to mimic, in complete frustration, his cack-handed cast off the left shoulder?  Other examples are what Joe Howell thought made an effective steelhead streamer, or Dale Greenley's observations on summer steelhead coming to a fly.  You probably have folks in your life that influenced your conservation perspective, or fishing mantra, that you can look back and say he/she was a mentor in your life. They spend time helping you get it right.  Death has a way of forcing us to reflect on the past.  Isn't the past or the present a part of life we shouldn't take for granted?


For those of you who aren't living within the Umpqua Basin, we have just experienced a record setting event.  This past year has been the driest year on record, going back to 1899.  The Roseburg annual precipitation has averaged about 15 inches below normal: 16.11 inches fell in 2013 but the average annual is more like 32 inches..  To cap the year off December was also the coldest month ever, combined with very little precipitation: .70 of an inch compared to a monthly normal of 6.09 inches.  At this writing very few fish have entered the North Umpqua, most still kegged up down around Sawyers Rapids.  One acquaintance I talked to, who lives below Elkton, reports most of his fishing friends are going through a lot of "wild" fish and less than 5% of the catch are hatchery fish.   I wonder what the mortality rate in native fish is as a result of this over-fishing situation.  It seems to me that there should be an emergency regulation when this early winter weather holds back the run, a phenomenon that occurred last year also. We close the ocean fishery at a moments' notice, why not a river?


On the conservation front the Steamboaters joined with the Native Fish Society in sending a letter to the Governor expressing their concern over the Coastal Conservation Plan process.  Included in this issue are a list of the key findings of a science panel hired by the Native Fish Society and the Steamboaters to evaluate the content and suppositions of the Coastal Conservation Plan.  Steamboaters Peter Tronquet, Joe Ferguson and Jeff Dose have been actively involved in this process.


Finally I want to thank Tim Goforth and his wife Kathy Kreiter for taking on the editing process for the Whistle. Their first issue, autumn 2013, was dynamite.



Dennis Black, longtime Steamboater, Glide resident and fly-fishing icon, passed away December 5 in Roseburg. He is survived by his wife, Maew, his children, and several grand and great-grand children. Memorial services were held at Steamboat Inn for family and close friends.

I met Dennis in 1966 when Jack Dennis and I were tying flies in the Rod and Reel store in Jackson Wyoming. Dennis and his family were vacationing in Jackson Hole and attending the 2nd annual FFF conclave at Jackson Lake Lodge.Dennis moved to the banks of the North Umpqua in 1968, opening Black's Custom Flies in a garage addition at his home on Del Rio Road in Winchester. From that quiet beginning Dennis became an influential giant in the fly-fishing industry, ultimately revolutionizing the world of fly tying.

He set up factories first in India, then in Thailand and Sri Lanka. His company, Umpqua Feather Merchants, distributed his flies, tying materials and tackle, and until recently, was located in Glide. These businesses became an unrivaled empire and created a living for hundreds of families.

Over the years Dennis and Umpqua Feather Merchants hosted many of the world's most famous fly-tyers and anglers on the North Umpqua. Dennis' sons, Craig and Jim, and his brother, Bill, were instrumental in building and promoting the business both in Glide and Asia, and today, continue the Black legacy with their own fly-tying operations and businesses.

Dennis is perhaps best known for creating the now famous "royalty tyer program," whereby he paid a percentage of sales to renown fly designers for their "patterns" and for promoting Dennis' flies, and fly-tying and fly-fishing. This opened up a new frontier of opportunity and lifestyle for many, making it possible for tyers to earn a living in the fly-fishing industry.

It also created new legions of angler/tyers who clamored for these specialty flies and the unique materials to tie them, which Dennis happily provided, including genetic hackles. This spiraling innovation allowed the industry to progress and expand at an unprecedented pace in the history of fly-fishing. In the past 30 years the sport has, perhaps, progressed further than in the previous 300 years, much due to Dennis' efforts.

Dennis is considered by many to be the greatest entrepreneur and visionary fly-fishing has ever known. Above all, Dennis loved skating dry flies to steelhead, especially at the Famous Hole and the Feather Merchant Pool below his home on his beloved North Umpqua River.  He is with us always.


 Forgotten Flies by Joe Howell


Steelhead fly patterns have come and gone from season to season since at least the early 1920s.  Often popular trout flies tied on larger hooks were early favorites.  Patterns like the Black Gnat, Western Coachman and in some areas the still popular Royal Coachman were converted to bucktail hair-wings.  They often sported jungle cock shoulders for a little added flash on what could be a drab looking fly. 


In a Field and Stream magazine article dated June of 1916, W. F. Backus writes a short story titled 'Steelhead Trout of the Rogue River'.  Quoting a portion of that article he said "The reel, a strong sensible one of the single acting type, holds a full fifty yards of heavy enameled line.  A six foot leader and a number four Coachman with flashing jungle cock shoulders complete the equipment." 


Other steelhead flies that originated from trout flies are the Pink Lady, Black Prince, and the Orange Caddis.  They are still productive flies but no longer widely used. 


Many of the early flies dedicated for steelhead were regional, tied and used on their home rivers.  Among the early fly patterns, some gained widespread use such as the Purple Peril of Washington, a Ken McLeods pattern still in popular use for well over fifty years.  The Polar Shrimp, a version of the Orange Shrimp gained popularity on northern California's Eel River around the mid 1930s. 


The Skunk fly most likely originated on the North Umpqua River.  Recalling a conversation I had many years ago with early North Umpqua steelheaders Clete and Don Krogel, they claimed the Skunk Fly as a pattern that their mother, Mildred, came up with in the mid to late 1940s.  Wes Drain of Washington is said to have invented a similar pattern that he named the Skunk.  It did not sport a body of thick black chenille, but instead was a somewhat sparse version with a thin body of floss or yarn. 


The Bergman Black Prince is a steelhead fly that never formally made the pattern listings of any books known to me.  In a correspondence with Mike Kennedy to Bill Henry around 1974 or 1975, he stated that Mr. Bergman used the fly while on the Umpqua in the mid 1930s.  He had fished the Umpqua while at staying at Clarence Gorden's North Umpqua Lodge.  The pattern was tied with a red hackle fiber tail, black floss body, small flat gold tinsel ribbing, black hackle and a black hair-wing on a small size 6 or 8 hook. 


Other patterns invented by Ray Bergman for the North Umpqua are the Surveyor and the Sawtooth.  These are both patterns listed in the book 'Trout' by Ray Bergman from 1938.  In that book, Bergman dedicates a chapter to the North Umpqua experience.  Of the Ray Bergman steelhead patterns (listed on page 454 of his book) I think the Sawtooth is the most useful and attractive.  The Surveyor is a kind of reversed color combination of the Umpqua Special, having opposite body colors.    


No article on forgotten flies would be complete without at least a mention of a few of the older fly patterns, most originating in the 1930s. 


The Golden Demon, reportedly a New Zealand trout fly, was brought to the Rogue and Umpqua rivers by Zane Gray. The Cummings Special is a Ward Cummings pattern with some input from Clarence Gorden.


The Stevenson Special from the mid 1930s was tied by Clive Stevenson of Roseburg, Oregon.  When I was working at Umpqua Gun Store in the early 1970s, I recall talking to Clive at length about his flies and fishing experiences.  He stated then his preference for guinea fowl for hackling on his steelhead flies. 


There are other forgotten patterns of a newer age that I have not mentioned, but this was to have been a short article!  So I will leave you with one last pattern. 


One of the few early purple fly patterns is the Joe Davis Special, an Umpqua pattern that was relatively unknown, tied on a size 4 or 6 hook. This is one steelhead pattern that has never made it into any book, but has been handed down from fisherman to fisherman, which will keep this and other patterns from becoming totally forgotten. 


Joe Davis Special


Tail:  Amherst pheasant black and white fibers from the cape feathers

Butt:  Black chenille - two or three turns

Ribbing: Oval or flat silver tinsel

Body:  Purple yarn (ribbed with silver on the purple only)

Hackle:  Purple

Wing:  White buck tail




Hook: TMC 700 SIZE #2-6

Tail:  Guinea fowl fibers

Ribbing:  Large flat gold tinsel

Body:  #3 light orange chenille

Hackle:  Three or four turns of natural black and white spotted guinea fowl

Wing:  Fox squirrel

Shoulder:  Jungle cock




The Sawtooth is a Ray Bergman pattern listed in his book "Trout". 


Notes from the Big Bend Pool by Lee Spencer









Photo #1.  November 1, 2013:  1:55 PM.  The left-bank shadow is still present in Big Bend Pool, yet notice the steelhead holding in the sunlight.


At the start of my fishing the North Umpqua, everyone, and I mean everyone, told me that steelhead avoid the sunlight and will not hold in it.   


The wild summer steelhead that hold in Big Bend Pool seem have a more complex
relationship to sunlight than anglers think they do.  Because of the orientation of Steamboat Creek in the area of the pool, all season long there is a definite strong swath of sunlight that works it way across the pool all season long.


This means that the sun chases a band of shadow from the pool and is followed in turn by another band of shadow that reaches out to encompass the pool in the late afternoon.  The period during which the sun completely covers the pool diminishes from about five hours at the solstice to only a single hour by the time my dogs and I leave the pool for New Mexico.


What I call the right-ridge shadow in my natural history notes is cast by the sun as it drops from sight below the far ridge late in the day.  This right-ridge shadow is preceded by a separate finger of shadow that was created by the falling of several large far bank trees during my time at the pool (see Photo #4).


Alright, other things being equal, the steelhead show a tendency to stay in the left bank shadow, to hug it and retreat from the sunlight when it comes.  This is particularly obvious when the leading edge of the sunlight is crossing the deepest part of the stream channel, the thalweg.  In Photo #1, the thalweg is approximately under the near edge of the steelhead holding in the sunlight.


Eventually, as the leading edge of the sunlight gets closer and closer to the near bank, more and more steelhead gradually and easily peel off the left-bank shadow to swim over to the sunlit part of the pod with gentle sweeps of their tails.  In Photo #1 there are three steelhead visible as they make the transition from the shadowed to the pod in the sunlight.


So, this shows that the steelhead do appear to prefer the shadow don't they?  If this were the only time that I watched the reaction of the steelhead to sunlight I would think that, in fact, steelhead do not like it. 




Photo #2.  August 5, 2012:  10:08.  There are several shadows being cast onto the pool from the near bank trees.


Early in my time on the pool, I noticed that the steelhead commonly released large bubbles from the top of their gill plates in the late afternoon as the far bank shadow was in the process of replacing the sunlight from the pool.  Commonly, these fish are stationary or drifting quite slowly and the bubbles that they release ascend vertically through the water column.  It took me a couple of seasons to determine that-in the pool-when a steelhead releases bubbles from its gills, this is a clear sign that it is nervous.  Steelhead have voluntary control over the amount of air in their airbladders.

As the late-day, far-bank shadows make their way across the pool the steelhead retreat from these shadows just like they earlier retreated from the sunlight when it first began its traverse earlier in the day.  In the afternoon, there is every sign of nervousness on the part of the steelhead as the right-ridge shadow continues to make its way across the pool from the right, or far bank.


So, considering the apparent inclination to retreat from sunlight early in the day and to retreat from shadow late in the day, it seems to me that pool steelhead prefer to stay in either sunlight or shadow, whichever has been covering the pool, and to retreat from sunlight or shadow, whichever is encroaching onto the pool with the rotation of the earth.



Photo #3.  October 4, 2012:  3.28 PM.  This portion of a steelhead pod, besides being at ease, is clearly holding in the sunlight.


There are two Douglas fir that have grown old just behind and above where I sit on the near, or left bank of the pool.  The apparent movement of the sun across the sky causes the shadows of these two trees to sweep from the lower to the upper end of the pool (see Photo #2).  At times the pool steelhead prefer to hold within these tree shadows and at other times they appear to prefer to hold in the sunlit patches between the tree shadows.


One situation that is apparent is that, when spooked-when spooked enough-the steelhead show an inclination to retreat into whatever shadows are available to them if these shadows are big enough. 


So, anglers, what does it mean that wild summer steelhead hold comfortably in either shadow or sunlight, whichever is at hand, and show a marked and an apparently equal inclination to retreat from shadow if they have been holding in sunlight or sunlight when they have been holding in shadow?




Photo #4.  November 18, 2013:  3:09PM.   Steelhead are holding in the sunlight and the shadow.  Note the presence of sunlight on the far bank.  This is a slender finger of sunlight that was created by several large conifers falling in about 2006.


One, if you have been angling in shaded water since the crack of dawn, there may be a slow down in hookups as the leading edge of the sunlight sweeps over the river.  Equally, if you have been angling sunny water, there may be less interest in your flies as shadow replaces sunlight.  These changes, shadow to sunlight  or sunlight to shadow appear to spook the steelhead in Big Bend Pool and it is rare to see an apparently nervous or spooked steelhead rise to or approach any item in the pool.

These observations of the Big Bend Pool steelhead strongly suggest the belief that steelhead avoid the sunlight is erroneous.  I have found that steelhead will approach my flies equally in sun or shadow.  As I have said elsewhere in these Whistle articles that discuss steelhead behavior, the reason I will leave the river has more to do with the common up-canyon winds and my use of very long leaders than the fact that the water has sunlight on it. 



SURFACE FLIES IN WINTER? OR STEELHEAD WILL NOT COME TO THE                                                        SURFACE IN COLD WATER



December 7, 2009.  Around a hundred steelhead under iced at the lower end of the pool.


In what way I wonder does the air influence a steelhead that is holding in the North Umpqua River or Steamboat Creek?  According to what some of the more experienced anglers say, steelhead won't take items off the surface when the air is cold or when the air is colder than the water anyway.  Is this even true?  I will start this discussion of steelhead moving to surface flies in cold water by stating that-as usual, for what it's worth-I believe only one circumstance will stop a steelhead from taking a surface fly and that is a layer of ice between it and the fly . . . and that may not stop a steelhead from trying to take this fly.


I am certain that it is only conjecture that will deny the likelihood that steelhead will move to the surface for flies when the water in below 50.  The truth is that, insofar as I can see, no one has fished only surface flies-or predominantly surface flies-in water temperatures of 49 or less for enough time for this to be representative of anything.  Once a fishing buddy who had looked over the book that recorded over twenty years of catch statistics at a Skeena River lodge.  He told me that only 2% of the steelhead had been taken with surface flies by lodge patrons.  That's something isn't it?


Actually, that 2% is a meaningless statistic without knowing what percentage of the rods over the time in question fished solely surface flies.  For example, if only 1% of the rods were fishing the surface, then rods fishing the surface were twice as effective as those fishing sunken flies . . . that is unless my math skills [such as they are] have failed me once again.


In fact, my experience suggests that, of those anglers who fish the surface, none of them do so frequently enough when the water is in the 40s or lower for there to be any meaningful statistics presently in existence.  I will go out on a very thick, healthy, and resilient limb and say once more that any statement by anyone yea or nay about fishing surface flies for steelhead in the late fall and winter is conjecture only.  I wish this was not true, but it is.


If I am right about this, then a very interesting question occurs to me:  "Why do the majority of those who fish for steelhead repeat this untested and therefore meaningless maxim?"  Is this fiction so well accepted that fishing with surface flies in winter is considered worthless?  Is the proposition that steelhead will have their curiosity aroused and move to a surface fly in cold water frightening in some way?  Other than the joy of shooting lots of line well, is angling with very heavy flies and dense sink tip lines so much fun that it is addictive?  For those who fish floating lines and wet flies:  is swinging a fly six to eight inches under the surface so different from swinging a surface fly?


Is bringing a steelhead to your line so important that anglers will refuse to deviate from the weighted-fly path and pretend that this path is the only path and not just one of several paths.  As anglers, have we not been offered nice enough shrubberies to try surface flies in winter?  Are our parents therefore hamsters and do they smell of elderberries? Has the coterie of those anglers lucky enough to be able to fish the North Umpqua River for winter steelhead simple been insufficiently taunted?


Probably every once in a while for the last seventy or eighty years, and often accidentally, anglers have been casting and working flies in the North Umpqua River that either on purpose or accidentally stayed in the surface film of most of their drift.  If accidental, the probable culprit was a half-hitch around the fly made by a tailing loop.

It was not until the late 90s that a significant number of North Umpqua anglers finally accepted that steelhead would readily come to surface presentations during the summer.  It was at this time or infinitesimally later that the experienced anglers on the North Umpqua began in significant numbers to mention the use of floating flies in the summer.  Let me add that there have probably always been anglers like Jack Decius and Frank Moore who were not afraid, now and then, to fish the surface of the North Umpqua during the 1950s and 1960s.  These anglers who periodically fished the surface probably fished dead-drifted surface flies, not the waking flies that are the most common surface patterns in use today on the river.  This sometime use of surface flies did not strongly influence anglers on the river and this was perhaps primarily because the preferred flies that were being cast to intrigue steelhead were moving in the opposite direction, that is, down.


Beginning en masse, I believe, sometime in the eighties, anglers had concluded that if you wanted to catch steelhead or more steelhead, you took your flies to them with lead-core lines or you wrapped lead around your flies.  Remember, steelhead stay on the bottom, don't they?  One older angler, though I am unsure how experienced he was, categorically told me that steelhead were not even able to look up.  Many anglers dallied with weighted flies only briefly, but the damage was done, if it's appropriate to use the word damage in this context . . . Actually, it probably is if the weighted flies were used in the summer, and they were.


By the time I began to spend my time on the river in the late 1980s you were told, often whether or not you had asked to be told, that the go-to steelhead technique used here and most other places too was a sinking line and a weighted fly.


Why am I digressing like this to weighted flies when this article is purportedly about cold water and steelhead rising to the surface for flies and other items?  The reason is that most of the anglers, even those who would like to fish surface flies, have constrained their effective use to a limited and mythic set of circumstances.  Stated negatively and generally, the fable is that it is a waste of time to fish a surface fly if the water is too deep, too dirty, too fast, or too cold.  This confines their use to smooth, shallow, clear tails of pools or to any water with a glossy or placid-seeming surface and only during what amounts to the summer time.


There are plenty of anglers who regularly fish the river who now preferentially use surface flies, usually waking flies (with and without popping them) and they do so all summer long.  The balance of these anglers will go to wet flies when the water drops into the fifties and below.


Long ago, Joe Howell told me of fishing with his friend Harry Lemire and watching him bring a steelhead to the surface when the water was in the low thirties.  This does not surprise me at all for this legendary angler . . . these two legendary anglers.  Unfortunately, one hooking or rise or one swallow does not make a summer steelhead technique.  Unless I am missing something, there are very few anglers other than my friend Bryan D. who will fish a surface presentation with nearly perfect equanimity when winter comes to the river.


What do the wild summer steelhead in Big Bend Pool have to say about this conundrum? I regularly see steelhead approach items on the surface in the pool when the temperature of the water is as low as 34.  In another Steamboat Creek pool, on February 10th, 2001, I watched three steelhead during a hatch of centimeter-long mayflies.  Two of the steelhead were paired up, a male and a female.  The third fish was another male and it was holding about eight-feet downcreek from the paired fish.  Neither male paid any attention to the mayflies, but the female was confidently rising and taking individual mayflies from the surface film about every minute.  The water there was 39.


So, what does the fact that by wild summer steelhead regularly rise to leaves, twigs, lichens, and insects late in the season when the water is below 50 mean to anglers?

Very little or nothing. 


Why? Because to my knowledge no one has ever fished the surface consistently enough during the winter to make any meaningful statements about it.  I guess this means that anglers are comfortable repeating half-truths or quarter-truths.  Now I wonder, if we got some actual facts about fishing the surface for steelhead when the water is cold, wouldn't this make our conversations more interesting and-depending on what the truth is actually shown to be-a lot more interesting?


Good friends, let me propose an experiment.  This coming winter-- during a spell of good fishing, why not fish the surface for a whole day.  Unfortunately, fishing just a run or two will yield no more than what we presently have, anecdotes. 

If only three to five anglers fished two or three whole days with surface flies, by the end of five years, there might be enough useful info to say something meaningful about steelhead and their preferences for flies in the winter.[1]


If nothing else it will give us something to hang our conjectural hat or hooded rain jacket on.

[1] Of course, this data would have to be written up in an acceptable way

About Us
PO Box 41266
Eugene, Oregon 97404

The mission of the Steamboaters is to preserve, promote, and restore the unique aesthetic values, the natural production of wild fish populations, and the habitat that sustains these fish on the North Umpqua River.
The Steamboaters is a charter member club of the Fly Fishers, a member of Oregon Trout and the Pacific Rivers Council.

Len Volland, President                                  Dick Bauer
     (541) 673-2246                                                 (541) 688-4980                                   
Josh Voynick, Vice President                      Joe Ferguson
     (541) 496-0077                                                 (541) 747-4917                    
Chuck Schnautz, Secretary                          Dale Greenley
     (541) 496-0328                                                  (541) 863-6213                    
Lee Lashway, Treasurer                                Tim Goforth 
      (541) 953-4796                                                 (541) 496-0780                      
Pat McRae                                                       Charles Spooner
      (541) 496-4222                                                  (541) 496-0493                  
Peter Tronquet
      (541) 774-9577
Jeff Dose
      (541) 673-2665
Join Our Mailing List!