50 Fishing Holes in 50 Minutes

Ask anyone who is familiar with Douglas County to list the top three assets the region is best known for and chances are you’ll hear the same things:

  1. Timber
  2. Wine
  3. Fish

That’s in no particular order unless you’re a fishing enthusiast and, then, of course, it’s way out of order. That list looks like this:

  1. Fish
  2. Fish
  3. Fish

Douglas County is an angler’s paradise starting with the North Umpqua River, which enjoys widespread fame as one of the world’s most popular fly-fishing destinations.

The river was first brought to national attention in the 1920s through the writings of Major Lawrence Mott (named the Millionaire Reporter) and famed western novelist Zane Grey.

Grey was a regular visitor and pioneered techniques for catching fish on the river that laid the foundation for current stewardship of the North Umpqua.

Over the years the river’s reputation as one of the most challenging, but also best, freshwater fisheries has continued to grow, making it a bucket-list destination for most serious anglers.

The North Umpqua serves as a habitat for a variety of resident and anadromous fish species, including summer and winter steelhead, fall and spring Chinook salmon, Coho salmon and sea-run cutthroat trout.

Did we mention it’s accessible just 20 minutes east of Roseburg? That’s just the beginning of a 30-plus mile stretch of fly-fishing-only territory that includes both placid pools and frothy currents.

If you fish, you probably don’t need to be told much about the North Umpqua. (You may even have already packed your gear in preparation for testing it.) Suffice to say, it is a fishing destination that shouldn’t be missed.

If you’re going you’ll want to be sure you have time to visit, if not stay at, the fabled Steamboat Inn. Built by the legendary Frank Moore (who founded the Steamboaters conservation group) and his wife Jeanne, the inn is a favorite lodging destination for many fly anglers.

Steamboat Inn is a beautiful 40-mile drive east of Roseburg along the river on Highway 138.

Of course the North Umpqua isn’t the only place to fish in Douglas County. Other rivers, reservoirs, lakes and ponds within an hour of Roseburg offer the opportunity to challenge yourself against a diverse array of species, including trout, crappie, bluegill, bass, shad and landlocked Coho salmon.

If you have just a little more than 60 minutes, you can also try your luck at Diamond Lake (just a few miles west of Crater Lake), Lemolo Reservoir or Toketee Reservoir.

Or head west to Winchester Bay, where you’ll have access to outstanding fishing, both on area rivers or in the Pacific Ocean. Whether you are spin-fishing, fly-fishing or baitcasting, you’ll find a variety of fish here, including albacore, pink salmon, Chinook salmon and Coho salmon.

A trip to Winchester Bay also gives you the chance to commune with, or collect if you prefer, other sea creatures.

Crabbing (Dungeness and red rock) is allowed year-round in bays, estuaries and tide pools and on piers and jetties. And all waters in the area are open for clamming. Mussels, soft-shell, bay, butter, littleneck and gapers can all be had in the area.

This, of course, just gives you a flavor of the water-based fun that can be had in Douglas County. There are dozens of websites devoted to specific activities and locations.

A great start is the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s web page, “50 Places to go Fishing within 60 Minutes of Roseburg“.

Casey’s Guide Service

Late in the afternoon, with two repeat clients on board, a fatty spring Chinook took the bait. Malepsy maneuvered the agile Willie drift boat into position. He readied the dip net as the current pushed them downstream. The springer fought hard, evidenced by the rod pulsing, bending and pulling the fish skyward.

The sea-bright salmon rolled, slapped and then took flight. The king salmon jumped so high out of the water, fish and fishermen made eye contact. It was an epic battle that ended with one of the most-prized sport fish in the world ready for the grill.

On this day, Umpqua River fishing guide Casey Malepsy decided to stay where the fish were biting. For most of the day he drifted the Cleveland Rapids about 20-minutes from downtown Roseburg. He used a drift boat equipped with a gas motor. Earlier that day they hooked two wild summer steelhead they had to release and lost a spring Chinook. Anglers can keep native spring Chinook in the Umpqua, one of the few places left where such a luxury is allowed. He knew where the fish were and he knew they’d eventually bite.

Even experienced fishermen hire fishing guides for their inside knowledge.

There are few people who know the Umpqua better than Malepsy. He was born on the Rogue River in Shady Cove, Oregon and grew up fishing for salmon and steelhead at a backyard fishing hole. After catching his first steelhead at the age of five he knew guiding is what he wanted to do. Malepsy became a licensed guide/outfitter at the age of fifteen.

At age 39, he’s now one of the most-sought-after guides on the Umpqua and Rogue Rivers. His clientele range from beginners to seasoned anglers. Some are just happy to be on the river enjoying the ride, others are in it for the win.

The strategy involves rowing his drift boat downstream and using the motor to go back upstream slowly near the shoreline as to not spook the fish. As they move downstream, they cast in the drift, come back through, back-bouncing running divers held above the fish.

For bait, he uses salmon eggs and lures in the river and cut-plug herring on the coast.

He has a 23-foot power boat that handles four guests in the bay or ocean. “It’s roomy and safe,” he says.

As the spring run winds down, Malepsy will turn his attention to the remaining summer steelhead. He’ll also guide bass fishing trips, which are productive and fast-paced. Beginners love it.

In July he heads to the coast to fish Winchester Bay and the ocean. He says the fishing is relaxing, the fish get huge and taste great. Folks love moderate summer temperatures on the coast.

Malepsy has some convincing endorsements on his web page. One customer considers him one of the best.

I have had the pleasure of fishing western Oregon for over 60 years and have fished with several of the top guides. As a group, these people are amazing fishermen but I consider none to be better than Casey. Not only does he turn in great numbers but he is a great guy to spend the day with. His extensive experience and knowledge of fish biology and management issues makes the day an educational one. His enthusiasm for fishing, life in general and especially for his family make the day a pleasant one. I always end the day with a good catch and the feeling of having spent it with a good friend.

Whether you are a complete novice who has never fished , or a savvy angler who’s going for a trophy Chinook, Malepsy knows one thing, “I can’t think of anyone who’s caught a fish who didn’t have a good time doing it.”

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