The Row and Coast Fork River Channels
When I speak of the river channels I mean the riverbeds that are underneath the water in the reservoirs when the lakes are full. You want to fish these channels in the fall and in the spring. When the Corps start releasing the water for the fall draw down in the first week of September many angler's minds become salmon crazy and the focus shifts to the coastal rivers. The southern Willamette's many rivers start to get empty of anglers and the tide water sections of the Alsea, Siuslaw, and the Umpqua start getting the fishing crowds trolling in the bays. This makes it nice for the fly fishing trout angler who chooses to stay in the valley away from the crowds.
The rivers coming into Dorena and Cottage Grove Reservoir are the Row and Little River. Why they chose the name"Little River" for the river coming into Cottage Grove Reservoir instead of calling it the Coast Fork is a mystery to me. These riverbeds become exposed as fall moves forward and the trout seem to gather at the highest point of the draw down between the slack water and the moving water of these rivers. You can either walk on the river bank or take a boat to these areas. If you are walking make sure you are wearing rubber boots because you will be walking on mud and you will be walking farther and farther as the reservoirs becomes lower. If you take a boat you can troll in this section of the channels or you can anchor and still fish using the powerbait on the slip sinker method. If you are walking and bank fishing the best method is the powerbait and slip sinker method. There will also be some lingering trout in the running water that can sometimes be taken on the fly.
This rainbow was caught 9/29/10 as the river was receding. This fish would probably have traveled downriver to Dorena Reservoir for the winter. This fish might spawn the following Spring. It would be even larger and might be caught on a fly.
The planted rainbows that have survived the fishing season will be fat and healthy. There is incredible growth rate for the rainbow which feed on minute fresh water shrimp in Dorena and Cottage Grove Reservoir. That 10 inch trout that was planted in March will be 16 inches. The trout planted later in the year will be 14 inches. Many people in Cottage Grove are aware of the mercury warning placed on the fish from the two reservoirs. The fish and wildlife people in our state did some investigation on the mercury content of the planted trout in these lakes and I called and talked with them. The resident warmwater fish contain the most mercury. Of course the older the fish the more mercury they contain. Of these fish the warning is not to consume more than a pound of these fish in a week. The planted trout contain less mercury because they are planted but the longer they are in the reservoir the more mercury they build up in their bodies. So the safest time to catch and eat the planted trout would be right after they are planted. If you catch them in the fall after they have fed on fresh water crustaceans for a few months you will see that their flesh has become orange - pink much like the color of salmon flesh. They are much better tasting but contain a bit more mercury. I enjoy eating trout and if I get time to fish the river channel in the fall I will have one or two fish at this time of the year. As a fishing guide I usually have to join the anglers on the coast since many of my clients want to catch a salmon. I start fishing the lower Umpqua in September.
The fall trout in the channels are not inclined to take the fly. When spring rolls around it a completely different story and fly fishing is the proven method to catch these large rainbows that follow the rising river channel ripe with eggs and milt. The rainbows are spring spawners that need flowing water to spawn and thus their inclination to be in moving water. These fish will hold in the first running water above the slack water. Of course this point of saturation is continually moving upriver in the spring as the Corp raise the water level of the reservoirs. When the Corp start their hold back in February most of the trout are still in the slack water since the urge to spawn hasn't arrived. Sometime in mid-March the big rainbows will start moving into the current. If the rains hold off a few days and the channel becomes wadeable you will see the trout start to rise to the March Browns that hatch at this time of the year. There will also be gray caddises mixed in the March Browns. In March you want to access the river channel from Shoreline Drive because the channel will be closer to this road. Sometime in late March or early April you will want to access the channel from Row River Road. I cannot give you exact times where the saturation point of the river channels will be because the Corp doesn't raise the channel with a set guide every year. They depend on the amount of rainfall and their own prediction as to how much rain they think will fall in the spring. You will notice that I am giving you details for the Dorena Reservoir channel and not any information about the river channel in Cottage Grove Reservoir. This is because I have never fished the spring rise at Cottage Grove Reservoir but I will assume that the rainbows in this impoundment will begin their spring spawning runs about the same time.
How big are these rainbows in the Spring? They will average 14 to 16 inches. My largest fish was about 10 pounds. You might ask me how any planted fish could become this large. The biologists know that not all leftover planted trout will spawn that first year. Some of the trout will be "holdovers" that live in the reservoir more than 2 years. I don't know if the biologists know the maximum years a trout can live in the reservoir before they spawn. I have caught quite a few fish in the 2 to 3 pound range in the rising channel. But this 10 pound fish was an exception and I think I can give you a reasonable explanation for how this trout grew to be so large. Every now and then the fish and wildlife department will release their brood stock rainbows into selected bodies of water. They are always ponds, lakes, or reservoirs. These fish are already big. So my theory about the size of this rainbow is that it was big to begin with and held over in the reservoir for many years.
Let me tell you the story of how I caught this huge rainbow. It was mid - March about 20 years ago. 20 years ago it was illegal to angle in the running water above the reservoir in early spring. You were supposed to wait till opening day which was always the last Saturday of April. I was not a licensed fishing guide at this time in my life. My dream then was to fly to Argentina and Chile and fly fish for trout in these faraway places but my finances would not allow me the luxury of having these experiences. So I reasoned that a trip to these places would cost about $5000.00 but a ticket for trout fishing out of season would cost me only $200.00. And besides I was going to release the fish anyway! I knew the big trout were there in the channel because I had walked the channel previously and had seen the big trout rising. I also knew where the saturation point in the channel was and it was not easy to walk to get to that point.
I parked on Shoreline Drive and walked past an area where an old campground used to be until I got to the old bridge supports. This place if pretty high up on the reservoir. Only the concrete foundations are there and some of the old timers in Cottage Grove will know exactly where the place is located. You can also access this place from the other side off Row River Road and in April you will want to do this. But in mid - March you want to be on the south side of the river (Shoreline Drive side) because there is a cliff on the north side that you cannot fish off of if you walk downriver from the old bridge. After some tough walking through some really tall grass I walked down to the river. I was standing on the shallow side and the water was very clear since it hadn't rained in over a week. As I prepared my gear I noticed the March Browns were just beginning and some trout were starting to rise. My heart beat faster. Just as I tied on a March Brown dry fly I noticed a large trout rise between myself and the deeper bank on the north side. The fish was only 20 feet from where I stood in ankle deep water. The sun was behind me and this was riffle water so I'm sure the fish could not see me standing so close. But I could make out a vague outline of this trout and it was big. As I was preparing to cast I surveyed the area and noticed a dark shadow in the water close to the opposite bank. This was about 60 ft from me and 40 feet from the trout I would soon catch and release. Then this shadow moved. Now I knew it was the largest trout I had ever seen in this river and perhaps the largest trout I had ever seen besides a picture or a dead mounted fish. Coming back to the task at hand I knew I could not let my first targeted trout get close to the monster fish because it would scare it. The monster trout lay slightly upriver from this smaller fish so I positioned myself a little upriver from my target. I felt if I hooked him from upriver he would run against the pull of my line and run downriver keeping him away from my main goal the monster trout. It worked. After 3 casts over my little trout he took the fly and ran downriver. I fought this trout downriver from the monster trout and landed a beautiful "little" 3 pound fish.