Southern Oregon fishing gives you choices when you want some fun on the water

Fishing guide Gary Lewis has been taking people fishing for more than 30 years and  there’s always one tip he gives his guests.

“The best secret is to try not to get too excited,” Lewis says with a quick chuckle.  “As soon
as they hook one, people get excited and I have to calm them down.“

That’s the big secret to fishing in Southern Oregon?
Don’t get so excited?

“Yep. People want to start reeling as fast as they can, but you don’t want to do that,” he continues. “We have to get people settled down so they operate the rod right. We talk them through the whole thing.

“That’s what makes guiding a lot of fun. We get to see a smile on a person’s face when they catch a 35-pound fall Chinook.”

Southern Oregon is famous for its fishing; it has been for years. Hollywood legend Clark Gable regularly fished here.  Novelist Zane Grey had a cabin on the Rogue River nearly a hundred years ago. These days, people travel great distances to fish the region’s many rivers.

“We have a lot of repeat customers and they come from all over the world,” Lewis says, noting anglers from Europe, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Australia as examples. “I’ve also got people coming  this year  from New York, Florida, Texas, North Carolina and Maine, I think. They all come here to get away.”

Escaping to the wilderness is easy to do and with so many rivers to fish, it may be hard to choose. Lewis focuses on the Umpqua River and its forks for its small-mouth bass and steelhead. He also frequents nearly every river in Southern Oregon. 

Other guides have their preferred locations.

“We’re lucky enough to float on the lower section of the Rogue River,” says fishing guide Travis Staple of Rogue Canyon Adventures. “That’s the wild and scenic section. Only 120 people are allowed to float  the canyon each day and that creates an environment where you don’t feel crowded at all.

“The wild and scenic area has some of the best scenery and the best fishing dating back in history,” Staple says. “Typically the fishing gets quite a bit better in later summer and fall.  The Coho, Chinook and steelhead  are all running at the same time. These are the best months.”

Rich Wilkinson says his Rogue Klamath River Adventures guides concentrate on the middle Rogue River from Lost Creek Reservoir north of Medford to the town of Gold Hill.

“That’s a pretty long stretch. It has a lot of fishing because most of the salmon and steelhead get up here,” Wilkinson says. “The hatchery-raised fish go back (to nearby Cole M. Rivers Fish Hatchery) where they were born. That makes for real good salmon and steelhead fishing.”

But what does a fishing guide do when he’s not at work? The answer shouldn’t be surprising.

“We just love to fish whether we have a customer or not,” Wilkinson says. “It’s a lifestyle thing. Fishing makes you feel like you’re part of the river. Catching these fish is super exciting. It’s a fight to reel these things in, but once you catch one, you want to catch another one. It’s very addictive.

“It’s also great eating. They taste good.”

Staple says the unique nature of the wild and scenic Rogue River keeps him on the river.

“I’ve been boating all over the western United States and I’ve never found a stretch of river like this stretch of the Rogue,” Staple says. “It has some rapids, truly abundant wildlife and beautiful scenery. It all struck true in my heart. It made me want to be out there as much as possible.”

As for Gary Lewis, he takes the long view.

“I like doing this,” he says. “I like teaching people how to fish. I have a day off tomorrow and I’m going to take my grandkids out fishing.”