Named after a Scottish fur trader who explored parts of the Pacific Northwest, the McKenzie River flows 90 miles generally due west out of Willamette National Forest located in the High Cascades and it eventually feeds into the Willamette River just north of Eugene Oregon. The McKenzie starts as the outlet stream from from Clear Lake which is reputed for its high water quality and a constant year-round temperature of 38 degrees. Near to the source it actually flows underground through a lava bed for 3 miles before re-emerging clear and ice cold. The McKenzie drainage comprises and area 1300 square miles, 96 percent of which is forested and 4 percent dedicated to agriculture. The cities of Eugene and Springfield benefit from the river's high water quality as they have tapped the river and adjacent aquifers to provide water to some 200,000 plus residents. Within the river and its tributaries, there are a number of dams and power projects associated with the Eugene Water & Electric Board, Army Corps of Engineers, and Bonneville Power who utilize and manage the river for flood control and hydro-electric power.
Renown for its aesthetic appeal and natural beauty, the McKenzie River corridor provides a diverse range of recreational opportunities including kayaking, rafting, hiking and mountain biking the adjacent trails, camping, and of course, fishing. The now famous McKenzie River Drift Boat actually evolved on this river and sports a unique design creating an incredibly efficient white-water friendly fishing vessel. Many of the boats are manufactured in the Pacific Northwest and now utilized not only in the U.S., but on rivers throughout the world.Numerous species of fish occupy the McKenzie's water. Such residents include Bull Trout, Mountain Whitefish, Sculpin and Chubs, while Rainbow & Cutthroat Trout, Spring Chinook Salmon, and Summer Steelhead represent the more sought after fish targeted by hopeful anglers. The McKenzie has a decent population of wild Rainbows known as “Redsides” and it also receives supplemental plantings of hatchery reared Rainbows throughout the spring and summer. This hatchery program has proven immensely successful and draws in anglers from far and wide year after year.
Some years see very good returns of Spring Chinook to the McKenzie. A hatchery located on the lower river near Leaburg produces salmon smolts, juvenile Springers that are released annually to supplement the wild population. Once released, these young fish head downstream in short order migrating to the Pacific Ocean where they enjoy a large food base for several years before returning to the McKenzie as adult salmon ready to spawn. Only hatchery produced Spring Chinook may be harvested on the McKenzie and they are identified by a missing adipose fin. A variety of baits and lures represent the most popular fishing tactics.
The McKenzie also has an on-going hatchery program for the production of Summer Steelhead. These fish were originally introduced to the McKenzie River and the program has created a very popular fishery. Once hooked, these feisty fish often put on quite a battle with jumps, somersaults and blazing runs that are long remembered. Depending on the river conditions, baits lures and even flies can all prove very effective.