The McKenzie River in Oregon has a rich history in the fly fishing world. Our guide will prepare you for success fly fishing the McKenzie.

McKenzie River Fly Fishing Basics

McKenzie River Oregon fly fishing is something special. It is a good-sized river with a good mix of redside rainbows (6-20"), cutthroat (6-18"), cutt-bows (6-18") and of course steelhead (6-10 pounds).

You would think that with this river being close to population centers (Eugene and Springfield) and with Hwy 126 paralleling the river it would have good access. That is simply not the case. The river runs through mostly private land and bank access is not easy.

Most of the bank access will be found at parks or boat ramps.

Where to Fly Fish on the McKenzie River

Well, that depends. If you have access to a drift boat and a skilled, knowledgeable rower the answer is easy. Bank fly fishers on the other hand have a more difficult time finding access. Bank access will also vary depending on the section you target.

We will look at the McKenzie River as two totally different sections each with a unique personality.

Fly Fishing the McKenzie in a Pontoon Boat
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The Lower River

The section from Armitage Park in Eugene to the Leaburg Dam has wade opportunities at Armitage Park, Deadmond Ferry, Bellinger Landing, Deerhorn County Park and Hayden Bridge. This lower section is also easier to float in a drift boat.

Most of the fish in this lower section are wild. As a result catch and release is the general rule here. Be sure to know exactly where you are on the river and the state regulations. There are four different sets of regulations for this section alone.

If you don't mind the sound of the freeway or just have part of a day you might want to check out Armitage Park in Eugene. At the downstream edge of the park there is a gravel bar that will give you good access.

Bank Access at Armitage Park

The Upper River

If you are going to the upper McKenzie River for Oregon fly fishing it can be very memorable. This section is very scenic with forested canyons, and deep clear and angry waters.

The rapids on the upper McKenzie are not for novice boaters. This section is run by white water enthusiasts. The McKenzie drift boat is the best way to run the rapids and take in the scenery. In fact this boat was developed for this river. Even with a guide it is not a section for the faint of heart.

Do not try to wade this section. Bank access is very limited here. There are however some access points along the McKenzie River Trail if you are willing to hike in.

Both wild and hatchery fish inhabit this section. Hatchery trout have a clipped adipose fin and wild fish should be released. Up to 130,000 fish are stocked here every year.

Best Time for Oregon Fly Fishing on the McKenzie River

You can fish the McKenzie River year round between the mouth and Leaburg Dam. Parts of this section are catch and release and other parts are artificial flies only. Upstream of the Leaburg Dam is open April 26th to Oct 31st.

Always be sure to read the Oregon Fish and Game Regulations.

One of the nicest times on the McKenzie is the autumn when the recreational use slows down. This is a great time for waders because the water level is lower.

Winter time does not offer a lot of chances to fish the McKenzie. Between December and February with the short days and almost endless rain, most locals spend their free time tying flies.

Be sure to check the McKenzie River Water Flow Chart before you go.

Essential Fly Patterns for the McKenzie River

The McKenzie river has great hatches throughout the fishing season including Blue Winged Olives, Brown & Golden Stoneflies, and Caddisflies. Check with a local fly shop to get up to date hatch conditions, good imitations and tactics to use.

January to March

  • Blue-winged Olive Parachute
  • Pheasant Tail Nymph
  • Black Elk Hair Caddis
  • Sparkle Dun

March to July

  • Yellow Stimulators
  • Turck’s Tarantula
  • Sofa Pillows
  • Hairwing Drake

April to August

  • Elk Hair Caddis
  • Yellow Stimulators
  • Sparkle Dun
  • Large Yellow Comparadun

August to November

  • Blue-winged Olive Parachute
  • Pheasant Tail Nymph
  • Humpy’s
  • Adams

Stock up on the Essential McKenzie River Flies

Our insect specific, curate fly boxes give you a solid foundation to building an organized, and effective fly collection. Our boxes are arranged by size, color and by dry flies, wet flies, and nymph patterns that help you decide on the river without fumbling around.

Best Methods for McKenzie River Oregon Fly Fishing

During the summer months consider a 12-foot leader and a 6X tippet. On overcast days you can use a 9-foot leader with a 5X tippet.

A bead head nymph dropped under a dry fly (or with an indicator) is a good idea.  Read more about nymphing here.

On the lower river I always spend some of my time swinging a streamer down and across to entice a nice steelhead.  Read more about fly fishing streamers here.

Appropriate Gear for the McKenzie River

Fly fishing the McKenzie river requires pretty standard fly fishing gear. If you are in need of any supplies, make sure to check out our buying guides for fly rods, reels, and other supplies to learn about what features to look out for.

Read more below for the best setup for fly fishing the McKenzie.

Fly Fishing Supply Guide Fly Rod Guide Fly Reel Guide

• 4 to 6 weight, 9-foot fly rod with floating line

• 4X to 6X tippet

• Waders and wading staff

• Wide-brimmed hat, polarized sunglasses, sunscreen

• Rain gear (depending on the season, this is western Oregon after all)

• Drift boat and a person who knows the river and is a skilled rower

Campgrounds and Lodging

Springfield and Eugene on each side of I-5 are your best bets for lodging if you are coming from the west. Sisters is the best choice if coming from the east.

Camping can be done at Armitage Park if you need to stay close to Eugene.

These campgrounds in the upper section of the river are well worth the drive.

• McKenzie Bridge

• Olallie

• Delta

• Paradise

• Limberlost

• Coldwater Cove

See Willamette National Forest Campgrounds for more information.

Oregon Fly Fishing Shops and Guides in the Area

The Caddis Fly Shop (Eugene)

The Fly Fishers Place (Sisters)

Watershed Fly Shop (Corvallis)

Hiring a Guide

If you have never run this river before it is a real good idea to hire a guide.

The upper river is not a river for a drift boat novice.

Save up your money and hire a guide. It is worth every penny.

McKenzie River Guides Association is a good resource to begin your search for a guide.


If Oregon fly fishing is in your plans the McKenzie River can be a very scenic and memorable experience. This river is a quality trout stream west of the Cascades and near the population centers of Eugene and Springfield. You should see and fish this river. You will not be disappointed.

Read More Oregon River Fly Fishing Guides