Oregon Fishing: Two Amateurs and A Guide

It’s a real privilege when I have the opportunity to be close to the source of my food, and it doesn’t get any more local than going out catching/finding/growing/picking something that will soon sustain your body. For this reason I have always loved fishing. My desire to improve at fly fishing and our proximity to so many rivers and streams in Oregon,  led me to The Caddis Fly Angeling Shop to arrange a one day, guided trip down the nearby McKenzie River. Caddis is a full-service, well-established fly fishing shop that specializes in guided trips, but is also a retail store offering the best in fly fishing tackle and equipment, advice, and fishing reports. Our experience with them was a positive one and I would recommend going there to address your fly fishing needs.

The McKenzie River flows out of the Cascades and eventually into the larger Willamette River. The sister cities of Eugene and Springfield are nestled around the banks of both rivers. On our scenic drive east out of Eugene we passed through a few cozy towns and took special notice of several farms and orchards, and the beautiful Goodpasture Covered Bridge downriver from where we met our guide, George.

We set off in what George referred to as a drift boat, but probably goes by different names in other parts of the country. This boat’s design is characterized by an arched bottom from bow to stern that allows it to spin about its center for ease in maneuvering the rapids, and it was the only type of boat we saw on the river. George maneuvered the boat through smooth water and rapids with expert form, using two large oars. He was able to ease in and anchor us into any spot he wanted to on the river.

The McKenzie supports a summer run of Steelhead Trout and Chinook Salmon, but Rainbow Trout were what we fished for and, thanks to our guide’s direction, we caught plenty. The morning started slow, but we took direction and learned where the fish would be, and just in time for lunch caught enough trout for a feast. Along the river bank we stopped, learned how to gut, skin, and pan fry the trout, and refueled for the rest of the afternoon on the river. In the afternoon we both nearly caught our limit of 5 trout a piece, and during lulls in fishing we worked on improving our technique, and appreciated the perfect weather and scenery bestowed upon us.

It’s hard not to say the best part was eating the fish, because fresh Rainbow Trout is amazing. The slightly pink flesh is delicate, mild and flaky, but its flavor could easily be overpowered by heavy seasoning. It would be perfect with just a little salt and a squeeze of lemon, or brightened up with fresh herbs.

For dinner we enjoyed the fish cooked according to the following recipe:

Pan Fried Trout with Tarragon Brown Butter Sauce

2 cleaned, skinned trout (or another filleted mild fish)
1/2 cup flour
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
1 lemon
1/3 cup half and half
salt and pepper to taste

Melt half of butter (2 Tbsp) in a pan over medium heat. Season both sides of the fish with salt, toss in flour, then shake off any excess. Add fish to the hot butter and fry for about 3-4 minutes per side. Fish should develope a brown crust and is cooked through when flesh is flaking from the skeleton. Remove fish and lay on a paper towel to drain any excess butter. In a clean skillet melt remaining butter and then add the tarragon. Heat until butter barely starts to brown, but don’t let the tarragon brown. Squeeze half the lemon into the browned butter and simmer for 30 seconds. Squeeze the other half of the lemon over the fried fish. Add the half and half to the sauce and simmer until desired thickness is acheived, or just a couple minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and spoon over fish. If you prepare the fish with the bones still in, like I did, after cooking the bones can easily be removed intact.

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