An Oregon getaway, the historic Steamboat Inn


Nestled deep within a lush river valley in Oregon is the Steamboat Inn. It rests on the banks of the North Umpqua River a few miles down the mountain from the famous Crater Lake in southwest Oregon’s Cascade Mountains.

The North Umpqua River is an amazing fishery. Rainbow trout, an occasional brown trout, Chinook salmon and occasional sea-run cutthroat can give any fly angler plenty to pursue but it is the steelhead that most anglers are here to catch. The river is known as one of the premiere steelhead fisheries on the west coast. Fish in the eight to 15 pound class can strip fly line down to the backing with their powerful run both up and downstream. Combine a powerful current with a powerful fish and you put virtually any fly angler to the test of their stamina and abilities.

Author Zane Grey fished the North Umpqua for several years and suffered a stroke while fishing there that led to his eventual death. Grey stopped fishing the Rogue River when his articles made the area so popular that he lost interest and moved his camp to the North Umpqua River, near the site of the historic Steamboat Inn. Publishers of a variety of outdoor magazines would find their way to the river. 

Over the years the Steamboat Inn, which is perched above some of the most productive water of the river, has grown into a destination, which caters to more than anglers. The Steamboat Inn today is a place where guests can disconnect, relax, enjoy good food, make new friends, and pursue the elusive steelhead.

Starting out as a rough camp, specifically for the hardy anglers willing to make the trek and do battle with their prey, today the Inn still provides the fishing opportunities but for those who would rather not fish, or are nursing their wounds for a day of fishing, you can sit back and relax in their library, read a book, and stare out at the meticulously cared for garden area and get lost in the sound of rushing water.

Numerous creeks and streams surround the area. It seems there are waterfalls to enjoy around every corner. Guests can spend days exploring the waterfalls and other bodies of water in the region. 

Throughout the day, the Steamboat Inn serves food, from biscuits and gravy for breakfast to gourmet dinners cooked by one of their two chefs in the evening. Dinner at the Inn is worth the trip. Each evening the chef develops a menu of three or four entrees to choose from. Everything from a perfectly cooked New York strip steak lightly covered with a chimichurri verde sauce to roast duck with a glaze made of maple syrup, the juice of a blood red orange and a touch of chili flakes that will have flavors exploding in your mouth.

One chef works as an instructor at a culinary school and the other is known as one of the finest sushi chefs in the West. 

“I don’t serve sushi here, yet,” said Paul Naugle, “but I enjoy working here because I just like to make food people enjoy and I like to fish.”

With each meal guests are invited to go over a two page wine list to make their own pairings, or ask for a bit of advice. Most of the wines served at the Steamboat Inn are from wineries throughout Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.

The Inn has become well known for its “winemaker dinners.” These events are held fairly often and are popular because a winery will work with cooking staff to develop five-course meals with the correct wine pairings. The events are known not only for the great food and wine but also for the education they provide.

“We hope to expand on the winemaker dinners,” said Melinda Woodward, owner of the Steamboat Inn. “Oregon is known for having a large number of craft beers and we have applied for a liquor license that will allow us to serve beer and spirits, and we would like to have dinners paired with craft beers and maybe even whiskeys.”

The North Umpqua River trail system is about 71 miles long and provides sometime challenging hikes of mountain bike rides, but don’t be discouraged, there are miles of trails that are pretty easy going for the young and those not so young alike.

Along the trail visitors will find access to the river where you can cast a line, or just sit and watch nature all around.

Let’s face it; you’re here for the fishing.

The Steamboat Inn is still known by anglers to be the premier destination for those who want to catch steelhead.

Steelheads make their way up river from the Pacific Ocean in the late part of June and continue to migrate through the fall. These fish are tough to catch because they are mostly focused on procreation and are apparently trying to maintain a slim figure to attract the opposite sex.

Their movements upstream depend on the level and temperature of the water. They move from pool to pool until they find themselves resting in the pool at which they were spawned. 

This constant movement and the fact they are not really focused on food make the steelhead a challenge in any waters. There is a reason they are called “the fish of a thousand casts.”

As the water temperatures rise, steelhead will find cool places to hang out (no, not the local watering hole…well, maybe), someplace with deeper water and shade. If the water level is high enough, the fish will move on as soon as the temperature drops in the evening or at night.

This sometimes unpredictable movement makes it a bit more difficult for the angler. One may see a large group of steelhead in a pool of water, race back to their vehicle to gather up their rods, reels, and flies, only to return and see the pool empty of fish.

There are other species of fish to enjoy in the Umpqua River basin, but the steelhead are what most anglers want to do battle with, and they don’t come easily.

Lee Spencer, a former archaeologist, has camped on the side of a tributary of the North Umpqua, eight months out of every year, helping to protect the wild steelhead that make their home there. Spencer and his dog, currently Maggie who is filling in for Spencer’s longtime canine companion Sis, have a perch built where they work to deter poaching. In his years living in an Airstream trailer, provided by the North Umpqua River Association, Spencer has kept a journal of things he has witnessed over the years and has distilled this information into a book titled, “A Temporary Refuge” published by Patagonia. If you plan on learning about steelhead, this is a must-read book.

“I do this because of my love for steelhead,” Spencer said. “And I fished for steelhead for about seven years before catching one and I think it was time well spent. Now, I feel like I’m giving back to the fish that have provided me so much pleasure.”

Talking with Spencer, it is easy to see that he is a student of the fishery.

“This is the graduate school of fishing,” Spencer said. “To catch steelhead here requires determination.”

A guest at the Steamboat Inn said she believed being successful with steelhead, in the area of the North Umpqua River restricted to fly fishing, was equivalent to earning a PhD in fishing.

Maybe you started out fishing with your “Snoopy” rod and a cut hot dog, then graduated to a spinning rod and a spinner, then maybe moved up to a bait cast reel and a variety of lures and one day gave fly fishing a shot. You started studying hatches, tying your own flies, building your own leaders. You may feel you have become a proficient angler. The question is: Have you reached the pinnacle of your fishing education?

To many, your PhD is earned when you can catch steelhead on the North Umpqua River.

Again, there is plenty to enjoy about the historic Steamboat Inn and the North Umpqua River drainage. If you never cast a fly, you will feel the trip to be rewarding, but if you master the steelhead, you will have bragging rights most anglers will never achieve.

To fish here, you are going to need at least an eight-weight rod. You must use a floating fly line and since most of the steelhead is deeper you should take along a fast sinking tip because you are not allowed to use weights.

There is a lot of beautiful trees waiting to steal your precious flies if you are not careful. Knowing how to effectively roll cast is very helpful. Wading is important, so you will need chest waders and wading boots with extreme gripping. 

Make certain to check all the regulations before heading out to the river. The Steamboat Inn has a well-stocked fly shop and can provide you with helpful advice. You can also talk to them about finding a guide, even if just for a half day, to help you get a jump start on your education.

Go to www.thesteamboatinn.com or call 800-840-8825 to learn more about the Inn and the area. Travis and Melinda Woodward warmly welcome guests and their families. The Inn is also available for special events such as weddings and anniversaries. 

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