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An Introduction to Oregon's Incredible Rivers

July 31, 2015

We’re kicking off our inaugural Greetings From The Northwest with a look at Oregon’s rivers.

“We have, I think, the most incredible suite of rivers in America,” said author Tim Palmer.

This isn’t hyperbole — Palmer knows rivers. Among many accolades, he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the nonprofit American Rivers for his 40 years of river study, resulting in 22 books.

To Palmer, “rivers are the lifelines. They are the natural features that allow the earth to function.”

Palmer said one of the characteristics that make Oregon Rivers special is the diversity —which, he admits, “sounds like a cliché.” But it’s easy to see.

There are coastal range rivers that twist through violent storms and old growth forests. They travel from the Alvord desert, which gets around 7 inches of rain a year, to places in the Cascade Mountains that can get nearly 100.

Doug Stewart started fly-fishing on the Deschutes when he was 13 years old. Now, 63 years later, it’s still the first river he recommends.

“Oregon has a number of really great rivers — the Deschutes is one of them.” Stewart ran a fly shop for 32 years; he guided for nearly 30, and through the years he never lost his passion for fishing.

Over those years, for Stewart, it was hard to get bored fishing in the state.

“It’s wide-open country in Eastern Oregon. You can go up in the mountains and get lost. You can hike in to streams,” he said.

For beginners, Stewart recommends fly-fishing for trout in Crooked River. For advanced fishing try to catch the more elusive, wild steelhead. “You have to work hard for a steelhead. You can fish all day and not get a strike for it. That’s what fishing is — it’s a challenge.”

Maybe you're up for more of a Huckleberry Finn adventure. Tim Palmer points out Oregon has that too.

“We have the Willamette, which is like Oregon’s Mississippi, where you can travel on it for two weeks,” said Palmer. He points out that’s just 1 of 10 rivers in Oregon that you can take 100-mile trip on without running running into a dam.

“You simply cannot do that in any other state,” he says.

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