River Recluse Invents “Umpqua Special” Fly-Fishing Lure

Date: 

Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017

Author: 

Emily Blakely

Episode: 

3 351

In the early 20th century, the North Umpqua River drew anglers to Douglas County, Ore.  They fished for Chinook and Coho salmon, as well as sea-run cutthroat trout.  Summer fishing camps were established, leading to a storied angling history.

One piece of North Umpqua lore involved an Irish immigrant and World War I veteran, Victor "Vic" O'Byrne [oh-BERN], born in 1890.  The 1940 census lists his residence as Douglas County, Ore.

A 1939 Oakland Tribune article reported that he had landed a 25-pound North Umpqua Chinook salmon on a fly rod.  He not only may have been the first to introduce two-handed rods to the local rivers, but also his name is linked to developing the pattern for a colorful and popular fly-fishing lure called the "Umpqua Special,” which is still in use today.

O’Byrne lived as a recluse in a small, remote cabin upstream from Steamboat.  One evening in 1951 he drowned mysteriously after drinking with a friend at a fishing camp.  It’s said that his glasses and other personal effects were found neatly laid out on his cabin table after his body was recovered from the river downstream.

Source: "Steamboat Inn." Steamboat Inn, Steamboat Inn, https://www.thesteamboatinn.com/full-history. Accessed 26 Nov. 2017;  Shewey, John. Classic Steelhead Flies. Stackpole Books.

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