Steamboat Inn perches on a bluff above some of the best fishing water on the North Umpqua River, a cold, clear Cascades Range stream with a long and storied angling tradition. The upper stretches of the North Umpqua have been fished by fly anglers for more than half a century-and many of the anglers who came to test themselves against this formidable river were among the best flyfishermen of their day.
The earliest sport fishing camps were established in the Steamboat area in the 1920s. Prior to that time, a rough trail provided the only access to the area. After the native peoples had left the area in the late nineteenth century, the only visitors were a few hardy homesteaders, some prospectors looking for gold, and hunters in search of deer and elk.
The gold miners probably provided the name "Steamboat" for the creek that enters the main river near the present site of the Inn. Although a rich deposit of gold was discovers in a nearby drainage - later named the Bohemia Mining District - Steamboat Creek was prospected extensively without yielding similar results. In the miners' parlance of the day, if an area did not come up to expectations, or claims had been fraudulently sold to unsuspecting newcomers, the miners leaving the scene were said to have "steamboats" out of the area. No one knows who first applied the term to Steamboat Creek, but the name was in general use by the 1890s.
Much to the disappointment of many first time visitors to the area, there is no evidence that any steamboat ever navigated the upper stretches of the North Umpqua . Even a cursory look at the river in this area - filled with large boulders and sections of foaming whitewater confirms the fact that modern jet boats, which can run upstream in as little as six inches of water, could scarcely make the passage, let alone a wood-bottomed steamboat.
A dirt road, blazed high on the canyon wall above the river, was completed all the way upriver to Steamboat in 1927. Although the trip was slow and sometimes treacherous, anglers began to transport their gear by motorized trucks or cars to the junction of Steamboat Creek and the North Umpqua River, where they established summer fishing camps.
These anglers were attracted to the area by stories of heavy runs of summer steelhead, a type of rainbow trout that spawns in freshwater but descends certain rivers to the ocean. There steelhead spend two to five years feeding and growing and then return to their native streams to spawn. Unlike salmon, many steelhead live on after spawning. They return to the ocean and, occasionally, return upstream for a second time to spawn.
In the early days, the North Umpqua also supported strong runs of Chinook and Coho salmon, as well as sea-run cutthroat trout. Today, development has reduced these species, except for the spring Chinook salmon, to remnant runs. However, aided by hatchery-spawned fish, the runs of summer steelhead remain comparable to, and in some years exceed, the numbers of fish found in the river by the first fly anglers.
Fishermen discovered that a few hardy souls had preceded them. A recluse named "Umpqua" Vic O'Byrne had established a camp a few miles upstream from Steamboat, across the river from an old, abandoned fish hatchery. The spot was known as Hatchery Ford, because it was one of the few places where a pack train of horses and mules could cross the river. O'Byrne built a cabin and fished for salmon and steelhead in grand solitude. He was reputed to have been a military man before he "took to the wilds." He later drowned in what some considered mysterious circumstances, since his glasses and other personal effects were found laid out neatly on his cabin table after his body was recovered from the river downstream.
Farther upstream, Perry and Jessie Wright had proved up a homestead at Illahee Flats in 1915. For many years, the Wrights packed in supplies with horses and mules for the Forest Service and early hunters in the area. Jessie Wrightwrote an entertaining account of the pioneer days on the North Umpqua , titled "How High the Bounty." The first sports angler of national reputation to adopt the North Umpqua was Major Jordan Lawrence Mott who first arrived in the Steamboat area in 1929. He established a summer fishing camp on the south side of the main river, opposite the junction of Steamboat Creek and the North Umpqua . His camp surveyed the series of fishing pools that would later become known collectively as "the camp water." Because many of the native summer steelhead in the North Umpqua spawn in Steamboat Creek and remain in the main river until the first heavy rains of the fall season allow them to enter the creek, this area was (and remains) one of the most productive fishing areas on the entire river.
Before he came to Steamboat, Major Mott led a life straight out of a romantic novel. When Mott was born in New York in 1881, his father was the president of J. L. Mott Iron Works and reputedly controlled a fortune in excess of $25 million. The younger Mott graduated from Harvard and went to work as a reporter in New York City . However, he covered his assignments in a chauffeur driven, imported limousine and was dubbed the "millionaire reporter."
Unhappy in his first marriage, Mott fell in love with a married woman, Frances Hewitt Bowne. They eloped to Europe on a tramp steamer in 1912 - scandalous behavior for the time since neither of the young lovers had bothered to secure a divorce. Mott's father hired another New York newspaperman, Hector Fuller, to track them down. Fuller pursued the happy couple across several continents before finally locating them in Hong Kong , where Mrs. Bowne was singing light opera to earn them a meager income. When Mott refused to return to New York City, his father promptly disinherited him.
During World War I, Mott served in the U. S. Army Signal Corps and was commissioned a major. After the war, the couple lived on Santa Catalina Island in California where Mott pursued deep-sea fishing for marlin and became prominent in the emerging radio industry. He also authored numerous magazine articles and books on the outdoors, including a successful novel entitled "Jules of the Great Love." In 1928, after finally receiving their respective divorces, he and Frances were wed.
Much of Major Mott's time in his later years was spent campaigning for conservation of wildlife and natural resources. He was attracted to the North Umpqua for its excellent steelhead fishing and made his summer camp there until his premature death, at age 50, in 1931. Mott cherished his time at Steamboat so much that even after he had contracted the cancer that eventually killed him, he traveled from California to his camp at Steamboat to spend his final days on the river.
Major Mott's legacy is well preserved in the Steamboat area. The bridge leading from the main North Umpqua Highway across the river to the site of his old camp still bears his name, as do a series of nearby fishing pools, collectively known as "Mott Water." The fisherman's trail that provides access to the south bank of the North Umpqua River is now maintained by the Forest Service and officially known as the Mott Trail.
While still in camp at Steamboat, Major Mott hired a local man, Zeke Allen, to cook, do chores around camp, and guide him while he learned to fish the river. After Mott's death, Allen inherited most of the fishing and camping gear, as well as the use of Major Mott's campsite. Zeke Allen continued to guide the few anglers who came to fish for steelhead in the summer, as well as hunters who arrived in the fall to pursue deer and elk.
The same year that Major Mott first visited the North Umpqua, another nationally known sportsman, Captain Frank Winch, made a short visit to Steamboat. Winch, like Mott, had been told of the area by John Ewell, who operated a motel in nearby Roseburg and had rustic cabins near the junction of Steamboat Creek and Canton Creek. Winch was a field scout for Forest and Stream Magazine and an accomplished hunter and fisherman. He fished with Major Mott for only one evening but caught a seven-pound steelhead. As Winch later reported:
"I have been on every trout stream of importance in the entire northern part of the United States, but I have never seen a real trout stream until I fished in the North Umpqua River today. Words cannot possibly express my enthusiasm for your North Umpqua. I am still dizzy from the thrill..."
The spring after Major Mott's death, in 1931, marked the appearance at Steamboat of perhaps the most famous sportsman in America, Zane Grey. During the last half of the 1920s, Grey had split his fishing time between ocean cruises to the South Seas in search of world record marlin and regular forays to flyfish for summer steelhead on the Rogue River in southwestern Oregon . At least in part because of Grey's own articles and books, the Rogue River became too crowded to suit Grey's taste. In June of 1932, he stopped to camp in the Steamboat area as a layover on his trip to Campbell River, British Columbia .
Grey's first camp was near the junction of Steamboat and Canton creeks. As was his custom, the camp was part business enterprise, part fishing extravaganza. On this trip, Grey was accompanied by his son, Romer, and his daughter-in-law, as well as a frequent fishing companion, Dr. J. A. Wiborn, and Wiborn's wife. In addition, Grey's secretaries were along (for help on his writing projects) and he rarely traveled without his loyal Japanese cook, George Takahashi, as well as several cameramen and other technicians who worked for Romer Grey Motion Picture Corporation.
Merle Hargis, a Forest Service packer stationed at Steamboat, was asked by his boss to transport Grey's camp equipment up the hill to John Ewell's cabins. Hargis remembers that it took three trips with the six mules in his string to transport all the gear - eighteen loads in all! Afterwards, Zane Grey put his arm around Hargis, thanked him warmly, and gave the packer four half dollars as a reward for his efforts.
Later that summer, Grey and his party moved their camp down to the point where Steamboat Creek enters the North Umpqua River. Across the river was Major Mott's old camp, now occupied by Zeke Allen and a few anglers he was guiding. They all fished the Camp Water, particularly the Plank Pool (now known as the Station Pool), which took its name from the boards which had been laid out from shore to a large rock. The old Forest Service Guard Station was across from Grey's camp, and the plank was used by one and all to secure water for washing and cooking, as well as a convenient platform for fishing the productive pool below.
When Grey camped on the North Umpqua, he was guided by Joe DeBernardi, a resident of the little community downstream known as Glide. That first summer, Romer Grey and his movie technicians constructed several wooden boats in camp, copying the design of boats being constructed at that time on the Rogue River by Glen Wooldridge. Romer convinced Joe DeBernardi to help pilot the boats downstream from Steamboat to Rock Creek while his camera crew filmed the whitewater passage "to provide thrills for his motion picture audiences."
Apparently, the boaters got more of a thrill than they bargained for. According to a news account of the day, several of the boats were wrecked against rocks and "time and again the occupants of the boats were thrown out into the icy waters to battle swift currents for their lives." DeBernardi narrowly escaped death when the boat in which he and Romer Grey were riding was crushed against an overhanging ledge and an oarlock punctured DeBernardi's side. Fortunately, he managed to hang on to the overturned craft until it reached calmer water.
Thus, modern-day river running on the North Umpqua was born. Romer Grey reported that "the Umpqua provided him with more thrills and exciting experiences than any other water he has ever attempted." However, the Grey party repeated the thrilling adventure only one more time, and in subsequent seasons the boats were used primarily to ferry fishermen and guests across the river.
Zane Grey enjoyed his initial visit to the Steamboat area so much that he stayed on until the end of July, well beyond his intended departure date for Campbell River . After another winter cruise to New Zealand , Grey and his party returned to the North Umpqua in the summer of 1933 when they stayed at Zeke Allen's camp. Dissatisfied with Allen's unkempt campsite and some of his fishing methods, Grey moved his camp downstream in 1934 to Maple Ridge, the present site of the Steamboat Inn.
Interestingly, while there is a fishing pool near the Maple Ridge campsite named for Grey's cook, Takahashi, no landmarks on the North Umpqua today bear the name of the famous writer himself. During the 1930s, part of the Mott Water was called the ZG Pool for a time but later reverted to its old name. Grey is reputed to have named the Ledges Pool and several others in the area downstream from Steamboat. The most convincing explanation for the lack of a river memorial to Grey seems to be that while ZG (as he was known) was respected for his power and reputation as a writer, he was not well-loved by other anglers or local residents. When Grey camped along a stretch of water, he considered the fishing pools to be his own private domain. Many old-timers on the North Umpqua still remember how ZG's assistants attempted to prevent them from fishing their favorite spots before the famous author arrived to cast his fly in the morning.
Then, as now, this high-handed behavior did not sit well with the local flyfishermen. The gentleman's code on the North Umpqua dictated that the first angler to reach a fishing pool could fish through without interruption, providing he did not "hog" the area for an extended period of time. The same code still applies today.
Grey's dislike for the "crowded" fishing conditions at Steamboat probably explains his move downstream to the Williams Creek area in subsequent years. When Clarence Gordon took over the old Mott Camp and entertained a steady stream of well-to-do anglers from Southern California and the East Coast, Grey sought a more secluded fishing camp for his 1935 visit to the North Umpqua .
He found it across from Williams Creek, on the south side of the river. All equipment and visitors had to be ferried across by boat, so Grey was able to control access and maintain his distance from other anglers. His camp was reported to be one of the cleanest and best organized ever seen on the North Umpqua. He even brought the heavy seat and rod apparatus that he used in marlin fishing, so he could practice straining against weights for thirty minutes daily to stay in shape for his battles with marlin that could weigh over a thousand pounds.
Grey's party enjoyed some fabulous flyfishing for summer steelhead during their visits to the North Umpqua. They found that the steelhead were bigger than the fish they had become accustomed to on the Rogue. On the Umpqua, the steelhead averaged six to eight pounds and could sometimes weigh in at as much as fifteen pounds. Loren, Grey's youngest son, had joined the party in 1934 and the next summer he reported catching over one hundred steelhead in less than two months of fishing. Others reported similar totals.
However, Zane Grey became increasingly concerned about the future of the steelhead runs on the North Umpqua . He published just one article about it, hoping to shield the river from the publicity that he felt had ruined the Rogue. In that article he pleaded for wise management of the North Umpqua, decrying the practice by commercial fishermen of placing racks in the river to trap salmon - which incidentally killed thousands of steelhead. He also gave much needed support to a delegation from the Roseburg Rod and Gun Club who appeared before the Oregon State Game Commission and succeeded in having Steamboat Creek, the river's prime spawning ground, closed to angling.
For a man in his sixties, Zane Grey kept himself in remarkable condition since he exercised regularly and never smoked or drank. Photos taken during his visits to the North Umpqua show a vigorous, tanned, and lean sportsman with keen eyes and a distinctive shaggy mop of gray hair. Nevertheless, it was during Grey's North Umpqua visit of 1937 that he suffered the stroke which eventually led to his death in 1939. He never returned to his camp near Williams Creek, and another legendary figure on the North Umpqua passed from the scene.
Fred Burnham was another famous North Umpqua angler whose name is closely associated with Zane Grey's. Burnham married into money after his graduation from the University of California , and his job as a stock broker allowed him the leisure to fish all the famous salmon and steelhead rivers of his day. Standing over six feet three inches tall, he was a gifted athlete with ample strength and coordination. He owned property on the Rogue and his prowess there as a fly-fisherman was well known.
After Zane Grey's first visit to the Rogue in 1916, Burnham served as ZG's mentor in the art of fly casting for summer steelhead. Their styles were a study in contrasts. Burnham was the "natural," an acknowledged expert in the sport. Grey, himself a gifted athlete and a semipro baseball player in his youth, struggled as he learned to cast a fly line long distances and never quite achieved the grace that Burnham exhibited. In a sense, Grey was the victim of his self-created image as a record-holding angler. When he failed, he was forced to fall back on excuses, such as failing fish runs or simple bad luck. Burnham and Grey also fished together (or more precisely, in competition) for record-breaking marlin in the South Seas .
It was Burnham who first urged Zane Grey to try fishing the North Umpqua . During his early visits, Burnham stayed at the Circle H Ranch, downstream from Steamboat at Susan Creek . This small resort predated the camps at Steamboat since the road had reached the Susan Creek area at an earlier time. The Circle H resort also offered horseback riding and outfitted pack trips for hunters in the early days.
Burnham was well-known in the area as a skilled fly-fisherman, whose height and strength allowed him to wade areas of the river that lesser men could never dare to challenge. He later transferred his North Umpqua angling trips upstream to Steamboat, where he stayed at the new lodge constructed by Clarence Gordon.
Like many others who were to make their impact on the flyfishing scene along the North Umpqua, Clarence Gordon was introduced to the Steamboat area by John Ewell. In 1929, Gordon and his wife, Delia, stayed at Ewell's Camp View Motel in Roseburg on a trip from Southern California to Victoria, British Columbia. Ewell took Gordon upriver to sample the fishing at Steamboat, while Delia remained behind in Roseburg. Enchanted with the area, the Gordons stopped in again for a few days camping in the Susan Creek area on their return trip from Canada .
Gordon returned with a friend and his 15year-old son on a fishing trip the next summer. The following year, 1931, he and Delia drove to Steamboat, where they left their car, and let Jessie and Perry Wright pack their gear to a camping spot on Dry Creek, about 10 miles upriver from Steamboat. It was on this trip that Gordon began to dream of operating a "mountain lodge or resort" on the "beautiful point across the river from the Ranger Station" at Steamboat. Of course, this was the old camp of Major Mott, who had died that spring, and the camp was now occupied by Zeke Allen.
By 1934, however, Gordon had secured the necessary approval from the Forest Service to set up a rustic resort on the old Major Mott campsite. By the summer of 1935, the "resort" consisted of several tents and a rustic dining room and kitchen near the water's edge. The Kitchen Pool on the river, famous among anglers, gained its name because the view from the kitchen tent looked directly out over the pool. Before the Mott Bridge was erected in the late 1930s, guests arriving on the north side of the river rang a bell there in order to alert someone in camp to row across and ferry them and their baggage to camp. Ever since, this section of the North Umpqua has been known as the Boat Pool.
Throughout this period, Gordon also managed the Smoke Tree Ranch in Palm Springs and a resort in Pasadena during the winter season. Using his contacts in Southern California , he began to attract a regular group of professional and other well-to-do men and their wives to his fishing camp which he called the North Umpqua Lodge. This regular clientele sustained the resort during the 1930s, when it became something of a haven for doctors, lawyers, and other professional men.
Some local residents, as well as some Forest Service employees who visited the lodge, thought the Gordons guilty of catering to an elite crowd. A price list for the 1938 season shows that the standard charges for an individual at the lodge were $3.50 a night for a cabin without a bath and $5.00 per night for a room with a bath, on the American Plan (meals included). Guide service cost $5.00 a day for two anglers.
Admitted one Forest Service official, “There is certainly no reason to complain about the accommodations, or, I believe, the prices charged. Although, I admit that $7.00 or $10.00 per day per couple is pretty high for the average individual, and it is entirely out of the question for people in the middle brackets of salary income to take the family to a resort of this type.”
Clarence Gordon was considered a top angler and guide on the river in his day. He was a large, quiet man - intense in his own way - who could become quite a promoter when it came to the North Umpqua. He invited Ray Bergman, of Nyack, New York, the angling editor of Outdoor Life magazine, to come sample the fishing at his camp. Bergman and his wife, Grace, visited Steamboat and enjoyed the fishing and companionship so much that they returned the next year. Bergman's experiences resulted in several articles in Outdoor Life. In his classic book, Trout, he also included an entire chapter called "Steelheads of the Umpqua." Together, his writings give us a taste of life in the Gordon camp and a detailed portrait of the flyfishing methods of the day.
Bergman's Trout also provides tying instructions for some of the most popular fly patterns in use on the North Umpqua in the 1930s. They included the Cummings (developed by guide Ward Cummings), the Umpqua, the Sawtooth, and the Surveyor - the latter two named after well-known fishing pools on the river. Not pictured in the book, but extensively used on the North Umpqua , was the Black Gordon, a pattern developed by Clarence Gordon. Some experts believe that the Skunk pattern - one of the most widely used flies today for steelhead - was developed during this era on the North Umpqua, although its origins remain obscure.
During the 1930s, the Forest Service pressured Gordon to make his North Umpqua Lodge permanent by building additional cabins and a lodge on a bench above the highwater mark of the river. Eventually, the "dugout" was constructed, consisting of four bedrooms and baths, as well as a central living room. Later, more floored tents and cabins, an office building, and a flytying room were added.
The Fisherman's Dinner also began to take more definite form at the North Umpqua Lodge. A bachelor logger named Scott and a 16-year-old guide at the lodge, Knute Kershner, built the dining table and benches - hewn from large sugar pine logs - which are still in use today at the Steamboat Inn.
Delia Gordon, a graduate of the Julliard School of Music and a woman of culture, presided over dinner and was reputed to be an excellent cook. However, much of the cooking was done by hired camp cooks, beginning with Zeke Allen, who stayed on at the Gordon lodge for some years.
The dinners relied heavily on local fish and game, since foodstuffs came from Roseburg on the rough road to Steamboat. Grilled or smoked steelhead was, of course a mainstay, as was venison. More than one cougar was shot in or near the camp, and bears were often hunted in the area, but there is no evidence that either was ever featured as an entree in the evening meal. In many ways, the early camp fare relied on many of the foods that native peoples in the Umpqua Valley had exploited for centuries: native fish and game, local nuts and wild berries, and whatever could be coaxed from a garden during the summer growing season.
The Fisherman's Dinner acquired substantial new flair after the arrival of camp cooks Harry and Dolly Killeior. This couple had previously starred in vaudeville acts, and their sense of showmanship soon began to add a unique element to the evening meal. Harry reportedly did most of the cooking, with Dolly serving as his "straight man," as it were. From all accounts, they turned out superb meals that were well appreciated by the guests.
However, the Killeiors also insisted that the dinner show must go on promptly - at seven o'clock each evening. This mandate posed a dilemma for the avid fly anglers in camp since the last hour before dark was usually the best time of day to lure summer steelhead to the fly. They were often forced to choose between eating and fishing - which sometimes resulted in grumbling anglers (as well as stomachs!) around camp.
Business was slow at the North Umpqua Lodge during the early 1940s, as the war effort took young men overseas and restricted travel for those left at home. After the war, business at the resort picked up briefly, only to be dashed by two monumental undertakings on the river - dam building and road construction.
In the mid-1920s, the California Oregon Power Company (COPCO) surveyed the North Umpqua drainage for potential dam sites, with the goal of generating hydroelectric power. Seven sites were identified on the main river. Anglers and other sportsmen protested loudly that the two sites farthest downriver - one at Rock Creek and the other near the North Umpqua Forest boundary - would flood large sections of the canyon, destroy the fish runs and ruin any potential recreation development in the future. In response, COPCO agreed to begin its power development in the river's upper reaches, moving to sites farther downstream as demand dictated.
After World War II, dam building began in earnest upstream in the area near Toketee. Part of the development plan for the area also included a new road, to be built at river grade along the upper North Umpqua. The new road would complement dam construction, provide access for timber companies to vast tracts of oldgrowth forests, and also complete a high speed highway between Diamond Lake and Roseburg .
The results of all this new development were disastrous for Gordon's North Umpqua Lodge and the river itself. Dam building resulted in heavy siltation and river levels that fluctuated wildly, dwindling away at times and then rising rapidly when flood gates were opened. The runs of summer steelhead were severely impacted - in some years, there was not enough water released at the appropriate times for the fish to return upstream from the ocean - and fishermen feared for their lives whenever they waded the river. Road building at river level introduced even more silt into the river, further damaging the fishing and steelhead spawning beds.
In 1951, in an effort to preserve the dwindling runs of salmon and steelhead, Clarence Gordon and members of the Roseburg Rod and Gun Club were instrumental in persuading the Oregon State Game Commission to change the regulations on the North Umpqua to "fishing with artificial flies only" in the area from Rock Creek all the way upstream to the new dams being built on the upper river.
In 1952, after the Gordons had already completed their reservation list for the summer season, the heavy dam building activities made the river completely unfishable. They were forced to cancel all reservations. From 1952 until 1955, the lodge was closed, with only the Gordons' old friends visiting their camp.
The only bright spot was the Steamboat Store, a small lunch counter operation which Clarence Gordon had opened near the junction of Steamboat Creek and the North Umpqua River. There the Gordons served hot lunches and operated a small store for the construction crews. Later, the store was moved to the present site of the Steamboat Inn, where the building which now houses the Inn's main dining room and kitchen was constructed by Gordon.
The North Umpqua Lodge buildings on the south side of the river were leased to a construction company to house their personnel during 1953 and 1954. In 1955, the Forest Service purchased Gordon's holdings on the south side of the river and moved the Steamboat Ranger Station to the site. This was the end of the old North Umpqua Lodge, but the Steamboat Store across the river would soon evolve and continue the area's fishing camp tradition.
Frank Moore first fished the North Umpqua in 1946. Before long, he was guiding for Clarence Gordon and spending so much time on the North Umpqua that his wife Jeanne placed an ad in the Roseburg newspaper, "Lost: One owner and manager of Moore's Cafe. Last seen up the North Umpqua River ."
When Gordon offered to sell his Steamboat store to the Moores in January, 1957, Frank hastily arranged financial help from one of Gordon's regular guests, Colonel Jim Hayden, and struck a deal. That spring, the Gordons loaded all the possessions they could fit into their car and headed for a warmer climate, while the Moores took possession of the new Steamboat Inn and began constructing cabins on the bench of land just down the hill from the lodge building.
That summer of 1957 was a hectic one for the new owners. Construction continued as they wrote letters to many of the Gordons' old clients, telling them that the dam building was completed and the summer steelhead fishing had stabilized again. Each night, Jeanne Moore cooked evening meals for as many as sixty road construction crew members, who ate in shifts, before turning her attention to feeding her lodge guests. Frank pitched in, helped with the cooking, and also made a policy decision that would henceforth guide the Fisherman's Dinner: From then on, anglers could fish until the last light disappeared on the river. Dinner would be served one half hour after sunset!
In addition to his construction work at the Inn and a weekly run in his overloaded Volkswagen van to deliver food supplies to communities upstream, Moore made himself available as a fishing guide for his guests. One of the most proficient anglers on the North Umpqua, Moore's skill as a guide became one of the prime drawing cards of the Steamboat Inn in its early years.
The Steamboat Inn soon gained a reputation as both a true fisherman's resort and a family oriented lodge. The Moore's four children mingled happily with an ever changing cast of guests and their children. Sometimes, when the lawn was littered with the sleeping bags of children "camping out," the Inn more closely resembled summer camp than a backwoods outpost. Guests felt so much at home that they often pitched in to help serve meals from the kitchen or wash dishes afterwards.
The Fisherman's Dinner came to mirror the home style atmosphere at the Inn . The evening meal often began with shrimp cocktail and salad, followed by soup. Entrees such as T-bone steak or prime rib roast were accompanied by vegetables, rolls, and potatoes in so much quantity "that only a logger could eat it all," as Jeanne Moore described it. Prices continued to be moderate by today's standards.
A group of Steamboat Inn regulars also evolved. They enjoyed each other's company almost as much as they enjoyed the superb angling along the North Umpqua . Colonel Jim Hayden and his wife, Laddie, were perennial guests, as were Stan Knouse, a geologist for Tidewater Oil Company in Los Angeles, and his wife, Yvonne. Ken Anderson, Art Director for Walt Disney Studios in Los Angeles, and Don Haines, a San Francisco architect, also were regular visitors. About this time, a young Salem, Oregon, lawyer named Dan Callaghan (whose scenic photos of the North Umpqua grace this website) brought his bride, Mary Kay, to Steamboat for their honeymoon - beginning a long and memorable association with Cabin #1 at the Inn. Loren Grey, too, continued to make annual trips to the North Umpqua and the Steamboat Inn with his wife, Bonnie.
These anglers and their families formed the core of the group called The Steamboaters, organized in 1966. Don Haines suggested the idea for a group "to preserve the natural resources of the North Umpqua" to Colonel Jim Hayden as they traveled together to the Federation of Fly Fishers meeting in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The Knouses and Andersons seconded the idea at a gathering the next day and Stan Knouse suggested the name Steamboaters "because of its association with the inn where many of its members stay and because of the significance of Steamboat Creek, which enters the North Umpqua at the Station Hole." Ken Anderson designed the striking logo, which is still used by the club today.
Clarence Gordon was made an honorary member of the Steamboaters, as was Roderick Haig-Brown, the eminent writer from Campbell River, British Columbia. Although he fished the river only once, Haig-Brown later wrote:
“The North Umpqua remains one of the best and most beautiful of summer steelhead streams, and it has the tremendous asset of several miles of water restricted to 'fly only.' The strong flow of bright water is broken up by ledge rock outcrops,the pools are deep and long and hold fish well, and the fish themselves are usually responsive and in excellent shape.”
Unfortunately, threats to the North Umpqua's summer steelhead were again building. With the completion of a network of modern roadways into the surrounding forests, logging of the old growth Douglas firs had begun on an unprecedented scale after World War II. Frank Moore began to notice that many of the North Umpqua 's tributaries, including the crucial Steamboat Creek drainage, exhibited higher water temperatures in summer and disastrous flooding in winter, when they were scoured of spawning gravel.
In 1968, not long after the Steamboaters organization was formed, two young filmmakers, Hal Riney and Dick Snider, were on their way to make a sport fishing movie in British Columbia when they stopped at the Steamboat Inn. They fell in love with the North Umpqua River and when Frank Moore took them on a tour of the carnage being wrought by careless logging operations in nearby tributary streams, they decided to change the focus of their film. The result was "Pass Creek," the story of the destruction of a steelhead spawning stream.
The movie was given national distribution by conservation and angling groups, touching a nerve in the emerging ecology movement. It resulted in intense scrutiny of clear-cut logging practices in the National Forests and was a factor in the passage of the Oregon Forest Practices Act. Government agencies have committed increased resources in recent years to efforts to survey and rehabilitate threatened steelhead spawning streams, including the North Umpqua drainage. Both Frank Moore and Dan Callaghan served on the Oregon State Game Commission during the 1970s and devoted tremendous energy to preserving Oregon's wildlife heritage.
Another well-known angler who frequented the North Umpqua during this period was Jack Hemingway, son of the famous author Ernest Hemingway. Himself a member of the game commission in Idaho for many years, Hemingway wrote several impassioned articles about the North Umpqua for national sporting magazines, detailing the abuses on spawning streams. Jack Hemingway, a highly skilled and graceful fly angler, continued to visit the North Umpqua to fish with his good friend, Dan Callaghan until his death.
In 1975, Jim and Sharon Van Loan purchased the Steamboat Inn from the Moores, after working at the Inn the previous two summer seasons. Again, the ownership change signaled the end of one era - Colonel Jim Hayden had died and many other original Steamboaters were reaching the age when fishing and wading became difficult - while a new generation of anglers were stalking the banks of the North Umpqua.
Flyfishing equipment was changing rapidly, with the old bamboo rods and silk lines giving way, first to fiberglass rods and plastic lines, then to rods made of spaceage materials such as graphite and boron. All the equipment was lighter and stronger, so skilled anglers could now cast to even the most difficult holding lies of the summer steelhead. Downriver near Roseburg, a young Steamboater named Dennis Black had brought his flytying business from California to the North Umpqua. In the next decade, his Umpqua Feather Merchants would grow from a one-man operation to become the largest wholesaler of fishing flies and flytying materials in the country, mirroring the skyrocketing growth of the sport of flyfishing in the 1980s.
At the Steamboat Inn, changes were also in the works. Although Jim Van Loan worked as a textbook representative for a major publisher before purchasing the Inn, his visits to country inns in Japan during his years in military service had given him strong ideas about a new image for the Steamboat Inn. He was also careful to carry on the Inn's traditions, such as the skilled guide service he provided for guests. Along with caring for their two young children, Sarah and Jed, Sharon Van Loan taught school in those early years at the Inn . But her reputation as a chef spread so rapidly that her services at the Inn were soon required full time.
Sharon was joined by Pat Lee, who later took the title of Inn Manager and partner. Their skills in the kitchen were particularly complementary - Pat and Sharon's sense of organization and precision blended nicely with their natural flair for matching colors and textures in food preparation. In addition, Pat Lee showed her versatility by becoming one of the most patient and respected fishing guides on the river. Tutored in the beginning by master anglers, such as Dan Callaghan and Joe Howell, she later broke through the stereotype of the macho river guide and took her rightful place as one of the most skilled steelhead fly anglers on the North Umpqua .
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the country inn movement was gaining strength in the United States. During this same time period, Steamboat Inn and a number of other Northwest inns established a network now known as Unique Inns. Magazine articles, guidebooks, and organizations such as Unique aided travelers who searched for an alternative to the plastic sameness of lodging found along the nation's interstate highways. As the Steamboat Inn appeared in guidebooks with increasing frequency, the Van Loans began to make subtle changes at the Inn to adjust to their new clientele. The riverside cabins were modernized and two more were added, bringing the total to eight. In recent years, a cluster of new cottages has been built on the bench of land above Steamboat Creek that formerly housed the Forest Service pack station in the 1930s.
The Inn itself was extensively remodeled. A new shake roof, fresh exterior paint, and additional landscaping are the most visible changes, while the old screened rear porch has also been glassed in and weatherized, the kitchen modernized, and the family living quarters upgraded. The central dining room, with its large stone hearth and the long sugar pine dining table from the Gordon camp, has been preserved to maintain the original atmosphere.
Guests at the Steamboat Inn ran the gamut from long-time members of Steamboat's "family" to a distinguished list of innkeepers and restaurateurs, who enjoy being pampered at the Inn while they escape the tensions of their own big city establishments. Internationally famous anglers, such as Ernie Schwiebert, Billy Pate, Dave Whitlock, and Pierre Affre, still visit the Steamboat Inn while they search out some of the most challenging summer steelhead fly-fishing in North America .
And Jim Van Loan, following another tradition at the Inn, capped his many conservation activities by gaining an appointment to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission.
As David Lett, the Oregon winemaker who has been called the godfather of pinot noir wines in the Willamette Valley, puts it: "Without a lot of fanfare or fussiness, Sharon and Pat create some of the most artistic and interesting food I have experienced. They incorporate an awareness of American food trends, without being 'trendy,' and would probably put a lot of 'New Wave American Cuisine' restaurants to shame. Harry and Dolly - the originators of the Fisherman's Dinner - would be proud."
On May 1, 2017, Travis and Melinda Woodward purchased Steamboat Inn. Their chapter is just beginning...