The decades between the discovery of gold in California and the installation of hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River were shaped by a massive influx of settlers to the northern end of the new state. Initially driven by the promise of easy riches and accessible resources, many of California’s new residents quickly sought ways to entertain themselves. The Klamath Basin was flush with novel water sources, so sportfishing quickly proved to be a popular pastime amongst many Californians and Oregonians and even drew anglers from far off places who were eager to discover new waters.
A newspaper article from the November 27, 1858 issue of the Shasta Courier described The Klamath Lake country lying east of the Cascades as “one of the best-watered districts in Oregon,” that supported abundant “Fish, fowl, and all the wild game known to the Pacific coast…” The same article noted that indigenous people in the region spent much of their lives on and around the water, likely dependent on the same productive fish runs that drew sport fishermen from out of the area.
Sports fisherman R.C. Miller’s experiences fishing in Siskiyou County were printed in the September 24, 1889 issue of the Daily Alta California: “Mr. Miller says that fishing in the Klamath River is excellent, he himself having caught an almost incredible number of three-pound trout, which sometimes jumped seven feet out of the water when hooked.” Plentiful fishery resources attracted many travelers and outdoor enthusiasts to the Upper Klamath Basin.
Though comparably less of a draw than the region’s gold deposits, Klamath salmon and trout were a valuable resource to locals and traveling sportsmen alike. Locals relied on salmon and trout as a valuable food source, and understood that the region’s fisheries drew the attention and commerce of the Basin’s many visitors. The Upper Klamath Basin became popular enough amongst fishermen from out of the area to justify the opening of fishing resorts.
The opening of one such resort, in addition to improving travel in the area, opened new sections of the different rivers and creeks to fly fishermen. A May 9th, 1903 issue of the San Francisco Call describes this, recalling the opening of a resort on the McCloud River which allowed fishermen more access to both that river and the upper reaches of the Klamath. The resort allowed access for anglers who may have previously been unable to take advantage of the area’s fishing due to difficult access and limited accommodations for travelers.
Gone were the days of limited river access and hard-to-find lodgings. The opening of these resorts represented the beginning of the rich tradition of recreational fishing in the Klamath Basin. One that would only continue to grow, and enrich local economies and communities for years to come. That is until dams, diversions, mining, logging, and other factors began to steadily diminish the once robust Klamath fishery.
Today communities are working to reverse the current trend so that local economies can once again enjoy the benefits of a healthy Klamath fishery.