First of all let me offer my disclaimers for any adventure we post about, especially the river floats. Floating rivers can be highly dangerous and the decision-making on the water is really up to you. I’ll do my best to offer some info that can help you make better decisions while floating. I’ve noticed that there is a huge lack of info out there in terms of floats to do, safety concerns, etc. so I wanted to offer up some of what I’ve learned along the way. My goal here is not to give out fishing info, or to tell you where to go when and what to do. I just want to highlight some popular floats in Oregon and show you some of the trouble spots so that you can be better prepared, especially if it’s your first time running that specific section.
Now, enough of the boring stuff. Let’s get on to the float at hand: Pengra to Jasper on the Middle Fork Willamette River just outside of Eugene/Springfield Oregon.
Here is the first trouble spot on this float, directly below the boat ramp. In the photo above you can see plenty of whitewater on the right side and a perfect current seam middle left. The boat ramp at Pengra is on river right so you’ll need to get into the flow and navigate all the way to the left side to get into the current seam. Not pictured above is a solid shelf that pushes in water from left to right, constantly trying to push you back into the whitewater. Whitewater obviously is not always a bad thing, but in this particular rapid you want to stay far away. Each crest of water is a rock within less than a foot of the surface, depending on water levels.
Cool, you made it to the current seam and haven’t dumped the boat yet. On to the next section of interest.
In the photo above you’ll see a branch of the river that cuts off of the main stem to the right. The main stem of river looks pretty good, and the general rule is to stay with the larger piece of water. However, for this section, I recommend taking the branch to the right. It’s small and tricky to navigate but if you stay left you’ll find out pretty soon that the river splits again and there isn’t a very navigable section to float through. Take the branch to the right and stay away from the trees and brush coming out into the river as the small chute turns left.
After you float a ways down the side channel you’re going to see the next feature, pictured below.
This is a sort of horseshoe shelf drop where most of it is pretty shallow. You’ll want to find the main chute pictured above on the left side of the feature. You might bump, depending on river levels. Go into it straight and keep your oars up. After you drop in you’re going to see a left turn and then a strong right turn with whitewater, pictured below.
Avoid this whitewater! The passage between the bank and the jagged rocks under this whitewater can be pretty narrow at summer lows. Drop down the shelf on the right side and row back and to the right to avoid this boat killer in front of you. Below is what it looks like from the back, not very pleasant.
And now, you’re coming back to the main stem of the river and you’ve got a lot of great water ahead with nothing too difficult to manage, just stay alert and make the obvious choices.
When you go under the train bridge and past a bowed log on the right, you’re going to see this wide section of the river. Take the channel to the far left.
There is a solid snag in this channel that you’ll definitely want to avoid, pictured below. The great thing about this snag is that there is a good pad of water that will push you away should you get near it. My advice though, don’t even get close.
Some more good water ahead and then you’ll come up to where you can see the highway. And you’re getting near Jasper State Park. But, before you do, you’re going to see a giant root-ball connected to a large tree towards the right side of the river.
Unfortunately, this tree is pretty much stationed in the exact spot you want to pass through, especially at summer lows. You’re going to have to get pretty close to the tree to drop through the safe section on the right of the tree. Don’t go too far right though because there is a pretty solid rock with some strong whitewater just below the tree. Here is a photo (below) of the view looking directly downstream when you’re just to the right of the root-ball. Avoid the whitewater on the right side and you’ll be fine.
The rest of the float is pretty easy. Again, just avoid rocks and snags and stay with the main section of river and you’ll be fine.
The float for this section is about two hours total without stopping. We usually fish along the way and make it a good 6-8 hour trip. I like the flows coming out of Dexter to be 2000-3000 cfs but you can float it higher or lower, just be careful with both. You’ll also want to check the gauge at Jasper since about halfway through this float you’ll be connecting up with Fall Creek and then the total flow is the same as at the Jasper gauge. I use the river levels page on www.wkcc.org to track levels, but there are plenty of other online resources out there as well.
I would also suggest that this is a intermediate float for the area. If you don’t have basic whitewater skills yet or if you haven’t learned how to navigate and control the boat in tight spaces, don’t attempt this float. Have fun on the river, and be safe!