As It Was: River Recluse Invents “Umpqua Special” Fly-Fishing Lure
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.