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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.

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Emily Blakely has published poetry and prose, and frequently displayed framed works at the Umpqua Valley Arts Center as well as restaurants and libraries in the area. Her interest in writing for JPR’s "As It Was" program came from hearing Kernan Turner speak at her writer’s group meeting, and she has found it to be beneficial in developing her writing skill. Researching local history has become one of her favorite pastimes.