TU Business

Umpqua Feather Merchants: a company with steelhead in its DNA

Umpqua's Russ Meyer watches a wild steelhead put on a show.

Umpqua’s Russ Miller watches a wild steelhead put on a show. – Photo by Noah Thompson

When a company is named after one of the most iconic steelhead rivers in the Pacific Northwest, it’s probably a safe bet that the folks working there have some connection to those magnificent fish. As evidenced by the above photograph, sometimes that connection becomes literal for Umpqua’s Russ Miller.

Umpqua Feather Merchants was founded in 1972 with the goal of providing the highest quality flies from the best tyers in the world. While the company’s ‘soulful beginnings’ are on the banks of the North Umpqua, today they call the Front Range of Colorado home. In the humble opinion of this writer, that’s probably a good call. While certainly a great place to find a wild steelhead willing to rise to a skated muddler, logistically speaking the North Umpqua might not be the best place to have a warehouse.

Step one of the steelhead shuffle; sending a hopeful cast into a high desert river. – Photo by Russ Miller

But over the last few years, the odds of encountering one of these magnificent fish have become increasingly slim. While all anglers who swing flies for these anadromous unicorns know they’ll spend hours, days, even weeks doing the steelhead shuffle (cast, swing, step repeat), plummeting returns across the Pacific Northwest are replacing optimism with pessimism and even downright sorrow. This year, steelhead and salmon returns are historically low, and many are fearing for the survival of these iconic creatures. Nowhere is this more dire than in the Columbia River Basin; the main artery of the Pacific Northwest. For many years, conservationists have called for the removal of the four Lower Snake River Dams as a crucial action to save wild salmon and steelhead by allowing them access to their historic spawning grounds in Idaho. Umpqua has joined Trout Unlimited along with countless other groups and individuals in calling for the breaching of these dams.

“Wild Steelhead have been a part of the Umpqua’s history since our founder first laid eyes on the North Umpqua River back in the late 60’s. Today these iconic fish are facing death by a million cuts, up and down the West Coast.  Removing the Lower Snake River dams is a move to make sure that steelhead and salmon can reach their native waters and continue to inspire generations to come. They are simply too important not to remove a giant thorn in their side.” says Mr. Miller.

A Drift Boat full of some cold cargo at Umpqua’s 7th Annual Beer, Bugs and Brats event in Louisville, Colorado. – Photo Courtesy of Umpqua Feather Merchants

Letters to elected officials, public comments, and advocacy are indeed powerful tools, but the folks at Umpqua haven’t stopped at speaking out. In August they hosted their 7th annual Beer, Bugs, and Brats event at their HQ in Colorado. 100% of the money raised at the event (which looked like an awesome party in the eyes of this writer) was donated directly to TU’s work to remove the Lower Snake dams. To employ a cliché, Umpqua is putting their money where their mouth is to try and save these amazing, imperiled and iconic fish from extinction. For that, we at TU are profoundly grateful.

If you would like to learn more about why the removal of the Lower Snake Dams is a necessity for the recovery of Salmon & Steelhead, feel free to read our report ‘The Scientific Case for the Lower Snake’. You can also view or download a full copy of the report by clicking here.

If you would like to take action to help save Columbia River Basin Salmon & Steelhead, please visit this page to sign the petition in favor of removing the Lower Snake River dams.

Umpqua Feather Merchants

Russ Miller  

Louisville, CO 80027 
(303) 567-6696