Oregon’s Fish Whisperer

December 13, 2015 (Updated January 18, 2016)

This week, we learn more about a man whom many of us owe a tip of the hat and a huge thank you! Jay Nicholas is Oregon’s former “salmon czar” and twenty years ago, he led the effort to save the state’s wild coastal salmon.

These days, his passion for Oregon’s salmon and steelhead is measured by the numerous books that he has written, his drawings and paintings, plus, the artistic touch he brings to his hand tied salmon flies. He knows the habits of salmon so well that many have nicknamed Nicholas “Oregon’s Fish Whisperer.”


Oregon’s rivers are filled with more than water as they flow to the sea – they are also home to abundant aquatic life that includes large and small fish. It’s where you’ll also find folks in waders who breathe the rhythms of the river and cast hand tied imitations of nature’s creations to catch fish.

“People ask me, ‘what’s the most effective pattern?’ Well, the best fly is the one I caught my last fish on, the second best pattern is the previous fly that I caught a fish on and then the third best is the fly I haven’t tied yet,” noted the longtime fisherman with a chuckle.

Jay Nicholas ties flies that drive fish wild and he is one of Oregon’s best. “It’s all about hand-eye coordination! As I feel the materials, I imagine how they will refract the water; plus, how the fly will rise and drop as I retrieve through the water – but I always wonder – do the fish really care?”

Back in 1997, Nicholas was lead scientist and author of a landmark conservation plan to save wild coastal salmon from extinction – it was called the Oregon Plan. Two years ago he decided it was time for a change. That’s when he turned his passion for science to fly-tying and book writing and art. He knows the habits of salmon so well that some call the famed scientist“Oregon’s Fish Whisperer.”

“My favorite subjects are salmon and flies that catch them. As my fishing interests have expanded, I’ve been drawing albacore tuna, sea bass and ling cod – if you look closely in the mouth of a ling, my gosh, talk about a toothy critter.”

About The

Grant McOmie
Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.