The Oregon Coast Revisited

In March of 2014, my usual fishing partner, Rusty, and I were joined by his son, Caleb, and my father. We searched the Oregon Coast for winter steelhead. Starting at the Nestucca we worked our way south checking the various river systems as we went. The Alsea, the Smith, The Elk and the Sixes, and finally the Umpqua. The fishing never materialized, and it maybe that we should have stuck it out, however anglers that I spoke to later who had stayed on the Nestucca did not find any fish and reported a lot of pressure.

For me this trip has grown in importance, because it was my one and only chance to share my passion for steelhead and steelhead rivers with my father, who unexpectedly died a year later. All of our travel from river to river, offered he and I lots of time of sitting and talking. We always enjoyed windshield time, and we often travelled together for deer hunting adventures in the fall, and though I was luke warm on hunting at best, our hours of drive time made me want to go. Now the views and experience of driving the Oregon coast, made for a memorable backdrop for a time together.

On an early day of our trip my dad and I hiked into a pool sitting at the end of a beaver-tail. The clear, blue, green cascading down from upstream, and the white water rolling for hundreds of yards below made the pool look too promising not to hold a fish, but if they were there, we never found them. but cast after cast our hearts beat a little faster as first he and then I worked our way through the short run. feeling like a fish would strike at any moment.

We worked through this run twice. We then hiked back out, so we could meet up with Rusty and Caleb. We stopped on our way to admire the scenery. Coastal rivers have a lot to offer when it comes to natural beauty.

On one beautiful coastal river we caught cutthroat just a few mile from salt. It was on this same river, a ways up a dirt road that we met one of the most unique characters, a memorable man with wild stories to tell. We bought him a beer at the general store/ tavern and listened as he spun tales of his time in this unique land.

He had spent years along this coastal river and much of his story left my, and Caleb's jaw hanging.

Our journey brought us eventually to the Umpqua River. I had promised everyone that we would have the most wonderful breakfasts at the Steamboat Inn and wouldn't even have to remove our waders or boots. Unfortunately, the Inn was closed, and my promise was broken. But we had some great camping on the river. My dad was very impressed with Rusty and Caleb's competence in setting a camp, he mentioned it to me several times. My dad grew up camping and always yearned for the opportunity spend nights in the woods.

The Umpqua was high and hardly had any other anglers on it, but we found enjoyment swinging the holy water near the inn, and some other runs on the lower river. We didn't get any thing, but we had a good time. at the end of our second day on the Umpqua, Rusty and Caleb continued their journey south and towards home, while my dad and I headed north to Portland and the Clackamas.

Once we arrived at the Clackamas we fished a few runs. By this time in the trip we were pretty tired and were ready for some down time, we checked into our hotel and ordered a pizza. Then we turned on HBO and watched a Harry Potter movie. I cant explain why that last part was so great, but it was. My dad told me several times how much he had enjoyed the trip despite the lack of fish. I was planning a summer steelhead trip for us in the fall of 2015, but that just didn't work out.

The Snake River - Washington/Idaho

Even though the Snake has been massacred by dams, it is still incredible. In many ways that makes it worse. The Snake was a national treasure, it carried steelhead and salmon so far inland that Nevada once had native fish populations. Those unique populations are now no more, but the Snake still exists and fishing her waters is humbling.

The Snake is a very big river. Only the experience it self can describe what it feels like to cast out from the rivers edge. Many anglers that have fished the Deschutes would agree that it is a big river, and yet the Dechutes is but a quarter of the size of the Snake.

I spent a week on the Snake recently and when I took an afternoon off and drove up to the Red Shed Fly shop on the Clearwater, the river looked absolutely small in comparison to the Snake.
From the town of Asotin up to Hellars Bar, Where the Grande Ronde dumps in, The Snake fishes well with a fly. All though the river will seem crowded, with all of the jet boats and roads anglers around, I have found that an angler looking for classic steelhead runs will often find this water open. Most of the anglers I have come across focus either on the slow, laminar runs of the lower snake or they are fishing Hellar's bar. The boats will mostly avoid the fly runs because of how shallow they are.

I like looking for shallow runs that have some chop on the rivers surface. This is not hard to find on the Snake. On my last trip my friend Rusty and I were able to find several spots that fit the bill perfectly. And once we found a few of these spots it was not long before we started finding Steelhead.As for flies on the Snake, I have caught fish on every thing from a 1/0 black Marabou to a #7 purple green-butt. My go to fly however, I guess, would be a #3 Yellow Jacket. This is a spey fly that uses a dyed yellow pheasant rump for hackle over a black body and uses a black wing, I think it is both buggy and pretty so I fish it, but I have also caught Snake steelhead on Akroyds, purple speys, black speys, Harry Lemire patterns, you name it. it seams like they like flies.There are classic runs and bars, and lots of spots that look like nothing from a distance, but are epic and fishy when you are on them. Alot of these hidden gems fish like classic water allowing for long casts and will often take an hour or more to fish through.
The big runs and relatively small fish that are common on the Snake, left me looking for just the right two handed rod. The river handles a floating line really well in late October. I ended up getting a Loomis 15' 7/8wt Grease Liner and have paired it up with a couple of long belly lines, so now I can launch a long line and enjoy a 5-6lb fish, which is great. On my latest trip I caught several steelhead on this 15' Loomis, they were great. I also fished a Thomas & Thomas DH1409/5 with the same Nextcast 95' 8/9 line and I found that it was even easier to cast and the little bit of extra power was great when it was time to land a fish, and I would say that no enjoyment was lost from the fight. Now, due to the success of the T&T DH1409/5, I have picked up a DH1509/3 for next years trip. (which subsequently sold and replaced with a Greaseline 16' 9/10)

2010: Tough but still got a few fish
In October 2010 Rusty and I headed back the Region of the Nez Perce. Travel was tough this year with cancelled flight and unplanned detours, but we made it to the Salmon only a half day later than expected.
Our first evening was great despite the water being a bit warmer than desirable. the weather was
mild and we got one of our favorite runs, a nice long easy wade with a rip that sits about 80' from knee deep the whole way. I wore a T-shirt since the weather so fine, feeling good to be done traveling and finally fishing. The run we were on produced Rusty's first fish last year... and mine this year.
I fished a Thompson River Caddis down the lower half of the run and, just as day tipped to twilight, the fish took. It was on the strip, but it still took.
I had gotten a 15' TnT from poppy the previous fall and this was my first fish with the rod. I was worried that a 9wt would be too much rod for smaller fish, but this fish I caught our first night was 5-6 lbs and it was a great fight and I, don't think a smaller rod would have made the experience any more fun.
We camped around a bunch of other fly fishers, but apparently what we fish and what they fish is different, as we almost never seemed to see these guys on the water we fished. Although there is more pressure this year than last. The guys at camp were having a tough time with the warm water. Over the next few days we fished some very good water and struggled to find fish. we ran up to the Clearwater a few times but it had alot of people on it.
We did connect with two more fish. Both under pretty bright conditions. Both also came off what was our most productive run last year. I caught a small fish under a bright/partly cloudy midday sky. It ate a yellow/Orange/ Natural Married wing spey, my first married wing fish, and some how that matters.
A day later on the same run, Rusty hooked our best fish of the trip. It was late morning. I am not sure what fly rusty was fishing but I would wager it was 3 or 5 Yellow Jacket (last years magic fly).
Though the conditions were not as perfect as the year before. we found fish when fishing was tough and the Snake continued her kind and generous tradition.
We fished our 2010 trip fishing the Salmon River in Idaho, which is a tributary of the Snake. We had a great time.

2011: When Things get rough, We head for the Snake
In 2011 Rusty and I both drove out and met on the Salmon River in Idaho. We had done well there in 2010 and the condition on the river seemed great. there was a little rain but the river looked and fished great. The wildlife was superb, lots of deer came down to the river to drink while we fished runs. I saw a breeding pair of Golden Eagles, but we caught nothing in two-and-a-half days of fishing.
We did not have as much time to fish as we have the last two years, so we decided to go see what the Snake looked like. I was worried because when I drove over the Snake near Boise, Idaho, it look big and dirty, but when we arrived to Asotin, Washington and the stretch of river upstream of there, I learned that you can't judge the Snake by what you see in Boise. It looked great and the water was cool.
It was 2pm when we arrived. Cloudy with a light to medium rain. We drove up-river to our favorite run. It didn't take long for things to start. On this run, we know the fish usually grab right at the end, just as the body dumps into the tail; and we were suprised by fish sitting up at the top of the run.
I fished through first, the water felt good and cool, a little on the high side of perfect but close. I could see a seem that was out a ways, though I thought I could reach it if I pushed. I was fishing a 13'3" 7wt and a Scandi head, so casting big distances took alot more work than when I was using a 15' and long belly on the same run the year before. I was able to reach-out and fish the seem though, and within 20' of the top of the run I hooked a fish on a #3 Yellow Jacket.
It was a hard fighting fish and a wild one to boot. You can't beat that. I got out of the run and Rusty
fished through. When he was about half way down, I jumped in at the head of the run again to follow him down. I hooked another fish in the same spot. It was another hard fight and I got the leader into the guides, but the fished threw the hook mid-river after a final run, and an epic jump (that I swear was 5'-6' out of the water vertically). It ate a size 6-8 Purple Green-Butt Skunk
That evening Rusty and I fished another of our favorite runs on the Snake. Rusty landed his first Snake river fish on this run and I had gotten our first fish there last year. I followed Rusty down the run. I started at the top of the run. There is an eddy up at the top but the water just out-side of it looks good. So even though we had never even had a grab at the head, I fished it. you never know. And guess what... I got a grab. It came just as my line could swing below the current of the back eddy.
This was another hard fighting fish. Just take a look at it, a good sized fish. I think this is the biggest Steelhead that I have caught on the Snake. It went for the same little Skunk.
We fished the run until dark. Shortly after landing my fish, a family of otters came floating down river and the male chased me out of the river after I teased him by returning his hisses with my own hiss like sound.

Before the day was over, However, Rusty hooked into a good sized fish at the lower end of the run. It was dark and try as we might we could not see the fish even when it was right in front of us. It stayed down as deep as it could.
Finally, we got the fish landed. It was a nice sized wild King Salmon, mean and healthy, and along ways from the ocean.
The next morning was bright and sunny and windy. We didn't touch a fish on our first two runs, so we decided to try a run that had been in the running for being the best two years earlier, but had produced nothing in several try's last year. Its fast waters flow across a wide rocky flat and the heaviest currents in a narrow channel on the far side of the river, this brought fish into a small, bouldery area on the rock bar where the current is bearable to rest in and close enough to cast too. Though depending on the rivers flow rate this spot can be too far out to reach. And I suspect that the fish only sit in this area at certain water levels.
It was bright and sunny. with the sun at my back, and to me that means in the fishes eyes. I was not thinking there was much of a shot. and I wasn't even sure if the run was even fishing that well. Then my line came tight and my tiny little size 8 skunk was sucked up by a ripping fast hatchery hen. Fish can really burn you up on some of the Snakes faster runs and this run is a fast one.

2012: On My Own
My trip to the Snake in 2012 was a solo one and after a couple days I was convinced that the fishing was not what I had been hoping for. I headed for Western Washington and ended up having some fun days on the Cowlitz.

2014: Rusty and I get blanked by the Snake
Rusty and I headed back to the Snake for a few days in 2014. We came up empty, picking one fish up on the Grande Ronde.

2015: Dropping water and a new face
This last season I had my c
ousin James join me to fish the Snake. this was he first introduction to steelhead and spey. I was hoping to show him the magic, but came up short. He did however show a high degree of fortitude, fishing day-in and day-out, never wavering and accepting the beat down.

The river was slowly dropping the whole time we fished. I was able to pick-up a fish, right off the bat on the first run. this fish ate a #5 Yellow Jacket (that old reliable pattern). From that point on, however, fishing got tough. Soon the fish would except nothing over a size 8, I had two #8 Purple green-butts stolen off the line in spectacular fashion on a single run. I rolled soul to see if I could improve fishing mojo, and while I got grabbed on the below married wing, fishing remained tough.


Matane River - Quebec

In early August I made a trip out to eastern Quebec to fish the Matane River at the base of the Gaspe Peninsula. I arrived after a long, hot, and dry spell in the area. Luckily there was a cool, rainy day and the fish turned on for a while and finally one came my way.

I fished with a guide, Louis Bazine, and he was instrumental in finding and hooking the salmon I caught. He found good water to fish that was not getting pounded all day by anglers. This meant that we went out looking for travelling fish in resting spots, rather than looking for holding fish in holding spots. This was a big difference. Most anglers on the river stayed on water where the could see multiple salmon in the water, the salmon always stay at these runs, day after day, they become dour, this is a holding run. We found spots where fish that were making their way up river would stop for an hour, or two or tuck in stay the night, and then move on. these fish would be more eager for a fly and less harassed.

This came to pass, as we fished a slim tail-out in a very out-of-the-way pool. The water looked too shallow to hold much of anything, but a fish rolled to show that he was there. I fished through with a #8 Blue Charm. I started high on the tail-out, in water so slow had to strip in line to keep the fly moving. As I worked down, the water sped up, bit by bit. Soon the fly was plain atop the waters glass like but speedy surface. to fix the plaining we adjusted the know and kept working down the tailout.

There were several salmon at the end of the run, despite the shallow look to the water. The first fish, which had originally rolled, rolled a few more times, and once just behind the fly. Another fish lower in the run left a wake charging the fly across the run, but never a pull, or a pluck on the Blue Charm, so Louis suggested I put my switch rod to the test and fish a bomber up stream over the groups of fish in the tailout.

I switched to the Bomber and Louis pointed out where he could see fish, soon I could see them too. After a while of working over the 4-5 salmon lowest in the run, a grilse took a look and rolled just beneath the fly with out the slightest surface disturbance. He did not look again. I worked up to the location of the first fish that we had seen roll. I could see the fishes form and made the casts as Louis had recommended: Behind left, behind center (over the fish), Behind Right, On top of left, center, right, in front of left, center, right; only leave the fly on the surface for 3 seconds and cast again. force the fish into a quick decision.

The fish didn't move for the fly, but another fish did. The fish boiled near the fly about 6 feet down of the targeted fish, in water so clear that I was sure I could see everything, but saw no fish. Then as the fly dragged the surface as I picked it up to cast again another splash and boil happened. and finally about 6-10 cast later the fish brought its (her) head out of the water and ate the Bomber.

The fish fought hard jumping and running, nothing crazy but a lot of fun.

The Matane flows North into the Gulf of St. Lawrence from the Chic Choc/Appalachian Mountains.

The Deschutes River - updated

The Deschutes is a truly unique Steelhead river, it can be the sweetest most friendly river you've ever known on one trip and then leave you beat-down and fried the next. The fish can be aggressive and trouty or they can be virtually non-existent. Some times it seems you can make the best casts of you life into a full on gale, other time a slight tease of wind knock down every cast. The river will love you and then toy with you.

The Deschutes River in Oregon is like a steelheading mecca in so many
ways, not the least of which is that everyone goes there. Yeah it gets a little crowded there sometimes, at least the road access does, but the River and the Steelhead that run it do really deserve this fond attention of Steelheaders when it's on, and it is on a lot in the past few years. Sometimes it is not on, however.

I landed my first dry fly steelhead on the Deschutes. It was very close to the mouth of the river. I had hiked up from the boat launch with a couple friends. It was a Saturday morning and the river had a good number of people on it. At first it seemed like there would be no where to fish, but after not too much hiking. my friend who knew the lower river well said "Steve why don't you stop and fish here. We'll hike up further"

At first I was not pumped by the water he pointed out. the flow looked a little slow and laminar, but there were boils out to about 50-60 feet from the bank. This reminded me of just a few days earlier when I was fishing the Klickitat and I met a local who had explained to me that submerged boarders were key for fishing skaters over. He said that the fish would sit relatively close to the surface, because of the neutralizing turbulence created by the boulder. This made be reconsider my opinion of the water I was about to fish. I tied on a skater and headed up the run to a likely starting spot, tough it really was pretty uniform for several hundred yard up and down the bank.

I tossed the fly on to the water before I ever set foot in the run and immediately the water boiled, but that was it. the fly did not go down, the fish never came back. About 15 minutes later however, as I worked done the run, I got another boil. this boil came just as I was mending my line out from the curly water behind a boulder. My fly jump right out of the fishes boil. I think I cursed pretty loud.

I cast out with the same amount of line, but a good 20-30 feet up from where the boil came, as that was well into the swing. as soon as the line tightened, a red cheeked steelhead came up out of the water and took the fly on it's way back into. That image is burned in my mind to this day.

The fish fought better than any other steelhead I have ever hooked, incredible speed during his big run. My hardy was going so fast, I thought it was at the highest pitch possible, then it went up noticeably. The fish jumped so far away I wondered if it was the fish I had hooked or just a fish jumping way down river. really incredible.

I fell in while landing the fish, which ended up killing my camera, but not before I got a few shots of the wild fish. it was nearly 30". See pic below.

I headed up river to the area around Mack's Canyon that afternoon when my friends headed back to Portland. I fished a shadow cast by a cliff near Ferry Canyon and got a late afternoon fish too. That was a really great day on the Deschutes.

I have fished on it for both kinds of days, hot and cold, on and off. Unfortunately last time I was on it was off. It was so off, that when My friend Charlie and I headed up to fish the water between Shear's Falls and Mack's Canyon there was no body there. This section of river usually houses hundreds of anglers at this time of years (Sept.), but it was empty. We were thrilled, all the runs were ours; Windknot was ours, Hole in the Wall all ours, we even had the pipeline(and I mean the whole thing) to our selves. The problem was there were no fish grabbing the flies. we talked to guides across the river, they hadn't been hooking fish for several days. this was this year 2008, Dam counts were huge, but the fish just weren't there the days we were.

Charlie and I fished the Deschutes for a few days in 2007, and we (mostly Charlie) did great we caught 4 fish in just a few days of fishing and lost others. The dam counts weren't nearly as good as in 2008, but we were finding fish.

The good times are possible on the Deschutes, maybe more than anywhere else. In 2001, on my first trip to the Deschutes it felt like the fish were every where and I know from BR who hit it again in 2002 it was epic again. Even this year I heard stories of guys hooking 10 fish out of a run in a single morning or evening.

I think that it is because the Deschutes can be so giving, that getting skunked on this river can hurt so much. When you are catching fish, the sun is friendly, Camp is perfect, the wind is a fun challenge, and wildlife is abundant, the Busch lights even taste better if that is even possible. Things just go your way, or maybe you just going there way, but you're happy. When the skunk is on, this Oregon blast oven has no soul, the barren landscape is devoid of life. The sun burns down on camps that have no shade and the ones that do are taken. The Busch light, gone already. The wind, in your face.

I have caught fish on the Deschutes on both big and small flies. Fishing smaller flies (3-8) flies on a Scandinavian head is my favorite way to fish the rivers, but I have had success and been able to take fish in broad day light using Skagit heads and big flies (3"-5" long). I have usually used either my 7133-3 Burkheimer or my 6126 Sage both are great for smaller flies and the smaller fish that are common on the Deschutes, but the 7133-3 the more versatile of the two. I will however try an additional rod next time, my 7141-4 Sage while it may be stouter than the smaller fish warrant, it casts a great long line such as a Hardy 65' Mach II 570grn or a Rio Power Spey 7/8 and these long lines and way fun to fish, the Loomis 15' 7/8 grease line would also be fun. One down side to these longer rods and longer lines is that they run into trouble when conditions get tough, like a rough wind or a tight bank, but I have found that while they are limited it is not nearly a limited as most people believe now days.

The flies I like for the Deschutes are the Green Butt Purple Skunk,  and variations on standards the Max Canyon, the skunk, etc., and Muddlers in purple and brown, after that it is all about finding or making up stuff you like. Check out the Deschutes Angler and web sites for great Deschutes patterns. Also check out Kent Helvie's book on steelhead flies, there are some great Dec Hogan patterns for the Deschutes in it.
In the Summer of 2016, I will be floating the lower canyon water with guide Travis Johnson. He is renowned for his casting ability, and has a good reputation among people whose opinions I trust. this will be a three day, two night float. I will write a separate entry to tell of this trip.

Wet-Fly Selection for Summer Steelhead

The other day I was at a friend's bass pond, which is a very clear pond. The pond is loaded with big bass, some are really big, like over ten pound. Some of these fish are so big in fact,  that one of the really big fish tried to eat a 15” bass as I was trying to land the smaller fish.

Anyway, as I was fishing this pond trying to get one of these giant bass to eat my fly, I noticed how they would charge the fly from a distance but then hesitate before taking to investigate the fly. The fish would some time hit right away, but more often it would sit just below the fly and either eventually take the fly or reject it. With the water being so clear, it took a very realistic looking fly to fool the bigger fish. A frog painted popper worked, while a yellow, green, and even minnow painted popper did not.

I think that this often happens while steelhead fishing as well, though I don’t think it happens to the same degree as the current is moving the fly through the water, and that means a steelhead is looking a  moving fly and has to make a more momentary decision on whether or not to take the fly. I believe that steelhead often see the fly at a distance. They move into position to intercept the fly. Then they often investigate the fly before taking or rejecting it.

Cummin's Special #5

I have seen this happen a few times, by watching from above as another angler has a fish visibly following a fly. I have also often had fish grab the fly as it changes its course in the swing (going from dropping with the current to swing in toward shore), which leads me to believe that the fish is often hovering near the fly and it reacts when the fly’s course changes.

So how do we choose a fly that will attract a fish from a distance and yet still be attractive enough to eat upon close inspection?

Over the last 15 years I have been trying to figure out the answer to this equation. Of course every day of fishing can be different, fore as a fishes environment changes so may its preferences in fly color, size, presentation, etc.
For most of my time fishing steelhead I have had an approach that assumed bigger was better. Figuring that because steelhead are eating large food in the Ocean (or great lake) that they will prefer something large to eat; Such as a 4” string leach, an intruder, or a spey fly tied on a 1.5-3/0 hook.
Yellow Jacket #5
However, over the last few years I have been catching more and more summer steelhead on smaller flies. And often hooking fish with small flies in bright sunlight, which I thought would be very unlikely, but has now happen several times.
Last year on my annuall trip out to fish the rivers of the Nez Perce, I had a day where i got a fish early on a #3 Yellow Jacket (a Dec Hogan pattern), a consisant fly with alot of black in it. once I got this fish I met up with my fishing partner and he was fishing the same fly, this makes sense as we have both caught a number of fish on this pattern in sizes #3 and #5. Well, since I had already landed a fish and would be following my friend down the run, I switched flies and decided to put on a #6-8 Purple Green Butt Skunk. Within a few casts I hooked into a large Steelhead. This really increased my confidence with this fly, so I kept it on for the rest of our time on the river. and it paid off with more hook ups over the next day and a half, even under bright mid-day sun.
Purple Green Butt Skunk #6
Based on that success and similiar experiences on other rivers and other trips. I am beginning to rethink my preference for large flies. I think that most productive steelhead rivers, not all, are clear enough for a Steelhead to see a #5 fly at a distance of at least ten feet, often I believe the fish can see much further. Indeed, I have seen rainbow rush significant distances to inhale a small nymph or egg pattern.
So using a big fly to get a fishes attention, may be effective for getting a fish to see the fly from a greater distance. But if you are fishing clear water the distance may be more than is needed and the fly may be intimidating to the fish once they are in close proximity. I think that if a fish can see the fly from a reasonable distance based on water and light conditions it is a good bet to use a small (#5-8) fly as the fish will have a smller object to interperate and a less intimidating object.

No Name #3

There are times when I think fish will respond better to bigger and/or brighter flies. so it is good to keep your box stock with a variety of patterns that cover the gammit. Have a few larger flies tied in muted colors, some big bright flies, and some small bright flies, to go along with your small subtle patterns.

I also think that adding detail to flies, that give them a more life like appearence up close helps in getting a fish to take. I add jungle cock as I think it looks like an eye. I also will use sparse grey spey hackle to creat the look of translucence.

no name #5