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 Flyfishusa.com 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.
Posted by Stephen R. Nelson