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Deschutes River Fly Fishing

Oregon River Gives Anglers a Shot at a Rare Redside Trout


It might be one of the finest fisheries in the Pacific Northwest, but don’t be surprised if the Deschutes River leaves you seeing red.

Deschutes River “redsides” are not only beautiful, they’re plentiful on this Oregon River, and if you’re fishing it for the first time there’s a good chance you’ll hook up with this native strain of rainbow trout (also known as redband trout).

For those who have never tried Deschutes River fly fishing, redsides looks a lot like a wild rainbow trout only with larger spots and a more pronounced red lateral line. Many redsides also have white tips on their fins.

But Deschutes River redsides aren’t all looks, they’re also known for their surprising reel-screaming strength and aerial displays.

“The Deschutes is known through out the country for having some of the strongest fighting rainbow trout, AKA redsides, anywhere for the size,” said guide Cory Godell of Deschutes River Anglers (http://www.deschutesriveranglers.com, 541-617-1571).

“They aren't the longest rainbows in the world, but they pull you up and down the river.”

The Deschutes River begins at Little Lava Lake, in the Cascade Mountains about 25 miles northwest of LaPine, and flows south to Crane Prairie Reservoir.

The river continues to Wickiup Reservoir before reaching Bend, Ore.

From there the river heads north through the central desert before reaching Lake Billy Chinook and Round Butte Dam.

The Lower River runs from Warm Springs down to Sherars Falls and ends at the confluence with the Columbia River just outside Biggs Junction.

Other fish on the Deschutes River include steelhead, bull and brown trout, along with whitefish.

“Flowing from south to north through basalt canyons and arid rolling hills, the Deschutes River has to be on everyone’s list of places to throw a line,” said Charlie Chambers, guide at Gorge Fly Shop (gorgeflyshop.com, 541-386-6977).

“Sure, many rivers in North America have a self-sustaining population of wild rainbow trout without influences from a hatchery program. And of course every steelheader has a short list of rivers where the steelhead are decent in numbers and will take a skated fly. But the list becomes as short as the lines at “MacGruber” when you have one river that has both those characteristics.”

Lower Deschutes River Steelhead

Along with the redsides, the Deschutes River is one of the top steelhead fisheries in the Pacific Northwest.

If you’re looking for steelhead in Oregon, look no further than the 100-plus-mile Lower Deschutes River starting in mid-July.

“On top of having such great trout fishery, we also have a fantastic steelhead run every year,” Godell said. “Last year (2009) the number of steelhead that returned to the Deschutes River was all but record breaking, and the numbers that are showing up this season (2010) are ahead of last year.”

And if you can cast a spey rod (6-8 weight, 9-10 feet in length), you’re going to have a blast once you pinpoint a run.

The best approach come mid-Summer is to check fish counts with the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (http://www.dfw.state.or.us/fish/fish_counts/sherars_falls/index.asp). If fish counts start going from hundreds to a thousand or more, it’s time to bust out your steelhead gear and stock up on some steelhead flies.

“Flowing a hundred miles from Pelton Dam in Central Oregon, water levels allow fishing year round with occasional exception from the dam to the confluence with the Columbia river,” Chambers said. “Access points are variable with sections that have roadside walk in availability and sections that can only be accessed from a boat or raft. Fishing is not allowed from a flotation device of any kind but this keeps water available to those who choose to walk.”

Deschutes River Fly Selection

Some of Chambers’ favorite year-round flies include PMDs, Blue Winged Olives, and caddis flies.

But what draws the fish and the crowds, Chambers said, are the battleship-sized salmonflies, which show from mid May to mid June, starting at the mouth and working upriver.

“The peak of the steelhead season is typically August through October with traditional wet flies like Mack's Canyon, green butt skunk, purple peril, the fierce allegiance and unconditional being effective,” he said. “However, nothing stops your heart long enough to require electrical shock than the take of a steelhead to a waking fly like a small Bulkley mouse, muddler, or bomber.”

When things cool down late in the year, Chambers recommends going to Skagit compact lines and tying on a fish taco, intruder, or reverse Marabou.

“The problem with the Deschutes is not how to get out there the first time,” Chambers concluded, “but how to justify all the other hundreds of times that you will be away from home to make the migration to this river.”

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