The Difference between the Agony of Defeat and the Thrill of Victory is narrow. Fin & Fire has seen both sides and aren't real big fans of the Agony of Defeat. We're guessing that you aren't either.
Join us as we look at 5 Pretty Darn Easy ways to make your days on the Deschutes a lot more productive.
1. Timing the Hatch: First, lets be clear. There's more than one hatch. Yeah, the salmonflies are our Featured Main Attraction but for the fish its just one of many prey species. The smaller golden stones are extremely important during the almost exact same time the salmonflies are hatching. Legend had it the golden stones hatch a week or two later but that no longer seems to be the case. Maybe a day or two, but even that's debatable. What is for certain, is that for some reason, some fish prefer the golden stones. So when you come out to fish the salmonfly hatch you are really fishing the stonefly hatches. Add in a good number of Yellow Sally stoneflies, assorted mayflies led by PMD's and PED's, caddis (especially prevalent on the back half of the hatch if air temps get into the 80's) and possibly some midges, aquatic moths and crane flies. And don't you risk humiliation by showing up to the Deschutes in May without at least 3 or 4 Green Drakes tucked away. When the Drakes start poppin' and you don't have any, expect the Agony of Defeat to be ringing in your ears for at least an hour or two.
So now that we are on the same page about the Main Attraction and the many Sneak Previews let's look at specifics about when the Main Attraction starts on the Lower Deschutes River.
First, know that you will never miss the Salmonfly Hatch due to a lack of information. If you are on any social media platform....even you on MySpace, hang out in fly shops beyond the bathroom and the free coffee or generally don't live in a bunker....you'll know exactly when the hatch will happen, is happening and when it's over. So even if you miss the front end of the hatch you have plenty of time. From the first reports of bugs crawling onto shore and climbing up the grass, you have 1 month. So if you are seeing your favorite spot on Facebook with a few bugs starting to crawl around, start planning your sick days from work. But please do a good job on asking for that sick day. DO NOT blow the cover for the rest of us that always get sick in May. Many Thanks!
Science Nerd Alert. The Cliff Notes Edition. What triggers the Stonefly nymphs to migrate from their happy home under a rock you ask? Water temperature get the party started. Once the water warms up in spring the nymphs start moving around from their Happy Rock Home and start getting restless. As water temps get into the mid 50's particularly around 54-55 degrees is when we see a pretty significant migration towards shore. Over the last few years we are seeing most of the Stonefly migration in the Deschutes River in the Warm Springs area to occur right around May 5 to May 10. By May 15, pretty much all the nymphs that are going to hatch that year have hatched. The same migration would have already happened in the river downstream in the Maupin to Columbia River section a few days earlier.
So on most years the bulk of the stones have hatched into adults by May 10th as long as water temps regularly hit 55 degrees on the Madras Gauge on the USGS chart.
Once all the bugs hatch, the length of time it takes the trout to really notice a very large and vulnerable meal available to them varies. Overall it takes about a week before most fish notice the new Sizzler buffet that sprang up on the corner. This is especially true if it's fleece-sweater weather. Cold air temps are generally not your best ally for hitting a home run at this time of year. A warm day in the 70's or even better in the 80's will up your chances of bug activity. No matter the day, bug activity is often stimulated by warmth and warming trends. As the day warms you will see more activity and hopefully a few of those clumsy bugs will start falling into the water. As the day gets colder activity goes down. The good news however is that increased shade in the evening often stimulates more aggressive feeding instincts from the fish that heighten their natural inhibitions in bright sunlight. The redsides on the Deschutes are much more likely to feed in low light than bright sun light. If there are big bugs on the water, even with direct sunlight, you can expect trout to be eating them. If there are big bugs on the water, in shade created by vegetation or dark skies, you are on deck and ready to hit a 450 shot over Fenway's Green Monster. Let's look at 4 more Pro Tips to get you rounding the bases.
2. Making the Cast: Alright, you successfully tracked the hatch's progress upstream to your favorite spot and your excuse about the bad Chinese food was well-received at work. Check. You got out to the river at 9am after stopping at the McD's drive thru for an Egg McMuffin and a Sausage Burrito and gosh darn that Burrito is problematic. Luckily by 930am you're rigged and ready to roll and its warming up nicely. You see some big bugs starting to fly around. Check. And then one starts crawling down your neck and quickly heads where the sun don't shine. You realize your arms don't reach that spot but you get him despite limited yoga skills. Check. Its gonna be a good day. So you walk downstream for a while, not much going on, but bug #2 has found it's way down your shirt and you were faster this time and what was that? Oh yeah! Fish #1 is eating just downstream of that willow. Just downstream of that willow. I mean technically underneath the willow. Crap, that's a nice fish. This is where the rubber meets the road. A thirty foot cast is really not a big deal for most anglers but when a big fish is eating aggressively you often feel pressure/stagefright and rip a sweet cast right into the overhanging bush. Bye $3.00 fly. Because this scenario is different from the everyday trout fishing situation we use gear that is more often found in smallmouth bass fishing or streamer fishing for browns.
Deschutes Salmonfly Hatch gear.
First. Super Size Me. Leave the 4 wt. at home. This is 5 wt., or even better, 6 wt. territory. Medium-fast to fast rods are going to punch the big fly into tight spots. The powerful rod will help turnover the fly and will also help turn a big fish headed for fast current. Our guides and clients use Winston Air 9' 6 wt. rods on our Deschutes River guided trips during the hatch. We also really like rods from G Loomis (NRX+, Asquith, or IMX Pro), the Scott Radian, and the Sage X as upper end sticks that will serve you well for many years. We also equip these rods with solid disc drag reels. These fish will fight hard and to exhaustion so we like to get them in as fast as possible.
Second. Go Big or Go Home: Leader and Tippet need to be heavier than you are used to. Starting point is a 7.5 foot 3x leader with no extra tippet added. If you are really in the tight cover spots you will benefit from and lose less flies on 2x. These fish are not very leader shy. We do use 4x sparingly. 4x leader and tippet is actually pretty heavy in many trout fishing situations but during this hatch you are playing with fire using 4x. You will definitely be in the shop buying more flies because you will lose a ton of them if you are fishing in tight cover. You will also lose many to aggressive strikes and savage runs of hotter fish. The best time for the 4x is when you have slower water and fish are keyed in on golden stones and you are throwing the Norm Woods and Clark's Stone patterns.
With the appropriate gear you will stack the odds in your favor by quite a bit. Your cast and presentation will be more confident and you will have the gear to keep the famous Deschutes trout on the hook. Of course, you could fish with many methods and gear and do just fine, we are just trying to help out.
3. You've got to know when to hold 'em. Know when to fold 'em. Know when to walk away. And know when to run...
Although Kenny Rogers looked like he could have moonlighted as a part-time Deschutes guide, his wise words could not be more important to fishing the hatch. Think about this statement; It's better to fish 100 different spots with 1 cast than it is to fish 1 spot with 100 casts.
Your first cast into a new spot is the most likely to get eaten. It goes downhill from there. So making 100 or 1,000 casts into the same spot is not the best way to catch very many fish. It's hard to leave a productive spot but only a few select spots on the Deschutes hold a lot of fish. Some hold one or two. Many spots hold no fish or the fish that normally hang out have been fished to earlier in the day and are not actively feeding anymore.
The biggest mistake made-all-too-often is to keep fishing a spot after you hook a fish that realistically was only holding that one fish. Many spots on the Deschutes are one-fish spots especially those that are in the trees or as we call "the jungle water". Spots that have one dominant feeding lane and enough room for one (often large) fish.
4. Be flexible. So the day you arrive it's raining sideways, wind gusting to 20 MPH and a few more people around than you anticipated. Time to whine and complain or get excited about what lies ahead. Attitude is everything and it's a choice. Make the right choice and you will have a good day.
The rain provides dark skies and dark skies make fish comfortable. As trout become more comfortable they lose a bit of their natural wariness and will move closer to the shore. Midday will see an increase of mayfly hatches versus the bright and sunny days. Although the bright sunny days and heat really get the big stones flying the mayflies will pop pretty good creating some good dry fly fishing with some Green Drakes and good numbers of PMD's. This is also the time to fish dry dropper rigs. Your dry should still be a Chubby Chernobyl or other stonefly and the dropper should be a Perdigon, Duracell or Hot Spot Pheasant Tail. Run the dry off of 3x or 4x like normal but now add 3 feet of 5x Fluorocarbon tippet to the bend of the dry and add one of the aforementioned flies. And then hold on because you will probably hook up more fish than you would have if conditions were "perfect". We don't get a ton of rainy or cloudy days here in Central Oregon (according to many Real Estate brokers over 300 days of sunshine) so any days you have clouds or rain think of it as an opportunity. Often May brings some pretty unsettled weather. Keep fishing the big dry, you will get some trout to eat but by all means bring some droppers as they will show you how important it is to be flexible.
Yeah it's not only raining and windy but holy cow its crowded. Yep, the stonefly hatches are popular. Some would argue too popular. If you are on the Lower Deschutes River in May its going to be crowded most of the time. Here are few valuable tips on when the crowding is less.
Fish early mornings and evenings. Mornings should be sunrise to about 8am. Evenings should be 7 pm till sunset.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays are generally less crowded than the other days.
Sunday afternoons to evening is usually the time when the weekenders are leaving. It's a good day to fish although the fish are a little wary after getting hammered all weekend.
Days with cloudy or rainy weather seem to keep a fair amount of local anglers from hitting the river. Hit those days just be ready to fish more than just big dry flies.
The end of the hatch in early June is a great time with many fish starting to key in on caddis. The dry-dropper fishing in 2020 was incredible at the end of May and early June. Some fish would eat the dry but many fish would eat the dropper. Again, with flexibility will come rewards. One of the best weeks to fish on the Deschutes is the first week of June. You will catch fish on dries and you will catch lots of fish on nymphs.
5. Stop into Fin & Fire before your trip. Whether its to book a trip with one of our experienced guides or ask a few questions you can be sure that we are on the pulse of the Lower Deschutes. We are on the river every day. We live and breathe this river and its hatches. We have the goods and knowledge to help you to maximize your time on the water. We want you to be successful and have a good time.