Fishing the Middle Deschutes in mid-winter can be more than challenging. Limited access, cold weather, icy roads, and snow covered banks are just part of the problem.
Because no water is being removed upstream for irrigation, the winter flows below Bend are generally 3-4 times the flow during irrigation season. This makes it difficult or impossible to safely wade areas of the river that we generally are able to fish during the rest of the year, especially for some of us “seasoned” anglers.
So I was a little hesitant when a friend that I had not fished with recently, gave me a call and asked if I’d like to go fishing. We were in that short window of moderate daytime temperatures and the roads had cleared of most of the recent snows. He assured me he knew a spot on the Middle Deschutes that, even at the flows of around 400 cfs or so, we could get into the river and safely wade a section. He asked that I keep the destination to myself, but revealed that it was somewhere between Cline Falls and Lake Billy Chinook. There really aren’t any “secret” spots any longer in our area and this spot is no different; as this location is certainly familiar to many locals. But, when you haven’t been on the water in several weeks you’ll often take a chance on trying a spot you don’t normally think of fishing this time of year.
After the short ride and a fairly lengthy hike down into the canyon to the river, we came to a spot I had not fished in some time. And never this time of year. As is generally the case, the vegetation on the banks had been at least partially submerged by the winter flows and there were spots of ice in the shallows. He led me down to a spot that from a distance, looked like the rest of the river in that area. I knew that some of that area held some steep banks and deep spots pretty close to shore. However, when we reached the water’s edge I could see that it was indeed only about mid calf deep and gently slowed out to the middle of the stream. I was assured that the depth to the opposite bank was not any deeper than mid thigh to me. To reassure me he promptly waded in and proceeded to cross to the other bank.
Before entering the water, we discussed tactics and he pointed out the spots in that run that had produced fish in the past. He also suggested that i use a nymph that had rubber legs until the afternoon hatch of mayflies. He showed me a fly that resembled Whitlock’s Red Fox Squirrel nymph with a bead head. He then warned me that they rarely caught whitefish in that area for some reason. But, he had caught some nice browns and rainbows in a section he called “the incubator”.
Naturally, I had no flies in my boxes that had rubber legs, except for a small marabou jig style sculpin. Quite often this time of year a sculpin works well when no insects are present. I added the small jig as a dropper to a squirrel zonker sculpin and started working my way out into the river. After nearly and hour of working my pair and my companion having no luck with his rubber legs, we decided to switch things up.
I removed the zonker, added some split shot, and an Oros indicator and went back to an area that I thought I had pretty thoroughly fished earlier. First cast with the weighted rubber leg jig, a solid fish hooked up. My 10’ 4 wt was telling me the fish had some heft and after a good fight I brought a very solid, you guessed it, a big female whitefish!
Just a few moments later, and just a few yards away, my friend announced he had also just landed a really good whitefish! Go figure.
The next hour produced nada for both of us and the hatch had not yet appeared. I replaced the jig with a well hackled, soft hackle that I thought might look alive enough to resemble the preferred rubber legs if fished on the bottom with weight above the fly. That strategy paid off shortly thereafter with a very respectable rainbow of around 14”.
Soon we began to notice a few trout rising to the mayflies that we began to see. My friend suggested a small pheasant tail nymph until the hatch became a little more substantial. I replaced the soft hackle with a size 18 pheasant tail and started working it through a slightly deeper trough mid stream. My friend was free nymphing the same fly while I continued to use an indicator.
When a solid strike was followed by a fish taking line and heading for deep water I was forced to tighten my drag. The fish never came up and I was prepared for another big whitefish. Finally I was able to get the fish close enough to see it was a really nice rainbow. My companion was close by and offered to net the fish for me. Luckily, the fly popped out of the fish’s mouth just as it entered his net. The hook bend was nearly straitened and the measure net confirmed a solid 18’ trout.
I don’t have pictures to share and besides doing so would give the location away, but I won’t hesitate to join this companion when he asks if I’d like to join him in his winter spot.
I also, will gladly accept his suggestions of what fly to use and how to fish it. It sure helps to have a friend with some local knowledge!
Upper Deschutes River Report
June 11th, 2021
The Upper Deschutes River between Crane Prairie and Little Lava Lake is a fun spot to hit for a couple hours in the summer. We have been doing a little fishing up there since the late May opener and its been more miss than hit but if you put the time in you should be able to find some brookies and smaller rainbows. Euro nymphing is getting more popular on this stream but you can also find some nicer fish on streamers as well as pick up fish with dries and nymphs. Attractor nymphs such as Perdigon's, Red Copper Johns and stonefly nymphs that get down deep will catch fish. Evenings on hot days can be lots of fun with a pulse of feeding activity before dark and some decent hatches. Always remember your bug spray. Mosquitoes are thick in places up there.
Middle Deschutes River Report
May 7th, 2021
The salmonflies are now hatching on many sections of the Middle Deschutes River north of Redmond. Look for areas that are more canyon and rocky in nature and not the slower areas that have silty bottoms. The next two weeks should provide good opportunity to get a few nice browns or rainbows to eat the big dry. Carry some Purple Chubbies, Norm Woods or the Rogue Foam Salmonfly. Hotter days will have the best dry fly action but don't skip the cooler days as mayflies and nymphing will still get some action.
Middle & Upper Deschutes River Report
April 16th, 2021
Guest Author: Ron Romeis
Each year I look forward to irrigation season in Central Oregon. I know, not what I thought would be the case given the negative effects that the Deschutes River suffers from being treated as a large irrigation ditch.
However, when the irrigators start removing water from the upper stretches of the river to fill their canals, the flow drops in certain stretches of the river that otherwise would be pretty difficult to wade and fish. At this time of year it is possible to reach some areas that most folks won’t make the effort and find some water with unpressured fish. This was the case last week for me and my regular fishing companion, Stephen. A brief scouting session revealed that the spring flows were underway and the river clarity was good, so we decided to fish a couple of our favorite stretches to see if we could find a few fish.
I started the day swinging a couple soft hackles searching as much water as possible and Stephen was indicator nymphing. For two hours it was pretty discouraging. Neither of us had touched a fish and we were wondering if the fish were not in their usual spots. I abandoned my favored method of swinging soft hackles and Stephen meandered down stream in search of deeper water and perhaps a rising fish. I had brought a second rod set up with a “mono rig”. I was using 10# monofilament as my fly line with a sighter and 6x fluorocarbon tippet. Attached was a perdigon anchor fly and an unweighted pheasant tail nymph dropper. Just as I stepped into the water with the backup rod, I noticed a few March Brown mayflies starting to hatch. Bad timing I thought to go to a deep nymphing strategy. But, for the first time that day, a fish rose just down river from where I was standing. For some reason I resisted the urge to go back and grab the soft hackle rod. Against what all the books say, I made a cast with the mono rig above where the fish rose and tried to high stick my nymphs down river to the fish. Amazingly, a nice brown trout hammered the perdigon as only brown trout do and I brought a nice 12 incher to hand. Another fish made the mistake of showing himself in about the same area as the first fish. Another downstream drift produced a second fish; a clone of the first. By this time, the March Brown hatch was in full bloom. A number of more traditional drifts with the mono rig failed to produce another fish. As there were a few fish rising to the hatching mayflies I knew Stephen was attacking them with dries. My soft hackles just didn’t work this day. So I headed upstream to some deeper water with the mono rig again. On the first cast with the perdigon and pheasant tail duo at the bottom of my drift a fish just hammered the fly. When the fish came up and shook his head I was stunned to see the size of the fish. All I could think of was how was I going to land this fish on the 3wt rod and 6x tippet I was using. A few tense moments as the fish made several determined runs and I stumbled into some shallower water, I was able to lead the fish into the net. It measured a solid 16 inches, by far the largest brown I had caught in this stretch of water.
As I thought about this day on the water several things stuck out to me. Mostly, I was struck by the fact that neither Stephen nor I caught any rainbow trout. All fish caught were browns and whitefish. Secondly, when the expected March Browns hatch came on at midday, we didn’t really see a lot of fish rising to those bugs. I did fool a couple fish with my nymph in the area of rising fish, but they were all taken downstream from where traditionally I’d expect to hook up with fish using the high stick, long line, Euro techniques. Stephen was able to take some fish on dries during the hatch, but being a sort of stubborn guy who won’t tie on a dry fly unless I really have to, I wondered if I would have done better on dries than nymphing during a hatch. I’ll never know, but all the fish I caught that day were on the same perdigon fly and basically free nymphing. I guess I was dumb enough to take what the fish were giving me and stuck with what was working.