My older brother became uncharacteristically animated as he described getting dumped on the lower Deschutes River. “I stayed with the raft for awhile, but it kept pushing me down. I was stuck under it. Finally, everyone yelled at me to go to shore so I let go and swam for it.”
It was day one of our float trip and all I could hope was that his rafting experience was atypical. Everything I read had described relatively safe rafting due to a stable river discharge afforded by upriver dams. These same conditions were also thought to be important factors leading to a healthy population of rainbow trout and steelhead. In other words, I was ready to go fishing.
Deschutes River trout are managed primarily as a catch-and-release fishery, with up to 4,000 fish per mile reported for some sections. Two fish, between 10 and 13 inches, can be retained per day. However abundant trout are, experience has shown that the native redside population is wary. They are wary of the constant parade of fly-fishers scrambling along the shoreline. They are wary of boaters drifting overhead. They are wary of having small pieces of hairy foam with dangling hooks tossed at them. Wary, that is, until twilight when trout may show in a place where there was no sign with the sun high overhead. During this “magic hour,” Deschutes River trout seem to abandon their sensibility.
On one such magical evening, I hooked one trout that jumped into a clump of bankside reed canary grass before thrashing back into the water. Two others busted me off in heavy current. Things were topped off when a fat 16-inch redside hammered a fluffed-up golden stone drifted next to the bank. A quick recap showed seven trout hooked and landed in less than an hour. It was the kind of action that I could have only imagined before the float trip.
River currents dictate where trout lie and wait for food. For example, each shift of the channel provides a feeding lane at the outside of a bend. If there is deep water and boulders to provide cover, trout are there. Elsewhere, trout position at current edges or lurk where complex eddies and backswirls ebb and flow. Slow, deep water having divergent current to push floating insects towards the bank should also not be ignored. Foam lines are key indicators of current seams and are good targets for landing your fly. Short casts are often as productive as longer ones, especially where they allow for better control of line and fly drift.
Local anglers have coined the term “jungle water” to describe shoreline having tall grass and overhanging trees. In this type of water, feeding trout can often be found with their nose a foot from the bank waiting for insects to fall. Rocks provide additional cover, as does deeper water. Early in the morning, trout are often close to shore near reed canary grass or under overhanging alder. By mid-day, actively feeding fish might line up on foam lines formed where the current pushes out from shoreline knick points.
The Deschutes River is home to golden stoneflies, yellow sallies and big salmon flies that range from 1/2 to more than 2 inches long. Coloration can be tan, dark brown, yellow or reddish-orange. This variability in size and color has produced dozens of fly patterns available for those hoping to match the hatch. During the famous golden stone and salmon fly hatch period, which might last from May to June, Deschutes River rainbow trout are vulnerable. But, “stones” and salmon flies aren’t the only game in town. Consider clouds of caddis blowing off overhanging alder, pale morning dun and swarms of mayflies dancing on the water’s surface. The Deschutes is rich in insect life.
Local tackle shops have Web sites that provide regular updates on fishing action by location. These same shops should be visited for tips on fly patterns. A 9-foot, moderate-action, 6-weight rod with short, stout leaders is the tool of choice for most fly fishers. I’ve gone to a floating line and 4X tippet. Anything less and one might get busted off in the first 5 seconds. Then again, you still might get busted off when a big redside takes you around a corner or down the riprap further than you can follow.