Just returned from a great road trip in Oregon, fly fishing and camping riverside for a week. We fished a variety of waters and climates from desert to mountain streams. In many ways fishing in the Pacific Northwest Mountains is very similar to Vermont fishing in terms of tactics, water types, and difficulty, while the desert tailwaters are much more similar to Montana or Wyoming. We found some great fishing, were challenged in a variety of ways, and had some of the most memorable catches of our careers. I will give you a full recap after I touch on the local conditions.
Right now the Lamoille and Winooski are chocolate milk and totally unfishable after Sunday's storms while today's have not have had as much of an impact other than to hold flows steady. All of the tribs I fish are in good shape right now and should be fishing pretty well, and the brook trout in our small streams will be a good option as well. Dry fly fishing should be decent this week on the tribs with terrestrial's becoming more of an important food source. I like to prospect with a foam hopper or stimulator with a dropper nymph or usually two, off the back, or if I want to focus only on dries, an ant or caddis. Occasionally you will get some trophy fish to eat a big dry off of the top that would not necessarily come up to eat something small. One of my best VT browns of last season was caught on a big foam stimulator in fact. At this time of year I start downsizing my nymphs and fish #18-20 flash back pheasant tails a lot along with the same sized red copper john. I really enjoy catching fish on tiny flies, and am always amazed that a big fish would pass on a bigger nymph in favor of something smaller, but it just goes to show you that they are used to seeing small nymphs this time of year. Caddis Larvae and pupa are also going to be productive. There are still Golden Stones hatching so, especially in higher flows like we have now, a big golden stone will produce fish. They are also heavy and can help get your smaller nymph to where the fish are instead of a using split shot. For the next month until we start to see some Iso's hatching and moving around on the bottom, small will be the way to go.
Back to my road trip. I had an awesome time catching up with my younger brother Chris who has lived in Oregon the past couple of years, but has not been able to explore many of the rivers. We started our trip heading East to the Tailwater section of the Owyhee River in the desert of Eastern Oregon. After taking the backroads all of the way there we finally arrived at the river and spent a while driving the river looking for a campsite with plenty of shade. In the desert this is as important to having a fun trip as the fish are. I had visited this river for only about 1 1/2 hours a few years back as I was driving across country and was impressed by the size and number of fish eating on the surface. I could not wait to get back and show Chris this river. We were not disappointed to say the least. We found great numbers of pretty selective browns. We fished mainly flats at the tail outs of riffles where the big fish were congregating and would eat #22 tricos in the am, hoppers or sized #22 RS2's in the daytime and then caddis at night. By our last evening and then the following morning we had the fish dialed and it became pretty easy.
Our last morning on the Oyhee was one of the most memorable and complete fly fishing experiences I have had. The day began casting to sporadic rises at dawn, then we spent some time nymphing up some fish in the riffles, then stalked the banks sight fishing to big 18-20" browns holding in 6-8" of water. I was able to sneak up to two big fish and tight line nymph them from about 8' away. It was awesome to watch them eat the nymphs in water so shallow their backs were almost out. After that about 15 large browns had podded up at the bottom of the riffle. Chris had already been casting to them with his smallest black fly but could not get a look, I had some smaller #22 Trico's in my box and that was the ticket. We landed a bunch of them until things winded down around 10. We then continued stalking up the banks until we found two big browns holding on either side of a rock in about 10" of water. We snuck up on the two fish, at times crawling through the water to get into position. Chris was up first and chose the fish on the left side of the rock. He made a perfect backhand cast on his first attempt, one of the best casts I have seen landing the fly above the fish and the fly line below it and to the side. The fish ever so slowly came up and took the hopper on the first drift. In a few minutes we had a 18-19" brown in the net. Next it was my turn, and we got the camera out to try to get it on video. I made one bad cast but did not spook the fish. My second was perfect and again the 17-18" fish slowly came up and took the hopper, we got the take, fight and release all on video. I am going to get it up on instagram when I get a chance to edit the footage. It was at that moment we decided we would not get any better at this river, and may as well end it on a super high note, though we could not resist taking some casts at the fish rising just above and quickly each landed one more before leaving. That morning I caught three of my most memorable fish ever as did Chris. It was just an awesome morning that had everything a fly fisherman could want. The only downer was that I lost my net, which would come back to haunt me the next morning...
Arriving at Bend, we were determined to conquer the famous Deschutes River. We had fished the lower river two years ago for a few hours and did not catch a trout, and that night a freak storm came through and blew it out for days after we left. This time we were determined to catch some famous "Redsides" as they call the native strain of rainbows that live in the river. These fish have a reputation for being some of the hardest fighting trout you will find. We fished the upper river in the AM which was in the mountains and forests. It was much like a Vermont stream and I knew just how to attack it. I tight line nymphed about 5 fish, one a large rainbow I lost because of not having my net and another big brown that I landed while straddling two logs, though I had no way of getting a pic without a net. It was a really nice fish. The fish in this upper stretch of river were all shaped like footballs and seemed in great shape. I think a lot of fish had dropped back into the lake because of the extreme heat the week before though the water temp was 63 when we were there. I want to go back in the spring or fall sometime.
After getting our fill up high we headed to the more famous Lower Deschutes River. An 80 mile tailwater that is a true beast of a trout and steelhead river. Flowing at around 5000 CFS, wading is not real easy. We spent our first evening walking the banks and coving a ton of water and only ending up with around 4 dink rainbows and saw no rising fish. We were feeling like the lower river was going to get the best of us again. Over a few beers that night Chris and I contemplated heading back to the upper river for our last day. I think for a while we had made a decision to leave, but just as we were heading into the tent I said there is no way this river is going to beat us. Enough said, we were back on the river the next morning early. My strategy was different that day. No more looking for fish and skipping from spot to spot. I found the most likely looking water from the previous night and not knowing much of anything about the river and not seeing much for insects, I drifted fly after fly through the run. I just kept telling myself that a trout is a trout and they are here. After 2 hours nothing. Finally I went to my desperation fly, a #16 pink sow bug with an orange bead, which I have tied on when things have been slow for salmon, steelhead and trout. Chris had just come back up the river, and was right behind me as I made my first drift. BOOM, fish on!! I ended up losing it at the net, just a 12" redside, but man were we pumped. Second drift, BOOM, fish on and it comes screaming out of the water. An incredibly hard fighting redside of around 14-15" in the net. We couldn't have been more pumped. Then on my fifth drift, BOOM, another bigger redside rockets out of the water three times in a row, then makes a long run downstream. Four more leaps and a few more runs and we net a fat 17" fish, again they were all the shape of a football. Chris was up next and on his maybe 10th cast lands his first redside of around 14". We caught some more throughout the rest of the morning, but those first fish will be remembered forever. It was just amazing how gratifying it was to get these fish dialed in and in the net after so many hours over a couple trips. We couldn't have asked for a better way to end our road trip. Maybe I will start fishing the sow bug a little more from now on, but then again its nice knowing its there for me when things get tough.
Ben Wilcox Owner/Guide Maple Country Anglers