Friday, November 13, 2009

Deschutes River, OR, June 2009

There are rivers, and then there are rivers. I treasure all of the places I have been able to explore and enjoy with a fly rod, but some locations I hold particularly close to my heart. For me, the Deschutes river in central Oregon has to be included in this list.

I was born and raised in Portland, OR, and had the great fortune of growing up in a state rich with fishing opportunities (especially for wild and native trout). Among the very best is the Deschutes river, widely considered one of the best fly fishing rivers in the country, and populated with both native resident trout and steelhead. This is a river that always feels like home to me, a place I associate with growing up, learning some of the finer points of fly fishing, and a destination that never fails to give me a sense of peace and reliability. I also associate the Deschutes with my father (and first real fishing companion), as I have spent many a day along its banks with him, and I know he too holds the river dear.

It was fitting, then, that my dad and I made a trip over to the Deschutes, near the small town of Maupin, in search of redsides, the local vernacular for Columbia basin redbands, a desert-adapted strain of Rainbow trout native to these waters. Here is my dad, rod case in hand, ready for a showdown with Deschutes trout, fly fishing style. We both wore thin neoprene socks and booties, but otherwise waded wet, as this getup can often be more comfortable than waders in the heat of the desert canyon along this river (actually, I have increasingly worn these in favor of waders with most of my fishing ventures, unless the air and water temperatures require more layers and warmth).

We hiked upstream, to a section we have both enjoyed over the years, that can contain numerous larger fish. The Deschutes is a large, powerful river, and can be intimidating to newcomers, but the fish are there, with the best ones often in remarkably shallow water, right up against the bank. Here is a photo of one such spot, part of a huge reverse back eddy that flows next to shore and overhanging grasses--perfect for a large redside to hide and feed on drifting aquatic insects with minimal effort.

I approached quietly, and cast up under the trees visible in the picture. This river is a virtual bug (and trout) factory, and both PMDs and tan caddis, about a size 16, hatch here throughout the summer (the Deschutes is perhaps best known for its Salmonfly and golden stone hatch in late spring, at least by anglers, although not neccessarily by the trout). I tied on a #16 tan parachute sparkle dun to a long length of 5X, cast up into the current close to the bank, and let the mayfly imitation drift quietly under the shade of tree limbs. A large, dark trout head slowly materialized from the blue-green water, and confidently inhaled the dry--this is one of those moments in fly fishing that always brands itself in my brain, makes time seem to stand still, and never ceases to make my heart miss a beat. After that, all hell broke loose.

Deschutes redsides are superior specimens, capable of blistering runs and often tireless fighting, some of the most powerful trout I have had the opportunity of hooking. More than a few of these fish have taken me deep into my backing, and broken me off after a lengthy fight (some simply run towards the far side of the river once hooked, and part ways in one way or another). They take full advantage of the big powerful currents, and at times look and act like an extension of the river, making a person feel humbled and on the edge of control. While it may sound like I am waxing poetic about a river I love, these fish are different, and I would recommend to any angler that they try pursuing and battling the trout of the Deschutes.

This bruiser was no different, and charged about the large eddy and main river currents. Fortunately, I was able to land it, a male I suspect, judging by its dark coloration, measuring a good 20", one of the best fish I have brought to hand on this river. A good one here averages around 15", and anything reaching 18-20" that is landed should be considered a great fish (I have seen some fish that are significantly bigger, but these are generally uncatchable). The image above shows the trout against the rod, and I included a head shot below, before returning the beauty to its native waters (note the sparkle dun at the front of the lower jaw).

I met up with my dad farther upstream, in another highly productive eddy, where I managed to hook and land another large, dark mature redside, right at 18". He also hooked up with a trout while I looked on, as shown below.

Here is my father with the fish in hand, a fine, 14-15" Deschutes redside.

One of the big guys in this run also stretched to 20", and my dad finally fooled this one on the last day of our visit to this magnificent river (no pictures unfortunately, as I was exploring some water further downstream). I also hooked another redside of similar dimensions on the middle day of our visit, that broke me off after tearing downstream--landing these trout is never a given, and when it happens, is always a moment to be savored and appreciated. Here is another image of my father casting up through the shallows of an eddy, desert cliffs in the background.

It was a great trip to the Deschutes river, one of quantity over quality, and a chance to spend some good fishing time with my dad, which is certainly at least as meaningful to me as the fly fishing itself.

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