Oregon Fly Fishing

Deschutes

The Deschutes is a special river, destined to become firmly set in the minds of destination anglers. It has a variety of water types, thick insect hatches, and a healthy population of trout set in a beautiful part of the world.

The Deschutes is one of the best trout streams in the nation. The river is equally known, maybe even better known, for its steelhead fishing. Set in central and north central Oregon, the accessible Deschutes River flows north after beginning its trek from Little Lava Lake in the High Cascades. The headwaters of the river belie the great size of the river below it, and there is quiet, shallow water for angling for rainbow and brown trout.

The river has many regulations over its 150-mile course, and different stretches hold combinations of rainbow, brown, brook trout, kokanee salmon, and whitefish. This is a long complex river, a river of many moods and many personalities, impounded several times, popular with anglers and recreationists such as whitewater enthusiasts. It flows over waterfalls and through pine forest, meadow, desert, and canyon. Much of it lies within the Deschutes National Forest, including the officially designated Wild and Scenic portion.

The trout of this river have to struggle against the constant power of the river and are strong fighters.

The most celebrated trout water on the river is that section from below Pelton Dam 50 miles to Sherar’s Falls, a powerful, cascading stretch of water holding excellent if unpredictable hatches of caddisflies, mayflies, stoneflies, and midges. One of the best hatches is the salmonfly hatch, which takes place amid the throngs of fishermen in late May and early June. The golden stoneflies follow this hatch, followed still by hatches of pale morning dun, tan caddis, pale evening dun, trico and blue winged olive.

Overall, the caddisfly is the staple hatch on the river. But the summer months usually find anglers nymphing likely lies with weighted nymphs, and this kind of technique can be deadly at times. Dry fly fishing can be good at times, and at other times it pays to try emergers or small nymphs. Wet flies can be effective, too. Spin fishermen have success casting Rooster Tails and Panther Martins around the large rocks and into the glides.

The trout of this river have to struggle against the constant power of the river and are strong fighters. Known to any angler who has ever tied into a Deschutes trout is the redside trout, a native fish with extra oomph when on the end of a line. The trout grow to impressive sizes, with the average brown trout running about 15 inches and the average native rainbow about 16 inches or thereabouts. Many brown trout weigh over 10 pounds, and the redsides top 20 inches every so often.

Because the river is rough and the fish are smart, it is a good idea to hire a fishing guide if you are not familiar with the Deschutes. Many stretches of the river can be floated, and in fact, the river suffers from the numerous rafters. Limits on the number of boats might be a good idea.

An easy float is between Sunriver and Bend, where the river slows down at times and calmly moves along its course. Many areas require great care when floating, and this is why a guide is best for first-timers. Wading in the upper reaches is easy, but below Pelton Dam wading in the fast current is difficult, and sometimes dangerous.

Sandy River

The Sandy River, located near Portland, Oregon, offers a stunning and accessible fishing experience. Flowing from Mt. Hood to the Columbia River, it’s known for its rugged beauty and ever-changing nature. In the late 1980s, the Sandy was a hotspot for winter steelhead fishing, with thousands of fish being caught. However, by 1997, the catch had dramatically declined, leading to changes in hatchery programs.

To protect wild fish populations, steelhead releases were moved downstream to the Sandy River Fish Hatchery on Cedar Creek. Hatchery numbers were scaled back to around 165,000 winter steelhead and 75,000 summer steelhead annually. These changes aimed to rejuvenate the wild steelhead population, which is unique to the Sandy River.

Today, steelhead fishing on the Sandy River primarily focuses on the area below Revenue Bridge to the river’s mouth. The upper reaches are challenging to navigate, and private land limits access. Below Revenue Bridge, anglers can find opportunities near the Sandy River Hatchery at Cedar Creek. Dodge Park provides bank fishing options, but access beyond the park is restricted. Boating between Dodge Park and Oxbow Park is treacherous due to dangerous rapids.

Oxbow Park offers excellent fishing with diverse water conditions, accommodating both bank and boat anglers. Recent rule changes allow fishing from a boat once 200 feet below the Oxbow launch. Dabney Park to Lewis and Clark offers deep and powerful water, perfect for powerboat fishing.

The Sandy River is known for its winter steelhead fishing, and it thrives at river heights of 10-12 feet. Drift fishing is effective, but anglers should be prepared with various terminal tackle due to the river’s grabby nature. Pink is a dominant color in bait and lures. Side-drifting is becoming important in the lower reaches. For summer steelhead, expect them in April, with the run peaking in June.

The Sandy River may not be vast, but it offers a diverse and rewarding fishing experience. Its beauty, challenging waters, and stunning wild fish make it a must-visit destination for anglers.

Clackamas

The Clackamas River’s productivity largely depends on hatchery fish, as the presence of three dams on the main stem has significantly impacted wild steelhead, spring chinook, and silver salmon populations.

According to the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, the Clackamas receives approximately 310,000 winter steelhead smolts and 175,000 summer steelhead smolts annually. A 1% return rate suggests a good return of 3,100 winter steelhead and 1,750 summer steelhead, with the potential for even more. To protect wild fish, hatchery programs have been limited to the lower river, with prime fishing areas spanning from River Mill Dam downstream, including the Eagle Creek tributary.

The Clackamas offers seven boat launches, with four suitable for jet boats. Clackamette Park and Riverside Park provide access for bank anglers, and the latter is particularly suited for spring chinook fishing. Carver, the next launch upstream, serves as a central location for jet boaters and offers side-drifting opportunities. The river’s character changes above Carver, with more compact runs and riffles extending to Barton Park, which is a popular float for drift boats. Feldheimer launch marks a shallower, more compact stretch with less consistent success.

McIver Park features both upper and lower boat launches. The lower launch offers a beautiful run in front of it but limited additional quality water. The upper launch is placed above a challenging rapid and should be approached cautiously. Despite its limited boating appeal, McIver Park provides excellent bank fishing opportunities.

The Clackamas River has undergone changes in fishing techniques, with side-drifting gaining popularity. This has led to increased noise, boat traffic, and differing paces on the river. Courtesy and patience are essential for anglers using various methods. The winter steelhead plant mainly consists of “wild broodstock” smolts, extending the return season from December to March. Successful steelhead fishing now requires covering more water and locating fish based on planting locations.

Ideal water heights for the Clackamas range between 10 and 13 feet, favoring drift boats below 12 feet due to challenging gravel bars. Fishing with plugs and diver/bait combinations is effective, with specific colors like blue and green pirates or bright fluorescent shades combined with chrome. Top jig and fly colors include pink, either alone or with white or black, especially in lower water levels.

The Clackamas River, once known for its summer steelhead fishery, now relies on releases from Clackamas Fish Hatchery at McIver Park. Summer steelhead can be caught from April throughout the summer, with the peak fishing season ending when the river’s water levels drop to summer levels in mid to late June. These aggressive and beautiful fish respond well to various flies and lures. Fishing efforts concentrate around McIver Park, where cooler upriver water remains available.

In summary, the Clackamas River, despite its crowds and challenges, is a beautiful and accessible river close to the author’s heart, offering a diverse and rewarding fishing experience throughout the year.

Lakes & Reservoirs

Thief Valley Reservoir

Located on the Powder River north of Baker City and a few miles east of I-84, sprawling Thief Valley Reservoir offers good action for 14- to 20-inch rainbows. Its proximity to Baker City and La Grande assure moderate to heavy fishing pressure, but this reservoir never really seems crowded because boaters tend to disperse to the far corners. Ice-off usually occurs by early April and during years of good water supply the action lasts through early July. Fly anglers who wait until October often enjoy the best action of the year.

Chironomid hatches occur during the spring and early summer, although you can’t count on a good hatch every day. Callibaetis mayflies appear in limited numbers by late April and water beetles become increasingly active and evident as spring progresses.

Most of the time, searching patterns and leech imitations produce plenty of fish. Among the most productive tactics is to employ a two-fly rig with a black leech or bugger as the lead fly, trailed by a No. 10 or 12 Zugbug or Prince Nymph. A mid-day wind often turns Thief Valley into a white-capped froth, but float tubers can still enjoy fast action on trolled flies.

To reach Thief Valley Reservoir, take Exit 285 off I-84 (the North Powder Exit). Turn east off the freeway and follow the main road through the little town of North Powder. About five miles from the freeway, turn right on Government Gulch Lane, then drive about two miles to a right turn across the railroad tracks. Cross the tracks and continue another three miles to the top of a high summit from which the reservoir is visible to the west. Follow the road down to the county park on Thief Valley’s east bank, where you will find ample float tube launches, lots of camping space and precious little shade.

Mulheur Reservoir

At full pool, Malheur Reservoir covers 1,400 acres. Yet it averages less than 20 feet in depth. During years of good water supply, planted rainbows reach 20 inches by their third season, feasting on a rich supply of all the typical still-water trout foods, including abundant Chironomids, scuds, snails and damsels. Malheur fishes best during April and May and again from late September through October.

Malheur abounds in perfect float tube water, offering lots of near-shore shallows where trout cruise morning and evening. During mid-day, trout feed in slightly deeper water, where extensive weed beds harbor abundant insects, scuds, leeches and snails. An improved boat ramp is located near the dam, but no other amenities are available. Unimproved campsites lie scattered about near the dam and the access roads.

Relatively remote, Malheur Reservoir lies north of Highway 26, about halfway between the communities of Brogan and Ironside. Willow Creek Road (gravel) reaches the reservoir from either town. Other routes lead in from the north and east from Interstate-84. Use caution during wet weather and early in the spring as the gravel/dirt roads near the reservoir often get sticky and slippery.

Mann Lake

Located below the awesome east face of the Steens Mountains, Mann Lake attracts anglers as much for its remote, rugged splendor as for its abundant 14- to 24-inch Lahontan Cutthroat. This hardy strain of cutthroat originates in Lake Lahontan, Nevada, which eons ago covered a huge chunk of what is now interior basin desert. They are supremely adapted to survive alkaline desert waters and without them, fisheries like Mann Lake or Washington’s Lake Lenore could not exist.

Anglers converge on Mann Lake as early as March and the spring fishing holds up through May. By October, the crowds have long since departed and the fishing often proves even better. Shallow throughout its 200-odd acres, Mann Lake features extensive weed-beds and easily wadeable shoreline margins. Most anglers forgo the float tube and instead simply wade the lake, casting blind or searching out visible targets along the banks. Sight-fishing opportunities abound during the early morning hours, before the ever-present wind kicks up.

Woolly buggers and leech patterns take lots of fish here, but Mann Lake’s trout often prefer smaller flies.See the specialty flies. The lake is thick with Chironomids, that hatch all spring, especially on calm mornings. Likewise, water beetles, scuds and damsels abound in impressive densities.

To reach Mann Lake, follow Hwy. 78 south from Burns, past the tiny villages of Crane and New Princeton. Eventually the highway ascends a winding pass through the south extent of the Steens Mountains.

After you descend the south end of the pass, watch for a signed right turn pointing the way to Fields and Denio. This wide, “gravel highway” leads some 25 miles to Mann Lake, on the right side of the road. Along the way you will pass several turbid lakes, but don’t mistake these for Mann, which is easily identified by the typical congregation of vehicles on any given spring weekend.

Save a pit toilet and boat ramp, Mann Lake offers no amenities. Bring your own shade, shelter and water and tie everything down. A stiff wind often howls through the basin and many a tent has ended its days airborne and rapidly disappearing down the valley. The nearest town is Fields, an hour to the south.

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