Cruising into February
Well, here we are in February already! The days are getting noticeably longer and the weather seems to have turned almost spring-like. I don't want to jinx this nice trend but we are loving the extra hours of daylight.
In the last two weeks we have been through the wringer with cold and nasty weather, but things have progressively gotten warmer and nicer and the conditions today are great for fishing. I would guess that a good blue winged olive hatch is about an hour or so away and, given the calm weather and overcast conditions, this might be the day that the BWO hatch lasts a few hours. Despite the horrible weather of the past couple weeks, anglers have still been able to hook plenty of trout. I guess it just goes to show you that you should go fishing every chance you get no matter the weather. There is a quote, which I am surely going to butcher, that goes something like…. "easy fishing never did make a good angler” which is really saying that you will never become a good angler until you can catch fish under difficult conditions OR you will never reach your full potential as an angler until you are able to fool the pickiest and most challenging of fish.
“The Deschutes is a really easy river to fish and the trout that live there will eat just about anything you throw at them.” Yeah, right. Nobody ever said this. Let’s face it, the Deschutes is a great river because of the challenges it throws at us. It is tricky to wade, the current is powerful and the rocks are as slippery as snot; the trout are selective, sometime maddeningly so, and the big boys have no problem wrapping you around a rock or a log seconds before snapping your line; and let’s not forget one other thing that makes the Deschutes so challenging – you are not allowed to fish from a boat or any floating device. It is a weird rule for sure, but one that protects a lot of trout and gives them sanctuary water where they can live most of their lives without getting harassed by anglers.
Winter fishing pressure is light - only the hardy few come out to brave the elements. If you are used to summer fishing only on the Deschutes, you are likely to be surprised by the waters that hold fish in the winter. Before you tromp through the shallows to get yourself into position to cast your fly into what you know as the “bucket” (the place where you are likely to hook the biggest and best fish) you might back up a bit and concentrate on fishing the water that is knee deep or slightly less. Large trout will rest and feed in this softer shallower water.
We are looking forward to seeing the first Skwalas start to crawl around on the banks. Knowing that they hatch out in March, the nymphs get more and more active through the month of February - so keep the faith in those stonefly nymphs. If you love dry-dropper fishing, then the Hi-Vis Skinny Chubby Skwala, or Burkus' Sedgeback Skwala, are good choices as the dry fly on the surface, under which you will dangle a tungsten bead head nymph with a bead head of 3.3mm or smaller.
Nymphing would be my go-to method right now. Euro nymph if you have the gear to do so. If you don't, indicator nymphing will be productive too. The really fast flowing riffles are going to hold fewer trout than the deeper, slower, rocky water. Fish the water closest to the bank before splashing through it - you might be surprised to find how different the big trout holding water is in the winter than it is in the summer.
The water is chilly out here in the winter time, and this can be quite dangerous if you happen to slip and fall in. To give yourself a better chance of not falling in, consider carrying a wading staff on your wading belt. I don’t advocate using a wading staff 100% of the time, simply because I have seen some very capable wading anglers get a little too dependent on the staff to the point where it impedes their ability to move downstream or upstream at a pace conducive to covering the water most efficiently. However, having a staff on your belt that you can pull out and pop together when the wading gets slippery, deep, and dicey - well, that is just like a mini insurance policy. Three points of contact are far more stable than two, so get yourself a staff and take your wade fishing to the next level. We currently carry two staffs from Simms - the Simms Guide Wading Staff is built in Austria and redesigned for functionality and durability. The Simms Wading Staff is a little less expensive and has a long handle which allows you to hold it high or low depending on the depth you are probing and how tall you are. Both staffs are collapsible and fit into a hard nylon sheath that can be attached to any wading belt. If you are searching for the perfect birthday gift for a beloved angler in your life, this is not only a safety device, but it is also a rather cool piece of equipment that comes in very handy for waders of all skill levels.
Enduring leaky waders? Why suffer through the winter? We have patch kits available to fix even the most catastrophic rips and holes as well as for the tiny pin hole leaks. Pick up a Simms Field Repair Kit to carry with you at all times. The glue is Aquaseal UV activated glue, which will cure instantly under full sun and will still manage to cure on a cloudy day - unless it is really dark and rainy - which means you are already all wet, so what's the big deal about your legs and feet being wet also?
I know that my fishing reports have been less regular than in the past 20 years of writing them. It's not that I don't still enjoy writing weekly reports after having written over 1000 of them, but I sometimes get a little burnt out on it in the wintertime when the hatches are few and far between and the main gig is nymph fishing. Don't get me wrong, I love a good winter session of dredging, but it is not anywhere near as fun for me as targeting trout with dry flies. So, the fishing report,in the dead of winter, when we are lucky to cast dries for very small windows (BWO dries, need overcast or rainy days, might only last ten minutes) requires a little inspiration once in a while.
A few weeks ago, that inspiration came in the form of a phone call. John answered the phone and I heard him chat for just about ten seconds with the person before saying, "Sure, she is right here and you can talk with her and tell her that yourself..." as he handed me the phone. The voice on the other end of the line belonged to a fellow named Andy. His voice was a little shaky as he started gushing about how happy he was to actually be talking to the Amy who writes the fishing reports that he loves so. Andy told me that he had fished the Deschutes for decades and had been reading my fishing reports since they began in 2003 and that they have been a huge resource for him and his fishing friends. With a bit of a tremble in his voice he told me that his days of fishing the Deschutes were pretty much over. It is not a friendly river for older people, and he didn't think his current state of health would allow him another day of wading the slippery rocks or climbing up and down the banks of his beloved river. This broke my heart. My heart broke for Andy, of course, but it also ached for all those anglers I have known who are no longer able to make their annual pilgrimages to the Deschutes. Aging isn't something you really think or care about until suddenly it starts to take away some of the people you love and the things you love to do.
It really touched me that Andy would reach out to thank me for the reports that I had posted over the many years. In fact, it inspired me to be a little bit better about getting these reports out every single Friday morning, and then I missed last Friday morning's post! In year's past, I had other people working in the fly shop helping me hold down the fort. I often wrote the report at home while someone else opened the fly shop, but I no longer have that luxury. I get pulled in a lot of directions once I turn on the open sign, and getting interrupted while writing makes it very challenging for me to continue with the train of thought that helps the paragraphs flow.
Andy, I found a little window of quiet time this morning to sit and finish this report. This one's for you. I hope that you are able to get out here one more time, even if it means that you will fish the easier spots to access. Your love for the Deschutes River runs deep in your veins, and the river has obviously given you much more than just great fishing trips. The Deschutes holds for so many people the memories of laughs and adventures with friends, of building family bonds on the river's edge, of discovering secret trout holding water and fooling that big redside, of witnessing the first rays of sun kissing the amber hillsides as your steelhead fly searches for a grab, of falling asleep under the desert sky surrounded by millions of stars, and of falling in love with this river and the creatures that call this place home.
Roderick Haig-Brown, a brilliant fly angler who put words to paper like none other, has inspired me throughout the last 25 years. From his book, A River Never Sleeps, comes this piece of wisdom:
“I have written in this book nearly always of rivers -- occasionally of lakes or the salt water, but nearly always of rivers and river fishing. A river is water in its loveliest form; rivers have life and sound and movement and infinity of variation, rivers are veins of the earth through which the life blood returns to the heart….One may love a river as soon as one sets eyes upon it; it may have certain features that fit instantly with one’s conception of beauty, or it may recall the qualities of some other river, well known and deeply loved. One may feel in the same way an instant affinity for a man or a woman and know that here is pleasure and warmth and the foundation of deep friendship.”
I am thankful for the many friendships that my time on the Deschutes has helped to forge. Without this river, I don't know where my life might have taken me. I'm so thankful that I chose to make my home, my career, and my life on the banks of the Deschutes. Thanks for reading!