FAQs - Deschutes River
I am a little late in getting this report posted, and don't have a lot to add from my report one week ago. The trout fishing is steadily good and they are eating the usual stuff - caddis, lots of different nymphs, grasshopper patterns, caddis pupa, and aquatic moths.
Steelhead fishing remains challenging - they are pretty few and far between, so if you hook one count yourself lucky!
The rest of this report is going to answer some of the Frequently Asked Questions that we field every day on the telephone. Eventually, I am going to dress up this information in some format and put it on our website as a page to which people can refer.
FAQ's for visiting anglers:
I am planning to come to the Deschutes to fish for the first time, what do I need to know?
The Deschutes River is nearly 300 miles long and is divided into distinct sections. There is a section called the upper Deschutes that basically runs from the headwaters south of Bend to Bend. The middle Deschutes is a section that runs from (roughly) Bend to Lake Billy Chinook near Madras.
The upper and middle sections of the Deschutes are somewhat popular for fishing, but they are NOT the world-famous blue-ribbon waters where most of the fly fishing guided trips take place. The Lower Deschutes is the lower 100 miles of the river that flows out of the Pelton Round Butte dam complex near Madras north to the Columbia River.
From here on out, the Deschutes River that I am writing about is the Lower Deschutes which flows from Madras to the confluence at the Columbia River.
Here are some strange facts about the Lower Deschutes:
The Deschutes flows from South to North right through the center of Oregon.
Fishing from any floating device is prohibited on the Lower Deschutes River. You must be standing in the river or on the river bank in order to fish. You cannot fish from a boat, even if it is parked.
Any time you put a floating device (boat, raft, innertube, SUP, kayak, float tube, pontoon boat, etc.) in the water, you are required to purchase a Deschutes River Boater Pass from a website called recreation.gov. Even if you want to row your pontoon boat across the river, you must have a valid boater pass.
Here are some fun facts about the fish in the Deschutes:
The Rainbow trout in the Deschutes River are native Redband trout - they are not stocked in this river, they reproduce naturally.
Current regulations allow anglers to keep 2 trout in a slot limit 10"-13". Despite the rule that allows selective harvest of native rainbows in the Deschutes, the vast majority of anglers (99%) practice catch and release angling. One reason is that the majority of rainbows have developed a parasite called black spot disease - consisting of raised black bumps all over the belly.
The only other trout that we have in the Lower Deschutes is a native species of Bull Trout, which is in the char family. Bull Trout are a threatened and protected species and cannot be harvested.
In addition to trout, the Deschutes has whitefish, large-scale suckers (yellow bellies), sculpin, lamprey, northern pikeminnow, steelhead, and salmon.
The Deschutes is connected to the Ocean via the Columbia River. Many species of anadromous fish swim from the Deschutes to the Pacific Ocean and back to the Deschutes in order to spawn.
Steelhead in the Deschutes are Summer-run Steelhead. The first migrants begin swimming into the river in July and the main bulk of the steelhead run comes into the Deschutes in September and October.
The Deschutes does not have a winter run of steelhead. Any steelhead hooked in the Deschutes in February or March is an old dark summer-run fish trying to survive long enough to spawn. Ethical anglers do not target steelhead as they are beginning to spawn in the late winter/early spring.
After they spawn in the spring, steelhead migrate back out to the ocean and may return to the Deschutes the following year.
Salmon in the Deschutes spawn and die. We have Spring and Fall Chinook, Coho, and Sockeye salmon that migrate up the Deschutes to spawn. Though they are rarely targeted by fly anglers, we sometimes hook salmon as we swing flies in pursuit of steelhead.Salmon seasons and openings change yearly.
Planning your trip to the Deschutes:
There are campgrounds all along the Deschutes River, some of which are accessible only by boat and others which you can drive to.
Drive-in Campsites are offered on a first-come, first-served basis. When you arrive, you fill out a little paper form, put your cash or check in an envelope, and drop it in the lockbox at the registration site. The tag from the registration envelope should be clipped to the post at your campsite. The BLM rangers check campsites.
You cannot make a reservation at any of the campsites along the Deschutes except for the Maupin City Park. The City Park has grassy tent sites and RV sites with full hookups, bathrooms, showers, etc. The City Park is located smack dab on the Deschutes River in a shady oasis.
For a full listing of all campsites, go to the Prineville District BLM website and download their maps. We sell the Deschutes River Boater Guide which is a booklet of bound waterproof map pages showing all campsites, rapids, and other points of interest along the 100 miles of the Lower Deschutes River.
Even though the BLM land is public land, along the access road on the Deschutes you are not allowed to pull over to camp anywhere. You must camp in a designated campsite and you must pay the campsite fee.
The only town located on the Deschutes River is Maupin. Maupin has a population of around 400 full-time residents, but Maupin is Hoppin' in the summertime with visitors from around the world who come to raft or fish its waters. Maupin has a few restaurants, bars, markets, hotels, and shops where you can prep for your river adventures.
Maupin offers the very best access to the Deschutes with small roads running parallel to the river going both upriver and downriver from town. Using Maupin as the hub, you can drive upriver about 7 miles on a paved then gravel road. This road will bring you to a locked gate that prevents you from driving any further.
Driving downriver from Maupin, you can drive next to the river for 28 miles on a paved access road that turns into gravel as you drive north. The 19 mile-long gravel road reaches its dead end at Mack's Canyon. This is a popular spot to launch boats for overnight trips in the final 24 miles of the Deschutes.
The gravel road that leads to Mack's Canyon is typically very washboarded and the gravel is extremely sharp. It is not uncommon to get flat tires on this road, to break trailer axels, to rattle wooden driftboats into buckets of bolts, and to lose tires. Flat tires are so common on this road that we carry floor jacks and extra spare tires in the back of our trucks. Tow trucks from Maupin are hesitant to go down this gravel road because of the damage it causes - so you may get stranded down there with multiple flats IF you drive over 20 mph on that road.
What's the deal with the Locked Gate?
This gate blocks people from driving up the road, unless you have a key to the gate, which means that you are a member of the Deschutes Club, or you own a home on one of the private pieces of property above the locked gate. (Don't bother trying to get into this club - you won't be able to unless you got yourself a spot on the waiting list in 1960).
The Locked Gate is a spot that a lot of fly shops in Portland will send people - mainly because it is easy to find. It can be VERY busy in the small stretch above the gate, but you will have it all to yourself on some days.
You may walk above this gate and fish the river for about 2.5-3 miles before coming to a house which is occupied by the Deschutes Club gate keeper. If you choose to hike past this point, you must check in with the gatekeeper. If you walk beyond the gatekeeper's house you must stay on the road until you reach a small piece of public land in about one mile. Where the campsites are located, you will be able to fish, but there may be lots of anglers there before you who have floated in. Above this point you cannot walk.
You are not allowed to ride bikes or use any wheeled device on the road above the locked gate. You are also not allowed to launch boats at the locked gate (or any where else where they have posted a NO BOAT LAUNCHING sign).
If you bring a boat to the Deschutes you need to know what you are getting into. There are sections of the river that are fairly calm and easy to row, but nothing that you can take for granted. Drift boats and rafts flip and sink in the Deschutes every year and many people have drowned on this river. If you bring a boat to the river, you need to understand the limits of your capabilities in the face of this very powerful river.
There are two very popular overnight float trip sections: Trout Creek to Harpham Flat and Mack's Canyon to Heritage Landing. For either of these sections of river, you need to be a skilled rower in a drift boat. You will face large hydraulics, boat-flipping boulders, and swirling currents. If you take a raft, which is a bit more forgiving, you might be able to bounce off a few rocks, but rafts flip all the time on this river.
If you are looking for an easier stretch to float, Warm Springs to Trout Creek is a good one. Nena Creek to Harpham or Wapinita is pretty easy but short. Lone Pine to Mack's Canyon is also fairly straightforward. Every other float has class 3 rapids to navigate.
Boat-in campsites require that you carry an approved toilet system and have it set up within 15 minutes of arriving at your campsite. You are not allowed to camp on any islands anywhere on the Deschutes. Campfires are strictly prohibited June 1-October 15 as are charcoal BBQs, and smoking (in the water or in a boat or in your car). Pack all your garbage in and pack it all out.
The logistics of the Deschutes can be a bit mindboggling! I am hoping to get this posted as a page on our webpage that can be a good reference to travelling anglers. I will keep adding to it and sculpting it to make it easy to read and understand.
Have a great weekend!