Well, we had an 80 degree day a week ago Wednesday and things started to pop! Stonefly/Salmonfly adults were crawling out of their shucks, a few took to the wing, and trout began to realize that the game was about to start....and then the cold rain came rolling in. Last weekend was super windy, rainy, and cold. This weekend looks to be much more promising, with temperatures just approaching what we need to get the big bugs on the wing.
The extended weather forecast is for continuing cool temps and cloudy/rainy skies. Not to worry, the cloud cover is a good thing - the mayflies have been popping off in good numbers. We have been seeing a mix of Pale Morning Duns (small with pale yellow undersides) as well as Pale Evening Duns (large with pale yellow undersides). It is a good idea to have some of each of those patterns in your fly boxes because the trout will forget about all other bugs when mayflies are on the water. The mack daddy of all mayflies on the Deschutes is the Green Drake - which typically comes later in May or early in June if all conditions are ripe.
Any time we get a calm, warm, and overcast day on the Deschutes in the course of the next 6 weeks - you are going to have stellar fishing. I am not saying that you should forego a visit to the Deschutes if the forecast isn't ideal - you need to take every opportunity you can to get on the water. You can catch trout in any type of weather, it just happens that the bugs pop better and the fish are happier and less wary on the perfect overcast, warm, calm day.
The numbers of stoneflies in the grass along the river's edge are impressive. You won't necessarily see them just driving along the river road - they are not moving around too much in this chilly weather. If you are down on the water, however, you will encounter hoards of them in certain areas. The stoneflies prefer certain habitats - particularly the rushes of thick grass right on the river's edge, and the bark, branches, and leaves of the alder trees that grow closest to the water. You should be looking for these habitats if you want to find the trout.
You need to have a checklist in your mind when seeking good trout water on the Deschutes. Once you have this checklist and you follow it every time you hit the water, your success rate will climb. This is my checklist:
1. Is the water deep (at least 3-4 feet) with a rocky bottom?
2. Is the approach to this water a steep bank?
3. Is the water moving at a pretty good clip with foam lines, current surges, and upwellings?
4. Are there overhanging trees along the bank or are the banks lined with other vegetation like heavy grass clumps?
5. Is it difficult or nearly impossible to stand or wade and you have to be really careful with your cast due to the jungle of vegetation surrounding you?
6. Does the bend of the river generally push all of the water into or against the bank where you are standing (outside bend of the river)?
If my answer to all of these questions is a resounding YES, then I am most likely in the best type of water for the salmonfly hatch.
I drove up the river road last night after we closed the shop. I saw clouds of caddis swarming above the blackberry bushes. The angling pressure was moderate, but more and more anglers were arriving and racing to the campgrounds to get their spot. Some anglers were fishing productive water with most of the answers above getting a YES. There were two guys, however, who had gotten sucked in by a piece of water that was a gentle walk from the road to the river. There is a pullout at this piece of water and the wading is super easy because there is a large hard-packed sand flat that juts out 40 feet into the river. We call the place "Doggy Beach" because it is an easy place to take your dog for a swim or teach a puppy how to swim. The current isn't strong over the doggy beach because the river is running straight and the food delivery is hitting the opposite bank. This makes it a safe place to take your dog for a swim and a pretty terrible place to try to hook a trout. Trout do not lay in shin deep water over hard-packed sand bars. Needless to say, the old guys flung their flies around out there on the sandbar and they were seldom in danger of hooking any trout.
When it comes to your development as a fly angler, there is no substitute for time spent on the water. You can watch YouTube videos, and scour GoogleEarth until your eyeballs bleed. You can read all the classic angling books and take gobs of information in over the counter at the local fly shop, and these things will all benefit you to an extent as an angler, but time on the water is your number one teaching tool.
If you are fortunate enough to spend that time on the water with a capable guide at your side, your fly fishing development will come along in leaps and bounds. Even without a guide, if you are hyper-aware of your surroundings, you make note of habitat, and weather, and stay super tuned in to the water in search of the subtle riser, you will come a long way as an angler.
The other evening, minutes before closing time, a guy came into the shop and asked if we do walk and wade trips. We do not. He proceeded to tell me that he was making a website that will show all the good spots on a bunch of different rivers. What he was planning to do is to hire guides on all of these rivers and use his GPS or phone or whatever to pinpoint all the locations that the guides show him. He was pretty excited about this idea. I was utterly disgusted. I said something along the lines of, "So, you are going to hire a guide for one day, try to pump as much information out of the guide - getting all the best spots along the river (spots that likely took that guide years and years of blood sweat and tears to discover), and you are going to post those sites on YOUR website to share with the world for free?:" This is where he perked up and said, "Not for free, they will have to pay for the information." I'll admit, I got a little hot under the collar thinking about this guy visiting a river one or two times, having no relationship to the river or any loyalty to the guides that he is hiring, and then profiting through his website off the sweat of a handful of guides that he hired.
As I lay my head on the pillow that night and really thought about this idea of his - I began to chuckle to myself. This guy knows so little about fly fishing that he thinks that one particular spot is going to be good all the time. Newsflash - the productivity of any one fishing spot is going to change tremendously throughout the year based on water flows, weather, hatches, and a million other variables. A spot that I race to during the salmonfly hatch may not be a productive spot for the rest of the year. I was also thinking about how much money this dude was going to have to spend hiring guides across the west in order to get all his little GPS coordinates marked.
I guess what I am rambling on about is that fly fishing is not a sport of instant gratification. To become a well-developed and knowledgeable fly angler, you need to use many resources such as books, the web, fellow anglers, guides, and the local knowledge of a destination fly shop. Even with all of those resources, it is the hours, and days, and weeks, and months, and years spent on the water in wind, rain, sleet, snow, and scorching summer days that will make you a good fly angler.
The great thing about fly fishing is that you can have a lot of fun on the water no matter your skill level. You can see amazing things on the water, you can hone your fly casting, and you may even hook a few trout while getting your feet wet.