Steelhead on the Brain
Well, I realize that I have been less than consistent on delivering up a fishing report to the community of Deschutes anglers, and I apologize for my absence. We have a lot going on in the shop while rebuilding our point of sale system, so my focus has been there rather than on the river. I do have some fabulous sources of river information, however, since many of the Deschutes guides stop in for visits and to resupply on Maxima and flies. I also have John out on the water guiding every day, so he lets me know what water conditions and fishing has been like.
I did sneak out of the office for one day about a week and a half ago and joined John and a client on a float. They let me fish in the first spot of the day, which was very nice of them. I had a little 12 foot 5 weight Anderson Mykiss Spey rod with a Scandi head, a floating leader, and a very special fly that I have been fishing for the past two years. The fly is called the Addison. It is tied on a bronze Alec Jackson hook with a golden pheasant crest (yellow) tail, a claret body, a wide rib of gold mylar tinsel, a black neck hackle as a collar, and a white polar bear wing with a hint of flash over the top.
The fly is special to me because it was created by and loved by Andrew Dutterer, who used to be our shop manager here at Deschutes Angler. Andrew went on to get a graduate degree at the U of O, served as the director of Deschutes River Alliance, went on to work for OWEB (Oregon Water Enhancement Board), and married a beautiful lady named Caitlin. Andrew and Caitlin were living in Salem where they had purchased a beautiful house and had started a family. Their little boy, Henry, is a chip off the old block.
Tragedy struck on September 25, 2021 when the family was rear-ended by a Semi truck during a slow down on I-5 just north of Salem. Caitlin and Henry miraculously survived the crash, but our beloved Andrew was killed on impact. It was as if a bomb went off in our little Deschutes world - a senseless, stupid, unfair, blast that stole from us and from the world one of the finest humans I have ever known. It has taken me almost two years to include this information in my fishing report because the pain of this loss is still excruciating.
Many long-time customers of Deschutes Angler will remember Andrew. He was quick-witted, always remembered everyone's name, and loved the life he was living. Andrew was a true-blue friend, one of the top three smartest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, and a phenomenal husband to Caitlin, father to Henry, son, brother, and friend to many. I just couldn't sit down to write this report today on this week (the week between his birthday and the date of the accident) without shining a light on Andrew "Dutt" Dutterer. Sure do miss him every day. Here is a photo of Andrew and his beautiful wife, Caitlin, and little Henry.
Back to Dutt's fly, the Addison. The Chicago Cubs were a huge part of Dutt's life - the games played all summer on the internet radio in the back office of the shop. He was never without his faded light blue Cubbies hat, and he kept in close touch with all things Cubs - fiercely loyal to his hometown team. He made the pilgrimage to Wrigley Field in Chicago right before he created that fly, and I imagine the lightbulb going off in his brain when he looked up at the green street signs signaling the cross streets of Clark and (you guessed it!)......Addison.
We had a fly company tie up dozens and dozens of Addison flies for our steelhead fly bins, so they are here for you to try, and let me tell you, this fly works. I was 6 or 7 casts into that first run of the day last week when I felt the Addison on the end of my floating leader suddenly get heavy. I fed a loop of slack line into the dark water and turned to John and said "There's one." just as the line started to scream off my Hardy Bougle reel. It was a wonderful feeling to once again be waist deep in the cool morning pre-dawn darkness with a heavy fish on the end of the line. She was a beauty. The fiesty little eight pounder bent my baby Spey rod to the max, and I sure was glad to have John on hand to scoop that steelhead into the net after a 5 or 6 minute fight. Yep, it took too long to land that fish, in my opinion. She wasn't harmed at all, but I couldn't land it as quickly as I would have liked (I try to stick to the 30 seconds per pound rule) due to that fairly wimpy Spey rod.
More and more, the anglers coming out to try their hand at steelhead fishing on the Deschutes seem to be freshly converted from trout. Many come into the shop to discuss flies and such and they tell me that they have a five weight or two weight Euro rod for trout fishing and that they brought a single-handed six weight to try for steelhead. In my opinion, a six weight single-handed rod is a bit light to serve as your full-time steelhead rod. Yes, you can land most steelhead on a rod this light because the average Deschutes steelhead is 7-9 pounds. However, there are plenty of bigger steelhead that spawn in the mainstem of the Deschutes and that stray into the Deschutes, and there is always a possibility of hooking into a 15 or even 20 pound steelhead. That would likely be a dead steelhead if hooked on a six weight single-handed rod. You need a rod with better fighting power.
Now, I know what a lot of you are thinking - "Amy, you say a six weight is too light, yet YOU were fishing with a five weight Spey - what gives?"
There is a lot of confusion around Spey rod line ratings because the Spey rod manufacturers used the line weight designations like 6-weight, 7-weight, 8-weight when labeling their rods. Ironically, AFFTA never did set standards for Spey rods like they did for single-handed rods, so comparing 6-weight single-handers to 6-weight Spey rods is truly an apple to orange comparison.
To properly load a 6-weight single hander, I use a 6-weight fly line which weighs 160 grains in the 30 foot head. To properly load a 6-weight Spey rod, that head weight must be 380 to 450 grains depending on whether you are using a Scandi or a Skagit-style line. That is roughly two and a half times as much weight needed to load (bend) the 6-weight Spey - which shows how much stronger, stiffer, and more powerful the Spey is in comparison to the single-hander.
My 5-weight Spey needs 360 grains to load it - which is what you need to load an 11-weight tarpon rod. Spey rods have great fighting power as long as you are willing to get a good bend in the rod and get it parallel to the water rather than straight above your head while fighting a steelhead. Like all fly rods, Spey rods have great pulling power but very poor lifting power. When you are fishing with a buddy and he/she hooks up, it is an honorable thing to reel up your stuff in order to help your buddy land the steelhead. When possible, avoid dragging the fish into the rocks or up into the grass. Keeping a steelhead in 2-3 feet of water while landing it will keep the fish calmer and will also prevent the fish from sustaining brain damage from thrashing around on the rocks.
Okay, if you are still with me, well done. On to the nitty gritty of the actual fishing report. I planned to drive down to look at the White River this morning before writing the report, but the fog was so thick this morning that I would not have been able to see across the river, or even see much of anything as I drove down river. It is cool and foggy and still here this morning – another great day for fishing. I have a feeling that the fog will be burning off soon, because the sun is out there, just above the fog bank waiting to heat things up.
The White River hasn’t been too bad this year. There have been a couple of afternoon blow outs, but things came back into shape fairly quickly. Yeah, the White itself has been muddy as heck for nearly a month or maybe longer, but it has not had the volume to blow out the whole lower Deschutes except for a couple of short-lived instances. Looking at the White River Flow on the USGS graph, the flow is still pretty steady despite a little bit of rain up on the mountain yesterday and last night. Nobody has yet come into the shop today to complain about the river being muddy, so that is a good sign. My guess is that it looks exactly like this. The White is muddy but pulled back into a point and just a little color is making its way into the Deschutes.
How about those steelhead? Earlier in this fishing report I made it sound like they are everywhere and that it takes very little effort to hook one. This is not the case. Most anglers are working 2-3 days to hook one steelhead. They are not abundant, but the fish we are seeing are healthy and strong. We are also hooking the odd salmon. We continue to fish mainly with floating lines and floating leaders using small traditional hair wing patterns. If it is very sunny in the mid-day, you may want to put on a sink tip at the end of a Skagit line in order to get your hair wing fly or muddler minnow down.
Trout fishing remains very good and the bug hatches are coming on strong as the weather cools. We have zillions of midge, healthy populations of small caddis, the beginning of the October caddis hatch has started, and the cloudy fall days are bringing out the blue winged olives and other mayflies. Most people who are trout fishing are fishing dries in the mornings and evenings (particularly on sunny days) and either nymphing or trout Spey fishing during the mid-day. We have the flies for all the different ways that you might wish to target the trout, so stop in and let us help you put some ammo in your fly box.
That pretty well covers it. Tight lines to you all! Keep the faith, steelheaders, the next big grab is just a few casts away.
All the best,
Amy Hazel and the crew at Deschutes Angler Fly Shop