The Dog Days of Summer
Don't you just love that first sip of coffee in the morning? Well, guess who else loves to do a little sipping in the morning? You guessed it, the trout. Get yourself on the water at the crack of dawn and you will see trout casually sipping dead caddis out of the foam lines. There's no hurry, no worry, the insects are dead and, therefore, not going anywhere. The trout can take their time and selectively eat only the one particular species of their choosing. Behind one tree the trout might be eating tan-bodied caddis, and the next pod of trout might be keyed into olive-bodies caddis. The keys to success in the dog days of summer are this: get on the water early, have small caddis patterns in size 18 and 20 in a variety of colors, and look for areas on the river with foam and a lot of oxygenated water. The foam lines are indicators of how the current is flowing. Think of them as conveyor belts of food - like the sushi restaurant of the river.
Overhanging trees provide shade to the trout, slightly cooler water, and a protective cover from the diving birds such as ospreys and kingfishers. Shade is key to extending your dry fly fishing into the heat of the day. Inevitably, you will find that the dry fly action will peter out as the heat intensifies and that your more productive fishing will be in the deep and oxygenated waters. Euro nymphs are great for getting down quickly because their tungsten bead heads are four times heavier than a brass bead of the same size.
Let's talk now about steelhead. STEELHEAD FISHING IS STILL CLOSED. I put that in bold lettering because we have seen people out on the water casting seven weight Spey rods in obvious steelhead water. Not cool. Steelhead fishing has been closed since last September and does not open until the 15th of August.
We only got to the August opening by reaching our goal in July of getting over 9900 wild fish over Bonneville dam. That means that the Deschutes River will open to steelhead fishing on August 15th and will remain open until September 15. We finished July with 15,464 wild steelhead counted. We need to reach the goal number of 23,100 wild steelhead by the end of August. After the fish counted yesterday, we were at 18,182. We should be able to reach our goal, however, the counts are tapering down due to the super warm water in the Columbia River. Warm water causes anadromous fish to hunker down deep, looking for places to rest. They stay in the cooler and deeper water just to survive and wait for the water to cool before resuming their migration. This is called a thermal block. We are seeing this happen now. Numbers have gone from the 600s to 500s to 400s to Saturday's low count of 281. Fortunately, Sunday bumped back into the low 300's. If we can maintain a daily count of just over 200 wild steelhead per day until the end of August, we will have a season that will be open all year long. Here is what the tally board in our back office looks like: (July final count)
The August count thus far looks like this:
So, we are all excited for the guaranteed part of the season that we have and hopeful that it will extend into October.
For the many of you who have taken up fly fishing in the last few years as the perfect social distancing activity, steelhead fishing may be a whole new world to you. If you are currently using a five weight fly rod, you will need to think about getting a beefier rod (7 or 8 weight - or a 6-7 weight Spey rod). It is harmful to steelhead to play them on trout rods because you just don't have the power in the rod to play and land 10 pound steelhead without exhausting them to near death. Of course, not every steelhead is a 10 pounder, there are plenty that are smaller. However, you have the potential to hook something larger than 10 pounds every time you swing for steelhead - so it is your responsibility as an angler to fish with gear that is appropriately sized for your quarry.
This is no fish for a 5 weight!
Steelhead anglers are going to seem like a rather prickly bunch - think of the angler on the river's edge as a hornet's nest. You don't want to poke the hornet's nest. Give your fellow steelhead anglers a lot of space. This means a hundred to two hundred yards of space. If you see someone in the spot that you were hoping to fish, and they got there first, you need to move on and find a different spot (even if the spot they are in is a couple hundred yards long). UNLESS - here is the one scenario where I believe it is okay to encroach on a spot......
The Deschutes River access road which parallels the river both north and south of Maupin does NOT allow camping outside of designated campsites. Yes, the land is managed by the BLM but DISPERSED CAMPING ALONG THE RIVER ROAD IS PROHIBITED. It doesn't matter that you have a Sprinter Van, or a camper van, or a rooftop tent. Overnight occupancy must occur in campgrounds only. There are signs posted up and down the road that make that quite clear.
If I drive to a steelhead spot in the wee morning hours after I paid for a campsite and slept in that campsite, and I find a vehicle parked on one of my favorite steelhead runs I pull up next to them to see if they are hanging out, drinking coffee, and waiting for first light. If they are ready to fish, they have earned that spot fair and square. IF, however, I see that the person is asleep on a sleeping pad in their vehicle or stretched out on a cot on the side of the road - then THAT spot on THAT morning is fair game. I have my waders on, my rod strung up, and I am walking down the bank to fish that spot. The illegal camper has no say. Camping illegally on a spot does not reserve the water for you the next morning. That is the one scenario where I will encroach.
Be warned, if you are new to steelhead fishing, that some people get very territorial about "their" spots. You will see people with chairs set up on the river's edge waiting for the sun to go behind the hills. They are waiting on their spot. I have seen some waiting with a handgun visible on the tailgate. They mean business. Just follow the rule of thumb that the river is huge and there are always going to be spots that are open - there is no need to crowd in on another person who has gotten to the spot before you. Look around before you step into the river - you do not want to be a dreaded LOW HOLER.