The HOT weather is in the rearview!
Good news for anglers, the super HOT weather that has been hanging over us for has blown out of here. Over the past week or so in Maupin, we have high overcast cloud/smoke cover with some windy days and other days perfectly calm. Any day we have smoke cover (or cloud cover), the fish are way happier and much more relaxed when the sun isn't beating down on them, in large part because they are more invisible to birds of prey.
Bruce Berry, an industry rep for Montana Fly Company, Hatch Reels, Beulah Rods, and Pro Tube Fly materials, was in Maupin last weekend with a budding enthusiast angler named Ryan. Ryan is quite the mountain biker, but was trying his hand at trout fishing for the first time and he did quite well. Bruce reported that he and Ryan hooked trout on the Fin Fetcher Caddis, the Double Stack Chubby, the Napoleon nymph, and the PCP nymph. The photos in this week's report are from Bruce - thanks, buddy! Way to go, Ryan!
Cloud cover is also great for steelhead anglers who are always chasing the shadows to give themselves the best opportunities for hook-ups. Steelhead are generally moving and biting better in low light situations, so the bright sun that we have on the Deschutes can stop steelhead from moving and or grabbing flies when it is at its peak brightness and intensity.
A lot of people will say, "Sun isn't a big deal. I catch steelhead in the sun all the time." Sure, I also catch a lot of steelhead with the sun on the water too, but the important thing is that the sun is not shining directly in the eyes of the steelhead. The winding nature of the Deschutes, combined with deep canyon walls, allows anglers to keep swinging in shaded water until nearly 11:00 AM on most days. If you can't find shade, you should be able to find water that has sun shining on the backs of the fish. If you are fishing a run and looking downstream and the sun is in YOUR eyes, then you can be sure that the sun is not blinding the steelhead as they are pointed upstream at all times. If you are looking downstream and into the sun, then you are good to go.
Because the Deschutes River flows north, the sun becomes a bit more of an issue than on other non-northward-flowing rivers. We all know that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, but it travels from east to west by passing through the south and, thus, there is a four to six hour chunk of time when the sun will be shining directly in the eyes of the south-facing (swimming upstream) steelhead. This is a tough time to get steelhead to grab a fly, from noon to four or five, and thus is the time that many steelhead anglers have lunch and take a rest on the water's edge waiting for the light to become optimal again.
The manner of hooking steelhead on the Deschutes has not changed for decades. Most fly anglers use a two-handed, or Spey, rod to cast their flies out over the broad runs and riffles in order to swing their fly through the waters of the Deschutes. The Spey rod, pioneered in North America by our own John Hazel, was brought to the Deschutes as the perfect tool for this river without flood plains. The Spey rod allows anglers to cast a long line without need for a backcast.
The lines that we use on the Deschutes for the greatest success are floating Scandi-style lines and floating leaders. The flies are generally small hair-wing patterns, tied in sizes 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 (odd sized hooks are Alec Jackson hooks) and fished in the surface film. The flies do not have to be fished deep in order to hook steelhead, these summer fish are willing to move quite a ways to grab flies in the surface film or even on the surface. When I get a big boil on a near-surface fly, I usually change to a smaller and duller fly pattern in order to get the steelhead to come back. I have watched hundreds of steelhead swim up to and inspect or follow a size 5 fly only to drop away without grabbing it. Because I was observing every cast of my client, I was able to stop the client from progressing down the run, was able to change the fly to something smaller and with dull coloration, and was able to get that fish to grab the smaller swung fly with confidence.
Large intruder-style flies are really neato to tie and to have in your fly box, but we have found over 45 years of guiding the Deschutes that huge intruder-style patterns are typically not the most productive flies to fish day in and day out for summer steelhead on the Deschutes. These steelhead have been swimming in freshwater for over 100 miles. By the time you cast a fly to them in the Deschutes. they have not seen big squid or prawns or anything the size of an intruder fly in weeks or months. They are reverting to trout-like behavior and will be curiously sampling little things with their mouths as they make their way up river.
One year, when we were filming a television show on steelhead fishing, the camera guy started going crazy while filming John's near-surface fly because the ten-pound steelhead kept rising up near the fly (a size 5 hair wing pattern) in order to take a pluck at the knot on the leader. The knot was the size of a pin head, but that small little disturbance in the water was intriguing to the steelhead and he kept sucking at the knots swing after swing. Steelhead can see great distances in this water and they are willing to move 6-8-10 feet or more to grab a small fly or to inspect something about which they are curious.
Here is the good news....last week we hit the numbers of wild steelhead over Bonneville that we needed to hit in order for the Deschutes to stay open for the rest of the year. We expect things to get quite busy with the North Umpqua being closed for steelhead fishing. The John Day River "may" open for steelhead this year but there has not been a definitive yes or no as to whether that river will be open. ODFW has been getting a lot of pressure from anglers to open the John Day, but the numbers have to be there before that river will officially open for steelhead fishing.
I started writing this report on Thursday when there was a lot more smoke in the air and it was dead calm. The winds picked up last night and really started howling - which has cleared out quite a bit of the smoke and has dropped the temperatures from the mid-100s to the mid-80s. The high winds have the area on a red alert for fire danger, so be very careful while camping or even while driving around. Fires are absolutely NOT ALLOWED on the Deschutes nor is smoking unless you are standing in the water, sitting in a boat, or sitting in an enclosed vehicle.
Trout anglers, you will want to be fishing small aquatic moths and small caddis in the early mornings and evenings, and use a nymph rig or a hopper-dropper rig in the middle of the day. We are liking size 18 caddis and aquatic moth patterns. A little high-vis parachute post can be very helpful in locating your dry fly on the surface. The fin-fetcher caddis does a good job.
Okay, let's talk a little bit about the White River. This seems to be of great interest to steelhead anglers judging by the thousands of phone calls we get each steelhead season. I will start by saying this: we will always give you the most up-to-date information that we have on the White River, HOWEVER, that river can change at the drop of a hat for no apparent reason. Just last week the White River blew out one afternoon. There wasn't any rain on the mountain, the weather was hot, but there were no indications that this would happen and it came as quite a surprise to anglers on the afternoon that this happened. Now, when I say "blew out" I don't just mean to say that the White River itself turned the color of a Starbuck's Latte (that happens all the time) I am referring to the impact that the White River had on the Deschutes River. I don't care if the White River is muddy - it can be that way all the time from August through October, but I REALLY CARE when the volume of the dirty White River is enough to negatively impact the fishing conditions in the Deschutes River below the confluence of the two rivers.
Last week there was an afternoon when we got a phone call from a local angler saying that the White was blown. He went on to say that he couldn't see more than about 6-8 inches in the water when standing in his favorite run down on the lower access road between Buck Hollow and Mack's Canyon. I drove down to check on the White River the next morning and found that the volume was not significant enough to impact the Deschutes - meaning to say that the situation had improved overnight. An hour later, a few anglers came into the fly shop and they had been on the lower river in a jet boat (about 9 miles below Mack's Canyon) but had driven up to Mack's Canyon that morning because of the poor visibility for steelhead fishing. By the time they drove the road up to Maupin, they recognized that the river had cleared and that the situation had resolved itself.
Here is the photo of the White River that I took the morning after reports of the blow out. This is what it looks like when the White River is NOT, I repeat, NOT having a negative impact on the color of the Deschutes:
How is it possible that the White River could cause the Deschutes to have very poor fishing conditions for half a day only to rebound within hours? We can only surmise that these quick blow out and recovery cycles happen when a glacial dam up on the mountain is formed and begins to hold back a lake of silty water under the glacier. Eventually that ice dam cannot hold the lake and the dam bursts, sending fine particulate silt and sediment in a gusher down the White River to dump into the Deschutes. Once the glacial lake is empty, the White resumes its normal low flow and the White River (no matter how dirty) ceases to impact the Deschutes.
This activity happens all through the summer and fall. The White can blow out the Deschutes for mere hours, or, as happened in 1999 when I had my first year of guiding the Deschutes, it can blow out for the entire month of September. When the river below the White becomes too silty for steelhead to see your flies, it is time to move up above the White River. If your mode of transportation is a jet boat, you are out of luck when the White blows out. If you are rowing a boat, then you have options available to you in floats around the Maupin area.
This report has been a couple of weeks in the making, so it is nice to get it posted well before the weekend. Sorry for the delay. We have been working on some big projects in the back end of the fly shop with a new point of sale system going in. It is a lot of work, but the shop will be more streamlined when the project is complete.
Tight lines! We will see you on the river.