Working within the Hoot Owl closures
We have been getting a lot of questions lately about the Hoot Owl closures - these are happening across the Western US in rivers and streams with trout and salmonids. The Hoot Owl closure should simply be called a warm water closure - in the case of the Deschutes River, the closure bans anglers from fishing after 2:00 PM in the section of the Deschutes from Sherar's Falls downstream to the confluence with the Columbia River. It is during the afternoon and evening when water temperatures reach the high 60s and low 70s, and these temperatures are lethal to fish if they are hooked and played. Even in the parts of the river that remain open to fishing all day, you should keep your fish in the water at all times - no grip and grin photos - and you should play fish and release them as quickly as possible.
In my opinion, Oregon Department of Fish and WIldlife has done a poor job of announcing the Hoot Owl closure and has done nothing to enforce it. We have had to stop multiple times on our way off the Mack's Canyon access road to inform anglers who are still fishing that the fishing closed at 2:00 P.M. They should have a sign at the top of the access road right next to the ODFW trailer which announces the closure.
I was out on the river on a fun float this week and I have never seen the Deschutes as low as it is right now. The neat thing about the lower water was that I found a few middle of the river spots that I have looked at over the years, have really wanted to fish, and have hesitated to do so because of the difficulty in wading the spot. Now, with the river on the low side, a lot of those spots are quite wadable and accessible to anglers. The first time though anything new, however, I will be wearing a PFD just in case I should slip or I should wade down into water that becomes too deep and too pushy to wade back up stream.
Stream flows are low across the region, and the low flows are contributing to the warming waters. It is best to concentrate your trout fishing into a morning session starting at daybreak and fishing until 1 or 2 PM. If it is legal to continue fishing after 2PM in the section of river you are fishing, then bring a thermometer to the river to check the temps in the afternoon and be willing to impose a self-limit on hooking fish if water temps get above 65-66 degrees.
The morning fishing has been pretty darn good on small sized 18-20 caddis patterns that are designed to lay really flat and low to the water. We had a full moon last night, which keeps the trout feeding all night and sometimes makes them a little less eager in the mid-day. As we get a few days away from the full moon, the fishing will get better and better because the trout will be forced to only eat during daylight hours.
Besides a lot of caddis, there are many aquatic moths on the water, which have a powdery-white body color and flat little wings that lay on their backs like a blanket (rather than the tent-like wings of the caddis). Trout will eat both caddis and aquatic moths all morning long, and will be on the lookout for their favorite menu item - the mayflies. Even on the brightest sunny day this week, we noticed the swallows starting to work over the water and saw a few PMDs (pale morning duns) emerging in the mid-day between noon and 1:00 PM.
When you are not fishing with dry flies alone, matching the hatch, you can use a bushy or foamy dry fly as your top fly or indicator, and a weighted beadhead nymph about 3-4 feet below the dry as your dropper fly. Alternatively, you can put on two nymphs and get them both down to the depths to search for trout under an indicator or simply just tight line nymphing. When one method seems to be slow, switch your game up and try another method to see if you find fish that might be at a different depth.
Fishing different water types is also an important strategy while trout fishing the Deschutes - fast riffles hold the most oxygen and can be very productive in the summer, as can deep backeddies where the trout can hold in the deepest and coolest water. If you are not catching fish in one water type, try another type entirely. This is how you become a better angler. Or, you can hire a professional guide to teach you the most effective techniques and how to use those techniques on different water types. We offer guided trips throughout the year and would be happy to get out on the water with you to help you improve your game.
There are a few, very few, steelhead nosing their way into the Deschutes right now. We have had a few clients hook them, but the steelhead fishing is just beginning. With really warm water temperatures in the mouth the steelhead are moving quickly upstream and getting cooler with each mile that they swim. The counts don't look good at the fish passage stations at Bonneville Dam or at The Dalles Dam, check the Fish Passage Center website for counts on steelhead passage:
The low numbers, combined with low water just may keep some folks away from the river. We certainly have seen great fishing on years when a lot of anglers decide the it isn't "worth it" to go out to target steelhead. It only takes one great steelhead to really make your day, so I feel that it is always "worth it" to get out on the river to swing a fly. Through August we are offering our Early Bird Special steelhead trips - 4 AM to 11 AM for $450 for 1 or 2 anglers plus the cost of a Deschutes River boater pass. Give us a ring, we have a few spots in August.
Have a great August! I will be back on the Friday report program next week.