With itís reliable return of surface oriented summer steelhead from July through December, itís endless miles of unsurpassed fly water, and a breath taking high desert canyon to set the stage, Oregonís Deschutes River is a summer steelheaderís paradise.
begins her journey at Little Lava Lake, some 150 miles South of itís
final destination; the Columbia River. The River is a tail water,
impeded by two†dams which Steelhead cannot ascend. Flowing from south
to north, the river cuts itís way through an immense basalt canyon.
Wildlife is abundant. Itís not uncommon to see bighorn sheep, black
tail deer, otter, & mink during a day of fishing. Golden eagles
sore on the rising thermals, while a wide variety of birds can be seen
and heard closer to the river. Make no mistake, this is rattlesnake
country. While Deschutes rattlers are docile, they too are part of the
experience. The riverís flora changes depending on where youíre at in
the system. On the upper river near Warms Springs youíll see Ponderosa
Pine and Cedar. As you move down river, White Alder and Blackberry
command the river banks. There is a feeling the Deschutes gives you.
Itís a river that can be totally inviting, and yet completely
intimidating at the same time. The high desert country is so barren,
when youíre on the "D", it feels as though youíve stopped the clock,
and stepped back in time.
A Place For Everyone
biggest element that separates the river from most is no angler can
fish from a water craft. Yep, thatís right... No plug pulling or side
drifting. Everyone is on an equal playing field. While the river is not
fly fishing only, the use of bait or scent is prohibited. Consequently,
the majority of fisherman are casting Spey rods. Another unique aspect
of the river is how it is managed. Depending on your mode of
transportation, thereís a place for everyone.
In the lower
canyon from Mackís Canyon to Heritage Landing at the Mouth is 23 miles
of the most seductive water youíve ever laid your greedy steelhead eyes
on. This is a big, brawling river, averaging 00000CFS. in the lower
river during the steelhead season. Wading staffs and studded boots help
negociate the boulder filled runs and swift current. Steelies start
showing up in the beginning of July and continue entering the river
into January some years. This stretch has no road access other than a
death trap single track called the road to Kloan.(If you like your car,
donít even think about it.) Consequently, the best way to access the
lower river is via jet sled. This stretch is also a great three day
float trip in a drift boat or raft. The river is closed to motorized
vehicles every other weekend from Thursday to Sunday to give floaters a
chance to fish without sleds. However, boaters take caution. The lower
river is guarded by five major rapids and numerous small but tricky
pieces of white water. This is not a place to cut your teeth on the
oars or to learn how to run a sled. Boats sink on a regular basis.
Boaters are not allowed to fish the water from rattlesnake rapids down
to Heritage Landing. This gives those on foot three miles to fish
without competition from boats. What makes the lower river so unique is
that it attracts many fish destined for other Columbia River
tributaries. As the steelhead ascend the warm Columbia, the cooler
Deschutes invites them in for a break from 70 degree water. Many of
these "strays" will go 15 miles up the Deschutes. This can drastically
inflate the number of fish in the lower river.
upriver to the locked gate is considered the Maupin stretch. Maupin is
a small town roughly 50 river miles up from the mouth. This stretch
offers the best walk-in access.
The Deschutes River Access Road parallels the†river†for more than 35 miles. Outside of the water between the White River to
just below Shearís Falls, the Maupin area offers some beautiful
steelhead water. A number of great day floats exist in this stretch.
While the water from Wapinitia boat ramp to Sandy Beach boat ramp is
legitimate class III/IV white water, most of the other floats are class
II. Donít be fooled by the rating though, this is still big water! For
those looking to car camp, the lower access road has some great spots
to pitch a tent. Be prepared to fight the crowds during the peak season
of August through October. Etiquette is a must for everyone to get
along. Luckily, most Deschutes junkies follow the code like religion:
Start at the head of the pool, step down river between casts,
relinquish your spot if you hook a fish, and never, EVER, take two
steps downstream of someone in a piece of water. Even if itís 200yrds
From Nina Creek boat ramp up to Trout Creek is
considered the upper river. The steelhead donít start showing up in big
numbers until September. When they do show, it makes for a wonderful
three day float. However, the west side of the river is mostly the Warm
Springs Indian reservation. Because it is closed to angling, most of
the fishing pressure is on the east bank. Again, it cannot be stressed
enough that this is not a river for beginner rowers. White Horse Rapids
is known for taking both boats and lives. Mandatary scouting! With
little drive-in access, this stretch is almost exclusively for boaters.
Make sure you give yourself time to find a campsite on this float.
While many great campsites exist, the prime spots go quick.
Trout Creek boat ramp up to Warm Springs boat ramp is a great late
season day float. There is walk-in access at Mecca flats and South
Junction. Fishing in the upper, upper river gets decent by late
September and goes thru December.
Built For Spey
Deschutes is a classic Spey river. Her massive boulder filled runs are
often lined with Alder and Blackberry. Back casting is almost always an
issue. Because most Deschutes steelhead are one salt fish averaging 5
to 7 pounds, 6 and 7 weight Spey rods are the tool of choice. With that
said, remember those stray fish? Twenty pound plus fish are landed in
the lower river on a frequent basis. Bring at least a 7 weight if
youíre headed to the lower river.
What makes Deschutes fish so
unique is there unabashed addiction to surface or near surface flies.
Floating lines are standard operating proceeders when the shade is on
the water or during heavy overcast days. Once the Sun is high above the
canyonís rim, you can still get fish on floating lines provided you can
get a good angle to the sun. This can be tough considering the river
runs from the south to the north. With that said, fish can be found
during the mid day using sink-tips and big flies.
If you like
catching chrome bright rockets on dry flies in a beautiful setting, you
owe it to yourself to fish the Deschutes this year.
The best guides: For the lower river, take a jet boat trip with Larimer
Outfitters. If youíre headed to the Maupin Area, float the river with Matt
Season: Early July through December.
Best Accommodations: If youíre fishing the lower river, the Biggs Junction
Travel Lodge is the only close option. There is additional lodging 15 to 35
minutes away in The Dalles or Hood River. In the Maupin Area, the Imperial River
Company is a great place to rest your weary head.
Camping: Yes. For the lower river, the Deschutes River State Park offers RV
Hook-ups, bathrooms and showers. In the Maupin Area, there are many primitive
campgrounds along the Deschutes River Access Road. However, the Maupin City Park
is the only campground with RV hook-ups and modern bathrooms.
Best place to get a burger and beer: If youíre fishing the lower river and
are heading back to Portland, Oregon, stop in at 6th Street Bistro in
Hood River, Oregon. Hood River is about 40 minutes west of Heritage Landing. In
Maupin, a steelhead trip just wouldnít be complete without stopping at the
Fishing License Vendor: The Gorge Fly Shop in Hood River, Oregon.
Road accessible water: 35%
Boat access: Very good