The Deschutes River is a famed river for a variety of reasons, and the Salmonfly hatch is my favourite reason… The river flows 252 miles, South to North, from the Cascade Mountains to the Columbia River. The Deschutes River is broken up into three different sections, The Upper Deschutes, the Middle Deschutes, and the Lower Deschutes River. The Upper Deschutes River trickles out of Little Lava Lake, flowing tight and narrow through the Deschutes National Forest until it flows through beautiful meadows into Crane Prairie Reservoir. From there- it flows just over a mile out of Crane Prairie into Wickiup Reservoir. After leaving the outflow of the Wickiup Reservoir, the Upper Deschutes widens up and flows gently through a forest of ponderosa pines, white pines, and western larches. Abruptly, the Upper Deschutes meets Benham Falls, this is where the transition from Upper Deschutes to Middle Deschutes occurs. Now, the river reaches a variety of falls while flowing into the city limits of Bend. After flowing through Bend, the Middle Deschutes carves its way through deep canyons until it dumps into Lake Billy Chinook. Lake Billy Chinook is a massive reservoir that was created in the 1960’s. The Deschutes, Crooked River, and Metolius River all meet to form Lake Billy Chinook. When the water flows out of Lake Billy Chinook- this is where the Lower Deschutes begins. The Lower Deschutes River is the last 100 miles of the Deschutes that flows through massive canyons until it reaches the mouth of the Columbia River. Each section of the Deschutes River hosts its own opportunities for fishing, recreation, and a variety of fish species to chase.
The Lower Deschutes River is a particular area. For one, there is no fishing allowed from a boat, which makes some folks turn their nose. However, this section of the Deschutes River is renowned as a steelhead fishery and for the prolific salmonfly hatch that we experience in the early summer. For about 30 miles, the left bank of the Lower Deschutes River is accompanied by the Warm Springs Reservation. The Warm Springs Reservation is just over a 1,000 square miles and is surrounded by the Metolius River and the Lower Deschutes River. The tribal side of the river is closed to fishing unless you are part of the tribe or are fishing with a tribal member. There are a few exceptions to this, one is obtaining a tribal permit and fishing a small section of tribal land. While this is easily accessible, it can see a lot of pressure during favorite times on the river. The other options, as mentioned before, is to fish with a member of the tribe.
Fortunately, I had the pleasure of doing the latter is spring. I have fished and guided the salmonfly hatch on the Deschutes for several years. I knew how prolific it could be on the river, but I learned a whole new side of the salmonfly/stonefly hatch on the Lower Deschutes this day. Salmonfly and stoneflies were active from the moment we arrived. Fluttering off the bushes, laying eggs, and occasionally being crushed by a willing redband trout.
The signs were all there – the fishing was about to go down! We started fishing around 10am, after meeting our guide, Matt Mendes, deep in the reservation. We all hopped in his big Ford truck and made our way to the banks of the Lower Deschutes River. It didn’t take long for the fishing to turn on! Three casts in and SMACK! A nice 16inch redband. Eh, not a wrong way to start! As the sun got higher, the fish became more active, and the fishing got better! The bugs were active for hours.
Fluttering around, laying eggs, hitting the water, getting eaten, repeat. To our luck, the trout were just as willing to eat the imitations we presented in front of them. I had one memorable fish eat on 2x. That is all I got through! Just an eat! Clean broken off on 2x. These fish were more willing to eat than I had expected. After my clean break off on 2x, I hacked off the remaining taper on my leader and fished one of my go-to flies, the McPhail Adult Salmon Fly. I was able to stick 10-15 fish on this fly before it was nearly disbanded. With only a few fly changes throughout the day, we had an exceptionally AWESOME day on the Lower Deschutes.
Part of the stipulation for guiding as a Tribal Guide is having to count the fish for the day. The fish count is then reported to the tribal council. This being said, we were happy to report that we stuck just about 80 fish on dries between the 4 of us! Insane! The smallest being about 14inches- with the biggest fish pushing about 20 inches. All on dries. This was an unbeatable experience on the Lower Deschutes River.
If you find yourself in Central Oregon during the salmonfly hatch. Find some time to get with Matt Mendes, your go-to tribal guide. If he is unavailable, be sure to get on the Lower Deschutes River with a different outfitter or by yourself. You won’t regret the decision…