The annual emergence of Pternarcys and Golden Stones is now out along the entire length of the Lower Deschutes, and the fish are certainly taking notice. Between Pelton Dam and Maupin, the Deschutes is host to the most prolific hatch of these bugs anywhere in the country. It is quite a spectacle.
I have done several multi-day trips on the stretch between Warm Springs and Maupin lately. Earlier on, closer to the middle of May, the dry fly fishing was a little spotty, with some high and off-color water, and many of the fish still in transition as the hatch worked its way upstream. In the last week and a half, however, the water has dropped and cleared, the fish have lined up where they should be, and we have had some spectacular sessions of dry fly fishing.
The water is still relatively high (5710 cfs coming out of Pelton), but this is not a bad thing. Many of the spots where you might find good fishing at lower flows are washed out or unsafe to wade, but many other areas that would not hold fish at lower flows are working really well. Like anywhere, you are looking for spots with the right depth and speed, but cover is also really important. As they stage to mate and lay their eggs, the bugs are in the grass and trees at the river’s edge. A lot of fish will hold tight to the bank, downstream of trees, as well up underneath overhanging limbs. Dry fly fishing on the Deschutes forces you to work on your short game. Rarely will you find a good spot with plenty of back casting room where bombing out long overhead casts might be useful. More commonly your cast will be constrained by various obstacles and short, accurate casts will be the name of the game. The tension cast and even the bow and arrow are important weapons to have in the arsenal.
The grabs this time of year can be amazing. It is not uncommon to see a big rainbow chase your fly downstream to crush it. Sometimes two trout will charge the fly at the same time, and the bigger one usually wins. The same fish that in the summer months will be daintily sipping small caddis in a back eddy will charge out of a heavy current seam to blow up a fly nearly the size of a badminton birdie fished on a stubby 1x leader.
In general, I like somewhat smaller and more drab stonefly imitations. The Norm Wood’s Special, the Clark’s Stone, and Larimer’s Golden are among my favorites. Somewhat smaller flies (#6-#8) tend to work better in the soft water and later in the hatch in particular. This season, however, with the water running higher than normal, I have been fishing more big foamy stuff, especially in the heavier water. The Chubby Chernobyl and the Chubby Norm (#6-#8) have been very effective. It is nice not to have to dress or powder the fly even when it is getting eaten regularly. Mayfly hatches can also be important this time of year. PMDs and even green drakes will come off in good numbers on warm and overcast afternoons.
The bugs go dormant when it is wet and cold, waiting for warmer weather to mate and lay their eggs. Given the wet and cold weather we’ve endured this Spring, I think the good dry fly fishing that the stonefly hatch offers will linger on for another couple of weeks. After that we have the rest of the season to look forward to: summer’s caddis hatches and the fall steelhead run. If anyone is interested in a guided trip on the Deschutes, call the Caddis Fly. We would love to show you the river.