Last week a few of the Technical Men’s Conference (old dawgs who have fished together for decades) headed off to The Steens. Marc, who grew up in Burns, was our tour guide. The rest of us only had read about the Steens. The Steens were settled by cattleman Pete French who drove cattle from Sacramento, Callyfornia, in the late 1800’s, to The Steens. Let me be frank….the Steens are not a place you just say “I think I will drop by today and visit the Steens”. The Steens are located sort of southeast of Burns, and are “just off the highway”. “Just off the highway” in Eastern Oregon, means at least 25-50 miles of dirt road! Besides the angling, our group wanted to get the most of our visit. We took the Steens loop road which was under repair and closed above the South Loop Campground to enjoy the views of the canyons from above the rim.
The geography of the Steens is very interesting. During the Ice Age, glaciers formed in the major stream channels on the mountain. These glaciers dug trenches about one-half mile deep, through layers of hard basalt. The result was four immense U-shaped gorges – Kiger, Little Blitzen, Big Indian, and Wildhorse . The famous notch as seen in the picture below, is the east ridge of Kiger Gorge formed during a later glaciation when a small glacier in Mann Creek Canyon eroded through the ridge top. Massive internal pressures forced the east edge of the Steens upward. The result was a 30-mile-long fault-block mountain with a spectacular and rugged east face that rises one vertical mile above the Alvord Desert. In the second picture below you are looking east at Mann Lake and the Alford Desert from the top of the Steens. The third picture is Wild Horse Lake/Canyon. The lake appears very close from the top of the mountain. It is actually about 1200 feet down from the rim!
The Donner und Blitzen provided many nice red band trout to hand. Redbands are found not only in the Harney Basin but in the Klamath Basin as well. Redband trout find their ideal habitat in clean, cool, relatively small and low gradient streams, but are very unique in being able to handle higher water temperatures (75–80 °F) than most other trout.
If you could minaturize the lower Deschutes canyons you could grasp the enviornment we fished and the habitat of the Red Band. The hike up river from Page Springs campground was a bit rough and hot, but once we were in the river we were well rewarded. We started fishing drys (hopper, and caddis patterns). Marc decided to try nymphs (possie bugger and copper john) and the fishing turned hot! We each lost fish in the 18 inch range and landed several nice fish.
Look for another post in a few days about Fish Lake, Riddle Ranch, wild flowers, and wild horses. The Steens is a special place and I’m glad it’s only, “a few miles off the highway”!