I was lucky to spend even more time than usual this summer guiding the Lower Deschutes for trout. Anyone who pays attention to such things knows that the Deschutes is one of Oregon’s best rivers, with a robust population of resident trout, and generally a strong return of summer steelhead. The spring salmonfly hatch and the late summer and fall steelhead seem to get all the press. However, there are a lot of great trout fishing opportunities over there throughout the summer months that are worth some attention.
The fishing on the lower Deschutes throughout late June and July can be every bit as good as it is in the spring during the famed Salmonfly hatch, but it becomes a much different game. Fishing around with a fly the size of a badminton birdie tethered to 8# Maxima won’t get you very far. This time of year, small caddises are the main menu item, with small mayflies also becoming important at times. Many of the fish move into softer water to feed. Often, they will line up in eddies and soft seams to feed on these little bugs, expending as little energy as possible. Generally, the bigger the fish, the smaller the rise, with splashy rise forms from the smaller fish, while when the big ones are coming up, you will only see the tip of their beak breaking the surface, or the softest of swirls as they gobble an emerger.
This type of dry fly fishing is all about the short game. If it were golf, you would do nearly all of it with a putter and a pitching wedge. With much line on the water at all, the drift will often fall victim to conflicting currents and begin to drag. It is surprising how close you can get to many of these fish without spooking them. The fish are looking upstream or up-eddy into the current coming toward them, so if you wade quietly, it is usually possible to get within 15 or 20 feet of the fish to make your presentation. In general, these fish will not put up with much commotion. One splashy cast over their heads will send them fleeing for cover, but if your casts land softly and accurately, they are not usually that selective.
My summer dry fly selection is pretty straight-forward. A few different small caddis patterns: the Peacock caddis, Elk Hair Caddis, X-Caddis, and CDC Caddis. For nearly all summer mayfly emergences I find that a Parachute Adams will do the trick, and while often overlooked, small attractors like the Royal Wulff, Yellow Humpy, and Renegade, are often very effective. All of these flies I usually fish in sizes 16 and 18, tethered to the end of a 5x leader.
The challenge often lies in getting the fly, well presented, to where the fish can get a look at it. On some days, when the caddis hatch is widespread, the fish will begin to rise in many different types of water; eddies, grassy banks, in riffles, and below trees, but when the hatch is not as prolific, many of the good risers will be buried in deep cover; hiding beneath undercut grassy banks and in the deep shade that overhanging tree limbs provide. In these instances, delivering the fly to the fish becomes more challenging. In many of these lies, a well-aimed tension cast, or even a bow and arrow, becomes the tool of choice. Many anglers don’t often employ these short game tactics in their regular dry fly repertoire, but they can allow an elegant and accurate delivery of the fly to otherwise unfishable spots. One of the things to keep in mind when fishing under tree limbs is that when the fish eats your fly, you have to set the hook downstream and into the water instead of up into the branches.
When the wind gusts and temperatures fall, the caddis hatch is generally less intense, and it becomes more difficult to find rising fish. Under these conditions, the nymphing is often still productive. A small prince nymph, coupled with a small pheasant tail, accompanied by a single split shot, and fished under a thingamabobber was pretty hard to beat in my boat, but a number of other different fly combinations can be effective, including various small caddis pupae. Many of the guides I work with over there will fish a large stonefly nymph coupled with a smaller bug throughout the summer months with good results.
Good caddis hatches and trout fishing on the Warm Springs to Maupin stretch often persist through early September, but by this time of year, many of us become obsessed with the steelhead that are making their way upriver from the Columbia. I plan to be down on the Mac’s Canyon to the mouth stretch a couple of times over the next week or two. Let’s hope for a strong run this year!
Anyone interested in a guided trip on the lower Deschutes should contact the Caddis Fly. Now is a great time to book for next year to insure you get the best dates for the spring salmonfly hatch, summer trout fishing, or steelhead fishing.