May 1st: Deschutes River guide Ethan Nickel set out into the high desert with trusted camp chef and professional wrestler lookalike Kyle Duke at his side. Their mission, to put practice-dudes (TJ Matteri, Nate and myself) on some nice rainbow trout and get a warmup on the upcoming guide season. We set out from Trout Creek on a three-day float to Harpham Flat, camping two nights in the BLM designated campgrounds.
I had only been on the Deschutes in the summer and fall, so the green-ness of the spring season was a surprise. Hackberry, alder and willow were all starting to leaf out, the hills were green with new grasses. The new growth made for a great backdrop, with low clouds scudding over the canyon walls.
We had rain on and off all weekend with river levels at around 4800 cfs at Madras. The water was gunmetal gray most of the trip, with decent visibility. We were primarily nymphing, a two-fly rig with a large stonefly pattern and a red copper john, fishing drop-offs, boulder gardens and riffles. Lots of chunky, wild Deschutes Rainbows, kicking out of the water.
One of the coolest parts of the off-season trip is the lack of crowds. We had the river to ourselves a lot of the trip, hardly seeing anyone aside from at a few campgrounds. We didn’t see any insect activity on top, aside from just a smattering of caddis. But we did have solid fish on nearly every hole we fished.
I need to say something about camp: It’s hard to top Ethan’s gear and Kyle’s cooking. Big tents you can stand up in, fold-up cots with inflatable pads — I slept better than I do at home. And Kyle worked up fresh grilled town-run steelhead for dinner, elk hash and poached eggs for breakfast, beer-boiled and grilled bratwurst for lunch. The man is serious about food. This kind of camping will spoil you.
Ethan has been guiding on the Deschutes for 14 years, and this year he’s outfitting trips as well. Call the shop if you’re interested in booking this crew for a high desert trout or steelhead float. The salmonfly hatch, copious caddis, and summer steelhead are all around the corner.