Trout Creek to Harpham Flat, Nov 5-7: Eight of us set out last week from Eugene to the high desert to chase steelhead on the Deschutes River. Ethan Nickel Outfitters ran the program to celebrate the end of the ‘09 guide season and we came along for the ride, enjoying Ethan and Kyle Duke’s hard-won fishing knowledge and camping skills.
The first day we put in at Trout Creek and moved quickly downstream. We had great weather and seemed to have the whole river to ourselves.
We spread out and picked a few likely spots to fish before Whitehorse rapid. I picked up my first Deschutes steelhead that morning, swinging a black palmered marabou fly (patterned after the George Cook Alaskabou series) on a big Alec Jackson hook. I lost that fly soon after that and didn’t have anything else exactly like it.
Not that it mattered a whole lot. The main requisites for Deschutes steelhead flies that week were that they be a little heavy, dark, and wiggle a lot. I had a handful of flies in different patterns that fit that bill. Unfortunately, I’d been tying so many different styles and types of flies for this trip that I only had a few of any one pattern, so when something worked it was a real pain to lose that fly.
I’d been working a lot with marabou lately. While not typically my favorite material, every once in a while it looks amazing in the water. Other times it has about the same action as a pencil eraser.
Rob Russell had been mentally preparing run Whitehorse rapid all day. He hadn’t run it in 20 years, and the last time he’d sunk a raft. This time we made it through without getting a drop of water in the boat
The days are short and we wound up at camp soon after. That night at camp a hellacious wind storm blew through the canyon and I was sure we were going to lose the pavilion tent.
The next morning we set off and I hooked three steelhead on a single run. Then Rob and I moved down to another run and hooked a couple more and saw dozens of big fish. We thought we were going to be into the action all day. Little did we know that we were blowing past the only big concentration of fish we’d see all trip. The rest of the fish we hooked were spread out few and far between.
Luckily, I’d hooked enough fish to have a lot of confidence in my steelhead presentation. Maybe for the first time ever. And I started to feel that shift. I’ll always love trout: slurping, hungry, tuggy little torpedoes. But something about the first headshake on a steelhead that everybody talks about… The fact that each of these wild fish is a globetrotting, nutrient-replenishing, ocean-fattened goddamn ecological miracle just makes my head spin.
And I just caught enough of them this weekend to actually start think I can get them to bite with some regularity (as in more than like once a year). Not that I understand why they bite or don’t. That’s the madness that keeps grown and serious men awake at night, writing to zoological societies to beg for discarded feathers from exotic birds, wrecking marriages and careers.
More photos below, including a big beautiful hatchery buck I clubbed in defense of wild fish. He’ll taste righteous after the smoker has its way with him.