High adventure on the spring Deschutes fishing trip

Here is a Deschutes report from our pal Greg Hatten:

Five of us “Frequent Fly Fishermen” from Eugene went over to catch the Salmon Fly hatch on the Deschutes last Thursday to Sunday. We put in at rainy Trout Creek and took out at cloudy Harpham Flats. In the 35 miles between, the river rose more than the fish and it will be remembered by all of us as one of the most unique fishing experiences of our lives.

Unique because the river rose from an already high 5,000 cfs on Thursday to an incredibly high 7,200 cfs on Sunday when we took out. We worked hard for the fish that were rising on Thursday and Friday (half-down golden stones) and by Saturday the rain put the bugs and the fish down so we followed them deep with Stone Fly nymphs and bead-head trailers.

Deschutes Spring Fishing Trip

Deschutes Spring Fishing Trip

Deschutes Spring Fishing Trip

Wildlife was abundant. Besides salmon flies as big as small planes, we saw osprey, eagles, bears, coyotes, wild horses and otters – we even had a very large gopher snake crawl through the middle of camp one afternoon like he owned it. Most unique wildlife experience went to Rick Allen who had a four foot rattlesnake slither between his foot steps on a game trail 20 feet from the river on Sunday morning. I was right behind him to witness the sight and hear the unmistakable sound… so we made a quick decision to get back in the boat and rattle on down the river.

In addition to landing many incredible, football shaped rainbow, the most unforgettable experience for all of us, was White Horse Rapids. We tied our boats upriver from the top of the rapid, scrambled up the bank, hiked the two hundred yards down the RR tracks just to scout this formidable Class IV and hopefully find the correct line.

Thinking it would run easier in high water (but sounding like it wouldn’t), we were surprised to see the twisted half of a sunken drift boat in the middle of the rapid and then learned it was one of two that went down just a few days prior to our arrival. As we looked down on the rapid and the wreckage from above, we strained to find key rock and the can-opener — important river marks to negotiate the rapids safely.

Deschutes Spring Fishing Trip

Just as we were mentally marking our spots, the wind started to blow hard (foreshadowing) and added yet another degree of difficulty to the already technically challenging run. What we hoped for (besides more confidence) was another drift boat we could watch run it successfully and show us the safest path. When the God’s wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.

On cue, around the corner came a beautiful drift boat and we were instantly excited and relieved to have such a perfect point to watch an expert run the line at Whitehorse for us. At exactly the same moment, all five of us shared two thoughts simultaneously which we’ll never forget – (not necessarily in this order)… “Hey – that looks like one of our boats” and “Hey – no one is in that boat.”


It looked like one of our boats, because it WAS one of our boats and the strong sudden wind and rising current had ripped it from the shore with 100 feet of bow line trailing after it. We stood there – powerless – as the out-of-control boat twisted and turned in the water and the wind heading directly for one of the most destructive rapids on the river.

Now the wind became our ally as it blew the boat towards the other side of the river – away from the power of White-horse rapid but towards the shallow rock garden that is impassable in normal river flows (the lesser of evils). We began to cheer for the boat to hang up. We yelled at the rocks to hold our boat as it banged and clanged like a pinball through the rock-studded left side. A couple times it teased us by pausing… almost as if it was thinking about staying put, but then it would do a full rotation in slow motion and continue it’s painful path down river… prolonging our agony and suspense.

Finally, halfway down the rapid, it lodged amongst some rocks – wedged into place and held there firmly by the running water down the left and the high winds from the west. We scrambled to our boats and ran nervously and quickly and crudely through White Horse and then pulled over to the left side of the river several yards down from the runaway boat.

Grabbing ropes, a spare oar and misc hardware, we hiked back up-river and reached the boat. After some brave and nimble moves, we got an oarsman in the seat who guided it through the remaining rocks and reunited it with the small boat herd at the bottom of the rapid.

We were humbled and grateful for the outcome of that experience and we all tied a couple extra lines on our boats that night… then we drank scotch, howled at the quarter moon, and fished our way to the Flats.

Deschutes Spring Fishing Trip

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11 Responses to High adventure on the spring Deschutes fishing trip

  1. mike doughty says:

    nice read….glad you got your boat back

  2. Rob R says:

    Holy crap. I’m gonna have nightmares…

  3. David Swart says:

    Good read what a stroke of luck you must have been on the fish gods good side that trip.

  4. Sean S. says:

    I hope that the run away boat wasn’t that beautiful wood boat! Great adventure. Good story to tell around the campfire. “Hey, remember when?”

  5. gregH says:

    We were lucky… on several “counts” that weekend. It was a great adventure – but the “what ifs” have given me a nightmare or two as well… thanks for the comments guys!!

  6. garyH says:

    I think this was nothin’ like the “wild mouse”! A great read. Your Dad would be so proud. I can hear him laugh, just as you do.

  7. DeeH says:

    I have seen the “wild mouse” and that ride is nothing like what I just read. Relaxing and reading until the rattlesnake came into the picture. Great read…………………..

  8. Dave Vazquez says:

    Glad to hear that things turned out for you. I was on the river last weekend too. Fishing was surprisingly good, despite the high water. While I would have liked more dry fly action, the nymphing was pretty darned good.

  9. Lance Hardwood says:

    Wow, I bet you will pay more attention to how you tie your boat off next time!

  10. G Hatten says:

    yup… next time and every time after that for the rest of my river running life… GH

  11. RobC says:

    Glad everything worked out. Even some of the most experienced oarsmen and guides have been bested by the wind/weather/water combo on the big D.

    Here’s what Whitehorse looked like when I went through June 6th at 72oo cfs:


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