The Steens

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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!
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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.

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Blitzen 2

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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”!


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11 Responses to The Steens

  1. Brian says:

    Bet those mosquitoes were thick up there– love that place though.

  2. David Jensen says:

    Glad you got to visit this special place. About 25 years ago, Dave Helfrich and his wife and my wife and I floated the Blitzen in 2 person Avon rafts. We had fabricated splash cowlings to keep some of the water out of our boats. The first night we camped at the confluence of the Blitzen and Little Blitzen. Our wives were so tired and pissed at the end of the first day, they wanted to hike out. No trails, no roads, and rattlesnakes would have presented 3 unsolvable problems. The Little Blitzen gave us about 90% more water, so the next days were fun, rapid after rapid. Interestingly enough, both wives walked out of our marriages a few years later.

    For anyone going to this special part of Oregon, meals and lodging at the Hotel Diamond are a must. Hotel Diamond is easy to find once you get to Diamond, population 5! It is near the famed Pete French round barn, which is now owned and preserved by the state.

  3. Erik Stowell says:

    Nice photo’s of some great country. Those are big Blitzen fish! I have made the hike to Wildhorse Lake with a float tube strapped on my back when I was younger and in way better shape. The hike in was great, the hike out at 9000′ was a lung burner (it’s steeper than it looks!) It was a great experience, but the fishing poor, with only small to medium Lahonton’s very few and far between.

  4. gregH says:

    Very nice Lou – wish you would’ve had a “hat cam” on… would’ve been some great footage!! (still holding one for you – I just dropped the price to $150)

  5. Stevie says:

    Great photos, thank for sharing. I really love that shot of the river with the basalt columns.

    One note: Sometimes called “The Steens” it is actually just a single mountain so it is correctly called Steens Mountain. Named after some old time Indian killer Enoch Steen…not sure why they don’t spell it with an apostrophe ie: Steen’s.

    Anyway, FYI, Stevie

  6. Capt Ken says:

    How can i get one of those HATS? They almost look as good as the trout!

  7. John Henry says:


    I grew up between Fields and Frenchglenn, once upon a time “Three Mile Creek” and “Home Creek” and “Trout Creek” use to provide great “Fly Fishing” sites. How far have you hiked up the Blitzen River? I have not been to the family cabin, since 1990 with my Dad, who is long passed away. He wanted to fish the farthest point of the Blitzen, did you reach where the river pours out of the mountain. Do you know if “Mann Lake” heading out past Fields, Oregon is available to fish, it’s been three decades since I have been there. Great Blog and thanks for posting the photos, they bring back some good memories of childhood.


  8. gene mcmullen says:

    Blitzen is a great stream. Have fished it many times from Page to a mile or so above Fish Creek. Rough trips we took include from the bridge on the South Loop Road to the Little Blitzen, And Burnt Car to Page. The river is in a very narrow canyon in the Burnt Car area and much of the progress required walking in the stream since the bank side vegetation was so thick. 1995 through 97 proved terrific for big Redbands in the Little Blitzen in the upper meadows. Good water years had allowed the bigger fish to access that area.
    Bridge Creek on and above the refuge can be great if overgrazing has not occurred. The bigger Blitzen Redbands access this creek in the meadow area and a fish of 24″ is not uncommon.
    As well we caught a lot of small redbands in Home Creek, a very challenging stream to fish with the extreme vegetation along its bank. The fish were small (no doubt some bigger ones in there) but numerous.

  9. jim davis says:

    I had caught fish prior to last week but never really new how big of fish were in the fishery until now. loose lips sink ships is my advice.

  10. Rod Perry says:

    I stumbled on this websight while reminiscing. I’m an old Oregon boy, having grown up in Oceanside. In my teens, distinguished, elderly dentist and sportsman, “Doc” Calhoun, former VP of the Oregon Isaac Walton League, and I often hunted together. I never got to fish with him, however, because he dedicated all of his fishing time to the far-away Donner and Blitzen. Above his shed door was nailed a very ancient, wide, dried trout tail. His account of how he hooked, fought, and managed to land the 24-inch lunker from a ledge high above the hole thrilled me as a kid. The whopper was taken in Doc’s favorite stretch of the Blitzen, he called “Rattle Snake Canyon.” The place crawled with the critters, he told me, and he related how he once narrowly avoided being fanged by the biggest he ever saw. It’s big wad of rattles was tacked beside the trout tail.

    After graduation from OSU with a degree in Wildlife Management, I headed for Alaska. Here I have been fortunate to live as a big game guide, commercial fisherman, and outdoor adventure filmmaker. I also helped found the Iditarod, plunging into the unknown on the first run when most thought we could not bring it off. Oregon is way too tame for me to ever return to live there, but my first quarter century gave me a love for the less populated, less regimented, wilder Oregon of those days. The Blitzen intrigued me then, and it still does.

  11. Mark William Jones says:

    I have this storybook fascination with the Steens. I think if I could visit 2-3 times per year, it wouldn’t be enough. At 12, I turned down a trip up the mountain to camp at Fish Lake in late July of 1969. Stories of great fishing and snow storms after 80° afternoons! In 1980, at 23, I made my first trip and have been hooked since. In all, I have been back to the area 7 more times over the years.
    Picking up fly fishing late in life, I am looking forward to this early August to try my luck at this newly-acquired sport. The Blitzen has been one of those rivers that create stories of fishing intrigue and has been on my bucket list if places to fish. I am one of those people that if I can get out and just stand in the river (even without a catch), I have succeeded! But I’m still going to try to get the bite.

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