Metolius Magic

Central Oregon’s Metolius River takes pride in humbling anglers on a daily basis. The Metolius is a gin-clear, spring fed river that possesses few of the characteristics of a typical spring river. Rarely is it still or meandering; it chugs and churns and cascades its way East toward Lake Billy Chinook at a staggering pace, quickly getting bigger and wider and faster the further you go downstream from its stunning headwaters at the base of Black Butte.

The Metolius is all about your mindset. You don’t really go there to catch fish, but instead to enjoy a day on a magnificent river with gorgeous, crystal clear water at your feet and old growth ponderosa pine trees one hundred feet above your favorite fishing hat. That’s not to say there aren’t fish to be caught– wild rainbow trout, the prettiest you’ve ever seen, swim in these waters and are only fooled by light tippet and flawless presentation. Boasting far less fish per mile than rivers of similar size, the Metolius does not give up its bounty easily. When you do manage to catch a few fish on this river, it makes all of the previous days of no avail completely worthwhile.

June can be special on the Metolius. While we are getting closer and closer, summer hasn’t truly taken hold yet. In no time blue skies and temperatures in the nineties will be the norm. But June still clings to spring tightly and often refuses to let go until we close in on July. That means we still get a bit of rain, cloudy skies, and plenty of fish on dry flies.

Caddisflies, mayflies, stoneflies, you name it. They can all be hatching at once in great numbers on this bug-factory of a river. At the bottom of a pool you may find a fish feasting on small, olive caddis but at the top you could find a fish who wont touch anything but a Size 18 Pale Morning Dun. The Metolius is cool like that. What you really hope for on a cloudy day are the Green Drakes, the king of mayflies, to make an appearance.  That’s exactly what my closest fishing pal and I were after a few days ago. Pick an overcast day, have a box full of dry flies and a few green drake patterns at the ready and when 3pm rolls around, it just might go off.

We were lucky enough to have it happen.  Within minutes, as if someone had flipped a switch, there were hundreds of colossal green bugs fluttering gracefully around our heads and over the mysterious, dark blue surface of the water. Each insect in a biological race against time to mate and lay its eggs before an opportunistic fish makes it its lunch. We stood with our mouths agape as Green Drake after Green Drake vulnerably floated down a deep run only to be intercepted by a splash and the deep red stripe of a wild rainbow trout. For the next few hours the two of us passed one fly rod back and forth and laughed simply out of joy for the moment we were living in.  Its days like these that remind us of how fortunate we are to live in the places we do, and how nothing brings us happiness like the rivers we love.

FullSizeRenderAndy Archer

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4 Responses to Metolius Magic

  1. Sam says:

    IT can be very humbling indeed. I have frequently spent hours working one fish. Always just out of reach and demanding a perfect drift.

  2. Oregon Fly Fishing Blog says:

    Yep. We have both been there, and at times nightfall comes with not a take to show for my effort. Then the walk back along the trail in darkness. Still, it is a challenge well worth risking failure in order to succeed once in a long while. Thanks for your comment Sam. JN

  3. Jason Lowry says:

    In search for Metolius Bulls…. in reading this article from 2012

    The author’s recommended time of year for best Bull Trout is March – April.
    A couple Qs about this:
    1) Is this limited to Metolius arm of Billy Chinook Lake or does the Kokanee run also impact The Metolius itself making that time of year better for Bull trout?
    2) Is the lower portion of the Metolius accessible/fishable from the Lake side? (i.e. Up river from Monty Campground)
    3) What portions of the Metolius have historically held more Bulls?

    Your experienced advice is much appreciate!
    Jason Lowry
    Arlington, TX

  4. Oregon Fly Fishing Blog says:

    Hello Jason: I will do my best but my knowledge of this subject is quite limited. Here goes:
    1. The kokanee run up the Metolius in the fall so that is different from the fishery in the lake proper. I do not know how many bull trout follow the kokanee upriver into the Metolius but these large fish spawn in the fall/winter so there should be more fish in the river at that time.

    2. I have driven the road from the Lake upriver to Camp Sherman and it seemed the access was quite limited and would probably involve a rugged hike through the brush to get to the river. Plus, the river seems very fast with few holding pools. I think the river from a little below the 99 bridge would be a better area to fish.

    3. I do not know.

    Wish i had more for you, and wish you the best. JN

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