Deschutes River hatches, flies and seasonal changes.
The weather during these months can be a mixed bag with cold mornings and evenings the rule. Angling pressure is at its lowest. Mid-day temperatures can exceed fifty degrees with major trout feeding activity occurring during warmer periods. During this period the river has been runs over 5,000 cfs most of the time. The water has averaged 3' - 5' visibility most years. The fishing has been good with the trout crowded into the softer flows along the banks were you can get at them. Many trout patrol back eddies and are highly visible. Feeding in the eddies occurs only during emergence of surprisingly prolific winter hatches.
The most prominent and dependable hatch is the Winter Beatis may fly. These size eighteen blue dun insects emerge most heavily at mid-day. Days that are overcast bring better hatches than days with clear skies. Several hatches of tiny black Winter Stone flies emerge from riffle water during the winter. Hatches of Chironomids may occur any time of day. These hatches are sporadic in most parts of the river, but can produce feeding activity and the angler should be prepared for them.
The Deschutes contains a healthy population of Rocky Mountain Whitefish. The Whitefish and Steelhead spawn most heavily in February. Whitefish and Steelhead spawn contribute to the diet of the Redsides during this period. Most of this spawning occurs during low light hours. Fishing a Glo Bug deep during these periods when eggs are drifting can account for some really large Redsides hooked.
The largest biomass of nymphs living on the bottom of the Deschutes River occurs before the major spring and summer hatch periods. Most Deschutes river aquatic insects have a one to three year life cycle. Therefore all of the insects that will hatch during the year are crawling on the bottom of the river during the winter. Many of these species have a daily behavioral drift cycle and may be available to the fish during certain periods each day. Nymph fishing in the winter can produce some of the largest trout of the year.
Fly List (January - February)
March brings moderating but often blustery weather. Freezing weather is usually over by March and mid-day air temperature can exceed sixty degrees. Water temperatures are still cold and melting snows in the Cascades can make water levels raise and turn off-color. These water fluctuations can cause much catastrophic drift of nymphs and create feeding frenzies. Water levels can stay over 6,000 cfs. The winter stone hatches are over. Beatis hatches become more and more sporadic. Several species of caddis start to appear along the river with Hydropsyche and Glossosoma most prevalent. Lower reaches of the river below Maupin produce fairly dependable hatches of several species of Rhithrogena May flies. These hatches progress up river and can be found in the Warm Springs area in April.
Behavioral drift cycles of May fly, caddis, and stone fly nymphs continue and nymph fishing continues to be productive. Whitefish are through spawning by the first week in March but Steelhead continue to spawn through April and scattered spawning Redsides produce some egg drift.
The Central Oregon weather moderates by May and can start to get hot in June. Clear skies are the rule. Water temperatures climb into the low fifties and the level begins to stabilize at around 3,600 cfs. The blue dun Beatis species trickle off through May and are slowly replaced by blue wing olive species through June. Rhithrogena hatches occur sporadically during both months and Ephemerella May Flies start to appear in various parts of the river. Late May and early June herald the Giant Salmon Fly and Golden Stone hatches.
This is also the period of peak Redside spawning. The rising water temperatures, huge hatches, and hungry Redsides returning from the redds spark voracious feeding activity. Because of this, angling traffic is also highest on some parts of the river and the angler must be in a frame of mind to put up with some competition.
Every trout angler should witness the Salmon Fly hatch on the Deschutes. Giant two inch long insects cluster in the alders and stream side grasses. During the peak of emergence, the angler can study the metamorphosis of these huge insects in great detail. The often wily Redsides take up stations under the trees and along the banks to feast on the bounty of the river. The angler can encounter large trout feeding at close range. Short but precise casts in heavy cover are often the rule, but trout can also go on feeding binges in mid-river or at the breaking heads of riffles. In all situations drag has to be eliminated and controlled. A slight miss cue can instantly make even the most predictable feeder stop rising. The best casters always win. A fast loading, moderately fast action six weight rod is a real asset. Short, stout leaders are best for turning over the wind resistant flies. Several patterns are used to match the mood changes of both the fish and the insects.
The visiting angler should plan day trips in the Warm Springs to Trout Creek section during this period and stay in a prearranged motel as the acquisition of camp sights is very competitive. Four day trips from Trout Creek to the upper end of the road access above Maupin is also an option that should be considered. A three day trip from Mack' Canyon to the Mouth can offer prolific caddis and may fly hatches and less sophisticated trout. Traffic in this lower canyon at this time of year is nearly non- existent.
July brings the first really hot weather to the canyon. Air temperatures can reach into the nineties at mid-day and the sun reflecting from the imposing cliffs can turn the canyon into an oven. Insect and trout feeding activity start at daylight and can continue until noon in open water. The rising mid-day temperatures often force trout and humans into the shade.
Back eddies, especially shaded ones, can produce dramatic sight fishing during all hours. Tiny flies and gossamer tippets are the rule. Prolific hatches of Caddis, Pale Morning Duns and Baetis May Flies bring trout to the surface to hang suspended in slow water areas. Foam lines in the vortexes of eddies trap thousands of emerging, crippled and dead insects. The trout which capitalize on this smorgasbord can be maddeningly selective and quiet observation before casting pays big dividends. A pair of high resolution binoculars is essential. Revolving cross currents make for interesting line and leader control problems. Drag must be eliminated.
Evening dry fly fishing can be frantic, with many species of caddis and may flies emerging and/or ovipositing at the same time. Water temperatures vary in the length of the river, with the coolest water near the dam. You can expect a five to seven degree water temperature fluctuation during the daylight hours. At the dam, water temperatures usually are 54 degrees at daylight to 60 degrees at 3:00 PM, to 57 degrees at dark. Below Mack's Canyon water temperatures can range from 64 degrees at day light to, 70 degrees at 3:00 PM, to 68 degrees at dark. Surface activity in the lower canyon is confined to early and late. However the angler can put both trout and early summer steelhead on the beach by casting a weighted woolly bugger with a sinking tip line and short leader. Wading wet during mid day is most comfortable.
School starts in early September. Most Deschutes anglers are concentrated in the lower river in search of steelhead. The water and air start to cool and the river is less appealing to rafters. The traffic on the upper river drops immediately. Trout become fatter and less cautious. This is the best time of year for a leisurely four or five day trip from Trout Creek to Harpum Flats.
The colors in the canyon turn from brown and green to shades of amber. The nights turn cool and frost can greet the early morning angler. Water temperatures drop to the mid to low fifties. Levels remain stable. Trout feed heavily on caddis, small mayflies, stone fly nymphs and crayfish. Steelhead are distributed throughout the river as a bonus.
The Deschutes River: November - December
With the coming of cold weather to the
river the metabolism of the Deschutes Redsides
slows down. November steelheading overshadows the trout fishery and
December brings weather that sends us to the warmer west slope of
the Cascades and chromer steelhead in the
Sandy River. However in recent years larger than
average runs of steelhead have provided excellent fishing
opportunities though February. During the winter months the
summer steelhead behave more like resident trout. Nymph
fishing with small flies dead drifted near the bottom can produce
double digit catches.
Fly Fishing Shop, Welches, OR
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Deschutes photos by: Mark Bachmann - all rights reserved.