Deschutes River Steelhead

 Deschutes River Steelhead Fly Fishing.

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Patty Barnes with a Deschutes steelhead

Thoughts about Steelhead Tackle

The Deschutes is world famous as a steelhead fly fishing river. This is because its steelhead will actively come to the surface for a fly. Steelhead start entering the river in late June and bright fish can still be caught in late November. The run is made up of three distinct races: the hatchery run, and two distinct wild races called the "A" and "B" runs. The hatchery run can start in late June during high water years and as late as August during low water years. It is comprised of fish which have spent from 22 to 30 months in the Ocean and average 6 to 12 pounds. The "A" run enters the river in July and August and is made up of fish that have spent 14 to 22 months in the Ocean and average from 3 to 6 pounds. The "B" run enters the river from September through November and is comprised of fish which have spent 24 to 36 months in the Ocean and weigh from 10 to 16 pounds. Larger fish can be encountered any time.

During high water years a lot of stray upper Columbia River stocks take up temporary residence in the Deschutes and add to its fishery. Barbless hooks only are allowed and all wild fish must be returned to the river.

The Deschutes maintains a unique location being the most southern of mid-Columbia River tributaries. Its water flows and fall temperatures are the most predictable. Its north/south alignment keeps late fall water temperatures in the range that allow steelhead enough energy to rise to the surface for a well presented fly.

The size and topography of the river provide an ideal setting for the traditional greased line angler. Although many diverse angling methods will take Deschutes summer steelhead, floating fly lines and a traditional wet fly swing is accepted as one of the productive approaches. Most floating line techniques work best when the water is shaded by the canyon walls or by cloud cover. The angler usually begins at the head of a long run and fishes all of the way through to the tail-out. Aggressive wading and fly casting may be required to cover the most productive water. The fly is presented down stream across the current and allowed to swing on a tight line toward the anglers shore. A series of mends may be employed to control the speed and depth of the fly. Often two flies are fished on a cast or a single fly may be riffle-hitched. Waking flies are often employed in the same cast with a wet fly. Fly speed is very important.

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Many hair-wing wet fly patterns take Deschutes steelhead. However dark patterns in sizes four or six are proven to be most productive over the widest range of water and light conditions. The favored colors are black or purple with a touch of chartreuse, orange or pink. The following is a list of proven Deschutes steelhead wet fly patterns that will take fish the majority of the time:

  • #4 BLUE CHARM
  • #6 PURPLE PERIL
  • #4, #6, DARK MACK'S
  • #2 FLY DEJOUR
  • #4,#6 FREIGHT TRAIN
  • #4, #6 GREEN BUTT SKUNK
  • #4, #6 LIMIT LANDER
  • #4, #6 MACK'S CANYON
  • #4, #6 STREET WALKER

During times of very low water or heavy cloud cover a very dark, somber fly may bring more strikes. The following is a list of patterns that are proven for these conditions.

  • #5 GREEN ANT
  • #4, #6 PURPLE PERIL
  • #4, #6 SILVER HILTON
  • #6 SKUNK

Periods of high cold water or glacial run-off from White River may require that a larger or brighter colored fly be used. The following are a list of patterns which have bailed us out of these situations.

  • #3, #5 DECEMBER DAY
  • #2, #4, POLAR SHRIMP
  • #4 STEELTUKA, PURPLE

In the late fall, steelhead seek out smooth holding areas and often congregate in tailouts. These are prime conditions to bring a steelhead to the surface with a riffle-hitched fly. The following is a list of proven waking flies.

  • #4 TUBE CONRAD
  • #4, #6 BLACK GREASED LINER
  • #4, #6 OCTOBER CADDIS
  • #6 STEELHEAD CADDIS

Most Deschutes steelhead fly anglers concentrate on the early and late hours and rest in the shade during mid-day. This is because they have tried unsuccessfully to raise steelhead to the surface in the bright sunlight. Several years ago we started fishing with sinking tip lines and weighted flies during these bright light hours and found that steelhead will still take a fly if it is presented at their level. In fact about thirty percent of our catch is now caught by this method. If you want to increase your catch, bring a fast sinking tip fly line and the following fly patterns:

  • #4 BLACK WOOLLY BUGGER
  • #4 OLIVE WOOLLY BUGGER
  • #4 PEACOCK WOOLLY BUGGER
  • #4 PURPLE WOOLLY BUGGER

Chinook Salmon return to the Deschutes River from mid-September to late October. They are extremely territorial during their spawning cycle and they actively drive the steelhead from the fine gravel sections of the river. The steelhead often seek out areas in the river where the Chinook won't harass them, such as fast water with big boulders. Often these fast water places are downstream of major Chinook spawning grounds. In years of heavy Chinook runs steelhead and resident trout will station so as to intercept drifting Chinook eggs. Don't forget your Glo Bugs and split shot.

  • #4 GOLDEN NUGGET/LIGHT ROE GLO BUG
  • #4 OREGON CHEESE/LIGHT ROE GLO BUG
  • #4 COTTON CANDY/GOLDEN NUGGET GLO BUG
  • #4 LIGHT ROE/STEELHEAD ORANGE GLO BUG

Thoughts about Steelhead Tackle

 

A List Of Wet and Waking Flies Meant To Be Fished With a Floating Line
Bennett's Halo
Bennett's Halo
Bennett's Last Light
Bennett's Last Light
Blue Charm
Blue Charm
Blue Max
Blue Max
Brazilian
Brazilian
Bulkley Mouse
Bulkley Mouse
Copper Top
Copper Top
December Day
December Day
Deep Purple Spey
Deep Purple Spey
Fly du Jour
Fly du Jour
Freight Train
Freight Train
Get-Cha-Sum
Get-Cha-Sum
Golden Demon
Golden Demon
Grease Liner, Black
Grease Liner, Black
Grease Liner, Orange
Grease Liner, Orange
Green Ant
Green Ant
Green Butt Purple
Green Butt Purple
Low Water Green Butt Purple
Green Butt Purple, L.W.
Green Butt Skunk
Green Butt Skunk
 Limit Lander
Limit Lander
Mack's Canyon
Mack's Canyon
Muddler Minnow
Muddler, Original
Muddler, Red
Muddler, Red
October Caddis
October Caddis

Outlaw
Polar Shrimp
Polar Shrimp

Purple Peril
Red Butt Skunk
Red Butt Skunk
Signal Light
Signal Light
Silver Hilton
Silver Hilton
Skunk Fly
Skunk
Steelhead Caddis
Steelhead Caddis
Steeltuka, Purple
Steeltuka, Purple
Street Walker
Street Walker
Summer Run
Summer Run
Surgeon General
Surgeon General
Twitcher
Twitcher
Unconditional
Unconditional
Undertaker
Undertaker
 
Proven Mid-Day Flies Meant To Be Fished With A Sinking Tip Line
Morejohn's Bantam, Black & Blue
Bantam, Black & Blue
Morejohn's Bantam, Green Butt
Bantam, Green Butt
Morejohn's Orange Bantam
Bantam, Orange
Morejohn's Pink Bantam
Bantam, Pink
Morejohn's Bantam, Purple
Bantam, Purple
Hobbit Spey, Black
Hobbit Spey, Black
Hobbit Spey, Orange
Hobbit Spey, Orange
Hobbit Spey, Purple
Hobbit Spey, Purple
Flash-A-Bugger, Root Beer
Flash-A-Bugger, Brown
Flash-A-Bugger, Maroon
Flash-A-Bugger, Maroon
Flash-A-Bugger, Olive
Flash-A-Bugger, Olive
Flash-A-Bugger, Purple
Flash-A-Bugger, Purple

 


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