Fly Fishing Central Oregon Rivers and Lakes
By: Jeff Perin – Owner The Fly Fishers Place, Sisters, OR
It is that time of year when the IFFF gathers to celebrate the great sport of fly fishing, this time back to Oregon where it all began 50 years ago in nearby Eugene, Oregon on the banks of the McKenzie and Willamette Rivers.
This year the Fair is being held in Bend, Oregon which is arguably one of this country’s best regions to fly fish and is still relatively unknown in the shadows of all the attention the Rocky Mountain states get. Oregon truly has it all and will be a huge surprise to anglers from across the country and throughout the world visiting here for the first time. From fabled Steelhead waters, to lakes, small streams and spring creeks there is really something for everyone in the Bend area.
In the 25 years I’ve spent behind the counter of my fly shop in nearby Sisters, Oregon I don’t think any upcoming event has generated as much excitement in the local fly fishing world as the 2015 IFFF Fair.
Beginning last summer anglers from all over the country were calling the shop to ask about fishing the area, and the #1 topic they wanted to know more about was whether they could catch steelhead when they attend the IFFF Fair.
The answer is absolutely.
With Summer Steelhead running on the Lower Deschutes and North Umpqua Rivers beginning in July and going well into early winter, there will be plenty of opportunity to go after these fish.
Expect a 2 to 3 hour drive each way from Bend to get to the areas where the Steelhead will be. If that fits your schedule and your timeline you should be rewarded with bright, wild fish coming to both a swung fly or a big double nymph set up (where legal).
If you plan to fish the Lower Deschutes, head north to the riverside town of Maupin, Oregon and then downstream from there to the Beavertail and Mack’s Canyon area. Early morning at sun up and again when the sun hides behind the steep canyon walls will be your best time to catch a steelhead on a floating line with a swung fly near the surface. It is the ultimate way to pick up a steelhead on the Deschutes! During the afternoon, many anglers choose a larger fly fished on a Skagit line and a sink tip or they rely on a Double Nymph set up under a strike indicator. The fish will stack up on the basalt ledges to get out of the strong currents and they use the ledges for shade from the hot summer sun. Running a nymph through this type of structure can be highly successful.
There are places where road access is good down from Maupin towards Mack’s Canyon. You can access the water on your own, but for a better chance at success hire one of several great guides for 1 to 3 day floats along this stretch of river.
For prime summer steelhead, besides the Lower Deschutes, going South West from Bend you’ll come upon the North Umpqua river near the Steamboat Inn. The North Umpqua offers miles of fly fishing only steelhead water. Regulations require there be no weight on the fly and no indicators are allowed, so this is classic swing water! Many regulars to the North Umpqua skate or chug a dry pattern for heart pounding takes.
Wading is a major challenge on the North Umpqua and hiring a guide to put you in the optimal runs will increase your success by quite a bit.
The Lower Deschutes and the North Umpqua are both places of worship for the steelhead obsessed, and serious disciples of the discipline shouldn’t miss hitting at least one of these places on your visit to Oregon.
The Deschutes River is over 200 miles long and is divided into 3 distinct sections.
The Upper Deschutes includes the intimate headwaters section from it’s origins at Little Lava Lake down to the rich, trout filled waters of Crane Prairie Reservoir. This is small water, running cold and clear and in many places it is fast with log jams complicating access to the water. It is ideal water for Tenkara angling, Euro Nymphing and Attractor Dry Fly enthusiasts. Local anglers pick up the biggest fish by courageously fishing streamers in the log jams and along the tight, undercut banks. Fish run 8 to 24 inches, with the streamer anglers picking up the bigger fish.
Below Wickiup Reservoir the Deschutes runs North toward Bend. For several miles below Wickiup the area has been hurt by 2 years of drought and irrigation demands that have sadly made the fishery not even close to what it once was. I’d skip that section and wait until you get downstream of the Sun River Resort or the Inn of the 7th Mountain Resort. In this area you’ll find access to the Upper Deschutes at Benham Falls, Lava Island Falls, Meadow Camp, Slough Camp and right down into the town of Bend.
Early morning and evening fishing will be by far the best times to access any of these areas. Expect Caddis, PMD’s and Rusty Spinners on the water. Purple Haze and the old classic Renegade is a winner for fishing the riffles through here.
Streamers like a Sculpzilla or Conehead Wooly Bugger will account for the largest fish, and being on the water at sunrise will be an advantage, meaning you shouldn’t stay out too late drinking beer in one of Bend’s 20 plus breweries the night before! But what happens at the Brew Pubs in Bend, stays at the Brew Pubs in Bend....
If you do stay out too late the night before, believe it or not there are a lot of great trout fishing spots running right through the city of Bend. Anywhere you can find public access likely holds fair to excellent populations of wild redband trout, as well as browns and whitefish. Moving downstream from the Old Mill District to below Colorado Street Bridge, just below Newport Avenue Bridge in the riffles below the old PP&L dam, Pioneer Park, 1st Street Rapids, and at the convention center where the IFFF Fair is held down to Sawyer Park offers access to good riffle water. While not the finest water the Deschutes River has to offer, this is a great, easy and quick spot to go fishing before and after the events at the IFFF Fair.
From Bend to Lake Billy Chinook is what the locals refer to as the Middle Deschutes. In August this area is going to be either an early morning fishery or it will be good the last hour or two before dark.
You’ll find access near Tumalo State Park, Eagle Crest Resort, Cline Falls State Park, Lower Bridge and Steelhead Falls.
Expect very good Czech Nymphing on small mayfly nymphs morning through early afternoon. In the evening BWO’s, PMD’s, Pale Evening Duns and Rusty Spinners will be productive on the surface. Some areas trend towards brown trout and other areas where cold springs rejuvenate the water temperatures you’ll find a lot more native redband trout.
The Lower Deschutes begins below the Pelton re-regulating dam just north of Madras, Oregon near the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. The area from Warm Springs to Trout Creek is one of Oregon’s best fly fishing areas with a world famous Salmonfly hatch in May and early June. While you are here in August, you’ll find caddis, PMD’s and midges to be important to the trout.
The Lower Deschutes offers anglers their best opportunity to catch some really solid trout during their visit to Oregon. Average size redband trout run 15-16 inches with 18 to 20 inchers common. These fish are STRONG fighters, and many first time visitors are quite surprised by the battle that may find the backing rarely seen on a trout reel!
In August, the river is moody during the day, with most trout coming on nymph patterns. It is in the evening that all the locals refer to the “magic hour” on the Lower Deschutes and the time to be sure to be on the water from about 7 PM up to dark.
While there is DIY access to the river at the Warm Springs Boat Ramp, Mecca Camp Ground, Dry Creek, Trout Creek Camp Ground, South Junction and upstream of Maupin, you’ll greatly benefit from hiring a guide to drift the river with when you visit.
Oregon’s most popular tailwater river offers plenty of access and high fish populations to enjoy. It is easy to get to from Bend, either on the back road through the farming community of Alfalfa, or on the highway through Redmond and Prineville. Either way will take about 40 minutes from the convention center.
The Crooked River is our most popular destination year round and is a consistent fishery with both nymphs and dry flies.
A true tailwater with prolific BWO, PMD, Mahogany Dun, Caddis, Midges and Scud populations keeps the fish well fed.
Access is from Bowman Dam (Mile Post 20) to the Cattle Guard (Mile Post 12) with limited access from MP 12 to the town of Prineville.
Fishing is good anytime during the day, and as soon as shadows start hitting the water in the late afternoon you should see risers. This was one of the recent stops for the USA Fly Fishing Team and they made an absolute assault using Euro Nymph techniques on this river. There are several local guys who fish Tenkara rods exclusively on the Crooked, and it is also a perfect river for your favorite graphite, glass or bamboo 3 or 4 weight. Wading is slick, so a staff is a benefit and studded soles are a must.
Oregon’s most famous and interesting spring creek is just about a 40 minute drive from Bend through the beautiful mountain town of Sisters, Oregon where my fly shop is located.
The headwater area is considered one of the most popular areas in August for an afternoon visit. It is small water, easy to read and nice to wade. Golden Stone hatches are common in August and while you may not see a lot of adults in the air at any given moment the trout are looking for them! Fish a Clarks Stone along the banks, log jams and deep pools. Besides the big stones, little yellow sally’s, PMD’s and caddis round out our upper river hatches.
The Middle River begins at Gorge Campground and goes to the end of the Fly Fishing Only water at Bridge 99/Lower Bridge Campground. I believe this is the most interesting water on the Metolius. The river is bigger through here with strong currents, deep pools and great back eddies. Many people consider the Metolius to be the most beautiful river in Oregon and this stretch is the most revered. Afternoon hatches can include PMD, Caudatella, Flav, Caddis, Yellow Sally, Little Olive Stones and the occasional terrestrial. In the evening, BWO’s, PMD’s, Rusty Spinners and the best Caddis hatches of the day are common.
Many visiting fly fisher’s have heard the stories of our elusive Bull Trout. If you want to catch one, get out of bed before the sun comes up and be on the water at sun up. You’ll do best with a 7 or 8 weight rod, not only to handle the size of the fish which run up to 10 or 12 pounds, but also to cast the massive streamers recommended to get the fish interested in feeding. A mature Bull Trout can swallow a 12 inch whitefish with ease, so a 4 inch streamer might not cut it. Big streamers are common and a powerful rod is the only way to effectively fish for Bull Trout.
The Metolius is a no guiding river, so stop in my fly shop in Sisters for the latest info on the river and hatches and be prepared to do it on your own. Good maps are available that will clearly show the river and each of the named holes and landmarks to orientate yourself to the river.
A perfect little spring creek found about a half hour drive South of Bend. Fall River is 10 miles long and is regulated fly fishing only. While not a wild trout fishery, the river shares a population of both stocked rainbows and wild browns and brook trout.
Fall River water temperatures are as cold as it gets, and even a blazing summer day won’t affect the temperatures here. Waders are a must!
Access is good from the Guard Station at the Headwaters down to the Campground. The Fall River fish hatchery area is a great access point as are “the Tubes” and the Falls down river on the LaPine State Park access road. Besides these landmarks there are several other non descript pullouts off of South Century Drive to find quiet access to the river.
In August you’ll find good PMD hatches along with caddis, small stones, ants, hoppers, flav’s and midges. Fishing is often fine right in the middle of the day but evenings will be best. Bring your mosquito repellant if you go at sunset.
Around Bend, the best small stream is Tumalo Creek. Basically there are 2 good access points. The first being Shevlin Park and the 2nd is up Skyliner Road below Tumalo Falls.
In the summer you can usually get fish up to an Ant or an Adams. If you are a fan of 80’s rock and roll, fish an Ant as a dropper off the Adams and you can have Adam & the Ants playing in your head. Plenty of fish come on a nymph or on a Hopper-Dropper set up too.
This is a perfect stream for your lightest fly rods and Tenkara techniques.
Whychus Creek downstream of Sisters towards Alder Springs and the confluence with the Deschutes, or up in the mountains South of Sisters has some potential if small streams are your fancy. Access is not easy but there are some good places to fish on Whychus.
The Upper North Santiam River near Marion Creek is a good small stream with good access and plenty of trout. Fishing is usually good all day with evening caddis hatches bringing out the best fish. This area is about 45 minutes from Sisters and 70 minutes from the convention.
The Upper McKenzie is another good small stream. Faster water makes access tough in some areas and a lot of bush whacking make it better for the tougher, more experienced small stream commando. The fish are wild, well proportioned and who knows, you may luck into a large Bull Trout in this area too!
Central Oregon has an abundance of very good lakes, most within a 45 minute drive from Bend. Bring a float tube, pontoon or favorite lake boat to get good access. Most of the lakes here have very limited shoreline or wading access. There are 7 registered guides on the Deschutes National Forest that you can hire to take you the best lakes while you are here.
My favorite lakes to guide on or fish (on my days off) in August are East Lake, Hosmer Lake, Davis Lake, Crane Prairie and Wickiup.
While there are many other lakes, these 5 are the most consistent in mid-summer and tend to hold up well during hot weather but it will be a good idea to check in with a local shop or guide to ask how current fishing is going come August.
Callibaetis, Chironomids, Damsels, Black Long-Horned Sedge, Travelling Sedge and Terrestrials can all be important for fishing these stillwaters. Wooly Buggers, leeches and Baitfish patterns have serious game on most of these lakes too.
These lakes are all in the mountains and offer cooler weather patterns than you’ll find in the high desert climate down in Bend.
While this summary doesn’t come close to covering all of the waters in the region, it covers what should be best in mid-August when IFFF fans converge on Central Oregon and are looking for the best outings to fit their fishing styles or desires.