Central Oregon’s Grand Slam – Four Unique Fisheries In Four Guilt-Free Days
I almost felt guilty calling this work. Almost. I found myself getting defensive with friends and co-workers, trying to justify to them that just because I am a fly fishing junkie doesn’t mean a fly fishing trip cannot be considered at the same time an enjoyment and legitimate work. See, there I go defending myself again.
All feelings of guilt aside, it was with great optimism that we began planning the ultimate central Oregon fishing trip. The idea was to bring out some of the country’s top fly fishing journalists for a week of flogging the local waters, and send them home with enough triumphs, tales and story ideas to fill a year’s worth of magazine pages.
As a Bend resident, I have the opportunity to fish most of these waters many times each year. But this was different. The group coming out for this trip represented the who’s who of fly fishing magazines, and for many of them it would be a long time before they had the chance to return. We had one shot to impress, we had four days to do so, and the pressure was on. After all, this was a group that makes its living with a pen in one hand and a 5-wt rod in the other, traveling to the world’s top destinations in search of everything from tarpon to taiman to trout. If only I had a way of conveying to the fish the importance that this be a successful endeavor.
With four days of fishing to plan, I asked myself the obvious question: If I only had four days left to live, where in central Oregon would I go fishing? The options were numerous, but the answer came surprisingly easy. Fish for “Cranebows” at Crane Prairie Reservoir? Check. Put our skills to the test on the challenging Crooked River? Check. Stalk rainbows and bull trout on the Metolius? Check. Hit the salmonfly hatch on the Deschutes? Triple check.
Day one found us on the gin-clear, spring-fed waters of the Metolius River, which gushes full bore from a series of underground springs in the shadow of Black Butte. The cold, clear waters of the Metolius are home to a variety of fish species, most notably Kokanee, rainbow trout and bull trout. The latter is a voracious fish that can tip the scales at 20 pounds, and has been known to feed on everything from staples like Kokanee eggs and whitefish, to unconventional food such as Cheetos (yes, Cheetos) and wayward chipmunks. A strong Green Drake hatch brought a number of large rainbows to the surface that day, and we managed to take a few aggressive bull trout using streamers that were as long as some of the fish we would later land on the Crooked River.
It’s worth noting that a hooked fish on the Metolius must be landed quickly in order to avoid falling victim to opportunistic bull trout, otherwise anglers may be left holding nothing more than the head of what once used to be a healthy rainbow. After enjoying a few of Deschutes Brewery’s finest creations from the riverfront porch of our cabin at Metolius River Resort, day one sadly drew to a close but the trip was off to a great start.
On day two, we headed to the Crooked River, a tailwater (a stretch of river that is fed by flows released from a dam) that is characterized by its meandering nature (hence the name), sheer canyon walls and selective trout. The Crooked River is a primary provider of irrigation water to the many farms and ranches of Crook County, and as such river levels can fluctuate greatly from day to day. Fortunately, we hit the river on a day with good flows that had been consistent for the better part of a week. Our guides from Cascade Guides & Outfitters led us to a stretch of water just above Poison Butte Campground, which we had all to ourselves on a Wednesday afternoon.
With the exception of the occasional whitefish, the group managed to land a number of good size rainbows using small nymphs and egg patterns bounced along the river bottom, and even found a few fish feeding on blue winged olives on the surface. Wading on the Crooked is tough due to algae growing on the river bottom, and studded boots a must. But this river often rewards patient and persistent anglers with beautiful, strong fish in an equally beautiful setting.
Our third day was the one most of the group had been waiting for, as the entire trip was timed to coincide with the Deschutes River’s annual salmonfly hatch – a prolific hatch that puts resident trout into a gluttonous feeding frenzy and attracts anglers from across the globe – and that’s exactly where day three found us. The plan was to float a nine-mile stretch of river from Warm Springs to Trout Creek (permits required from www.boaterpass.com), a relatively tame section of the Deschutes that features nothing more than Class II and is easily floated in drift boats, rafts or pontoon boats.
We met our guides from Fly & Field Outfitters at the Warm Springs launch point, and judging by the number of stoneflies and salmonflies adorning the trees, bushes and reeds, we were in for a great float. Optimism ran high the entire day, and we were not disappointed as fish after fish hammered our flies the way a tourist might attack an all-you-can-eat Las Vegas buffet. There was nothing delicate about the fishing either, as a size 6 salmonfly cast into any seam, below any overhanging branches or along any grassy bank was more likely than not to trigger a response. The window of opportunity is short during the salmonfly hatch – maybe a month – so the fish (and the anglers) take full advantage of it while it’s on. We had timed it just right, and everyone in the group was able to check another river off of their life’s list of must-fish places.
The last day of our trip, we met up with Cascade Guides & Outfitters once again for a day on Crane Prairie Reservoir, a 5,000 acre body of water that was formed in 1922. Today, it’s home to some of the largest rainbows (known as Cranebows) and brook trout in the region, with an occasional fish pushing 20 pounds. July through September is Crane Prairie’s prime window for fishing, and although we were still early in the season the scenery alone was worth the trip. The snow-capped peaks of Mt. Bachelor, the Three Sisters and Broken Top towered above us as Bald Eagles and Osprey soared overhead.
An abundance of underwater structure and aquatic life create ideal habitat for this lake’s resident trout, which feed mainly on damselfly nymphs and other aquatic insects. Two submerged river channels serve as “trout highways” in this relatively shallow (9-12 feet deep) body of water, and the fish tend to cruise up and down these channels in a constant search for food. Our depth finder indicated that we were directly above one of these channels when we dropped anchor, and now it was just a matter of waiting for fish to cruise by. When they did, we were rewarded with multiple hook-ups over a short period of time, before another lull set in as we waited for the next group of passing fish. We spent the afternoon moving throughout the lake in search of these channels, and although we sometimes went as long as an hour without a strike, when we did find fish (or they found us) they came fast and furious.
As it turns out, it wasn’t hard to convince many of these journalists to come out to Bend for a week of fishing the area’s rivers and lakes. I got the feeling from some in attendance that they had for some time been looking for a legitimate excuse to visit, and this trip was their ironclad alibi. We had lured them to Bend with promises of cobalt skies, friendly people, and an abundance of willing trout, and we had succeeded on all levels.
In fact, response to our offer was so great that we didn’t have enough space to accommodate everyone this time around. Which opens the door for another week of “work” entertaining another group of writers on another selection of waters next summer. Guilt free, of course.
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In this Itinerary
These maps and directions are for planning purposes only. You may find that construction projects, traffic, or other events may cause road conditions to differ from the map results. For travel options, weather and road conditions, visit tripcheck.com, call 511 (in Oregon only), 800.977.6368 or 503.588.2941.
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