Trolling for steelhead on the Deschutes – the story of the one that didn’t get away
The day started just as I had hoped – overcast and foggy. Not your normal aspiration as you embark on an eight-hour outdoor excursion, into the shadows of Central Oregon’s rugged Cascade Mountains in November. But today we were fishing for steelhead on Oregon’s legendary Deschutes River. My friend Will and I met our guide at 9:00am and we drove to the first section of water we hoped would yield the elusive andromonous fish. (See “Editor’s Note” at end of story)
As we approached the water I reminded Will, who has never fished for steelhead before, to lower his expectations. There is a reason they call steelhead the fish of 1,000 casts. One such reason is that steelhead do not eat once they begin their journey from the ocean back to their birthplace in the river (often a trip of hundreds of miles). The goal is to get them to strike your fly by triggering an instinctual territorial response.
Today, we had the odds stacked in our favor. The weather was perfect (Steelhead aren’t as active when it’s sunny), we had an expert guide with us, and this years Summer Steelhead run on the Deschutes was one of its best in years.
As we began to fish, we could see Steelhead breaching the surface of the dark waters of the Deschutes, which contributed to our feverish excitement. It wasn’t even an hour after we started fishing that I heard a yell 100 yards down river. As I looked towards Will, I saw him struggling with a fish at the end of his rod. I dropped my rod and sprinted down river to see what he had. As I approached, I saw the deep bend in his stout fishing rod and new he had hooked into summer steel. As he fought the fish I heard the guide say, “Careful, you don’t have him hooked well.” This added to the tension that accompanied the challenge of bringing the giant fish to hand. After a 10 minute fight, my friend was able to land a beautiful 10 pound buck (male).
Back to my section of river, the pressure was on. I could not be outdone by my out-of-town guest who had never fished for steelhead before. I began to fish with fervid intensity and about 40 minutes later, I too felt the tug on my line. I knew exactly what it was. This time, my friend and our guide ran up to see what I had at the end of my rod. All I could see, however, was the fight unfolding before me. The fish made several runs toward the ocean, and I flirted with the fine line between applying too much pressure on the fish and letting it get too far away. Eventually, I was able to land an 8 pound hen (female).
In the fishing world, there is nothing like the fight of steelhead. My friend and I were both very fortunate to land a fish that day, as the shyness of this species makes it a very challenging and very special fish to catch.
Editor’s Note: The summer steelhead run on the Deschutes is slowing down but the winter runs are just getting started in many of Oregon’s Coastal Rivers. Find your perfect fishing hole using the Oregon Fish Finder
And don’t forget to read fishing regulations (download them here in PDF form) before you head out.