Every spring we plan a trip around the emergence of a 3-inch insect that flops clumsily in the sky like a small bird. It is the famed salmonfly hatch, and it’s the reason we first started visiting the small Central Oregon town of Maupin, located along the iconic Deschutes River.
When the local high school’s mascot is an angry muscular trout jumping out of the water, that tells you something about a place. But this town isn’t only about fishing. Through our many visits, we’ve also discovered that Maupin is home to miles of quiet country roads, which means that when the bite is off, it’s the perfect time to hop on a bike.
These days when we make the two-hour drive from Portland to Maupin, the inside of our adventure mobile looks equal parts fly shop and bike shop. It has quickly become one of our favorite destinations, because it’s a place where we can easily combine our two big passions: fly fishing and bicycling.
Even if you’re not a fisher, the salmonfly hatch at its peak is truly a sight to behold. Imagine clouds of 3-inch-long, black-and-orange insects, thick in the air, clinging to every blade of grass on the bank and eventually tumbling into the river (trust us, it’s less icky than it sounds). It is the one time of the year when the usually wary Deschutes redband trout throw caution to the wind and greedily hit the surface for the promise of a big meal.
It’s also the time when even those of mere mortal casting ability have the chance to get into some big fish. Ben Stephenson, an employee at Deschutes Angler (a destination fly shop in and of itself), says that the biggest mistake of first-timers on the Deschutes is casting out into the middle of the river. “Most fish you’ll catch within 10 to 15 feet of the bank,” he says. Another tip Stephenson gives is to look for “structure” near steep banks and drop-offs, or beneath branches. The tougher it is to get to, the more likely a fish will be holding there.
The Deschutes fishes well year-round, especially for trout and steelhead, but the salmonfly hatch is perhaps one of Oregon’s most famous hatches. Fishers from around the world travel to Maupin to fish during the hatch. If you’re an experienced angler and are looking for a day float, Stephenson recommends booking early. If you’re new to fly fishing and want to learn how to fish the Deschutes effectively, Deschutes Angler also offers 4-hour group beginner sessions that will improve your odds on the river.
Fishers from around the world travel to Maupin to fish during the hatch.
Bicycling in Maupin
When the fishing slows down, or if we just want to stretch our legs after standing in the river, we’ll swap our wading boots for cycling shoes. While Maupin is best known for fishing and rafting, it’s quickly developing as a cycling destination as well. Maupin was recently a host community for Cycle Oregon and is also the base camp for the annual Deschutes River Valley Time Trial Stage Race. A maze of quiet rural roads is easily accessed from downtown or from the river, giving you a multitude of riding options.
If we are feeling leisurely, we’ll stick to the Deschutes River Access Road that parallels the river. Since the road was once an old rail line, it maintains a pretty even grade with no major climbs. Mid-May, right before summer rafting season gets in full swing, is a great time to ride the river road. Heading north from the highway bridge, you can ride 25 miles toward Macks Canyon before needing to turn around. For the entire ride, you’ll be surrounded by stunning sheer canyon walls, and you’ll have lots of opportunities to spot wildlife, like bighorn sheep, osprey, deer, kingfishers and river otters. As you pass Sherars Falls, you’ll see fishing platforms cantilevered over the roaring rapids and members of the Warm Springs tribe fishing for salmon.
If we’re feeling a little more energetic and want to get in some climbing, we’ll ride the 26-mile Sherars Falls Scenic Bikeway, a paved-road ride that is a good sampler of the area. This route takes you out of the river canyon and up to Juniper Flat and the small community of Tygh Valley, where you’ll be treated to constant views of Mt. Hood. You’ll also pass White River Falls State Park, where you can take a short hike to see the falls and walk among the remains of an old hydropower plant. From there you descend back to the Deschutes River and take the river access road back to town. We love the length of this route because you can ride it during the afternoon lull and be back on the water for some evening fishing.
(White River Falls by Christian Heeb)
A maze of quiet rural roads gives a multitude of riding options.
Fortunately, the trout aren’t the only ones well fed in Maupin in the spring. One of our favorite places to eat is The Riverside bar and restaurant, which has pub food, local craft beer and a deck that overlooks the river (prime real estate on a sunny day). Over a long weekend, we’ll easily work our way down the menu, trying everything from their loaded smoked-pork nachos and fried-chicken sandwiches to the decadent, scratch-made cheesecake.
For dinner we traditionally reserve one night for a perfectly cooked steak at the Imperial River Co. Their ingredients are locally sourced, with the lamb and beef coming from the Imperial Stock Ranch (both the lodge and ranch are operated by the same family), located about 20 miles southeast. In the evening, the outdoor fire pit is a prime spot to have a few craft beers and exchange fish tales with other visiting anglers.
The Imperial River Co. is also our favorite bike-friendly place to stay in Maupin. They have bikes available for guests to cruise the river, as well as tools for repairs. If you book a river-view lodge room on the lower level, you can literally walk out the sliding-glass door and start fishing in a few minutes.
If the weather is nice and you feel like camping, there are several BLM sites along the river where you can fall asleep to the sounds of the water (and the occasional passing freight train!). We usually like to do a little bit of both: camp out for a few days on the river, then relax into a few nights at the Imperial River Co.
(Steak dinner and lodge room photos courtesy of the Imperial River Co.)