When Elke Littleleaf stands waist-deep in the Deschutes, fly rod in hand whipping a beautiful arc-shaped cast, he says the feeling that washes over him is like medicine. “You’re in a session of river therapy, and there’s nothing like it,” he says.
Alongside his wife Alysia Littleleaf, Elke is an owner-guide of Littleleaf Guide Service. For more than 10 years, the couple has been taking fly-fishing enthusiasts to a section of the Lower Deschutes River on the Warm Springs Reservation, helping visitors discover their Tribe’s 39 unspoiled miles of river. (Fishing on the reservation requires a permit.) “We give them our mindset and eyes into our native world,” he says. “Eagles flying high above me, ospreys diving into the water, rattlesnakes rattling right in front of us …. On the river, every day is an adventure.”
Both Elke and Alysia enjoy taking beginners out to show them how rewarding fly-fishing can be. If you’ve ever wanted to try it out yourself but are unsure of how to start, here’s everything you need to know to get out and get your feet wet.
Guides Teach More Than Just Fly-Fishing
When it comes to a sport as technical as fly-fishing, there are a number of benefits to going with a guide. Not only will a guide service outfit you with the gear you need such as waders, a pole and flies, they’re also eager to share their expert knowledge such as how to cast, what flies you need and how to tie them. They’ll also be on top of safety concerns, such as river and weather conditions.
“It eliminates so much of the hassle and the questions,” Alysia says. “We can read the water, explain to them where to fish, where the flies hatch. We’re really dialed in, and we can help dial them in little by little.”
Going with a guide can also make for a more enjoyable experience, one where you walk away learning something you didn’t expect. “What’s different about us is we make you feel like you’re part of this river with us,” Elke says. “As we teach you along the way, we’re sharing our cultural heritage. You learn a lot more than fly-fishing.”
Check out these fly-fishing guides around the state.
Grasping the Basics
Whether or not you choose to go with a guide, it’s good to know the basics of fly-fishing before heading out the door. A common treat for most fish in Oregon’s rivers, streams and lakes are flies. Fly-fishers aim to lure those fish onto the hook by using an artificial fly that looks and acts like a real fly. Different flies live in different areas, so you’ll have to have an artificial fly that mimics the regional flies in the area you’ll be fishing.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife offers great introductory information on where to fish across the state, equipment you’ll need and a primer on knots. Casting is often the most difficult part for those new to fly-fishing. To help prepare, practice on dry land without a fly attached to the end of your line. Here is a video that breaks down how to do a basic fly cast.
Know the Timing
While in some places you can fly-fish year-round — including the Deschutes — there’s a special time to go fly-fishing in each river and each region. That timing is centered around when the regional flies hatch, creating a smorgasbord of tasty treats for the fish. The salmonfly and stone fly — two flies beloved by trout — both hatch between mid-May and early June.
That makes spring the prime time to try out fly-fishing on some of Oregon’s rivers, including on the Deschutes and Rogue rivers. People visit the Deschutes from all around the world to witness this event. To learn about when to fish and what type of artificial fly you’ll need, call the local fly shop closest to the place you’d like to fish.
Learn About the Waterway
In addition to checking the rules and regulations (including securing a fishing license) for the waterway you’d like to visit, take a moment to research what the ecological impacts on the waterway are and how you can visit responsibly. “Anytime there’s a new fly angler that’s born, there’s a conservation that’s born,” Alysia says. “These are first foods. We are a voice for the fish, for our river. We need clean water, so we teach them all the threats we’re up against.”
(Before you go fishing anywhere in Oregon, make sure to check the latest ODFW fishing report for the latest conditions and closures, including the recent closure of steelhead angling on tributaries of the Columbia River.)
Patience Is Essential
The No. 1 requirement for fly-fishing, the Littleleafs say, is patience. “Don’t even come fly-fishing if you don’t have patience,” Elke warns. Alysia says she notices newcomers often are impatient with themselves and their skill levels. In the same breath, she says you have to let go of something else: expectations. “In fly-fishing, you learn you can’t expect, expect, expect,” she says. “Don’t have expectations of catching the biggest fish or the most fish. Have fun, get in the moment, make the memories.”