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Lower Deschutes River - Where we all want to be.

The Lower Deschutes River is an amazing fly-fishing destination here in Central Oregon. It is known as one of very few Blue Ribbon fisheries for both native trout and wild steelhead. The river runs one hundred miles from the last dam to the mouth at the Columbia River and is designated as ‘Wild and Scenic’. The Lower Deschutes has been a must-fish destination for generations of anglers from around the world. The canyon is epic in every way. Towering walls, basalt pillars reaching tabletop rim lines, multi-layered caldera ridges, archetypal high desert terrain, diverse birds and wildlife, and all the while an ancient, powerful river tugs at every synapse you possess. It is a place that awes and inspires on every level.

The Lower Deschutes River flows south to north from Pelton Dam near the town of Madras to the Columbia River, winding through some of the most gorgeous and pristine canyon lands in the U.S. It is famous for the native, genetically pure rainbow trout, known as “Redbands”. These are some of the most beautiful, hard-fighting trout anywhere. But the river is perhaps best known for the healthy summer-run steelhead that enter from the Columbia each year in late July. If you are looking for a great fishing destination in the cooler months, check out the southern stretch of these waters known as the Upper Deschutes.

However, whenever and for which species you prefer to fish the river, the surroundings will capture your heart and soul every time you look up from the water’s surface. It is so easy to imagine the history of the canyon; the massive migratory tribes that set up camps every year to greet tremendous runs of salmon and steelhead; the fierce battles waged over prime fishing areas; great herds of elk and deer. The spirit still breathes through the canyon in every afternoon zephyr.

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The Inside Scoop

There are several special regulations on the Lower D. The season begins April 22 on the stretch below the dam to the northern boundary of the Warm Springs Reservation. The rest of the river is open year ‘round. All wild steelhead must be released. The native bull trout are federally endangered. All Redbands over 13” must be released and there is no bait allowed on the entire hundred miles of the Lower Deschutes.

Late spring is renowned for the Salmon Fly hatch, a stonefly as long as your pinky! The dry fly fishing from mid-May to early June is some of the most explosive you’ll ever experience. The rest of the summer is spent pursuing the Redbands in any fashion you desire. You can spend the days wet wading riffles, fishing nymphs under an indicator, and working every seam. Or prowl the banks looking for heads tipping to caddis and PMDs behind overhanging branches and in the eddies. Or swing large articulated “Skulpzillas” through drop-offs for truly exhilarating grabs!

Late summer brings steelhead season. Beginning in the lower reaches and progressing upriver and into the short, cold days of late autumn, steelhead can be caught both on swung flies with Spey Rods or with large subsurface offerings under an indicator using single-hand rods. To put it simply, we can tell you about fly fishing the Lower D all day. But if you really want to get to know and understand these waters, book a Deschutes River Guided Trip and our professional guides will actually show you the best gear, flies, and fishing holes to get you fooling fish in no time.

FAQ’s About Lower Deschutes Fly Fishing

We, as lovers of the Lower D, are predisposed to loving any and every day we get to spend down there. The river, even on a tough day, is an amazing place to be. Having said that, the Lower D is a river that will challenge every aspect of your angling ability. The native fish are inherently difficult to fool. The river is big and can be tricky to read. There are times when we have to use very light tippet to get fish to eat and then we’re behind the eight ball when it comes time to play them. So all the elements conspire to invoke a passion for the challenge. And we love it! The spring brings big stoneflies and the trout, having gotten through the winter eating tiny stuff, gorge themselves. The salmon fly hatch is mega. It brings folks from all over the world in hopes of getting a chunky Redband to explode on a #6 dry fly. Into the summer we see an amazing caddis hatch with sporadic PMDs most days. Throughout the warm months we typically wet-wade. The canyon gets very warm during the long days of summer. Then fall comes and with it the returning steelhead. The river fishes wonderfully all the way till the short, frigid days of winter descend.
This where it gets a little tricky. Rivers like the Lower Deschutes are why most of us have a quiver of sticks! But for the most part, a good 5 or 6wt from 9 to 10 feet will get the job done. Most of the time we are going to be using nymph rigs and roll casting, which usually requires a rod with some butt strength and/or quickness. Then, on the dry fly days of summer, it’s nice to have something a little softer, both for the presentation and also tippet protection when playing a large Redband on light tippet. Into steelhead time many of us prefer Spey rods, typically in the twelve to thirteen foot range and in a 6 or 7wt. For single-handing in the fall and winter a good 6 or 7wt will generally do. Additional equipment would be a good pair of waders for early and late season and studded wading boots. You will need a full stock of tippet and flies throughout the seasons, but if you have a specific time of the year you’re planning on being out there, just get in touch and we’ll fill you in on the particulars.
Again, it’s hard to summarize on this one! This is a big river with incredibly dynamic hatches and conditions. Generally speaking, we look for the big stoneflies anytime from the end of April through the first week or two of June. The hatch itself is entirely based on water temperature so it only comes off when the water hits 54 degrees regardless of date, flows, sun or clouds. A week or so after the nymph migration the first adult flies come out. Then all hell can break loose. On the right day, this is a hatch worth anything to amongst. Extra large Stimulators and Chubby Chernobyl are the flies. There is also a great Golden Stone hatch around the same time. Norm Woods work great for that hatch. Into summer we see caddis and PMD. We like the X-caddis, Henry’s Fork and Elk Hair are all effective, in sizes 14-18. Fall sees occasional BWO hatches which can bring fish up in the eddies. Sparkle Dun and Hackle Stacker work for these fish. Nymphs to have down there would include Jimmy Legs in olive and black #8-12, Sparkle Pupae, Pheasant Tail, Trina’s Angel Case BWO, Zebra Midge, Anato-may and Copper Johns in #16-18. This is, of course, an overview. We recommend stopping by the shop or calling us at 1-866-800-2812 to get the particulars on what’s happening.
This where it gets a little tricky. Rivers like the Lower D are why most of us have a quiver of sticks! But for the most part, a good 5 or 6wt from 9 to 10 feet will get the job done. Most of the time we are going to be using nymph rigs and roll casting, which usually requires a rod with some butt strength and/or quickness. Then, on the dry fly days of summer it’s nice to have something a little softer, both for the presentation and also tippet protection when playing a large Redband on light tippet. Into steelhead time many of us prefer Spey rods, typically in the twelve to thirteen foot range and in a 6 or 7wt. For single-handing in the fall and winter a good 6 or 7wt will generally do. Additional equipment would be a good pair of waders for early and late season and studded wading boots. You will need a full stock of tippet and flies throughout the seasons, but if you have a specific time of the year you’re planning on being out there, just get in touch and we’ll fill you in on the particulars.
Again, it’s hard to summarize on this one! This is a big river with incredibly dynamic hatches and conditions. Generally speaking we look for the big stoneflies anytime from the end of April through first week or two of June. The hatch itself is entirely based on water temperature so it only comes off when the water hits 54 degrees regardless of date, flows, sun or clouds. A week or so after the nymph migration the first adult flies come out. Then all hell can break loose. On the right day, this is a hatch worth anything to amongst. Extra large Stimulators and Chubby Chernobyl are the flies. There is also a great Golden Stone hatch around the same time. Norm Woods work great for that hatch. Into summer we see caddis and PMD. We like the X-caddis, Henry’s Fork and Elk Hair are all effective, in sizes 14-18. Fall sees occasional BWO hatches which can bring fish up in the eddies. Sparkle Dun and Hackle Stacker work for these fish. Nymphs to have down there would include Jimmy Legs in olive and black #8-12, Sparkle Pupae, Pheasant Tail, Trina’s Angel Case BWO, Zebra Midge, Anato-may and Copper Johns in #16-18. This is, of course, an overview. We recommend stopping by the shop or calling to get the particulars on what’s happening
If you want the best chance at fishing all the most productive water then, yes you should be with a guide. As detailed on this page, the Lower Deschutes is a big, complicated fishery. We are down there just about every day all season. It’s a river that will challenge everything you know. Having said that, if you want to hike the river or you have your own flotation then, by all means, have a go. Either way, it’s a day you’ll most likely never forget.

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Fly & Field Outfitters here in Bend, Oregon runs guided trips down every mile of the Lower Deschutes. From single-day drifts to multi-day camp trips, we will show you everything this great river has to offer.  Check out all of our Oregon fly fishing guided trips to learn more about what options are available for fly fishing this area and which trip best suits your needs. If you already know the trip you’d like to book, call us at 1-866-800-2812 or email info@flyandfield.com and we will get you scheduled. We are honored to have such a mighty river to call our office, and proud to continue the great tradition that is fly fishing the Lower Deschutes in Central Oregon. We look forward to having you down there!

Directions to the Lower Deschutes