There, it just happened. Didn’t you feel it? That was the first properly cool morning of the year. Yes, it’s still August. And while I don’t think any of us here in Bend are ready for summer to end -it only began six weeks ago! – the change of the season does ring in thoughts of steelhead in the Deschutes. I know for many that ringing began over a month ago, when the first fish hung a right out of the Columbia into Lower D water pushing seventy degrees. I won’t go into all the factors leading to water exceeding dangerous temperatures for anadromous fish, but I will aver that for me and many others the thought of putting a steelhead through a mortal struggle and then releasing it into water that warm is contrary to our adoration of said fish. And so, for many of us, we wait for these first cooler days and longer nights. We wait for the fish to poke higher up in the river, into cooler water, less stressful conditions. We wait because the idea of steelhead fishing with a fly rod is that of crisp mornings, clouds of steam emanating from breath, watching eagerly as the sunlight line slides down the western canyon wall. We wait because the waiting is what we’re supposed to do. Well, the wait is nearing its end.
For those of you who have suffered through my earlier writings -whether in the books or blogs- you’ve read of the contradiction, both abstract and literal, I feel regarding steelheading. And seeing as though I’ve already documented said feelings, I won’t rehash them here. What I will say simply is that I love the fish far too much to threaten their ability to successfully spawn -or for that matter, live- in order to pose with a picture of one, or get a big tip from a client. So, both as an angler, a guide, and lover of the fish I pursue, the summer-run Deschutes steelhead can count on me to not hassle them in the lower stretches of the river through the warmest months of the year.
Which is why these first crisp mornings late each summer bring such excitement. This excitement is what will have me found, in the pre-dawn hours, in the garage, sifting through mounds of random fishing gear, getting all the steelhead-centric stuff ready, making sure I know where all the vital bits and pieces are. This fall has much to look forward to. Our camp here at Fly and Field will be as busy as it’s been in many years. We have so many amazing trips ahead; everything from two to eight clients at a time, multiple trips on the river together, some of my favorite people I’ve ever guided are coming back for more, and it would appear we have a decent run of fish on their way upriver.
I tend to spend these mornings (and days and nights, if I’m honest!) retracing favorite moments from autumns past. Last year provided many memories. I was with no fewer than six people when they landed their first ever steelhead on a fly rod. There were countless others who had the opportunity to play one, but, well, you know how these things go. I will certainly always remember Brett Wall hooking his first steelhead. (read the story here) That fish made a break for the Columbia that really should have ended things in its favor, but then it somehow found the grace in its heart to swim the couple hundred feet back to our waiting net. A week later Brian Goldin had a similar experience, his made more entertaining by a spool that kept popping off the reel! But alas, that fish found the net too. Or the Brad Justus day trip when he hooked four amazing fish, landing one! Craig Haines stuck his first steelhead while trout fishing (!) late in September. My son tangled with a big one on a Winston BIIIx one day. Wonder how that movie ended? And how can we forget the day I took our guide, Allison and her boyfriend down for a day of fun fishing and picked the poor girl’s pocket a few times, once resulting in a little steelhead. I wasn’t trying to be a dick; it just comes naturally, I suppose. And then there was the day with Kyle. We were down there on official shop business, but had to fish a little, for pics and videos and such. A stout steelhead was fooled at one of the more likely spots. This was a good one for late in the season, pushing six or seven pounds, healthy and incredibly strong. What I remember most of that day is that it just felt right, crisp air, low and slanting sunlight, an uncrowded river, buddies getting some work done.
I also have a couple fun fishing trips planned, just to break things up a bit. I’ll be down there with my son and a few friends in September for three days. Having been down on a buddy trip a few weeks ago, I was reminded how much I actually enjoy fishing! Beginning back in April, most of my fishing has been through those I guide, which I love as much now as the first time decades ago. But, yea, turns out I still really like fishing! So there will be my son and I down the canyon, swinging runs together, nymphing the tastiest buckets, seeing what fish wishes to bend our rods, sharing whisky under the stars. Heaven.
Perhaps most of all I look forward to each and every day down there with clients -whether familiar to me or not-, fishing all the likely spots, with that constant anticipation. Last year was my most productive for steelhead down there. There were twelve straight days with at least one hooked. Then a day off followed by ten more in a row. This is attributable to a number of things I won’t bore you with now. What’s far more important is that each trip this fall will be filled with a sense of promise, a perpetual series of reasons for hope. Hell, we already got one on the “Day Stretch” while minding our business nymphing for trout.
I also can’t wait to get on the river with our crew at Fly and Field this year. From John Earls to Andrew Hasbrook, Glenn Sherman, Eddie Mack, Jasper Marshall, Kevin Hoar, and the newly returned Justin Francis, this a crowd of fishy effers! Not sure if I’ve ever had a staff of Lower Deschutes guides that fill me with such confidence, not to mention they’re all super fun to fish with.
So whether you have one day or five let us get you down the river for some fishing this fall. Your trip can be as steelhead-based as you like. We can just ‘go fishing’ and see what eats, or hunt steelhead the entire time. Regardless, the canyon will be happy to see you and we’ll treat your adventure with all the attention and excitement it deserves.