As a Lower Deschutes guide now for a while I’ve gotten accustomed to certain patterns throughout the season. You know, the Opener and then the big migration of stoneflies; the event that is Salmon Fly, with all the people, pinky-sized bugs crawling up your neck and colored up Redsides launching out of the river for their bounty; the brief doldrums before caddis, blizzards of tent-wings covering every surface of the boat; the heat of July during which you hope for a bikini hatch as much as any aquatic insect; the uncrowded “Dog Days” spent wet wading, searching for shaded eddy water and nymphing little bugs for big riffle fish; pre-steelhead September when begin to fish some bigger flies just in the hopes….; the arrival of the first chromers and the insanity that prevails all the way until the line freezes in your guides as you hope for one more grab before the season ends.
From my seat in the boat I’ve come to expect the fishing to be one way or the other on most days. Yea, it makes a difference if the anglers are really experienced and can present flies well right off the bat. But more often than not, the freshie angler learns the basic techniques quickly and begins hooking up. I have set places to stop based on who’s in the boat. Days go by at a pace I dictate. Lunches are prepared in favorite spots. Familiar rigs are applied. Fish are fooled. Clients are happy. It doesn’t matter at all to them that I have the day planned from whenever we push away from the ramp. What I did the previous day or string of days isn’t even on their radar.
I’ve actually come to love this time of the year. Hardly anyone’s around. The fishing is just fine. Big trout move into their favorite lies. Waders are rarely worn. The predictability isn’t boring. The challenges are just different from other times of the season. As an angler who’s been fortunate to fish a lot of day floats, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Lower Deschutes from Warm Springs to Trout Creek is easily my favorite, if for no other reason than it is constantly offering equations to solve. There is no standing in the front of the boat casting hoppers at the bank! Everyday is a new set of pieces to a beautiful, difficult puzzle. Yes, I am still fascinated and romanced. Completely. But even with all things intriguing, a little boredom can set in from time with familiarity swinging the door open for ennui.
All that changed a couple weeks ago when a fire began burning just up the hill from the river just outside of Warm Springs. For several days the fire burned at will, everything in its path was endangered. Areas were evacuated. Word came in that the fire had made it to the river but hadn’t jumped it. The river remained open to fishing but the conditions were dangerous to anyone with sensitive lungs or heart. We monitored the conditions day-to-day, knowing that we had a bunch of trips booked beginning with a corporate outing on the 15th. Right up until the call came from the first guide down at the ramp I wasn’t sure if we had a river for the 15 guys showing up ready to go! The word finally came in that the river was open but really, really smoky. My instructions were get in and row downriver till the smoke eases. As it turned out, they all had a great time down there that day. The canyon was a little smoky but not dangerous. The fish were down though, not willing to play very much.
It would be four more days till I was back down there with clients. Friday dawned clear and beautiful, a plume of smoke rising straight into the calm morning sky a ways west of Warm Springs. I’d spend the day with a newlywed couple from California. I met Josh the previous season and he somehow talked his bride into a guided fly-fishing trip as part of their honeymoon adventure to Oregon. His new wife, Camilla was game for a trip down the big river, so off we went. Their initial motivation was lacking due a long night of sampling our local beers, but it didn’t take long for the canyon to absorb us and enliven the senses, as is her wont. At our first stop they both hooked and played fish. The flies down there right now are small and represent a smattering of different bugs in varying sizes. The hot imitations have been small and presented on light tippet. Good news is that with a proper presentation there’s a solid chance of getting a trout to eat it. Bad news is that often times hanging on to the fish can be practically impossible. We even had a resident steelhead eat a small nymph at our first stop! It was an expectedly brief encounter, but exciting nonetheless. Camilla found out several times just how unsocial our native trout can be. I felt for her as the day progressed. She stayed at it, positive and focused, fooling quite a few fish before one came to the net. It was a fine bit of fishing by someone who’d never touched a fly rod prior. There were startling reminders as we floated how much had burned right along the river’s edge. Expanses of hillside, a week prior tan with waving grass, are blackened, exposing a surprisingly rocky surface. The letters and shapes once discernable in the form of exposed rock amongst the grass across from Mecca Flat are gone, as is the massive scorpion the next run down is named after. I wondered if they’ll return with the grass, or perhaps new designs will emerge. Either way, it’s a new landscape down there in the first few miles of the drift. As the day wore on, more fish were fooled, we had a casual streamside lunch, fished some more. There was laughter from the front of the boat. The warm winds pushed up canyon, pulled back down, played havoc with casting one minute, rowing the next. At some point there was that deep sigh as we all realize how lucky we are to be right there, just then. But I think what will stay with me from our day together is how lucky I was to spend a day with people nearly half my age, embarking on a whole new, uncharted trip, excited, together, a new and formidable team. Best of luck, Camilla and Josh! I’m quite sure a wonderful future awaits.
My clients the next day were a couple guys from Sothern California in our area for a group cycling gathering. On their day off from riding they decided to check out our river. It was somewhere outside Redmond I noticed the smoke thickening. By Madras it was heavy, drooping into every tree branch, hovering on the alfalfa fields. I would find out soon that it was the Washington fires that created all the smoke, now being delivered via winds from the north. The thick haze down in the canyon made for a spectacular sunrise! Right away we were into fish, landing some beautiful redsides. We stopped for a proper grilled lunch that day, steak, Caesar salad, chips and salsa. They each enjoyed a cold beer. All was right in the lives of these men far from their normal trappings. The laughed, told stories and gave ach other crap. It was men acting as boys, releasing tensions, allowing the canyon to be the only reality that mattered for those precious hours. As with the previous day, the little bug on fine tippet was key to fooling fish. The bigger stonefly imitation would still get the occasional fish, but the #20 mayfly nymph far out produced everything else combined. I’d tell you what the fly was, but you know I need to think about job security! Who knows, maybe if you ask really nice…
After a day off during which I fished with my son, it was back to the “Day Stretch” for two more days. These trips were unique to this season in that each day I only had one person in the boat. Monday my client was the fabulous and famous Kimberly Reichhelm, she of multiple world championships in the realm of big mountain extreme skiing. She is recovering from a back operation that has curtailed the usual super-rad lifestyle of a woman who spends more time skiing, kite boarding, surfing, etc. than most of us can conceive. She now runs a ski tour business called Ski With Kim. Check her out at skiwithkim.com and if you or anyone you know is interested in hanging out and making turns with a massively talented athlete she’s the one! But back to the fishing! Turns our Kim is a pretty skilled angler too. She picked up all the preciously important techniques needed on that stretch of river really quickly. We were into fish at every stop, eating as I rowed from honey hole to honey hole. Her back held up enough for us to fish until late afternoon. The smoke wafted up and down the canyon, sometimes borderline uncomfortable, sometimes nearly nonexistent. We ended up at Trout Creek Campground where we spent the night, the river a soft whisper adjacent our site. The day was, by all accounts a guide’s dream; skilled angler, interesting client, uncrowded fishing, lots of fish willing to play, a cot near the river and some tequila. Yes, a lucky boy I am to have called that day “work”!
Tuesday morning dawned relatively smoke free as we made coffee, broke camp and made for the Madras Safeway where Kim’s car and my client awaited. My guy for the day was David Morrow, a retired Air Force fighter pilot, a three decade veteran who rose to the rank of Admiral while moving his family over a dozen times during his career. David is a good guy with a healthy interest in angling. He’s decided to call Oregon home for he and his wife in their retirement years and wants to get proficient at a few different techniques for fooling fish on a fly rod. We hooked many fish throughout the day, mostly on the same doomed rig of a tiny nymph on fine tippet in relatively heavy water. He had a great attitude, understanding that simply getting the fish to eat you out there right now is a victory. Playing and landing big trout on gear that light is the bonus. He even hooked a nice fish on the switch rod at one stop, swinging a Sculpzilla in the right spot, the right way. I was impressed with how hard he was willing to work on new techniques, how accepting he was of new perspectives. We enjoyed our day together immensely.
I drove back down 97 last night through the smoky gloom, reminiscing over some incredible days down there. The Lower Deschutes from Warm Springs to Trout Creek has become my office more than any other river. Without going back through my journals I believe those were days 51 and 52 working down there this season. Yet somehow when I’m away from her for a few days, I miss ever aspect of her. I simply can’t get enough.
Till next time. Tight Lines!
And as usual, thank you for your time.