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Upper Deschutes River- Her Many Faces of Beauty

The Upper Deschutes River here in Central Oregon is an amazingly multifaceted fishery offering a number of possibilities for fly-fishing anglers to enjoy. From the year-round and convenient stretch through Bend and up to Benham Falls, to the silent, ghosting flats below Wickiup Reservoir down to Sunriver, the brown trout-rich area between Wickiup and Crane Prairie, on up to Little Lava Lake for some of the most picturesque brook trout water you’ve ever seen, there is something for everyone fly fishing the Upper Deschutes River.

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The Inside Scoop

Starting at Little Lava Lake the Deschutes River begins its life as a spring creek which flows around 12 miles to the first holding water reservoir, Crane Prairie. If you enjoy a high alpine setting through pine forests and lupine-filled meadows with brook trout finning in crystal clear water, this is a place you’ll really appreciate. And whether you like casting elk-hair caddis through singing riffles or stripping large flashy buggers around logs, against banks and through undercuts, there is something for you on this stretch of the Upper Deschutes.

Between Crane Prairie and Wickiup lies, an area is known as Sheep’s Bridge. Flows fluctuate through the relatively short season for this stretch of the river. But if you catch it right, the fishing can be extraordinary for large, voracious, brown and rainbow trout. This is a series of beats you want to get some intel on before exploring. But if the timing is right, it’s a place you will never forget.

Below Wickiup the river flows quickly to Pringle Falls and then meanders the rest of the way to Sun River. While once widely regarded as a world-class brown trout fishery, this area is now subject to massive and unnatural flow changes which have reduced it to a pleasant place for a sunbathing float during the summer with the occasional smallish fish to cast for. Another Dam Story!

Below Sunriver, the Upper Deschutes again picks up speed as it begins a final descent into Bend. From Benham Falls all the way to Lake Billy Chinook, the river is open to fishing year ‘round and is actually most fun to fly fish during the winter (non-irrigation) months. When the flows drop, the river becomes more approachable for wading and easier to read. There are some good fish through this stretch. This is another area you will want to check in with us before heading out. But on the right day, with the right flies, you could get into some really good fly fishing. Call us for more information 1-866-800-2812 or email info@flyandfield.com.

FAQ’s About fly fishing the Upper Deschutes

There are a variety of seasonal regulations for the Upper Deschutes. It's best to check the ODFW regs book or call the shop for the latest at 1-866-800-2812. The stretch from Bend up to Benham Falls is open year ‘round. The winter is wonderful for this stretch. It’s a lovely hike and there are some beautiful fish to catch too. Farther upriver we see different regs on various reaches. From Benham to the headwater at Little Lava is open from May 22-Sept 30. That entire season is great for the Upper between Crane Prairie and Little Lava for brook trout.
For the smaller stretches near the headwater a good three or four weight is perfect. We like to fish up there with two rods, one with a little nymph rig or dry and the other with a big, heavy bugger for chucking around all the sunken deadfall that defines this area. The big bookies hide under that stuff and ambush anything that invades. It can be explosive, aggressive fishing in close quarters with large flies on short, stout, leaders. Farther downriver, a good 6wt will come in handy for throwing the big streamers we use for the brown trout. You will need a variety of tippets to fish the different regions of the Upper Deschutes.
The 'upper' Upper is a fun fishery throughout the season. Early on, we are mostly throwing big buggers and streamers for the ‘grandpa’ fish stashed in the undercut banks. They will relocate as the pressure gets heavier, but in late-May and early-June they are there and ready to attack. Then we start matching the hatches of mayfly, caddis, and the only stonefly found up there, the Shortwing Stone. When that bug is around, the fish crush stimulators in the faster water. Otherwise, all the usual suspects will work up there, Prince Nymph, Double-Bead Peacock Stones, Zebra Midges all work. Having some old-school Elk-hair caddis is always a good idea as well. The shop's favorite flies include the little Pheasant Tail, Winker’s Midge, Zebra Midge, Tailwater Tiny, and the Split-Wing PMD, all in #18-22. For the winter months, we like Olive Sparkle Dun in #20 and Griffith’s Gnat in #20 & 22 for dries. Small black leeches and Skulpzillas fished in the pools can be really fun too.
During the longest days of summer, there are pretty intense mosquitos up there. Take some really good repellant and whatever other protections you’ve had success with. The fishing can be SO good in the afternoon. The last thing you want is to get chased off the water just when the fishing picks up. There are some long, fairly remote meadow sections up there for the angler who likes a good walk. Be prepared to scramble over big piles of deadfall; it’s rugged, but worth the effort. In the winter months the flows will be under 100cfs and the flies smaller. The fish tend to pool up and key in on hatches or chase leeches. Nymphing isn’t as fun or productive for the most part since the water is too skinny. We look for overcast days with Blue-Winged Olive mayflies predominating and accompanied by the ubiquitous midges. Dry-dropper rigs are even more effective in the winter and a slowly swung leech in the runs can fool some of the larger fish.
Well that depends on which area you plan on fishing. Five minutes from our shop is pretty decent fishing at Meadow Day Use. The 'upper' Upper is around forty-five minutes away. It’s a beautiful drive in the summer.
You can certainly go up there and get after it if you have some idea of what to do. The area just upstream from town doesn’t allow guiding anyhow, so that’s not an issue. From Dillon Falls to Benham Falls, we can do both walk-in as well as boat trips. The 'upper' Upper is a great place to go out with a guide to get your lay of the land as well as learning where the bigger brookies like to hang out. We love guiding up there for the challenge as well as the cool beauty of the meadows. It’s always a little less toasty up there in the summer!

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Upper Deschutes Fishing Reports

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We run guided trips throughout this entire water system and can do half-day or full-day, groups small and large, and for any skill level. Book an Upper Deschutes River Guided Fishing trip by calling 1-866-800-2812 or email info@flyandfield.com. For more information about fly fishing on the Upper Deschutes River, check out some of our latest Upper Deschutes fishing reports. If you still have questions, we are always happy to offer information and advice on the best techniques for fly fishing the Upper D. Come and see us at the store located at 35 SW Century Dr. in Bend, Oregon.

Directions to the Upper Deschutes