Steelhead Fishing Through Armageddon
During the summer of 2020, forest fires burnt about a million acres in Oregon. Smoke from these fires mingled with smoke and ash fall from fires in California, Washington and British Columbia. At times the whole west coast of North America was under a single cloud of smoke from hundreds of fires. This cloud moved as the winds changed direction, sometimes blowing out to sea, and sometimes blowing clear to the East Coast.
Fires burnt to the east, west and south of Welches, but never threatened us. PGE shut electrical service off to our area on September 5, fearing that high winds would blow down lines and start a conflagration. Electrical and cell service stayed off until September 13. It was inconvenient, but but that move probably saved our community. Our business suffered, but we had a large generator at home, so except for the dense smoke we hardly changed our routine.
On September 14, we set up camp on the lower Deschutes River and stayed there until September 23. The prevailing wind was out of the west so the Deschutes Canyon filled with dense smoke. To make matters even more challenging the melting glaciers on White River mucked up the water that flowed into the Deschutes, which dropped visibility to about two feet in the river. That didn't stop Tom Reynolds (below). He tied on a slightly larger fly and caught a steelhead on each of consecutive days.
The water clarity continued to get worse for couple of days and the catch went way down. Then we got a shot of clearing water and three different anglers scored within a couple of hours. The largest fish was landed by Svend Tang Peterson (below). It was estimated to be around 14-pounds. That fish fell for a #5 Fly du Jour (no surprise).
It rained hard the night of Friday, September 18. The air cleared of smoke, but by the morning of Sunday, September 20 the visibility in the water in the Deschutes had dropped to less than a foot. All steelhead activity stopped, at least for us. The aquatic insects didn't seem to care as there were billions of tiny (approximately size 24, light olive) mayfly spinners every morning as far as the eye could see. This activity seemed to go on for hours.
Now the rains have started, but some fires were so intense they burned roots deep underground and will burn until the heavier winter rains, and some will burn under the winter snows, only to come hack to life next spring. At least that is what we have been told. It pays to be virulent.