Deschutes River Summer Steelhead Fly Fishing: How, When, Where
The Deschutes is world famous as a steelhead fly fishing river. This is because its steelhead will actively come to the surface for a fly. Some years steelhead start entering the river in late June and bright fish can still be caught in late November. The run is made up of three distinct races: the hatchery run, and two distinct wild races called the "A" and "B" runs. The hatchery run can start in late June during high water years and as late as August during low water years. It is comprised of fish which have spent 22 to 30 months in the ocean and average 6 to 12 pounds. The "A" run enters the river in July and August and is made up of fish that have spent 14 to 22 months in the ocean and average from 3 ½ to 6 pounds. The "B" run enters the river from September through November and is comprised of fish which have spent 24 to 36 months in the ocean and weigh from 10 to 16 pounds. Larger fish can be encountered any time.
2019 is not predicted to be a big steelhead return year for mid-Columbia tributaries such as the Deschutes River. But even low return years can produce very good steelhead catches. Deschutes river steelhead are very aggressive. All wild steelhead are regulated as catch and releases only by law. Barbless hooks do less injury to fish, and while not being mandatory, are a good idea for use.
The Deschutes maintains a unique location as the most southern of mid-Columbia River tributaries. Its water flows and fall temperatures are the most predictable. Its north/south alignment keeps late fall water temperatures in the range that allow steelhead enough energy to rise to the surface for a well-presented fly during water temperatures from 48-64 degrees. During warm periods in July & August early morning periods are normally the best. Water temperatures rise during the day and then fall again as the sun leave the water in the late afternoon. By mid-September, water temperatures are perfect the whole day.
The size and topography of the river provide an ideal setting for the traditional greased line angler. Although many diverse angling methods will take Deschutes summer steelhead, floating fly lines and a traditional wet fly swing is accepted as one of the productive approaches. Most floating line techniques work best when the water is shaded by the canyon walls or by cloud cover. The angler usually begins at the head of a long run and fishes all the way through to the tail-out. Aggressive wading and fly casting may be required to cover the most productive water. The fly is presented downstream across the current and allowed to swing on a tight line toward the angler’s shore. A series of mends may be employed to control the speed and depth of the fly. Often two flies are fished on a cast or a single fly may be riffle-hitched. Waking flies are often employed in the same cast with a wet fly. Fly speed is very important.
Many hair wing wet fly patterns take Deschutes steelhead. However dark patterns in sizes four or six are proven to be most productive over the widest range of water and light conditions. The favored colors are black or purple with a touch of chartreuse, orange or pink.