This trip started like any Steelhead trip: wake up at 3 AM and consume enough coffee and pastries to make your stomach agree with the desire in your mind to be awake. After days of anticipation and preparation, the time had come to get going. These fish get under your skin; you’ll spend countless hours preparing for the chance to get one.
I pulled my boat out of the garage and loaded up gear. Next was picking up my good friend, and exceptional photographer, Steven Yochum. Living only a few blocks down the road, he was quickly loaded and within minutes in the truck, off to the Lower Deschutes. From Bend it’s about 2 hours to the put in at Pine Tree.
We showed up and the light was coming up fast, so we quickly unloaded the boat and filled it up with our gear. From Pine Tree our plan was to float down to Mack’s Canyon. It’s a 14-mile float filled with amazing, long runs that will put you into a meditative trance, consuming you with the beauty of the canyon. There are also plenty of short “pocket picking” sections to work our flies in tight by rocks or current changes.Steve and I knew that we were battling water conditions, the White River was still pouring out silt with it’s flow into the Lower Deschutes. We hoped that with the weather cooling down we might see the water conditions clear up. When we were all ready to go we both agreed that the water visibility was from our knees to our feet which was better than we had been seeing in prior days. We shoved off with hope that we would encounter some fish.
The day started slowly, working spot to spot, switching off on who got first dibs on what run, stopping at each other’s favorite runs as well. We both had a couple of nice Redband Rainbows that took our traditional flies, but neither of us had that solid grab particular to a Steelhead.
I just recently purchased a new Spey Rod, the Sage MOD, it’s a moderate action 13ft 7wt, and I don’t believe I’ll be casting another rod anytime soon. The feel to this rod is unbelievable! It loads perfectly, and by the time you lightly pull that backhand into your gut, accelerating your D loop forward, it does all the work for you and effortlessly places the line right where you want it to go.
As the sun came overhead and we approached noon, we switched up tactics trying sink tips with big intruders and leaches but still came up empty-handed.
Later in the evening around 3pm, sun still high and right in the fish’s eyes, I switched to a Scandi line and intermediate tip. We were in one of my favorite runs; I was lower in the tail out, while Steve walked up to the very top. The wind had just given up for my two casts before, and they felt good. A cloud came overhead right as I was setting up for my next cast. I made the cast and it unfolded elegantly with my Scandi line lightly rolling out and perfectly setting my size 4 Green Butt Skunk down 20 feet off the other bank. Landing right in front of the first set of rocks showing on the tail out, the fly started to swing out away from the bank and passed the front of the rocks, into the middle run. Then boom, my line gets grabbed out my hand holding three feet of line from my pointer finger to the reel. Suddenly the world stopped turning.
I hear my old Farlow reel scream as the line meets the reel. Another five feet gets pulled then it goes dead. My first thought is it’s gone and it may have been a trout anyway. We’d been getting trout all that morning, but then as I’ve trained myself to do I remained still and waited. Within three seconds, which felt like an eternity, it pulled again and went flying down the run towards the tail out and into the first 50 feet of rapids. My reel was on fire!
Deep into the backing I slowly angled my rod low and to the inside bank and proceeded to work her back to me. She then ran passsed me upstream and back to the other side of the river. She did some very nice rolls just below the surface, followed by the tug of war foot by foot until I had her at my feet.The new rod handled it perfectly with having just enough flex to absorb those big head shakes and rolls, but possessing the backbone to get the line in when it was time!
When I finally got my hand on her tail it was truly something special. Every time you encounter these fish it’s good for your soul. I can’t explain how much I love that feeling. After getting the hook out, and letting her revive, we got the grip and grin followed by some more reviving and I said my thank you and goodbye. She bolted off and we rejoiced.
Steve worked back through the run but was unsuccessful for the rest of that day. We made it down to our camp just above Mack’s Canyon right before shade hit the water. We got our tents and kitchen set up and let our gear dry for an hour. We then were shown how quickly the Deschutes changes. Going from sunny with low wind gust, to picking up to an average of 15-20 mph winds, with gust up to 30. We decided to save our energy for the morning and spent the rest of the evening sharing stories while enjoying beers and a nice dinner.
When we woke up the next morning at 5:30am, the wind was fair averaging 5-10 mph with stronger gust here and there but the water visibility seemed to have receded from 4 ft, the day before, to 2-3 feet. We fished hard around our camp all morning with no luck on finding anything but a couple of more Redband trout.
Steve noticed a big storm cloud moving in, and we decided to pull off the river. We both agreed we had a great time and with the weather getting worse it would be nice to get off before it got bad.
When we were driving back to Maupin Steve asked if I would like to stop on the way back and try a couple of spots off of the road above the White River to see if it was fishing better. We stopped at one of his favorite runs and I stood up on top of the road, watching him work the water with a sink tip and larger pink intruder. Making a perfect cast into the middle of the run and I watched as his fly started to pick up speed and drop depth. On one cast the line swung in, carrying his fly towards the bank. Right as the fly disappeared into the depth I hear his Farlex reel start screaming, followed by a tight line shooting downstream, I see the fish come to the surface roll right under the water and pop the hook. Everything goes silent and Steve looks at me with a puzzled look.
These fish our fast and strong, sometimes we get unlucky and do everything right but they still manage to shake the hook free. I reassured him there could be more and to keep working it. I was hitting the wall at this point with the wind picking up more and more. I didn’t want to tell Steve I was done because I know when you’re still working for one, every ounce of motivation you can get is helpful. I told him I was going to grab my sweatshirt and water from the truck and I’d meet him at the truck when he was done with the run.
By the time I got back to the truck and was opening my water I looked down the road to see Steve walking back, rod in one hand and a hatchery steelhead in his other hand. When he returned we agreed that it was a good time to head back home before the storm came any closer. It was a great trip and great memories were made. And as usual, I can’t wait to get back out there.