The Deschutes River begins at Little Lava Lake in the Oregon Cascade Mountains and winds down into Bend. It flows north through the high desert canyon until it reaches the Columbia River. Over this 252 mile journey, the river changes dramatically, depending on the specific location. The Deschutes is generally split into four major sections, and each section is managed differently, has different fish species, and is prone to other insect activity.
The Upper Deschutes Headwaters
This section refers to the start of the Deschutes at Little Lava Lake down to where the river flows into Crane Prairie Reservoir. The mighty Deschutes starts as humble as a small crystal clear stream. Here you can find native redband trout, native whitefish, and brook trout. Due to the small size of the stream, we use smaller flies than in larger sections of the river. Midges and small mayflies work very well here, both on the surface and below it. Blue-winged olives (Baetis) are a super common mayfly. Small stoneflies and caddis pupa can also be effective here. Wooly Buggers and other small streamers can be very effective, especially targeting wary brook trout trying to stay out of sight.
The Upper Deschutes Below Wickiup Reservoir
This section starts after the Deschutes and pours out of the Wickiup dam, and then it ends after water diversions in Bend. The fishing here can be difficult. Decades of managing the Deschutes River as an irrigation ditch have had a noticeable effect on fish populations. Despite this, fish have managed to persist, and some have gotten rather large. Native redband trout, native whitefish, and brown trout can be found here. Due to the drastic water changes, dry fly hatches are sporadic and relatively small; however, fish will rise when the opportunity arises. Fishing chubbies or terrestrial patterns can be effective, and mayflies can be effective if a hatch is going. Caddis patterns can be super effective, especially close to sundown. Subsurface flies to try are stonefly nymphs, general mayfly imitations, caddis pupa, and streamers. Streamer fishing is often slow but can be effective for finding the larger fish.
The Middle Deschutes
The Middle Deschutes starts after irrigation water is pulled out of the river on the east side of Bend, and it ends once the river feeds into Lake Billy Chinook. Historically, this section of the river would have flowed much higher than in current times. Thankfully, trout are resilient creatures, and they’ve managed to thrive despite the departure from natural conditions. Here you can find native redband trout, native whitefish, and brown trout. Close to Lake Billy Chinook, there are also native Bull Trout in the river; however, these fish cannot be actively targeted and should never be taken out of the water. In this section of the Deschutes, there is a fair hatch of salmon flies and stoneflies in May and June. These giant bugs are super fun to fish on the surface. There is also a notable March brown mayfly hatch in… you guessed it… early April. Other outstanding insect hatches are blue wing olives, pale morning duns, and a large variety of caddis. For nymphs, stonefly nymphs, size 20 - 14 mayfly nymphs, caddis pupa, and midges are excellent choices. Streamer fishing can work here, although it’s relatively little water.
The Lower Deschutes
This section of the Deschutes is the most well-known. It begins after the Deschutes pours out of the Pelton Round Butte Dam Complex, a three dam system that creates Lake Billy Chinook, Lake Simtustus, and The Pelton Regulating Reservoir. The river winds its way through an ancient canyon and then joins with the mighty Columbia River. The fish species that we target in the Lower Deschutes are all native to the system, which contributes to the tenacity of the fish populations. Redband trout, whitefish, steelhead, and bull trout can all be found here, although bull trout cannot be actively targeted and should be released immediately. The river is famous for its incredible salmon and stonefly hatch in May and June. The fish will hang out near the shoreline and gobble these bugs up as they fall off overhanging vegetation.
Green drakes, a large mayfly, hatch here around May and June. In March and April, March browns will hatch. Pale morning duns hatch in the spring and summer, alongside a wide variety of caddis species. Blue0wing olives hatch year-round. This place is a bug factory. For nymphing, large stonefly patterns are great. There are so many different mayfly patterns that work; fish key into various nymphs depending on what's hatching or about to hatch. Generally, use smaller mayfly patterns in the winter and large ones in the spring and summer. Caddis pupa are always in the drift during the warm months. Swinging soft hackle flies, which imitate emerging insects, can be super effective and a fun way to mix things up. You can also swing small baitfish patterns if you’re looking for excellent big redsides. Steelhead are mainly in the river during the late summer and early fall. Nymphing techniques and swinging flies can get a take from these anadromous beauties.