Friday, August 23, 2013

East Side Cascades Desert Summer Steelhead Report

Well it is no secret that the lower Deschutes River can offer some hot summer steelheading when the conditions all line up. This season has been showing signs of potential hot summer steelheading when looking at the Columbia River Fish Counts at the Bonneville Dam and The Dalles Dam. Fish numbers are really good now, but they came over a few weeks later than usual. At first it was looking bleak for the fish runs up the Columbia, but a few weeks back the numbers started to skyrocket giving hints of hot fishing to come.
The Lower Deschutes has large numbers of summer run steelhead that pass through.
I have been guiding a lot, and working at the Orvis Retail Store, Portland Oregon on my other days; so I have had little time to play lately. With all of the hints of good steelheading going on for the Columbia River tributaries, I had to get a taste of the potential action. I had a couple of common days off with another store associate named Colin, and he and I have fished before; so I popped the idea of hitting the Deschutes for an afternoon and morning session. He was into the idea, and we decided to meet at around 1pm.
The first landed summer steelhead from the morning session
We got ourselves into a spot that I felt confident we would get into some fish, and it was just a matter of nobody being there. The river has a reputation for being a total zoo when the fishing for summer steelhead is hot, and I can testify that it is reasonably true for the most part. Jet boats zooming around with about 6 anglers typically in them, rafts with people, drift boats with people, guides everywhere, fun anglers (like I am guilty of), people flooded into the one or few drive in spots, and people hiking up from any potential area you can get in on. It is busier than Portland can be in a whacked out way. If you can escape all of that crowded factor, and you can be in a few good spots, it can be epic getting into hot frisky wet fly pouncing summer steelhead.
Steelheading is the best when you can use a floating line and little sparse wet flies
Luckily, the spot was vacant when we got there, and it also seemed like nobody had messed with it for a long time which always boosts your confidence for steelheading. We were more or less ready to fish the best time in the late afternoon; right when the sun dips down leaving shade across the canyon.

The rewards are grand for covering lots of  water and knocking on the door with each cast and swing.
A dry fly was my immediate choice going by my theory you will not catch them on dries unless you actually fish dries. After a bunch of swings and covering lots of water, I felt a nip on my line when my dry was in a pile of choppy glare. I thought to myself, "was that something?", and no sooner than that I felt and saw a steelhead at the end of my line. I was tight and hooting up to Colin "fish on", and a quick throb throb of it being on, and then it was off. Nothing done wrong, but it just was probably hooked up on a "rubber band" strength piece of flesh, and the hook came free. It happens with steelheading, and it was hooked up during the hanging straight under me portion of the swing; which is tough to get a great corner of the mouth hook up that way statistically speaking. You should give the fish more slack in that case, but when you are fishing swing after swing, you sometimes don't expect it all to happen when it does. After a while more of fishing, I decided on a wet fly that resembles a street walker with a orange butt. A short while later, a swing coming across gave me a thud, pluck, pluck, and then fish on!!
First landed Deschutes Summer Steelhead on this trip, and for the 2013 year's run.
Then it really came on, and I had another one on in the next little spot I decided to swing. That fish was really interesting because it literally came on with a swing coming across, and I felt a grab, but not a hookup. The swing came across a few more feet with a grab.....let go......grab.....let go....grab....let go.....grab, head shake, let go, then swing more, and I pushed my rod forward to give it a little bit more. The end of the swing came around, and it pulled ever so lightly, and I snugged the rod tip to the right (direction of my swing), and then my line curled upstream, and a large steelhead catapulted several feet out of the water. Fish on! I fought it for a while, and it rattled its head on the surface to spit the hook out after a minute or so. 
This purple wet fly with a bright orange wrapped butt section seemed to really do the trick with the slightly tinted "White River" water coming in
I then peeled out my line to the length I was approximately at when I had that hook up to keep on swinging through the remainder of the spot. A few swings later, I felt throb throb throb again, and raised my rod to the direction of my swing after I knew the fish was on. Unfortunately it was short lived and off again, but I really could care less; since I was having so much fun with what I consider to be high frequency wet fly swing hookups. I then reeled up a little bit of line, and wanted to mess with the classic "greased line" technique. For this technique, I consider the presentation to be casting more perpendicular than a normal wet fly 45 degree swing. You let your fly dead drift while softly mending it while not effecting the dead drift broadside part of your presentation. Then you let the fly come into the standard 45 degree swing and you get a really broadside presentation coming off of a semi dead drift. Like I said, this is my interpretation from everything I have seen in the Advanced Fly Fishing for Pacific Steelhead with Lani Waller video, and books I have read about Atlantic Salmon fishing, etc. 
Chrome Bright Deschutes strain fish really like to climb on classic wet flies swung up in the surface film.
A few casts into the greased lining, and I felt a tug tug tug, but not a good connection. A killer grab though, and that gets my heart pumping just knowing a steelhead is going for my offering. I kept on getting sniffy type grabs as I would call them, but it was super rad just feeling lots of action. For a short evening session, having gotten one landed fish, another fish on that got off, a few really good quick on and off fish, and lots of plucks, grabs, sniffs, etc. I was totally stoked! There was the morning session to now look forward to.....
Colin working a run anticipating "the tug"......
We both planned on waking up super early, but I think we are both just really not into waking up at O'Dark thirty on our day off. I passed my alarm off, until I knew I had to take on the morning. We both got our butts in gear, and were off to the potential fishing spots we had hopes to catch some steelhead in.
Many of the Deschutes steelhead have gill net marks on their bodies from the Columbia River portion of their migration
It seemed that the water clarity was off for the sunrise morning session, and that was no surprise since it was about 97 degrees the day before which caused the White River glacier to leak silty glacial water into the lower Deschutes River. The wading was rather sketchy with less clarity. Given the conditions, I decided to use a bolder more noticeable yet sparsely dressed fly. That sounds like an oxymoron of a fly, but for the Deschutes it seemed like a good call for the day.  

Swinging flies for summer steelhead is quite a relaxing method to catch heart pounding fish.
While I would say the fishing was not as action packed as the evening before, it was still really fun. I managed to have 3 fish hooked up and 3 fish landed, and Colin poked a fish, but it did not stick for him. All of the fish were very bright colored and fought well, with signs of them being fresh from their oceanic lives. The results of the fishing were really satisfying considering that we fished for only a few hours in the morning session. I was really happy to have had the experience.
This Purple & Chartreuse wet fly combo I call "The Joker" really spoke to the Deschutes steelhead this day

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