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fly fishing oregon:

steelhead 2013... back to the d.


at long last that time of the year has arrived.  time to migrate back to oregon.  although i was born and raised on oahu, oregon is the birthplace so to speak of my passion for fly fishing.  this, for me, was as much of a life changing experience as being born and i always feel a sense of returning home every time i’m up here in the great northwest.


so far this trip has gotten off to a great start.  upon arriving at elevinish  at night, i didn’t have to make that brutal drive to the river straight from the airport as i have done on past trips.  instead i got a good night sleep in tigard and spent the next day hanging out with friends until heading out to the deschutes river that evening.  thank the river gods for that.


day 1 on the d.


woke up from a somewhat restful sleep in the front seat of my buddies truck.  five a.m., time to get on the water for the morning shade.  used my sage 7136-4 one spey rod, an older orvis cfo VI reel  spooled with a wulff tracer shooting line and a rio 480gr. steelhead scandi head.  i finished the system off with a 10ft. airflow intermediate polyleader and six feet of 10lb. maxima ultragreen.   for the first fly of the ”season” i tied on a light version of a pink and purple moal leach that i tied.  in steelheading, as it is in most fishing, you gotta go with what you have confidence in.



still half asleep, i stumbled down the rocky trail and stepped into the heavy running water.  i swung my fly through a cube shaped rock close to shore that i have pulled fish off of before… nobody home.  i lengthened my line after each swing until i was at a comfortable length and started down the run.  typical beginning to a steelheader’s day.


about twenty or thirty yards down the run i cast about ten feet beyond a bunch of deep boulders.  my  line began the lazy swing in the current above the boulders toward shore.  the line was half way through the roily surface water caused by the boulders when i felt that dull yet powerful pull on the end of the line.  two consecutive tugs in a row.   i swept my rod slowly but confidently toward the bank… steelie on.  steelhead come in many moods, some dog around in the current when hooked others take straight to the air.  some instantly charge up stream, while others stay down.  this guy dogged around head shaking in the current for quite a while before exploding out of the water as i got it near.  i got the fish to come toward me and tailed it.  a nice sixish wild deschutes summer steel… sweet.  i snapped a couple of quick photos and let it go.  it bolted back into the depths and we both went on with our lives.  the rest of the day went without so much as a peep from another fish.  a bit more typical, at least for me in my young steelheading career.  i spent the rest of the day happily swinging runs more than content with having already matched the number of fish i got on last year’s trip.



first steelie of 2013.


the fully developed adipose fin of a wild deschutes steelhead.


ready for release.


my friends harold, hayley, benny, and casey were leaving that night and my other friends mike (owner of deschutes river outfitters), mike's son jack, and thuy were coming out to fish over the weekend.  i decided to stay out at the river to meet them so i got a room at the imperial river co.  in maupin.  i spent the next day, friday, just chillin’ at the imperial preparing for the weekend float and reading… yes  reading.  the imperial has no television but is stocked with books in every room as well as a small library.  i found a few books on the deschutes river, fishing it, as well as some of its history.  i immersed myself in those books surrounded by some nice artwork and a painting of the river itself on the room walls.  the day flew by and soon it was dinner time.  i treated myself to an awesome 14 oz. locally grown rib steak (hey i got a steelie, i earned it).  thuy and mike showed up later that night.  the imperial was absolutely fantastic.  i’m glad i decided to stay there.  it really recharged my batteries and i think i may have found the ticket to getting doug to come steelheading with me someday.


room 111 "roaring river" had a painting of the deschutes right on the wall.


river of falls... deschutes



artwork like these help make the rooms at the imperial extremely comfortable and hard to leave.


the d on paper.


when was the last time you had a bag of munchos?  the maupin market is one of the few places that i know of that still sells this.  i look forward to eating some everytime i'm out there.


day 2 on the d.


thuy, mike, and jack crashed with me at the imperial that night and the next day, saturday, we were up (barely) at 4:30 am and rumbling down the dirt road toward max canyon.  we put in at about six and began our decent downriver.  we fished a couple of runs in the morning shade of the canyon.  i fished my sage 626-4 one spey rod, abel classic switch reel, wulff tracer running line, and a 385gr. rio steelhead scandi.  mike hooked a couple of fish and got one i think.  thuy and i came up empty.  when the sun rose above the canyon walls we pushed further down the river three beavers and a duck (mike, thuy, and little jack are all oregon state beaver fans).  we played around with jack who is just a super cool kid and fished a few more runs with sink tips in the sun.  i hooked another fish going down a run in the sun with mike.  the fish wasn’t big.  i guess what you could call a steelie rat.  but it was a steelhead none the less.  mike also hooked one as he followed me down.   awesome!



steelie #2. a "rat".


a couple more runs and we pulled into a spot with good camp water and set up camp.  jack took off around the perimeter of the camp on a snake sweep to look for rattlesnakes.  the kid is six and he has no fear of this venomous snake that inhabits the area.  when jack got back i asked him if he had anything to report.  he said he heard one in the bushes but couldn’t see it… nice.  i am morbidly afraid of poisonous snakes.


jack and his "woods" hat.


we set up camp and sat around in the afternoon sun relaxing and waiting for shade.  thuy cooked up some ridiculously good burgers and jack ran around and played with sticks and his imagination like all kids ought to do.   i was lounging around getting some rest when i heard jack calmly say, “i have a report”.  i looked up and saw him standing near some tall grass pointing a two and a half foot long stick into the grass.  he was just standing there pointing at a rattle snake.  mike got the shovel and he and jack took off into the bush after the snake to get it out of camp.  mike ended up flipping it with the shovel far away from the camp.  at least that’s what he told me… maybe he was just trying to make me feel safe.  either way i appreciated it.  we fished the camp water in the evening.  i hooked another fish that fought for a while before rolling in the current and coming unbuttoned.  we slept on cots under the stars and the moonlit canyon walls.  the thought of snakes was not enough to overcome my exhaustion and i fell into a deep sleep and slept well that night.


my rattlesnake protector wearing his "river" hat.


laying around in the afternoon sun waiting for the evening shade.


before long it is back to business.


day 3 on the d.


up early sunday morning.  i fished the camp water again.  this time nothing.  mike rows across the river and gets one there.  we break camp and head down the river.  we fish the sun although this day was a bit more cloudy and cooler.  i hook another fish that comes off while i am wrestling with it in some frog (slow and deep) water near the shore.


we are on the last couple of runs before we row out.   i’m pretty much done as i have already had more than enough encounters with steel to make me content so i tell mike and thuy to go and fish the island run that we stop at.  before hiking up to the top mike tells me that i can throw the spinner and plug a bit if i want and try to get jack a fish.  thuy fishes down the run while i play with jack in the boat.  soon thuy is done and returns to the boat.


mike is still a ways upstream so i take the spinning rod and jump out into the run.  i cast and swing the plug and it is pretty entertaining as i have never done it before.  about half way down the run i make a cast.  i feel the plug digging down and wobbling in the current.  suddenly i feel a hard pull on the plug.  i set up and find myself tied into something big.  i look back and mike is just getting back to the boat.  “i got one for jack!”  i yelled and began making my way upstream.  mike grabs jack and starts heading down toward me.


“clay, just do whatever you need to to not lose it!” mike yells.  i still have no idea what it was that i could have done not to lose it besides hang on.  the gods were kind and mike, jack, the bent over spinner, and i met up at a rock where jack could stand and fight the fish.  i handed the rod to mike and jack and the battle was on.  “this is a big one, “ mike said.  “yeah i know ,” i replied.  the two of them fought the fish for what seemed like hours, the light rod almost bent in a right angle.  they got it close and we saw that it wasn’t a steelhead but a chinook salmon in the fifteen to twenty pound range.  i told mike to go get it and i took hold of jack.  we didn’t have a net and i didn’t want to be the one to lose it while tailing it.  we had three shots at tailing it but the fish was just too powerful and would bolt away every time mike got close.  on the fourth try the plug popped out and we watched the fish victoriously swim back into the deep propelled by its massive tail.  mike and i were so bummed we wanted a picture of jack with the fish.  jack was a little bummed to as he really likes to touch fish.  not so much catch them, just touch them.  jack quickly bounced back to his playful self (as kids can do).  far sooner than  dad or i did.  we fished one or two more runs.  i can’t remember as i was still thinking about the chinook.  we rowed out and i met up with harold and his family, who had come back to fish up river and headed back to tigard for some much needed r&r.


mike and jack tangle with the "nookie". 


6 pulls, 4 hookups, 2 to hand, 1 ginormous mountain of good times.



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