22 Sep Fishing in Cascadia
Three world-class river fisheries on the dry side of the Cascades
In fall, the Cascades region has much to offer the adventuresome angler. Summer-tepid rivers cool, autumn rains recharge dwindling streams with new water and life, steelhead are pressed to spawn, and trout and bass scramble to build their stores of fat prior to the onset of winter. It’s a magical time to be an angler in Cascadia—some would argue the best time—especially considering we have some of the world’s best rivers right here in our backyard. Come along with us as we visit three.
Charged by snowmelt and rainwater trapped in a volcanic aquifer, the Metolius springs yearlong from the base of Black Butte. It’s a beautiful, sparkling waterway that weaves rapidly through a forest of pine, larch, aspen and alder, terminating only 28 miles away, where it pours into Lake Billy Chinook. The clear-as-glass river maintains a near-constant cold-water temperature year-round, which provides a rich environment for bug hatches—the secret behind the Metolius’s healthy, beautiful native rainbow trout and predatory bull trout.
The Metolius is for true sport fishers only—a large portion of the river is restricted to catch-and-release, barbless-hook flyfishing. The Metolius is easiest fished near the small town of Camp Sherman, which offers access to a trail that follows the river for several miles. In the fall, the bull trout move up out of Lake Billy Chinook to feed on spawning kokanee. Look for them near springs and off the mouths of major tributaries, and use a streamer to mimic kokanee. This is one of the best times of the year to fish for rainbows as well. A rainbow will take a streamer too, but a better bet is to choose a fly that imitates the October caddis. Stock the fly box with larva patterns, emergers and dry flies.
If you’d like to make an overnight stay or just grab a bite to eat, Lake Creek Lodge is a great spot to set up your Camp Sherman base camp. The rustic, well-appointed cabins at this beautiful resort sleep 2 to 6, and a small restaurant onsite serves great meals, too. A stocked trout pond on the property provides another good fishing option, especially for kids. Also check out the Camp Sherman store—the log building is brimming with old-fashioned charm and is a great place to pick up a cup of coffee, a roast-beef sandwich or a six-pack of Central Oregon-made craft beer.
John Day River
The John Day is one of the longest undammed rivers remaining in the West. Its main branch originates from the Strawberry Mountains near Prairie City, Oregon, and its waters warm as it flows through the high desert for nearly 300 miles before joining the Columbia River near Rufus, Oregon. Bordered by scenic rimrock canyons, grassy prairies and painted hills, the John Day exemplifies picture-perfect high desert country.
Some of the best access for fishing is found in the stretch of river between Spray and Service Creek. The absence of dams on the John Day allows for unimpeded migration of salmon and steelhead, and the river boasts one of the largest runs of native summer steelhead on the planet. This river is also unique for its robust population of smallmouth bass, an aggressive fish wildly popular with anglers. Gear fishermen are best equipped with a 7-foot spinning rod and 6-pound test line, with minnow-imitating plugs in morning and evening and a lead-head jig mid-day. Fly-fishermen should use lead-head bass nymphs, crawdad patterns and, in the evening hours, frog-imitating poppers.
Fossil, Oregon is a great place to put down roots for a few nights while you discover the John Day. The town comes by its name genuinely—in fact, a hillside behind the high school is open to the public for fossil digging, and yields instant, awesome bounty (a $5 per-person fee applies). The kids will love it. For overnight lodging, Wilson Ranches Retreat, an authentic Western bed and breakfast, offers a wonderful glimpse of life on a working ranch, and the Wilson family are wonderful hosts and some of the nicest folks in the West.
The Deschutes River
The Deschutes River originates from Little Lava Lake high in the Cascades Range of Central Oregon, and flows 252 miles on its march to meet the mighty Columbia. The river begins life as a small, purling stream, flowing through dense pine forest and scenic meadows, and then through the city of Bend. North of Bend the river enters high desert country, eventually carving a scenic, dramatic canyon with many rapids through ancient igneous rock before it merges with the Columbia River, just east of The Dalles.
The lower Deschutes is revered by anglers worldwide for its unique strain of desert redband trout, locally known as “redsides.” These trout are well-suited to life in the river’s powerful water—redsides are strong, thick, muscular fish and fun to catch on a fly rod. At the end of August the river also offers phenomenal steelhead fishing, as the water cools throughout September and October. Combining their strength with the river’s current, Deschutes steelhead put up incredible fights on rod and reel. The fact that using both live baits and fishing from boats are prohibited on much of the Deschutes make them all the more challenging a quarry. Bring at least a 7-weight rod and a collection of dry flies.
The thrilling rapids of the lower Deschutes make the river very popular for whitewater rafting also. Visit the town of Maupin (about 90 miles north of Bend) and sign up for a single- or multi-day guided float (Sage Canyon River Company or Deschutes River Rafting are good choices). Typically, the commercial rafting season lasts through September, though the river can be run any time of year if you have your own gear, and don’t mind the region’s cooler fall weather. For Maupin lodging, try the Imperial River Company or the Oasis, and don’t miss a brew pit-stop in the famous Rainbow Tavern.