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How To Catch Steelhead

After a number of years and countless hours casting flies to the emerald green waters of The Deschutes in search of its Steelhead, I have determined that there are two factors that far outweigh all others in importance to consistent angling success. They are location and time of day. Of course there are no guarantees in Steelheading. However, if you can place yourself in a productive run at the magical hours of first and last light, your chances of raising a fish to the fly are greatly enhanced.

The Deschutes Steelhead readily rise to the standard Steelhead fly patterns such as Skunks, Brad's Brat, and Purple Peril to name just a few. Whether it is juvenile imprinting or territorial aggression, these fish will rise like their Redside cousin to the neatly swung wet fly tethered to the floating line.

My favorite runs in August and September for fly fishing are located in the unroaded section of the lower river between Beavertail campground and Rattlesnake rapids near the mouth. Most are 4 to 8 feet deep with submerged fingers of basalt dominating the bottoms features. These runs are no secret among the rivers top guides, so a timely arrival is key in securing the location. Setting up camp assures solitary fishing during the evening and morning hours.

We arrived at one of these runs around 2:00 PM, set the camp and waited in the shade of a nearby alder tree. As the canyons shade covered the water, I stepped into the run at my standard location, well above the sweet spot that had in previous years produced the majority of fish. As I moved down river with every cast, the finger of basalt became more familiar beneath my feet. The small depression in the otherwise flat basalt meant I had arrived at the sweet spot in the run. I stripped off 60 feet of line and cast it to the small patch of chop, near the head of a glassy section of water. The mirror smooth surface of the water hid several conflicting currents, which required close attention to the drift. Methodically, I responded to the lead of the rivers current, mend, swing, mend again, then gently with the rod tip, led the fly through to the bank.

It felt like a small trout nipping at my fly. A touch so light I could dismiss it as nothing of importance. I cast again and replayed the drift of the fly as before. As the belly formed for the last of the drift, I saw a boil near the end of my line and set the hook. The instincts from dry fly fishing for trout has no place in Steelheading and the fish was gone. I knew my error was lifting the rod on the rise. The fish would not come again to this fly. I stripped in the line careful not to change its length or my location in the run. Opening my fly box, I noticed a fly of my own design, a size smaller and slimmer than the previous fully dressed purple peril. The first cast with the new fly produced three rises. I felt nothing on the first two, however the third rise produced a stopping of the fly line. I waited for the steady pull of the fish turning back to its lair, then came my strike and the fish was on! Two more fish rose and were hooked to the new fly. After each fish was played out and released, I moved back up river until feeling the depression in the basalt. Only then would I cast to the small patch of choppy water. I fished until the evenings magenta glare had left the water nothing more than a black slate. The evening sky still held enough light to cast faint shadows in the sage brush as I walked back to camp.

On returning to camp I was greeted with familiar voices and the smell of sautéed garlic. It felt good to remove my waders and recount to my friends the evenings adventures. As we sat down to dinner we toasted the company, the river and its magnificent fish. We were glad some things on The Deschutes had not changed.

This article submitted by: Jack laFond Young's Fishing Service, Inc.