The March 2022 Deschutes River fish a long was not steelhead focused, but it started off that way for me with several CFF members exchanging steelhead photos by text message. When steelhead are being caught, you naturally assume catching trout will be easy…but it wasn’t. Even with trout fishing a little on the tough side, it was great to enjoy dry weather on the east side.
The roads were clear and it was a fast easy drive over the mountain to Maupin. I hit the Deschutes Angler to replace a water thermometer that lost a battle with the tailgate of my pickup and checked out some flies. I noticed most of their patterns featured oversized tungsten beads, or at least way bigger than mine, and this was for good reason as I’d soon find out.
Friday afternoon saw me fishing up by Nena and no trout or whitefish were harmed…or even seen. Still it was a very pleasant afternoon to be on the water. At 6:30 I received a text that The Riverside was packed and I better get down there if I wanted a seat. I arrived just in time to get the last stool at the bar. Several of us enjoyed the lively atmosphere plus tasty food and beverages. It was my plan to camp at Harpham Flats that night but Paul said his room had two queen beds and he didn’t have to ask twice. I spent the night in comfort then coffee’d up the next morning and made the short drive to Harpham Flats. Darryl texted and said he was on the water at first light and got a couple redsides on beads. Several members were already at the campground before 9am and we got a fire going and enjoyed more coffee and conversation for about an hour, then it was time to hit the water.
Several of us drove up to the locked gate and walked upstream. The weather was a little cloudy, cool and windy. The wind made Euro nymphing difficult but indicator nymphing was working OK. Most of us got a couple trout but the consensus was you had to work for them!
By early afternoon Eric and I had migrated pretty far upstream, reaching the water 2 miles past the gate by “the House Hole.” The clouds mostly burned off, the wind died down a little and it was nice. I hadn’t had a single bite in several hours when I saw some nice fish rising, but they ignored what I threw at them, which was pretty much everything; I really gave my new magnetic fly threader gadget a workout this weekend. If you haven’t used one, I can say they work great but like everything else, they cause cancer in California.
With the slow bite in the morning my strategy was to find a promising stretch of water and hit it hard between 1 and 3pm. This approach has worked well in the late winter/early spring when the water is still cold and fish are not very active. While methodically beating through the brush and pounding pockets my indicator went down and I set the hook on… a snag… or so I thought. It was most likely an old steelhead; I never did see it because it didn’t jump but did peel off about half my fly line a couple of times. I thought I had a chance until it got behind a rock and sawed through the 5x tippet. While I would have preferred to land it fighting a big fish is always a thrill.
While continuing to work upstream I ran into Eric who caught his personal best whitefish, specimen at least 3 pounds.
We leapfrogged our way back down to the locked gate and ran into Chris, who echoed our experience; he got a few but had to work for every bite! Also the trout didn’t seem to care what fly you used, they disliked them all equally; there was no “hot fly” today.
By now it was 5 PM and time for folks to decide if they are going to stay another night or head home. As near as I can tell everyone left but me and Eric. We opted not to stay at Harpham Flat because it has no wind protection, so we drove upstream to Long Bend, built a fire and enjoyed some adult beverages and chili dogs for dinner.
The sky was clear when the sun went down and we decided to stay up and watch the moon rise as it was a 98% full (and 100% full on Friday). This may have had something to do with the slow bite during the day and actually, anytime fishing is poor you can dependably blame it on a full moon.
The night was clear and cold but we both slept well. We rose early, made some hot coffee, broke camp and were fishing by 9:30. The water temperature had dropped to 47° overnight and there was very little fish activity. We fished hard all day with very little to show for it, Eric hooked and lost it whitefish around noon. Other than that we didn’t get a single bite.
A little after two when our hope was waning Eric magically hooked into a nice trout that put up strong battle. If you’re only going to hook one fish all day you want it to be a fighter like this one! By now I was tired, having hiked far upstream two days in a row. I was mentally preparing myself for a skunking when I forced myself to walk off the road and down the hill to the water’s edge one more time. The wind wasn’t too bad and I was making some good casts in spite of a pretty nasty overhanging tree that looked to have eaten more than a few flies. Suddenly indicator plunged down and I was fast into a leaping trout. As he slid into the net I decided it’s really okay to work hard for one or two trout. It had been another fun fish long weekend with good friends.