Deschutes River Steelhead Fly Fishing

Deschutes River Steelhead

About the time the fireworks are shooting off in small towns across Central Oregon a few keen fly fisher’s are watching the counts of Steelhead trickle up through the dams on the mighty Columbia. By the 4th of July, there are likely enough fish in the system to make the first trip on the lower Deschutes, but the best is certainly yet to come!

With our Steelhead season running from early July until New Years Eve you have 6 months and over 100 miles of river to chase them. It’s an incredible fishery really unmatched in overall experience by most standards.

Early Season / Spring Deschutes Steelhead Fishing

Early season Steelhead are typically wild and hot fish that are destined for the Deschutes! Beginning in Early July and going through the first week or two of September the section of river from Mack’s Canyon to the Columbia is where to focus on the run. This 23 mile section of the river is accessed several ways; by drift boat or raft floating down river, or by powerful jet sled’s that operate coming up from the mouth or down from Mack’s Canyon. Still, others hike or ride Mountain Bikes up and down the east side trails with the hope of finding great water full of migratory fish. Camping out along the river is basic, dry and dusty. With summer winds whipping up the Columbia River Gorge be prepared for afternoon winds that can really howl. Some days the winds interfere with casting and boating and make it a challenge to pitch a tent. But, when the fish are running none of that matters. The focus is on the fish.

Summer Deschutes Steelhead

By August the migratory counts coming up over Bonneville Dam and the Dalles Dam are really increasing and the Deschutes will see many more fish taking the right turn up river. Curiously, they are not all Deschutes fish, but many Idaho bound fish will come up the Deschutes and stay for a while. We see stray fish swimming up the Deschutes usually about 10 to 15 miles before they turn around to go back to the Columbia for their trek East. That said, strays might swim 90 miles up and decide to stay or finally turn around to seek out there own home waters.

About Mid-August enough Steelhead are heading up the Deschutes that the push of fish finally gets above Mack’s Canyon. There is a section of river below Sherars Falls that has good road access for fly fisher’s driving the rocky road down to Mack’s Canyon Campground from the town of Maupin, Oregon. In addition to the road access there are a couple of great float options that open up a lot of water to fish for a day or two.

Floats are typically done from either Beavertail or Pine Tree down to Mack’s Canyon, where the road ends. We hit this section hard from Mid August until the Middle of October as the fish pile up river. There are good opportunities for Steelhead through here all the way through the end of the year.

By Mid to Late September the Steelhead have begun to pass Sherars Falls and are getting above Maupin in good numbers. The 3 day drift from Trout Creek to Harpham Flats is a good choice not only for Steelhead but also quite good for a Steelhead/Trout combo trip.

So far, these fish are running at a time of pretty great weather in Central Oregon and water temperatures are conducive to smaller swinging patterns like Freight Trains, Green Butt Skunks, Steelhead Shimmers, Night Dancers and Fly Dejours (just to name a few shop favorites). We exclusively Spey Cast to Steelhead these days using 12 to 13 1/2 foot rods for 6 or 7 weights. Most days a Scandi Head fly line is a great choice for casting these flies, but on days with more wind the Airflo Rage line paired with a Airflo 10 foot Intermediate Poly Leader is a huge advantage.

Summer Steelhead Recommended Guide Trips

  • Pine Tree to Macks
  • Beaver Tail to Macks
  • Trout Creek to Harpham Flat

Fall Steelhead Fishing on The Deschutes

Deschutes Steelhead

With Fall Steelheading just around the corner, colder and longer nights usher in October. By this time the Steelhead have arrived all the way up to the Warm Springs area so there are now Steelhead to be found in 100 miles of river!

As the river becomes colder there are more tactics to employ that will add to your Steelhead success. The smaller patterns can still be swung on a Scandi or Rage head, or you might need to go deep with a big fly like a Town Run, Cold Medicine or Intruder. When you go with a big fly it’s a good idea to change out the head to an aggressive Skagit Taper paired with a Sink Tip of either the Rio MOW tip or an Airflo Custom Cut Tip to keep the fly swinging “low & slow”.

October and November weather is usually very agreeable to get out and fish. Days are typically still dry and afternoon temperatures get up to the 50’s pretty often.  By November the crowds are gone with kids back in school, football to watch, hunting season and holidays coming. It is a favorite time of ours to be on the water.
Usually by this time of year we are swinging big flies on Skagit lines with MOW tips or nymphing slow and deep.

Great fall fishing can be found at Warm Springs, Mecca, Trout Creek, South Junction, Nena to Wapinitia and Beavertail to Mack’s Canyon.

Summer Steelhead Recommended Guide Trips

  • Overnight Warm Springs to Trout Creek
  • Warm Springs to Trout Creek
  • Trout Creek to Harpham Flat
  • Maupin Area

December can be a pretty cold month around here but the beat marches on when it comes to Steelhead. Float fishing is a great possibility but the days are short so a lot of just drive to an area and walk and wade for a few hours. Like Fall fishing, getting deep either by swinging a heavy sinking tip or dead drifting a big ol’ nymph rig will get you down to the fish.

Watch the weather and you can still be seeing fireworks in December!

Nymphing For Deschutes Steelhead

Some people look down on Nymphing for Steelhead. There are traditionalist in any game but the guys who only swing are missing a good bet for catching fish, especially in the Fall and early Winter. There is a combination of flies we’ve found at the shop that really seems to work above all others. Take a 9′ 2x Rio Fluorocarbon leader and a #4 or #6 Double Bead Peacock Speckled Stone (we call it a Cheeseburger in the store). Tie a dropper of 3x Rio Fluoroflex+ tippet 24 inches off the bend of the Cheeseburger and tie on any number of great droppers. Our favorites include the Steelhead Lightning Bug, Tungsten Flash Prince, Double Agent, Rusty Bucket and Copper Bob.

Set up the nymph rig with a Sindacator or one of our Slip Strike Indicators that come apart and slide down the leader allowing you to reel up without the worry of the indicator hitting the tip of the rod.
It’s a great way to fish.

Additional Steelhead Resources

To view Steelhead counts on the Deschutes, visit: