Well 2021 was another in back-to-back years we’ll never forget. Fortunately for those of us who love to fish and guide the Lower Deschutes River here in Central Oregon, our river was able to remain open and fishing well the entire season. While water conditions were far from perfect, in the upper forty miles of the Lower D, water temps and clarity held up even through the extreme heat and lower-than-normal flows. This is one of the few benefits to a tail-water! And I feel lucky to have had a river that fished well the whole time. Don’t get me wrong, we had some tough days, but that’s what keeps the Lower D such a compelling, fascinating fishery. So now we keep fingers crossed for a wet winter and hopes that the dam operators will release more water throughout the season in 2022.

2021 started off, as many years do, with a trip out to the wet and wild Oregon coast in search of winter-run steelhead. My good buddy, Lance, and I arrived to swollen rivers, constant rain and word from our guide that he was broken down between here and there. We made the most of our time out there, but the hard truth is that no fish were caught. Or hooked. Or seen. Pretty typical coastal excursion.

South Coast Beauty

Then it was a couple trips out to a remote, practically unheard of tailwater in Eastern Oregon in search of brown trout, which were found. As were epic campfire sessions, reacquainting with dear friends, not insignificant beer and whisky intake and as much fun as aging adults can handle.

My solo trip was rejuvenating
Small Fly in a Big Mouth

Then it was time for my annual group trip out to Lake in the Dunes. This year we had around twenty folks, a half-dozen dogs, plenty of big fish, epically nice weather and some major campfire hang-outs.

The first salmonflies of the year are always much closer to town than the Lower Deschutes. And while the first fish of the year on a Chubby is rarely the largest, having a native rainbow launch out of a small river to clobber the ridiculous fly always brings a smile.

The Lower Deschutes River season started off with a couple fun trips.

My Favorite Fishin’ Buddy on our Favorite River

First it was my son, Jasper, aka my favorite human, a buddy of his and myself for three days down the camp stretch. We were impressed with the health of the fish and early season stonefly fishing.

The salmonfly was as early as I’ve seen it.

The legendary Salmonfly

This is a product of the river never getting a big flush of colder water in the early spring. So the magic, big bug temp was hit very early. There were some incredible days in the end of April and first week of May!

Lance and I were back at a week later. The weather was great. The fishing was even better! We had about as much fun as we’ve ever had fishing and camping together. This would be the last fishing I’d do for six weeks.

A moment I still cherish after thirty-seven years fly fishing

The client trips started. Then the weather went pretty sideways, and the explosive dry-fly fishing became more sporadic.

All the while, clients caught fish, just having to use modified rigs. We enjoyed awesome camp trips. Lots of fireside laughter, delicious meals, star-filled skies and beautiful Redbands.

I did sneak another trip out to Lake in the Dunes with the most amazing group of ladies. We had two days of perhaps the crappiest weather I’ve ever experienced out there, and they just kept fishing. I was as impressed as I was inspired. Trust me, this photo does not do justice the misery we endured.

The ladies, once the sun finally came out!

The last of the big bugs filtered out of the system by Memorial Weekend. As the weather finally warmed and evened out, we had outstanding caddis hatches almost every day. While not always getting to fish dry flies, the fish keyed in on pupae during the day and then went bananas for the adults each evening. I was equally working the Day Stretch and below there down to Maupin.

Last week of June found me hosting another group up at Grindstone Lakes, smack dab in the middle of Oregon, up high in the Ochocos. Our trip happened to coincide with the beginning of our Heat Dome experience in the Northwest. I’ll admit to never having fished lakes in such heat. It pushed triple digits each day. Somehow, the fish kept eating and everyone ended up tangling with some of the tremendous trout the place is known for.

Back onto the Lower Deschutes for a combination of work and family fun trips. The Dog Days were in full effect as the river became our relief from the heat as well as playground for fly fishing! 

The fish stayed cool! The PMDs were plentiful. As we’ve come to love and cherish about the Lower D, it was a place of fun and frolic during the toastiest months.

Into the fall, we all had to confront the reality that the entire Columbia River and her tributaries were experiencing yet another dismal return of summer-run steelhead.

A fish that still captivates every sense I possess

On top of that, many rivers were low and warm. On the Deschutes, the decision was taken quite easily to shut down targeting the miraculous fish. Originally it was temporary, but quickly became a season-long closure. While most agree that this was a necessary policy, it was a nightmare scenario for so many of the amazingly talented and dedicated guides who specialize in chasing steelhead.

If this face could talk, the stories it might tell

We can only hope that with some wetter winters and more responsible operation of the dams, the fish will return in numbers in 2022 and beyond.

Fortunately, we were able to continue guiding for trout, and enjoyed stellar fishing right up until winter finally arrived. Both on camp and day trips, many really nice Redbands were caught.

Nick with his first proper Lower D Redband. Love at first tug

I had a blast fun fishing with buddies and guiding some of the coolest people I know.

All the way into early December the Lower Deschutes fished great. While the low water years have for sure had a detrimental effect, the ancient canyon and its denizens have endured stoically. We are all fortunate that she has persevered. Not a day down there is taken for granted, whether working or hanging out with treasured friends.

Now, as the first days of the New Year are greeted with huge snowfall, I sit writing, reflecting, looking forward positively. I can’t wait for the 2022 fishing season. Stay tuned!