Meet-Deschutes River Fly Fishing



Fly fishing the Lower Deschutes River is an iconic Central Oregon adventure. The river is considered as one of the very few Blue-Ribbon fisheries for both native trout and wild steelhead. The river runs nearly one hundred miles from its last dam to its confluence with the Columbia River. The legend and lore around the Lower Deschutes have made it a must-fish river for angling generations of all stripes from around the world. The canyon is massive and epic in every way. Above the riparian habitat, columnal basalt pillars reach to ruler-edge rimrock ridgelines. The canyon is home to numerous and diverse birds populations. Wild horses, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, and antelope all roam the corridor. And cutting through it all is an ancient, powerful river, tugging at every synapse you possess.


The Lower Deschutes River flows south to north from Pelton Dam near the town of Madras to the Columbia River, winding through some of the most historic and pristine canyon lands in the U.S. The river was designated as Wild and Scenic in 1988. Because of that, it has fairly consistent flows, ranging from 4000-5500cfs throughout the year Click Here to see current flows. It’s perhaps most famous for the summer-run steelhead that return every year. But the native, genetically pure rainbow trout, known as Redbands are in the river all year. And they are some of the most wily, beautiful and tenacious trout you will ever meet.


Fly fishing the Lower Deschutes also has some fairly unusual regulation for anglers: we must get out of our boats while fishing. While controversial with some, we believe the regulation is for the best when it comes to the overall health of the fishery. From an anglers perspective yes, it makes some very “fishy” spots unfishable, but the good news is that wading is not typically strenuous or hazardous.

While we advocate for a ‘Catch-and-Release’ ethos, we respect that the river has very specific ‘Take Regulation’. All wild steelhead must be released. All hatchery steelhead are typically ice chest fodder. Rainbow trout under eight inches and over thirteen inches must be released. All bull trout, which are on the Federal Endangered Species List must be kept wet and released immediately. While there is no barbless hook rule, we pinch all our barbs for the good of the fish.


The fly-fishing season begins April 22nd. And it’s pretty much “Game On!” from day one. Early season is all about stoneflies. The big bugs begin hatching and abundant insect life defines the river.

Late spring is renowned for the salmonfly hatch, a stonefly as long as your pinky! We typically fish big dries from mid-May into the first week of June. The hatch is entirely based on water temperature, so it moves around year to year. Dry fly fishing during the hatch is some of the most explosive you’ll ever experience. There’s good reason the salmonfly hatch has become one of the more iconic aquatic insect events in fly fishing.

The rest of the summer is spent pursuing Redbands utilizing any number of techniques. You can spend days wet wading riffles, fishing nymphs under an indicator or large dry. Or prowl the banks looking for heads tipping to caddis and PMDs behind overhanging branches or in back eddies. Or you can swing large sculpin patterns through runs for truly exhilarating grabs.

Fall brings steelhead season and continued great trout fishing. All the way into the shortest, coldest days of late autumn, steelhead can be caught both on swung flies with Spey rods and subsurface offerings under an indicator using single-handers. In the area we primarily guide, many steelhead every year are caught when we’re trout fishing. For the Redbands, we have the October Caddis, which is the last big bite of aquatic insect for the year, as well as eggs behind the spawning salmon. The fall is an amazing time to be on the Lower Deschutes.


It really doesn’t matter when, how or for which species you chose to fish the Lower Deschutes River. There is no ‘best time’ to be here. The canyon and it denizens will capture and captivate your heart whenever you visit. Every season has its special attributes. As described above, for fly fishing there’s always something to fun to do. There is no better river to spread your wings as an angler. And no matter when you visit, when entrenched within her walls, it’s not the slightest stretch to imagine the history of the place; it’s so easy to visualize the massive migratory tribes that came every year to greet astonishing runs of salmon and steelhead; their battles waged over prime fishing areas still echo between basalt walls; their spirits still sing in every afternoon zephyr.


Not to be obtuse, but there really is no ‘silver bullet’ set-up for the Lower Deschutes. The best all-around trout rod would be a fairly fast-action nine-foot or nine-foot-six-inch 5wt. The extra length does help with some presentation techniques, especially subsurface. Early season, when we’re chucking heavy nymph rigs in higher flows, a 6wt comes in handy. And when we’re casting small caddis and PMD dries to big heads on the eddies a 4wt is better… Best thing is to give a call and we’ll consult what will best suit you for your trip. And if you don’t have the right rod/reel set-up, we do!


Griff Marshall Outdoors here in Bend, Oregon runs guided trips down the entire length of the Lower Deschutes. Whether a Single-Day Trip or a Multi-Day Camp Trip, it will be our pleasure showing you everything the great river has to offer. Contact us directly at 541-480-4280 or email for more information about our Lower Deschutes Fly-Fishing trips.