Fishing and Camping along Oregon’s Deschutes River

Edged by a thin strip of green, the Deschutes River is born in mountains southwest of Bend. Brookies – aggressive and abundant – dominate the headwaters where it flows out of Little Lava Lake. When the river hits Crane Prairie Reservoir, rainbows (and largemouth bass) dominate. Once the river drops into canyon country north of Bend, redbands come into their own. Although canyon trout typically don’t run large, there’s a good chance you’ll have the water to yourselves, as we did. Further downstream, steelhead attract attention from fly fishermen who spend hours swinging flies in hopes of that one, elusive, electrifying grab. (Click on any of the photos for a larger view.)

In June of 2009, Maia and I spent a week camped along the Deschutes River near Bend, Oregon where we were enrolled in an Orvis Fly Fishing School – an experience we highly recommend to any parent-son/daughter, husband-wife or fishing partner team looking to boost their skills and knowledge. (We’d love to take one of their saltwater fly fishing or wing shooting schools in the future.)

Tumalo State Park proved to be an excellent location for our headquarters. Tent friendly, it was both quiet and conveniently close to Bend and the region’s excellent fly fishing. In addition to the Deschutes Canyon, we also explored the nearby Metolius River, Lava Lake, Little Lava Lake and the Upper Deschutes.

Fishing an elk hair caddis, Maia coaxed a pair of the Deschute’s redband trout from this canyon pool.

The redbands of the canyon are not large, but numbers are good, the water is beautiful and the setting is dramatic.

The float tube launch on Lava Lake seems to lay out a path to Mount Bachelor, one of Oregon’s premier ski destinations.

As Maia and I were preparing to launch our float tubes on Lava Lake, a fly fisherman who appeared to be in his 70’s was just coming in. “Wanna see what I’ll be having for breakfast?” he asked with a playful grin. He then pulled from a wet canvas creel a fat, 18 inch rainbow. The silvery fish had undoubtedly been stocked as a fingerling and grown heavy on a diet rich with scuds and aquatic insects. “Been coming here for decades,” he said. “Fishing’s still good, and you can’t beat the setting.” Since we were after a trout or two for dinner that night, we were heartened by his success. And sure enough, in addition to a couple of smaller trout, a rainbow just shy of two pounds fell to an bead head olive wooly bugger in the short time we spent on the lake.

After a dinner of salad, pan-friend New York strip steak, freshly caught trout and multi-colored Peruvian potatoes, we relaxed in front of our campfire enjoying a finger or two of Scotch, reminiscing about the day’s fishing, about the fishing we’d had other days going all the way back to afternoons spent float fishing for bluegills and bass on our home river in Japan when Maia was only three, and dreaming about trips we’d take in the future…

Until I lived in Oregon, I’d never seen garter snakes hunt fish. This one was working the margins of Lava Lake.

We had read about Hosmer Lake’s unique (and quite challenging) Atlantic Salmon and Brook Trout fishing. Kicking around in our float tubes in water only slightly less clear than air, we could see fish – big ones – nearly 20 feet deep. The white edges on their fins gave the brookies away; the others, we surmised, must be the salmon. The fish were beyond us on this particular day, but what a lovely piece of water. Excellent nature watching, too – birds, otters, wild flowers along the shore, and, of course, the fish in aquarium-like conditions.

In the week we spent sampling the fishing near Bend, we barely scratched the surface. In addition to miles of river, there are several lakes accessible by vehicle and numerous  hike-in fisheries. Area campground fees range from reasonable to downright cheap, and Bend itself is a cool city of about 80,000 that merits time set aside for exploration.

4 thoughts on “Fishing and Camping along Oregon’s Deschutes River

  1. I’m not much on fishing, but I sure wouldn’t mind taking a sketch pad to the river and/or a camera. What a beautiful spot to enjoy in whatever fashion. Until now, I wasn’t aware that garter snakes ate fish, so I learned something today. And I must say, I love you little bird coming out to visit. You have some lovely shots here. Thanks for sharing.

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