Pig Trout of the Deschutes River

As October winds down and November begins my thoughts begin to drift towards the late archery season here in Oregon and huge redband trout gorging behind spawning fall chinook salmon. This year I was fortunate enough to fill my deer tag so chasing blacktail deer is out of the question (maybe a cow elk).  I have been drawn to thoughts of the huge pig redband trout of the Deschutes River. No other time of year allows consistent action for large (very large) redband trout like the chinook spawn in fall.  Most anglers target steelhead during this time of year so the trout do not get the pressure. Concentrations of spawning chinook draw in the trout to feast on eggs and all the insects that get kicked up by the commotion.  It only takes a few chinook to draw in the trout. Herds draw in the true pigs.

A sporty specimen

In mid-October a strong frontal system produced some pounding rainfall on the glaciers of Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Hood.  The glacial silt runoff turned the river an Alaskan grey with visibilities of less than a foot that remained for over two weeks.  The fish faired fine.  I think the increase in river level and the color drew a huge push of chinook upstream.  I tried my luck in a few of my usual haunts and egged up this sporty fella behind a group of spawners I located in the glacial tinge.  It is the usual “Turb self-photo” hence the dry bag and buckle in the foreground.  Self photos just add to the adventure.

My stealth floater and arsenal

Of course none of this would be possible without my Watermaster Kodiak.  This boat allows me to sneak into the tightest spots and tie up to twigs where drift boats would spook the whole herd.  You have to watch the rods because there are a thousand ways to snag a 13 foot spey rod in the brush along the bank.  I hope I do not learn the hard way. My advice: break the rods down, secure them with rubber bands, then lash them to the boat.  It may create a few interesting tangles from time to time, and slow down the fishing, but you won’t end up with a six piece spey rod, or worse a six piece spey rod and a five piece single-hander.

No words can explain the action or the size of the pig trout that suck up behind these groups of chinook.  A few photos is the best I can do to explain the quality.

Average specimen

Above average, but common

A closer look at this old pig trout

The release with a peek at a custom egg pattern

Since the chinook are present in numbers the occasional dorsal or tail hook up threatens to take your rig- or worse, splinter your rod.  My advice is to snap your line with the rod pointed right at them.  If you use maxima, half the time it pulls out of the soft flesh.

Every so often they develop a hunger for the egg.  If that happens there is usually a battle.  My advice: play to win!

The battle. Keep the rod up!!

Photo worthy

I rarely take people to my go-to spots.  Other people rarely take me to their go-to spots.  It does happen.  Appreciate it when it does.  This time I chose to share the spots and the knowledge of how to rig up for these pig trout slobs.  The river gods responded with a gift of their own.

Sir slobness (not the angler) made an appearance.  Truly the biggest redband I have handled to date.  Bigger trout exist, many in our dreams.  This one is a pig trout for sure.

Please handle with care and release wild fish to keep the dream alive.

Keeping the dream alive

Deschutes River Fishing Report September 12th, 2012

Just a quick report on the steelhead fishing from the lower Deschutes.  I skipped out of work at noon this past Wednesday and headed to the lower Deschutes River.  After a quick sandwich at the pizza shop in Maupin I picked up a snack for the afternoon at the market and headed down river to my goto spots.  The plan was to land a few fish on the spinning setup then try out my new Watermaster Kodiak Raft and swing some prime water with the two-handed fly rod.  I am still trying to figure out my mojo with the whole swinging thing and need some more time behind the cork.

I banked two fish in my goto lies in 30 minutes.  Two nice wild fish.  Got my self photo, and thanked the steelhead gods for the oh so nice feel of the throb on the rod and buzz of the drag.

wild steel strikes again!

I headed back to the rig and unloaded my Watermaster for the first time on a bluff over looking a likely steelhead run where fishing from a bar in the river was always on my mind.  I did not have an anchor so I rummaged through my truck and found the bag that housed my jumper cables and decide that if I filled it with rocks it should to the trick.  I packed the vessel and my essential gear down to the river, made my anchor and pushed off.

I started with Idlywilde tube and cone weight to reach what I felt was the desired depth for action.  My goal was to hook up,  but more so work on my casting stroke and swing.  Just about when I was getting into the grove the slack in my skagit head took off as I was setting up a nice swing.  Missed strike!

I continued through the run and then changed files.  Saw a few fish roll in the tailout, but no more tugs.  Maybe next time.  I jumped back into the Watermaster and ferried back to shore.  I feel this boat will (or already has) changed the way rivers are fished.  Enough said.

This site is not about spots or secrets.

Thanks RIch!

It was pricy, but for some reason I already know that I will “catch more fish”

Regardless of the reports on the Columbia there are fish in the Deschutes.

Looking for the perfect loop

Turb

With the Kodiak endless opportunities await

2012 Bow Hunt–The Stink Is Off!

My goal every year is to at least hunt the first and last day of each bow season here in Oregon (tags permitting).  Nothing beats the anticipation and excitement of opening day.  For the past few seasons I have hunted the first week of the season out of an eastern Oregon camp.  My friends set up camp on the Thursday prior to the opener to ensure we have the best spot for our base of operations.  A quality camp makes the hunt better.  Early season brings warm days with cool nights, plus the infamous dust that grows each day as hordes of hunter pound the roads.  Being off the beaten path and way back on rough roads the trailers, four wheelers, and generators don’t travel makes our camp pleasant.

Home sweet home

Our camp is high in the mountains on the only flat spot for miles.  We do not see many other hunters up here because it is so steep.  It refreshing to know that you, your friends, and the elk and deer are the only ones out there on any given day.  The most common question in camp is: “Where are you going tomorrow?”  All of the hunts or “bow hikes” as I regularly call them are good ones.  Fresh sign is usually every where.  Climbing, descending, and side hilling are always part of every hunt, and will test any pair of boots.

This country requires “The quads that god gave you.

Image    The “hole” as it is know around camp

A brief description of “the hole” is needed to set the stage.  The hole is owned completely by fine the tax paying citizens of the USA.  It is void of any roads and motorized entry.  Water is present in the form springs, side draws, and a perennial stream that tumbles through the entire length of this formidable canyon.  The north slopes are loaded with blowdown, old growth timber, and stands of dark timber.  The south slopes are drier with pine, older stands of tasty mountain mahogany, sage and bunchgrass.  Game trails traverse “the hole” and provide a relieving break from the unforgiving terrain while bow hiking or on an early season walkabout.   A few open meadows are dotted on some of the softer slopes.  Any way you shake it “the hole” provides everything an elk needs in September.

A positive sign of bulls in the area

The first couple days were slow with no signs of the big bull.  A 45 yard shot I took at a nice respectable 4×4 muley was rudely interrupted by a twig.  Sightings of numerous velvet deer was encouraging along with the fresh elk sign.

On Wednesday of opening week I decided to hunt a remote ridge line on the edge of “the hole”.  While inspecting a old hunting cabin I stepped on a twig and set off a growling bull in some dark timber just off the rim of “the hole”.  I played cat and mouse with a nice bull for over an hour while the wind decided which way it wanted to blow for the day.  My hesitance to push in close resulted in a nice sighting of the bull slipping off into the remote depths and folds of the side canyons in “the hole”.

On the long warm walk back to camp I ran into two of the dumbest deer on the mountain.  I spooked them and they ran towards me.  I positioned and then repositioned for the shot.  At 34 yards I pulled the trigger.

My 2012 muley. You can see the stink lifting

With the stink lifted, I slept in the next day and went after an elk for the remainder of the week.  I had been running into quite a few grouse and was running low on lunch meat so I focused my efforts on a few “pine chickens” on the walk back to camp.

Lunch served 

The week ended without an elk on the ground, but I was happy with my deer and fresh afternoon lunch.  With the rest of the season in front of me I set my expectations accordingly, dusted of my gear, packed up and headed home.

The bar is open and the drinks are on the house

Shoot straight, use the quads that god gave you, and leave the aiming fluid in camp.

Grab your Chubby

Stonefly hatches are in full swarm on the Deschutes River in Oregon. 

Grab your chubby and try your luck.

If fished enough, any fly will catch them when the trout are stupid on the big bugs.  However the chubby does out perform according to my records.  Everyone has their twist or adjustment to the stock chubby.  I have mine, its natural.  Get your markers and best foam scissors.  Cuz you won’t need um.  Other than a slight touch up on the body and wing of stock chubbys with a permanent marker; I rarely modify my chubby.  You can trim the wing a bit to get it sized to please.  The fly is offered in size 6-12 in a variety of styles.     

I have added an additional twist or tactic to fishing the chubby I will respectively call  the Bob and Chubby. 

Some of the finer details of this technique will be revealed in this post.  They will change how the Deschutes River is fished forever.  So I am hesitant to divulge.   

Stonefly chubbiness

The Bob and Chubby brings it to the next level.  Not everyone is ready for it though.  There is no turning back!

Chubby buried barb deep

I just like to fish. Period
The Bob and Chubby extend my ability to fish. Period
I can’t claim that I invented the technique.  I can claim that I revived it using a modern celebrity fly.  I do not see a lot of folks out there fishing the large bug hatches using this technique.  I feel like a pioneer.  I am slightly afraid of the response and the potential for new recruits.
The dissenters should not be put out and leave nasty comments.  Rather they should feel rejoiced to know that I will not be fishing their chosen water, but rather the knarly stuff where the slobs live with all the brush and cover.  I give the buggy whippers a wide berth this time of year.
Many have experienced the splendor of the Deschutes Canyon in spring.  There is not much better.  The fever and fury of the salmon fly hatch and the following that it brings can easily itch at anyone’s love-hate tendencies.

Deschutes Canyon evening

 

How you ask?  Oh the secrets.  On the Bob of course.  Bob and Chubby.

Bob meet Chubby

I swear this technique is in one of Outdoor Life’s 100 Best Fishing and Hunting Tips articles.  That is my kind of thing.  Old school all the way.  You can tech it out with a dropper or upgrade to a custom leader.  I usually just huck it!  On mainline 4-6lb Pline.  Braid floats so I have toyed with and braid mainline and mono leader.

Using proven subsurface jig and Bob techniques for steelhead on the same river.  I have grown confident in the Bob combos. I have been fishing like this for years, or should say experimenting with fishing and re-fishing my trout spots with spinning gear.  The Deschutes brought forth an interesting situation.  Big water, lots of bank cover, lots of bugs, and lots of trout.  I quickly revisited the Bob combos and eventually stumbled onto the chubby.

Oh My!

Self photo—-freshly chubbed

I had the pleasure to fish with an old friend during the bug frenzy.  Russ Mitchel former junior varsity All Pro center for the Redmond State Sasquatch knows his way around the trout scene on the Deschutes.  He has done some fishing over the past few years and knows his way around the flotant bottle as well.  He was a quick convert to the Bob and Chubby in the warm afternoon gusts.  “We wouldn’t be fishing in the wind right now”  I blurted.  “The Bob and Chubby keep you fishing longer in the wind”  “Agreed!”  Russ replied.

Strikes are violent and hook ups about 50% over the long haul.   Lots of action is the key.  I had two solid takes from nice fish at the boat ramp hole at 12 noon.  Two slobs right off the bat would have put me ahead and in running for the trophy and prize purse for the days competition.

The Bob and Chubby opens up a lot more of the river.  Russ is firm believer.

Mitchel–Pleasure in the jungle

Every year I tell myself I will get out for the salmon fly hatch a little early this season and fish a bit lower down like Mack’s or something.  I never seem to.  Next year I guess.  Bob and Chubby love to travel.

I just want to fish.  Period

Deschutes evening chubby

 

Living the good life – Self guided

Central Oregon Stillwater Plumpkin Trout

My five-year old son has insisted on a catch and cook fishing/camping trip for a while.  This year we have lined up a few such missions at the Turb Memiors.  The first was an 80 mile trek to a productive reservoir with a healthy population of well fed plumpkins.  Our journey lead us through the agricultural valleys and gentle mountains of Crook County, Oregon.  Green in spring under the powerful sun.

When we arrived oniste I quickly noticed that parking spaces were in high demand on and off the water.  What a shock!  It’s packed.   I pulled over to assess the scene in a flat area off the road to the federally managed campground–CLOSED.  Sweet!  People were camped in the parking area and in choice pull outs.  I could see that the surface of the reservoir was dotted with sportsman on their catch and cook missions.  I thought leaving on Friday morning would be just fine.  I was out done once again in quest of “getting there first”.

I needed to unload gear and establish an outpost.  After a 20 minute reconnaissance of the hill slope and adjacent campground.  I decided to use my five-year old son as a pack mule and we huffed our things a few hundred yards to a campsite in the closed campground.  I could not camp near the busy boat ramp all weekend with five-year old.   The dust alone would have killed us.

In the shade of our outpost we regrouped and planned our mission.  With the boat launched we rigged the rods and tried our luck.  It was tough the first few hours.  “Green Goo” water clarity prevented traditional searching techniques of the panther martin or mepps spinners.  The GOO quickly forced us to try other means.  Drifting store-bought night crawlers should work.  After a quick re-rigging we realized the Green GOO had got us again.

More skilled patrons anchored in clear sight, were killing them on chronomids fished under an indicator.  Slow, low and deadly.  Some folks easily limited out in the time I spent getting GOOed.  Finally we resorted to the bobber, worm and a small weight.  Tried and true on one rod, and a woolly bugger on the intermediate sink camo lake line on another.  As plumpkins fell to delicately placed chronomids across the small shallow inlet, we gave it our best and got nothing but two aggressive takes on the bobber.  Slow reactions missed those fish who got a free worm.

I figured I should throw a grip and grin shot in soon to keep your interest.

14″ Plumpkin; Freshly Bonked!

That evening we regrouped and decided to position ourselves for the evening hatch.  Using the anchor we covered a broad bay off the main channel that seemed to be a popular spot during the afternoon.  Fish began to dimple the surface regularly as the sun dropped lower.   I was using a small ribbed chronomid pattern stripped slowly back to my position.  As it sank into the depths it seemed to evade the GOO.  I felt the take and set the hook on one.  The battle was short and the broad shouldered hatchery born holdover snapped my line, and then broke the surface in reaction to the battle.  WOW!

I proceeded to miss another strike and watch fish rise all around me until dark.

No shortage of fish.

Around the fire that night we refined our plan of attack to get what we came for! And that was a fish fry.  Back at it the next morning we anchored in the broad bay as the wind caused us to fish more deliberate and refined presentations a from static boat to effectively cover the water.  We used a lightly weighted worm with precision the weed patches, and slow stripped a #10 olive hares ear.  We hooked up an hour or so into our sit and landed the 14 inch plumpkin.  Likely last years stocker at 6-8 inches.  Now one year later it was 14″ of plump sportiness.  Bonked and photographed we hung the trophy off the side of the boat.   A half hour later, at another stop in our grid pattern across the bay we hooked up on a 2 year old slob.  It was 18″ of plumpkin power.  We photographed and released this specimen of sporting pleasure.  After a few more hook and snap off on my fly rod we decided to move on and start the cook part of this mission.  The fly donation ceremony was over.

The “drag out” was documented.  Uphill!

Oregon 2011 Late Season Archery Opener

Each year the most anticipated outdoor event on my calendar in November is Oregon’s late archery season.  There is no better time to be in the deer woods than November.  I have spent many days chasing whitetail deer in western Montana with a bow and caught the deer hunting bug.  Safe to say those were my spoiled days because the big woods and mountains of the Cascade Range in Oregon are no place to start you bow hunting career.  I have seen, called in, and shot at a few nice bucks over the years, but have yet to connect with a large wily Cascade blacktail.  I do not plan to give up and believe bow hunting is one of the most challenging yet rewarding solo sports out there.

The past two seasons have begun with our first big snow dumps of the year in my hunting area and have really altered my plans.  In years past the snow was not so prolific right off the bat and allowed for most of my hunting area to be accessed.  I hunt in the Cascade Mountains from just under 2000 feet elevation to over 4000 if weather conditions allow.  This year like last, the snow level was below 2000 feet just before the opener and the precipitation was abundant.  Don’t get me wrong I enjoy the snow because it helps to concentrate the animals and allows you to see how fresh the sign really is.

Following some fresh tracks

Following some fresh tracks

Oregon’s late season offers the opportunity to hunt both elk and deer dependent on the unit and tag choice.  This year I was not blessed with the late season cow elk tag mostly because of my inability to correctly decipher the regulation booklet by the tag lottery deadline.  That said as I tracked (trudged) through the snow in near blizzard squalls and managed to bump into a herd of elk.  Three of which offered me broadside chip shots with my bow.  Where were these elk during the general season in September or years past when I had the late season tag?  Oh well that is hunting.

After a few hours I headed back to the truck to find another spot and try some more calling in search of a rutting buck.

Headed back to the truck

Headed back to the truck

I supplement my scouting with the use of one trail camera.  For the past two season I have set it in an area with a tremendous amount sign including large rubs and trails.  Last year I got a nice picture of a decent buck just before the season opener and the time stamp on the photo indicated he was traveling during daylight hours, a rare thing for elusive blacktail deer.

This buck was photographed at 3100 feet elevation and has made me decide that if possible that this will be my first choice for a hunting spot on opening morning.

 

Oregon blacktail deer trail camera picture

Oregon blacktail deer trail camera picture

For two years in a row deep Cascade snow falls the night before the opener made it treacherous to get to the parking spot to access this area of my hunting grounds.  This year over 20 inches of Cascade concrete (the technical term for the typical snow fall at these elevations) made hunting this location way to much for my 1997 Toyota 4Runner.

Needless to say, my trail camera will be spending a long cold winter in the woods.  I will report on the battery life and photos sometime in April.  Experience has told me that the best time to hunt these condition is the day of, or just after the snow fall because once the concrete sets up the game is long gone.

Time chain up?

Time chain up?

I did some calling below 2000 feet where the snow was absent, and where I have had some luck in the past, but nobody was home.  I did see some fresh sign which was encouraging. Like most hunting, just being in the woods in pursuit is well worth the effort.  The weather this week is forecast to change with a series of very wet and warm systems lined up out in the Pacific Ocean taking aim at the Cascades.  Some reports I have looked up on the web are calling for over 5 inches of rain.  That should wash away some snow and maybe a few roads as well.  That said I will be back out in a few days looking for the elusive blacktail on the quest to fulfill my dreams of completing the Oregon Slam.

The Oregon Slam is something I plan to cover greater detail in later posts, but will hint at here.  If you buy the magazines and follow the hype of the modern hunting industry you have likely heard of the handful of folks that have completed the North American Slam.  Fred Eichler shot all 29 species of North American big game animals with traditional archery equipment, Jim Shockey did it with a muzzleloader, and Chuck Adams (one of the first) with modern archery equipment.  the list is not long.  That goal is well beyond my fiscal means so I created the Oregon Slam for my bucket list.  The Oregon Slam requires harvesting one of each of the deer species available in Oregon with a bow.  Oregon has blacktail, mule, and whitetail deer along with Rocky Mountain and Roosevelt elk.  I am sure many folks have completed the Oregon Slam and don’t want a TV show on the Outdoor Channel.  I am also pretty sure most Oregon Slammers did it on a budget similar to mine.  You could add pronghorn, two species of sheep and mountain goat.  I may never get one of those tags so I kept is simple and repeatable.

The blacktail rut

Rutted up

John Day River Spey Rod Steelhead

Today (November 13) was the fifth time I shot line through the guides of my new 13′ 7wt spey rod.  I floated six miles of the John Day River in my canoe in search of late summer run wild steelhead.  Fishing was slow, but I managed to hook and land one fish.  Any true steelheader will tell you one fish is a good day.  I have caught bigger fish, but hooking into one with the spey rod was pretty sweet.

John Day River Wild Steelhead

I managed to greatly improve my two handed casting techniques on this my fifth outing with the two-handed rod.  I chose to leave my more productive jig and bobber rod at home and go all spey with hope of improving my technique and feel that pleasing throb and power of a steelhead at the end of my line.

I worked on my double spey, snap t, and off shoulder double spey casts with varying success.  I am new to spey fishing and chose (like many) to use a skagit setup to speed up the learning curve.  Skagit style spey casting involves a short (25′) shooting head of thick floating line to which you attach a variety of tips (sinking, floating, or a combo sinking/floating).  A leader and fly finish the business end of the set up.   All of which is attached to a smooth level running line and traditional fly line backing.  Skagit casting is based on a sustained anchor technique where the end of the shooting head, tip, leader and fly remain in the water and help created the “D” loop which loads the rod.  The forward stroke sends an aggressive roll cast down the shooting head, lifting out of the water, propelling it across the river at a predetermined angle based on the target water.

I am true low a slow fly fishing guy who has fished big nymphs and streamers deep with success for many years.  The transition to spey fishing was appealing to me because the skagit technique was designed in the Pacific Northwest to cast heavy sink tips and large files.  A technique I have developed an affinity to for catch large trout, salmon, and steelhead on my single-handed rods.  Plus the casting is fun.  It is a bit trendy around these parts.  I try to distance myself from the trendy. but I am a sucker for anything steelhead.

John Day River

The John Day River is ground zero for recovery of wild salmonids in the interior Columbia Basin (a subject I will likely cover in more detail in later posts).  It is a delicate fishery where access to the good water is minimal and the impacts of angling pressure can be great.  Due to its remoteness and seasonality of the fishery its popularity has remained reasonable enough to provide a quality experience.

If you decide to enjoy this gem of a watershed.  Leave no trace of your travels so others can enjoy the same beauty.  Release and handle all wild fish with care while removing any stray hatchery fish from the system.  The John Day River is the last hatchery free wild fish stronghold and sanctuary in the interior Columbia Basin.  These fish have made two incredible journeys to grace you with their presence at the end of your line.  As a juvenile they endured the extreme seasonal hydrology ranging from hot summer base flows to raging spring runoff.  On their downward journey they encountered a maze of irrigation ditches and fish screens along with the mouths of thousands of hungry exotic smallmouth bass.  In the Columbia River those mouths got bigger and more numerous while they figured out the navigation of three mainstem dams.  As adults on their return trip the juveniles that are lucky enough to return endure the same seasonal hydrology, a labyrinth of irrigation and road crossing barriers en route to spawning locations more than 600 miles from the ocean.  A bit of spring rain and snowmelt usually help get them there and sustain their eggs in the gravels of their natal stream until emergence in early summer.

In 2011 we should feel blessed to still have the opportunity to swing a sparsely tied signature intruder through a run shadowed by cliff walls that saw the likes of T. Rex and company in search of the endangered and sometimes elusive wild summer run steelhead.

Set the hook

Turb

 

Deschutes River redband trout

I went on a short float today on the Deschutes River from the re-regulating dam downstream to the boat ramp at Warm Springs.  I hoped to catch a few steelhead, but the redbands were stacked in the riffles like cord wood feeding on eggs behind spawning chinook.  I could not pass by without giving my reel a workout.

Fishing was fast and furious right from the start.   I used my standard fall rig, a weighted size 2 black stonefly nymph with a bead egg dropper.  Some of the biggest redbands I tangled with were sucked up right behind groups of Chinook actively digging redds in the knee-deep water.  The current wast fast so the takes were quick with the indicator racing upstream.  After a strip hook-set most fish made a strong downstream run.  Some went to the air to show their prowess while others just peeled line.  After losing the first four fish in less than 20 minutes I realized I better not horse them on my 8lb maxima ultragreen tippet and 6lb ultragreen dropper.

Deschutes Redband

Deschutes Redband

It was cool to fish Alaska style in Oregon behind spawning salmon.  All the of the fish I landed were plump and sporty, peeling line and requiring me to head back to the shelter of the bank water to land them.  This fishing was good enough for me to limit this trip to a solo mission to catch them all for myself.  The self photos using my Joby tripod will help preserve the memories of the blistering battles with these wild pig trout of the Deschutes.

Another nice redband

Another nice redband

I will be the frist to admit the Deschutes River has no secret spots and gets pounded by fisherman daily.  For many years I went home frustrated and fishless.  I have lived only 15 minutes from this treasured river for seven years now and have made the decision to figure it out.  Well I can’t say that I am a Deschutes expert.  I do feel if I can pick my day and work the water I can usually bury my hook into something beside the bank side brush.

Steelhead are in the river from the dam to the mouth (100 miles) and I have brought more than one to the bank this season.  I plan to probe my favorite runs at least one more time before the late archery season opens and my thoughts focus on rutting blacktails in the Cascades.

Dead Drifting