100 Best: Deschutes River
Type of stream: Freestone, Tailwater
Angling methods: Fly, spin
Species: Steelhead, Rainbows and Salmon
Season: All year in some sections, but check regulations
Supporting Services: Maupin
Short take: Redband ‘bows, steelhead, salmon itch to bust up your gear.
Handicapped Access: Yes, below Maupin
Closest TU Chapter: Deschutes
When the Pelton-Round Butte hydro complex on the Deschutes came up for relicensing in the 1990s, 22 agencies and organizations including Trout Unlimited protested that not enough was being done for native steelhead and salmon. After several years of bartering Portland Gas and Electric and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, a part owner of the complex, agreed to invest $130 million in a tower that would create a more natural set of thermal currents in Lake
Billy Chinook and trap, sort, and tag returning fish which are then released into the fishways around the dams.
The 273-foot discharge and sorting tower looks like something from Star Wars that was designed by Rube Goldberg. But according to a report from the Institute of Natural Resources at Oregon State University, it’s working. Thousands of returning fingerlings have made their way downstream and data show a significant increase in spring and summer salmon and steelhead runs.
Below Pelton Dam, the Deschutes is one big, bad river. Flows average 4500 cfs. In addition to summer steelhead runs that peak from October into mid-December, and spring Chinook reaching their height in June and July, and maximum numbers of fall Chinook in November and December, redband rainbows—called “redsides” locally—are available throughout the year.
A good deal of the river can be reached on foot, but be careful where you step. Rattlesnakes are abundant. The best way to fish the river is to float it. Understand, though, that you can’t fish from a boat. Brown cliffs of basalt and volcanic ash tower 1,000 feet above the river. They’re banded green where snow melt from the Cascade Mountains to the west seeps out through beds of ash. In summer, high above the mid-day sky is as blue as it can be. Plan your float early or late when fish are more active.