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Nugget News

Get your fly on in pristine rivers
By Todd Williver

Photo courtesy Ben Sherrett

Sisters Country holds some of the finest fishing stock in the nation. From the big waters of the Lower Deschutes River tailwater and the cold and crystal clear Metolius River, to the numerous other creeks and mountain lakes, Sisters has gained a national reputation.

The Metolius River
The Metolius River gurgles right up out of the ground on the shoulder of Black Butte, west of Sisters. From its spring creek origin it flows uninterrupted through the community of Camp Sherman and down to Lake Billy Chinook, approximately 37 miles. And 11 of the 37 miles represent fly-fishing-only water.

The combination of crystal clear water and cold, cold water temperatures produces big, mean and very smart fish. The river has a reputation for difficulty, but its rewards are fantastic. Since the fish stocking program ended nearly a decade ago, the native rainbow trout have thrived, growing to 30 inches. Although the insect hatches are often profuse, and you'll see fish rising, catching them is another matter.
The fish are selective, and because of the clear water, fly selection, presentation and very skinny leaders are crucial.

In addition to the rainbow, the Metolius also holds large bull trout and mountain whitefish and brown trout. The bull trout can be six or seven pounds and it's not uncommon for them to attack a small trout or white fish already hooked by an angler.

Often the bull trout will cling to the smaller fish until the fisherman plays the fish to the bank, letting go and swimming away only as his nose breaks the water. Brown trout and whitefish average 10 to 12 inches, but can be as big as 24 inches.

There are many private homes along the Metolius River and special regulations apply. Make sure you are fishing in public water and with appropriate tackle.

Whychus Creek (formerly Squaw Creek)
Whychus Creek is a glacier-fed creek that flows from the base of the Three Sisters range southwest of Sisters. The creek has the boom-or-bust qualities of a freestone river with high, blown-out conditions in the spring and little or no water in the later summer. But the creek still manages to hold fish.

The upper portions of the creek, above the town of Sisters, hold small rainbow trout, but the mountain setting and privacy are worth the effort, especially if you packed a two- or three-weight fly rod. The lower river holds larger fish but access is difficult. Much of the river is surrounded by private land and inaccessible.

The most accessible is a portion open to the public and referred to locally as Alder Springs. Alder Springs affords a beautiful day-hike into a deep desert canyon and access to the creek very near its terminus into the Deschutes River above Lake Billy Chinook. Take a picnic lunch and plenty of water and enjoy a day of exploring and chasing redband trout of up to 18 inches.

High Mountain Lakes
There are hundreds of high lakes scattered throughout Central Oregon. Three Creek Lake southwest of Sisters and Lost Lake west of Sisters on the Santiam Pass are just two.

Once the ice comes off in April or May (or June) the fish in these lakes often feed like hungry bears. As the days get longer the high alpine climate produces some incredible late afternoon hatches and more fish boils than the angler can count.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife pursues an aggressive stocking program on many of these lakes.

The Deschutes River
The Deschutes River is a nearly 200-mile-long tailwater originating from Wickiup Reservoir in the Cascade Lake basin, west of Bend. The river is divided into three sections: the upper, middle, and lower river.
Although the upper and middle Deschutes can fish well, the lower river is the place to be.

One hundred miles of river flow from Lake Billy Chinook, near the town of Madras and wind through the desert landscape, ultimately ending the journey at the mighty Columbia River near Biggs Junction.

The steady release of cold water from the reservoir produces large, aggressive rainbow trout known as the Deschutes River Redsides. Deep magenta and caramel colorings make this fish one of the prettiest on the planet.

Combine the coloring with shoulders that will tax a five-weight fly rod and fish populations so abundant that you might run out of energy before sunlight and you have the ingredients for a true blue-ribbon river.

Although the river is accessible by foot, car or bicycle in many areas, it's best experienced by boat. The river can be unforgiving, with class III, IV and V rapids, so take the time to scout and learn the water, or go with an experienced guide.

Guided trips are available through local fly shops. Absorbing the knowledge of an experienced fishing guide will often enhance the experience of fishing local waters.

Todd Williver is a Sisters area resident and fly fishing guide.

Top 5 Hatches to Catch!

Stone Fly– Most of the rivers in Central Oregon have a Stone Fly hatch to one degree or another. The most notable is the Deschutes, which has a world class Salmon and Golden Stone hatch in late May through early June. The Clark's Stone or Rogue Foam Stone are great patterns.

BWO– Got a favorite Blue Winged Olive pattern? Bring it and see if it works. The fish of the Metolius and Fall Rivers are notoriously picky about fly selection. Good BWO hatches can be found most days, and are good in the winter months as well, often in conjunction with a midge hatch.

Green Drakes– The Metolius River has a great green drake hatch that lasts from late May through July. Look for the big mayfly in the early afternoon, and watch for the sneaky slurps from large trout.

Nymphs, baby!– When you don't see them on top, you will need to go deep. Caddis pupa like the Sparkle Pupa, or Mayfly nymphs like the bead-head pheasant tail, are always popular patterns. Bring lot of colors and sizes.

Steelhead patterns– Late summer is your opportunity to wet wade when it's 90 degrees for summer Steelhead run on the Deschutes river, if you're into that sort of thing. One of the best runs in the lower 48, swinging for surface active summer Steelhead is sure to please. Traditional patterns like the Green Butt Skunk, or local patterns light the Freight Train or Mack's Canyon will usually get the job done July through November.

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