After last year’s closure of steelhead fishing on the Deschutes River that killed joy for thousands of fisherpeople, the Deschutes River is again open this fall.
When enough unclipped steelhead make it over Bonneville Dam to ensure wild fish runs can sustain themselves, the fishery opens on the Deschutes, John Day, Umatilla, Imnaha and Grande Ronde rivers.
The best fishing spots, like the one at the mouth of the Deschutes where it meets the Columbia, are not a secret. That results in shoulder-to-shoulder fishing, especially on weekends.
To be successful in these close quarters, anglers must coordinate their casts and drifts with anglers around them to avoid crossing lines. And when somebody hooks a fish, all anglers must get their lines out of the way while the fish is landed and, in some instances, released because the catch may be a wild fish.
“You couldn’t ask for a prettier place. The fish are here. The weather is usually pretty nice,” Dan Bourque of Bend said.
Bourque has fished the lower Deschutes for salmon and steelhead for nearly a decade. He hikes a few miles upstream to get away from the crowds and drifts large spinners through likely spots.
“With these spinners, you are just trying to get the blade turning. Not fast. You kind of swing it down through the water,” Bourque said.
At that moment, Bourque’s rod doubled over and his reel started screaming as a fish took off with his lure. But as Bourque fought to gain control, the fish broke off.
“And gone! That’s number three I’ve lost this morning! Son of a (expletive)!” Bourque exclaimed.
This year’s summer steelhead run to the upper Columbia and Snake River Basins is more than 53,000 fish. While still poor, the run is coming in at 140% of the five-year average, which means people can again fish for and keep hatchery steelhead and salmon. That is, if they succeed in landing them, which is never a sure thing with fish this big in current this strong.
“I didn’t even have a chance,” Bourque said. “In this fast water, they just use the current against you. They’ll wrap around rocks. Use all that current, just go downriver. That was a nice fish.”
In 2021, steelhead fishing was closed on the Deschutes River for the first time since 1978 due to low returns, which impacted anglers, guides and local communities who participate in this popular fishery.
After that closure, the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife developed frameworks to meet conservation needs and provide transparency on when fishing will be open or closed.
This fall, anglers are enjoying fishing for steelhead through the end of the year.
“That’s the thing. The surprise of it all is the fun part. You’ll cast a thousand times, and then on 1,001, it’s game on,” Bourque said as he resumed casting.
What must an angler do when they have a large salmon or steelhead on the line? What does it take to land one?
“You hope it will move upriver. They make a decision right off the bat. Sometimes it goes your way, and sometimes it doesn’t. That one didn’t,” Bourque said.
Anglers are encouraged to use best practices when steelhead fishing in case they need to release a wild steelhead:
You can do that by:
- Fishing earlier in the day when water temperatures are cooler.
- Landing the fish quickly.
- Using barbless hooks.
- Reviving the fish before releasing it.
- Using appropriate tackle
Bourque uses a medium-weight rod with a 40-pound braid mainline and a fluorocarbon tippet.
“I go back and forth between medium and medium-heavy gear. I haven’t determined which one I’m more efficient at losing fish with because I can do it easily with both,” he said.
As always, check the regulations for the specific water you intend to fish.