A river always looks different from between its banks.
There’s no better way to get to know a river like the Lower Deschutes than to float a piece of it. And I’ll take any excuse to get to know the river better.
I met my fishing partner, Roger Werth, down at the Maupin city park where he’d parked his travel trailer. That Friday morning we were to float the Warm Springs-to-Trout Creek reach in the midst of the annual salmonfly carnival. Then we’d fish Saturday closer to our base of operations.
For those of you who don’t know, the salmonfly is the Goodyear blimp of trout flies. They’re big and ponderous and plentiful, and when the hatch is on, they come crashing down into the water like so many insectile Hindenburgs.
Sometimes the fishing can be epic. Which means that when the word is out that the big bugs are doing their thing (which is carrying on the salmonfly life cycle and giving big Deschutes rainbows stomach aches), you’ll be sharing the river with hundreds of your closest friends.
By the time we made it down there, the hatch had moved upstream from Maupin and was going hot and heavy up around Warm Springs. The height of the splash-and-giggle rafting season was a good month down the road, so Maupin was slow and easy.
If you’ve not been there, Maupin is a cool little river town. There’s a well-stocked fly shop, several rafting-related businesses and the venerable Oasis Resort operated since time immemorial by the McLucas family. It’s there that you can go for a bacon and mushroom omelette, a lunker burger and the latest scoop on the fishing in the Deschutes.
We got caught up and filled up Thursday evening, and Friday morning we were doing the salmonfly shuttle shuffle: drive both vehicles down the teeth-rattling road to Trout Creek, pack the gear into one or the other, head back out to the highway and motor to the put-in at Warm Springs.
For Roger and me, this was a maiden voyage, the first time either of us had ever floated the Lower D in single-person pontoon boats. A lot of fly fishers are doing it. There’s a self-satisfying element to paddling your own canoe.
And pontoon boats, basically two inflatable rubber tubes held together by a rowing frame, are less tippy and better suited to floating this, the tamest reach of the Lower Deschutes (even so, always have a personal flotation device).
As I said, you get to know a river better when you see it spool along as you drift on by. And the pulpit of a pontoon boat is an ideal perch.
A couple observations: If you’re used to driving another type of craft, you’ll be immediately impressed by a P-boat’s ability to turn on a dime. It takes a little getting used to, but by the end of the seven-mile run to Trout Creek, you’ll be all over it.
The other thing is, you don’t have unlimited carrying capacity on such a craft, but most of them will accommodate a roomy cooler and come with pouches in which to stow gear. The model I rented was a 7-foot Bucks Bags South Fork, which was perfect for a day trip but would be a little too snug for an overnighter.
We floated and stopped to fish (as is the custom and the law on the Lower Deschutes) and floated some more and we picked up a few red-slashed beauties. But this particular trip was memorable mainly because the pontoon boats freed us up to do this thing ourselves. I’ll never swear off guided drift boat trips because those guys know the river better than I ever will.
But for those times when you just want to get out and fish — and you need a dependable, no-frills ride — the pontoon boat is just the thing.
— Jim Witty