What to do on a partly cloudy early spring day?
Before this Outing, I faced a case of the between-season blues. I was tired of trekking through sno-parks, not brave enough to test the water in a mountain lake, and didn’t want to just hit the usual near-city haunts. It can be hard to explore at this time of year, never knowing if you’ll run into a snow field, soggy trail or closed roads.
It’s enough to make a girl throw up her hands and sit indoors.
Thankfully, there’s the Metolius River. Popular in the summer, some may even say overrun, the crowds haven’t yet hit at this time of year. Right now, the pristine stream is the perfect place for an easy-going and peaceful early spring hike.
The Metolius emerges as a large stream near the base of Black Butte. It flows about 30 miles, mostly north, before emptying into Lake Billy Chinook.
The river is breathtaking, some of the clearest water you’ll ever see. It’s that beauty that’s put the Metolius in the middle of controversy about whether a couple of proposed destination resorts can go forward. Several developers want to build near the river, though some groups, and even the governor, may block that construction.
On a recent day, a human companion, canine companion and I hopped in the car and drove past Sisters, headed for the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery, a few miles downstream from Camp Sherman (see “If you go” on Page E6).
The road is paved the entire way to the hatchery. The drive itself helped me shake off the spring blues, with views of Mount Jefferson and Mount Washington en route.
The Wizard Falls hatchery, named for the falls nearby, spans 35 acres and cultivates seven species of fish. Some are on display in pools at the hatchery.
This month, for the first time in about 50 years, the hatchery will release year-old spring chinook into the Metolius. Steve Hamberger, the hatchery manager, said the release coincides with a project to track the fish through Lake Billy Chinook.
While you’re there, check out the bright blue trout, swimming in one of the hatchery ponds. Their odd color is caused by a condition similar to albinism. And, yes, it looks as weird as it sounds.
Wizard Falls is well-known for the unreal color of the stream that runs just under the bridge. For a short section of the river, the water is a tropical blue, all year round.
Why the water in that section is such a strange, wonderful color is one of the most common questions asked by visitors to the hatchery, said Hamberger. Unfortunately, he said, he’s not really sure why the water is that color, likely some combination of the way the light hits, the depth and plants growing in the water.
We began our hike by crossing the road from the fish ponds and walking upstream.
From the hatchery, the trail skirts a hill above the stream. After a mile or so, it descends down to the river and continues along the bank.
Giant, granddaddy pine trees line the trail, though few flowers were out yet. There were several muddy spots of trail, common at this time of year, though overall the ground was solid.
Fly-fishing near Wizard Hatchery, and through most of the river, is open all year. On the day we were out, we saw one fly fisherman, dressed in full waders to protect from the cold.
Though the river is famous for being difficult to fish, that reputation may not be deserved, said Jeff Perin, owner of The Fly Fisher’s Place in Sisters. “So much has been written about it being notoriously difficult that it has become the mystique of the Metolius,” he said. “Like any river, you have to learn it and trust it and trust your own skills and you’ll do OK.”
Perin did say the river has some challenges, including its clarity, complex insect hatches that make it hard to know what the fish are feeding on, and changing current patterns. “It does run over so many old lava beds and old lava tubes that it has swirls and eddies, the fly has a really hard time getting a drag-free drift.”
Dogs are allowed, though they must be kept on a leash at the hatchery. Ours enjoyed her adventure on the trail, dashing through underbrush, leaping fallen logs and dipping her toes in the river.
The trail continues for 2.5 miles to a campground. Because it’s out and back, you can turn around wherever. We walked a couple of miles to a 75-foot-long stream that gushes from a hillside into the Metolius. There, we stopped for the dog to get a drink and for us to eat a snack before heading back to the hatchery.
We went home satisfied with our hike and feeling anything but blah.