Simply hiking the Deschutes River Trail upstream of Bend is an experience in and of itself.
The expanse of lava rock, the towering ponderosa pines, and the ever-changing river from surging rapids to a meandering stream all make the area a popular escape close to town.
Add some angling to the mix, and you have something close to an outdoors paradise.
Earlier this month I made the short trip to the river just below Benham Falls. During the late fall and winter, this section of the Deschutes can offer productive fly-fishing for anglers looking to land rainbow trout, brown trout and whitefish. It is one of several Central Oregon streams that provide consistent fishing through the winter when other opportunities dwindle. And anglers can often have the water virtually to themselves.
While the trail remains relatively busy this time of year with hikers, trail runners and mountain bikers, the anglers seem few and far between. Indeed, I had the stream all to myself as I cast a pheasant tail nymph with a strike indicator just below a small riffle near Benham Falls.
“For being so close to town, it really doesn’t get all that much pressure,” says Dave Merrick, manager at Fly & Field Outfitters in Bend, referring to the river stretch from Benham Falls to Bend. “You’d think just because of its proximity to town it’d get fished a lot more than it does.”
After a couple of hours of fishing I had landed and released two small whitefish and a small, but beautiful, rainbow. The trout in that stretch of the Deschutes range from about 6 to 12 inches, according to Merrick, but many fish in the 14- to 18-inch range also make it their home.
From now through April, when water managers store water in Wickiup Reservoir, the flows remain relatively low on the Deschutes upstream of Bend. This can make fishing easier because the lower flows concentrate the fish. Downstream of Bend, meanwhile, the river flows are higher because water is not being released into the area’s numerous irrigation canals during the winter months.
“Typically it fishes a little bit better above town than it does below town,” Merrick says. “Which is always kind of odd for people who aren’t familiar with it. It kind of goes a little opposite of what most people would think it would do. But it’s a little easier to find fish, for sure.”
Merrick advises anglers to look for the rockier stretches of the river when seeking out fishing holes. While much of the river from Bend upstream to Sunriver is slow-moving with a muddy bottom, the rocky sections of rapids and riffles contain the most bug life and therefore usually offer the best fishing.
The lower portions of Benham Falls, Big Eddy Rapids and Dillon Falls are spots to consider.
During the late fall and winter, nymphing is the best approach for fishing about 80 percent of the time, according to Merrick. During overcast days when temperatures reach the high 40s or into the 50s, blue-wing olive and midge hatches can produce some decent dry-fly fishing, but that is typically the exception and not the rule, Merrick says.
Due to the lack of prolific bug hatches during the winter, basic attractor patterns that imitate a variety of insects are the go-to patterns for wintertime fly anglers on the Deschutes and other Central Oregon rivers. Examples of these include hare’s ears, pheasant tails, copper johns and prince nymphs. Larger stonefly nymphs are also good options.
“You can catch fish on a stonefly nymph really year-round in almost any stretch of the Deschutes,” Merrick says, “so nymphing with a big-fly, little-fly setup can be a great way to go.”
Egg patterns can also be effective this time of year when the whitefish are spawning in most Central Oregon rivers.
Aside from the Deschutes, the Fall, Crooked and Metolius rivers also provide decent wintertime fishing opportunities. The Fall River, near Sunriver, offers a good chance for rainbow trout and, below the falls, a chance for brown trout.
The Crooked River near Prineville, when the flows do not get too low, can also be a prime place to fish in December when the whitefish are spawning.
“We saw some good fishing on the Crooked through the last two seasons,” Merrick says. “We definitely saw a drop-off after the water got very low. It’s a good time to be out there for sure. You get this window of a spawning fish frenzy going on, and that can be a lot of fun.”
The Metolius is renowned as a challenging river, but the chance to land wild rainbows and bull trout brings anglers to its banks even in the depths of a harsh Central Oregon winter. Unlike in some other rivers, the numbers of fish in the Metolius remain consistent from summer to winter, and the river often has more insect activity in the winter than other streams due to its consistent water levels and temperature.
“We fish it with a little different mindset,” Merrick says of the Metolius. “If we get a couple of fish in a day, we’ve had a really good day. If we get a couple of fish in a day on the Crooked, we’re wondering what the heck we did wrong. But you’ll never fish a prettier river, (the Metolius) just presents its own set of challenges, for sure.”
As we settle in for perhaps another long winter on the High Desert, anglers know they can always find that sweet spot no matter the weather.
— Reporter: 541-383-0318,