Relentless rain pelted the water and an unforgiving wind roared through the trees, but that did not stop a few hardy anglers who lined a bank Tuesday on the Fall River.
Fishing season never really stops in Central Oregon, even when the weather is, well, about as miserable as it can possibly get. Sure, fewer places are open and accessible for fishing this time of year, but the Fall River remains a reliable trout fishery throughout the late autumn and winter months each year.
Bend’s Ryan Eddy was braving the elements near the Fall River Fish Hatchery when he hooked into a fish and gasped with excitement. After a few minutes of reeling, he netted and then released a healthy 15-inch rainbow trout.
“I’ve been out here so many times and not caught any fish, but I had such a great day because it’s just gorgeous out here,” Eddy said, the rain pattering off his jacket and waders. “The rain definitely helps gung-ho fishermen. I don’t mind being out in the rain or the snow, or anything if I’m fishing. As long as my car will make it up the road, I’ll be here.”
Wintertime anglers in Central Oregon are usually more accustomed to dealing with cold and snow than with rain, but they can be found on the banks of our rivers no matter the conditions.
The Fall River Hatchery, about a 45-minute drive southwest from Bend, is a popular spot to fish, offering easy access to the river and many places to catch rainbow or brown trout in the 12- to 14-inch range. Meandering serenely through meadows and pine trees southwest of Sunriver, Fall River is open to fishing all year. Because it is a spring-fed stream, its flows and temperatures do not fluctuate and fishing remains consistent throughout the winter.
Restricted to fly angling with barbless hooks, the Fall River flows east for 8 miles from its headwaters before emptying into the Deschutes River near La Pine State Park.
“I like that it’s fly-fishing only, barbless hooks only, so it’s easier on the fish,” Eddy said. “And it’s just beautiful out here.”
Trout are visible in the calmer, clearer sections of the Fall River — including the stretch that runs past the hatchery — and often anglers will sight trout in the river and then cast to those fish. This can sometimes help fishermen tempt the larger trout in the river. (Fall River is home to rainbow trout as big as 4 to 6 pounds, and brown trout up to 8 pounds.)
Bob Gaviglio, owner of the Sunriver Fly Shop, recommends fishing in spots along the river with lots of cover: structures like logs or rocks, where trout feel safer. Such areas are abundant on the Fall River, including many downed pine trees that offer cover for the browns and rainbows.
Fall River anglers seem to land more fish in the wintertime when nymphing (fishing with small, sinking flies), because trout will be more lethargic in cold water and less inclined to swim to the surface to bite a dry fly. But anglers can land fish on dry flies on the Fall River in the winter, usually during a short time frame in the afternoon.
For dry flies, Gaviglio recommends trying blue-wing olives and midges. For fishing below the water’s surface, he likes egg patterns and San Juan worms. This time of year, anglers should use small flies, about size Nos. 20 or 22.
Eddy was using a fly called a zebra midge on Tuesday when he hooked into the rainbow.
“You have to go small on the Fall River even in the summertime, because the fish spook easily,” Eddy said. “As small as you can go and still get the line through the eye of the hook.”
During the late fall and winter, the section of the Deschutes River just below Benham Falls can offer productive fly-fishing for anglers looking to land rainbow trout, brown trout and whitefish. And anglers can often have the water virtually to themselves.
The trout in that stretch of the Deschutes range from about 6 to 12 inches, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, but many fish in the 14- to 18-inch range also live there.
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.
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.
The stretch of the Crooked below Bowman Dam offers several campgrounds that make for easy access to the river. But the Crooked continues to be hampered by low flows that constrict the native redband trout and whitefish, according to the ODFW.
Flows on the river below Prineville Reservoir were at 49 cubic feet per second on Wednesday, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation website. ODFW fisheries biologist Brett Hodgson says that 90 cfs is the lowest amount to create optimal habitat for redband trout and other fish.
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 bitter 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, according to the ODFW.
Located just northwest of Sisters, the Metolius, restricted to catch-and-release fly-fishing with barbless hooks, is closed upstream of Allingham Bridge until late May. But until then, that leaves about 20 miles of river available for fishing, some of the best of which is located on the stretch between Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery and Bridge 99.
Even when the rain, wind and snow batter the High Desert this late fall and winter, myriad fishing options are available for those willing to endure harsh conditions.