March 28, 2008 - Bend Bulletin Beauty of the Middle Deschutes
Apr 11, 2008
By Jim Witty / The Bulletin
I’ve got this secret spot on the Middle Deschutes where time stands still and the fishing can be a thing of beauty.
We dropped into the canyon, spent the entire afternoon throwing weighted nymphs to aggressive trout and, once we got on the river, didn’t see another angler.
What we did see is the stuff of travel brochures. Burnished rimrock, tiny blue and white wildflowers in doily-sized patches at just about every step, big tufts of emerald grass spraying from mid-river islands of soil and running water so achingly clear you wonder for a moment about all this talk of a river in peril.
April during a good water year is a fine time to be astream on the Middle Deschutes. But I’ve been to this place in mid-summer when the flow is low and what water there is feels tepid to the touch, marginal conditions for the lethargic rainbow and brown trout that a few months earlier flashed with native vigor. Best to leave them alone when the water recedes and temperatures soar.
The problem, according to Bea Armstrong of the Deschutes River Conservancy, is not simple. Every year about this time, the irrigation canals are opened and the Deschutes River between Bend and Lake Billy Chinook drops significantly. The conservancy is working with farmers, irrigation districts, anglers, power producers, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and developers to restore some of the historic streamflow and improve the year-round quantity and quality of the Middle Deschutes.
River advocates measure success in terms of cubic feet per second and deal with such riparian esoterica as dam relicensing, the Endangered Species Act, aquifers and groundwater discharge and recharge.
But it’s people who use and love the river for a constellation of reasons who will drive the push to improve its health.
You’ll have to find your own secret spot (and when you do, you probably shouldn’t tell me), but there are two places downriver from Bend that will give you an excellent idea of what this middle reach is all about, and bring some bliss floating your way as well.
Tumalo State Park, about five miles northwest of Bend, is right on the river. There are lots of picnic tables, a campground, yurts and all the amenities. But the Deschutes, with its fishable riffles, swimmable pools and cool, accessible beauty, is the main attraction.
A trail follows the river and takes hikers through forest and canyon. While you won’t be alone, there are several spots on the river where the streamside vegetation thins out, revealing a nook of beach, a cranny of riverfront shoreline.
Downriver, about four miles west of Redmond, Cline Falls State Scenic Viewpoint is more than just a place to park and watch the river flow by. The 9-acre desert oasis offers picnicking, fishing and swimming during the summer. There’s a trail that follows the river down to the falls about a quarter mile downriver from the bridge that spans state Highway 126.
Poke around Tumalo State Park and Cline Falls State Scenic Viewpoint and you’ll get a feel for the Middle Deschutes, which differs dramatically from the upper and lower reaches of the same river. The Upper Deschutes, between the headwaters in the Cascades to the north diversion dam in Bend, has the raucous personality of a rip-roaring mountain stream, at least in the high-flow summer months. The Lower Deschutes, from the Pelton-Round Butte Dam complex to its confluence with the Columbia River, is a big, brawling Western river with fairly consistent flows. It’s known among fly anglers as blue-ribbon water, among whitewater rafters as a fun river to float.
And the Middle Deschutes, the reach of river that impacts many of our lives on a day-to-day basis?
Like many of the people and places we love the most, it’s imperfect, a work in progress. But when it’s in trouble, we rally around it.
A day on the river is a good place to start.
To reach Tumalo State Park from Bend, drive west on U.S. Highway 20 toward Sisters, then turn left onto the Old Bend-Redmond Highway. Turn right on O.B. Riley Road to the park. To Reach Cline Falls State Scenic Viewpoint from Bend, drive north on U.S. Highway 97 and turn left on state Highway 126. The park is on the left, four miles west of Redmond. There is a $3 day-use fee at Tumalo State Park; there is no fee at Cline Falls State Scenic Viewpoint. Contact: 382-3586.
— Jim Witty