September 8, 2011 – Bend Bulletin – Fishing in Central Oregon

Time to hit the Lower Deschutes

Steelhead and fall chinook fishing is starting to heat up on the popular Central Oregon river

By Mark Morical / The Bulletin
Published: September 08. 2011 4:00AM PST

For anglers looking to land a silvery steelhead or a hefty chinook salmon, this is the time of year to fish the Lower Deschutes — and it just might be a good year.

“This is the prime time,” said Rod French, a fisheries biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife based in The Dalles. “Big steelhead numbers, and big fall chinook numbers. This is the time of year with the best chance of catching fish.”

The fall chinook season began Aug. 1 on the Lower Deschutes, where fishing for chinook is allowed from the mouth upstream to Sherars Falls.

Steelhead anglers can fish from the mouth of the Deschutes on the Columbia River all the way to Round Butte Dam on the north end of Lake Billy Chinook, a stretch of some 100 miles.

According to French, chinook fishing will taper off by mid-October, while steelhead fishing can remain productive through December.

French said steelhead catch rates on the Deschutes started picking up in early August, and that fishing has remained good from Macks Canyon downstream to the mouth.

“We’ve had some really good catch rates,” French said this week. “Fish have not dispersed real well upstream yet. We haven’t seen good fishing above Macks Canyon yet. But from there downstream, it’s been very good the last several weeks.”

The ODFW does not make specific fish-run forecasts for the Deschutes, but steelhead and chinook returning to the Deschutes River from the Pacific Ocean must make their way over both Bonneville Dam and The Dalles Dam on the Columbia before they can turn south into the Deschutes.

According to French, more than 390,000 steelhead are predicted to return to Bonneville Dam this year, which would exceed the 10-year average. Some 54,000 of those steelhead are the coveted “B-run” fish, which can weigh anywhere from 7 to 20 pounds.

French said that B-run steelhead pass over Bonneville Dam later in the season, beginning in late August.

“So they’re in the ocean during a higher growth period, and they put on a lot of size,” French explained. “Mostly they’re older-age fish.”

While the peak of steelhead fishing on the Lower Deschutes is still to come this month, the peak of fall chinook fishing is already under way.

The prediction for fall chinook returning to Bonneville is 766,000, according to French. The prediction for upriver “bright” chinook — a later-maturing fish that is brighter in color than other chinook — is about 400,000, which, the biologist noted, would be the second-highest return on record.

French said that about 18,000 fall chinook per day are now coming over Bonneville Dam.

“So far, it looks very encouraging,” French said of fall chinook fishing on the Lower Deschutes. “They’re just starting to come over Bonneville in huge numbers. We’re just now seeing the peak of the chinook run.”

Sherars Falls is by far the most popular spot from which to fish for chinook salmon on the Lower Deschutes. Anglers use a variety of bait to land chinook, including spinners, plugs and salmon eggs. Bait is allowed only from Sherars Falls downstream to the upper trestle (about three miles).

According to French, chinook are difficult to catch on a fly because of their size — often 20 pounds or more — and because they are bottom-dwelling fish.

“Most of the harvest (of fall chinook) is in the Sherars Falls area,” French said. “But I see more and more people casting for them below Sherars.”

Most fly anglers on the Lower Deschutes this time of year are targeting steelhead. Two-handed spey casting — also called “swinging” — has become extremely popular among steelhead fly anglers on the Deschutes.

Gear fishermen typically use spinners or casting plugs to land steelhead.

“The Deschutes is a very unique place,” French said. “It’s one of the best spots in the West to catch a summer steelhead. It has more numbers of fish than any other river its size in the country. There’s a lot of fish in there.”

Mark Morical can be reached at 541-383-0318 or at

Published Daily in Bend Oregon by Western Communications, Inc. © 2011