Getting the facts straight on the Crooked River

November 25, 2015
Getting the facts straight on the Crooked River

Local entomologist and fly angler publishes fishing guidebook based on science

By Mark Morical / The Bulletin

The Crooked River is a special place to John Anderson — as it is to many fly anglers from Central Oregon and across the Northwest.

An entomologist turned fly fisherman, Anderson, 84, wanted to write a different sort of fly-fishing guidebook for his favorite river — one based on an actual scientific study.

He spent 15 months in 2004-05 studying insects and other macroinvertebrates from the river bottom and drift net samples, and he also analyzed stomach contents of the wild redband trout and whitefish that populate the Crooked.

The result is the recently released “Fly Fishing Oregon’s Crooked River: Insect Drift and Seasonal Fish Diets as a Guide to Successful Fly Fishing.”

“It’s based on science,” says Anderson, a Bend resident for more than 20 years. “I’ve got a lot of fly-fishing books in my collection; most of those books are anecdotal observations of the authors, which they’re not scientists, but they’re good fly-fishers. I wanted to make the data available to fly-fishers. They’ll never know about this data if it’s published in a scientific paper.”

Anderson spent more than 30 years at the University of California, Berkeley, as a professor and research scientist in entomology — the study of insects. He did not take up fly-fishing until 1993, when he moved to Bend after retiring, but his background with insects has certainly helped him master the sport.

The author notes that entomological knowledge can usually help fly anglers catch fish, both in finding fly patterns to mimic the insects and in knowing the insects behavior.

In his academic days, Anderson specialized in veterinary entomology, studying black flies, mosquitoes and other parasitic flies. He spent countless hours in rivers and streams, looking for black flies, and gaining knowledge of mayflies, stoneflies and other aquatic insects that are key elements of fly-angling.

An elected fellow of the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science, Anderson has published numerous papers on black flies, mosquitoes and no-see-ums.

His book on the Crooked River — which focuses on the popular fishing stretch below Bowman Dam just south of Prineville — was independently published and is truly a labor of love. The spiral-bound book is available for $21.95 at several local fly-fishing shops, including Confluence and the Patient Angler in Bend, Fin & Fire in Redmond and the Fly Fisher’s Place in Sisters. Those seeking a copy can email Anderson at

“My whole purpose was education,” Anderson says. “I’m in the business of education. I don’t need to make money on the book. I’ve got a decent retirement, so I don’t need to make money on it. So I just put it out there for educational purposes.”

A member of the Central Oregon Flyfishers, Anderson received assistance in his research from many club members, including close friend Bill Seitz, longtime chairman of the COF conservation committee. Anderson calls Seitz “a legend” on the Crooked River, and the book’s cover photo is of Seitz fishing on the river.

The vast majority of the thousands and thousands of insect samples collected by Anderson for the book were either mayfly nymphs or midges. In the book, Anderson goes into detail on the “Bill Seitz system” of nymph fishing the Crooked with midge patterns.

“The hookup is showed in there,” Anderson says. “It’s pretty simple, and it keeps your flies from getting stuck on the bottom. Tailwaters are midge rivers. So we fish with midges most of the time.”

According to Anderson, this time of year when the whitefish are spawning, egg patterns also work well to catch trout and whitefish on the Crooked River. While fishing has been good this fall on the Crooked River, according to Anderson, he notes that he is not catching as many bigger trout as he has in years past.

“There’s fewer fish in the 17- to 18-inch range this year,” Anderson says. “The whitefish numbers are up. We know areas where you can go over there and catch a hundred whitefish, if you want to.”

In his book, Anderson does not give away specific locations of where to land the most fish. The Wild and Scenic stretch below Bowman Dam is lined with numerous campgrounds and access points where anglers can easily cast out their flies. But he does stress the importance of reading the water, and what to look for and think about on a fly-fishing outing there.

Anderson says he loves fishing the Crooked River because it is easy to wade and because it is relatively easier to catch fish there than on other notable Central Oregon rivers such as the Deschutes and the Metolius.

“The Metolius is really difficult,” he says. “It’s mostly dry flies because you can’t use weight. The Deschutes, at my age, is a really pushy river. As long as you have a wading staff, the Crooked is pretty easy to wade in. I’ve fallen in the Crooked many times, but of course I fish it more than most people, too.”

Anderson developed his love for the outdoors growing up in rural northern Minnesota in the 1930s and ’40s.

He lives in Bend with his wife of 60 years, Shereen, with whom he has three children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. For more than 20 years in Central Oregon, Anderson has used his knowledge as an entomologist to become a better fly fisherman and to help other fly-anglers.

His new book is an extension of that.

— Reporter: 541-383-0318,

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