Eastern Oregon Steelhead & Trout Tour by Ken Morrish
November 11, 2020
Silver linings are everywhere and for me personally, one of the more brilliant ones created by the pandemic was the ability to once again extensively tour my home state in late October. For the past 21 years, this has been hard for me to accomplish as I have been totally pre-occupied with British Columbia re-bookings as well as the after-hours creation of our annual Global Angling Guide. With both of those items momentarily on hold, I had the opportunity to assemble a wonderful group of six guests, and together we embarked upon a ten-day road and river trip across eastern Oregon.
The first portion of our trip was a four-day, three-night float trip down the Deschutes River with longtime veterans of the system, Renton River Adventures. After overnighting in Madras, we drove to the Trout Creek Recreation Area, stuffed our belongings into dry bags, and were off. As we floated, I was struck by an embarrassing fact, that being that it had been 30 years since I last made this spectacular multi-day trip. With virtually all my group focused on steelhead fishing, I planned to focus on trout fishing, in part because Deschutes trout are so strong and spectacular, and equally to create more opportunities for my group members to swing through quality steelhead runs. While they swung and stepped, I deliberately explored the dark art of Euro-style nymphing for the first time. While it is admittedly a bit dirty and blurs some of our sport's more traditional boundaries, I was greatly entertained by the process and my efforts were graciously rewarded with large feisty trout, several of which got into my backing after being hooked directly beneath my rod trip. Equally impressive were some of the tangles I created without doing anything in particular and the number of times I made myself bleed by inadvertently stabbing razor-sharp jig hooks into my hands while releasing fish.
In the meantime, our steelheaders did well and by the end of day two, virtually all our guests had either landed fish or at least had the chance to pull the fly away from fish. Camps were deluxe and fully-set when we pulled in each evening. Temperatures were exceedingly cold, with mornings in the lower teens, so the large canvas dining tent was a special treat. The cocktail ice that went unfinished the night before would seemingly grow overnight, and wading boots would freeze so solid that when knocked together it sounded as though they were fired in a kiln. But as with all good groups, this added to the overall experience had no noticeable affect on our fishing. The Renton crew was impeccable: they were gracious, informative, organized, and efficient. And when it came to fishing, very effective at setting us up for success. The canyon walls were larger and more dramatic than I had remembered and somehow the river rocks had grown larger and more slippery in the 30 years that I had been away.
Next, we drove six hours northeast to Speywater Lodge near Troy, Oregon on the Grande Ronde River. Embarrassingly, this was a river I had never visited despite having heard so much about it for the past 20 years. Troy, it turns out, is hardly a town with 14 year-round residents, and lots of skilled seasonal fly anglers in the fall. I have often thought the Bulkley River in BC has more great fly water than any other river, but after spending three days swing fishing for steelhead on the Grande Ronde, it might now be in second place. To say I was smitten was an understatement. It is simply a Spey fisherman's dream river; relatively broad and shallow with tremendous structure, scenery, wildlife and light. I cannot wait to return.
Longtime friends Scott and Stephanie O'Donnell run a top-drawer operation. Top-notch guides, exceptional food, cozy accommodations, and most importantly, a fun sense of inclusion one cannot help but love. All our group found fish and some very nice ones in the mix. There were several 10-pounders and several that were a good deal larger lost. Our beats were long and lovely and we had no choice but to push through countless pieces of untouched water to simply make it to the take-outs before dark. There were bighorn rams wading in the river; there were eagles, quail, deer, and a good number of gorgeous bull trout up to 24 inches. And as it always the case when fishing with Scott and his crew, we came away better casters, anglers, naturalists, and people.
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