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The Roving Sportsman… The Lunker of the Lower Deschutes

The Deschutes River is located in central Oregon and is a major tributary of the Columbia River. The Deschutes provided an important route to and from the Columbia for Native Americans for thousands of years and then, in the 19th century, was used by pioneers on the Oregon Trail. The river flows mostly through rugged and arid country, and today supplies water for irrigation and is a popular destination for whitewater rafting and fishing. The fishing opportunities are well known by anglers throughout the world who travel there in pursuit of native rainbow trout and summer-run steelhead. Other native fish include the mountain whitefish and bulltrout.

For several years, my son Tim and I had wanted to fish these famous waters to try our luck at catching a few of either the rainbow trout or steelhead. That trip finally came to fruition in early July. We were joined on the adventure by my nephew Dave, who lives in Bend, Oregon.

The three of us headed north out of Bend before daybreak to make the one-hour drive to meet our guide for the day, Dan Anthen. Dan was raised upon the shores of North Lake Tahoe and began to fly fishing with his father and brothers at the age of eight.

Now, decades later, he has been guiding fly fishers and whitewater enthusiasts throughout central Oregon since 1997. Our fishing trip was expected to take about 4 or 5 hours. It would cover about 10 miles of floating and wading the Lower Deschutes River (the exact location will not be disclosed so as to protect the privacy of our whereabouts!), where we could anticipate catching mostly rainbow trout. Upon reaching the nearby river, Dan geared us up with waders, boots, and all the rods, reels, and flies we would need throughout the trip, and we anxiously piled into the boat to begin the drift. It was easy to see that Dan’s years of guiding experiences would be invaluable on our trip, both in navigating the river and in locating the places where the trout usually could be found, along with knowing the most productive fly sizes and patterns that we would use and how to best present them to the fish.

Just a few minutes into the drift, Dan stopped and anchored the boat; we all piled out and spaced ourselves along a foot-deep section of the river so we could begin some introductory lessons from Dan and practice our fishing technique in a deeper stretch of water passing in front of us.

We would be fishing with two nymphs attached to our leaders that we would let drift with the current and near the bottom of the stream, holding our rod tips high and watching a small bobber indicator for any hits from a fish that might occur. Upon completion of the lessons, we continued downstream to our first stop to try our luck.

Both Tim and Dave quickly connected with rainbows in the 12 to 14-inch range, brought them to the net and released them. I had several hits and a few fish on, but none stayed on to the net. Now Dan turned his focus on me as he brought the boat to the river bank, and he lowered the anchor (you cannot fish from the boat but must fish from the bank or be standing in the water, and all fish are “catch and release”). Dan and I waded upstream, carefully stepping over large boulders in waist-deep water as we closed in on a small pocket of water just off the bank.

There was an overhanging branch two feet above the water, and in a small pool lay three large rainbows in the 18-inch class, but they were not our target as we focused our attention on a 20-plus-inch lunker just downstream of the threesome. The trio lay in a pool of calm water, and at the tail of that pool, the water became constricted and sped up as it passed between the bank and an exposed boulder about two feet from the bank. Eighteen inches downstream of the boulder that created the chute of faster water, the current had developed a small pool of slack water that had now filled with a floating layer of brush. It was just under this brush that “Mr. Big” called home.

The presentation of the fly would be a delicate cast, with the fly landing just downstream of the trio of big fish so they would not be attracted to it, yet slightly upstream of the boulder so that it would drift downstream through the chute of faster water and (hopefully) draw the attending of “The Lunker of the Lower Deschutes!”