5 Rivers Odyssey, Part I: Trouble on the Deschutes

Written by: Dan Eiden

Dyer Benjovsky with a rainbow trout that ate an Elk Hair Caddis on a tributary of the Upper Deschutes.

Editor’s note: Last June, Trout Unlimited sent four of their brightest college club leaders in the TU Costa 5 Rivers Program to study and fish the Columbia River Basin. The students were able to learn first-hand about the issues surrounding native species and clean water in the Pacific Northwest . Their missions was to unearth, document, and share the challenges facing these vital fisheries. They also went fishing, and we will share some of their stories over the next few weeks.

During my time on the 5 Rivers Odyssey, I was tasked with being in charge of the greater Deschutes area, a place that I became very close to over the course of a week. Our time on the Deschutes River was spent with numerous stakeholders—from fly fishing guides to energy companies—and we saw and came to understand how each group wanted to interact with the river. The passion of Elke and Alysia Littleleaf of the Littleleaf Guide Service kicked off our time in the region. Elke showed us first-hand how the river is changing and what this means for the future of the Deschutes

The water quality of the Lower Deschutes is of concern to local anglers and guides.

Following our time with the Littleleafs, we met with John and Amy Hazel, owners of the Deschutes Angler, located in Maupin, Oregon. What was initially intended to be a short stop on our way to Bend quickly turned into one of the highlights of the trip. John and Amy spoke to us about the Lower Deschutes and how it has been greatly affected by the dams located on the river. There has been so much damage done to the river that John and Amy have decided to take environmental justice into their own hands and go toe-to-toe with Portland Gas and Electric over the degradation of the Deschutes’ water quality.

While most of our time on the Deschutes was spent educating ourselves on the issues at hand, we also found our way into some fishing. We hit the river at a difficult time of the year because the redband rainbow trout that notoriously sip large dry flies were still full from gorging themselves on the resident salmonflies just a few weeks earlier. With this in mind, we had to alter our game plan and work the river from a different perspective.   

The trout were stuffed with salmonflies, requiring a chance in tactics.

My favorite memory from the Deschutes came at last light with my good friend and Odyssey teammate Dyer. Casting a size 16 Elk Hair Caddis over the tall grass, we listened intently for any hint of a rise on the water’s surface. Unable to see, and barely able to hear, we each landed a native Deschutes redband trout. It was certainly pure luck that brought those fish into our nets, but who were we to argue with the situation!

The week on the Deschutes was full of information and firsthand experiences. I took away a greater understanding of the river and the many factors that play a role in impacting the Deschutes. We were only able to scratch the surface with the Deschutes River, as a week simply wasn’t enough. I am grateful for the time that I was able to spend learning from the people of this river, and that is something that I will not take for granted. 

Dan Eiden is a senior at Gustavus Adolphus College in southern Minnesota, where he is also president of the Fly Fishing Club.

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