I have caught (and mostly released) steelhead in 15 different rivers and streams in Washington and Oregon. My modus operandi is always the same; hiking and fishing along river banks with light spinning gear. The Deschutes River in Central Oregon is acknowledged as one of the premier steelhead rivers in the Pacific Northwest. But, it has always been one of my nemeses. I have caught and released one steelhead in the Deschutes River over the years. And, sad to say, it was a Ted Trueblood-style catch & release (the release happened with the steelhead spitting out the spinner in mid-air about 50 feet out in the River.) One 20-lb chinook salmon, one three-lb smallmouth bass and a few whitefish have been landed and released over the years too.
In early December I decided to try again. It was a cold, overcast day with very little wind on the eastern side of the Columbia River Gorge. The Deschutes River was in good shape for fishing, but there were no other fishermen around – – – not a good sign. To get some exercise out of the trip, I hiked up the west side of the River for roughly a mile to some deeper water above a set of rapids. This was stark, open country with rimrock cliffs on the high canyon walls, sagebrush, rabbit brush, native grasses, dried thistles higher than my head and plenty of blackberry bushes near the water with never-ending thorns to terrorize my clothes and exposed skin. After a few hours with nary a bite, I returned to the trailhead.
For more entertainment, I crossed the Columbia River at The Dalles and took a leisurely drive back to Portland. Driving up the Klickitat and Little White Salmon Rivers, I spotted many bald eagles. Below the Little White Salmon River Hatchery, there were dark and dead salmon seemingly everywhere. The gulls, crows and eagles were enjoying a delightful smogasbord. It was fun to watch the interaction of the birds. The mature bald eagles were clearly the “big dogs.” All in all, a nice was to spend a day.