The Deschutes River & Steelheading (Spey’ed & Neutured)

There was much anticipation for this trip. The time of year allegedly guarantees less crowds, lovely weather and peak numbers of steelhead in the Deschutes River. So, with the odds greatly stacked in our favor and our friend and guide Matt McCrary upping our odds even further, we ventured forth to Maupin, Oregon.

Let me start by getting the only relevant question answered for some of you answered: no 3 rods did not catch a steelhead. And, as the best half-assed excuse that I can use…we only saw one other fish caught. Most flyfishers we saw seemed uninspired and into the cast, swing and wait stupor. OK excuse out of the way. But, we had an amazing time. All three of us were novices when it came to spey casting so we were at first blush inefficient in our presentations. However, really even being moderately efficient with a spey rod had us casting out 60-90 feet, mending our less than perfect casts and getting pretty decent swings over the most seductive drifts.

October Caddis~GM

October Caddis~GM

But, I am ahead of myself, giving you the conclusion before the info…which I offer to benefit others and to reinforce or amend your mental database. We, my sons Tony and Evan and I, went over on Saturday to have an easy day of trout fishing, with the steelhead trip planned for the Sunday. We moved up and down the Deschutes between Harpham Flat and Beavertail and saw pretty steady caddis and BWO hatches. We fished hard and well and did not have much success. Nymphs and Dries were used and frankly we fished well. All day..we fished well..and we had little to show for it. A few whitefish and little else. It was a day of exploring, sitting in the sun (soon to disappear Sunday) and rationalizing no success. 3 rods, good fly selection and pretty darn good presentations, good water, steady hatches and limited success. Was this a portent of things to come? Nah, we were zoned in and something would come of all our good vibes and amazing skills.

But, the day was spent wandering up and down the washboard access road and darn little was accomplished except honing our rollcast, mending skills. The Thingamabobbers worked well and drift after drift went unchallenged.

We spent the evening at the Imperial River Company Inn/Hotel watching playoff baseball, drinking Mirror Pond and visiting with others, who had not had much success on the river searching for steelhead. That was them..we were different, I hoped.

We hit the bed early and planned on meeting Matt McCrary at 6AM…not too bad. Tony spent the night with Matt at the guide’s trailer…no propane, no heat, frozen pipes and a long night. Evan and I suffered through a heater that would not turn off and kept the room at a steady 78 degrees. I would come to crave that broken thermostat. We awoke to cloud cover (no stars) and frigging COLD! I was dressed in hi-tech fibers and within minutes the hammer had already stared smashing my fingertips and my snot was on the verge of freezing. I don’t think it was much below 25 or so, so I may be exaggerating about my snot, but I was already vibrating and uncomfortable. The other problem that became evident the day before was what happens when you have 3 rods and 3 mindsets of taking care of their own gear in a confined space..certain things become immediately evident:

Not everyone is as tidy or organized as me, or maybe, others don’t know that that is my spot where I spread my stuff out, to stay, uh..organized. The difficulties of getting organized was evident before we left when a lot of ‘have you seen my…’ was heard. Stream gear, Stillwater gear, Silver salmon stuff and bass stuff were co-mingled and confusion reigned. Suddenly the 5x tippet was MIA and 2x was readily available. Planning on a trout trip and a steelhead trip became a ‘throw it in there and we will figure it out when we get there’…not good. Chaos ruled in the back seat and bed of the pickup. I am usually not so disorganized. 

That morning we met our guide, Matt McCrary. Not enough words are available to describe this new wave version of the river guide. Yes, he carries his predecessors’ genetics and independent streak and the basic skills of customer service. But, I have to say, Matt McCrary is in a league that few others visit. He will be in a league of his own for sometime to come. More about Matthew later.

We were driven down to Pine Tree to launch. In no time we were loaded, launched and in the drift boat…it was immediately apparent to everyone…that the upstream breeze was frigging COLD!!! But, the excitement, the rimrock views and the dip/dribble of the oars eased us into a state of relaxation along with early stages of hypothermia. The mood was jovial and expectations were tempered for me, knowing I was learning a knew skill (Spey Casting) and that with steelheading, it is sometimes a losing proposition. We glided down to our first drift and were reminded on how to exit the boat so as to not become a wishbone or a water laden-full fledged hypothermic patient.

Matt McCrary~Super Guide

Matt McCrary~Super Guide

I have had two prior lessons of Snap T’s and Double Spey etc and because I have not totally succumbed to the technique (despite having a spey rod/reel) and, I have never retained what can only be retained through repetition of presentation, I needed a good refresher. So, this day, we received our primary instructions: initially short casts (3-4 feet line and leader..fish are caught on these short sweeps) and then letting 2 or so feet of line out and casting until the shooting head, in this instance a Scandie head, is just out of the top guide. I practiced the rod moves and my favorite reminder from Matt was the rod should move as if tracing the rim of a whiskey glass (per a Scot speycaster, Matt had met). That imagery helped me to trace the rod through the proper arc and exert the force with the bottom hand upon the rod’s butt. After an initial group class we spread out along the drift and received ongoing, individual tutoring as the day progressed. And, as the day progressed, the casts became better. Running line was shot with some degree of consistency and enticing drifts were swung cross river while waiting for the loop of running line to be pulled from between the light grasp of the thumb and forefinger. Cast, mend, drift, wait, retrieve and step downstream on bowling balls. God, as the day progressed I became ever more clumsy and tentative. I am not agile on rocks and have never been one to wade with reckless abandon, especially on a freezing day.

But, I persevered and worked hard through drift after drift, most of which names (in no exact order: Cedar Island, Bakeoven, Gert, Signal, 39, and many more), and I will probably forget those names unless I make this a more frequent ritual. Lunchtime came and so did the emerging sunshine…thank goodness! The food was perfect and the banter and joking was great and mostly at Tony’s expense.

We broke for lunch and it was a great meal. Of course, food always taste better outdoors, but this really tasted good. Nice ribeye steaks, salad and dressing, nice rolls and cookies washed down with ice cold (did I say it was freezing out) beverages. Matt did a nice job setting up the camp and cooking in short order.

After lunch we moved down river and repeated the drill on and on: good casts, good presentations, mixing up the fly patterns and despite some 6 perceived plucks and loops pulled free amongst us, there were no hookups. We fished hard and the odds were decreasing as we entered Ferry Canyon and its myriad of spots. Last chance and we did all we could do. I think we fished well, but our casts were limited I suppose and that limited the water covered cross river, but it was still much farther than any of us could have done with a single hander given the back drop of trees and limited wading. Ferry Canyon was one long run of anticipation. We finished having done a pretty good job for spey novices because of the great instruction from a spey rod magician, Matt McCrary. The take out was at Mack’s Canyon. We had fished almost 10 hours and after numerous enticing swings, no adrenaline surges or memorable fish pics. I was disappointed, but not in any person, to include me (no steelhead). It is acceptable to fail and much easier when blame is not attached. In this instance, only the steelhead failed to cooperate. And, we all know what that means.    

Well, it was a great day for the obvious reasons that we all understand. The ultimate reason beyond the love of the sport is the love of family and friends. And, you don’t see any stocking caps, so we were not freezing any longer. Also, you can see our genuine smiles; we had a great day!

Matt McCrary

Matt McCrary

And finally, Matt McCrary… I plan on writing more about this young man. He is the epitome of the restless energy and individuality that accomplishes great things, that the common man is either too timid or lazy or too much of a follower to accomplish. Matt does not suffer the harness well and he has the drive to succeed because he has a passion to share and teach. He is an excellent guide. He knows how to converse, I am sure, with the executive, the tradesman or the rancher. I found him most fascinating to listen to, while I fished the back side of Cedar Island…a little glide of paradise. Matt explained his personal principles and it struck me, then and there, that if not for the Matt McCrary’s of this country now and in our past, we would be in a sorry state. No ego or bravado came forth, although I am sure he could swagger a bit given what I know of his exploits. Yet, he doesn’t. He has done a lot for a young man pushing thirty. And, he has settled into stability without sacrificing his unique edginess and charm. A man recognizes a man. A man recognizes a poser. Matt McCrary is an awesome man. My sons and I were fortunate to spend a beautiful (did I mention it had been Freezing!) Fall day on the Deschutes River.

Waiting While Wading

Waiting While Wading

1 Response to “The Deschutes River & Steelheading (Spey’ed & Neutured)”

  1. 1 winonaflyfactory
    October 13, 2008 at 17:20

    Sounds like a very fun weekend. I especially liked the picture at the very end. That would be cool, fishing with your two boys.




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