BEND — The unseasonably radiant November sun warmed my face as I ambled along the riverbank, searching for a place to fish.
Red and gold colors dotted the far side of the river, where the lava rock stacked high.
Perhaps one of the best ways to enjoy the last few warm days of the year in Central Oregon is to fish the upper Deschutes River below Benham Falls.
The water flows are low there this time of year and throughout the winter, affording the fish fewer places to hide and making the river easier to wade. Conversely, the middle Deschutes, from Lake Billy Chinook to Bend, typically experiences higher flows through the late fall and winter, making it difficult to fish.
"There's better access to the upper part of the Deschutes below Benham than to the middle Deschutes," says Peter Bowers, owner of the Patient Angler fly shop in Bend. "At least in the upper you still get some flat water, some riffles, and some undercut banks that you can still fish."
Brown and rainbow trout constitute the majority of the catch on the stretch of the river from Benham to Bend, which is open year-round but is restricted to artificial flies and lures. Bowers says he has caught brown trout as long as 25 inches there and knows anglers who have landed fish larger than that. He adds that he has heard reports of 5- to 10-pound rainbows caught there, though he has never seen one.
Bowers recommends using streamers, which imitate bait fish, to land brown trout, or using wet flies such as pheasant tails, hare's ears and prince nymphs to catch rainbows. The blue-wing olive, Bowers notes, is one bug hatch that remains consistent from the fall through the winter.
"You can streamer fish, nymph fish, and if you luck out you get some good dry-fly fishing," Bowers says of the Deschutes from Bend to Benham Falls. "That will be blue-wing olive or baetis patterns throughout the winter, small, dark mayflies like parachute adams or comparadun. That will be standard throughout the winter, especially on your overcast, warm, winter days."
The trail along the river offers access to scores of small fishing holes. Anglers should look for certain types of water, depending on whether they are fishing for browns or rainbows.
"There's lots of big, flat, brown-trout-type water with undercut banks and lots of structure like log jams, where you would strip streamers by for big browns," Bowers explains. "There's also riffly pocket water that you might nymph for rainbows. That would be below some falls."
While the Deschutes from Bend to Benham is open year-round, the stretch upstream of Benham Falls to Wickiup Reservoir closed at the end of October.
Many anglers are currently focused on hooking an elusive steelhead in the lower Deschutes. But the fishing for trout remains good on the upper Deschutes and elsewhere in Central Oregon.
Other rivers in the area that offer ample angling opportunity during the fall include the Metolius River and the Crooked River.
This time of year, hefty bull trout are feeding on spawning kokanee in the Metolius near Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery and Bridge 99, providing a chance for fly anglers to catch and release a rare bull trout.
The Crooked River below Bowman Dam, always a reliable fishery when not surging with high flows, was running at a quite fishable 66 cubic feet per second as of last week. And the flows should remain consistent throughout the fall and winter.
Most Central Oregon lakes closed to fishing at the end of October, but several remain open all year. Haystack Reservoir, near Culver, offers a chance for rainbow and brown trout. Crescent Lake, southwest of Bend off state Highway 58, holds brown trout. And Davis Lake, just north of Crescent Lake, includes largemouth bass and rainbow trout.
But for consistent trout fishing close to town, the Deschutes River upstream of Bend is tough to beat.
"It's certainly not our blue-ribbon part of the river, but in the wintertime it's very accessible and it's often overlooked," Bowers says. "People drive a long way instead of just fishing near town. And we do have a lot of nice fish. It's not everybody's cup of tea, but it's certainly close to us and easy access. And in the wintertime, when we're a little limited on water anyhow, it becomes another place to fish."