Meandering serenely through meadows and pine trees southwest of Sunriver, the Fall River is a summertime oasis for Central Oregon fly anglers.
But in the winter, the river becomes even more important for those anglers, as it is one of the few reliable streams to fish in the region through the cold-weather months.
"It fishes well all the way through December, January, February and March," says Bob Gaviglio, owner of the Sunriver Fly Shop.
The Fall River — which is restricted to fly angling with barbless hooks — flows east for eight miles from its headwaters before emptying into the Deschutes River. Along with the Deschutes, Crooked and Metolius rivers in Central Oregon, the Fall River remains fishable year-round.
The spring-fed river offers consistent flows and temperatures but is, naturally, decidedly cooler in the winter.
Gaviglio suggests anglers try fishing at the headwaters, where the water is actually a bit warmer, perhaps making for more active fish.
"It's exceptionally clear and a little shallower, so you've got to be a little more stealthy when fishing up on that end," Gaviglio says, adding that in the clear water the fish do see anglers approaching. "If they're not in deep holes and such, they're very much aware of what's going on. You can't be crashing into the water or walking up to the water and just casting without paying attention to where you're casting to, (in case) there is a fish around. You can't be that brazen."
But for those anglers careful enough to not spook the fish, the clear water can be used to their advantage, and they can spot their quarry before casting. Many anglers on the Fall River will "sight fish," finding a visible trout in the river and then casting to that fish. This can often help fishermen tempt the larger trout in the river. Fall River is home to rainbow trout as big as 4 to 6 pounds, and brown trout up to 8 pounds.
"A lot of those bigger fish you don't see until you hook a smaller one," Gaviglio says, explaining that the big fish can get excited and chase a smaller fish that is hooked.
The Fall River Fish Hatchery is probably the most popular stretch to fish during the winter because it is so accessible — and rainbow trout are clearly visible in that calm, clear stretch of the stream.
For anglers not sight fishing, Gaviglio recommends fishing in spots along the river with lots of cover: structures like logs or rocks, where trout feel safe because they cannot be seen. Such covered areas abound on the Fall River, including many downed pine trees that provide cover for the browns and rainbows.
"Anywhere water is moving into logs and then slowly coming over the top of logs, that movement itself can push (bugs) off the logs," Gaviglio says. "If you're doing streamers or nymphs underneath logs, let them drift through in those areas. There's going to be bigger fish sitting in those places."
Fall River anglers typically catch more fish in the wintertime when nymphing (fishing with small, sinking flies), because trout will be more lethargic in cold water and less likely to swim to the surface to take a dry fly.
But anglers can land fish on dry flies on the Fall River in the winter, usually during a small time window in the afternoon.
"You'll maybe have a half-hour of fishing emergers," Gaviglio says. "A lot of guys will use duns and trail small emergers off of those."
The fly shop owner also suggests using streamers, a type of wet fly that imitates a minnow or bait fish. Fishermen can often find success for large brown trout on streamers.
"What's nice about streamers is, you can fish with nymphs or dries, and then come back and fish the same water with streamers," Gaviglio notes. "You can have fish that'll take a streamer that wasn't even interested in anything else, and vice versa."
For dry flies, Gaviglio recommends trying blue-wing olives and midges. For fishing below the water's surface, he likes egg patterns, San Juan worms, and a fly called a Mr. Peacock.
This time of year, anglers should go small with their flies, about size Nos. 18 or 20.
But who knows? Maybe the winter is the right time to tie on a big streamer and land that big brown that got away in the summer or fall. Legend has it they can grow pretty hefty in the Fall River.
"Browns are usually pretty good size," Gaviglio says. "The biggest I've ever heard of — of course, I didn't see it — was 12 pounds."
Mark Morical is outdoors writer for The (Bend) Bulletin. Reach him at 541-383-0318 or firstname.lastname@example.org.