Searching for Salmonflies

A Deschutes rainbow
Each year all over the West, the famous salmonfly (Pteronarcys Californica) hatch comes around in May and June, depending on where you are and the water temperature. It's always a guessing game with anglers trying to pinpoint when they're going to pop. You wait to hear reports of seeing them crawling on the grass banks, and then hearing of sporadic rises and then finally you hear of that angler catching that first fish on a salmonfly pattern. There is a distinct possibility that I was that first angler this year to catch a Deschutes River redside on a salmonfly dry-fly pattern. We decided to head out in mid-May when we had already heard stories of them covering the grass and flying around in the air. When we arrived at our campsite, we asked around and people had seen them on the water and had seen some splashy rises.

We figured it was still early for the fish to be keyed in on the big bugs, but we were determined to fish with salmonfly patterns anyway. The following day when we put in, we wanted to extend our float so we drove a mile or two past the put-in and walked Katrina (the 12-foot Cataraft) down to the water.

Immediately we rowed over to the far bank, where there is less fishing pressure. I had my size 6 Salmonfly tied on and cast it into a fishy-looking seam right next to the grass. Sure enough, a beautiful redside slammed the fly and the fight was on. He jumped three or four times and tried to break me off on a downed tree lying across the water in front of me. These wild rainbows are smart and tough and have bad intentions when they are hooked.

Despite the fish's solid effort to break off, I eventually had him to hand for a couple quick pictures before I put him back in the water. Naturally, we thought we had this float timed perfectly where the fish would start to hit the dry flies with reckless abandon. Unfortunately, we covered the water like it was the last float of our lives, turning a 4 mile float into an 11 hour trip that was more like hunting than fishing. We managed to find one pod further down the river rising to dries (not salmonflies) and we hooked and landed most of them before they went down. Although they were not huge, they were fun and just as rewarding to catch because it was the first time all year we had gotten into fish on top.

Casting on the Deschutes

The temperature reached 100-plus degrees that day which perhaps had something to do with the fishing as well as the higher-than-normal water. We were exhausted by the end of the day after switching flies more than we could count and rowing back and forth across the river looking for that next perfect spot to hold a fish. We gave it a valiant effort and worked the water hard. We drove down to another spot to slap some water till dark and then it was to the campfire to enjoy some steaks and beers and be satisfied with another day spent fishing with friends.

Wet Boots Are a Way of Life.