Fly Fishing Technique: Deschutes Summer Steelhead

Quote.  My method for fishing for steelhead (which cannot be discounted, for I have caught eleven so far this year) is to cast straight out, let the line and fly be carried by the current, activating it in rhythmical jerks, even continuing after the line and fly have straightened out.

By starting with a short cast and gradually lengthening each cast to the extremity, all water is covered.  Then I move downstream four steps and repeat the process.  There are lots of little tricks, such and mending one’s line, and little dipsidoodles that will get your fly down.

While my technique doesn’t yield the number of strikes (as some other methods), it does have two advantages: first is the exciting, powerful dynamic strike,  which 90% of the time happens at the 5 o’clock position, as the fly swings around, just prior to straightening out.  The second is a corollary of the first, for the steelhead strikes on a relatively taught line and (if it doesn’t break you), firmly hooks himself.  End quote.

Mr Thomas Burgess Malarkey.

Deschutes River Journal, June 20, 1959 – March 1, 1981

October 1972

May we remember the men and women who have preceded us wherever we wade or stand on a riverbank to fish for salmon and steelhead here in Oregon.


Salmon Fisher’s Journal: Deschutes River, June 1 1966

I was on the Deschutes last week, not fishing really, and I spent some time reading excerpts from a Deschutes river Journal; June 20, 1950 – March 1 1981; by  Thomas Burgess Malarky.

More than one passage was intriguing.  This one I’ll comment on today.

(Quote) June 1, 1966.  Perhaps trout fishing’s basic fascination is this; no certainty; no sure thing.  Motivations of these native rainbows are often mysterious,  Wy they chose t rise; why they don’t.; why they suddenly go wild in 50 degree water; why , when the situation is ideal, you can’t move a fin – – -why, why? (End Quote)

Thomas was writing about the Deschutes near Dant.  1966 marked the summer between my Junior and Senior year at Wilson High School in Portland, Oregon.  Most likely, I was fishing the Metolius, in the Canyon upstream from the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery.  I would have been fishing Green Drake and Red Coachman Special Parachutes.

My Junior year at OSU was complete, or nearly so.  I would also have been getting ready to report for My ROTC Midshipman assignment, aboard an LST home-ported in Yokosuka, Japan.

June dry fly fishing on the Metolius was glorious. Many of the trout I caught were hatchery fish.  Some, I believe, were wild.  I never thought much about the differences between hatchery fish and wild fish then.

A small but dependable number of giant rainbow and brown trout would taunt me once in a while; just often enough that I remembered their usual lairs and had a sense of hope that I might catch one.  For all intents and purposes, I never did, although in precise fact I did hook one monstrous rainbow and nearly hooked a big brown, both on dry flies, over the years I fished there.  The rainbow was a fish of steelhead proportions, and quickly spooled me in heavy water.  The brown was 24″ and deep bodied.  I know this because the fish succumbed to my friend, James (Jim) Beggs, a week after rejecting my dragging parachute fly.  Jim went back to the pool after hearing my story, waded out to the very same rock I had fished from, hooked the fish, and took it home in his wicker creel, as was our custom in those days.

June on the Metolius was, of course, Green Drake time.  June was also the time to fish a giant maroon-bodied Mayfly,tied on a size #8, 2-XL Mustad 9672 forged-wire hook.  The body of the fly was a red/maroon Peacock herl, with a small gold oval tinsel rib; the hackle was full and large, grizzly and fiery brown.  The tail and wing post were white calf tail, tied in a continuous piece from tail tips to the clipped wing post.  I have seen these huge red mayflies bring the largest trout of the season to the surface in the pools between the hatchery and the mouth of Canyon Creek.  I do not remember ever seeing this insect in the Metolius in the upper river, say, in the vicinity around Camp Sherman  or the Campgrounds before the river descends to the House on the Metolius waters.

I learned about this giant dry fly from Jim Beggs.  Jim, like many Metolius River regulars in those times, purchased many of his flies from Audrey Joy, a full-time professional fly tyer who worked several days each week in the sporting goods section of the Portland  Meier and Frank Department Store.  I remember days and days, upstairs in the Sporting Goods Department, talking to Audrey while she tied flies on a rotating vise her husband had fashioned from a treadle sewing machine.

Much of this diversion into historical reminiscence is just a way of noting that a trifle forty-something years has not diminished the fascination Mr. Mularkey and the rest of us anglers hold have with fish and our obsessions with fishing.  It is possible, perhaps likely, that Thomas Malarky fished with some of the parachute flies I tied for Norm Thompson’s.  He and I knew some of the same people.  Although I never had access or knowledge of the Deschutes Club waters, we shared much.  Perhaps he fished he Metolius on occasion.

Forty some years from now, and another forty, and so on, I hope that men and women are still wading the waters of the Deschutes and the Metolius in June, waving fly rods in the air, hoping to entice trout to rise, wondering why they often will not, and leaping with joy when they do.

Hareline Dyed Grizzly Saddles

Dry Stoneflies, Anyone?

Am I the only fly tyer who has had difficulty finding good dry fly saddles large enough to tie #8 and #6 dry Stoneflies?  It’s time to get ready for the Deschutes.  Maybe some of you are headed to Montana, or wherever.  I hear rumors that these big juicy bugs fish well all over the world.  Some of us are traditionalists who prefer to fish nicely hackled dry flies instead of foam bodied gizmos.

There are practical reasons to fish a well-hacked dry stonefly also.  If fish are keying into dead adults, a low rider may be just the ticket.  If, however, they are keying on egg-laying, fluttering above the river, touch-and-go stoneflies – well, the high-floating fly will take first prize every cast.

Back in the 1960s, 7os, and even 80s, it was easy to find large dry fly brown saddles.  In those days, it was difficult to find good dry fly saddles for size #14 and smaller flies.

Not now. Now it is really difficult to find dry fly hackles suitable for a fly larger than #12.  Check out the Whiting 100 Packs:  they are only offered in size #12 and smaller.  This is a dilemma for most of us.

Surprise! Probably not such a secret, but I figured out that the Dyed Grizzly Saddles we have been using to tie our big nasty Intruders for salmon and steelhead just happen to be perfect for tying dry stoneflies in sizes #6, #8, and #10.  Not in pink, or blue, or purple, mind you.  But the brown, hot orange, and even olive colors make really nice dry stoneflies.

I examined one of these dyed grizzly saddle patches, brown, straight off the rack.  The saddle patches are about 15-16” long.  The individual feathers are mostly 10” or so in length.  Each feather will tie several well-hackled stoneflies.  I have tied flies with all brown, all olive, and a combination of these colors with the hot orange.

One of my most popular commercial stoneflies back in the 70s and 80s was a Tied Down Caddis, #8 3xl, palmered with brown-dyed-orange saddle hackle.

‘Nuf said. Another use for these saddle patches.  How great to have a saddle patch that ties Intruders and dry stoneflies.  Almost more than I can bear.

Git ’em at:


September 28 2009 – Great Grab

On the Deschutes.  First time in – way too long.  Fishing steelhead with my dear friend Steve, plus new friends Dave and his father Doug.  Dave and Doug know this river.  They secured a prime campsite, pointed Steve and me to the best water and said, “go get ‘em.”

It is maybe 1 PM.  Slow morning.  Not like last week when Dave and Doug caught steelhead by the wheelbarrow-load.  Steve got one fish in Camp Water this morning.  The sun is high and bright.  It’s windy.  Deschutes windy.  I pull out my 8140 and punch a 600 gr AirFlo Skagit compact with a heavy 15’ tip toward a trench.  Six-inch blue string leech.  Dumbell eyes.  Splat!  Not pretty.

My leech plops down, I throw a big mend, and feed line to help the fly sink.  But before I commence the swing, off races my line with a hot fish attached.  Never felt the take – just got jolted by my line slicing upriver, throwing water into the air in front of everyone standing in camp.  Quite a show.  Blistering runs with much clumsy stripping and reeling slack line while trying to make contact again.

Surprise, surprise!  My first Deschutes fall Chinook.  Unbelievably chrome, considering how far from the ocean this fish has migrated.  They tell me this run is relatively healthy, with four- to seven-thousand wild fish spawning below Shears Falls.  This fish is one more example of nature’s mystery and the precious adaptive genetic diversity still found in wild salmon and steelhead stocks.  Not many of these Deschutes Chinook succumb to fly fisher’s offerings.

I am blessed by this fish and my friends on this trip.