CENTRAL OREGON – I had never touched a fly rod, let alone been on a fishing trip. Yet there I was, wading through the assertive waters of the Crooked River, tipping my line and watching it unfurl like gymnast ribbon in glistening streams overflowing with fish.
I’ve canoed the alpine lakes of central Oregon and soared over the mountains of this high desert paradise, but to see it like this with my family was new and exhilarating. As we learned, the eight-mile Crooked River, a tributary of the Deschutes, is ideal for novice anglers like us, as it teems with native rainbow trout and mountain whitefish. Trout literally jump out of the water, their prismatic skin a kaleidoscope of colors.
Wacky flow patterns can sometimes hold fish back for a day or two, but with the right flies, rigs and techniques – that day, tension and reel casting – anyone can have a bite to eat. . For that expert eye, my husband and I turned to Justin Francis, a guide at Fly and Field Outfitters in Bend. Francis has been fly fishing for 23 years. He once hooked an 85 pound tarpon in Florida using a 9 foot rod like mine, even though his was twice as heavy.
A wealth of knowledge, Francis was patient and encouraging, especially with my 10 year old son, who was still unconvinced that standing in the middle of a gushing river for hours was his idea of a good time. Francis knew when to push, when to let us practice and how often to change our artificial flies.
On a day like this, when the fish were biting, it changed the size, pattern and color of our flies quite frequently. You have to let them guess.
We’d arrived in Bend a few days before, weaved our way through the town’s fashionable food pods and explored a lava tube cave used by Prohibition-era bootleggers. Now, surrounded by spectacular nature, it was time to conquer catch-and-release.
Our day started on the west side of town at the Fly and Field shop, where the crew outfitted us in waders and boots, selected our gear and got our licenses for the day. Then we hopped in our car and followed Francis east for about an hour, until the road dropped into a hidden canyon below the Prineville Reservoir Dam.
There, surrounded by a beautiful caldera canyon, we parked, dressed, and took our first steps into the river. When it comes to downriver fishing, there’s no better classroom than the Crooked River. Year round it has an impressive number of fish, at least a thousand per mile of river. Flooding in recent winters has caused some decline in the population, but Francis confirms that the fish have made a comeback.
We spent most of the half-day trip on foot and fording – almost four hours – in the river. Even when it started to rain, we stayed in the water, perfecting our tension casting: you hang the line, face the fish, then slowly lift the rod and thrust forward, relying on the speed of the current. “It’s like a slingshot for your cane,” Francis explained. This is a particularly effective technique “to keep you from getting tangled up all day” when there are multiple lines in the water.
I was the last to find my rhythm, but once I found it, I found fly fishing peaceful and intuitive, like tai chi, but on the water. And when we each caught a fish, Francis was there to capture the moment with his camera – “seeing our eyes light up with excitement”, he said – before releasing them. I asked him what 23 years of fly fishing had taught him about life. He said to be patient, look around and enjoy the outdoors.
I could have stayed longer on the Crooked River, which is probably why Fly and Field and similar outfitters also offer full day trips. Choosing the right trip and the right river depends on the season and the time you have. Full day trips include a barbecue lunch by the river, but even on our half day adventure we had time to share snacks and sandwiches.
Sitting there, munching on a turkey and cheese among the ponderosa pines, watching the trout spring from the water, I was already thinking about my next time.
If you are going to
Fly and Field Outfitters offers half-day (four hour) guided fly fishing shore and wading tours starting at $375. Full day tours start at $525. Prices include rental of rod, reel, waders and boots. Day trip prices include lunch. More information at www.flyandfield.com.
Find more travel suggestions for Bend, Redmond and central Oregon here.