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Get ready for the big bugs: Fishing the Deschutes River salmonfly hatch

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Those obsessed with fly fishing are getting ready for the greatest time of the year on the lower Deschutes River: the famous salmonfly hatch. After a long cold winter, trout are hungry. Mike Phillips, owner of Slack Line Flyfishing in Tumalo says the three-week window of opportunity to sling big flies to hungry trout is his favorite time of the year.

Mike Phillips, owner of Slack Line Flyfishing, hooked up to a Deschutes River Redband trout during the 2018 salmonfly hatch. - COURTESY MIKE PHILLIPS
  • Courtesy Mike Phillips
  • Mike Phillips, owner of Slack Line Flyfishing, hooked up to a Deschutes River Redband trout during the 2018 salmonfly hatch.

"The fish are so ready to eat, and the protein-rich salmonflies turn the oftentimes-wary and elusive trout into bug-munching predators," says Phillips. The biggest bugs on the area trout menu are the Giant salmonfly and Golden stonefly, which rise to the surface and crawl to the banks of Central Oregon's Blue Ribbon trout factory, from Warm Springs to Maupin. Once the adult bugs dry out, they fly, and the patiently waiting Redband trout—the indigenous trout species of the Deschutes—go on their annual feeding frenzy. It's the one small window of time where the biggest fish stalk, slash and consume an inordinate amount of the 2-inch bugs. It's a flyfisher's dream.

Recommended gear includes a 5-weight flyrod, weight-forward floating fly line, waders, sunscreen and a camera. The fly imitations people use are up to 2 inches long, so using a 7.5-foot leader is the typical setup.

"The shorter leader helps to turn over the big flies," say Phillips. "You can fish a slightly heavier tippet weight (4x/3x), because the fish come up big and strong, attacking the fly."

Trout do tend to hide in safe spots, like in deep pools or under trees, so fly fishers will most likely be losing flies during the day. "Make sure you bring a dozen or more flies with you," says Bob Coltrane of the Patient Angler Fly Shop in Bend. The hatch depends on stable and warm weather, and typically starts in early to mid-May.

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