Deschutes River steelhead camping trips
River Runner Outfitters provides three to five day guided steelhead float trips on Oregon’s Lower Deschutes River, fly fishing for steelhead July through November. All meals and camping equipment are provided.
A steelhead float trip on the Lower Deschutes River is considered to be one of the premier fly fishing experiences in the West. The Lower Deschutes takes a 100 mile journey from Pelton Dam to the Columbia River, winding through the juniper and sagebrush country of Central Oregon. From the Pacific Ocean, up the Columbia River, and in to the Lower Deschutes, summer steelhead run July through the end of the year, and spawn the following spring. Guided float trips with River Runner Outfitters take you fly fishing for Deschutes River steelhead July through November.
early season on the lower river
July brings the first waves of chrome bright summer steelhead, and our first realistic opportunities at fly fishing success. We begin our Lower Deschutes steelhead guiding season in July, floating Mack’s Canyon to the mouth of the Deschutes. This 23 mile stretch of river flows through the deepest canyons, accessible only by boat or foot. Floating this section of Deschutes, camping at a different piece of water each night, is the ideal way to fish the steelhead run. The water is typified by long classic runs, ideal for fishing floating lines and unweighted flies. While fishing floating lines in the mornings and evenings is the traditional way to fly fish the early summer run on the lower river, we spend a great deal of time fishing with sink tips during the middle of the day. Steelhead move into heavy broken water when the sun is shining bright, and a sink tip and weighted fly cast with spey rods and Skagit style lines are very productive. Steelhead tend to run in pods during July, August, and September on the lower river. While steelhead fly fishing is always a hunt, anglers routinely encounter some of the best steelheading of their lives on our float trips from Mack’s to the mouth.
late season on the upper river
While steelheading is good through the end of the season on the lower river, it is undeniable that a large push of fish ascend the upper river by late September. From Trout Creek to Maupin, the Deschutes flows through premium trout country. It is hard to ignore the pods of trout rising to blue winged olives in the backeddies as you float between steelhead runs. We are happy to indulge in the dry fly action, as we generally keep a four weight rigged up in the boat. Don’t get me wrong, this is a steelhead mission. The upper river has similar water to the lower river… long perfect runs, ideal for floating lines. Sink tips produce very well, and become increasingly important in October and November. The scenery on the upper river is rugged and beautiful, with exciting whitewater including class III+ Whitehorse Rapids.
our fishing program
One of the highlights of a Deschutes River steelhead camping trip is fishing the water in front of camp. Our camps are strategically positioned on premier steelhead water. Anglers wake up just before sunrise, slug down some coffee, and wade into steelhead paradise. A light breakfast is available before heading out to fish, including coffee, fresh fruit, granola, yogurt, and breakfast pastries. After fishing near camp, a hot breakfast is ready to take with you in your guide’s drift boat. Fishing camp water accounts for many of the steelhead caught during our multi-day float trips, and is a fine way to begin each day.
After fishing near camp, we jump in our boats and drift down river to the nest run, timing our stops to fish in the shade for as long as possible. We have chased steelhead on the Deschutes for years, and have the timing completely dialed in. This greatly increases your chances of catching steelhead on floating lines. Generally, depending on the time of year, you can expect to be casting with floating lines until somewhere between 9:30 and 11:00 am, chasing the shade until it rises up the canyon walls until evening.
As the sunlight inches down the canyon slopes, our thoughts turn from Scandi lines and dry flies to Skagit lines, T-11, and lightly weighted bugs, including leech, sculpin, and intruder style patterns. The conventional wisdom that summer steelhead can’t be fly caught under direct sunlight has pretty much been trumped during the past several years. Using the right tools for the job, the middle of the day sometimes provides the best fishing of the trip. To avoid the bright sunlight, steelhead move from the rivers edges towards swift currents and choppy fast water. Penetrating these currents and achieving a good presentation is the key to success. There are many pieces of water that are extremely productive during the day, and you can be sure you will have many opportunities to fish them on our guided trips. We will work hard all day for you.
Sometime during that late afternoon, shade creeps down the canyon walls towards the river. Some of the best runs are shaded up by 4:00 pm! While many anglers just bumble down river and fish the water as it comes, we have good timing working to your advantage. After an afternoon of fishing with sink tips, we will arrive at a piece of water in time to secure it a little while before the shade hits the water. This is a brief but important resting period. We don’t ask our anglers to take naps during the day, but taking a short break before fishing in the evening’s shade will help you make better casts and swings. It also means we will be the first ones there when the shade hits. Once the shade covers the water, steelhead begin to move around. They tend to move into riffles and shallower water where floating lines are once again effective. With a little timing (okay a lot of timing!) you will have the opportunity to fish floating lines late afternoon until dark. Often the last run of the day is at camp, while other times we float into camp at last light. We maintain versatility to give you the best opportunities.
camps & food
After a long day of swinging flies you arrive to the warm glow of camp. Your tents and cots are already set up. All you have to do is find your tent and dry bag, take off your waders, and sit down for a beverage and appetizers. During the heat of the summer our dining area is underneath “the wing”, a protective rainfly. It is generally warm and dry, but Central Oregon does get some summer thunder showers. You will stay warm and dry no matter what. When the cool mornings and evenings of fall approach, a steel framed canvas wall tent serves as the main dining and gathering area. Dinners are prepared by our house chef, and served on sturdy banquet tables with real plates and silver.
Guests sleep two per tent on heavily padded cots. Each tent is at least six feet tall and is equipped with interior lighting. No one likes messing around in the dark, so flip on the LED lantern and let there be light! Tents are set up just a short distance from the main camp area. We are happy to accommodate privacy requests, snoring fishing partners, etc, just ask.
We believe enjoying good food is one of life’s great pleasures. At home cooking is one of our favorite things to do together. Eating a great meal at the end of the day, along with a glass of wine or a well made cocktail, is part of each day on our Deschutes River float trips. While you won’t find white linens and fine china, and we hesitate to use the term “gourmet”, you will be satisfied by our riverside cuisine and service. We use fresh seasonal ingredients, and buy locally as much as possible. Read more about Deschutes River camps & food