Oct 3, 2012

John Day River Offers Late Season Steelheading


The John Day runs much like a river should. No dams along her entire 231 mile span make her the 3rd longest, free flowing river in the United States. She lives in Oregon and she does not stop.

There are, however, high irrigation demands placed upon her. Lots of water is needed to grow crops and provide for grazers in this arid country. The water warms considerably in the summer months, which makes for an incredible small mouth bass fishery. Interesting, because the John Day is also home to one of the last remaining strongholds of wild steelhead in our country.

And it is interesting how these fish have come to understand timing. Not until late October and November, when the water cools and rises under sheets of moisture, do these fish return to their very birth water. Up they go… If they are true to target, they pass the mouth of the world famous Deschutes River and hook a right hand turn not far to the east of Biggs, Oregon where the John Day meets the Columbia.

Realizing her inherent beauty, the US government designated 147 miles of her as Wild and Scenic in 1988, which means that preserving her wildness, is the first major concern.

She also has a flair for the dramatic. Her course begins in the high country of eastern Oregon, tumbles into fertile green valleys and then sweeps straight into a landscape of rock and sage. In places, the river winds through incredible spires and sheer basalt walls. It’s truly one of our country’s most beautiful and inspiring canyons.

We are nearing that special time when her steelhead come home from the sea.

Since she has been mostly spared the companionship of major, public roads, there are not many access points below Service Creek. Anglers wishing to hike can access the river at Rock Creek, and the Cottonwood Bridge and walk the river while staying below the high water mark. Or, another great area to explore is the newly acquired land that has been purchased for protection by the Western River’s Conservancy. Within the 8000 acres of protected habitat lies 16 miles of river bank as well as the new Cottonwood Campground within the now, state controlled portion of the initial Murtha Ranch purchase.

However, the best way to experience the John Day is to float. Day as well as multi-day floats are both options from a handful of out of the way boat ramps. Perhaps the best recipe involves hiring a guide - someone who is out there for days on end and who knows the country intimately. Long time fishing guide, Marty Sheppard and his wife Mia operate Little Creek Outfitters. And come November, the John Day is their home.

Little Creek Outfitters

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