Sep 24, 2014


That's the spot. Right there!
That's the spot. Right there!
Every day fishermen come into the shop or call wanting to know about this river or that river. It happens all day long; the phone rings and someone wants to know how the Deschutes or the Klickitat is doing. “The fish are there, get out there and catch them” I reply. That should be enough to spur anyone who is contemplating a fishing trip to get out of the house and do it. Often, that advice is not enough; there are a lot of people that would like a map with precise directions to exactly where the fish are, preferably with a sign on the river that says “there is a fish behind this rock that will eat a purple size #2 hobo spey.” Doesn’t that take all the fun out of it?

gorge fly shop: fly fish the world with us
Get Bent!
I moved here a few years ago and hadn’t really expected anyone to show me anything. The very first thing I did (yes, before checking into my hotel or stopping at my new job I was to start a few days later) was drove up the Klickitat as far as I could with the light I had left. I mentally noted some good looking water and fished a promising run, and caught my first couple of Fall Chinook on a fly. The process of exploring a river, finding runs and access points is just as exciting to me as the actual time fishing.

gorge fly shop: fly fish the world with us
Kodiak Horses
I spend a lot of time looking at Google Earth, often more than is healthy. In the past year, I have fished 14 new (to me) rivers and about 15 new lakes. Each time I went to explore a new river, I spent hours looking at my computer finding trails, logging roads, access points and good looking water. Sometimes, it doesn’t pan out, but often times my preparation leads to an easier time getting to find places to fish and coordinating a plan for the day.

gorge fly shop: fly fish the world with us
Bugg'in Out
I love finding a new piece of water. There are some secrets left out there and web forums are usually not going to be any help at all. The only thing you can do is go out there and check it out. The biggest steelhead I have hooked in ten years was on a tiny little creek that just “looked good” on Google Earth. There are no roads across it and it only flows for a couple of miles. There is not one mention of it on any fishing forum anywhere (I checked). We spent an evening scouring through maps, cracking beers, creating a game plan, and then we made it happen. Ryan and I followed a couple of logging roads for what seemed like hours to a clear cut and then starting hiking downhill until we found some water. Then we found one little tiny pool that was holding (to our surprise) exactly two 15-18# steelhead. We each hooked and lost one, but it was one of the most rewarding experiences fishing that I have ever had.

Exploration meets Adventure
When arriving at a river that is new to you, there are a few things that I have always found very helpful. The most important thing you can do is to drive as far up the river as possible. Drive up to the boundary where the river is closed. Too many of us just fish the first place that we come across that looks decent, but there could be an amazing run just up around the corner that would be much more worth fishing. Take note of any and all pull-offs, access points, possible trails, etc… Some rivers are easier than others. For example, just about anywhere on the Klickitat that has more than enough room to pull a truck off the road usually has some fishy water near it. It’s almost all next to the main highway, so its not too difficult to figure out.

On the coastal streams, that is not always the case, as the vegetation can be so dense that seeing the water from the car is often a problem. I print off sections of river from Google Earth and stop the car and make notes of interesting areas and label them. I try to highlight good looking water on my maps and then figure out how to get there. “Must explore this area” “trucks parked here” and “possible access to sweet run” are common markings found on printed maps loosely organized (more like scattered across my tying bench and truck). Possibly the most helpful thing you can do when exploring a new river is to find where other fishermen are parked and take notes on that. Luckily for us, most dedicated fishermen cover their trucks in stickers advertising their passion, and also advertising the best places to fish.

gorge fly shop: fly fish the world with us
Campfire Fly Tying Session
I never expect to catch anything the first time I go to any river. The one thing that I can expect to do is to learn the topography and geography of the river. I hope to identify good looking spots and I am willing to hike for quite a while just to look at a run. I hiked about three miles last spring on the advice of an old man I met at a diner in Nehalem only to figure out that the run he was talking about would have been awesome at a much higher water level. My dog was happy for the walk and now I know what lays down that stretch of river. I will no longer wonder what the water looks like down there.

In the late spring, I turn my attention to lakes. That is even more fun for me because some of the lakes I find have no fish in them, but some of them have some mighty big fish. It takes dedication to hike into a lake that quite possibly has nothing in it. John T and I did quite a bit of bushwhacking this spring in order to find some off-trail lakes. It was one of my favorite explorations because these lakes had no sign of people. No fire rings, no cigarette butts, no beer cans, no trails. It’s pretty rare these days to find that type of place. There were definitely fish in the three lakes we hit. The fish weren’t huge, but they were eager and had never seen a fly.

Sometimes it just requires getting a little lost before finding oneself. There are hundreds of lakes in this area and many of them are not to be found in any fishing book or internet forum. It takes some time scouring Google Earth finding water that has good depth, yet is far enough from a road or trail to not see any pressure.

So next time you want to fish somewhere new, just go. Don’t worry about what the internet (or your favorite fly shop) has to say about it. You can learn by listening or you can learn a whole lot more by doing. Fly fishing has always been about exploring just about as much as it is catching fish. There are the people that figure it out and those that wait for others to figure it out.

Andrew Perrault
Gorge Fly Shop

"Fly Fish the World with Us"

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