Mar 1, 2015

“Deschutes, Stones and Sam…It All Counts!”

By John Garrett
Beautiful day, beautiful scenery, beautiful fish! The Deschutes has a lot to offer during the course of a trip.
Try not to focus just on the fish.
I don’t know what time Sam’s day started the morning of our trip, but mine started at 3:00 am sharp! I woke up waaaaay before the alarm did, and just couldn’t get back to sleep. I’m sure none of you have ever had that symptom the night before a trip. I don’t normally trout fish since becoming hopelessly, and ridiculously addicted to swinging for steelhead with a Spey rod, but when I get the invite to float the Deschutes River with Sam, I get excited. I get excited for several reasons:

  1. I like fishing with Sam. He’s laid back with his mind on his mission and his mission on his mind. He’s dialed into to everything that happens in the course of the day. Including what everyone else on the river is doing and when they’re doing it. He knows the bugs, the river and where the fish live. All which are critical to being a good guide!
  2.  The beauty of the Deschutes River, this time of the year is remarkably stunning. An oasis riverside landscape framed with desert hills still green from the April showers. The river is alive and the bug life is on the verge of being out of control. A variety of hatches birth forth during the month of May and the one everyone talks about and anticipates the most is without a doubt the Stone and Salmonfly hatches. I swear some folks anticipate this hatch more than the arrival of their first born.

So it’s easy to see why I couldn’t get back to sleep. I had all my gear piled up on the front porch an hour and a half before Sam’s supposed to pick me up. 6’Oclock shows up and I look outside to see if Sam’s waiting for me and all my stuff is gone! My first thought was that some punk jacked my stuff right out from under my nose, and I was going to have to go door to door to find it, but I quickly realized that Sam snuck up on me like a Navy Seal and was parked right around the corner of my house where I couldn’t see him. Awesome! I didn’t get ripped off.

Our plan was to put in at Warm Springs and float down to Trout Creek, so we began our hour and a half drive to the river. We talked about a number of things from, trout, to steelhead, to guiding, to the best pets (dogs) we’ve ever had. I talked about Jig, a black lab that will always have a place in my heart and we talked about Winston, Sam’s chocolate lab that had recently developed a tumor on the side of his face and was quickly deteriorating. I was blessed to listen to Sam tell me of all the awesome things that he, his wife Marni and Winston experienced together. You see, we didn’t know if we were going to do this trip or not because of Winston’s health and how fast he was going. Sam assured me that he wanted to go. Having been through something similar, I thought to myself, if Sam’s like me, it would be a way to take his mind off of the hurt of the situation, for a few hours.

Pretty Boys, Winston on the left and Jig on the right. Rest in peace, both of you.
We’ll see you two again someday!
We quickly arrived at the boat launch (where did that hour and a half go), we wadered up, rigged up, wish I could say lathered up, but we forgot the sunscreen, which we paid for later, and launched. The morning was beautiful, birds were singing, the air was clean…a perfect day to be on the “D”. No sooner does Sam make the first strokes on the sticks and he’s in guide mode. He’s telling me about the runs he wants to fish, their names, his success in said runs and how we should fish them. We’re talking bugs, not just the ones hatching but the ones we would fish. Anybody ever heard of a “Chubby Chernobyl?” No, it’s not the neighbor kid down the street that moved in from Russia! It’s one of the bestselling Stonefly/Salmonfly imitations…ALL TIME! We had rods rigged and ready to go for dry fly and nymph fishing. We rigged dry fly rods up with a Chubby and one with a Clark’s Stone. Nymph rods were rigged with “Jimmy Legs” and dropper nymphs such as the Bead Head Deep Six Caddis and Silvey’s Bead Head Pupa nymphs. Now I know we could debate which nymphs to use and there truly are a number of great patterns, but this is my story and these are the ones we used.
Fly Selection…Top:  Chubby Chernobyl’s, 
Middle:  Clark’s Stone and Silvey’s BH Pupa, Bottom:  BH Deep Six Caddis
As Sam continues to talk about this bug and that bug, I find myself caught up, in awe, of the beauty of the Deschutes River. Anyone who has ever floated it or fished its banks knows exactly what I am talking about. I thought about how many books, how many articles, how many fishing reports over time have been written about the Deschutes and how I would be adding one more to the library. I also thought about how many folks from all over the world have waded the banks of the famous “D” over the years. It’s such an awesome fishery and breathtaking place that it is hard not to talk or write about it. Sam snaps me back to attention saying… “Get ready we’re gonna fish this next little island”, ok daydream over. It’s go time. I take one side of the island, Sam the other. Soon, I am hooked up with my first trout of the day, a respectable 9-10” rainbow. I admire her and quickly let her go. That was it for the first stop, action was a little slow, but honestly I’m good with that, considering where I was and what I was doing, to complain would be a crime!

Sam motions me back to the boat and we head downstream to the next run. I again find myself staring at the landscape in awe…I thought about how if the scenery could talk, it would surely say to me… “Take a picture, it’ll last longer.” So I did. I took a few.
Sam loves the Deschutes and its fisheries and like any good guide he’s quick to point out things of interest.
Floating down stream, Sam points out a number of spawning beds in the gravel tail outs and as we passed over them I could see the trout scatter from the shadow of the drift boat. There were a few dandies that stuck out like a sore thumb, ones that I would have loved to hook. Late morning, early afternoon the bite started to pick up a bit and both Sam and I started hooking into some quality trout, as you can see in the photos. We had more action by far with the nymph rods compared to the dries, due to the fact that there were more nymphs in the river than adults early in the hatch. We would have loved to have had it the other way around but nevertheless it’s all good.

A beautifully dressed rainbow that fell for a Deep Six Caddis Nymph. What a blast on the Winston B3X 5wt rod!
One spot that sticks out in my mind was a slot that was on the downriver side of another island. Sam tells me that he knows for a fact that there are trout living on the far soft seam up against the far bank, underneath the hanging branches, on the other side of this fast current. Of course they live there Sam, why wouldn’t they? The most challenging part was the really fast water between us and the trout house. I told him, I’m up for the challenge.

One of three things was gonna happen as I started to make my cast. One, I could easily end up with my fly stuck in the branches, two the super-fast current was going to pull my fly line downstream with no chance of fishing that seam properly with a dead drift or three, I would make a good cast, a couple of huge mends and the indicator would drift deadly right on the seam where Sam said the trout lived. I love a challenge, especially when it comes to the difficult cast or the difficult fish to catch. Oh, I forgot to mention there was a breeze as well.

So, I set up the cast and successfully threaded the needle (fly) between two over hanging low branches at the head of the seam, launched two huge mends up stream and bank side as quickly as possible, sweet!, the indicator is right on the seam and dead drifting as best as possible. BAAMMM! There he is… I’m locked up with a fish on! I love it when a plan comes together. After landing the fish and taking a quick photo, it was released to fight again. High fives all around! What a sweet fish that couldn’t resist the “Jimmy Legs”. Not huge but absolutely beautifully marked and bursting with colors. A wallpaper type of fish! We continued to catch some quality fish as the day drew to an end.
This beauty resembles a Derek DeYoung painting.
Beautiful colors! How many can you find?
I could have taken many different paths in writing this post, but I felt led to keep it simple. I could have broken the technology down on our Sage One and Winston B3x fly rods, I could have given you all the details of the science behind our Rio Grand WF5F fly lines and told you that all the flies we drowned or floated could be found in the bins at the Gorge Fly Shop. But this time I just wanted to share about time spent on the river with my friend and guide, Sam Sickles, to talk about memories of our canine buddies, to separate ourselves even for a day from the reality of life and life situations. It’s never easy saying goodbye to a great companion. It’s even harder to watch them suffer. I wanted to share that everything and I mean everything matters.

It’s easy to have tunnel vision and focus too much on the fish alone and all the variables on why or why not the fish are biting. Have you ever considered the variables? It can be daunting. I wanted to say, stop and smell the roses. Stop and take it all in. Take random photos of random things. If we focus just on the fish we miss so many things. I make it a point to try and find something new on the river every day. After guiding for 23 years myself, the river can become just a drift and a run, just another run. I realized I needed to change my focus years ago. To my amazement, having this attitude opened my eyes to a whole new perspective and I began to notice things that I missed when I was mostly focused on the fish. I missed things. A lot of things. I noticed the Golden Stone, but hadn’t taken the time to closely look it over. I had no idea of the intricate design God clothed them with. Check out the photo below, you’ll see what I mean…
A Golden Stone hides in the tall grass along the river’s edge
unaware of how beautiful it is.

I want to say thank you Sam, for spending the day with me on the “D”. Thank you for sharing your stories of Winston. Thank you for your knowledge of the river and the life that lives there. Thank you for helping me see, for the first time, the beauty in a Golden Stone. And let me say this to Marni, thank you Marni for allowing Sam to spend the day on the “D” with me. For all the good it had done for me, I only hope that it was good for Sam too. Words cannot express my feelings knowing the situation with Winston and the possibility of him passing while Sam and I were on the river and you were home watching over him. Thank you!

While driving home at the end of the day we received a call from Marni, and Winston wasn’t doing well as he struggled for every breath. Winston quickly past after Sam returned home. You see, this trip was about a lot of things, not just catching fish…
Guide, Sam Sickles in his element, smiles for the shot.
 I had a great day exploring the “D” with you and look forward to it again!
Note: Sam and Marni Sickles own and operate Steelhead Outfitters. They offer guided fly fishing trips for Rainbow Trout and Summer Steelhead on the Deschutes River and Winter Steelhead on the Sandy and Clackamas Rivers near Portland, Oregon. You can reach them by phone at (541)400.0855 or on the web at

John Garrett
Gorge Fly Shop

"Fly Fish the World with Us"

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