May 7, 2018

Plenty of Options - Deschutes Salmonfly Season

Well, word’s out

The big bugs are crawling around on the lower Deschutes River. That means 2 things, the river is going to be crowded with a bunch of people and a bunch of giant puffy dry flies. The average angler is going to see plenty of fish rising, but also see plenty of fish refuse their fly. In my opinion, when I think of the average guy fishing salmonflies, I picture someone who throws the same fly all darn day. Sure that will get you consistent fish, and you’ll be happy at the end of the day, (most of the time).

Now picture an angler that has 3 rods rigged up and 4 fly boxes full of every different bug in the river. This is a very dangerous man to have fishing in front of you, because he is going to be prepared to make 4 different presentations with lord knows how many different patterns in a stretch that the average man throws a few casts with the same fly in and leave. Here’s a few things that will help you pick up more fish behind the average guy on the water in these beginning weeks of the hatch.

Know your bugs

This doesn’t mean you have to know the scientific name of anything, it just means you should know the life cycle of a few bugs and what patterns to throw to replicate them in a few different stages of life.

Big Stoneflies

Lets start with the big boys, salmonflies and golden stones. It may not seem like it, but the lives of these 2 creatures are vastly different, with the exception that they hatch at nearly the same time. Larger stoneflies like salmonflies and skwalas, will take part in what we call behavioral drifts every few months or so, such as this month when they stage near the banks and shallow water preparing to hatch. During these drifts, the nymphs very easily become dislodged and end up bouncing off the rocks right into a hungry fish’s mouth. This is one of the reasons that we fish stonefly nymphs deep down on the bottom, because they have a very heavy body and will actually crawl out of the water to hatch unlike mayflies which are much lighter and can simply swim up to the surface.

Golden stones are a very different bug in their nymph stage. They are constantly moving around looking for smaller critters to munch on, which makes them a great year round pattern. Later in the hatch when the stoneflies have already emerged and mated, they begin dying off and their carcasses will end up back in the water to complete the circle of life, this is a great time of year to dead drift or swing adult stones under the surface of the water, because unlike most lighter insects that float upon being spent, dead stones are at the mercy of the current.


When it comes to mayflies in most rivers, there are 3 main behaviors throughout most species, clingers, swimmers and burrowers. If you flip a rock over and see a nymph crawling around, 90% of the time it’s a clinger mayfly. These nymphs are often anywhere from size 14 to all the way down to 24 with some species. Some mayflies such as blue winged olives hatch 12 months out of the year, so fishing a mayfly nymph can work 12 months out of the year, but, sometimes different species of mayflies are keyed in on more by trout than others. Say it’s mid afternoon on the Deschutes in summer, you saw some bwo’s on the water in the morning, so you tied a drab olive dry fly on and caught a few fish, but now the brunt of the bwo’s are done moving for the day. You might get on a few fish that are still keyed in on them, but a majority of fish will happen to begin to feed on different insects. You could fish to 10 different fish that are keyed in on 10 different species or stages of insects in a day on rivers like the Deschutes. This is why having so many different variations of flies and patterns is important. I’ve had instances in a 20 yard stretch of water where I’ve had to swap flies every time I hook a fish due to the vast variety of insects hatching at the time.


Emergent mayflies are often very overlooked. We all seem to pay attention more to duns on the water that we can see more than emergers under the surface. Soft Hackles are a deadly weapon that I rarely see used. They are like streamers in the sense that you can play with and use a wide variety of retrieves and presentations. I see dry dropper rigs often used with hoppers or stoneflies with larger heavier nymphs, but a small parachute pattern with a weightless soft hackle as a trailer is one of the best combos to have on the river during smaller hatches. Soft hackles can also be used in the trout spey side of the world if you’re more particular to a swung fly presentation (see: ‘Trout spey chronicles’ for more reading on swinging soft hackles).


Spring time caddis are the second largest forage for fish this time of year, and they are often seen throughout the day, though more prevalent in the evening hours. If you see a fish ignore a stonefly completely, and perform a splashy take moments later, chances are that fish is eating caddis. Fish are a tad more aggressive and opportunistic to caddis due to the fact that upon hatching, their wings are creating quite the commotion on the water unlike a mayfly who sits still while pumping fluid into their wings before flight. Caddis on the other hand are frantically attempting to get off the water as soon as they emerge from pupa form, which allows the beginner fly fisherman to be able to fish a little sloppy at first. Fish expect caddis to make movement on the water, so if you’re just starting out and you’re having a hard time with presenting a drag free drift, tie on a caddis. Dead caddis patterns later in the afternoon on a hot day prove very effective, these are often adult dry fly looking bugs with either beads attached or lead wrapped around the hook to break surface tension, another option would to be adding sinkant to a normal dry fly.

We have plenty of every pattern and a ton of components that you want to have if you want to be more effective than the next guy on the river. Learn about your bugs and when and where they hang out, and you’ll be meeting plenty more trout this season. For more questions or info on hatches, flies, or tactics, give us a call or an email at the shop.

Tight lines and happy hunting.

Jacob Noteboom | Product Specialist

"Fly Fish the World with Us"

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