Small Steelhead on the Deschutes: Tips from Advisory Staff Member Tom Larimer

Seventeen years of guiding experience have given Tom Larimer a patient and enthusiastic teaching style while on the water or when giving clinics. However, Tom’s passion goes beyond just teaching casting or fishing techniques. He loves to share lessons on the history, the flora and the fauna of his home waters. This post originally appeared on his blog.

If you’ve fished the Deschutes this summer, you’ve probably noticed the average size of our steelhead is smaller than normal. We’ve been seeing lots of 3 – 5 pound chromers thus far. Plus, there’s a bunch of wild fish returning to the river this season.

I have to wonder if the strong return of smaller natives is due to the fact that the past few springs have been cold and wet. It seams reasonable to believe that the tributaries, especially smaller creeks like Bake Oven, Buck Hollow and Nina Creek to name a few, may have had better spawning conditions due to the long springs over the past three years.

Mother Nature adapted our “trib fish” perfectly. They are small, streamlined missiles capable of negotiating extremely shallow water, and that’s exactly what I’ve been seeing here in Oregon. These steelies are powerful for their size, too, so be prepared for a fight once you hookup.

Regardless of the reason, our fish are smaller than average this season. 2013 is the year of mini steel, so here’s a few things to consider if you’re wading the Deschutes on your own in the next several weeks.

Fish a 5 or 6 weight Spey Rod or Switch Rod I usually tell my clients to bring nothing lighter than a 6 weight Spey rod to the Deschutes. However, a 5 weight will handle most fish easily this year. Just know if “Walter” or “Big Jerry” find your fly, expect to be punished. Bring a #7 in case the wind picks up.

Smaller Flies For dry line work, I usually fish a lot of flies tied on size #5 Alec Jackson Spey hooks. However, smaller flies tied on #8 or even #10 hooks seem to be working better this season. For sink-tip flies, I’ve also reduced the size to match the smaller fish. Leave the 3 – 4″ flies at home unless the water rises due to rain. A fly two inches in length will get the job done.

Lighter Tippet When the river is low, you’re always better off fishing light tippet. The payoff is better action of the fly and a bit more stealth. 8lb works well for surface presentations, but pack the 10lb for sink-tip situations.


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