On the Water with Deschutes Native Guide Matt Mendes

Feel the revolution, fly fishing for a passion with tribal heritage.” Flylords caught up with Oregon based fly fishing guide Matt Mendes, who is the owner and operator of Spin the Handle, a guide service based along the banks of the Deschutes River on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. Matt has exclusive access to guide on 22 miles of the Deschutes’s west bank, per an 1855 treaty with the United States government.

© Arian Stevens Photography http://www.arianstevens.com

At a young age, Matt was apprenticed by his grandfather who was the only Indian guide on the Deschutes River. From there Matt was driving shuttles at age 12 and by age 18 he was guiding full time. Nowadays Matt spends over 200 days a year guiding clients on the Deschutes River. After meeting Matt you quickly realize that his passion for fly fishing is much more than just being a guide, he is an active steward in the conservation and preservation of the Deschutes River, Warm Springs Reservation, and wild native fish. We caught up with Matt to learn more about how he got into guiding, what it’s like guiding on the Warm Springs Reservation, and his passion for spey casting to the summer steelhead of the Deschutes River.

© Arian Stevens Photography http://www.arianstevens.com

Flylords: Who is Matt Mendes? 

Matt: I am the head guide and owner of Spin The Handle on the Warmsprings Indian Reservation in Oregon. We guide fly fishing trips for both trout and steelhead on 22 miles of the private reserve along the Deschutes River.

© Arian Stevens Photography http://www.arianstevens.com

Flylords: How did you get into guiding and how long have you been doing it?

Matt: My grandfather got me into fly fishing when I was 12 years old. He was the first Indian guide on the Deschutes River and owner of Riverbend Guide Service. He started his company in 1997. I started shuttle driving at 12 years old and slowly started getting familiar with the guide business during that time. By my Sopohmore year in High school, I was guiding every summer and fall for both trout and steelhead until I graduated. I ended up working 11 years with his outfit. He retired in 2016 and I bought him out and started my own company Spin The Handle. We have been in business for a total of 25 years.

An 1855 treaty with the United States government gave the Warm Springs Reservation exclusive access to the river.

Flylords: Can you talk about being a tribal guide and the fishing access and regulations involved with this?

Matt: Being a Tribal fishing guide is a very unique opportunity, being able to fish so much sacred trout and steelhead water that our people have utilized for substantial necessities for many years. It is amazing to be able to share this section with a few select anglers annually. There are many regulations to keep our business operating. There are several committees we meet with every few months to give feedback and report on how the river and riparian terrain is holding up. We do tons of research daily and report back to our tribal Fish and Wildlife Representatives monthly. As guides, we try to persevere the water and land as best we can to keep it as pristine as it has been for hundreds of years. The water along the reservation is very crucial for the life cycle of returning salmon, steelhead, and all aquatic life as a safe sanctuary with limited pressure from anglers. The fish that make it up this far are very special after all they have gone through to get here. We do our best to take care and manage our wild catches and thinning out most of the hatchery steelhead we get to hand.


Matt Mendes Spin the Handle
© Arian Stevens Photography http://www.arianstevens.com

Flylords: Do you live on the Warm Springs Reservation?

Matt: Our company is located on The Warmsprings Indian Reservation in Oregon. I own a 2.5-acre property above Dry creek where I raise my family and run my business out of.

Summer Steelhead Stoke

Flylords: What does your guiding season look like? 

Matt: Our guide season starts about April 20th and ends December 31st. I fish and guide around 200 days a year.

Deschutes River White Water © Arian Stevens Photography http://www.arianstevens.com

Flylords: What types of trips do you offer? 

Matt: We offer both drift boat and 4×4 access trips, along 22 miles of private riverfront. What is unique about the Lower Deschutes River is you cannot fish from a boat due to the fishing regulations. So all the fishing is done with your two feet on the ground.

An adult Salmon Fly in the grass. © Arian Stevens Photography http://www.arianstevens.com

Flylords: What’s all the talk about the Salmon Fly Hatch on the Deschutes River?

Matt: The salmon fly hatch on the reservation is as great as you could imagine big dry fly fishing could get! We have really great days on the water throwing massive drys to huge wild redband trout. Most of these fish don’t see artificial flies but a few weeks a year. You have to experience the chaotic dry fly takes for yourself! All the rumors about how the dry fly fishing on the reservation is so much better are TRUE. It is 5 weeks of the most insane dry fly fishing of the year. It is typically the whole month of May and into June depending on the year. The Caddis hatches through the summer don’t disappoint either!
© Arian Stevens Photography http://www.arianstevens.com

Flylords: Can you talk about the summer steelhead on the Deschutes River? Have you seen a decline in fish over the years?

Matt: Summer steelhead season is my bread and butter. I cater to about 75% of spey guys from all over the world. We start to swing drylines September 1st up here and fish until the end of December. The steelhead fishing on the reservation with our company is as good as it gets on the Deschutes. We chase steelhead from dawn till dusk never fishing recycled runs. Every single steelhead run that you step into is well-rested and has not seen a fly that day! There is limited pressure and we try not to fish the same runs day after day. 19 years ago we would have enormous days of fish landed. There were days that we would land a dozen fish on average giving our anglers some of the most epic steelhead days on a swung fly you could imagine.

© Arian Stevens Photography http://www.arianstevens.com

Over the last decade, we have seen a huge decline in the numbers of returning fish starting at the Columbia River. Water temperature, predation, and dams have all have had a part in the returning numbers of wild fish up the Deschutes River. We still have big numbers of fish landed on tight line press stations but nothing like the way the river fished 10 years ago. I limit the number of anglers per day so that everyone has a chance to hook up.

© Arian Stevens Photography http://www.arianstevens.com

My number is 3 anglers per day right now until things start to take a turn for the better. You can count on 1-5 opportunities a day on average and an occasional banner day here and there were we land big numbers compared to an average day swinging flies on the Deschutes River or anywhere else.

© Arian Stevens Photography http://www.arianstevens.com

Flylords: Any tips for the aspiring steelhead angler?

Matt: I am a steelheader and I love to instruct others how to swing a spey rod and help them level up their angling abilities. If I had any advice to an angler wanting to swing for steelhead it is to take your time with your casting, relax, and of course be very patient. Your moment will come when your fly swims in front of a fish’s face. Keep stepping and casting with confidence!!

Flylords: Rod, line, tips, and fly for your confidence steelhead setup on the Deschutes?

Matt: I have always run a Winston 13’3 TH and the loudest clicker (spring and pawl no drag reel) I can find. Right now I’m running a Saracione 3 3/4  multiplier on my Tip setup and a Farlex 3 3/4 multiplier on my dryline. I’m also jumping back into longer rods and long belly lines. Ballistic Heads and a 14’0 7/8 MKX Meiser spey rod this season.
© Arian Stevens Photography http://www.arianstevens.com

Flylords: What is your preferred fly selection on the Deschutes? 

Matt: I have been throwing more classic traditional spey flies in the last several years. Blue Heron Spey Hooks #2 (Steelhead Irons)  and very nice materials. Dry fly fishing with bombers and muddlers have been choice throughout October and November before water temps drop real low.

© Arian Stevens Photography http://www.arianstevens.com

Flylords: Most memorable moment guiding?

Matt: Every moment I get with my boots in a steelhead run and swinging a tight line is memorable. Life does not get any better for me than swinging Spey in a river somewhere and being in tune with Mother Earth.

The Mighty Deschutes – © Arian Stevens Photography http://www.arianstevens.com

To get in touch with Matt you can contact him online here and be sure to follow him on Instagram at @deschutesnative.


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 Photos by Bend, Oregon based photographer Arian Stevens, check out more of his work online here or at @arianstevens.

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