Following the success of Trout Unlimited’s last two Native Odyssey’s, this year they sent another four conservation-minded college fishermen on an incredible journey throughout the Pacific Northwest. Our goal, to explore and share the stories of the Columbia River Basin. While we will be doing plenty of fishing we will be working with scientists, TU volunteers, conservation groups and interacting with locals to document and truly understand the state of the Columbia River. As we weave our way through the Cascades, the high desert, and humbling boreal forests, we will be learning about great conservation successes, but also about the crippling problems the Columbia River Basin still faces.
With help from the U.S. Forest Service, Trout Unlimited has planned several stops during our journey that will give us a breadth of different experiences – allowing us to meet different people with varying opinions on the state of the river, interact with different climates, and give voice to stories that have none. Our trip is broken down into four main areas: the Deschutes River, Methow River Basin/Northern Cascades, Lower Snake River and Grande Ronde Basin.
Entering our second week, it is already crazy to reflect on our time in the Greater Portland and Deschutes River area. From touring the coast and learning about the early history between settlers and the Columbia in Astoria, Ore. to having the opportunity to fish the Native American side of the Deschutes river, the Odyssey crew has already gotten a great look at different fisheries from a diverse range of perspectives.
The lower Deschutes provided us the unique opportunity to fish and talk with Warm Springs tribe member and fishing guide, Elke Littleleaf of Littleleaf guide services. In the lower portions of the river, fishing from a boat or from the Warm Springs banks of the Deschutes is not permitted. As a result, not many people have the chance to fish the reservation side of the Deschutes. However, both of these restrictions combine to create a significantly better and healthier fishery just on the other side of the river – greater riparian cover, intact banks, and a greater congregation of fish thanks to less fishing traffic.
While still tough, we managed to nymph our way to success, although that isn’t what the fishery has been known for. As we sat under the shade of overhanging rocks that line the bank, Elke told us stories of how great a dry fly fishery the Deschutes used to be and how the addition of dams and changing climate have been manipulating hatches left and right and introducing new problems for the fishery. “Water is the medicine,” Elke later said with a grave tone, “we need to be its voice.”
This sentiment was echoed in the voices of Deschutes Angler fly shop owners Amy and John Hazel. The Hazel’s have been a staple in the fly fishing community in the Deschutes areas for years and they too have seen the upsetting changes. We were fortunate enough to hear about their efforts to push back against dams in the area while also feeling inspired to be the next generation to push for better protection of our native fish, public lands and clean water.
A trip to the Deschutes area wouldn’t be complete without hitting the pristine Metolius river. Despite being known as a difficult fishery, the Odyssey crew was rewarded with some perfect specimens of Columbia River Redband trout.
Next week, we head to the Methow River and Northern Cascades areas of Northern Washington where we will be participating in some cutting edge restoration projects as well as hitting some great alpine trout water. Stay tuned and follow along with us on our journey on the 5 Rivers IG page @tucosta5rivers.
Article written by FlyLords Media Intern Matteo Moretti.