The headwaters of the Metolius River bubble out of springs near Camp Sherman, OR. These springs push out about 50,000 gallons of water a minute, feeding this gorgeous fishery. As you look downstream from the Head of the Metolius, you can see a snow capped Mt. Jefferson in the distance.
We setup camp at the Cold Springs RV Resort just down the road from the Camp Sherman Store which is the gathering place in the area. It’s truly a general store with a fly shop, deli, grocery, hardware and post office all under one roof. We had already picked up some flies in Bend, but, went to the fly shop at the Camp Sherman Store to get more flies and some very local intel on how to fish the Metolius.
For some reason, guides are not allowed on the Metolius. We’re still not sure just why, but it destroyed our usual plan of fishing with a guide on our first day on each new river we encounter. This allows us to get to know the area, the water, what bugs are active and how/where to best fish the river. For the Metolius, which we’d never seen, let alone fished, we were on our own. The shop recommended some dries (PMDs, October caddis, gray drake emergers) some nymphs (big stoneflies to size 20 zebra midges and numerous patters in between) and even a “Sno-bunny” streamer for bull trout. All in all, we had 2 to 4 each of 12 different flies in our boxes as we headed out to the Metolius.
This is when the Metloius Mystery began for us. We went to what we thought was an ideal spot…. bend in the river…. nice run of deeper water flowing off a ledge… good bank cover and structure (think logs, tree limbs, bushes) in the water. We fished it up and down, using all the flies at our disposal. Nothing…. zip… zilch…. nada!
Not to be deterred, we kept walking downstream, fishing fishy looking water for the better part of 4 hours. Still nothing, but that didn’t stop us. After our usual lunch (a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, an apple and a bottle of water) we ventured to a new river access near the fish hatchery. We hiked about a mile upstream, studying water, scratching our heads as to how to fish it. It was flowing fast with deep, deep blue holes. Ledges holding 12” of water dropped to 10’ deep pools of an inky blue hue. We’d never fished water like this and finally gave up for the day, well almost.
Remember that “Sno-bunny” streamer I mentioned earlier? Well, we decided to go out at dusk, to a spot downstream of the OR 99 bridge and hunt for big bull trout. With my 6wt rod outfitted with 3x leader, I tied on this 4” of white fur with a hook and started chucking it at the banks of deep, fast pools. Casting this behemoth of a fly was incredibly difficult, but if the payoff was a chance to hook a bull trout, we were in. As with the rest of the day…. zip.
The next morning, I drove 25 minutes into Sisters, OR, to the Fly Fisher’s Place fly shop. I was met there by Red, the fly shop dog. After lots of petting and playing with Red, we got down to business; where were the best spots to catch fish on the Metolius and what flies should we use. These are the two most common questions every fly shop staffer gets. I was lucky to have Red’s owner help me. He assured me that what I had used the day before was a good option, but, perhaps a more weighted stonefly along with some special caddis pupa was the ticket.
So….. back to the river, but this time, we hiked downstream of the fish hatchery. We found a great, long stretch of water to fish. The river was very wide at this point, and wading out too far was very difficult to say the least. Being swept downstream by the current is never on our list of things to experience. Barb landed an 8” rainbow and we thought our luck was going to change. There was one other fisherman in the water where we were and we couldn’t help notice he was catching fish…. with great regularity. After we’d seen him land about 6 fish, I hollered out asking what he was using. This is always a crapshoot of a question as some will answer you honestly while many will not be as forthcoming. In this case, we got “I caught a couple earlier on a caddis something and the last few on a special fly I tie”. Hmmmmmm….. not helpful! When we left, there were a couple of folks fishing above him with Barb and I fishing below him. We had caught no more fish, but, he was still hooking and landing fish. He had the hot spot and he wasn’t moving anytime soon, so we left him to continue.
That evening, we decided to stay out until dark. The shop had indicated that if we did, we’d hear fish slurping all over the water. All we needed to do was cast a rusty spinner fly to the sound and wait for the tug. About 7:15, Barb packed it in and hiked back to the car to get warm. I was determined to experience this “event” of the evening. About 7:45, still no slurping but another event was happening all around me….. BATS!
So there were bugs all around, but no fish rising at all…. not one slurp. However, bats were zooming by left and right, uncomfortably close to me. I kept thinking how their sonar was so great and that they would not hit me. However, not hitting me didn’t mean they weren’t flying within inches of my head repeatedly. I stood pretty motionless for about 5 minutes as these creatures flitted about my body happily snapping up caddis and other flies. NO TROUT! At 8pm, I packed it in.
The next morning we pulled up camp to move to the Deschutes River. I’m sure we’ll be back to fish here again, but for now, the Metolius Mystery continues.