Deschutes River – Deschutes National Forest

On our way to the National Parks of Yellowstone and the Tetons in Wyoming, we took a little “warm-up” adventure on the Deschutes River in central Oregon. It comes to life below a high lake in the snowy Cascade Range of mountains in the Deschutes National forest in the middle of Oregon. It’s a river with a history – Lewis & Clark encountered it in 1805 and so did the overland “Astorians” that followed a few years later. It was a major obstacle for the travelers of the Oregon Trail in the late 1800’s but it signaled they were getting close to the mighty Columbia River and the end of their long and perilous journey.


The FJ is packed tight for this three week overland adventure – and all the essentials are bundled, rolled, folded, and crammed into the back of the Cruiser til there was just enough clearance to see through the back glass of the ambulance doors.

For this first adventure I am with some of my favorite river runners – a group of guys that came together over the years and are held together by our mutual love and respect for the rivers we run and the art of skillful rowing and competent camping. It’s a rotating group of about twelve and usually seven or eight can make each trip depending on available schedules. Our competition for “river time” used to be mostly work but more and more we are tugged away from river running by our grand-kid activities. We run the Deschutes River in the spring and the Rogue Wild and Scenic in the Fall – they are standing “dates”. In addition to the challenging rapids and incredible beauty of these rivers, it’s the big flies and aggressive trout that attract us to the Deschutes and it’s the steelhead and half-pounders that call us to the Rogue year after year.


As we wait for road workers on the final leg of our overland journey on gravel and dirt  –  I admire the narrow and rustic approach to Trout Creek that feeds into the Deschutes River. The road was such a wash-board in places it shook the frame of my Cruiser and rattled my teeth.

Camp cooking is a HUGE part of what we do on this four day trip. In cook-teams of 3 or 4 guys we each have a specialty and it shows itself on any given night. While we don’t try to “out-do” each other – we kinda do…  Steak night is traditionally our first night on the river and usually hosted by the steak-master – Jayson, followed by a fresh fish night which is always Rick – (the man knows how to cook salmon on a camp fire) and then a camp chili night or a taco night or a campfire pizza night..  so much to eat – so few days on the river.

Bacon Bomb appetizers… crescent roll paddy, piece of cheese, rolled in a ball, wrapped in naked bacon and fried in peanut oil.  Great start to fish night.


Rick is always in charge of the salmon…. no one does it better.


Our timing was perfect this year… the huge salmon flies were everywhere and they were driving the fish crazy!


At the Class IV White Horse Rapid – we saw the drift boat we’d been hearing about for two days… it was wrapped around “Oh Shit” rock in the crucial part of the rapid. The boat was lodged so solidly, it took three days  for Mark Angel, an expert in boat removal, to get it off the rock.


With such a visual reminder of the river danger involved in running these rapids, we were a little more tense than usual as we climbed into our boats and rehearsed the “line” in our heads. We pushed away from shore one by one and the current quickly took us to the top of White Horse where we had a little trouble seeing our exact line because of the steepness of the drop. One thing we had no trouble seeing was the Sawyer Oar in the pinned drift boat – still firmly attached to the brass oar lock and sticking up at an angle that looked as if the oarsman had just taken a little break and would be right back to row his boat around the rock.


Things happen so fast in the middle of that rapid it’s hard to think of anything other than the quick moves that will keep the boat on a path through the chaos. As much as we wanted to cast a glance over to the disabled boat, we had our hands full so we saluted the boat and the rapid when we all reached the bottom of White Horse safely. That night we camped just below the rapid and could hear it pounding away at the rocks and boulders all night long until we were in a deep and exhausted sleep.


The fishing below White Horse always seems to pick up – or maybe it’s just our “spirits” after safely running that gauntlet.  “Matching the hatch” is pretty basic… go BIG & Orange…really BIG


We enjoyed fishing out the rest of the trip with big orange flies and flimsy rods pursuing the beautiful plump and hungry redsides of the Deschutes River in Oregon.


Camping on the high desert beside the banks of the Deschutes River is always memorable.


After four days – we pulled out and parted ways. They headed west for home and I headed east for the National Parks of Yellowstone and Tetons. A great start to this National Park Pursuit.









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