The Metolius River is one of the cooler places to visit here in Oregon. It bubbles out of the ground near Black Butte, fed by by snow melt seeping through volcanic rock. This gives it a very constant temperature and rate of flow, making it a year round fishing destination. The river and surrounding area is amazingly beautiful. But this is a fishing journal entry, not a geology lesson, so for more information visit the Wikipedia Page.
I live about 75 miles from the Metolius River, but seldom take the opportunity to visit and fish it. Until this week, I could count on one hand how many times I’d fished it, and worse yet, I could count on one hand how many fish I’d caught there.
Being a big river – drift boat – steelhead type of guy, the Metolius is a whole new world to me. This is a walk and wade spring creek with crystal clear water. You can watch a fish approach your fly, count your thread wraps on the head, measure your hackle vs. hook gap and scrutinize your choice of dubbing blend! Needless to say, you need to do your homework and be well prepared. Pay close attention to what’s happening on the water. If a fish is rising to the surface, don’t just tie on any old dry fly, figure out what it’s rising to, and match species, size, color, stage as best you can. You’ll find a variety of bug life on this river at various times of year – Mayflies (Green Drakes being the “big” hatch in the spring), Caddis and Stoneflies.
After two trips and two skunkings, my first fish from the Metolius was a compete accident. I was dead drifting a #10 Twenty-Incher nymph under an indicator and decided to move upstream. Being lazy, I didn’t reel up and just let the fly dangle behind me as I waded upstream. Sure enough, a 10 inch rainbow came up and slammed it as it skated along behind me. I didn’t even get to see the take. It was a beautiful little redband, but there wasn’t much satisfaction with the catch.
On the same trip, I spotted a fish rising on a convergence seam just downstream from a small island. I spent a good 20 minutes drifting a variety of dries down the seam with no luck – Elk Hair Caddis, BWO, Adams, Green Drakes, etc. I finally tied on a #10 Mono-Body Emerging Mayfly and got the fish to eat it. Another beautiful Redband Rainbow about 16″ long. Finally, a sense of accomplishment! I got this river dialed in.
Then, two more trips, two more skunkings.
Then a couple days ago my buddy Louis and I formulated a plan. Not just a spur of the moment trip over the mountain, but a “0 dark 30” departure and a full day of fishing the “Mysterious Metolius”! It began with a 4:00 am pickup in Mehama and the hour and a half drive over the pass. We arrived at the Allingham Bridge with about 30 minutes of darkness left. Dawn’s early light got us out of the warm motor-home and we began stringing up rods. I chose a Orvis Recon 7 wt. single hand and a Orvis Access 6 wt. switch – rigged both with sink tips and big bunny streamers.
We fished the Allingham to the Gorge section in the morning looking for Bull Trout (Dolly Varden for you folks up north). I got a couple grabs, but couldn’t connect. Guide icing was an issue for the first couple hours with the temp in the upper 20’s, but once daylight streamed into the valley, things warmed up nicely. Neither of us had fished this section, so every bend of the river was a new experience.
Right before the climb up to the Gorge Section, I stepped into some of the notoriously sticky Metolius muck up to my knees. While freeing my leg, the suction pulled a big section of the sole away from my wading boots. Parachute cord held things together until our return to the Allingham Bridge where duct tape was employed to perform a more suitable repair.
After a bite to eat, we moved on down to the 99 Bridge and worked our way back up towards the Wizard Falls Hatchery as far as you can go on foot. Of course, there was a guy right at the bridge with a fish on as we parked. Turned out to be a thick whitefish, but it was working him over just the same.
This time out, I put away the 7 wt. Recon and rigged up the 5 wt. Helios 2 as a second rod. Speckled Caddis and Blue Winged Olives were hatching sporadically, but no fish were rising. We spotted a nice fish under a submerged log pile around Allen Campground, but couldn’t see a way to drift anything near him without getting hung up.
Louis took the deep wade to the island where I’d caught fish before while I stayed near the north bank. We ran a little of everything (Possie Buggers, Prince Nymphs, PTs, etc.) down the seam, but got no tugs.
Returning back downstream, we again saw the trout under the log pile, but he saw us this time and moved out a ways. Still no way to drift a nymph to him, but I thought a could get a dry to float over the submerged logs and if he was able to see it, he may at least come up to critique it.
I tied on a “House and Lot Variant”, similar to John Newbury’s version, but with my own tweaks to the pattern. The fly was tied on a Hanak Competition dry fly hook (barbless) and I used Elk Hair for the wing, rather than white calf tail. To my eye, I think it makes a passable Green Drake Adult.
On the 3rd drift, the fish actually turned, came out from under the logs and slammed the fly! I was shocked. A cool February day, on the Metolius, not a rise spotted all day and this fish comes to the surface for something resembling a Green Drake adult (which won’t be hatching for another 2 months). Once it stopped thrashing around and I got a good look at it, I realized it was a Brown Trout! I got him to hand (after falling), snapped a couple pics, pulled the fly from his jaw (love those barbless competition hooks) and released him back into the clear water.
We returned to the bridge and fished there for a while since the other angler had moved on. He must have fished out the hole, as neither of us touched a fish.
All in all, it was an awesome day. We saw new water, climbed to the rim and were rewarded with a spectacular view of the gorge section. A fish was landed, which for me is rare on this river.
It now takes two hands to count the number of times I’ve fished the Metolius, but still only one to count the number of fish landed.