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Deschutes River, WA
By Ron Eagle Elk (REE), WA


If you drop the name Deschutes around a bunch of flyfishers, especially here in the Pacific Northwest, everyone's eyes glaze over and their thoughts turn to that magnificent river in Oregon teeming with trout and steelhead.

Tucked away in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains of Washington there lies another Deschutes River, lovingly refered to as the Little D by those who work it's waters for resident cutthroat, sea run cutthroat, salmon, and the occasional steelhead. Unlike it's namesake to the south, this is not a large river by any stretch of the imagination. At it's widest point, maybe 50 feet across, and in most places much less.


REE and Frank Bryant (Chota) discussing fly choices on the little D

The river meanders down from the hills, across farm lands, cascades over falls, sweeps under overhanging fir, cedar, hemlock, and broadleaf maple, past city parks and through a municipal golf course, to finally empty into Capitol Lake and Puget Sound. The Little D provides trout with year round cover from the sun, eagles, ospreys and otters. It's tight confines at some of the best "Honey Holes" exasperate the fly anglers, where there is no backcast room, and even less overhead room for a 9 foot rod. This is the perfect river for the short, light lined rods we all have tucked away in the closet just in case we find the perfect small stream.


Frank Bryant working a dry fly along a log jam

In spite of the private property that lines the banks of the river, it is very accessable to the fly anglers. Many bridges cross the river allowing wading access, and several parks operated by the city of Olympia and Thurston County flank both sides of the river granting access and also free parking.

After fishing the Little D for several years, there is one aspect of the river that I, personally, both love and loathe. It's almost impossible to get this little river wired. This is a wild river. During the summer the water runs low, clear and cold, usually from April or May well into October and often November. Once the winter rains hit though, it becomes a raging torrent of brown, fast moving water, uprooting the trees that line the banks and moving rocks as large as watermelons around in the stream bed. A favorite deep hole one summer will be a shallow riffle the next. A beautiful spot for casting long lines and small flies one year will become a log jam several hundred yards long the next. Like all wild rivers, it is ever changing, presenting new challenges from season to season, sometimes week to week. If you can't read the water, this river will be the one to put the skunk on you.


Vicky Eagle Elk on the Little D working a tail out

The resident cutts in the Little D aren't huge, a really nice fish being 12 inches with some going to 14, but rare. However when the leaves start changing to their fall colors the salmon start making their way from Puget Sound, up the fish ladder at Tumwater Falls, and deep into their natal river, the lovely Little D. As the Salmon begin their mating dance in the stream the Sea Run Cutthroat are close on their heels (or fins, as the case may be). These silver bullets, fresh from the salt usually run 12 to 18 inches and are full of fight. They are also there to gorge on the Salmon roe and do their own mating dance, usually further upstream. When they are fresh, they are a bright silver, with the characteristic orange slash under their throats. The longer they remain in the fresh water, the more they color up to the more recognized colors of the cutthroat. No matter what stage they are in, they are a wonderful fish. About the same time of year a small run of steelhead make their presence known. When casting a three or four weight, feeling the head shake of a steelhead, fresh from the saltwater, will definitely get your heart rate up.


Ron Eagle Elk Casting among the logs

Fly selections for the Little D are pretty basic. There is usually a BWO hatch around 1:00 in the afternoon on overcast days year-round. All you need to do is match the size. Love the BWO's, they hatch at a decent hour. In the early warm days of spring a small black stone fly works well when the skwallas are crawling across the water. From Mother's Day till late October there is usually a Caddis hatch on some kind coming off. The fiesty resident cutts have also been known to fall for red or yellow humpys, Wulffs of many colors and of course the Adams. When the Sea Runs are in the river egg patterns work well, as do Chili Peppers and Cutt Baits (both in the FAOL archives), also reverse spyders in black, yellow and red. During the really hot days of summer when the water is running low and clear there is also the predominant Bikini hatch. During that time of year it's best to fish early in the morning and late in the evening. Midday is only good for ogling.


Fish on! Ron Eagle Elk (Self explanatory)

The seasons for the Little D vary, depending on what part of the river your fishing. From the mouth of the river, where it empties into Capitol Lake in Olympia, to the top of Tumwater Falls it is closed water to protect the migrating salmon. From Tumwater Falls through the city of Tumwater the river is a catch and keep fishery, though most folks practice catch and release. This section of the river is open from June 1st to March 31st for trout, and from July 1st to November 30th for Salmon. Upriver from Tumwater the trout season is year-round, catch and release, single barbless hooks only.

Tight Lines and Best Fishes, ~REE

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