“You ready to chuck some streamers?” the captain asked me as he and two groomsmen helped me into the boat, making sure the train of my wedding dress didn’t hit the cool waters of the Chattahoochee River below. “Hell yes!” I responded. “Someone hand me the 8 weight.”
Day number one as a fly fishing wife wasn’t too bad if I say so myself. Not that I thought married life would be any different - but now I was official. Justin and I were married on the river that gave us our start. It was a beautiful fall day with family, friends, and many members of the region’s fly fishing community. And it was only fitting that at the end of the celebration Justin and I motor off in a River Through Atlanta boat; the image of me casting in my wedding dress is one that our guests will always remember.
After a few casts of my line, we got ready to embark on our honeymoon to Bend, Oregon. But before we headed west, we were given the opportunity to celebrate marriage on our favorite stretch of the Chattahoochee River. One of our close friends gave us a full day of fishing on their property in Helen, Georgia, and it was there that I landed my first double — two 12-inch bows. Unicoi Outfitters had started my married life off right.
Early the next morning we set off for a week long adventure in the Pacific Northwest. Little did I know I was about to experience a whole other world of fly fishing (perhaps a whole other world, period). I would be immersed in a region without eight lane highways and angry commuters, I would learn a lot about the rivers and environmental issues facing the waterways, I would see some beautiful countryside, I would meet new friends, and I would be humbled in Oregon.
Welcome to Bend
When we arrived in Bend, we checked into our Airbnb and immediately began exploring. The next day we were scheduled for a full-day drift boat trip with Confluence Fly Shop, so we stopped in to see what this local fly shop was all about.
Located on the banks of the Deschutes River in Bend’s Old Mill District, we were greeted by the staff like we had been customers for years. It was apparent that the “feel good vibe” we had encountered since our plane landed in Redmond was going to be a trend during our stay.
Confluence Fly Shop, which was opened in 2013 by Tye Krueger, prides itself on its commitment to making anyone and everyone who comes through their doors a fly fishing enthusiast. And they succeed. As soon as I walked in, I was surrounded by images of steelhead on ball caps and t-shirts, bright colored flies, and only the best fly fishing gear in the business. The next day couldn’t arrive fast enough – I was ready to hit the water!
Before we headed back to the apartment, we got the skinny on where to grab a bite to eat. It was only fitting that the recommendation was a local Italian restaurant (growing up, my Yankee father and mother were always on the search for the best homemade pastas wherever they traveled). Trattoria Sbandati was definitely a place I could have seen my folks eating at the first night of their honeymoon. A small restaurant in the heart of Bend, we were greeted with a warm welcome despite not having a reservation and seated immediately. The house-made pappardelle was incredible, the service fantastic, the ambiance beautiful, and we once again felt a connection to the amazing city we found ourselves in.
Intro to Spey Casting
Justin and I were up at the crack of dawn eager for our first full day of fishing. It was still dark when Reid, our guide, met us at the shop. After some much-needed coffee, a chat with Tye, and of course some more fly purchases, we jumped in the truck and headed north to the river. I’m slowly learning that men and fly boxes are like women and clothes – even if you use just a handful of flies during your trip, you MUST have a box full.
After launching the drift boat, we set off to our first spot. Unlike our Chattahoochee River, on the Deschutes anglers are not permitted to fish from the boat. We would be wading, Justin would be looking for that prize steelhead to present his fly to, and I would be learning how to cast a two-handed fly rod.
During our trip to Belize the month prior, I had learned that while I was taught to trout fish right-handed, casting with my dominant hand (my left) allowed me more power to properly use the fly rod to send my line out long distances on the open flats. This trip, I was once again excited to spend time with the guide learning another new method of fly casting and seeing where it would take me. After all, the thing that drew me to this sport was that it was a lifelong learning experience.
“You really only need to know a couple of casts to be an effective angler with a spey rod,” Reid explained to me. He went on to explain that one of the casts you just can’t live without is the Snap-T. “This easy and powerful cast lets you launch the fly when the current is off your casting shoulder,” said Reid as he demonstrated the cast. “It generates the power needed to cast heavy sink tips and cover a lot of water.”
Easy? Not so much. The Snap-T proved a little awkward for this fly fishing newbie. Or maybe it was trying to wrap my head around this form of casting with my dominant hand. Whatever the reason, we moved on to the next cast to see if I could grasp that concept a little better.
The Double Spey was the winner! I picked it up quickly, but I found myself fishing right-handed again. Whatever works though, right? Still, I had jumped into this new fishing method with zero experience and found my mind swarming with all of the new information.
“Breathe,” I reminded myself. And that was the ticket.
As soon as I took that breath and slowed my mind down, I watched as I sent a tight loop out into the river. I didn’t land any fish that day, but I had the best take-a-way this fly-gal could ask for. I now felt comfortable with the two-handed cast. And that was worth every bit of my experience on water.
A Wealth of Knowledge
While Justin landed the first fish of the trip – a beautiful rainbow trout – I got to talking with our guide. Reid was a wealth of knowledge giving me information on all of the rivers in the region so that we could plan our next day on the water. According to Reid, the Metolius River was where we would find bull trout (and was highly recommended for its beautiful crystal blue waters). The McKenzie River, located on the west side of mountains, was worth the drive for another drift boat experience. The Rogue River was where we could continue to chase steelhead. And if we wanted to stay on the Deschutes, we definitely needed to head north towards Maupin.
When I told Reid about my environmental background, he opened up about some of the issues facing the Deschutes River. Of course, I found this fascinating. Reid shared with me about the pikeminnow and how they got introduced to the Deschutes with the warming water in the Columbia River and other tributaries. This invasive species eats millions of salmon and steelhead juveniles each year. There are even watersheds that have programs that pay anglers who catch and remove these fish from the river to help the salmon and steelhead juveniles make it out to sea!
As we wrapped up the day, I felt connected to this new body of water. And Justin, who didn’t land his much-anticipated steelhead that afternoon, accepted the challenge that the river had laid before him.
We wouldn’t be traveling far.
Crystal Blue Waters
I didn’t realize how exhausted I would be after a full day of fishing on a big river. My body was feeling the stress from standing in the water for hours, and so I convinced Justin to sleep in. When we awoke, we checked out of our first Airbnb as a married couple and embraced the day – not knowing where the wind would blow us next.
A planner by trade, this whole “go with the flow” mentality was a new one for me. But after months of planning a wedding, I had promised Justin that I would leave our honeymoon open for interpretation. So off we went.
Justin decided our second day would be a “relaxed day”, and stopped by Confluence once more to get a recommendation on the next stop on our trip. They pointed us towards the Metolius River and the fish hatchery, and we began the drive up the mountain.
I smiled watching the desert landscape turn to pine trees as Justin sang with the Grateful Dead tune on the radio next to me. There is just something about the Pacific Northwest that is breathtaking and very different from the southeast. You can find yourself driving from the desert, to the mountains, to the forest, and into snow in just a few short hours. It’s amazing.
Following the signs, we arrived at the headwaters of the Metolius. The spring where the river made its start left much to be desired, so we snapped a few pictures and followed the signs to the hatchery.
After touring the hatchery (I saw my first tiger trout!), and a few jokes about chucking streamers in the big pond they had all of their adult fish in, we started to walk back to the car. “Let’s go check out the river”, Justin said. We made it about 100 feet when he looked at me with that excited smile I fell in love with. “Want to go fishing?”
Did he even need to ask?
Maupin – Population 437
The next day we decided we would get back on the Deschutes and headed north towards the small town of Maupin. When we pulled into the city limits, we found the Deschutes Angler fly shop. Justin had read up on this shop, which boasted bringing spey casting to the region, so we stopped in to meet the locals and learn more about the area.
We were welcomed by one of the owners of the shop, Amy Hazel, a female fly angler who has been guiding for over 20 years. Justin bought a new fly line and brought his reel in. Before I could blink, he was behind the counter having a nail knot competition with his new friend.
It was there that I learned a bit more about the river.
What fascinated me the most is that the Deschutes, unlike most rivers, runs north. Understanding this cleared up my confusion as to why we headed north to fish the lower Deschutes. Amy taught me about the relationship between the source and the mouth of a river. She helped me understand that the source must be at a higher elevation. For most rivers, the source is to the north but not always.
While we were there, I noticed a display of outdoor industry decals and a fundraising sign showcasing an organization called the Deschutes River Alliance. The nonprofit fundraising nerd in me immediately drew interest and started asking questions. Amy shared with me that she and her husband were on the board of directors, and the small display of stickers from their brand reps was responsible for raising over $1,000 for the nonprofit each year. What a great idea! I was excited to share it with my staff when I headed back home.
I could have talked to Amy for hours, but Justin reminded me we were there to fish and so Amy pulled out the map of the river, showed us the go-to spots, and sent us on our way.
With only a few hours of daylight left, we headed down the gravel road to our first site. We both got a few bites that day, but no fish in hand. And with that, we headed back to Bend.
Almost, But Not Quite
It was day number four of our Oregon adventure, and we decided to pack up our hotel room to head back to Maupin. We were determined to conquer the Deschutes.
Justin set me up with a nymphing rig on the switch rod, which felt a little closer to home. Later that day down river I felt a heavy pull on my line. Thinking I had gotten my fly caught on debris at the bottom of the river bed, I tugged on the line. And off it went! I had hooked into my first steelhead.
”Fish on, fish on!” I screamed to Justin, who was about 100 feet up stream from me. “Hurry!!!”
The excitement I felt when I saw the shiny chrome of that fish pop up to the surface is a feeling I will never forget. Sort of like your first kiss; nervousness and butterflies, energy and nausea all rolled into one. After a few turns of my fly rod against the current I pulled the worst rookie mistake ever. In my excitement, I pointed the tip of my rod straight at that fish. And out popped the hook.
And my first argument as a married woman soon followed.
The next day we decided that the early bird would get the worm and hit the river at daybreak. The slopes of volcanic-type rocks we hiked up and down to get to the river had me remembering those sweet days of the gym. But, I powered through it.
Justin caught another rainbow that day, but the steelhead had evaded us once again.
“She’s not coming off that easy” said Justin as we headed back to the hotel. “She’s gonna make us wait 'til the last damn day.”
Our last day on the Deschutes was a memorable one, although the look of defeat on Justin’s face made my heart sink a little. We gave it our absolute all those last 24 hours. But despite our determined spirit, there were no steelhead to be found. The river had won the battle.
While our steelhead honeymoon didn’t quite pan out the way I had hoped, I had the privilege of spending a week in one of the most beautiful parts of the country I have ever seen. I made memories, I learned so much about the heart of the Pacific Northwest, I laughed, and I lived every moment to the fullest.
And I know in my heart of hearts that Oregon will be calling me back soon.