13 days straight of Salmonfly on the Deschutes, lessons in learning and sharing

Fishing with friends and the Littleleaf family on the Warm Springs Reservation in Central Oregon.

Many people from all over the globe descend on my current home-waters each and every year for a spectacle of an annual event that takes 3-4 years to mature. So what the hell did I just say? “Annual Event that takes 3-4 years to mature.”

What does that mean, and more importantly, how is this related to all the things I do in the world of conservation and fisheries management? Let’s take a look….



The Wikipedia Page on this marvelous insect it has some interesting information:

The Giant Salmonfly

Pteronarcys californica

  • A species of insect in the family Pteronarcyidae, the giant stoneflies and salmonflies. It is known commonly as the giant salmonfly.[1]
  • P. californica nymphs, or larvae, can grow to lengths in excess of 5 centimetres (2 in). The nymphs’ dorsal side (back) is dark in color, although their ventral side (belly) is lighter. The coloring can vary, and subtle patterns are occasionally found on the abdomen. They are detritivores, eating stream debris partially broken down by other organisms. They are “shredders” as a functional feeding group, breaking down large bits of detritus into smaller while feeding.[2] The adults are also large, and the abdomen, leg joints, and several thorax joints are a bright orange color. Two pairs of large wings, kept flat against the body when at rest, are nearly as long as the body.
  • P. californica is found across western North America, from British Columbia to California.[3] They live in higher-velocity streams and rivers, on medium to large-sized unconsolidated substrates.[4]
  • The nymphs live three to four years in the water before emergence. Immediately prior to emerging, the nymphs congregate near the shoreline[4] in shallow water on partially exposed rocks. To emerge, the nymphs crawl from the water to rocks or the shore, and split the nymphal exoskeleton. The adults emerge from the exuviae ready to mate.
  • The emergence is also followed closely by fly-fishermen, and is one of the highlights of the spring fishing season.

Becoming a fly angler takes a certain devotion to the entomology of how that activity becomes a successful at it. That is to say, you become a “buggier” person. You start to look, read, photograph, study, and learn about the types of insects/bait you need to mimic to fool fish. It’s a natural evolution within the sport and even if you’re not tying flies yourself – you learn what the trifecta of the sport is all about: “Shape/Size/Color”. As you become more and more successful at it – you learn that the first two are really the most important part, and differentiating your color can become the eventual key to success.

“The type of tool you decide to use when out on #publiclands to enjoy yourself is irrelevant.”

To say that I am a purist fly angler would be a mistake, and at one time or another I have found myself in “situations” with traditional gear anglers over the years. To me, the type of tool you decide to use when out on #publiclands to enjoy yourself is irrelevant. I have no bias. I have no hard feelings toward most fishermen – fly angler, spinning gear, commercial. There are always a few in these groups which get too much attention because of the harm they have caused, and in my opinion they represent a small fraction of the individuals engaged in the activity.

I have paid attention to, and actively engaged in the fabrication/modification/enactment of various policies and legislative statutes over the years to better understand the mechanisms of the politics inherent in them and have found a similar cycle in their application and use to the life cycle of the Salmonfly and in angling for fish.

Just like anglers who base their hard earned vacation time our own active participation seems to come and go becoming more and more “reactive than proactive”. This hatch is a perfect example of this. Once people start seeing posts on Social Media about how the “Hatch is HERE! IT’S ON!” – the more people respond to it. Similarly, we respond to events in policy and and rule changes or proposed legislation which would affect our destinations as outdoor enthusiasts. A perfect example is our boy Rep. Chaffetz in Utah who shit the bed earlier this year with his proposal to sell off Public Lands and was destroyed online by his constituency for proposing it.


A beautiful Deschutes Redband brought to hand on the Private Tribal Lands.

Question: How do I correlate the lifecycle of this iconic insect to our outdoor activities and also to the conservation of the resources where they live?

Answer: It’s pretty simple actually. All things happen when they are supposed to – nature has a way of compensating for the adverse effects of our intrusion and modification of these perfect systems found in nature. Success at anything depends on the time you are willing to devote to it and become an expert at it. We all have our gifts, we all have a job we are good at, and we (as anglers) become better at it with practice. The same is said for conservation activities when we make the conscious decision to become better at it. After all – you have to have fish to catch them.

“You have to have fish to catch them.”

During the nearly two week of what became #basecampmecca – I fished, I hiked, I drank, I smoked, I ate, I slept and I talked to people who came by my site and individuals in passing along the trail and actively fishing. During that time with seasoned guides, native american peoples, total newbies, foreign visitors, local pros, law enforcement, natural resource departments, and children of all ages were my companions.

What I found during this time (and pretty much any time) is when you approach a conversation with any of them: The more open you are about who you are and your willingness to listen, understand, and respect the individual and their point of view – the longer and healthier the conversation becomes. None of what we do is easy as outdoor enthusiasts – especially as anglers. Too often it becomes easily frustrating and counter productive toward the true purpose of just enjoying where you are and truly being “In the Moment.”

The Magic of Results

Grant and Anj and their first ever Salmonfly Hatch.

Whether it was the spinning gear angler or the fly angler out there this year for their first experience with this hatch – one thing bound them together. It was the smile and joy they found with the success of the adventure they were on. If it was catching a fish for the first time on a fly, or their first rowing experience on this stretch of river, or the first Deschutes Redband they have ever caught on their spinning gear. The brightness of the smile and the joy beaming from them was a measurable thing for me. Knowing that the memory they just made would stick with them and influence their behavior from that moment on is undeniable.

A perfect example of this is represented in this photo I took of these two fine young professionals from the Portland area who had been fishing together and got into fly fishing nearly a year ago together. I attempted to give a little bit of instruction (mostly bad) on where to stand and cast for a good drift into the fish that were rising in a notoriously difficult stretch to fish as they (the big Redbands) lay in the middle of the river here. Often these fish are spooky and difficult to catch as the boats, raft, and kayaks generally shadow their spots frequently this time of year.

Upon success of hooking and landing this brute (on a 4wt I might add) – all of us exchanged high fives and laughs, and celebrated by just sitting on the bank and re-living the experience over and over again. Thoroughly examining each and every step that made the event possible. From that moment on, I found each of them just sitting quietly from time to time – just observing, just waiting, just taking these moments along the river in. Sometimes even when fish were actively feeding, they just sat there watching and being quiet in this marvelous space.

Grant (the one holding the fish) and Anj have a friendship that has been forever changed because of this event. Grant was over here in Central Oregon for some business as well as some fishing. Once this fish was hooked and landed, his entire focus shifted from the importance of the business he was on – to – how he was going to be able to come back and fish here more. I listened to him go over the process out loud over and over again, finally convincing himself if was going to work.

“His entire focus shifted from the importance of the business he was on – to – how he was going to be able to come back and fish here more.”

“Ok, so if I leave here at 5pm, I’ve got clean clothes in my car I can change into – splash a little body spray on since I am sure I stink and just don’t have time to find a shower, then I can get to the presentation/dinner at 6pm, jump back in the car and be back here before last light to try and catch a few more…”

“Then tomorrow morning, I’ll get up early, make some coffee, jump on the conference call at 6am, move the Sales Meeting to later on in the week, and be back fishing by about 7am… Then I can fish until about 11am, jump back in the car and get home in the afternoon to get everything taken care of around the house and ready for the rest of the work week. Man, I really need to figure out a way to get our office to be here in Central Oregon somewhere – I can’t believe how amazing this is.”

We had opportunities to share in some more laughs, toss back a couple of beers, and importantly to me – take the time to have conversation about how important these resources have become to each of us.


What would later be termed “The Littleleaf Fishing Family.”

I know moving forward, each of the people who I have met while being a fisheries and public lands advocate is going to be difficult and challenging.  Just like figuring out how far you can hike safely, or what to change in your fly/bait presentation, the complexity of the issues we face with our current/past administration, future/current/past regulations – these things take time, patience, and willingness to listen.

Each person who enjoys these places for whatever purposeful need they fulfill forever changes how they will react from that moment on. All it takes is adding to the learning and sharing when you have that opportunity – whatever it is. Whether you are helping with a fly selection, a casting stroke, knowledge of where the hidden dangers are, where the fish usually hold, and what temperatures/flows/conditions to be mindful of when stalking fish during this hatch. Or you are talking about the issues that have created the conditions you find each other in with weather, climate, flows, temperatures, and how we have impacted those figures. It takes study, and it takes time.

“All it takes is adding to the learning and sharing when you have that opportunity – whatever it is.”

What is important is that you and I never stop questioning, never stop learning on our own and from others, and take that next step to accept the responsibility that comes with accepting to pay for the fees, buy the gear, and spend the hard earned time to reach these places. As a community of outdoor enthusiast from all over this great nation, we have a need for these places and we spend some serious money to explore and enjoy them.

A recent study performed and executed with the help of many people was generated by the Outdoor Industry Association which everyone who enjoys the outdoors and feels like they are just part of an isolated group of enthusiasts should take a look at. Here’s the link CLICK HERE and here’s some of the important take aways I found from it:

  1. Approximately 145,000,000 Americans participate in outdoor related activities.

    1. This supports over 7.5 million jobs for families throughout the nation.
  2. Our annual spending to engage in the outdoors is over $880 BILLION.

    1. This supports revenue generation through Local/State/Federal taxes at about $125 BILLION.
  3. None of this matters if these places become too damaged or locked away by special interest.

    1. The bottom line is this – if there’s a buck to be made by the sale to a developer, it is guaranteed they will spend the money to influence legislators to make it happen.
  4. Your voice matters, there are more like minded people than you may realize.

    1. I can rattle off about a half dozen incidents where Social Media has directly influenced the behavior of legislators and special interest groups.
    2. It wasn’t just one voice from one organization who made this possible.
    3. It was you lending your personal voice, and combining that with businesses and organizations that made the difference.

The Fishing

  • So was the fishing good?
    • Hell yes it was.
    • It was the catching that sucked at times (bad hook set, unbuttoned at last sec, etc.)
  • Was it challenging or easy?
    • It was both depending on the day.
    • Sometimes even throughout an easy day – you still have to be on your game.
  • Did I dry fly the whole time I was down there?
    • Nope!
    • Trailing a nymph, or hell – just run some down below a bobber works great!
  • What was the biggest fish?
    • Probably one of the infrequent 20+” fish that can be found there.
  • Where did you go?
    • Spent the whole time between Warm Springs and Trout Creek on the Lower Deschutes.
  • Which side of the river was better?
    • Well, without question – the private property side of the Deschutes on the Warm Springs Reservation is the best.

The fishing with friends was the best part of the whole adventure though. Like I said, fishing with my local friends, my Instagram/Facebook/Social Media friends, and just random strangers was amazing. The stories we shared are locked away in a place shared with very few things because they live in my heart. Like The Grinch I can sometimes look like or feel like – my heart continues to grow 3 sizes larger each and every year I continue to learn and share more about these places.

I hope to help create and be part of many more of these learning and sharing experiences for the rest of my life.

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