CAMP SHERMAN — The riverbanks were desolate, save for one angler soaking up the solitude of a frigid, gloomy weekday on the Metolius River during its “second” season.
Bend’s Sharon Burchett expertly cast her October caddis dry fly, hoping for a chance at landing a native rainbow trout.
“For me, it’s just about getting out here,” Burchett said over the rush of the river surging through the remote pine forest.
Located just northwest of Sisters, the Metolius is perhaps best known for its superb dry-fly fishing in the summertime. But many anglers find it difficult to stay away later in the year, and the most hardy of them make their way to the Metolius even through late fall and winter.
Jeff Perin, owner of the Fly Fishers Place in Sisters and an expert on the Metolius, calls November through March the “second season” on the picturesque river formed by springs under Black Butte.
“They prefer the solitude of the winter months to the more crowded conditions in the summer,” Perin says of second-season anglers. “There are excellent opportunities to catch fish all winter long, and the fishing is usually quite good.”
The Metolius, restricted to catch-and-release fly-fishing, is closed upstream of Allingham Bridge until late May. But until then, that leaves about 20 miles of river available for fishing, some of the best of which is located on the stretch between Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery and Bridge 99.
Perin recommends parking at the hatchery and walking downstream to various fishing holes.
The river is home to native rainbow trout, bull trout, kokanee and whitefish. According to Perin, the rainbows on the Metolius average about 14 to 15 inches long, while the bull trout average 6 to 7 pounds. Both species will be mostly located in deeper pools from now through the winter.
“But you’ll find a lot of rainbows in the back eddies year-round on the Metolius, and winter is no exception,” Perin says.
For those fishing for hefty bull trout, Perin suggests finding water that is about 8 or 9 feet deep, with logs or boulders nearby. Streamers and nymphs tend to work well for catching bull trout on the Metolius throughout the winter.
“Bull trout sometimes will go off the streamers a little bit and then get a little more into the nymphs,” Perin says. “It’s just really interesting that they do that, but it seems like in the wintertime, when things kind of slow down a little bit, you can start to catch a lot of bull trout again just by dead-drifting a little red nymph in front of them.”
Perin recommends nymph patterns called “red ice cream cone” and “red lightning bug.”
For dry-fly fishing on the Metolius in the winter, a blue-wing olive pattern usually works best. Those hatch during the warmest part of the day, from noon to 3 p.m.
A longtime Central Oregon fly fisherman, Perin probably has as much knowledge of the Metolius as anyone. But even he views the river as a significant fishing challenge.
“I still consider one or two fish a good day (on the Metolius),” Perin admits. “I’ll look for rising fish. If I catch one or two, or three or four, that’s a great day.”
The Metolius is so daunting to anglers because of the high water flows (more than 1,000 cubic feet per second) and the low fish populations (estimates are at about 600 fish per mile) compared with other Central Oregon waters. For example, the Crooked River near Prineville boasts about 5,000 trout per mile, with flows often less than 100 cfs.
“That’s a big difference,” Perin says.
But the Metolius is not necessarily any harder to fish in the late fall and winter than it is in the summer. For one thing, anglers have fewer bug hatches to identify.
“In August or September, you might have seven or eight different hatches to decipher during the day, and three or four of those could be hatching all at the same time,” Perin explains. “Trying to figure out what in the world the fish are eating can be a real challenge. In the wintertime there’s usually one thing the fish are eating in terms of hatches, and so that makes it a little easier in that regard.”
But, Perin adds, hatches are less intense in the wintertime, so they may not bring as many fish to the water’s surface as they would in the summertime.
Yet no matter how good — or slow — the fishing, having a day to yourself on the Metolius in its second season can soothe any winter weariness, even on the dreariest of days.