A river of inspiration in peaceful central Oregon wilderness

Solitude in winter's quiet can make up for trip that results in no fish caught

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CAMP SHERMAN, Ore. — Even in the dead of winter, the Metolius River has the ability to inspire.

Something about the pine-needle-softened trails, the crystal-clear water and the towering ponderosa pines invigorate me on every visit. If I fail to catch even one fish — and let’s face it, it is easy to get skunked on the Metolius — I come away happy.

On a recent Thursday, I made the 40-minute drive from Bend to the Metolius, planning to do some hiking and fishing on a day when the Central Oregon Cascades had just received their first significant snowfall in several weeks.

I parked near Allingham Bridge, which marks the boundary of where fishing is currently allowed. (Fishing is closed upstream of the bridge until late May each year, leaving about 20 miles of river available for angling until then.)

The Metolius is located at an elevation low enough (from about 2,000 to 3,000 feet) that almost no snow lined its banks when I visited. A brief snowstorm of just a couple of minutes gave way to simply cold and cloudy conditions.

Bursting out of the ground from springs beneath Black Butte, the spring-fed river, limited to fly-fishing and catch-and-release angling, is a majestic product of the Cascade mountains. Located near Sisters, the Metolius flows 23 miles on a route north and then southeast to Lake Billy Chinook.

After an hour or so of trying to tempt lethargic redband trout with a pheasant tail nymph, I told myself not to get frustrated and decided to focus on the surroundings.

The Metolius is lined by intricate trails on both banks and by numerous campgrounds on its east bank. Navigating these trails and areas can make for an interesting exploratory hike.

The paths wind along the river and in and out of the pine forest, from areas of thick vegetation to open meadows. Most of the campgrounds were empty, typical for this time of year, and I used this visit as a chance to scout sites for tent camping this summer.

Solitude abounds on the Metolius. The river can sometimes seem devoid of humans in the spring or fall — in winter, it can be downright desolate.

The river is home to native rainbow trout, bull trout, kokanee and whitefish.