BEND, Ore. With winter settling in on the High Desert, fly fishing might be the last thing on the minds of many Central Oregonians.
But for those hard-core anglers who seek trout no matter what the conditions, there is still ample opportunity on streams throughout the region.
The Crooked, Metolius, Fall and Middle Deschutes rivers are typically the best places to take a fly rod in the winter, said to Steve Light, a fishing guide for Central Oregon Outdoors in Redmond.
''I find it to be very desirable,'' Light says of winter fly fishing. ''You can go and have the whole place to yourself. Hey, the fish eat all winter long just like in the summer.''
One of Light's favorite winter fly fishing destinations is the Crooked River from just below Bowman Dam to Prineville. This 25-mile stretch offers year-round trout fishing.
Steve Marx, a Bend-based fisheries biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, reports that there are an estimated 4,000 to 4,800 fish (longer than eight inches) per mile in the Crooked River.
''It has one of the best populations in the state as far as trout numbers,'' Marx says. ''It has good water temperatures year-round and a good invertebrate supply for fish food.''
Accessibility is seldom a problem on the Crooked River in the winter.
''It's a rare occasion when we see the Crooked River freeze up,'' Marx says. ''It's accessible year-round because it's in the mid to lower elevations for our area.''
The Crooked River is probably most renowned for red bands, the inland rainbow trout native to the upper Columbia Basin. But Marx says there are two to three times more whitefish than redbands in the river.
The Crooked River Canyon can make for warmer temperatures during the winter, compared with other Central Oregon streams.
''It's a little warmer in the canyon, and there's a diverse selection of hatches,'' Light says. ''For my money, it's the easiest river to fish. If I'm going to bother freezing my butt off, I want to catch some fish.''
The Metolius is known as a difficult river to fish, and that doesn't change in the winter. But because there are fewer anglers on the river this time of year, there is, in effect, more water to fish.
The Fall River is a popular fly fishing site, fished on a consistent basis by Sunriver residents in the winter, according to Light, who adds that the Middle Deschutes is also becoming a popular winter destination.
''Folks are starting to figure out that it's (the Middle Deschutes) not closed, but it's considerably higher (water level) than in the summer.''
Light encourages anglers on the Middle Deschutes to fish during weeklong periods when the Deschutes Basin watermaster drops the water level to two-thirds of the normal flow.
''It allows for better wading, and the fish cluster up a little bit more,'' Light says. ''It's easier to get to the fish.''
While the Fall River and the Middle Deschutes offer opportunities in the winter, Light says he is more inclined to fish the Metolius or the Crooked. And of those two rivers, he prefers the Crooked.
Because the Metolius lacks a hatchery program, all the fish in the river are native mostly rainbow and bull trout known to be extremely elusive. Also, the water is clear and the fish may see you coming, according to Light. Fish do not have that luxury in the muddy waters of the Crooked.
While fishing from the bank is easy on the Crooked, wading is often necessary on the Metolius, and that can be dangerous in its fast-moving current.
''In the Crooked River you don't have to get in the water most of the time,'' Light says. ''The Metolius is dangerous no matter what time of year. It can sweep you down in a hurry. It has a significant volume of very cold water, and the risk of hypothermia is heightened.''
Light says that the use of strike indicators becomes more popular in the wintertime. A strike indicator is a small, bright object placed on the leader that will move or dip under water when a fish takes a fly. It tells an angler when to set the hook.
''Seventy-five percent or more of wintertime fishing here is done with strike indicator and small flies,'' Light estimates.
On the Crooked River, Light says the best flies for the winter are blue-winged olives and Adams Patterns. He says small flies work best, whether fishing dries or nymphs.
Each January on the Middle Deschutes, Fall and Metolius rivers comes the Capnia Stonefly hatch, also know as the ''Little Winter Blackstone.'' Following the Capnia is the March Brown Mayfly hatch in February.
Light says the best time of day for winter fishing is from about 11 a.m. to 2 or 3 p.m.
He recommends that wintertime anglers always take extra clothing and an emergency medical winter kit, as well as waders, cleated boots and an inflatable device for floating. A blanket, gloves, hat and fleece are also recommended.
Light said that synthetic fabrics such as wool or silk are more suitable in inclement weather than cotton. He cautions anglers to always let somebody know where they are going, and to take a cell phone.
If anglers stay warm and safe, winter fly fishing can be a rewarding experience in Central Oregon.
''It's not as good as spring and summer because it lacks the more diverse hatches,'' Light says. ''But for somebody hearty who doesn't mind tough conditions, you can really find fantastic fishing because there's no pressure. You can't expect the (fish) numbers of summer months, but you can expect some action.''
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