Floated the river between Macks and Moody Saturday through Monday.
When we started down the Macks Canyon Access Road, we knew something must be up, because every flat piece of ground held a couple of tents or RV's and by the time we got to the Canyon parking lot, we thought we were in sort of Lower Deschutes River Canyon Festival Daze or something. I've never seen such a bunch of people milling around, and, as I walked back from leaving my rig up by the archeological site (about 1/4 mile from the put-in and the nearest place I could find to park) I didn't know what to think, other than we'd be damn lucky to find a place to camp near any fishing.
The H'Oregonian, our local rag, had reported excellent steelhead fishing in the lower river, and the dam counts have been tremendous; this is possibly what caused the mass migration, but I'm not sure. What I did know, as we dropped the boat off the trailer, was that the White River had blown out from a combination of unseasonably high freezing levels and some rain, and the Deschutes was looking pretty murky. This didn't bother me, particularly, and I wasn't about to abort the trip at this point just because of murky water and crowds of people. Besides, the number of drift boat trailers amid the parked rigs really wasn't that many and typically sleds and foot/bike traffic have not been a factor for us when it comes to finding a place to lay over and fish.
Everything went very well up the point where we started to fish seriously. We had all the prime water we wanted, the river was full of fish (we could see them splashing and rolling all over the place), we had four experienced steelhead anglers to fish it, and we had three days to do it in. Bottom line: 1 fish almost landed for the four of us. That was it. Worst fishing I've ever experienced on the Lower River.
The wonderful thing about steelheading is the reasons and the conventional wisdom you can use to explain why the fish aren't taking. This time, the conventional wisdom was that the water was too murky and too warm (never mind that on other occasions we'd caught fish in warmer and murkier water). Anyway, this theory prevailed over another of my favorites, that the moon was too bright. The fishing was so bad, for whatever reason, that real hard core fly-guides were having their clients fish contraptions (i.e., sideplaners) in a desparate attempt to bank a few fish.
[Aside: I regard side-planers as an unethical method on the Deschutes. People should be able to cast and retrieve spinning lures well enough to catch fish without resorting to harassing the fish into striking, which is what the side-planers do. Guides will assemble conga lines of their clients to position the planners 10 feet apart, from about 20 feet off the bank to about 60, and then have same clients walk slowly down a two or three hundred yard drift, virtually sweeping the whole thing. The method and strategy reduces the sport of angling to plain meat fishing; it unduly harasses and harms wild steelhead and I'm all for banning it. But you probably guessed that.]
One more note before I leave you alone: for the first time in about three years we were checked in our camp by the BLM. They sent a couple of enforcement representatives out in a cataraft and a kayak to see that river runners were complying with all the regulations. After checking our river passes, the BLM checker asked if we had a portable toilet, since we were in a primitive site (more than 800 feet from an out house). She suggested, since we didn't immediately show her one, that we move our camp to be nearer to an out house (there's only one for the whole Lockit area, and many sledders were camped on both sides of it). We weren't about to move, since we had an ideal campsite, and hastily contrived a container out of an ammo can that seemed to satisfy her. She remarked that real enforcement of this regulation would begin next year.
Back in the bad old days, before out houses were introduced to the river, the banks used to be festooned in toilet paper from June through until the fall rains washed it away. Many campsites were smelly, disgusting holes after a season of use. The out houses really improved this situation, especially in the upper river, and I thought the BLM would use the ample amount of Boater's Pass money it receives every year to build and maintain more of these facilities. Imagine my surprise when I found out the real plan is to phase the out houses out and require everybody to carry portable human waste disposal units. While most people will comply, I think this BLM policy, if true, is wrongheaded. If the intention is to keep the river clean, more out houses should be build. This is a recreational river, and the people who recreat on it are not the conscientious stewards of the outdoors that the BLM would hope for. There will be countless slobs who will not comply with the rules, citations or no, and we'll soon see the sagebrush festooned again. It's bad enough now; it will only get worse.
Your Boater's Pass money at work.
Sorry for the diatribe. Had to vent,