Northwest Fly Fishing

By Troy B. Jordan

Barreling down Oregon Route 31, heading southeast of Bend, Oregon, to the Ana River, Ryan and I vaguely remember our last time fishing together—it has been too long, we decide. Our conversation rambles, and sagebrush engulfs more and more of the landscape as we chew up miles. Finally approaching our destination, the highway hugs the foot of snow-spackled Winter Ridge, which rises precipitously to pine-topped heights to our west; to the east, across a broad basin, rise treeless Diablo Rim, Sharp Tops, and Coglan Buttes. We’re practically on top of the Ana River, but it’s nowhere in sight. A trout stream tucked away somewhere in the confines of this vast high-desert terrain seems hard to imagine, but it is there—if you know where to look. We bounce down some Lake County roads still muddy from spring rains, and confirm the existence of the Ana by peering down a small, steep-sided canyon.
   The Ana River, just over 100 miles southeast of Bend and a few miles northeast of the tiny hamlet of Summer Lake, is an oddity: a spring creek in the high desert. But this particular part of Oregon’s corner of the Great Basin actually has a lot of water. The river is fed by several springs in Ana Reservoir, and from there meanders 7 miles before emptying into Summer Lake. The Ana River—the entire area, really—is an oasis. The river nourishes a vast basin that is home to myriad water-loving birds. What makes the Ana a fly fisher’s delight is its consistent flow, ranging from 80 to 90 cubic feet per second, and its consistent temperature, ranging from 50 to 60 degrees. This pretty little river is a year-round fishery with year-round hatches.
   As we don waders and string up 4-weight rods, we debate about the float tubes we hauled with us. Should we use them? We plan on fishing the upper stretch; alkalinity increases farther downriver, making the lower stretch less desirable to trout. Given the short distance and the preference for panoramic views and a bird’s-eye vantage for scanning the river for fish activity from the bluffs above, we nix the float tube idea. However, the Ana River’s easy flow, deep pools, and undercut banks make using a float tube a viable option. Fishing on foot, however, means carefully planning routes for climbing in and out of the canyon.
   Although the trout in the Ana River are stocked, they are not necessarily pushovers. Stealth is key. Spot your target, approach with care, use light tippet, and present your fly delicately. The typical trout ranges from 8 to 12 inches, but 16- and 18-inchers are common. The river produces a variety of hatches: Baetis mayflies, various caddisflies, midges, and more. Keep a keen eye on what’s fluttering around and what the trout are keyed on. Another thing to consider is streamers. Bigger trout can sometimes be coaxed out from undercut banks or deep pools by an enticing strip of a meaty meal.
   Ryan and I see a few rising trout, scope a route down to the river, and descend toward the wondrously blue water slightly downstream from the feeding fish. Blue-Winged Olives flitter about, numbers increasing as we approach the bank. We now hear the takes as trout splash for the duns floating on the surface. We tie Parachute BWO patterns to 6X tippet, pick our targets, time our casts just right, and fish on! It’s a scene that plays out day in and day out on the Ana, a fun little hidden-from-view fishery in an intriguing part of Oregon. 
   To reach the Ana River from Bend, head south on US Highway 97 and go through La Pine to a left (east) turn onto SR 31 (Fremont Highway); follow SR 31 about 57 miles to a left turn, signed for Ana Reservoir, onto Lakeview Drive. About a mile down that road, turn right into Ana Reservoir County Park. You can park adjacent to the flume that feeds water from the reservoir to the river and walk downstream from there, or drive across the dam and then swing left to reach several informal parking areas along the south rim of the shallow canyon. Beware these dirt/gravel roads in wet weather.

 

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