2020 Deschutes River Fishing Report (final)

November 14, 2020

Many apologies for the delay in updating this report. My last day of fishing the Deschutes was October 28th. We finished the season with a very nice hatchery Coho, probably a stray from the Umatilla River. The White River tried to close out my season but we managed to scratch out three last days and five fish for seven hooked.
In a nutshell the Deschutes fished poorly in 2020 versus prior years. In 2019 dispite lower overall numbers over Bonniville and the Dalles Dams we hooked about 200 steelhead, 2020 we hooked 113. We lost 14 day between Labor Day and October 29th due White River and un-fishable conditions.

That’s the ten thousand foot version of 2020. In retrospect, I saw more large steelhead this season than I have ever seen on the lower Deschutes. Many of my clients stated that they had caught their largest Deschutes steelhead this year. I personally held a 20 pound steelhead this season pictured above and we landed many fish over the 30″ inch mark, not to mention the other ones…the 15 pound and larger club.

Predictions for 2021. The last year we saw a bunch of really big steelhead around was 2008. Anyone remember what happened in 2009? I do, not a single fish over about seven pounds but there were steelhead everywhere. So my prediction is a large run of one salt steelhead in 2021.

Thank you to everyone who fished with me this year! I’ll see you in 2021.

Sam Sickles

October 12, 2020

Recent storms have made the river unfishable. The Deschutes is no longer cycling to clear it’s just out for a bit so I have time for a report. I won’t sugar coat it, nothing’s changed. The fish are unusually large and really hard to find. Very little action on floating lines, very little. We did however stick the largest steelhead I’ve seen in a decade.

If you plan to come out, leave the six weight at home and consider your 8 weight. The river will clear some but probably not enough for floating lines until it gets colder and then no more floating lines…we’re gonna try anyway.

Tight Lines and good luck!


September 25th

A lot has happened since my last post. August 31 through September 9 started with solid fishing and ended up being extremely good. In fact the fishing was so good on the 8th and 9th I declared radio silence… we hooked 13 in two days. Then came the windstorm and the fire that changed everything.

This scenario happens annually when the folks at Round Butte Dam cool the river in the fall. In this case the water temps plummeted from lack of sunlight due to smoke from fires in Western Oregon, California and Washington. When the water cools suddenly Steelhead leave the Deschutes. Keep in mind most of the steelhead we are fishing for are “dip-ins” or strays if you like. Our steelhead are the ones that are missing (see graph below). The Deschutes is a stray fishery for the most part with it’s own small run of fish which are predominantly one salt steelhead rockets. There are virtually no one salt steelhead around this year.

The other thing that happened on September 15th is the sanctuary, the section of the Deschutes between Moody Rapids and the I-84 bridge opened. On the first day 100 steelhead were caught mostly hatchery fish. Many of these fish would have went up the river further but they were caught and retained or caught and released. This is going on daily and definitely affects fishing up river.

My last camp trip yielded some very nice steelhead we averaged about one a day. I remain hopeful for October, there are still fish moving over The Dalles Dam in good numbers and the Deschutes has resumed its warmer temperatures so I think we are primed for a good month with large two and three salt steelhead around. It’s raining today in Hood River so my fingers are crossed that the White River stays in somewhat decent shape for the month.

My usual fishing advice is be thorough, fish a lot of spots, move to sink tips quickly as the sun comes up or if water clarity is suspect.

Tight lines!


August 27, 2020

The Graph above confirms what I’ve been feeling since early July…there are no one salt steelhead around. The same thing happened in 2016. We are catching on average more large steelhead on the Deschutes but we are hooking fewer fish, far fewer.

In general the Deschutes puts out many one salt steelhead, 4-5 pound rockets and every once in a while you get a nice one something larger than eight or nine pounds. The fishing I’m seeing is every once in a while we get a nice one.

We just finished a ten day camp at Henries Camp, lower west wagon blast, this is arguably the best fishing on the Deschutes. Fishing in Wagonblast itself was poor, 50/50 at best. Everyone caught steelhead but we ended up hooking 17 and landing 13, mostly fish like the one pictured below.

So that’s my report and analysis of what’s going on. next update, 14 days.

Tight lines! SS

August 14, 2020.

Current year numbers are headed back to earth. Fishing has been decent and we’re getting opportunities every day. In the last ten day period we had 34 opportunities and we landed some nice fish. That’s 3.4 chances per day, we got skunked one day. The numbers are heavily skewed by a couple of giant days we had on a camp trip, and a total angler number of 19, so 3.4 chances per day more like one or two.

Water temps are finally cooling off and that will help. Angler pressure is extremely high and boater passes are sold out regularly. The lower ten miles of the river has been a real combat zone. Luckily, I’ve been camped at a good spot and I have a jet boat, but even with that 3.4 chances. Bouy 10 opens this week and anglers will have other fishing to do so I expect pressure to flatten out and even diminish as we finish out the summer and move into Fall.

The fish we have caught have been big bad and bright (this ones got some color). I’m reminded of 2016 when there were no small fish, the one salt steelhead are a no show this year so far, they usually account for the greater numbers. Fish are eating small flies, big flies, skaters, mornings, evenings, mid-day. The key to success is lots of casts and lots of swings. There are fish throughout the lower 24 miles and with the current drop in fish coming over the dam the smart play will be to cover lots of river miles.

I’m off for another ten days of camping and I’ll update this report when I’m done. If you follow me on instagram I’ll be updating my story line more often going forward. Instagram handle is steelheadoutfitters, facebook Sam Sickles.

Tight lines, see you in a couple weeks.


July 30, 2020. Here’s the deal; the Columbia River has been cooler than the Deschutes. When the Columbia is cooler than the Deschutes fish bypass the river or sit out in the Columbia where the water temps are more comfortable. We’ve seen some very hot days and nights in the last couple weeks and water temps on the Deschutes have pushed up above 71 degrees daily. As the weather moves back into the 80’s and low 90’s the river will cool down and the Columbia will continue to heat up. When this happens the Deschutes should see some more steelhead in the lower ten miles.

All that said we are catching some fish. I started fishing July the7th. The first nine days we hooked thirteen, landed nine and got skunked three times. We got skunked six times in the last ten days, hooked eight and landed six. Generally you need to fish about ten good spots to find em every other day. Floating lines, then sink tips immediately when the sun comes up.

Tight lines, see you after another ten.


Steelhead Outfitters Fly Fishing Flies

For starters, We are 100% booked for the Deschutes summer/fall 2020. WE ARE however referring our business to the best available guides so please feel free to contact me about a steelhead date this summer on the Deschutes! Sam Sickles, (541) 400-0855, call or text please.

We start fishing July 7th and I will post reports here by the end of the month. Please follow me on instagram @steelheadoutfitters.

Steelhead Outfitters is currently booking John Day Steelhead for November 2020, please text of call if you’re interested.

John Day River Steelhead, wild as they come!