Fishing's fine in Oregon's Sunriver

At the Sunriver Fly Shop, if you stand at the counter and ask for a tip on where to fish, make sure your coffee is extra hot. Otherwise, by the time shop owner Bob Gaviglio gets to the end of the list, he'll be out of breath and your coffee will be cold.

Want rivers? Try the upper, middle and lower Deschutes, Fall, Crooked or Metolius.

Prefer to fish lakes? The list is longer: Crane Prairie, Wickiup, Paulina, Cultus, Lava, Little Lava, Davis, Odell or Crescent.

Want a certain species? Gaviglio can help you. Within a short drive of his shop, you can fish for rainbow, redband, brown, brook, lake and bull trout, as well as kokanee, mountain whitefish and largemouth bass.

If you want fish large or small, they're available here. If you want the fishing easy, for yourself or the kids, ditto.

If you want technical fly-fishing for big fish, that's just a short drive north to the Metolius River.

"You could fish different waters and different sections every day and still not fish it all in a year," Gaviglio said.

"You need a laptop to keep it all straight," he said with a laugh.

After stocking up on flies and advice, fishing buddy Ryan Kamp and I drove to the Deschutes River, above Crane Prairie Reservoir.

The river, as it flows under the Forest Road 40 bridge, is small, 15 feet wide in most places. On this sunny mid-June day, the water was fast, cold and clear. Leaving the car at the bridge, we walked the well-tramped trail downstream, looking for slower water and willing trout.

Not a minute later, I found a run where the water slowed coming out of a logjam. A few casts with a yellow humpy and I was hooked up with a good-fighting trout. After a short battle, I had a beautiful brook trout in my hand. Its olive-bronze body dotted with yellow and red spots sparkled under the sun, its red fins edged with white.

For much of the day, Ryan and I leapfrogged each other, plucking willing brookies and occasional rainbow trout from hole to hole. In some spots we fished from the banks, in other places we were knee-deep in midstream.

Sometimes the trout fell for dry flies such as a humpy in yellow or green or a Parachute Adams. Where the water was deeper, they preferred nymphs such as a rubber-legged beadhead hare's ear or a rubber-legged beadhead pheasant tail.

The trout weren't big - none topped the 12-inch mark - but they were plentiful and eager to hit our flies.

That's why Tom Mital makes the 30-minute drive from Bend, Ore., two or three times a week. The wildlife painter and his wife moved there from Southern California two years ago.

I met Mital on the streamside path as I fished my way back to the car for some rest and much-needed bottled water.

Mital alternated fishing with a fly rod and a small spinning rod and reel. The narrow black spoon on his spinning rod was getting the most attention as he flipped it toward the far bank.

"You get some big ones hiding out under the cutbanks," Mital said. "You catch fish as big as 24 inches in there. You don't think this fishery can sustain fish that size."

But there's more than fishing that attracts Mital. He also heads for the streams and lakes to gain inspiration for his work.

"To me, this is one of the most beautiful spots I've come to," he said, looking over his shoulder north to Mount Bachelor.

Carl Zarelli made the trip here from Washington state. We compared notes after I returned home.

He heard about the fishing from fellow members of the Puget Sound Flyfishers. Zarelli finally went a year ago.

"A guy could spend a couple of weeks down there for the next couple of years, there's so much water there," Zarelli said.

He tried his luck on the Crooked, Deschutes and Metolius rivers, and came home with plenty of stories. Like the redband trout that sent Zarelli swimming, twice, in the Deschutes. "I was hanging on to the willows with one hand and my rod in the other. I went into the water twice chasing that fish."

He also talked about the frustration of fishing the Metolius, a spring creek north of Sisters.

"They're smart fish. They'll come up and slap a Cheeto someone throws in from the bridge, but they won't take a green drake imitation," Zarelli said.

Still, he said, it's worth making the drive.

"Oh yeah, I'll go back. I really enjoyed it. It is classic trout fishing."

That's one of the reasons Gaviglio has been in the area since 1987 and running his fly shop since 1996. Sure, he travels to Alaska, Montana, Florida and Mexico to fish. But each day he steps out the front door of his shop, there seems to be a new water to fish.

"All our Northwest areas have good fisheries. They just don't have the choices," Gaviglio said. "There are just so many different types of water to fish."



Fish: Rainbow and brook trout; whitefish; kokanee; largemouth bass; black crappie.

What you'll find: Crane Prairie is a large, shallow impoundment. The area was a natural meadow where the Deschutes River, Cultus River, Cold Creek, Quinn River, Deer Creek and Cultus Creek converged. Crane Prairie Reservoir was first created in 1922 by a rock-filled dam.

The attraction: Home of the famous "cranebows," Crane Prairie Reservoir is one of the top-producing rainbow trout fisheries in Central Oregon. Rainbow trout here average 2 inches of growth a month during the summer. The lake produces rainbow in the 4- to 10-pound range, with one weighing more than 19 pounds.

Of note: Best fishing is June through August.


Fish: Inland redband trout and whitefish.

What you'll find: The river has all types of habitat and consistent flows, making for a good year-round fishery.

The attraction: Healthy trout populations make the fishing easier here than some of the other waters. "I think a person could learn to pull some fish out of there with a little practice," said Carl Zarelli of University Place, Wash.

Of note: The river seems to be bouncing back after flooding in spring 2006. The redband trout is a subspecies of rainbow trout and steelhead and has adapted to the arid conditions east of the Cascades. Watch for rattlesnakes in some of the drier areas.


Fish: Rainbow trout and largemouth bass.

What you'll find: This is a large, shallow lake at the southern end of the Cascade Lakes Highway.

The attraction: "It is a tremendous fishery. It used to be one of the top redband fisheries in the state," said Ted Wise, a fisheries biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Anglers will catch trout that typically weigh 2 to 5 pounds.

Of note: Largemouth bass were illegally introduced in the 1990s, Wise said. The bass are overtaking the trout fishery and the lake has become a premiere bass fishery. This is a fly-fishing-only lake.


Fish: Rainbow and brook trout; kokanee; whitefish.

What you'll find: Upstream from Crane Prairie Reservoir, the river is small. But it meanders through meadows and pine forests. Between Crane Prairie and Wickiup Reservoir you'll start to see more brown trout. Better fishing for browns can be found below Wickiup.

The attraction: The upper river is a small, fun and secluded fishery. It is eager to get the fish to rise to a dry fly. The river from Wickiup to Lake Billy Chinook offers a mix of good fishing for rainbows and browns.

Of note: The river has a diverse insect population. Access is somewhat limited in the upper reaches, but walking upstream or downstream from parking spots will quickly get you to water that receives less pressure.


Fish: Rainbow, brown and brook trout; whitefish. The river is stocked from May to September with rainbows and brookies.

What you'll find: This is essentially a small spring creek that flows about 12 miles from its origins southwest of Sunriver to its confluence with the Deschutes River.

The attraction: Brown trout up to eight pounds have been taken from the river. The water is constantly clear, with steady flows and temperatures.

Of note: This is a fly-fishing-only stream, and all hooks must be barbless. Be mindful of the "No trespassing" signs that mark much of the private property.


Fish: Rainbow, bull, brown and brook trout; kokanee; mountain whitefish.

What you'll find: The river begins as a simple spring at the base of Black Butte. It runs about 30 miles to Lake Billy Chinook.

The attraction: Big trout can be found here, but the fishing is challenging. The clear water requires small leaders, tippets and flies. "This is extremely technical fishing. It has to be an absolutely drag-free, dead-on cast," Zarelli said.

Of note: This is a fly-fishing-only stream.


Fish: Lake, rainbow and bull trout; kokanee; mountain whitefish.

What you'll find: This is a large and deep lake, 282 feet at the deepest spot.

The attraction: The Oregon record lake trout was caught here in 1984. It weighed 40 pounds, 8 ounces and was 45½ inches long.

Of note: The kokanee fishing also can be quite good. "If the bite is on, you can take home your limit of 25 kokanee by 8 or 9 o'clock," Wise said.


Fish: Brown, rainbow and brook trout; kokanee; mountain whitefish.

What you'll find: The large reservoir now covers an area on the Deschutes River, which was known as the Wickiup's, a camping area for American Indians in the fall.

The attraction: Big brown trout. The lake produced a former state record and regularly produces fish exceeding 20 pounds. The state record brown trout, a 28-pound, 5-ounce fish, was caught in nearby Paulina Lake in 2002. The best time to catch the big fish is the first few weeks of the season.

Of note: The most productive anglers use a boat to seek out cooler water. Irrigation needs downstream can lower the lake level by half during the summer.