A Little History & Some Philosophy


The Metolius was discovered by Anglo-Saxons, soldiers, who found a river that arose full-bodied from springs in a forest meadow. But the Native Americans knew it and fished it long before the Europeans. The name Metolius is a Native American word for river of the white salmon, probably a reference to spawning spring Chinook.

"People are playing in their backyard these days and the Camp Sherman area is less than a gas tank away from the Willamette Valley.”
Roger White, Camp Sherman Store

Salmon and steelhead get a downstream pass

“Our goal is to reconnect the Deschutes River with the upper tributaries.” Jim Bartlett is the Fisheries Biologist and Facilities Team Leader in charge of adult and juvenile fish passage for Portland General Electric (PGE) at the Pelton Round Butte complex. One of the outcomes he is looking forward to is the reestablishment of a sockeye run to the Pacific.

“That is one of the things I am very excited about. We do get a handful of sockeye returning to our adult trap (below the dams) every year. In the long run I think it is going to become a viable population.”

When the Pelton-Round Butte Dam was built, Oregonians were told that it would not impact salmon and steelhead runs. “The juvenile passage didn’t work or didn’t work efficiently,” Bartlett said.

The confusion of currents at the confluence of the three rivers, and the towering concrete dam combined to cut off passage of sockeye, Chinook and steelhead smolts. There hasn’t been any appreciable passage since 1964.

A joint project between Portland General Electric and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs has been under construction since the fall of 2007.

When the facility is operational, fish that migrate north from Lake Billy Chinook will be drawn (by selective water withdrawal) into an underwater structure then sorted by size to keep the smaller ones from being eaten. Next they will be piped into holding ponds, where they will be anesthetized and marked. After they recover, they get a 35-minute truck ride around the dams to be put back in the river.

Steelhead and spring Chinook are being raised in separate hatcheries for planting in the Metolius, Deschutes and Crooked rivers and their tributaries.

“One of the biggest issues is the disease issue. All of the fish are being raised in different disease-free facilities. And all of the fish will have a special mark on them. We’ll have to do a disease profile when they return as adults to make sure we don’t introduce disease to the upper rivers, Bartlett said.

In the Metolius system, fry are released in Whychus Creek, the Camp Sherman area and, “Everywhere else we know there is habitat,” Bartlett said.

Returning adults will be collected in a trap below the dam complex and be trucked upstream. Because of the stratification in Lake Billy Chinook, an adult release facility is being constructed. Adult fish will be released into a large vault with a pipe that directs them down into colder water. “The driver will turn on the pump, evacuate the warm water. The fish will swim down the pipe, exit out and continue upstream.”

Depending on their release site, the returning adults will swim up the Deschutes, Crooked* and Metolius arms.

Because of their life cycle, it is likely that steelhead would be the first to return to the river, completing upstream passage in the fall and winter of 2011 and 2012. “I would start looking for the Chinook in three years,” Bartlett said. “It’s exciting. It’s awesome. I love my job.”

* As of this writing, a fish ladder is being designed to move steelhead and salmon around the dam at Opal Springs on the Crooked River.
-Gary Lewis

Camp Sherman Area Stillwaters

Just off Highway 20, north of Mt. Washington, in Santiam Pass, Lost Lake is situated in an alpine setting of hemlock and fir trees. Fed by several small creeks, the water is clean and cold and supports a population of rainbows and wild brook trout. A shallow lake, it covers 50 surface acres. Deep potholes are the key to the best fishing.

Fifteen miles northwest of Sisters, Suttle Lake sits at the base of the Cascade Mountains in a basin surrounded by pines and white fir. At 250 acres, the lake is 75 feet at its deepest point. Kokanee, brown trout and whitefish are the main catch. Accessible from US Highway 20, the lake has a lodge and restaurant. Go to thesuttlelodge.com for more information.

Many high lakes are stocked by helicopter and provide good fishing into mid-October.
-Gary Lewis

Vital Statistics

Origin: Metolius Springs
Coordinates: 44.4276165 degrees N, 121.6353302 degrees W
Mouth: Lake Billy Chinook
Length: 28.6 miles
Source Elevation: 3,000 feet
Mouth Elevation: 1,945 feet
Designation: National Wild and Scenic River
Major Species: Rainbow trout, Bull trout, Kokanee, Whitefish
Minor Species: Brown trout
Base Camp: Camp Sherman
Contact: Metolius Recreation Association, www.metoliusriver.com

Wizard Falls Hatchery

Wizard Falls Hatchery was constructed in 1947. Funded from Federal sources and Oregon license sales, the facility incubates and rears Atlantic salmon, brook trout, cutthroat trout, kokanee, spring Chinook and rainbow for recreational fishing programs. For more information, click up:
www.dfw.state.or.us/fish/hatchery/ and select Wizard Falls Hatchery.

Some Thoughts on Hatches and Fly Selection

The Blue-Winged Olive mayfly is a year-round hatch on the Metolius. We like the Extended body BWO and Spotlight Emergers both in Nos. 18-20.

The October Caddis hatches September through October and again March through April. The No. 8 Dirty Bird or Anderson's BOP (bird of prey) are two good nymph patterns.

The Little Winter Stone hatch is best imitated with a No. 16-18 Hemingway Special.

The No. 14-16 Tan Caddis is a springtime hatch, best matched with an orange Elk Hair Caddis. The No. 8 Orange Tied-Down Caddis is a good bet in October.

Single egg flies are a good choice. Use the bright orange color with a tungsten bead. For added weight to a smaller fly, use a big stonefly nymph, an egg fly or a Gummy Stone.

For bull trout, use large leeches in the fall and winter. White, flesh, chinchilla, black and olive are good colors. The Clark's Rat has been a great pattern also. In late winter and early spring, you can catch bull trout on the No. 14-16 Flashback Pheasant Tail, Prince Nymph and others.

Small nymphs to use behind an October Caddis Nymph or Stone Nymph include the Rainbow Warrior, Copper John, Batman, Trina's Bubbleback Emerger in copper or red, and the Psycho Prince. All of these patterns in Nos. 18-20 in the fall and winter work great. When using these small flies as droppers, make sure that you use no more than 12 inches of tippet between your heavy lead fly and the dropper. The fish on the Metolius stay on the bottom and if the space between flies is too much, they will simply pass and wait for easier pickings.
-Roger White, Camp Sherman Store

Rainbow Redd Surveys

The river is regulated for fly-fishing and catch-and-release. For years, hatchery trout supplemented the catch, but stocking was discontinued in 1996 and the river is now managed for wild trout.

Rainbows spawn from about the middle of December to the end of April in the river and its tributaries.

Since the mid-90s, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has been studying spawning activity in the Metolius by counting redds between the headwaters and the mouth of Spring Creek. In 1995-'96, ODFW counted 141 spawning beds. By 1998-'99, there were 465 redds. The redd count spiked in the 2002-'03 season at almost 1200 beds and has stabilized, since 2006, at well over 900.