By MARK MORICAL | The Bulletin
SUNRIVER, Ore. (AP) — While crunching my boots through the stream-side snow, I spotted about four or five sizable rainbow trout in the crystal-clear river.
I cast out my pheasant tail nymph and delighted in the stillness of the sunny, crisp winter day on the Fall River.
Despite recent changes to the Fall River Fish Hatchery, southwest of Sunriver, the Fall River remains one of the few reliable streams to fish in Central Oregon through the cold-weather months.
Restricted to fly-angling with barbless hooks, the Fall River flows east for 8 miles from its headwaters before emptying into the Deschutes River. Along with the Deschutes, Crooked and Metolius rivers in Central Oregon, the Fall River remains fishable year-round.
The spring-fed river offers consistent flows and temperatures but is, naturally, decidedly cooler in the winter.
Fish will no longer be hatching at the Fall River Hatchery, as a result of changes by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, but the hatchery is not closing.
The ODFW will still raise rainbow trout there until they reach legal size (8 inches in length), according to Chip Dale, ODFW regional manager in Bend.
Perhaps more important to anglers, the agency will still allow fly-fishing along the stretch of the Fall River that flows by the hatchery.
Fish that previously would have been hatched at the Fall River site will be hatched at the Wizard Falls Hatchery, near Camp Sherman, and hauled to the Fall River Hatchery as they mature.
"Our production schedule is the same, we're just rearing the fish at Wizard Falls," said Erik Moberly, fisheries biologist for the ODFW in Bend. "We're moving more fish around, but it won't affect our annual production."
ODFW is making the changes to take advantage of improvements at Wizard Falls Hatchery and save on staffing costs.
The changes have not seemed to affect the fishing in any way, according to Bob Gaviglio, owner of the Sun- river Fly Shop and a frequent angler on the Fall River.
"At this stage, I don't think anybody's going to notice anything," Gaviglio said. "It's too early in the game. In the summer, they would put in 700 to 900 fish every few weeks, and we'll see how that all goes. We'll have to wait for their stocking program."
For now, fishing has been good, according to Gaviglio and other anglers. Aside from the Crooked River, the Fall River might be the most popular stream to fish during the Central Oregon winters. Rainbow and brown trout in the Fall River typically range from 10 to 15 inches, but can be as large as 4 to 6 pounds.
But wintertime anglers must exercise patience and fish during the warmest parts of the day, around 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., according to Gaviglio.
"People are out there doing all right," Gaviglio said. "There are still hatches going on in mostly blue wings and midges. Some guys nymph down with two-fly systems, even some woolly buggers trailing off eggs and stuff like that."
Fall River anglers typically catch more fish in the winter when nymphing (fishing with small, sinking flies), because trout will be more lethargic in cold water and less likely to swim to the surface to take a dry fly.
"In the offseason, you have to use some egg patterns and some San Juan (worms) as attractors," Gaviglio said, "and a heavier nymph like a peacock or hare's ear-type thing. Little streamers, like Rufus patterns, work really well there. You fish them like it's a heavy nymph, and you kind of feed line and get it under those undercuts. They've been doing well."
This time of year, anglers should go small with their flies, about size Nos. 18 or 20, Gaviglio noted.
The Fall River Fish Hatchery is probably the most popular stretch to fish during this time of year because it is so accessible — and rainbow trout are clearly visible in that calm, clear stretch of the stream.
The stretch just upstream from the falls has always been popular as well, according to Gaviglio. (The river is open to fishing downstream of the falls only from May 25 to Sept. 30 each year.) The stretch just above the falls is accessible off Forest Service Road 42 at milepost 10. The hatchery is located at milepost 12.
"Above the falls you won't get as giant a fish, but anywhere from 10 to 14 inches," Gaviglio said. "In the undercuts, like around the hatchery, you could get into something pretty good size."
Gaviglio recommended fishing in spots along the river with lots of cover: structures like logs or rocks, where trout feel safe because they cannot be seen. Such covered areas abound on the Fall River, including many downed pine trees that provide cover for the browns and rainbows.
I continued casting to the rainbows, running the nymph past them as they held there, clearly visible in the river near the hatchery.
As the afternoon sun rose above the ponderosa pines and warmed my face, the fish became more active and things started to heat up, so to speak.
For fly anglers, the Fall River can be a hot place on a cold day.
The original story can be found on The Bulletin's website: http://bit.ly/1btIV3V