Deschutes River w/ Renton River Adventures Destination Report by Max Salzburg

Max Salzburg July 10, 2024

The Deschutes River is Oregon’s best-known fly fishing fishing river, and for good reason. I recently got to experience this amazing Central Oregon gem with long-time guiding family and outfitters Renton River Adventures.

The Deschutes River is a desert oasis that drains much of the east side of the Cascade Range on its way north to its confluence with the Columbia River. The river below Lake Billy Chinook flows through a massive desert canyon with abundant wildlife, and an exceptional rainbow trout fishery. May and early June are famous for the renowned salmonfly hatch, but it is also a great time to fish with golden stoneflies, green drakes, and PMDs. I was incredibly lucky to get on the trip, as a group of longtime guests had given up their week during prime salmonfly time, and I got to join five other anglers on a 3 night/4 day float through the Wild and Scenic stretch of the Lower Deschutes.

I traveled to Madras, Oregon, where I overnighted at a local hotel before meeting the guides at the Trout Creek put-in, approximately 20 minutes north of Madras. Once at the boat ramp, we were greeted by the Rentons of Renton River Adventures, packed our gear into dry bags, put on our waders, and headed out for a full day of floating and fishing. The float trip would take us from Trout Creek to Harpham Flat.

This trip is so much more than simply a fishing trip. It’s a whitewater adventure, a wilderness immersion, a trip with challenging wading, strong fish, awesome campsites, and a level of comfort most certainly do not expect on a "camping" trip.

During the salmonfly hatch, the larger fish in the system tend to hang out under trees, waiting for insects to fall into the river, so most of the fishing is done by casting under trees and in runs close to the bank. Additionally, the Deschutes is unique in that no fishing is allowed from boats, creating vast sanctuary regions within the river to help sustain a world-class fishery. It’s important to be able to “bow and arrow” cast as well as cast side arm under the trees and bushes to have success. The fishing is done in such close quarters and the drifts are so short that anglers have very little time to get their line under control. Making the cast, getting the line shuttled, and then being ready to set when the fish strikes is a true challenge. The wading is tough, and the fish are really strong and feisty once hooked. In this setting it’s rewarding when it all comes together.

Some cold and windy days made the bugs a bit less active than they normally would be under ideal conditions, but we all had many opportunities and lots of action each day. Raising 10-15 fish per person daily was common, with the largest rainbows pushing 18 inches. Like most good fishing trips, the best fish were often too hot to handle and earned their freedom earlier than our anglers might have liked.

The Renton family runs a tight ship. When fishing with their crew, it is easy to see their passion for the river, its ecology, and the fish. After just a few hours in the boat, it becomes apparent why David and Dillon Renton are some of the most sought-after guides in Oregon. They are safe, casual, great teachers, patient, and kind people whose love for Oregon and the Deschutes River is infectious.

I mainly fished a 6-weight Sage R8 Core, with a 6-weight RIO Bank Robber line. The rod and reel combination was great for turning over larger flies and also fantastic for fishing some of the more standard runs with a hopper dropper or dry fly setup. For fun and out of curiosity, I also fished my six-year-old son's 5-weight Redington Youth Minnow rod with a 6-weight RIO Grand line. Interestingly, it proved a great rod and reel combination for the application. The 8-foot rod was ideal for the tightest spots with very little room for casting. The overweight RIO Grand line put the fly where I needed it with little, or non-existent casting room.

The Renton River Adventures camp program is incredibly dialed in and comfortable. Guests sleep two per tent in new canvas spike tents. Each tent has two cots, a camp table, a solar light, and two chars. I appreciated having a tent with a high ceiling for getting dressed in the mornings. At night, I pulled my cot out of the tent every night and slept under the stars with just my sleeping bag and pad. That is by far my favorite way to sleep, and I highly recommend it to anyone on this trip.

The camp meals were nothing short of amazing. Debbie Renton has over thirty years of experience planning backcountry menus, and what she pulls off is second to none. With meals consisting of halibut, steak, chicken, and hearty lunches, we were well-fed every day.

Fishing the Deschutes is an experience that every serious trout angler should have at least once. For many anglers, the magic of the full experience brings them back year after year. The river is amazing, and the native red-side trout that inhabit it are strong and sturdy. Hooking into the big ones will take even the most experienced anglers for a ride, putting their tackle and technique to the test.

The river fishes well for trout from May through October. One of the unique aspects of the Deschutes is that western trout anglers can get an early start on their season by visiting the river in May or even early April, or they can extend their season by visiting the river in October. The fall season can be a bit of a secret for trout fishing. The pressure on the river greatly decreases, and the fish that were 16 inches in May are now 18 inches and in superb condition.

Overall, the trip was everything I had hoped it would be: full of great company, beautiful scenery, interesting whitewater, comfortable riverside camps, and world-class guiding and fishing. I highly recommend the experience to any trout angler of any expertise level. It is that special of a trip.

Deschutes River Float Trip w/ Renton River Adventures

There is good reason that the Deschutes is Oregon’s best-known river. The Deschutes is a desert oasis rife with wild resident rainbows, hearty sea-run steelhead, countless rapids, and stunning scenery.

Max Salzburg - Western Trout Destinations Manager

Click below to find out more about Renton River Adventures and the Deschutes River by contacting our Western Trout Destinations Manager Max Salzburg.