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Trip Report: John Day River, OR

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Eric Adema Reports on 11.5.2015

Last week I had the opportunity to join Western Rivers Conservancy (WRC) on a four night rafting trip in search of summer steelhead on the John Day River. The JDR is a stunningly beautiful river that runs from South to North in Eastern Oregon, where it ultimately adjoins the Columbia about 15 miles upriver from the Deschutes. We put at 30 Mile Creek, which is an important colder water tributary located on the 8,000 acre property that WRC recently acquired to help augment the adjoining Wilderness Study Area.

The truth is fishing was tough, very tough. Six adept anglers spent over four days swinging for steelhead, and we were blanked. Evidence of the western drought was obvious here, where this high desert stream’s flows were about 40% lower than normal.  While there were some reports of fish in the lower river down by Rock Creek, it seemed clear that they were unable to migrate beyond Cottonwood State Park and further upstream.

Thankfully, the river is loaded with Smallmouth Bass, and they provided endless action, keeping everyone engaged in the fishing. In fact, there are many folks that plan their summer vacations around rafting the JDR for Smallmouths, and I can tell you firsthand that it’s a blast! While we expect that the coming rains of El Nino will likely open the upper river for migrating steelhead, it does highlight the importance of instream flows and the work that WRC has done to preserve the essential cold water tributaries of these rivers.’

The expedition also provided the opportunity to field test the beautiful Burkheimer 12’8” 6 weight spey rod that Kerry let us demo for the trip! It is a truly lovely rod to cast. I tried it with a 390 grain Rio Scandi line and a 12 foot poly leader, and then a 425 gr. Rio Skagit with an intermediate tip. It handled both masterfully! The guides and other participants on the trip all agreed – it casts precisely as you wish a light spey rod would! George will be placing a new order with Burkheimer next week, so let him know ASAP if you would like him to reserve one for you!

Anyway, it was a wonderful trip, and I would encourage anyone who is intrigued to touch base with George about availability on either the John Day River or Deschutes River for next year! In the meantime, here are a few images from this special place…

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