Hunting Trout in the Trees

By Scott Richmond

We fly anglers will go to great lengths to catch a good trout: drive long distances, hike grizzly-invested trails, wade dangerous currents. But would you climb a tree?

Caddis Time on the Deschutes

I recently spent a day fishing with Chris O'Donnell on the Deschutes. Chris is a full-time fly fishing guide on the Deschutes and the Oregon coast, but this was just a two-guys-fishing trip in mid-July. It was the height of the caddis season, and trout were hanging out near the riverbanks and under overhanging alder branches.

Our first stop was a backeddy I knew well, one of my favorites on the river. One of the things I knew about this spot was that the biggest fish moved into the shade and overhead cover of the big alder that overhung the river at the head of the backeddy. I also knew that you couldn't cast a fly up there without hanging up in the alder branches or scaring the bejabbers out of the trout, or both.

Instead of wading in and casting from the river, through, Chris approached from the shore. We hiked up above, then moved into the alders. "Move really slow," Chris said. "No sudden moves. Keep your hands hidden as much as possible. If they see the flash of your hands, they'll spook."

"Really?" I said. "Just from your hands?

"Yours more than mine. Mine are tanned and dark. Yours are a lot whiter." We moved into the tree, next to the trunk. "Don't push on any branches," Chris said. "You don't want them to see the branches move." He was talking in a whisper. "They don't hear you," he said, "but if you talk quietly, then you'll move quietly. It's all about stealth and being sneaky."

Down in the water I could see a couple of dark shadows moving casually just below the surface: nice trout. Occasionally they'd sip a caddis off the surface. The fish were confident in their deep cover; they'd seen a lot of anglers in the last two months and this was a perfect midday hiding/eating place for them.

We watched the fish for awhile, to learn their feeding rhythm. Then Chris set up for a bow-and-arrow cast. He had about one foot of line past the rod tip, plus the ten-foot leader. He grabbed the fly in his left hand and pulled it back while his right hand thrust the rod forward. The rod tip bent like a bow. "Don't point the rod tip right at the water," Chris said.

"Otherwise when it releases it will spring down and hit the water. Then it's bye-bye trout. You only get one shot. If you fail, the fish will spook and be gone."

The fish moved into a good position and Chris released. The rod unbent and propelled the fly to the water, where it landed gently about a foot from the trout. The fish turned toward the fly, took it in, and moved on--immediately hooking itself. Then all hell broke loose.

Chris dropped down from the tree, threaded his rod through several branches, and played the fish from a better vantage point. When you fish like this, you need an exit strategy.

It's Not About Numbers

And that's how it went for the rest of the day: hunting trout in the trees. And needless to say, some became aware of us and spooked before we could put a fly in their path.

This isn't a high-numbers game, but when the sun is high and the caddis are out, it's a fun way to fish.

For more, listen to the audio interview below; it's in MP3 format.

Scott Richmond is Westfly's creator and Executive Director. He is the author of eight books on Oregon fly fishing, including Fishing Oregon's Deschutes River (second edition).