Lessons In Fly Fishing: Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery

Metolius River

“A trout is a moment of beauty known only to those who seek it.”

—Arnold Gingrich (1903-1976)

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Each spring, we enjoy fly fishing in central Oregon, and one of our favorite places is the Metolius River.  Our trip was planned as usual, but this time it would be a little different.  Chris had signed up as a volunteer instructor with the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) for their Annual Outdoor Skills Education Workshop for Beginning Fly Fishers.  The workshop was being held at Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery along the Metolius River; a one-day event with workshops in “Entomology,” “Reading the Water,” “Casting,” and “Knot Tying.”   

Camp Sherman Store
Metolius River Lodges—The Cabins

We arrived in Camp Sherman (about 15 miles northwest of Sisters) the day before the event.  Once settled into our cabin, a 1919 vintage cabin on the banks of the Metolius, we met with Mark and Darlene of ODWF, and the other volunteer instructors at the hatchery for a briefing.  Everyone was very kind, and made us newbies feel right at home. 

Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery

That evening, back at our cabin, the wind blew all night.  In the morning, the wind was still blowing, and the air felt like ice.  Dressed in layers, and hats and gloves, we met Mark, Darlene, and the volunteers at the hatchery near the Settlement Pond at 8:00.  Participants wouldn’t arrive until 9:00.  Throughout the compound, pine trees swayed in a sharp wind, their needles rubbing together, sounded like broom bristles.  The air smelled pleasingly sweet of pinewood that supplied the fuel for the morning’s campfire that warmed us as we enjoyed lively conversation over steaming cups of coffee.

Warming up around the morning campfire

Participants arrived on schedule.  Once checked-in and receiving ID tags, Mark called for instructors, and assigned participants to their workshops.  Each workshop would be approximately fifty minutes (there would be a lunch break) and then participants would rotate to the next workshop, until everyone received a lesson from each workshop. 

Participants checking in

Participants learned basic “Entomology” about common insects a trout eats, and how to match insect hatches.  “Reading the Water” introduced them to trout habitat, and where fish most likely occur.  In “Casting,” four techniques were practiced—roll casts, up and over casts, overhand casts, and mending.  In “Knot Tying,” participants learned two basic types—the Double Surgeon Knot, and Improved Clinch Knot.  

Jessica giving lessons in “Entomology”
Steve and participants “Reading the Water”
Ilene, Sheryl, and Dee Dee instruct “Casting”
Chris and Rodger demonstrating “Knot Tying”

With the workshops completed, it was time to catch trout.  Mark and Darlene loaned each participant a fly rod—Temple Fork Outfitters, 9-foot/5-weights with green floating weight forward line with tapered leader, and 6-pound tippet.  There was much excitement for many had never picked up a fly rod until now.

Participants eagerly gathered around the Settlement Pond (the water that holds the big trout) tied a fly of their choice, and began casting their lines like bullwhips.  It was up to the instructors to make sure that every participant would catch a trout.  It was also up to the instructors to net and release the trout, answer any questions, and at times, demonstrate casting techniques.

The Settlement Pond
Fish on!
Releasing trout is not always a graceful task

While attempts were clumsy, none were without passion, and trout were caught.  The average weighed eight pounds; none weighed less than seven.  All in good fun, people cheered, and people laughed.  Some asked where the nearest fly shop was located so they could indulge their passion right away.  One gentleman was so motivated that he talked of creating a fishing app.

Adding to the excitement, a bald eagle surprised everyone when it came gliding over the treetops.  Looking as big as a seaplane trying to land in a puddle, the great bird made a low pass, and then with a flap of its wings, ascended to the top of a pine tree to watch the action.  According to ODFW, the eagle was waiting for a salmon carcass, which is sometimes offered to the resident eagles. 

Every participant caught a trout, and while no one wanted the fishing to end, especially with trout still willing to be caught, it was time to stop for the day.  Participants spoke of the fun they had had.  They left with smiles, and with lessons learned, but most of all, they left feeling that special magic that comes when a trout takes a fly.  After all, that’s what fishing is all about—having fun! 

Days End
ODFW and Instructors line up for a final photo

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About Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery:  Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery was built in 1947, and comprises thirty-five acres. The hatchery was named for Wizard Falls (formerly “Fairy Falls”)—a twelve-foot, spring-fed waterfall located along the west bank of the river.  Legend has it that Wizard Falls got its name because it is said that if one stood on the east bank and looked across the river at the falls, they would see a “wizards cap.”  When the hatchery was completed in 1948, the falls disappeared because the creek that fed the falls was drawn to fill the hatchery rearing ponds.

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About the Metolius River:  The Metolius River is no secret.  Just fifteen miles north of Sisters, it is a favorite place among campers, hikers, and fly fishers.  In a beautiful pine-cedar-fir forest setting, the Metolius with its sparkling water reflects colors of bronze, emerald, and sapphire, is home to rainbow trout, bull trout, brown trout, brook trout, mountain whitefish, and Kokanee salmon.  The Metolius is twenty-nine miles from beginning to end, and is the largest spring-fed river in the United States.  An “Outstanding Natural Area,” the Metolius was designated a National Wild and Scenic River in 1988.  For Native Americans, it is a sacred place.  The word Metolius is an Indian word that means “Whitefish,” “Spawning Salmon” or “Stinking Water.”

At the Head of the Metolius, from the base of Black Butte (an extinct volcano 6,436 feet above sea level) are the Metolius Springs: Metolius, Cold, and Heising springs.  It is from here that the Metolius begins its journey north.  Because it is spring-fed, the water temperature is 48 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. 

The first 11.6 miles of river is easily accessible to camping, hiking, and fly-fishing.  Beyond this reach, the Metolius presses north picking up dozens of small tributaries along the way.  Upon reaching Candle Creek, a primitive camp, the Metolius pours into a narrow gorge that divides the Warm Springs Indian Reservation along the rivers west bank, and Green Ridge along the rivers east bank.  A rugged foot trail follows the east bank.  It is along this reach, the river bends and straightens repeatedly; its waters tighten and bulge forming some Class III and IV rapids and waterfalls.  Finally, the river bends eastward around the Horn of the Metolius, to its confluence at Lake Billy Chinook.

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Copyright 2012.  All Rights Reserved.

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🌿For more information, about ODFW Outdoor Skills Education Workshops and other programs visit:  http://www.dfw.state.or.us/education/outdoor_skills/workshops/

🌿Camp Sherman Store & Fly Shop:  http://www.campshermanstore.com 

🌿Lodging:  http://www.lakecreeklodge.com & http://www.metoliusriverlodges.com

🌿Eatery:  http://www.kokaneecafe.com

🌿USDA/US Forest Service Metolius River camping and fishing information:  http://tinyurl.com/9sfe2kd

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