Summer steelhead return to the lower Deschutes River beginning in July, and are present into December. Hundreds of fishermen return to the river during this time as well, most of them accessing the river at its junction with the Columbia River just 100 miles from Portland, Oregon.
The Deschutes River in Oregon
From Pelton Dam in central Oregon, the Deschutes flows north for 100 miles to its mouth at the Columbia River. The mouth is a few miles east of The Dalles, and just about 100 miles from downtown Portland on Interstate 80. A State Park campground is on the east side, and Heritage Landing, a boat ramp, is on the west side.
Private and guided jet boats enter the river at Heritage Landing, fishing the river upstream, and fishermen and guides with drift boats or rafts float the river downstream from Mack’s Canyon, almost 25 miles up river. For fishermen without a boat, access to the lower section of river is limited to a 3 mile trail on the west side and a 15 mile trail along the east side.
A Burlington Northern rail line runs along the west side as well, but the track bed is narrow and not a safe fishing route. The east trail, on the other hand, is wide and relatively level for about 15 miles, and it accommodates bicycles. Consequently, fishermen with bicycles can access a significant stretch of the river, although only from the eastern side. There is one other alternative for boatless fishermen wanting to access the west side: Kloan road.
Kloan Road Access to the Lower Deschutes River
Kloan road is a narrow dirt, rock and gravel road that drops 1,000 feet into Allen Canyon, ending at a point about 7 miles from the mouth. There is room at the end of the road to park several cars, but there are no designated campsites or facilities. The one mile drop to the river is single-lane, at best. The west side of the road is carved into a rock wall, and the river side is precipitous. Loose rock and gravel cover this part of the road, and if it rains, these rocks turn extremely slippery and hazardous.
Driving this road demands a high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle with 4-wheel drive low and the skill to use it. There are no pull-outs during the final one mile descent, and no room to pass another vehicle. If a driver going down meets one coming up, one of the two will have to back up. Driving this stretch in forward gear is a white knuckle adventure. Doing it in reverse is something to avoid. If you are about to drive down this stretch, scan the road to see if anyone is coming up. You cannot see the entire length to the river, so listen as well, and honk your horn several times before you begin the drive down. Repeat these precautionary steps before returning up the road. Don’t try it in either direction if the surface is wet.
Fishing the Lower Deschutes River From the Kloan Road Access
There are 3 good fishing spots within 1 mile of the bottom of Kloan road. The closest, and possibly the best, is downstream about a quarter mile to a wide section of river above mile 6. This is just above the overhead power lines, which cross the river where it makes a sharp turn into Gordon Rapids. This wide section of river is shallow near the west shore, so wade into the river to thigh depth before casting. This is good water for both spin and fly fishermen.
The other 2 sites require walking south along the railroad tracks. Stay as far from the tracks as possible, since trains are frequent. There is one obvious fishing spot down a talus slope in less than a half mile, but it is not easy scrambling down the rock. A far better spot is one mile from the road’s end, just above the river’s newest rapids. There is a closed road that drops to the river above the rapids, and fishermen can follow the rock fall on an easy descent to the river.
A quarter mile sandy shoreline above the rapids is an excellent place to fish, especially with spinners. This entire stretch produces good fish, all the way to the rapids at the top of the run. Although steelhead can be caught in all three of these spots, the limited opportunities may not be worth the risks of driving Kloan road. Bicyclists, for example, can easily fish ten times as much water on the river’s other side, with far less risk.
Getting to Kloan Road on the Lower Deschutes
Kloan road is accessed from The Dalles. Take exit 87 from Interstate 84. Head uphill past The Inn at the Dalles and turn right onto Fifteen Mile road. This road leads east, paralleling the Columbia River. Bear left at a fork 3 miles from US 197, and pass through Petersburg School in another half mile. At about 8.5 miles continue through Fairbanks, and at 12.5 miles, turn left on Fulton road. Turn right at a fork in about 1.5 miles.
You reach Allen Canyon in a little more than 2 miles. There is a gate across the road, which is not locked, but which should be left closed. It’s only a one mile walk to the river from here, in case you have second thoughts about driving it.
The Kloan Road Alternative to Boats and Bikes
For those fishermen who don’t have a boat and who want to fish the west side without walking 7 miles, Kloan road is an option. Kloan road is not a great option, since it is dangerous and doesn’t provide more than 3 good places to fish. It might not produce any fish, but for fishermen with high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicles, it’s a sure thrill.
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