If your ideal image of trout fishing involves standing in pristine waters surrounded by towering conifers while you cast flies to wily native trout, why aren’t you wading in the Metolius River right now?
Central Oregon’s incredible Metolius River springs fully formed out of the ground near Camp Sherman in ponderosa pine forests and immediately transforms into the stuff trout-fishing dreams are made of.
Well, dreams if you don’t mind a challenge: “The Met” isn’t the easiest place to catch a trout. That’s because every trout in this large spring creek is wild (despite the hatchery here, stocking in the river itself was discontinued long ago), and the big natives aren’t easily fooled. This also isn’t the place to show up expecting to catch a fish dinner, as it’s strictly catch-and-release for all trout.
Redband trout are the most populous gamefish here during the warmer months, when many anglers visit the Metolius. These beautiful native rainbow trout aren’t always big but do grow to very nice size and put up a wild and often acrobatic fight.
The other gamefish that brings anglers here are bull trout, a native char that has fared poorly in many places in Oregon but still holds strong in the Metolius. It’s one of very few places in Oregon where anglers can purposely fish for these sometimes-giant specimens, which can reach well into double-digit weights and must be released unharmed. (The Metolius, along with the Deschutes River and Crooked River, feeds into Lake Billy Chinook, the only place in Oregon where anglers can legally keep a bull trout.)
While some bull trout are in the river any given month, some additional big bulls tend to come up from Lake Billy Chinook during the colder months. They gorge on kokanee (land-locked sockeye salmon) that head up the river from the reservoir to spawn. And the big bulls also spawn in the river themselves. To be sure it’s a cold time of year on the Metolius, so be prepared … but the giant trout can warm and angler’s heart.
If you want to fish for the kokanee, do it down in the year-round reservoir, where these pan-sized salmon are in better condition and you can keep enough for dinner. See our article about Lake Billy Chinook kokanee fishing for some expert advice.
You may also catch an occasional non-native brown trout in the Metolius, but these are more common in the middle Deschutes River above Lake Billy Chinook, and a modest number are in the reservoir itself.
You cannot use any bait anywhere on the Metolius. In fact, the long stretch of river above Bridge 99 (near Lower Bridge Campground) is only open to fly fishing with barbless hooks. The lower dozen or so river miles from Bridge 99 downstream to the cable car crossing near the reservoir is open to using both artificial lures and flies.
Also note that the upper river above Allingham Bridge, just downstream from the popular Camp Sherman community, is open seasonally, beginning in late May and running through October, while the rest of the river below Allingham is open all year.
Check ODFW’s website for regulation updates.
There can be insect hatches any time of year on the Metolius, which always runs cool as a large spring creek. Late spring hatches of mayflies and the summer and early fall hatches of stoneflies popular ones to match for anglers. Bull trout anglers often use large streamers or other large offerings to attract these fish-gobbling char.
Bank access is quite good on the Metolius, but do know that no fishing is allowed from a floating craft. Much of the river would be too treacherous for boating anyway, so best stick to the bank and be cautious if you wade the cold waters.
There are lots of campgrounds along the river, especially common along the upper mainstem and a few closer to (and at) Lake Billy Chinook. There also are lots of cabins and other lodging options, especially around growing Camp Sherman, where you’ll also find a couple restaurants, a store and a few other amenities. Sisters is only 15 miles from Camp Sherman on good roads, if you need more.