Fly Fishing on the Keno Reach with Gary Lewis
Gary Lewis is the host of Adventure Journal and author of John Nosler – Going Ballistic, Black Bear Hunting, Hunting Oregon and other titles. Chase rainbows on the Upper Klamath with Gary in his latest adventure.
In the six-mile stretch below Keno Dam, the water is stained with the proteins of the big lake. But the same water that keeps bugs on the surface safe, protects fish from ospreys and packs pounds on the rainbow trout.
I first fished the Keno Reach of the Upper Klamath River in 1999. Since that October day, I expect big fish and always seem to hook one. Maybe I’ll actually land one of the big ones someday.
The last time I was on the Upper Klamath, it was with Roe Outfitters. I spent the night at the Running Y Ranch, west of Klamath Falls. We hit the river at 9:30 in the morning. It was the last day of May and the water was big.
Clouds of caddis and a multitude of mayflies crowded the sky. At the waterline, three-inch stoneflies clung to boulders, swept there on the current by the thousands.
The first impulse might be to tie on a dry, but these fish feed almost exclusively below the surface. It’s not a river for light tackle. I used my 6-weight with a 0X tippet to the point fly, a large golden stonefly nymph with a No. 14 rubber-legged Spitfire on a 2X dropper.
We pushed off and let the current take the raft. The first slot was a riffle above a bend in the river.
When the indicator stabbed crosscurrent, I set the hook into a big rainbow. He showed me his flanks in the whiskey-colored water before he threw the hook. Darren lifted his eyebrows as if to say, ‘I wouldn’t have lost that one.’
Downstream, I tried to redeem that fish with a 12-incher and then felt better about it with a two-pounder. Darren, in the back of the boat, saw his indicator jab toward the middle of the river and set the hook. It was five minutes later when he brought a five-pound rainbow to hand. These were great fish, but by no means uncommon on this stretch of river that holds resident rainbows as big as steelhead. Darren’s biggest to the boat in this section, he estimated at 11 pounds.
Two days later I was back on the river with Roe Outfitters and Brent McLean from the Running Y Ranch. Coming out of a patch of whitewater, adult salmonflies and golden stones buzzed us like helicopters.
In the spring, the warming water moves the salmonflies and golden stones toward the shore. Beneath the surface, the nymphs crawl out of the swift water – easy targets for hungry trout.
The Keno Reach closes mid-June and opens again in October. This is rich water that grows trout fast. In fact, the rainbows run larger than when I first fished the river 14 years ago. Going in on your own, plan to fish the Keno Reach from the bank. If you want to run it in a raft, go with a guide. The boulders of the Upper Klamath have claimed their share of boats.