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Going Walkabout: The Chewaucan River is a gem in Oregon’s Outback country 

Venturing in the Outback of Central Oregon to the Chewaucan River, the ideal spot for fly fishing.

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It’s easy to miss the Fisher King’s fly shop in the postage stamp-sized town of Paisley just beyond Summer Lake.

The small shop is tucked into the corner of a self-storage business on the side of Highway 31 in the heart of the Oregon Outback. In fact, I blew right past it on my way to Lakeview, turning around only after I thought better of trying to navigate the back roads of the Winema-Freemont forest without the benefit of local knowledge. So I whipped a U-turn just outside of Paisley and backtracked.

I’m glad I did.

I walked into the shop mid-morning on a recent Thursday to find proprietor Larry Duckworth minding the shop while listening to his FM radio and thumbing a cigarette, which he appeared to be in no great hurry to light. Duckworth, with his sun-creased skin, well-worn denim and cowboy hat atop his head looks more ready for a round-up than a river trip, but don’t be fooled. When it comes to fishing around the Paisley area, he’s the real deal.

He quickly disabused me of my plans to hike down into the Ana River, a short but relatively well-known stream that flows from the base of the Winter Ridge to Summer Lake and is known to hold some trophy-sized trout. Instead, Duckworth pointed me to the Chewaucan River, a spring-fed mountain stream that flows out of the Freemont forest through town before meandering across the rangelands north of the highway.

I’ve done a good deal of fly fishing around Central Oregon, but the Outback was new territory for me and I certainly benefited from the local knowledge. Unlike the Ana, which is stocked by state fish managers, the Chewaucan is managed as a native fishery, with stock having been curtailed roughly a decade ago. Since then, it’s become a primarily fly fishing destination that produces consistent year-round fishing for the Paisley area.

Heeding Duckworth’s advice, I headed up Mill Creek Road, past the old namesake sawmill and into the Freemont forest. What I discovered after a few minutes and a few miles is a gem of a river that barges down from the high country in a series of tightly bunched drops through a narrow canyon above town. It’s classic pocket water, the kind to which seasoned Western anglers are accustomed.

There’s plenty of access as the road parallels the river for more than eight miles above town, running largely through public lands. For those looking to make a night, or a weekend of it, there is plenty of streamside camping along the canyon route.

While I only had an hour or so of light left, the Chewaucan delivered. Duckworth had advised I forego dry flies in favor of a dead drifted stonefly nymph, a pattern that he said had been producing as of late, even though the stonefly hatch was all but totally over on my home rivers.

Here on the Chewaucan, however, the resident rainbows moved willingly to the stonefly, particularly in the higher stretches of the canyon where a less severe gradient seemed to offer larger fish a respite.

While the stonefly patterns remain effective through the end of June, Duckworth said that other hatches including blue winged olives would soon be in play, offering better opportunities to hook a Chewaucan rainbow on a dry fly. Still, says Duckworth, you can’t go wrong with a good nymph setup any time on the river.

“These fish are probably 90 percent nymph feeders. We see some [dry fly] action in July and a little in August, and that’s fun. But if you want to consistently catch fish, you never put away your nymphs,” said Duckworth.

If you’re in the neighborhood of the Fisher King and looking for some local knowledge, you can find the semi-retired Duckworth in the shop from Wednesday to Saturday between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Teeing It Forward

Despite its popularity locally, golf is often derided as either a rich man’s sport or an old man’s game. While such characterizations are little more than stereotyping, often offered up by those with the least knowledge of the game, course owners and the United State Golf Association have taken notice of a seeming decline in interest as of late, particularly from younger players.

Around here, some course owners are taking steps to address the issue.

Widgi Creek rolled out a new set of “forward” tees this week that are designed to make the game more accessible to older players, women and kids. The tees, which the club has dubbed “green” tees, are set up at about 3,800 yards, or a little more than half the length of the course from the back tees that are designed for low handicappers (i.e. those players who consistently shoot around par).

“This is new for us, but pretty exciting. It’s going to be a great opportunity for kids, but even more so for beginners and short hitters,” said Widgi’s Director of Golf Dan Ostrin.

In addition to making the game more fun for less skilled and less experienced players, forward tees also have the effect of addressing slow play, something that plagues many courses and contributes to the overall decline in interest in the game.

“For those that have come out in the past and played white tees or gold tees and struggled to get around, making sevens, eights and nines, this will give them the opportunity to make fours, fives and sixes. And if you hit it less times you play faster,” Ostrin said.

There’s also the matter of money.

Widgi is offering $10 off their greens fees for anyone who tees it up from the “greens.” Kids can now play for $15, making for a not-unreasonable family outing.

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