John Day River

The John Day River is a tributary of the Columbia River, approximately 281 miles long, in northeastern Oregon in the United States. Undammed along its entire length, the river is the third longest free-flowing river in the conterminous United States. There is extensive use of its waters for irrigation. Its free-flowing course furnishes habitat for diverse species, including wild steelhead runs. However, the steelhead populations are under federal endangered species protections, and chinook salmon have been proposed for ESA protection.

The river was named for John Day, a member of the Astor Expedition, an overland expedition to the mouth of the Columbia River that left from St. Louis, Missouri in 1810. Day wandered lost through this part of Oregon in the winter of 1811–12.

The John Day River passing by Sheep Rock in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument through its tributaries, the river drains much of the western side of the Blue Mountains, flowing across the sparsely populated arid part of the state east of the Cascade Range in a northwest zigzag, then entering the Columbia upstream from the Columbia River Gorge. It flows through exceptionally scenic canyons in its upper course, with several significant paleontological sites along its banks.

The John Day River In Central Oregon Offers Some Of The Best Fishing, Hunting & Camping You Will Find Anywhere in the Northwest.

The main branch of the John Day River rises in the Strawberry Mountains in eastern Grant County, and the four main forks each have their heads in different parts of the Malheur National Forest. The main fork flows initially north, then west through the John Day Valley and through the city of John Day. At Dayville in western Grant County it is joined from the south by the South Fork John Day River, then flows north through Picture Gorge and past the Sheep Rock Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.


Mouth of the John Day River on the Columbia, spanned by a railroad bridge. The John Day is navigable by rafts and other small river craft. Its lower course is used for irrigation of cropland and ranching. In 1988, the United States Congress designated 147.5 miles (237.4 km) of the river from Service Creek to Tumwater Falls as the John Day Wild and Scenic River, as part of the National Wild and Scenic River program. The segment of the river is a popular destination for anadromous steelhead and warm water bass fishing, as well as whitewater rafting.

In addition to wild spring Chinook salmon and bass, the river furnishes habitat for redband trout, bull trout, and westslope cutthroat trout. There are no hatchery salmon or steelhead released in the John Day River.

Big Fish Guide Service

Big Fish Guide Service offers full day fishing trips on the Columbia River for Salmon, Steelhead and Sturgeon, Fall Chinook, Spring Salmon, Kings and Coho in the Portland area and popular nearby rivers up to John Day dam. While on a spectacular fishing experience with Big Fish Guide Service, you will enjoy the comfort of our 20' Alumaweld Super Vee boat, powered with a 125 H.P. Mercury outboard which safely accommodates 2 to 4 passengers. From just east of Portland, Oregon, on the Columbia River, upriver to John Day Dam and no matter what you are after, the search for Chinook salmon or the fight of monster Sturgeon, whatever your adventure is, it will sure be an unforgettable experience.

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Mid Columbia River Guide Service featuring full-time fishing guide Elmer Hill. Specializing in Trophy species such as Walleye, Spring & Fall King Salmon, Keeper & Oversize Sturgeon, B run Steelhead and Shad in areas from Bonneville Dam and surrounding areas upstream in the Columbia River to Tri Cities Washington "Hanford Reach" Including Snake River Fishery. 30 years experience will insure you have a comfortable and safe trip.
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At Kimberly in northwestern Grant County, it is joined from the east by the North Fork John Day River (which had already joined with the Middle Fork John Day River above Monument, Grant County, Oregon). The river then flows west across Wheeler County. At the county line with Jefferson County it flows north, past the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. As it approaches the Columbia River in north-central Oregon it flows in an increasingly meandering course, forming the boundary between Sherman County to the west and Gilliam County to the east.

It joins the Columbia from the southeast approximately 16 miles (26 km) northeast of Biggs. The mouth of the river is on the narrow Lake Umatilla reservoir, formed on the Columbia by the John Day Dam, approximately 2 miles (3.2 km) downstream from the mouth of the John Day.

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How To Catch Steelhead

After a number of years and countless hours casting flies to the emerald green waters of The Deschutes in search of its Steelhead, I have determined that there are two factors that far outweigh all others in importance to consistent angling success. They are location and time of day. Of course there are no guarantees in Steelheading. However, if you can place yourself in a productive run at the magical hours of first and last light, your chances of raising a fish to the fly are greatly enhanced.

The Deschutes Steelhead readily rise to the standard Steelhead fly patterns such as Skunks, Brad's Brat, and Purple Peril to name just a few. Whether it is juvenile imprinting or territorial aggression, these fish will rise like their Redside cousin to the neatly swung wet fly tethered to the floating line.

John Day River Fishing Guides

My favorite runs in August and September for fly fishing are located in the unroaded section of the lower river between Beavertail campground and Rattlesnake rapids near the mouth. Most are 4 to 8 feet deep with submerged fingers of basalt dominating the bottoms features. These runs are no secret among the rivers top guides, so a timely arrival is key in securing the location. Setting up camp assures solitary fishing during the evening and morning hours.

We arrived at one of these runs around 2:00 PM, set the camp and waited in the shade of a nearby alder tree. As the canyons shade covered the water, I stepped into the run at my standard location, well above the sweet spot that had in previous years produced the majority of fish. As I moved down river with every cast, the finger of basalt became more familiar beneath my feet. The small depression in the otherwise flat basalt meant I had arrived at the sweet spot in the run. I stripped off 60 feet of line and cast it to the small patch of chop, near the head of a glassy section of water. The mirror smooth surface of the water hid several conflicting currents, which required close attention to the drift. Methodically, I responded to the lead of the rivers current, mend, swing, mend again, then gently with the rod tip, led the fly through to the bank.

It felt like a small trout nipping at my fly. A touch so light I could dismiss it as nothing of importance. I cast again and replayed the drift of the fly as before. As the belly formed for the last of the drift, I saw a boil near the end of my line and set the hook. The instincts from dry fly fishing for trout has no place in Steelhead fishing and the fish was gone. I knew my error was lifting the rod on the rise. The fish would not come again to this fly. I stripped in the line careful not to change its length or my location in the run. Opening my fly box, I noticed a fly of my own design, a size smaller and slimmer than the previous fully dressed purple peril. The first cast with the new fly produced three rises. I felt nothing on the first two, however the third rise produced a stopping of the fly line. I waited for the steady pull of the fish turning back to its lair, then came my strike and the fish was on! Two more fish rose and were hooked to the new fly. After each fish was played out and released, I moved back up river until feeling the depression in the basalt. Only then would I cast to the small patch of choppy water. I fished until the evenings magenta glare had left the water nothing more than a black slate. The evening sky still held enough light to cast faint shadows in the sage brush as I walked back to camp.

On returning to camp I was greeted with familiar voices and the smell of sautéed garlic. It felt good to remove my waders and recount to my friends the evenings adventures. As we sat down to dinner we toasted the company, the river and its magnificent fish. We were glad some things on The Deschutes had not changed.

This article submitted by: Jack laFond Young's Fishing Service, Inc.

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