The Deadwood River – Mike Sandifer

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The Deadwood River

The Deadwood River is a tailwater river which is born from the Deadwood Reservoir way high in the mountains north of Loman, Idaho. From the Deadwood Reservoir the Deadwood River flows down a road-less canyon until it reaches the Deadwood River Road. From the Deadwood River Road the river flows the remaining four miles until it flows into the South Fork of the Payette River about five miles downstream from Loman. This four mile stretch is the section of river is where we fly fish. The four mile long road that follows the river up the canyon will close every December but will reopen every April 15th for easy access.

Although the Deadwood River is a tailwater river it will primarily fish like a freestone river. There just are not a lot of hatches on the river which will make dry fly fishing the river simple. The key to fly fishing this river successfully are three little things. If you do these little things, then you will have a good day on the river. First, if you are going to float a dry fly on the river the dry fly must be always floating on the surface of the river. Failure to keep your fly floating will result in your failure to catch any trout. Second, you must only fish in dark green water. Do not waste your time fly fishing gin clear water, trout simply will not be there. Trout in this river will only hang out in low water in dark green water where there is an illusion of safety. Lastly, try to keep your fly fishing to selected inside curves of the river. When a river curves you always want to be on the inside curve of the river. This will allow you to fly fish the entire run, have a clear back cast and you will be able to wade the river safely.

The authorities at the dam will artificially keep this river exceptionally low during the spring so as not to flood the SF Payette River during the spring runoff. As the runoff into the SF Payette River (a freestone river) begins to decrease then the wizard behind the curtain at the Deadwood Reservoir Dam will begin to increase the flows through the canyon making the river difficult to fly fish until mid-summer when they begin to lower the flows to save water in the reservoir. The Deadwood River is a fun and safe river to fly fish all spring long and when late summer comes around the fishing will be even better, and access will be much better on the river. The Deadwood River has always been my favorite river in the spring. Few peope fishes it and that means I have the whole river to myself.

There are quite a few places where you can camp on the river and during the summer some folks do this without ever wetting a line. One of the main reasons I love to fish this river is the sheer beauty of the river. It is a stunningly beautiful country. Wild. There have been many nights I have spent camping out on this river. You can camp in campgrounds along the Highway that follows the SF Payette. These campgrounds are nice, but they fill up during the summer and the Highway is an extremely popular highway in Idaho which means it can be noisy. The Deadwood River Road is quiet and not traveled very much. You camp where you stop. I know a few anglers who do not fly fish the lower canyon at all. Instead, they will drive the four miles until the road ends. They will then hike up the river a few miles and fly fish the river back to their trucks. There is even a couple I know who will backpack into the canyon for a long weekend of quiet, beauty and fly fishing.

You can both dry fly fish and nymph fish the Deadwood with success. It is quite common for me to spy a good section of river from the road and bring both my nymph rod and dry fly rod down to the river. Quite a few guys I know who like to fish the Deadwood will use a dry-dropper type of rig. When I do this, I like to tie on as my lead fly an Annihilator attractor dry fly and around the bend of the hook, I will attach a section on a 5X tippet and tie on a black bead head nymph about four to five feet behind the lead fly.  The lone dropper allows the fly to hydro plain down near the bottom while the Annihilator remains high and dry.

Absent any hatch, which has been my case on many trips to the river, I always dry fly fish this river with a size sixteen attractor dry fly such as an Annihilator, Humpy, Purple Haze, or Stimulator. The key to being successful when dry fly fishing attractor dry flies is to keep your dry fly high and dry floating on the surface. Failure to do this will show in the number of fish you will catch. Your dry fly must be always floating. A good dry shake fly floatant is critical while on the river. I will usually use a liquid silicone type fly floatant occasionally but rely on the dry shake mostly.

When nymphing try starting out with two nymphs, one a mayfly imitation and the other a caddis imitation. This is a good starting strategy. From there you can make fly changes as the river dictates. You will need to make changes to your leader in terms of split shot or heavier flies quite frequently as the depth of the river will change quite often. To nymph fish the Deadwood successfully you need to make sure your nymphs are from four to five inches off the bottom. If you are a Euro style nymph fisher, then your anchor fly should be near or on the bottom.

Confluence of the Deadwood River and SF Payette River on Hwy 17

Reading the water is particularly important on this river. As previously mentioned, you need to keep your dry fly or your nymphs where likely trout will be. Do not fly fish in any flat, slow moving water. This type of water in this river may be gin clear and trout will not live there. If you choose to fish, this type of water then you will be just burning up your time on the water. Economy of Time dictates you spend all your time fly fishing water where trout live, do not fish flat water.

The Deadwood River is a spring and late summer classic. You will find very few folks up there fly fishing. If you do see someone fly fishing be sure to give them plenty of room, there is a lot of river to fish and there is room for everyone.  I will tell you that I rarely do see other anglers on this river. If you are looking for a river where you will be in a beautiful country, few if any anglers and be close to other rivers to fly fish then search no more, the Deadwood River is your destination river.