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John Day River
The John Day River, named after a flamboyant, crazy, and far-ranging mountain man (there are two John Day Rivers in Oregon, go figure), is emerging from it's poor stepsister position to the Deschutes as one of the most important rivers in Oregon, and even the West. Since it's volume, it's canyon, and it's fishing was not as spectacular as the Deschutes, it was left largely ignored and undeveloped. Now it emerges as the longest undammed river in Oregon. It never attracted a railroad bed up its banks, nor a road.. Aside from widely spaced piercings as major roads must descend it's canyon, cross on a bridge, and ascend out of the canyon, it's length, almost twice that of the Deschutes, is 99% undeveloped in terms of human habitation or daily presence. It is VERY QUIET down in there.
Although the JD joins the Columbia only 20 miles east of the Deschutes, they drain vastly different watersheds. Instead of the massive snowfall, rain-fence barrier of the Cascade mountains that feeds the Deschutes, the JD drains the much dryer and subdued Ochoco and Wallowa Mountains stretching to the interior east where almost ALL the moisture is in the form of winter snow. Without any regulating dam, it's flows fluctuate, at times overnight, to a mind boggling degree. This IS the way a natural river operates. Spring flows, with snowmelt, average 5000 cfs, and periodically reach 10K. In July and August last year the flow was 44 cfs! That is artificially low due to pumped agricultural withdrawals and would more naturally be about 200. Boaters and float trippers MUST catch the spring run-off.
The low summer flows result in high water temperatures, but the JD does host valuable and important runs of both salmon and steelhead. Because access is rare and most of the land is privately and very protectively held, the public steelhead fishing is limited. The most important public vrs private river ownership/public access decisions in Oregon are now and in the next decade will be played out on the John Day. Stay tuned!