Memorial Day on the Owyhee

I used photoshop on one of my favorite pictures of a colorful Brown Trout to give it a watercolor painting look.


Becoming a Regular

**On these short evening trips to the river I have been focused on fishing since I am limited on time so I have not gotten the camera out at all. My apologies for the long pictureless post.

The fishing options around here have been quite limited lately with the rivers running high and muddy, the reservoirs in a volatile state of flux, rising so rapidly the shoreline changes everyday, and most of the lakes high enough in elevation that getting to them is pretty much impossible. In this area we are lucky to have a couple great tail water fisheries in the South Fork of the Boise River and the Owyhee River that are usually fishable even when everything else gets blown out. The South Fork has been closed, however, since April 1st for the spawn helping establish the next generation of fat wild rainbows on that river. Once you catch one of the brilliantly colored hogs that live there you never want to catch a hatchery pellet head again. They are one of the hardest fighting fish I have seen. This has left the Owyhee River as the main option around here for rivers and so I have taken the opportunity to get to know that river.

Last night I made my third trip up there in the last two weeks and although my first trip was the most successful the last couple have been exciting as well. Lucky for me I happen to work 25 minutes from my favorite run on the river so an after work jaunt is not out of the question and I have taken advantage of that fact on my last two trips. I can leave work at five, and be on the river fishing by 5:30. This gives me about three hours of fishing before it is time to head on home.

My first evening jaunt last week was not overly successful. In fact with three people fishing we caught exactly zero fish. I had a couple strikes on a Caddis emerger pattern and my father in law left a mark on a couple lips with a Zonker streamer but it was one of those nights I got caught up in the moment and was simply off my game. I can tell by the number of times I have changed my fly how well or in this case not so well I was fishing. Sometimes the hatches going on are almost too good and they get me out thinking myself. This was the case here. About 6:30 a fairly decent caddis hatch began and by then I had already tried my nymph set up that did so well the Saturday before and a couple different streamers trying to find the secret pattern. Well once the caddis hatch started coming off I began my quest to capture a bug to match the pattern as far as size and color. The caddis looked smaller than anything I had and being color blind it was easy for me to doubt myself on the color of the patterns I picked out. I think I tried three different caddis patterns over the next half hour with only one small bite on an emerger pattern I tied on as a dropper off my dry fly. The fish were quite aggressive in their pursuit of the natural bugs though and it was quite a thing to witness. I observed one young caddis attempting to stretch his wings but not able to get more than a couple inches off the water at a time. He kept frantically flapping, flying low for a foot or too then touching lightly on the surface of the river headed downstream. Suddenly from under the brush hanging over the bank I saw a dark form lurch out and grab the little fly as he skittered across the water. It was as aggressive as I have seen a fish for a while. In spite of this I was striking out in my attempts to imitate the skittering caddis. At about 7:30 the caddis' disappeared and a thick hatch of midges got underway. Again the fish didn't want what I had to offer and I continued switching it up every 10 minutes. I can't help but think that if I had stuck with one pattern during each hatch I could have had some success.

Last night I had slightly better success and again witnessed more interesting fish behavior in the process. The wind was howling down the canyon last night and there was no sign of fish feeding on top so again I started out with my nymph rig and vowed to not get caught up in the fly switch mode. I had no luck for the first half hour with the nymphs so switched to a streamer pattern. I had a couple follows but nothing seemed interested. Finally wading a narrow channel I actually had no intention of really fishing since it didn't look too promising to me I threw my streamer out and immediately had a big fish follow it. Then in subsequent casts I did not see him again. I figured the streamer was something that intrigued them but was obviously not what they wanted to eat. I switched back to my nymphs and immediately it was FISH ON! The first was a smaller 15 inch fish definitely not the one I had seen follow my streamer so I gave it another cast. Second cast, FISH ON! The channel I was fishing was so narrow I had practically been standing on these fish where they ate my fly. This one did not feel big to me when I first lifted my rod and felt it tug. But as I put some pressure on it I knew this was a nice fish. After he took a couple short runs I was able to grab him standing chest deep in the skinny run. As I went to take the hook out it simply fell out of the Browns mouth. With a flip of the tail he squirted out of my hands and back to his hole. I would guess he was a 20 inch fish but didn't have him in hand long enough to really be sure. He was alot fatter than the other fish I had been catching on the river as well, a real hefty fish. When I looked at my fly I saw exactly why it had fallen out of the big fishes mouth. It was as straight as a pin.

Those two fish on consecutive casts where the end of my success this evening. However later in the evening I witnessed something that made me question all my attempt to match the hatch so precisely in my last visit to the river. I still had my nymph rig on with a bright yellow and orange oval shaped foam indicator. I was drifting it through a run that had been good for me a week and a half ago. There had been no hatches going on and no fish rising all evening. Suddenly a fish attacked my indicator of all things. If I had a hook on that thing I would have caught a fish on an orange and yellow oval that looked like no bug you will ever see, on the surface. I don't know what that fish's problem was with orange and yellow ovals but it definitely had issues. Like I say it made me question how much thought I had been putting into getting the exact size and color of those caddis' that had hatched on my last trip to the river. I could have tied on something orange and yellow and caught more fish.


Relearning and Rediscovering the Owyhee River

Oregon’s Owyhee River has been in my backyard for most of my life. I grew up in Vale, Oregon within an easy 45 minute drive of the river and now live about an hour away in Caldwell, Idaho. I used to fish this river back in the days when it was an unknown commodity to the rest of the world, and I had the entire 12 mile stretch of river along the road below the Owyhee Dam to myself. I could show up on the river at any time of day and be assured I could fish my favorite spot, and even if I didn’t show up until the evening I could be sure that I was still the first one to fish that stretch that day. Those days are long over on the Owyhee River. It is now jammed with RV’s and campsite at every possible turnout along the river. Big sweeping bends in the river often have 4 or 5 campsites, all filled. Not many runs go a day without getting fished. And if you go, get used to the idea that you will probably be fishing to trout that very recently have seen another fisherman’s offerings. I lament the loss of solitude but I must confess the quality of fish has improved greatly from my first trips there. I used to be happy to catch 13-15 inch brown trout, now those numbers would be considerably below average on this river.

Now just because I live close to this Blue Ribbon gem does not mean I have made many trips out there. In fact I had not been back since my high school days until I made a trip last September. In that outing I remember getting frustrated by finicky, feeding fish I could see in nearly every pool slowly waving their body from side to side, then with no real sense of urgency they would rise up and gently sip a small bug from just below the surface, and just as deliberately descend again. They appeared to be the happiest fish one could possibly imagine, like there was no real stress in their life. Their slow deliberate dance seemed to say that if they didn’t want to, they wouldn’t need to be here gulping bugs down right now, because here in their river there will always be another epic hatch right around the corner on which they could gorge themselves. Meanwhile no matter what I threw their way that day they simply ignored it. Possibly laughing to themselves, “this guy thinks that with all these bugs in the water I am going to be the dumb fish that bites the one with a hook in it, FAT CHANCE!” It was exciting to see so many fish feeding all day long and yet very frustrating to have every offering ignored. When I fished the river back in the days when these fish never saw a fisherman, you could have probably caught them with a hook through a stick. Now these fish see so many artificial enticements that they have become quite adept at ignoring anything that looks “fishy.” So just last Saturday I decided it was time for me to put my skills to the test again and attempt to relearn how to fish the Owyhee River.

I hit the river at about 8:00am and took a quick scan of what was happening on the water. No visible fish and no bug action near the surface. This quickly narrowed the choices of flies down for me to streamers or nymphs. I started out with streamers. I had one take a nip at a big brown bunny leach pattern but it was obviously not that serious. That was the only thing even remotely resembling a strike for my first few hours on the water. I worked the run again with a different streamer pattern with no luck, and then tried a double nymph rig only to again be shut out. All this time the area I really wanted to fish in this run was not accessible due to what appeared to be a channel much too deep for wading that I would need to cross to get to it. So I decided it was time to move on and try another spot. As I climbed the bank to head to the truck I looked down and got a bird’s eye perspective of the run. From there I saw an area that I could see the bottom of the river all the way across meaning it was probably not really that deep. From water level I had not seen it, so I decided it would be worth it again to go down and wade across. As I fished my newly accessible area I again started by throwing a streamer up under the willows hanging over the deep slow moving channel. Again nothing. Frustrated I decided I would give the stretch one more try with my nymph set up and see what materialized.

At this point I was almost going through the motions. When one goes fishless for their first few hours on the water a discouragement can set in, which can make you feel it is hopeless and you probably won’t catch a fish all day. You tell yourself that it is ok, you are just glad to be out here breathing the fresh air, and hearing the slurps and gurgles of the rivers current but deep down you are disappointed at the prospect of being skunked. I was almost there, resigned to the thought that I was just here to enjoy nature and not really to catch fish. But a part of me knew what these fish where hungry for. They had to be eating something and there weren’t any bugs to be found on the surface and my streamers weren’t getting any action. Nymphs had to be the answer so I rigged up with the double nymph rig again and made my first cast slightly upstream. As the indicator drifted past me and came near the end of the line it slowly disappeared below the surface. I lifted the rod and instantly felt it, FISH ON! After landing a nice 18 inch brown I again cast into the same area. At almost the same exact spot the indicator went under again. Hardly believing that there could be another fish in that spot that hadn’t been scared out of there by the struggle the previous fish had put up, I lifted the rod tip, expecting that the fly had snagged on the bottom pulling the indicator down. Nope, it was another fish. It was a slightly smaller fish but even more feisty. In the span of five minutes my outlook had went from “Oh well, it’s just nice to be out on the river”, to “Wow, this is unbelievable!” After lunch I came back and figured what could it hurt to throw another cast into that same spot, and wouldn’t you know it I caught a solid 20 inch fish. I have always had a hard time believing that you could catch multiple fish on consecutive casts on a small river like this because I figured the fish fighting on the end of the line would scare any others in the area into hiding. Later in the day my lesson learned was proved again when I landed four more fish and hooked and lost another three fish in another short run.

From this trip I took a new appreciation for a river rediscovered. The Owyhee is a far different river than the one I fished as a teenager but this weekend it taught me a couple valuable lessons I hope will make me a better fisherman down the road. One, keep at it even when you don’t have early success and two; always, always, always make a few honest casts into a hole you just pulled a fish out of. In the end it will pay off. I look forward to many more lessons on the river.
This was a good 20+ inch fish

This silvery Brown was one of the smaller of the day but was a very scrapy fighter

Fish Number One of the Day