Fly Fishing on eastern Oregon’s Owyhee River

My first outing of the season on this blossoming brown trout fishery

By Gabe Cross

Low and slow on the Owyhee River

It is no secret that I am completely smitten with the section of the Owyhee River located below Owyhee Dam near Boise, Idaho. This desert tailwater fishery was not on anyone’s radar until the last fifteen to twenty years when browns were first stocked to curtail rampant squawfish population growth. The browns have done exceptionally well, and there is hardly a rough fish of any kind to be found in the trout waters below the dam. Catch and release regulations have proved effective, and the Owyhee is now one of the most popular fly fishing spots in the Northwest.

Dan Bofenkamp is a local angler who is starting a guide career on the Owyhee as something enjoyable to do during his retirement. He contacted me after reading this blog, and I was invited along for a day on the Owyhee with him. Many of the guys that start guiding as a new line of work are basically weekend-warriors without extensive on-the-water experience. This is definitely not the case with Dan, as he has been avidly fly fishing the Owyhee for over twenty years. I have rarely fished with someone with so much experience, and Dan is a very capable guide who understands that having fun is the most important part of any day on the water.

My first of many nice browns

We got a bit of a late start, and by the time I bought my Oregon fishing license and got to the water, it was one o’clock. The weather was raw and windy, which helped keep angler numbers down, but it also hurt my ability to make accurate casts. During the winter, flows on the Owyhee are at 35cfs (if there is enough water in the reservoir). This low water resembles the Ozark tailwaters during similar conditions, and the river is much clearer at these times than it is when high. The majority of spots are very slow, but the fish are concentrated in every place that has some depth. Flows are expected to start increasing for the spring and summer any day, so I was very excited to finally see the Owyhee when it was down, as this will help me gain a better understanding of the river’s layout. Now that I have fished both dynamics on the Owyhee, I feel that the flows in the 250cfs are much less technical and easier to fish than the flows of the minimum release period. Still, this river is always easy to wade and a pleasure to fish on both high and low water.

There is a neat little skwalas hatch on the Owyhee this time of year. This small stonefly is definitely a desirable meal for the river’s big browns, but this year’s emergence has been quite sporadic. Still, many of the bigger fish remember this insect, so a skwala can work very well as a search pattern in the spring and throughout the year. Dan decided to go with a “Big Ugly”, which seems to be the guide terminology for any oversized dry fly. He started with a midge dropper, but he would cut that off during the periods when the fish were looking up and just fish one fly. He hooked up with a nice brown right off the bat, and I followed suit with a good one on a tungsten V-rib Midge fished below an indicator – this back and forth pattern seemed to play out throughout the afternoon.

Low water on the "O" is quite a sight

Every spot seemed to have a few active trout, and there was one period when the skwalas came off steadily for a little over an hour. I switched over at this point and promptly hooked into a 22 to 23-incher. Dan did very well during that short window, and for the most part, any work put forth in finding active fish was usually rewarded. Other bugs we saw were blue winged olives, a PMD, midges and possibly mahogany duns. We fished almost until dark, and I was worn out after such a long afternoon walking a rugged river. It was totally worth it.

All in all, yesterday was one of the more consistent days I’ve had on the Owyhee, and 85% of what was landed between us would qualify as a trophy fish. This is quite an amazing ratio. The weather was uncomfortable, and the snow at the end reminded both of us that we live in a rugged region. I look forward to fishing more with Dan in the near future, as I really enjoyed his company and approach to the sport. I will list his information below, and if you are ever in Boise and want to spend a day with a wonderful Owyhee River fly fishing guide, give him a call. Even though the Owyhee has the reputation as an easy river to catch lots of fish on, the fact is that there is a learning curve out there just like on any other fishery, and many people do not do very well their first few times out. A good guide will help you get the most out of a river on any given day which will save tons of time and aggravation.

Dan Bofenkamp with a pig of a brown

It is great that I did not sacrifice quality fly fishing when I moved to Boise from Arkansas, and the Owyhee is truly one of the most interesting and fun places that I have ever experienced. There is very little doubt that the this river is on its way to being recognized as one of the great trophy trout fisheries in the country. Luckily, there are plenty of other incredible rivers in the region, so there are only a few months of year during the spring when the Owyhee is the only game in town. Crowds can be an issue, but the scene on the Owyhee bears no resemblance to the trout madhouse often witnessed in the Ozarks

Dan Bofenkamp: Licensed and BLM Permitted Owyhee River Guide

(208) 642-7898

A few more pics:

Another "typical" brown

Dan puts out a very nice lunch spread


~ by troutdoctor101 on April 6, 2010.

2 Responses to “Fly Fishing on eastern Oregon’s Owyhee River”

  1. Just wanted to say I share the same love for this river. I have grown up in Boise and have spent about 10 years on the Owyhee. I am going into my first year of guiding. I spent my summer in eastern Idaho working at Premeir fly shop in Ashton, Idaho. I have a blog called ” you should check it out I think you would enjoy some of the topics. Nice blog you have!

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