Information Overview: Fly Fishing the Owyhee River

More on my thoughts, understandings and experiences regarding this trophy brown trout hotspot

By Gabe Cross

Summertime on eastern Oregon's prolific Owyhee River

First of all, I would never want anyone to think that I am trying to come across as an authority on fly fishing the Owyhee River located in far eastern Oregon. In fact, I am like most of the people who find this blog on the Internet in the respect that I am intensely curious regarding the history and workings of this fishery, and I want to share what I learn with those who are interested. Please treat this river and other anglers with respect if you do make the trip, and any effort made to stay away from the crowds is often well worth it.

Since there is relatively little in the way of extensive information on the brown trout fishing below Owyhee Dam, I want to help out those searching for ideas on planning a trip. I will provide links to any good Owyhee Web sites I find, and feel free to give me a call or an email of you want to talk in greater detail about the fishery – I’ll post all of my contact info below. If I don’t know an answer to a question (which is pretty likely at this point), I will do all that I can to find that information. The Owyhee is a relatively new trophy fishery, so anglers have the rare opportunity to be a part of the early historical period of a maturing river. Only a few guide services work this stretch, so unlike what is found on many trophy waters, there are very few resident experts  or “old men of the river” on the Owyhee. The newness of this brown trout explosion adds to the river’s mystique.

The picture above is a beautiful stretch of water near Owyhee Dam. Flows are in the 250cfs range in this shot, and as you can see, the river is still very shallow and wading is not overly challenging. Just take it slow because the water is not very clear – wading must be done by ‘feel’. Fishing is much easier during the higher water periods of spring and summer, and this is typically the river most people experience when they come to the Owyhee. The browns here may be big, but the off-color water makes them less spooky than their counterparts that live in shallow and clear streams like Silver Creek.

What makes the Owyhee appealing to so many types of fly anglers is that a variety of techniques will catch fish on this river. Nymphs will usually produce the most action, and the majority of aquatic life on the Owyhee is quite small. Midges, small nymphs and emergers are all good sub-surface choices. Dry fly fishing can be excellent during the late spring and summer, with diverse hatches that include caddis, PMDs, midges, callibaetis, mahogany duns and BWOs. At times, big fish can be seen slurping up and down the river, but there are some hatches that are difficult to figure out. If your perfectly matched dry flies are ignored for no real reason, try fishing a caddis or mayfly emerger in the film or as a dropper. This may make all the difference in the world. Streamer fishing is reputed to be excellent, but I have not tried it out yet. There are several small minnows that I’ve seen on the Owyhee, along with a few sculpins and lots of crayfish. I could imagine that night fishing would be incredible, but from what I understand, fishing ends a half hour or hour after dark and remains closed until just before sunup. It’s probably good that these fish get to rest at night, but what a blast it would be to strip a huge streamer through a deep pool at 2am on a cloudy night.

I am interested in learning more about the Owyhee and how it got to this point, and luckily, I am friends with several guides who can educate me. It seems strange that the browns were able to do so well when introduced, whereas only a few of the stocked rainbows would survive to grow to large sizes over the years. There are still some great, hard-fighting rainbows on the Owyhee, so some escape the voracious feeding habits of the brown trout and become apex predators. It’s nice to have another species of trout to add some variety to the experience. Obviously, there is plenty of food on this river, and the fish are almost never subject to flows that exceed 250cfs. This makes the Owyhee an “idealized brown trout incubator” where fish can feed unabashed all day long.

If you do find yourself in the Boise, Idaho area during the fall or winter, the Owyhee can fish well at these times. Long periods of cold weather may cause many of the slow pools to ice over, but this is not always an annual issue. Flows are only around 35cfs during the colder months, and such a skinny dynamic can be challenging, to say the least. Focus on the deepest water you can find, and most spots with any sort of current are loaded with fish. Summer releases often end in October, and from that point until early April, flows will be down.

It will be fun to chronicle my Owyhee (and other Idaho river) experiences on this blog, and if nothing else, it gives me more of an excuse to get out on the water and explore. If you are looking for something different, the Owyhee may be just what you need; there is nothing quite like it that I’ve found. This year, the fishing is expected to be better than it was last year, and much of this has to do with increased numbers of smaller fish being observed recently. The locals were getting nervous about the lack of juvenile browns in the Owyhee, but it looks like the river’s overall population is becoming even healthier and more diversified over time, as small fish have been more prevalent over the last two years.

My info:

Gabe Cross

(208) 968-3359 [home]

(870) 404-9027 [cell]


~ by troutdoctor101 on April 8, 2010.

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