Some days, as the time worn cliche goes, it just
doesn't pay to get out of bed. A recent one-day
trip to eastern Oregon's Owyhee River was one of
those days. The river is the tailwater below
Owyhee Dam - which backs up Owyhee Reservoir (a
very popular largemouth bass and crappie fishery).
Some readers might wonder why I'm including a column
on "river fishing" in a stillwater section. It sorta
qualifies. When this section of the Owyhee River is
running at winter flow (about 15 cfs...all seepage
from the dam), the angling is pretty much like fishing
Anyway...I had presented my flies more than 30 times
through a favorite run, covering the slow moving water
thoroughly from the three best casting stations. I had
fished my flies dead drift and I had ripped them through
the run erratically with several different retrieves.
The fish just didn't seem to be buying into anything I did.
Getting ready to make a move to another of my favorite
river hotspots, I made one last cast, straightening my
line to wind it on the reel; a fairly normal procedure.
I then did something really stupid. I turned my back
to the run, throwing my rod over my shoulder and cranked
the line on my reel as I waded out of the river (before
my critics laugh and tell me I should have known
better...that I deserved whatever was about to
I had taken about three steps towards shore and had
cranked about six or eight turns on my single action
reel, when all hell broke loose. I didn't see the fish.
I just heard a loud splashing as it broke water and
landed with a booming "ker-plunk." It sounded like
somebody had thrown a hundred pound bag of Idaho
spuds in the river. I felt the line straighten and
the tippet give way. It was all over in less than
four or five seconds. I didn't see the trout, but
it was huge...almost obscenely huge.
I repaired my leader with a heavier tippet and fished
the run a second time. While I did hook and land a
half dozen decent fish, I made a second mistake that
cost me another trophy fish. I lost a rainbow that
looked to be in the 22- or 23-inch range, when I
failed to get the fish on the reel, wrapped my line
around my legs as I tried to follow it, and broke it
Two big fish hooked...two big fish lost. I truly should
have "stood in bed."
I wish I could report this is the first time I've ever
used the "crank the line on the reel" retrieve. It isn't.
Another that comes immediately to mind occurred at the
end of a two week Henry's Lake vacation 24 years ago.
I had gone two days without a strike; it wasn't difficult
to do at the Big H during the "down" year of 1979. The
fishing had been tough that summer. Even the legendary
Harry Tupper (the wizard of Staley Springs) reported
going two and three days without a strike.
I was wading the Willows Hole, on the southwest corner
of the lake, with the late Carter Stewart (a transplanted
air force pilot from Virginia). We decided it was time
to load up our boat and head back to our RV's at Wild
Rose Ranch. We were scheduled to break camp and head
for Boise the following morning.
I made a long cast and began to wind the line on my
reel. I had it about half way in when the big hybrid
banged my fly. The reel began to sing and I began
to shout. I got him! Carter...I got him! I got him!
Like hell I did. The big hybrid took me 30 feet into
my backing and burrowed deep into a kelp bed at the
edge of the channel that used to parallel the shore
(it has since weeded in completely). Carter and I
took his boat out over the fish, but we couldn't find
a way to shake it loose from the weeds. Eventually,
the leader gave out and I never did see the trout.
I imagine I've hooked at least a dozen fish over the
years with this type of retrieve. Most of the time
I've landed the fish. What happened on the Owyhee
River the other day was just plain stupid. I know
better than to give the fish that kind of an edge;
especially on a stream that regularly produces browns
and rainbows from 3- to 10-pounds.
THE CONDITION OF THE OWYHEE RIVER
While most of the anglers I've talked with this fall
have been doing fairly well in the Owyhee with small,
sizes 16 through 22 emerger patterns, I caught all
of my fish on a size 10 Stayner Ducktail. The purist
dry fly angler will find hatches of mayflies,
caddisflies, stoneflies, and midges, from time to time.
The river is off-color, as it almost always is, and
running, as I said earlier, at about 15 cfs. While
the state of Oregon is doing admirable work on the
Owyhee, keeping the brown trout catch-and-release,
it is not having much luck selling minimum stream
flows to agricultural interests in the area.
Because it is located close to Idaho's heaviest
populated area, the river is popular with Gem State
fly fishermen. With less than 15 miles of quality
water, some anglers leave home in the middle of the
night to secure prime spots.
Non-resident licenses cost $8.00 for a one day permit,
$50 for the season. While anglers may keep an Oregon
limit of rainbows, all browns must be released.
NOTE: I thought long and hard about filing this
report. When I asked two avid Owhyee River fishing
friends, whether-or-not I should write the story,
they said go ahead.
"Won't hurt anything," one said in a rather
surly tone of voice. "The river's so damned crowded
now...you probably couldn't fit anyone else in anyway."
Having said that, my friend turned his back and walked
away. Muttering something about, "It'll be a cold day
in hell before we invite you again..."
Marv Taylor's books, Float-Tubing The West,
The Successful Angler's Journal,
More Fragments of the Puzzle, (Volume I) and More
Fragments of the Puzzle, (Volume II) are all available from
Marv. You can reach Marv by email at
email@example.com or by phone: 208-322-5760.