How To Fish Stillwaters

November 17th, 2003

Stillwaters, lakes, ponds and reservoirs are the most underutilized fisheries in the North America. Why? Because the average fly fisher doesn't know how to fish them, or where to start. Stay tuned, you too can master stillwaters! ~ LadyFisher

Some Days It Doesn't Pay To Get Out Of Bed

By Marv Taylor, Garden City, ID

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 stillwater.

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 argument).

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 off.

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.


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 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

About Marv

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 or by phone: 208-322-5760.

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