Fishing

High water, big fish and heartbreak on Oregon’s Owyhee Reservoir

Stalking brown trout in the Owyhee River

The Owyhee River's famed brown trout lure anglers from everywhere. The river provides excellent fly fishing on a consistent basis year-round and is only about a hour away from the Treasure Valley.
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The Owyhee River's famed brown trout lure anglers from everywhere. The river provides excellent fly fishing on a consistent basis year-round and is only about a hour away from the Treasure Valley.

I left my heart — and my favorite spinnerbait — in Oregon.

Yep, I lost a big one in the Owyhee Reservoir. But first, let’s go back to the beginning.

It’s been pretty well documented how tough fishing conditions are throughout southwest Idaho right now. And while the high water should pay dividends down the road, it’s tough to think about that when fishing hole after fishing hole is running high, muddy and cold.

So last weekend, my buddy Caleb and I ventured west in search of greener pastures. We bit the bullet, bought an Oregon license and made the two-hour trek to Owyhee Reservoir.

This was my first trip to the Owyhee area, and it was definitely an eye-opener. With its red rock formations and stunning scenery, it reminded me of Zion National Park on a smaller scale. That was the good news. The bad news was the high water had followed us across state lines — the popular “Glory Hole” near the dam was spilling over for the first time in several years.

Undeterred, we launched the boat and headed up reservoir. We were looking for water in the 50-degree range, but the best we could manage was high 40s in some of the shallow coves. Visibility wasn’t great either, so we knew we’d have to pretty much whack a bass on the nose in order to get a strike.

A couple hours in, I finally hooked up. I was throwing my favorite spinnerbait, and WHAM! This bass didn’t seem to mind the cold one bit. We quickly netted the fish, only to discover that this “bass” was actually a healthy, 18-inch rainbow trout. But as an old fishing companion of mine always says, “A fish, is a fish, is a fish.” We were on the board.

Not long afterward, Caleb finally put a green fish in the boat, wrestling a beautiful 3-pound largemouth out of a submerged brush pile. We might have lost that fish, but a long-handled net and some deft maneuvering on the trolling motor saved the day.

Feeling encouraged, we fished on. Sure enough, my spinnerbait got slurped up, and this one felt bigger.

Unfortunately, the fish swam straight for an underwater shrub and managed to wrap my line around the branches. This time, not even the long-handled net could save us. For five minutes, we tried everything we could to unwrap the line and dislodge the fish, but to no avail. Eventually, my line wore out from all the back-and-forth pulling on the branches. Fish off.

If you’re an avid angler, losing big fish is bound to happen from time to time. But that doesn’t make it hurt any less — especially on a day when we had to work so hard for our bites. Given the water’s chocolatey complexion, we never even got a good look at this fish, and I can’t decide if that makes it better or worse.

Was it a lunker bass? A big trout? Maybe even a catfish? Only Owyhee Reservoir knows for sure. But I’ll be back soon, Oregon. I want to meet that fish face to face — and I want my spinnerbait back!

Tight lines!

Jordan Rodriguez has been fishing Idaho waters since he was a teen. Share your fish stories, adventures, tips and tricks at outdoors @idahostatesman.com.

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