Brownlee Reservoir (mixed bag)
It will be a chilly boat ride, but the rewards can be worth the effort at Brownlee this time of year. Big catfish — including channel cats and their big, elusive flathead cousins — are starting to hit on worms, cut bait, chicken livers, crankbaits and jigs. Channel cats regularly surpass five pounds at Brownlee, while flatheads can weigh 30 pounds or more. In addition to catfish, schools of crappie will be hanging out near rocky outcroppings and coves. If they are in the biting mood, you can rack up big numbers in a hurry on small jigs tipped with crappie nibbles. While prime bass season is still a few months away, patient anglers should be able to coax a few green fish by going deep with jigs and drop shots or fishing slow with crankbaits and spinnerbaits.
Getting there: Brownlee is about two hours from Boise on the Idaho-Oregon border. Fish out of Steck Park on the Idaho side, or go through Huntington, Ore., and launch a boat from Spring Marina. There is plenty of bank access, too.
Owyhee River (trout)
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Trout fishing has really picked up on the Owyhee River in recent weeks. Anglers are catching big browns and good numbers of rainbows on a variety of setups, including dry flies (tricos and midges), streamers (woolly buggars and muddler minnows), spinners, spoons, crankbaits and jigs. No matter what you use, remember to buy an Oregon license and practice catch-and-release on all brown trout. Single, barbless hooks are recommended to avoid injuring fish and aid in easier release.
Getting there: Fish downstream from Adrian, Ore.
South Fork Boise River (trout)
For trout enthusiasts who want to stay in Idaho, the South Fork offers good fishing for big, wild rainbows. Dry fly action has picked up, with anglers catching fish on small midges when the sun is shining. Bouncing bead-head nymphs or stripping streamers should also attract some bites. In addition to trout, whitefish often show up on the South Fork — sometimes in large numbers. If you go, keep in mind that all trout are catch-and-release this time of year. The South Fork also has year-round rules in place that require anglers to use single, barbless hooks and no bait. For the non-fly crowd, spinners, spoons and jigs can be modified to stay within the rules.
Getting there: Fish between Anderson Ranch Dam and Arrowrock Reservoir.
Lake Cascade (ice fishing)
Just when it looked like the season was coming to a close, a cold snap firmed up the ice at Cascade. With overnight lows in the teens, the season should last for at least a couple more weeks. There have been reports of ATVs going through the ice near popular access points, which can become weakened by heavy traffic. The safest bet is to go on foot, but if you want to take a snowmobile or four-wheeler, try venturing down the bank to launch onto fresh ice. Most days, it’s quality over quantity at Cascade. I haven’t caught fish in large numbers, but every perch I’ve put on the ice has been more than 14 inches. We’ve also iced multiple trout in the 20-inch class, with some smaller rainbows mixed in. Tackle has been all over the map — I’ve caught fish on small tungsten jigs, perch-colored spoons, jigging Rapalas and bait, including worms, marshmallows and Power Bait. Bring an assortment and see if any patterns emerge. Even when it’s slow, stay alert. Fish can show up at any minute, and when they do, they are usually big.
Getting there: Take Idaho 55 north to Cascade. Popular access points include Poison Creek on the north end of the lake and Blue Heron closer to town. For the latest lake conditions and fishing reports in the Cascade area, call Tackle Tom’s at (208) 382-4367.