I've been planning this trip for a year.
Jim and I met "Gary," a friend of Jim's in Ellensburg for breakfast. Gary's mission was to guide us to a "secret" desert lake where there may or may not have been lots of big fish. We drove out to the Winchester Wasteway and tromped around in the sagebrush for a while looking for this secret lake but we couldn't find it. So we went to Beda Lake, instead.
Aside from some hunters, we were the only people there, which I found quizzical for a sunny Saturday afternoon. The weather alternated between just-plain-sunny and slightly overcast. Damsels were flying everywhere. I quickly caught three rainbows between 15" and 17" on an olive Willy pattern. Jim got a nice fish on a blue damsel fly up top, which he had never done before -- I have the same fly and have never had the guts to try it. Gary had to go before he caught a fish but we thanked him for his efforts at finding Lake X. At the end of the day a baetis hatch came off and Jim and I chased rising rainbows all over. We hooked several and brought a few to hand, all between 15-18". I caught my fish on my ratty #14 BWOs that seem to work just about anywhere in the West. The sunset was spectacular and the golden light on the reeds and cool autumn air gave me that feeling of "fishing perfection" that I love from this time of year. Our totals for the day had been 11 rainbows landed and several more lost (including some beast-fish) between the two of us - not bad for an afternoon.
Jim and I drank some beers and talked with the hunters as we put our boats away and then we were off to Oregon. Somehow we got HELLA lost in Kennewick of all places and it was midnight before we crossed into Oregon. Unable to continue, tired from kicking around in a pontoon boat for 6 hours and drinking beer, we stopped and shared a $50 room in La Grande. $25 per person ain't much for a clean bed and a shower if you ask me.
I didn't know this, but my dad told me that I caught my first fish in the Owyhee river. I'd like to say that when we finally saw the river it seemed familiar but I can't. I hadn't been there in 30 years so what do you expect? Anyway, we rolled onto the river at 1pm. The Owyhee comes out of the Owyhee reservoir and it is VERY murky and has a touch of mercury. The murkiness makes it really hard to fish because you can't see where the good water is. The mercury keeps people from taking the fish so they get really big.
Before fishing we stopped at a bar called the Mirage in the "town" of Adrian so we could watch the Seahawks/Giants game. The front door had a big sign on it that said "Chip Jones please pay your long overdue bill!" Jim and I sat down and proceeded to eat two cheeseburgers, down a sixpack and smoke a pack of Marlboro's while we watched that laugher of a game. At half time it was 42-3 Seahawks. We felt no need to watch the rest of the game so we went to the river.
As the sun came off the water, we arrived at Jim's favorite pool where another fantastic mayfly hatch was coming off. I could see what looked like tiny little lips sipping mayflies right next to the bank, so I cast one of my flies in there and BAM, 15" brown. I was shocked. I was expecting a tiny little fish but instead I almost got schooled. The murky, mercury-laden water either made these fish unaware of us or made them stupid I don't know which. Until it got dark Jim and I caught brown after brown all between 15" and 20". Sometimes we'd hook them 2 feet away from ourselves. The Owyhee reminded me of the Gunnison river in that respect except it was even EASIER to catch big old browns. At least during the evening hatch.
When it got dark we had a few more beers and drove back to the Mirage in Adrian. Over cold sandwiches and cokes we listened to the local denizens joining the local banjo/fiddle band and they really slaughtered some of the golden oldies. Jim remarked that Simon Cowell's version of hell would be to get stuck here every night for eternity. After dinner it was time for another long drive, this time to Mountain Home, ID, where we got another $50 room in one of the sketchiest cinderblock Thunderbird motels I've stayed at in a long time.
This time I got us lost in Mountain Home. Jim found the way out and we got some breakfast at AJ's and then we drove a couple of hours to Picabo, Idaho. There was a fancy-shmancy fly shop/convenience store there where we got some licenses and bought some flies for Silver Creek. Silver Creek is fabled spring creek that Ernest Hemingway fished and where his son, Jack Hemingway set up a preserve around the creek.
Silver Creek, ID
Silver Creek is basically a super-challenging, technical, boutique fishery. The water is so slow that many people fish it from float tubes. The crystal clear flow allows the "graduate school trout" to get a good long look at your fly which had better look PERFECT in both appearance and presentation. There were some funky regulations that prevented us from using oars in our pontoon boats but we managed with our fins.
Jim Says, "I got nothin"
We fished from noon to 7pm - I was skunked, which didn't surprise me in the slightest (I went in with really low expectations). Jim, who had talked smack on the way there ("those fish have never met a fisherman like me" -- I remember him saying) only caught one fish - a 16" rainbow that jumped out of his net before I could get my camera in position.
It wasn't as bad as I make it sound though. Both Jim and I had 4 fish on that day and if those fish had been landed instead of lost we could have said that we were awesome. We think the problem was that the clear water requires you to use 7x tippet, which is like the width of hair. And I don't mean a fat nose hair either - I'm talking about the peach fuzz hair on Paris Hilton's pinky toe knuckle. Neither Jim nor I ever fish with 7x (or even 6x) and we weren't used to the stretchiness of the line which caused us to lose our fish. We think. Or maybe we suck, I don't know.
That night we drove north to Ketchum, where Papi Hemingway shot himself and is ultimately buried in an unadorned (but not unmarked) grave. Ketchum is yuppie/hippy tourist hellhole if you ask Jim or me. In some ways it reminded me intensely of Boulder, Colorado. The cheapest room we could find was $140 - though we talked the genuine imported European desk clerk down to $105. I must admit, the room was very, very nice. Jim tied up a couple of Red Quills for the next day's fishing while I tried to plan the rest of my trip.
We had a nice breakfast at the Rustic Moose and then I had to stop at the Thomas D. Mangelsen gallery. I ended up buying a big landscape piece for our house and even though I got a good deal, I got a bad taste in my mouth leaving almost that much dough in Ketchum, which will probably only make the town even more snooty.
We fished the Big Wood river right in town. The Big Wood is a beautiful mountain stream running maybe 100 cfs. The BLM has made the river available in a mountain park-like C&R setting. Looking at the river, you'd think that the average fish size would be 8" but its not. The AVERAGE fish size is 12" and 16" fish are common. Sure enough, our first fish landed were 12" and Jim hooked a lost a 16" fish. Completely opposite of the previous day, we fished oversized generic flies (Adams Irresistible, yellow Humpies, Renegades) and had luck with all of them. The fly of the day seemed to be the Red Quill though. All the fish we caught were beautifully colored.
The Big Wood river was as much a delight as Silver Creek was a challenge. I said goodbye to Jim that afternoon around 4pm. Stopping at a Taqueria in town, I got a burrito to go and hit the road, headed back the way I came. I drove all the way back to the Owyhee and kept on driving across the middle of Oregon to Bend. It was a long, long drive and I didn't get into Bend until midnight.
The turnoff for Newberry Crater is only a half hour south of Bend. The park road winds 15 miles up the side of the volcano. On the counter at the East Lake Resort were pictures of people holding up 10lb brown after 10lb brown. One of them was dated just a few weeks ago - it was a young blond woman holding up a huge brown. The caption included her name and the words "taken on a green popper" underneath. A green popper? What????
East Lake is gigantic - 4000 acres, most of it 10-20 feet deep. The edges are shallow and contain weed beds full of leeches and damsels. Elsewhere are broad shoals where all kinds of fish swarm to eat rising midges and callibaetis. At the far side (too far for my pontoon boat!) is a refuge where thousands of monster browns can hide in 100 feet of deep water. In a few weeks they will emerge to terrorize the chubs in the shallows. One guy in a drift boat said that he was watching a 10lb brown chasing chubs in the weed beds just that morning.
The White Slide
Fishing callibaetis nymphs and woolly buggers I quickly landed a nice fat rainbow, a 17" brown and a 6" chub. That's three of the four fish species! I cruised the east shore of the lake for hours hoping to get a kokanee. In the meantime I picked up a few more rainbows and another brown. One of the rainbows I got casting a callibaetis that Jim gave me with a small hare's ear dropper underneath - I cast it in front of a rising fish and he just crushed the nymph. Sweet.
Thick Weed Beds
At the end of the day I hooked a nice fish and when it surfaced briefly I saw a flash of red and realized it was the koke that I needed to complete my grand slam! After that I hooked 10 fish in 30 minutes but could land none of them. I think now that they were schooling kokanee whose hooked mouths had made them "hook resistant." Or something.
East Lake is an awesome fishery -- How often do you get to catch rainbows, browns and kokanee in a volcano? The scenery was beautiful, the fish were cooperative (enough) and the possibility of hooking into a 10lb brown made for a fantastic day.