A Crooked River Nymphing Adventure
We live in Oregon, on the west side of Mt. Hood. Lots of people vacation in Oregon because of the great diversified fly fishing. This year we also vacationed in Oregon, east of the Cascades in Central Oregon. This article is about the first three days of that vacation.
We drove to Prineville and made the Best Western Motel our base camp for an exploration of the Crooked River, one of the three main tributaries that form the lower Deschutes. Prineville is an old cow town turned high tech with the addition of several giant server farms. This modest priced motel was excellent with a king size bed and Jacuzzi tub. But our room wasn’t ready when we got there because we were a couple hours early. There were freezing temperature cautions for the drive, the pavement had been bare and dry, which had cut our travel time to half of what had been expected.
So, we drove to Crooked River with our street-clothes on and all our extra gear in the back of Patty’s Ford Expedition. It was too cold to change into our under-wader garments out in the open. We decided to just drive around and explore rather than even fish on our first day. That plan paid off. Crooked River is a tail-water below Bowman Dam and Prineville Reservoir, which is an irrigation impoundment. The reservoir is built in a stratum of clay, which colors the water to about eighteen inches of visibility at most water levels. The colored water works both for and against each angler. This fine suspended silt brings nutrients to produce abundant plant and insect life. Trout grow quickly.
This stream has a harvest limit of two fish per day and is not known for large trout. It had been many years since we fished it. The river was tiny and suffering from excess water withdrawal. Instead of fishing we spent the first day unwinding and driving from place to place to place, and hiking along the river, and just exploring.
I picked up a rock from the edge of the shallow water and grabbed a hand full of aquatic vegetation. There were no insects to be found, only small black snails and a multitude of empty cylindrical caddis cases.
In the afternoon we watched a couple fishing upstream from the Chimney Rock Handy-cap Pier. As we watch from the elevated pier the man caught a decent trout and several smaller whitefish is quick succession. It was interesting to observe his precise casting technique and the success it brought. It became obvious that he was using weighted flies suspended under a bright pink strike indicator. In twenty minutes, he caught a couple more trout and several whitefish.
After a while, I asked, “What are you using?”
In a friendly manner, he replied, “Egg patterns, the white fish are spawning. Whitefish are broadcast spawners that lay small pinkish yellow eggs.”
I thought early-November was too early for whitefish to be spawning and purposely left our box of Glo Bugs home. But when I mentioned this to Patty she said with a grin, “Don’t worry, I’ve got us covered.”
Sure enough, when we got to our motel room, she dug through her tackle bag and pull out a box of egg patterns including some very small pinkish yellow Glo Bugs. We had the ammunition we needed. That evening it snowed.
The next morning the weather warmed slowly, and a light rain fell from low leaden clouds slowly melting the snow from the night before. It seemed like perfect day for mayfly hatches, but none came.
Our pace was slow, and relaxed.
For Patty and I, every vacation involves fly fishing and testing new fly fishing tackle. We rigged two Euro nymph rods. One was a Sage ESN that Patty had borrowed from her son Tony for this trip. The other was a brand-new Beulah G2 Platinum 3108, a 10’ 8” #3 wt. that I had borrowed from Beulah rep, Bruce Barry.
They both proved to be superb rods for tight line nymphing, but the skinny water and the rocky bottom of the river covered with algae and old tubular hatched-out caddis cases proved to be very difficult. Our flies were fouled on every cast. So, we suspend our flies from Air-Lock strike indicators to keep them clean. I had rigged a two-fly system. Naturally, one of my flies was one of the tiny Glo Bugs Patty had given me. As I was searching the fly box for a fly to use as weight to sink the Glo Bug, a Black #16 Silvey’s Super Sinker came loose and nearly fell out of the box. I thought, “What the heck”, and tied it on as a point fly. It turned out to be prophetic.
For several hours we only caught a few small whitefish, but we kept working our way upstream until we had covered half a mile of river. Our wandering eventually brought us to a long, shallow, weedy flat. We stopped for a rest. For nearly an hour only tiny fish were rising. Then we both spotted nervous water caused by several large fish feeding sub surface.
At first it looked like the pod of fish were spawning, but there was no patch of light colored cleaned gravel. And it was the wrong time of year for rainbow trout to be spawning. Then I wondered if they were carp or some other kind of course fish. The color of the water and low clouds made it hard to see them clearly.
Finally, I made a cast that dropped the strike indictor in front of the feeding fish and almost immediately it was pulled underwater. I set the hook. A fish thrashed around in the shallow water then it made several runs, with one nearly into the backing.
The eighteen-inch rainbow trout was landed, photographed, and released.
It had eaten the small, heavy weighted black nymph. The fish had a large anus, evidence that it had been grubbing in the weeds for snails. The tiny, black compact nymph may have looked close enough to be mistaken for a snail. That was the best fish of the trip for me. (And I bought the Beulah G2 Platinum 3108 rod. More on that later.)