Our home waters, the Metolius River, had been closed below Allingham Bridge for a couple of weeks due to the wildfires ravaging Oregon. Smoke in Sisters had been unhealthy, much like a lot of Oregon cities and the rest of the West. The smoke cleared for a couple of days and my wife looked at me and said “let’s head east”. So off we went, unsure where we were headed. We decided to go on a fall fly fishing road trip for a couple of weeks not the 50-day road trip we took during the summer. Our ultimate destination was Montana, but we fished Oregon’s Owyhee and the Big Lost and Salmon rivers in Idaho on the way.

Owyhee Redd Poster | www.johnkreft.com

September and October are some of the best months to fly fish. We were hoping to have some good fishing on the Owyhee River, along the Oregon/Idaho border.

Owyhee River | www.johnkreft.com

This desert river provides irrigation for many crops. It’s the lifeblood of farmers.

The water is really cold! Amazing how you can stand in the river and get out to warm up in the desert heat. My knees seemed to creak as I walked up the bank.

Owyhee River Downstream | www.johnkreft.com

Desert rivers and streams have their own beauty, but it’s much different than the fir and pine trees along my home waters.

Owyhee River Fishing | www.johnkreft.com

We stopped at a spot below the dam where we had done well on our last trip to the Owyhee. Several fish rose to #20 Improved Sparkle Dun – BWO mayflies. Here is one Dancingtrout landed…a football!

Owyhee Rainbow | www.johnkreft.com

It was one of a dozen fish she landed, but most were smaller.

I had several fish to my fly, but for some reason wasn’t able to hook up. I did manage to land this Rainbow Trout on a #20 Almost There Baetis.

Owyhee Rainbow with Fly | www.johnkreft.com

A group of three fly fishers stepped into the water below us to nymph fish. Overhearing their conversation, we knew they fished the river a couple of times each week.

Nymph Fishers on Owyhee River | www.johnkreft.com

They began catching nice Brown Trout immediately using #22 – 24 red Zebra Midge. I know fishing this way can be very productive, but I’ve never understood how a fish can see these small insects and eat an imitation!

They proceeded to hook and land around a dozen fish in the 15 – 18 inch range.

I continued to rise smaller fish, but they didn’t seem to hook up.

I pulled out my Euro nymph rod and gave it a try that evening. I broke off a fish, but fishing was slow for us, no fish for me on nymphs and no rising fish for my fishing partner.

The next morning found me across the river fishing the water where the three anglers had done so well.

Nymphing on Owyhee River | www.johnkreft.com

I haven’t fished nymphs for a while, so it took time to get in the groove. I did manage to hook and land this 14 inch Brown Trout.

Owyhee River Brown Trout | www.johnkreft.com

It was the only fish I hooked. A couple fly fishers stepped in above me and managed to hook and land some nice fish. I finally had to stop because my legs and feet were so cold. I asked what they were using…#20 midge imitations.

Time to move on. Perhaps we’ll stop and fish the Owyhee River on the way home.

Without a firm destination, we didn’t plan our route. Should we head to Yellowstone? Or drive through Grand Teton? Or into SW Montana.

We decided on the later and chose to head north on HWY 93 at Arco, ID, turning off HWY 20. We would drive along the Big Lost River and see if we could fish it. We’ve fished the Lost several years ago in Copper Basin when visiting Sun Valley.

We ended up at a remote, but nice campground along the river, arriving at dark.

The next morning, we walked along the paths and found some nice water.

I decided to pull out my Euro nymph rod again because we didn’t see any rising trout.

I tied on a couple of Perdigon nymphs and landed a few small, but beautiful colored Rainbow Trout. My Pheasant Tail Perdigon Variant worked well.

We ran into a couple fly fishers who were also new to the Big Lost. They told us about large trout just below the Mackay dam. As we drove upstream, we turned into the access point and walked to the dam’s base.

There was a fishing platform with several anglers using bait and spinners. The gentleman hooked and landed a 13 inch Rainbow as we walked up. He had a fly rod, but was using a spinner. The ladies were using bait.

While standing there watching, we could see a few HUGE Rainbows surface. They were big, in the 24 to 30 inch range! I wonder if they ever get caught. The water current seems to force them to the surface and then they swim towards the bottom. I don’t know how I’d hook them.

Back on the road and heading north towards Salmon, ID.

Salmon River | www.johnkreft.com

We camped along the Salmon that night. The scenery was spectacular driving over the pass. The rocks across the river were supposed to have Bighorn Sheep on them. We watched for them, but didn’t ever see them. A couple Blad Eagles flew around and landed on the rocks.

We fished the next morning. You guessed it, with my Euro nymph rod since I didn’t see many insects or fish rising. Dancingtrout did hook and land a couple smaller fish and I walked out to the seems and began fishing.

Fishing the Salmon River | www.johnkreft.com

I landed a couple small Rainbow Trout, but when I was farther out, I hooked and landed Mountain Whitefish on almost every cast.

Salmon River Mountain Whitefish | www.johnkreft.com

I did manage to land this nice Rainbow in a spot farther downstream.

Salmon River Rainbow | www.johnkreft.com

We’ve never travelled through Salmon, ID before. It was an easy, beautiful drive with some fish along the way.

Continuing north, we’ll drive over Chief Joseph Pass into Montana and the Bitterroot Valley, the subject of next week’s post.

Enjoy…go fish, stay safe!

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  1. Hi John,
    This is my first time on your travel site. I love your storytelling style: It’s a very useful combination of short narrative and great photos to show what you’re talking about and keeps the reader engaged. Best proof: I read every word and looked at every picture. Now I look forward to your next adventure.

  2. PLease stop in at the shop iof you can; if we can plan some fishing or breaking bread together friom there, let’s do it!
    If I know you’re on your way the least I can do is hold some Caddis Drifter nymphs aside for you (photo on my Facebook page.) #6 or #8 fly; a great antidote to all those #20 midhes!

  3. I look forward to seeing what you’ve got going on each Wednesday and Thursday you and blue ribbon flies are a highlight to me each week I am unable to fish like I used to dye to severe ra my knees and ankles no longer allow me to wade I do still get to fish for panfish and bass some which are a ball on a light fly rod and I still tie a lot which helps keep my mind eyes and hands going and keeps me connected to what I have loved so much since I was a kid thanks John if no body else appreciates what you do I do thanks again

  4. John, Wife and I have been in Missoula 4 days. Headed to Sun Valley next. Will maybe check some of that other Idaho water you described. Been decent here. Hoppers still on, mahoganies still not full on. Thanks for the info

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