The Owyhee River flooding? Panic?

Fishing on the Owyhee RiverAfter 30 years of fishing the Owyhee River and 8  years of professionally guiding it.  Dreams on the Fly thinks it’s time for  information for all  anglers  concerned, panicked or just plain wondering .  What about the fish or lack of, how about the bugs will there be any?

Based on our experience below you will find our opinions, about short term, long term as well as historical data about snow, weather, water and more!

Snow pack, elevation, weather, timing…they all contribute to determining the flow of the river.  In addition the Owyhee Irrigation District is the managing entity for the water flows on the Owyhee.  The Bureau of Reclamation manages the structure of the reservoir.  The Oregon Fish and Wildlife manage the fish.  The Oregon State Parks and Recreation manage the reservoirs parks and camping.  The Malhuer County Road District manage the roads.  And last but not least the Bureau of Land Management manages most all the land (other than a very small percentage of private land).  Oh yes, there is The Oregon State Police which have  jurisdiction of licensing,  game and traffic violations.  This river has more variables then any river I know.  Now add in the variables about the weather and when, how and what are we going to fish on the Owyhee!

It’s difficult to determine when the fishing will be at it’s best on the Owyhee.  We have put together some data for all who are considering fishing the Owyhee in the near future.  This is data provided by a number of sites that we’ve researched in order to offer you, the angler, a glimpse into the “Crystal Ball”.  We have also give a synopsis of our experience in the past with the water levels, and our “two cents” about when and how the Owyhee River will fish again.

A graph and data of the snow pack

Click this image to see historical snow pack in the Idaho Owyhee Mountains

For all of you who are wondering about the effects of high water on the Owyhee fishery here is our take based on past experiences.  High water on the Owyhee is not a new occurrence, traditionally the river has a spring flush every three to five years.

Short term:
The fish will be displaced into different holding water while the water is high, usually in the willows and slower moving portions of the river along the edges. Most of the fish will survive and be healthier for the extra exercise. There will however be some mortality amongst the older and unhealthy fish that would not have made it through one more season. Yes, some fish in the lower river may be flushed out into agricultural land, but the river and the fish will survive.

The hatches may be messed up or sporadic for the duration of the high water and even perhaps all of this season.  There will be an influx of warm water species such as bass and crappie into the river from the reservoir above, but these fish will not survive for more than a season in the cold river water.

The weed beds probably will be washed out as well as the insects that live in them.  Populations of Callibaetis and Pale Morning Dun mayflies will suffer.
There will be all sorts of debris along the bank as well as dead crappies and bass hanging from the trees.

Long term:
The river bed itself will have been flushed free of silt in many places creating more areas of spawning gravel.  The insects will come back in good numbers especially those insects that are more suited to gravel bottoms such as Caddis and Stoneflies.  The Callibaetis and PMD’s will come back as the weed growth starts to re generate.

By the time the next spawning season rolls around the fish will have re-discovered their old haunts and will be back in the same old places falling for the same old tricks.  Those fish that survived the high water will be healthier for the experience.

And maybe the crowds will have thinned out some, with thoughts that the river has been devastated and does not fish well anymore.

On another note:
Legal guides are only allowed walk and wade fishing on the O below the dam. They may have an Oregon guides license, but they also need a commercial use permit issued by the BLM.  None of the use permits issued by the BLM have any stipulations regarding boat guiding on the river.  PLEASE if you see any guides using watercraft to conduct business on the Owyhee below the dam contact the Vale BLM office and report the violation.  541-473-3144  or email at


One thought on “The Owyhee River flooding? Panic?

  1. Good info guys. I agree 100%. I tend to look at this as a positive part of the cycle that will make the fishery different for a while, but better in the long run.

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