Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Owyhee's

May 2019
The annual Owyhee trip was upon us. Our crappie supply in the freezer had dwindled just in time for the hot crappie bite that comes only once a year. In addition to hitting the reservoir, we would camp on the river and fish for brown trout in the mornings and evenings. This year we brought the float tubes, hoping to access the slower stretches of river where wading is difficult. 

The spring weather this year had been dicey at best. Storm after storm had been through the area and temperatures were much colder than normal.
"I bet this cold rainy weather has made crappie fishing tough." I said to the gal at the Owyhee Grocery store as we bought our Oregon license's.
"Nope. They are taking them out by the buckets right now. I'm jealous I'm not up there!" She replied with sincerity.
With a report like that we rushed up the reservoir to partake in hopefully insane crappie fishing. The weather had other plans though. Rain came down in buckets as we tried to ready the boat to launch. Despite the weather, Katie was chomping at the bit to get on the water. Katie LOVES catching crappie.

When the rain subsided slightly we launched the boat, motored over to some nearby rocks and began fishing. On my first cast, the indicator sunk and seconds later I was lipping a 9 inch black crappie. 

We made our way back into a popular cove where many bank anglers had fished. The flooded bushes were decorated like Christmas trees with jigs and bobbers. A kaleidoscope of different colors could be seen dangling here and there. I worked around each bush to "clean up" the litter, gathering all kinds of jigs and bobbers.
We fished that afternoon for several hours and landed nearly 100 crappie and several bass. 
We didn't keep any crappie. This evening had been a recon trip to establish what size crappie we could keep the following day. Nine and half inches would make it on the stringer.

That night the rain came down in buckets again. We chickened out on fishing the river in the evening at camp, and when I woke up in the morning, it was still raining. Regardless, the brown trout were calling my name. While Katie slept, I wadered up and made my way to the river. I started with a nymph rig; a frenchie trailed by an egg pattern. It worked well, and in short order, I was netting a 15 inch brown. 
A few casts later, it produced another nice fish.
I landed 4 fish on 4 different flies by 8 am. No hatches had materialized, so subsurface was the game. 

I came back to camp and Katie and I got ready to fish the reservoir. As soggy as it had been the previous day, Katie and I wore our waders this time. Once on the water, fishing was again excellent!
We ended that day with loads of fish caught, but only 19 crappie were large enough to make it on the stringer.

Back at camp the rain came down in buckets, forcing us to retreat to the safety of the tent. Our gear was being tested in this weather. Everything was beginning to get soggy, including our outlook on the following day of fishing.

I awoke the next morning to clouds, but no rain. I quickly wadered up and readied the float tube to fish the pool at camp.
I fished the famed "Spiller's Diver," with no luck. I then switched to a black cone head wolly bugger. On my first cast, the rod was nearly jerked out of my hands. Slow to the take, I missed several fish before connecting.
Once I found my groove, I began to connect with at least half of the takes I was receiving.
The browns were absolutely crushing my wooly bugger this morning. I couldn't wait to get Katie out in the tube to partake in this action.
I landed 8 browns by 8 am. I woke Katie up to see what she wanted to do.
"Let's catch more crappie!" She said with a smile. "Maybe if it gets sunny later we'll try the river."

Back up to the reservoir we went. As we crested the dam, the image before us looked like a scene from Jurassic Park. The green mountains disappeared into the clouds like those of Isla Nublar. Although not raining at the moment, rain was clearly in the future. 
We launched the boat and took off up the reservoir to some coves we've hit in the past. Although we found crappie nearly everywhere, Katie and I found one rock pile that was loaded with them! Tons of bigger ones too. Almost half of the crappie from this location ended up on the stringer.
We must have caught at least 30 crappie off this one rock pile! 

We fished on, making our way into a nice cove. I knew there would be some bass lurking in the back, so I tied on a Spillers Diver and sent it in. The diver plopped down on the water. As I started chugging the diver toward me, a large shadow materialized behind the fly. I paused the fly for 5 seconds. The shadow slowly crept closer until it sat centimeters away. Then it opened its large mouth, the fly instantly disappearing into a swirl of bubbles. I set the hook hard, momentarily feeling the weight of a large bass. Then my rod went slack as the fly broke off. I cursed my poorly and hastily tied knot; something I rarely do. With barbless hooks, you'll often find the fly floating back up in the area, but no such phenomenon was seen. I tied on another diver and sent it back in. My fly hung up on a piece of stick or weed. I quickly drug it in to find a very unusual surprise: my fly! How I managed to place a blind cast directly onto my broken off fly, which I didn't even see, and bring it in is a miracle. 
It must have been destiny. The next cast back into the cove produced a nice largemouth. Not the whopper from before, but still a really nice bass.
We fished on. Catching many more crappie and bass. Every time we'd reach a "bassy" looking area we'd throw the diver with success. Even the crappie were coming up for the diver!
The weather was highly variable, with sun at moments and more rain mixed in. The fishing however wasn't. It was non-stop action!
The scenery in the Owyhee's is also second to none.
In the early afternoon we could see darker, threatening clouds brewing. A wall of water approached us faster than we could escape. 
We fished through the rain and hail, but we knew it was about time to call it quits. Before we could take off though, a carp decided he needed to be caught.

With well over a hundred and fifty fish caught, and nearly 40 crappie on the stringer, it was time to head home. We filleted our crappie as the rain continued to come down. The heavy rain made our decision to float and fish the river an easy one; some other time. 

The annual Owyhee trip was again a success. It may take several days to completely dry out, but it was worth it! 

Monday, May 27, 2019

The Sturgeon Pond

May 2019

It had been on my radar for a few years now; a "pay to play" sturgeon pond in Parma. For a small fee of $25, anglers have a chance to catch sturgeon in a private pond. For many, this is the best opportunity to cross Idaho's "dinosaur" fish off their bucket list. I myself have little interest in investing in the gear and braving the Snake River to try for wild white sturgeon. But a private pond full of the fish? That I would consider. 

One day my father in-law, Rick, asked me when we were going.
"Let's try it this spring." I responded, intrigued by some of the facebook photos I'd seen recently of the place. 
"If you make the arrangements, I'll go!" Rick said. 
I placed a call to Jim Schwartz and the date was set. I also told Jim we wanted to catch some on the fly rod, a task I assumed would be difficult.
"No problem. I'll give you some tricks to make it happen!" Jim responded over the phone.

The day arrived and Rick, Katie and I drove to Parma. We met with Jim's wife Martha, checked in, borrowed a rod and she showed us where a "good" spot to fish was. 
"Here's where Jim usually feeds them. I'd try here." Martha said, giving us a wink. "It looks like you guys will have the whole pond to yourselves today."
Jim was running some errands so we would be on our own for a little while. 
Rick baited a hook with some pickled herring and threw it out into the murky waters of the small pond. The pond hardly looked large enough to support sturgeon, let alone the hundreds I had heard were in there. Katie was still rigging the fly rods when Rick set the hook on a fish.
"Well that was fast. Does it feel like a sturgeon?" I asked, while baiting a hook.
"It feels large..." Rick responded, "not sure what a sturgeon feels like."
The fish pulled hard but no match for the heavy rod and 30 pound line. A 3 foot sturgeon came thrashing to the surface near the shore.
"Sweet! It's a sturgeon!" I said, wading into the pond to capture it. The fish was quick and energetic, even after I apprehended it's tail. I then flipped the fish onto it's back and it became tranquil. Sturgeon relax when you flip them over onto their backs; hence why you see most photos of sturgeon in this position. Jim had requested we take good care of his fish by keeping the fish in the water and never lifting on their tail. We took some photos and released the beast back into the depths of the pond. 
Rick quickly re-baited his hook and in less than a minute he was fighting another sturgeon; this one 3 feet as well.
After helping Rick with his fish, I was finally able to get my hook in the water. Sure enough, a small tap could be felt just seconds from the bait sitting on the bottom. I heaved back on the heavy rod and felt the weight of a substantial fish. Another 3 footer pulled hard on the end of the line. 
It was becoming obvious that catching these fish on bait would not be a challenge. Katie, however, had more interest in catching one on the fly rod. She stood several feet away casting a large streamer on a 10 weight rod with no success. I convinced her to put the fly rod down and catch one on the bait first. Two minutes later she was pulling in her first sturgeon.
After releasing the fish, a side by side ATV pulled up and Jim Schwartz stepped out. After introductions, Jim grabbed a bucket of fish food and broadcasted it into the pond.
"Let's get you guys some on the fly rod!" Jim said, with an excited smile.
It's common knowledge that sturgeon are bottom feeders, relying on their nose and whiskers to locate food. It was no surprise when Jim said we needed to add some scent to our flies. 
"Dunk your fly in that herring juice!" Jim said, pointing to the pickled herring jar. 
We followed his advice, as "un-pure" as it was, and in a few minutes Rick set the hook on a huge sturgeon. 
It was obvious from the beginning that this fish was no baby. A huge tail came kicking to the surface and Rick's rod doubled over. Seconds turned to minutes as the fish had it's way with Rick. After nearly 30 minutes and 3 attempts at a tail grab, I was able to apprehend the fish.
Jim measured the fish: 6 foot. We sent the fish back on it's way.
"Well that was fun! Back to the regular rod." Rick said, shaking his arm out and giving me the fly rod.
I dunked the fly, and in short order, I felt the mouth of a sturgeon suck my fly in.
This fish was very acrobatic, leaping completely out of the water several times before we landed it. Just under 5 feet, this fish was the largest fish I'd ever landed.

Katie hooked a couple fish momentarily, but lost them. The action slowed a bit, likely from most of the fish food being consumed. Katie stuck with it though, determined to say she landed a sturgeon on the fly rod. 
Jim went across the pond to feed in another location. He called us over as large koi sipped floating food off the surface. We relocated to the other side to try there.
I re-rigged the fly rod to a black wooly bugger suspended under a strike indicator; a set-up proven to take carp. The carp/koi showed little interest in the fly, but something else did. My indicator took a dive and line screamed off my reel. The fish fought in a similar fashion to another uncommon species on the fly rod: the catfish. After finally gaining some line on the fish, a dark shape rolled at the surface.
"It's a catfish!" I shouted to Rick, Katie and Jim.
Jim brought out his camera as I wrestled the fish to hand.
This was probably the heaviest catfish I've ever landed. Back to the depths it swam. I tried for some time longer to catch some of the koi and Katie continued for the sturgeon, neither with any luck. 

We moved back over to the other side of the pond, where we'd been earlier in the morning. Rick and I went with the spinning rods and Katie stuck with the fly rod.
"I'm catching one, darn-it!" Katie said, casting her large streamer into the pond.
"Okay." I replied. "I think you've got one!"
Just then, Katie's line slowly swam off. She set the hook, but that did nothing. Her line continued to peel off the reel until the fish was all the way on the other side of the pond and 100 feet of backing was out of the rod. 
"Holy cow! I can't do a thing." Katie said, heaving on the rod.
Thus began a long and tiring battle. Several times Katie would re-gain her backing and fly line, only to loose it all, and the fish would be on the other side of the pond again. After nearly an hour, we saw the beast, and a beast it was. But this fish was not done. Again, the fish swam to the other side of the pond. We worked our way around the bank to other side of the pond, since apparently this was where the fish wanted to be. 

A couple of times Katie handed me the rod so her arms could take a break. We danced with the fish in the shallows for some time longer before I was finally able to grab it's tail. 
Jim came over with his tape measure; 6 foot 8 inches.
"There's only 2 other sturgeon larger than this in the pond," said Jim.
"Ok, now I'm satisfied!" Katie exclaimed as we sent the large fish off. "That was a lot of work. An hour and a half? No thanks."

The rest of the afternoon consisted of sitting on the edge of the pond in our waders, baiting hooks and reeling in sturgeon. Jim would come by periodically to check on how we were doing.
The frustrating part was how soft the pickled herring was and how frequently you had to rebait. The jar of herring also had onion pieces in it. Jim said to try those. Sure enough, the onions worked.
I even tried some of the casing on a pepperoni stick I was eating. It worked too! 
By 4 pm we were exhausted from catching sturgeon. 
"I bet the water would fall 3 feet if you removed all the fish out of this pond." Jim had said earlier in the day.
I almost believe him now. It had been a very fun day and I suspect we landed at least 50 sturgeon. For $25 dollars, I can't think of a better way to spend the day fishing for Idaho's elusive white sturgeon. Call Jim to book your day on the water at Schwartz Sturgeon Pond!