Big water, big challenge
High flows on the Crooked River and other Central Oregon streams are confounding anglers this winter
By Mark Morical / The Bulletin
Published: February 10. 2011 4:00AM PST
Waist deep in the murky water, Skip Paznokas braced himself with his wading stick as the Crooked River flowed around him.
A fierce, cold wind ripped through the river canyon, further challenging the fly angler as he tried to cast a nymph to the rainbow trout and whitefish that lurked somewhere in the depths.
Water flows on the Crooked River below Bowman Dam have decreased recently, making the river fishable again but still difficult for anglers. On Monday, the river was running at 400 cubic feet per second (cfs), down from a high of 2,000 cfs in January.
“I’m not sure exactly where (the fish) are hiding,” said Paznokas, who lives in Bend. “You’ve got to fish everything. They could be out on the edge or in the riffles.”
On Wednesday, the Crooked River was running more than 700 cfs.
Fishing in high flows is a challenge on any river; two other popular Central Oregon fishing rivers, the Deschutes and the Metolius, have also registered recent high flows.
On the Crooked River, that challenge is increased by muddy water and cooler water temperatures from snow melt as the Bureau of Reclamation releases water from Prineville Reservoir for flood control.
“This is going to be a difficult year for high flows,” said Bill Seitz, a member of the Central Oregon Flyfishers and a Crooked River expert. “When the flows are high and the water temperature goes down, the trout fishing falls off. Mostly, it’s the whitefish game now.”
Downstream of Paznokas on Monday, Bend’s Troy Eckberg was working the water close to the bank as the sun emerged from behind a cloud and lit up the rugged canyon wall behind him.
“Usually they’re in the channels when the water’s lower,” Eckberg said of the fish, “so they might be on the edge now since the water’s higher. I think they move out.”
Seitz said he gets serious about fishing the Crooked River only when flows are at 400 cfs or less. And he basically forgets about the rainbow trout and homes in on whitefish, which tend to stay more active during periods of high flows.
He said he recently caught 90 whitefish in two days on the Crooked River.
Seitz said anglers should look for slower water close to the shore.
“Most people tend to over-wade,” Seitz noted. “I’ll fish two to three feet from the shoreline and then ease my way out. Even the trout move to quieter water and deeper water.”
Because insect activity is at a minimum this time of year, Seitz said he encourages anglers to fish below the water surface with nymphs size 18 or smaller. He said those same types of patterns can work on the Metolius and the Middle Deschutes.
The trick, Seitz stressed, is to use a color of nymph that the fish can locate in deep, fast-moving water. He said he recommends a black or dark brown nymph, or a Prince nymph with shiny wings.
“Flows on the Metolius are high, too,” Seitz said. “It’s the same deal: small flies, close to shore, near the bottom. You’ll catch a few trout, but it’s mostly a whitefish game — unless you’re fishing for bull trout with bigger flies.”
Seitz employs a technique called Czech nymphing, in which he uses split shot to weight the fly and guide it to the bottom of the river. The use of additional weight is prohibited on the Metolius, which is restricted to fly-fishing only.
But added weight can work to put a fly into deeper water quickly on the Crooked River and Middle Deschutes.
Because whitefish move in packs, Seitz said, if anglers find one whitefish, they might find 70. But they might need to move around a lot until they find the type of water in which the fish are located.
“Don’t fish the water you would in the summer or spring, because they’re into deeper water,” Seitz said.
He added that he prefers fishing the Crooked River when the flows are between 100 and 200 cfs.
But for now, anglers are making do.
“Two hundred (cfs) is about right,” said Eckberg on Monday as he cast upstream in a river that was flowing at twice that rate.
“I like it a little bit lower, but it’s nice to get out on the water in early February.”
Mark Morical can be reached at 541-383-0318 or at email@example.com.
Published Daily in Bend Oregon by Western Communications, Inc. © 2010