Fly Fishing Oregon's Owyhee River

Fly fishing Oregon's Owyhee River is a dream come true. The cool tailwater section ten miles below the Owyhee Reservoir is a dry fly fisher's paradise.

The bad news is the high bug count on the water will demand a natural drift from the fly fisher.

The Owyhee River runs through a scenic desert canyon and offers year round fly fishing for rainbow and brown trout. The brown trout here can easily reach 20 inches.

Wondering how to pronounce it? Just think about a phonetic spelling of Hawaii.  Pronounced "Oh-AH-hee," this region was named after three Hawaiian trappers who disappeared or were killed here in 1819. 

I would like to thank Ken Evoy and the staff at SBI for giving me the tools to build this site. 

Where to Fly Fish on the Owyhee River

From Highway I-80 at Ontario head south on Hwy 201 then watch for signs to Owyhee Reservoir. 

The first ten miles of the river below the dam is followed by Owyhee Lake Road and runs through public land, making access easy.

Downstream of Snively Hot Springs there is little public access. 

The Upper River

The upper section of the Owyhee River originates in the northern mountains of Nevada. This upper section has some of the most difficult whitewater in the states and draws whitewater enthusiasts from around the country. 

The water is also warmer. As a result it is mostly fished for catfish and smallmouth bass.

Since this is a trout website we will focus on the lower section. 

The Lower River

The ten miles below the Owyhee Reservoir between the dam and Snively Hot Springs is a well known tailwater trout fishery. This section is known for its big rainbows and browns. Rainbow trout here can grow to 6 pounds with the average trout running about 12 inches. Brown trout on the other hand can average four to six pounds with the largest confirmed catch at twelve pounds.

The lower section of the Owyhee River runs murky and shallow. Two to four feet in depth is common and it has a relatively gentle gradient. You won't find a lot of fast water. Wading is not that difficult but having a wading staff is a good idea so you can probe the cloudy water before your next step. 

Best Time for Fly Fishing Oregon's Lower Owyhee River

You can fish the Owyhee River year round but the best time is from spring to mid-summer. During this time there are not a lot of irrigation withdrawals and the water flow is higher.

Later in the summer and fall you will find lower water levels but don't let this stop you. The bug count is still very high and it is also a good time to fish terrestrials like ants and hoppers along the bank.

The low light of early morning and late afternoon are the best times for the Owyhee. Save the bright light of mid-day for your nap and always be careful of rattle snakes in the evening.

Owyhee Water Flow Chart

Patterns for Fly Fishing Oregon's Owyhee River

Keep in mind that this river has a high density of very small bugs so fish your small flies.

May to September (best surface flies)

  • Pale Morning Duns #16 or smaller
  • Skwalan stonefly
  • Brown Parachute Adams
  • Parachute Hopper
  • Dave's Hopper
  • Hi-Vis Beetle
  • Yellow Humpy #8-12
  • Stimulator
  • Royal Trude
  • Turk's Tarantula #8-12 


Elk Hair Caddis

May to September (best nymphs)

  • Beadhead Hare's Ear
  • Prince Nymph
  • Mirco caddis season (nymphing)
  • Olive Scud #10-16
  • Low floating Adult Stone (brown or black) #10-12 

Year round

  • Midges #20-22 under a dry fly
  • Olive Hare's Ears
  • Beadhead Olive Hare's Ears
  • Green Rock Worm
  • Elk Hair Caddis #12-18
  • Tiny Tailwater Nymph
  • Beadhead Zebra
  • Brook's Sprout Midge

Best Methods for Fly Fishing Oregon's Owyhee River

Dry fly (9-foot leader with a 5 or 6x tippet)

  • This is the best method for a less experienced fisher.
  • During the summer months this section is considered a dry fly paradise.
  • The good news is there will be a large number of bugs on the water. The bad news is you will need to present your fly with a good drift to fool the trout.
  • In the slower current they will have time to look your fly over. Use a loop knot when tying on your flies. This will give a more natural movement to your flies. 

Nymphing (7 1/2-foot leader and a 3 or 4x tippet)

  • If there are no rising trout, go with a tiny nymph or two under a dry fly (or a small indicator).
  • The murky green water means you can get away with a heavier tippet.
  • Once the water clears you will need to thin it down some.
  • You will lose some flies on the lava rock river bottom so bring extras.

Streamers (0-2x tippet)

  • Fishing streamers is always a good way to attract big browns. Use leeches, sculpins, crayfish imitations and/or anything that will imitate a smaller fish. 

Remember that these browns not only have been chasing minnows but they have also been feeding on the large bug supply since they were minnows themselves. 

The big browns will be found in the pools and slack water.  The largest are found near the bottom and at the head of the pools. 

Read the Oregon Fish and Game Regulations but at this time the browns should be released. 

Appropriate Gear for Fly Fishing Oregon's Owyhee River

  • 3 to 5 weight fly rod with floating line
  • 5X to 6X tippet
  • Waders with studded boots and wading staff
  • Wide brimmed hat, polarized sunglasses, sunscreen and lots of water
  • Camera
  • Also see our page on fly fishing supplies

Campgrounds and Lodging Near the Owyhee River

  • Owyhee State Park  Open for camping April 15th to Oct 31st. Open to day use all year 
  • There are primitive campsites near the river but be careful as some are only accessible by 4-wheel-drive vehicles. 
  • Lodging can best be found in the Nampa, Caldwell or Boise area of Idaho or in Ontario, Oregon.

Fly Shops and Guides in the Area

Bottoroff Guide Service    Meridian, ID  (208)-860-3662             

Idaho Angler  Boise, ID    (208) 389-9957 or (800) 787-9957  

Dreams on the Fly  Meridian ID   (208)-861-2853        

Owyhee Fly Fisher    (208)-642-7898                              

In Summary 

Fly fishing Oregon's Owyhee River can be very memorable. The area is very scenic and would make a great set for a Hollywood western. Bring your camera.

It is a great tailwater trout fishing stream. If you are patient and particularly observant it is your best chance to hook a 20-inch brown trout on a dry fly. Sounds like fun, yes?

It only takes a brief look at the map to see that the Owyhee River is remote. If it were close to a densely populated area you would have a lot of company. 

Keep your eyes open for the golden and bald eagles that haunt the cliffs above you. 

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