2006 Sept: Eastern Oregon River / Silver Creek / East Lake Report

David Holmes

Formerly known as "capmblade"
From September 23rd to the 27th, I accompanied Jim Speaker on a fishing trip that he'd been planning for some time. In general I can say that the fishing varied from merely great to fantastic. In five days I fished a Desert Lake (WA), A Desert River (OR), Silver Creek (ID), Big Wood River (ID) and East Lake (OR). That's a different location every day and in most of those cases each destination was hundreds of miles from the previous. I put 1800 miles on my truck and caught rainbows, browns and even a kokanee in a desert lake, a muddy river, a fabled spring creek, a mountain stream and a volcanic crater lake.

Day One - A Desert Lake, Washington

Jim and I met at the Flying J Ellensburg for breakfast. We drove out to the desert and tromped around in the sagebrush on our way to the secret lake (whose name I had to swear an oath not to reveal).

Aside from some hunters, we were the only people there, which I found quizzical for a sunny Saturday afternoon. The weather alternated between just-plain-sunny and slightly overcast. Damsels were flying everywhere. I quickly caught three rainbows between 15" and 17" on an olive Willy pattern. Jim got a nice fish on a blue damsel fly up top, which he had never done before -- I have the same fly and have never had the guts to try it. At the end of the day a baetis hatch came off and Jim and I chased rising rainbows all over. We hooked several and brought a few to hand, all between 15-18". I caught my fish on my ratty #14 BWOs that seem to work just about anywhere in the West. The sunset was spectacular and the golden light on the reeds and cool autumn air gave me that feeling of "fishing perfection" that I love from this time of year. Our totals for the day had been 11 rainbows landed and several more lost (including some beast-fish) between the two of us - not bad for an afternoon.

Jim and I drank some beers and talked with the hunters as we put our boats away and then we were off to Oregon. Somehow we got HELLA lost in Kennewick of all places and it was midnight before we crossed into Oregon. Unable to continue, tired from kicking around in a pontoon boat for 6 hours and drinking beer, we stopped and shared a $50 room in La Grande. $25 per person ain't much for a clean bed and a shower if you ask me.

Day Two - An Eastern Oregon River

Jim asked me not to mention the name of this particular river because some people are still sensitive about it. I defer to his judgement. Anyway, its murkiness made it really hard to fish during the day because we couldn't see where the good water was.

A Murky River​

Before fishing we stopped at a bar in a nearby one horse town so we could watch the Seahawks/Giants game. Jim and I sat down and proceeded to eat two cheeseburgers, down a sixpack and smoke a pack of Marlboro's while we watched that laugher of a game. At half time it was 42-3 Seahawks. We felt no need to watch the rest of the game so we went to the river.

As the sun came off the water, we arrived at Jim's favorite pool where a fantastic mayfly hatch was coming off. I could see what looked like tiny little lips sipping mayflies right next to the bank, so I cast one of my flies in there and BAM, 15" brown. I was shocked. I was expecting a tiny little fish but instead I almost got schooled. The murky water either made these fish unaware of us or made them stupid I don't know which. Until it got dark Jim and I caught brown after brown all between 15" and 20". Sometimes we'd hook them 2 feet away from ourselves. The river reminded me of the Gunnison river in that respect except it was even EASIER to catch big old browns. At least during the evening hatch.

When it got dark we had a few more beers and drove back to the same bar. Over cold sandwiches and cokes we listened to the local denizens singning with the local banjo/fiddle band. After dinner it was time for another long drive, this time to Mountain Home, ID, where we got another $50 room in one of the sketchiest cinderblock Thunderbird motels I've stayed at in a long time.

Day Three - Silver Creek, ID

This time I got us lost in Mountain Home, but Jim found the way out and we got some breakfast at AJ's and then we drove a couple of hours to Picabo, Idaho. There was a fancy-shmancy fly shop/convenience store there where we got some licenses and bought some flies for Silver Creek. Silver Creek is fabled spring creek that Ernest Hemingway fished and where his son, Jack Hemingway set up a preserve around the creek.

Silver Creek, ID​

Silver Creek is basically a super-challenging, technical, boutique fishery. The water is so slow that many people fish it from float tubes. The crystal clear flow allows the "graduate school trout" to get a good long look at your fly which had better look PERFECT in both appearance and presentation. There were some funky regulations that prevented us from using oars in our pontoon boats but we managed with our fins.

We fished from noon to 7pm - I was skunked, which didn't surprise me in the slightest (I went in with really low expectations). Jim only caught one fish - a 16" rainbow that jumped out of his net before I could get my camera in position.

Jim Says, "I got nothin"​

It wasn't as bad as I make it sound though. Both Jim and I had 4 fish on that day and if those fish had been landed instead of lost we could have said that we were awesome. We think the problem was that the clear water requires you to use 7x tippet, which is like the width of hair. And I don't mean a fat nose hair either - I'm talking about the peach fuzz hair on Paris Hilton's pinky toe knuckle. Neither Jim nor I ever fish with 7x (or even 6x) and we weren't used to the stretchiness of the line which caused us to lose our fish. We think. Or maybe we suck, I don't know.

That night we drove north to Ketchum, where Papi Hemingway shot himself and is ultimately buried. Ketchum is yuppie/hippy tourist hellhole if you ask Jim or me. In some ways it reminded me intensely of Boulder, Colorado. The cheapest room we could find was $140 - though we talked the genuine imported European desk clerk down to $105. I must admit, the room was very, very nice. Jim tied up a couple of Red Quills for the next day's fishing while I tried to plan the rest of my trip.

Day Four - Big Wood River, Idaho

We had a nice breakfast at the Rustic Moose and then I had to stop at the Thomas D. Mangelsen gallery. I ended up buying a big landscape piece for our house and even though I got a good deal, I got a bad taste in my mouth leaving almost that much dough in Ketchum, which will probably only make the town even more snooty.

Big Wood River, Ketcum ID​

We fished the Big Wood river right in town. The Big Wood is a beautiful mountain stream running maybe 100 cfs. The BLM has made the river available in a mountain park-like C&R setting. Looking at the river, you'd think that the average fish size would be 8" but its not. The AVERAGE fish size is 12" and 16" fish are common. Sure enough, our first fish landed were 12" and Jim hooked a lost a 16" fish. Completely opposite of the previous day, we fished oversized generic flies (Adams Irresistible, yellow Humpies, Renegades) and had luck with all of them. The fly of the day seemed to be the Red Quill though. All the fish we caught were beautifully colored.

Jim with a typical Big Wood fish​

The Big Wood river was as much a delight as Silver Creek was a challenge. I said goodbye to Jim that afternoon around 4pm. Stopping at a Taqueria in town, I got a burrito to go and hit the road, headed back the way I came. I drove all the way back to Oregon and kept on driving across the middle of the state to Bend. It was a long, long drive and I didn't get into Bend until midnight.

Day Five - East Lake of the Newberry Crater, OR

The turnoff for Newberry Crater is only a half hour south of Bend. The park road winds 15 miles up the side of the volcano. On the counter at the East Lake Resort were pictures of people holding up 10lb brown after 10lb brown. One of them was dated just a few weeks ago - it was a young blond woman holding up a huge brown. The caption included her name and a "taken on a green popper" underneath. A green popper? What????

Olive Wooly Bugger works anywhere, even in Volcanoes

East Lake is gigantic - 4000 acres, most of it 10-20 feet deep. The edges are shallow and contain weed beds full of leaches and damsels. Elsewhere are broad shoals where all kinds of fish swarm to eat rising midges and callibaetis. At the far side (too far for my pontoon boat!) is a refuge where thousands of monster browns can hide in 100 feet of deep water. In a few weeks they will emerge to terrorize the chubs in the shallows. One guy in a drift boat said that he was watching a 10lb brown chasing chubs in the weed beds that morning.

Thick Weed Beds​

Fishing callibaetis nymphs and woolly buggers I quickly landed a nice fat 12" rainbow, a 17" brown and a 6" chub. That's three of the four fish species! I cruised the east shore of the lake for hours hoping to get a kokanee. In the meantime I picked up a few more rainbows and another brown. It took me a LONG time to kick over to the White Slide where I'd heard you could get a koke. No kokes there, but one of the rainbows I got casting a Chopaka Emerger that Jim gave me with a small hare's ear dropper underneath - I cast it in front of a rising fish and he just crushed the nymph. Sweet.

The White Slide​

At the end of the day I hooked a nice fish and when it surfaced briefly I saw a flash of red and realized it was the koke that I needed to complete my grand slam! After that I hooked 10 fish in 30 minutes but could land none of them. I think now that they were schooling kokanee whose hooked mouths had made them "hook resistant." Or something.

Spawning Kokanee in a volcano.​

East Lake was an awesome fishery -- how often do you get to catch kokes in a volcano?. The scenery was beautiful, the fish were cooperative (enough) and the possibility of hooking into a 10lb brown made for a fantastic day.

Jim's Trip

I got an email from Jim a few days after I got back home. He had proceeded east and fished for a couple more days before returning. I excerpt his email here:

I proceeded to Frontier Anglers, got my license, got the scoop and got out on the Beaverhead R. In a nutshell: I landed 20 browns in the course of the day fishing two different stretches on both nymphs and parachute baetis – a great day considering I took a mid-day break to set up camp below the Clark Canyon Dam and dinked around for about three hours. The biggest Beaverhead brown was 16” – I’m still yet to get one of the big boys from that river.

The next morning I broke camp and went up to Melrose where I arranged a shuttle at the Montana Fly Company and proceeded to float the Big Hole R. from Maiden Rock F&W access to the Melrose ramp (4 miles). There were about four other boats on that stretch with me all of which got ahead of me. The first good run I fished I somehow lost my (PRIZED) nymph box – there went 300 or so nymphs mostly tied by me. Ouch. A guide gave me about 20 nymphs – good ones – so I wasn’t completely screwed. In the course of the day I landed 13 browns and 7 rainbows (only counting 6” and larger fish). I had a good number of browns in the 12 – 14” range and the largest was 16”. I had a heartbreaking loss of a 20”+ brown that I nailed on nymphs – heartbreaking because I had it on long enough that I really thought I would land it – then the hook popped. About half the fish were taken on nymphs and half on dries (my parachute baetis – not the tiny one).

That night I got off the river about 7 p.m. and proceeded to drive the 460 miles to the Yakima Canyon . With a 3 hour nap at a rest stop (front seat of truck again) I managed to get into Ellensburg at about 7 a.m., ate breakfast at the Flying J and got a shuttle arranged at Reds. I fished yesterday from Big Horn to Reds (7 miles). I started right out on the first riffle with a 13” bow and thought that fishing would be hot. Actually it was tough – the baetis started up around 10 a.m. but mostly small fish were hitting them. Between nymphing and throwing a baetis with my 2 wt. I managed 7 bows three of which were 13”. Two 13”-ers were on nymphs and the other was on a baetis while I fished on the go from my boat and threw the dry toward the bank… always an interesting situation, I had rapids coming up and managed to drop and secure my anchor with one hand while playing the fish with the other.

Got off the Yak about 6:20 pm and drove home. I crashed out in no time on the sofa – sleep deprivation baby – it all caught up with me.


I wanted to so bad to stay out on the road. Specifically, I wanted another crack at East Lake and then I wished I could have hit the Metolius or Kalama on the way back. But 5 days away was enough to make me stop taking everything else for granted, at least for a while.
thanks for the report. You gotta love trips like the one you took.

about two months ago I fished the big wood and had an awesome time. Hopper dropper was the ticket for me (where two flies were allowed).


Pool Spooker
Sitting @ my desk for the Federal Government, chomping down pork lomein, saying, crap I wish I was there.
Nice report, thanks.
East Lake is awesome. I fish there every summer for the last 4-5 years. Never can seem to get those monster browns though. Anyway sounds like a great trip.
Very Good Report!! Glad To See You Caught A Motha Load At East Lake. We Went Up There Last Summer, But Got Skunked Due To A Large Alge Bloom On The Entire Lake. Go Figure, A Volcano With An Alge Problem???


John Hicks

Owner and operator of Sea Run Pursuits
Great report. I especially liked the part about Silver Creek. That creek reminds me of the Swift river here in Massachusetts. Ultra clear, slow flow, ultra light tippet (6,7,8x). Small flies


Active Member
Good report guys, a koke on the fly is one of the fish that still aludes me! Keep it up guys those are some awsome pics. Ahh road trips, you gotta love em, 50 dollar hotel and hill town bars and all. Ps what town was the bar in, I used to go to college at EOU in lagrande, so Ive probably been there.
Great Report...I'm glad that you enjoyed yourself! I grew up in Central Oregon and have fished East Lake many a time, and I can tell you that you did quite well. I was there about one month prior to your trip and I nailed the browns on callibaetis...no 10 lb. fish, but I landed a 4 lb. brown. Oh yes, I thought I'd mention....the lake also has some landlocked Atlantic Salmon as well. My campsite neighbor landed 2 of them one morning...about 16" a piece. Next time you'll have to try for one of those babies!


Indi "Ira" Jones
wildatheartphoto said:
Oh yes, I thought I'd mention....the lake also has some landlocked Atlantic Salmon as well.
Kokanee and landlocked Atlantics, are the same thing.

Great report and pictures.

If you ever head back to Silver Creek, PM me and I'll give you some ideas about how you can catch more fish.

jackchinook said:
Kokanee = landlocked sockeye
Lanklocked Atlantic = landlocked Atlantic salmon

different species, different genus

iagree Which is exactly why I encouraged fly fisherman to target the landlocked Atlantics and the Kokanee. I'm glad some of us are on the same page.