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Day at Ochoco Lake fishing became mainly a day of difficult rowing for this author

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Lon AustinWell, after a couple of months off, I am back at work part time.

When I was working full time I didn't have much time for recreational activities.

Since the sports world was put on hold by COVID-19, I have had more free time than I have had in years and years. And I have tried my best to take advantage of the extra time.

First we remodeled our house. Nothing fancy, just replace a few old windows and put some faux rock on the front of the house along with a new paint job. Still, it makes a big change in the look of the house.

In addition, I have tried to go fishing at least once a week. I would like to say that I have been out catching fish, but mostly I have been out playing in the water.

I periodically get people telling me the latest hot fishing hole. A week or so later I go and there's nothing.

First, it was Crooked River below the dam. Reports were that people were catching 50 or more fish in a single outing. More encouraging, some of the fish were big.

So, I headed up the river and went fishing. Not only did I not catch a fish, I didn't see anyone else catch a fish either. Then it was they are catching fish from 16 to 22 inches in Chickahomany Reservoir. To be fair, I did catch one nice trout there, before it got windy and I spent the rest of the day trying to get my pontoon boat back to the boat ramp.

Then I get a hint that fishing is really hot at Antelope Flat Reservoir. So, off I go. To be fair, I did catch fish there, but nothing big and nothing even approaching the number of fish that I was told.

Since then I have tried fishing for bass in Prineville Reservoir, twice, and have tried to fish Crooked River above Prineville Reservoir. That actually went better. I caught one smallmouth bass that went over three pounds. However, once again I was late to the party. By the time I headed up the river, the water level immediately above the reservoir was low and most of the fish had moved on to a few deep holes in the river, or back into the reservoir.

There was also a trip to the John Day River, which is finally low enough to be fishable from the bank. I caught two nice channel catfish, but no bass worth taking home.

All spring I had heard rumors that they were catching some big trout in Ochoco Reservoir. A couple of weeks ago I saw a picture of a really nice mess of fish from the reservoirs. So, last week I loaded my pontoon boat on top of my car and took the short drive to the reservoir.

Once again, my fishing experience is nothing compared to the rumors I have heard. Nothing, absolutely nothing.

Although I didn't catch anything, I did learn something important. The wind picks up in the afternoon, and it would be smart to start the fishing trip by rowing upwind. However, that wasn't even a consideration when I got to the reservoir. When I arrived, it was flat calm. I rowed slowly toward the upper end of the reservoir, stopping regularly to cast. Nothing, not even the tiniest of nibbles. Then a slight breeze started, and I floated up the reservoir trolling, with little effort as the wind did much of the work.

In any case, in an hour I made it from the boat ramp to the very upper end of the reservoir. I trolled with several different rooster tails, then I switched to flies, trying a black wooly bugger, a green and red wolly worm, leech patterns, stonefly nymphs and several other flies. All with no success.

As I passed other fishermen, both on the bank and in boats, they all said that they were catching a few small bass. Most boaters said that they were doing better on the south side of the reservoir than the north, so as I started rowing back up the reservoir I headed toward the south side of the lake.

What I can tell you for sure is that the upper end of the lake is shallow and filled with weeds. I would row a few strokes, then have to stop to extricate my flies from weeds. Each time I stopped my inflatable pontoon boat would drift back toward the upper end of the reservoir.

I finally had to take my line out of the water as I rowed for an hour to get to deeper water.

Pulling in to the bank so I wouldn't drift back up the reservoir, I finally switched to the only bass gear I had in the boat, a three inch pumpkin-colored plastic grup.

Immediately, I got a strike, then two or three more. But none of them hit hard. They just grabbed the tail of the grub and then let go.

That's one of the things I have noticed about trying to fish while rowing. You just don't have hold of the fishing pole, and by the time you recognize that you do have a strike, it is often too late to set the hook.

But, at least I was getting a little bit of action. Unfortunately, even that didn't last. The later in the afternoon it got, the harder the wind blew. By three p.m., I was struggling just to hold my place in the reservoir. No matter how hard I rowed, I made virtually no headway. If I stopped to check my gear or to take a drink of water, I blew rapidly back up the reservoir, giving up all the headway I had made.

After what seemed like an enternity, I pulled my line out of the water to better concentrate on getting back to the boat ramp. I rowed and rowed and rowed. The one-hour trip to the upper end of the reservoir turned into two hours, and then three. By the end,the lake was choppy enough that I filled my tackle box with water. I was splashing water over the back of my seat, and I was still struggling to make any progress.

After nearly three and a half hours of steady rowing, I finally got far enough down the lake that I was able to angle across back to the boat ramp. All in all a pretty good day. I got about four hours of exercise rowing. I got out of the house and on the water, and I had a chance to visit with several other fishermen.

Still, when all was said and done, the fish won. That is something that has happened far too often lately. I used to think that I was a decent fisherman. Now, I know better. My fly casting is terrible. It involves hooking the brush behind me, or even my own back. Rarely does it mean hooking into a fish. My fishing with lures isn't much better. It quickly becomes breaking off my line after hooking a rock.

The only way I consistently seem to catch fish is with bait. However, in this day and age when use bait is severely limited. On top of that, catching fish on a fly rod looks like a lot more fun.

The good news is I'm getting exercise rowing, and hiking into obscure fishing holes, and I'm having a good time. However, don't expect to have a fish dinner at my house anytime soon, because if something doesn't change, that just isn't going to happen. Just a word of advice. If you see me on the river or lake, seriously consider going somewhere else, because wherever I go the fishing has been slow. It isn't just me; no one else is catching much either. The fishing, it seems, is always better somewhere else. Well, that's the way it goes. After all, that's why they call it fishing and not catching.

See you around, and good luck on your next fishing trip. If you are like me, you are going to need it.


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