Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Grande Ronde Report: A Relaxing Interlude

It's all about timing. We were hoping to hit the Ronde just right. John had landed a steelhead on Tuesday morning on the Clearwater on the east side of the Snake River, so we thought that boded well for the Ronde on the west.

I arrived Wednesday about Noon. John had already been fishing for about an hour. The river was beautiful and high. The rain had just quit the day before, so the river was dropping. I waded in after John and began to fish with optimism.

The first few little trout always seem like good omens.

We worked over that first run pretty well. No steelhead. A boat stopped while we were there and two anglers worked over the other side, also with no results. We moved on to another promising location.

John and I have different fishing styles. He tends to flit, wanting to cover as much water as he can; I tend to hunker down, wanting to be sure I'm not missing a fish because I didn't take the time to find it. Usually we compromise for each other and strike a happy medium. But sometimes he has to wait for me.

It was good to watch John work the water over with the long rod. This would have been the time to have one. The high water made it impossible to reach some areas with my one-hander that I had reached easily on our previous low water trips.

Still no steelhead, so we headed back downriver to Boggan's Oasis. Yeah, I know, you want to pronounce it BOG-ins, like I do. But the proper pronunciation is bo-GANZ. I'm always amused by that affectation. It reminds me of a W. C. Fields movie in which he pronounces his last name BISS-o-NET, and his overbearing wife is constantly correcting him: "It's biss-o-NAY!"

Believe me, it's not a bo-GANZ kind of place. It's pure BOG-ins, and that's a compliment. It's down home, friendly and comfortable, and you can wear your waders at the table.

On this trip we were staying in one of their little cabins, and the price of the room included three square meals a day, a deal we didn't pass up. It was good food, and a chance to tease Valerie, our server. I have to say she could hold her own in that category. John had met her first when he checked in, and told me that she was "curt." Makes me laugh now to think of it. Truth is, she just wouldn't take any crap off of us. If she can do as well with the young bucks as she did with us, she'll be OK.

So we enjoyed our New York Strip Steak and Chicken Kiev, hung out for awhile with Valerie and the other folks coming in for supper (they hadn't caught any steelhead either), and settled into the cabin for a good night's sleep.

We were up shortly after dawn, and went down for a big breakfast. By now Valerie was calling me "Jimmy" because John told her that was my nickname when I was a kid.

Afterward, while we were waiting for our box lunches, I walked out on the highway bridge and took this shot upriver...

And this one downriver as a raft set out for a day's drift. They were going where we were going, but we would go by car. It promised to be a beautiful day.

We picked up the box lunch--it said "John and Jimmy" on it--went up to the cabin, packed all our gear, and set out.

We started the climb up Rattlesnake Grade, 13 miles of hairpin turns, the only way in or out of the Grande Ronde canyon.

Up top we drove a little north, cut east, then turned back south and started down Shumaker Grade, eight miles of unpaved hairpin turns, the only way down into the heart of the canyon other than by boat.

It's another world down there, one you feel privileged to visit. We started fishing at the place I hooked four and landed two on my very first trip to the Ronde. That was also a "slow" year for most people, so we were hoping this spot would hold some luck for us again.

John let me fish it first, but with the high water I wasn't able to reach the magic slick behind the fast run coming off the outcropping on the far side of the river. Then John went through with his two-hander and turned that run inside out. But to no avail.

So we just settled in and fished a gorgeous canyon for the rest of the morning. The day was beautiful and almost summer-like, the river read like a fascinating novel, and each cast held promise. The morning was gone before we knew it.

We took a break for lunch--it was very good--and caught up on each other's lives and families. We also planned our strategy for the afternoon: keep on keepin' on.

We broke some new ground when we waded back in. We picked our way upstream along a narrow ledge at the base of a house-sized boulder--one false move and our hats are floating over a deep, deep hole--and climbed over the rocks to where the river narrows, creating a fast and complex run that every steelhead coming upriver would have to navigate.

It really looked good, with lots of holding water for tired steelhead, but all we could find were trout.

We picked our way back to the car and drove upriver a short way to one of our favorite spots. There was a guy with Idaho plates just wading out. He told us he had just taken two steelhead out of that run. With a straight face. So of course we got all optimistic again.

Both of us went over that run with a fine-toothed comb, but we didn't find a steelhead. I guess those fish were already in Oregon by then. We also walked upstream a ways and fished our way back down. No go.

So we took a coffee break, fresh coffee brewed up on the spot. Nice one, John.

We watched two eagles soaring high over the canyon rim, and saw when one of them tucked its wings and shot across the sky right over us to intercept another eagle heading into its territory. When they met in a big swoosh of wings and talons they were close enough to see the white on the interloper, and no white on the interceptor. My guess is it was a golden eagle giving that bald eagle what for.

By then a chilly wind was blowing and we were ready to climb out of Shumaker and hit one more stretch over by Boggan's before suppertime.

It was the first place we had fished this trip. It seemed like as good a place as any to be the last. We fished hard, and enjoyed ourselves as the sun climbed the canyon walls into the clouds and disappeared for another day.

And all we caught were those damn beautiful trout.

Back at Boggan's, it was warm and cozy, and it didn't take long for supper to be on the table.

While we ate, one group after another came in for supper--four Frenchmen, a guide and his sport, the two couples who had floated the canyon--and each group was asked how they did. And each one said all they caught all day was little trout.

That leads me to question the veracity of the Idahoan we had met earlier that afternoon. But John pointed out that back when I hooked four and landed two no one else was having much luck. He said the owner of Boggan's, where he and a friend were staying that year, even offered to return their money because the fishing had been so poor. So maybe Idaho was the lucky one this time.

But it's all about timing. Maybe Idaho hit it right, but we didn't. Maybe the folks who were staying on after we left would hit it right tomorrow or the next day. John had hit it right on the Clearwater, and then he'd do it again on the Deschutes, where he went after the Ronde, catching another beautiful steelhead.

So this year, for us, the Ronde was just a relaxing interlude. But you know, that's not so bad.


  1. It's all about the trying. At least that's what they've been telling me about Steelhead fishing. Glad you guys, at least, had a good time.

  2. What a wonderful trip! Beautiful country and some killer looking water. I'd say the surroundings , good people and good food more than made up for the lack of steelhead.