After several weeks of high water Joseph Creek was dropping last week and looked like it might be fishable by the weekend. I began planning for another exploration. My first fishing trip into Joseph Creek I hiked in too far down stream and caught smallmouth bass even though the water temperatures were below 50 degrees. The second hike into Joseph Creek was much higher but I found squawfish to be the primary occupant of this section. I decided if any public section of the creek was going to hold mainly trout it had to be on the upper end of the Forest Service ground where there are several small tributaries that are spring fed. My hope being that these small tributaries help keep this section of the creek cooler in the hot summer months.
Having no good information to rely on I looked at my maps and picked a ridge that looked “hike-able.” I had not scouted the road that leads to the canyon rim on this section, but I had noted a tree blocking the road where it first leaves FS Rd. 4650 so threw my chainsaw in.
I headed out Friday afternoon and found where road number 080 took off. To my surprise someone had drug the tree out of the road so I didn’t even have to get out the chain saw. I had planned on driving to the end of this road and hiking down the ridge between Bull Canyon and S. Fork Cliff Creek. As I came near the edge of the canyon I noticed that there was a road of sorts going off to my right that the map had labeled as a “jeep trail.” I thought I had better check it out for any future hikes. A ways down the jeep trail it kind of disappeared but I saw what looked like a nice ridge to hike down so I drove my jeep across the hillside and parked at the top.
Plan B. I didn’t see any reason not to hike down this ridge. So I did. This ridge ran between N. Fork Cliff Creek and Rim Creek and was really a pretty nice ridge to walk down. It was a beautiful day and I reached Joseph Creek sometime after six. After hiking down, looking at that beautiful canyon, the creek was kind of a let down. I knew it was not going to be clear, but that murky water made my heart sink a little. I am used to seeing the clear water of the Wenaha and the S. Fork of the Walla Walla and after hiking down a canyon like that, you expect to see clear water even if you know better.
I found a decent place to pitch my tent at the bottom of the ridge. I noted that there were several decent spots for a hammock tent as well. By the time I got camp set up and firewood gathered I still had an hour or so of light left so I grabbed my fly rod and headed to the creek. I tied on a woolly bugger followed by a couple of nymphs. I caught a few rainbows right off before sticking my flies in a bush across the creek. There was a lot of insect activity so I decided to try a couple of dry flies.
I tied on some sort of foam terrestrial and an elk hair caddis. No disappointment there. The rainbows were happy to nail the hell out of the elk hair caddis. The fish were still all under 10”. After rising and catching quite a few rainbows I decided I had better head back to camp. I felt good though. There was definitely more rainbows in this section of the creek. Perhaps I had finally found the trout Shangri-La my book had spoken of. Tomorrow I would ply the waters more thoroughly in search for the 18 inchers.
Saturday was a beautiful morning and I was thinking to myself that I was happy when the weathermen were wrong. After some quick breakfast and coffee I headed downstream. I still had the elk hair caddis on and decided to leave it on there for a bit. It produced similar results to the evening before, but I didn’t hike down a steep canyon to hook fish up to 10.” I tied on another olive woolly bugger, a caddis emerger, and a mayfly emerger. Those fish loved the woolly bugger. I tried quite a few different combinations of nymphs behind the woolly bugger, but the woolly bugger out fished them all. Twelve inches was about the biggest of the trout I caught, but I did not catch any squaw fish and it wasn’t until I had worked my way downstream a couple of miles until I caught a sucker fish.
Swamp Creek is one of the major tributaries to Joseph Creek and I wanted to see exactly how big it was and whether or not the water was clear. I had fished my way down to Swamp Creek by early afternoon. It was a decent creek but not really fishable. Or I should say, not really cast-able. You would be dabbing flies off the end of your rod. The water was a disappointing murky color as well. It surprised me a little bit. Most of Swamp creek and Davis Creek (a main tributary to Swamp Creek) run through a pretty steep canyon with no roads. At the very upper end you actually cross the two creeks on FS rd. 46. At this spot the creeks are only about 2 feet wide. I measured the water temperature and swamp creek was running at 58 degrees to Joseph Creek’s 63 degrees. I also took a peek at the “trail” that is supposed to run beside Swamp Creek. I could see where it was, but it was definitely not worn. I followed it upstream until it went into some thick brush. It does not look like anyone maintains the trail this far down.
I was hoping to make it back to camp in time to fish upstream as well, but a breeze picked up and soon some gray clouds appeared at the rim of the canyon in the north. I picked up my pace, remembering that the weather forecast had called for rain and thunderstorms. At last, perhaps the weatherman was not wrong today after all.
Along this section of Joseph Creek there is a trail. Most places it is fairly easy to follow. Some places it splits into several game trails then disappears for a distance. If you keep your eye out, you will pick it up again. On my walk back I ran across two rattlesnakes. Counting the one alongside the river earlier in the day, that made three rattlesnake encounters for the day.
I made it back to camp at 4:30 just in time for the first rain drops. I shed my waders and hopped into the tent, hoping the rain would be short lived. I laid back on my sleeping pad listening to the plop, plop of the rain and soon fell asleep. Around 6:30 I woke and the rain had stopped. Not for long though. I no more than boiled water for dinner and the rain was at it again. Around 7:30 I began to notice that my tent was not so waterproof. I seemed to have moisture running down the inside walls and beginning to form small puddles inside my tent. Damn! I thought. I tried to decide if I could hike out before dark. It would be cutting it close and after already hiking quite a few miles today, I would probably be slower. I have hiked in the dark. I have hiked into strange places I have never been before and up out of steep canyons with no trails in the dark. I have not really enjoyed any of those experiences that much so I decided to stay put and hope that the rain would let off.
What is it they say about hope? Never mind. Soon it was good and dark and the rain was loud hitting my small tent, but not near as loud as the thunder. There were a few times that I could really feel the thunder it was so close. I did not sleep well. Between the rain and thunder I was in and out, but mostly out, of sleep most of the night. The cloud cover must have been pretty dense as well. Whenever I opened my eyes I couldn’t see a thing. Usually you can see something, even if it isn’t very clear. This was pitch black. Around 3:30 in the morning the rain began to let up and I could begin to see inside my tent a little. The lull in the rain finally let me get some sleep.
There were small puddles inside my tent everywhere and my sleeping bag was a bit wet by the morning. If it weren’t for the sleeping pad making an island, I would have been soaked. During a break in the rain I got out and made breakfast and coffee. But I had to eat and drink the coffee inside the tent because it began raining again. That tent was beginning to feel way too small. I had been in it about sixteen hours.
I finally gave up on the whole idea of the rain stopping anytime soon and simply got out and got a good soaking. I just threw all of my stuff into my pack wet. That is a great benefit of the rain as well, it made my pack weight heavier hiking out. By the time I got to the top there wasn’t a dry spot on me.
What to say about Joseph Creek? I feel a bit let down by my Angler’s Guide to Oregon. On Joseph Creek it says it “ranks among the best wild rainbow trout streams in the region. Trout here reach at least 18 inches and typically range from 8 to 14 inches.” There may be trout up to 18 inches, but the average or typical is much closer to 8 inches or less. I must say it is difficult to judge a section of river by one day of fishing. At least I finally found the right section of water to fish. If you ever fish Joseph Creek, I highly recommend staying above Swamp Creek until they get the summer water temperatures under control.
Perhaps I will ply its waters again. Maybe this fall when the water temperatures drop again, or perhaps next spring if it drops down before any of the other streams. For this spring my explorations of this creek are over. The Wenaha is calling me.
-Ridge length: about 2 miles
-elevation change: 2200 ft +/-
-Streamflow from DOE website at mouth: 150 cfs