In my explorations of Joseph Creek this spring there was an isolated section of creek that is part Nez Perce and part BLM/State ground that I did not hike into. This section of Joseph Creek is upstream of the Warm Springs trail. In hope of getting upstream of spawning warm water fish this spring I had skipped it and hiked into the forest service ground. This late summer/early fall I have not caught nor saw any squawfish, suckers, or bass like I did in the spring. The forest service part of Joseph Creek that I have fished so far late in the year has held only rainbows. Most of them have been small with some medium sized ones and a couple of decent fish thrown in the mix. But it certainly has not been what I would call great trout fishing since the majority of fish tend to be 6”-8” or less.
After my last two fishing trips into Joseph Creek I was hoping to find part of the creek that held bigger fish on average. This upper end of Nez Perce ground looked worth giving a try on a map. It is below another tributary, Peavine Creek, so I was hoping Joseph Creek would gain a little more size and with it, it’s fish. I have no idea how big Peavine Creek is. Where it runs into Joseph Creek is on private property, so I haven’t seen it. It may be one of those creeks that doesn’t run in late summer. The only way to really see what this section of Joseph Creek looked like was to hike into it myself. So I did this past weekend.
I have been trying to not let the steelhead bug totally take hold of me. This past weekend my compromise was to spend one day exploring a new section of Joseph Creek and one day fishing for steelhead on the Imnaha. I was hoping to leave early enough Friday that I could hike down into Joseph Creek Friday night, fish Saturday, and then hike out Saturday night. This was not to be. It was dark by the time I reached the spot I was going to start hiking.
Since it was a clear night, I simply threw an air mattress in the bed of my pickup. It was the clearest night I can remember seeing. That ridge top offered the best stargazing I have ever seen. There was only one real problem. The air mattress I grabbed was not the usual one I used for car camping. This one was bigger and it leaked.
Around midnight I was woken by an animal crying a little further down the ridge. From where I parked there was a clump of trees just down the ridge and the animal was in those trees. It sounded to me like a bear cub trying to find his mom. I have really only heard this one time before and it has been several years since the last time. So I wasn’t absolutely sure it was a bear cub, although I could not think of what else it might be. After several minutes of the crying I was getting a little impatient. I wanted to get back to sleep and the presumed cub was making an awful lot of noise. I put my glasses on and found my flashlight. I got up and tried to spot the animal in the trees, but I could not see it. It did however quiet down when I turned on the flashlight.
With the ridge top quiet once again I began to drift off to sleep pretty quickly. Then the crying began again. I immediately grabbed my flashlight and pointed it to the woods and whatever was crying skirted around me and up the ridge. It then proceeded to cry at a distance up the ridge for a while. After a few minutes it was quiet again. But now I was noticing that my butt was touching the bed of my pickup. Although I really didn’t want to get up I decided I might as well blow the mattress back up while I was awake. I put on my head lamp and after refilling the air mattress I stood up in the back of the pickup and looked up the ridge. I was a little surprised to see two sets of eyes staring at me. One pair was wide set while a second pair of eyes was narrower and lower to the ground.
I am assuming the two sets of eyes were the bear cub and sow. They watched me for a while and I watched them. It seemed to be a stare off until the wide set of eyes began bobbing and floating down the ridge towards me. Seeing a set of eyes floating down the hillside straight at me was one of the weirdest sensations I have experienced. To say the least, it made me a little uncomfortable. I do carry a pistol and I released the two leather straps that keep it in its holster. The wide set of eyes stopped about 100 feet up the hill and stared my flashlight down again. It then went across the ridge around me and stopped. This seemed to be the signal for the small set of eyes to follow and the small eyes now wasted no time in catching up to the wide set of eyes. They soon went out of site and I went back to sleep.
The next morning I was on the bed of the pickup once again. (I was forced to drive my pickup because my Jeep had suffered some severe damage from the rough, unmaintained road to the Imnaha river the weekend before. Three sheered off motor mount bolts.) I slept pretty well considering the mostly flat mattress and the midnight stare off with eyes floating in the dark.
The ridge I had picked to hike down is called Horse Pasture Ridge. The road that leads to the edge of the canyon is another rough one that is simply labeled “jeep trail” on some maps. The ridge looked better on a map to hike down then it did in person. Although the ridge changed 2,400 ft in elevation from where I parked, it did it in a little over 2 miles. That didn’t sound too bad. But the first three quarters of a mile there is little elevation change. So, it is more like changing 2,400 ft in elevation in about a mile and a half. It was hikable though and I reached the bottom in about an hour and a half.
I was a little hesitant that morning on what I should take. Hiking out of that canyon is work enough, but hiking down the steep Joseph Canyon, hiking 4-5 miles on Joseph Creek and then hiking out of the canyon seemed like it might be on the verge of being too much. I decided it wasn’t too much and did not take a tent, sleeping bag, or extra food.
When I reached Joseph Creek I had a hard time deciding if it had gained or lost size comparing it to the forest service section below Swamp Creek. It really did not look any bigger and I was afraid that it actually looked a little smaller. Peavine Creek may not be very big and I do not know how much flow the creek loses to evaporation, seepage, trees, and other plant life. At any rate, I was down there and began fishing.
Where I arrived on Joseph Creek was a nice pool created by bedrock. I decided I would try a combination of streamers right off to see if there were any bass, squawfish, or other non-trout fish in there. I did not find any and so I tied on the orange stimulator and olive elk-hair caddis that had worked so well the last trip. Again it caught many 6” rainbows. And again there were some running 8”-12” although there were not huge numbers of them in that size. I did try my streamers in a few more spots, but I found nothing but rainbows and the biggest one of them was again close to 14”.
I fished my way upstream for about 2 miles. It was getting close to time to be turning around by then and I was feeling a bit tired. If I could have found a good spot for a nap at that point, I would have taken one. Since there wasn’t I settled for taking a rest on a big rock and ate a little more of my lunch. After a 30 minute rest of almost falling asleep sitting on a rock I started to make my way back downstream. I did feel better after my rest and the hike out wasn’t sounding quite as bad.
The creek definitely changes character between swamp creek and where I was. Up higher there are a lot of Ponderosa pine trees right up to the creek. And although there is some brush and broadleaf trees, there is not a lot further up. This section of creek had few Ponderosa’s right down to the creek, but the bank of the creek was lined with small broadleaf trees. It actually made casting a fly rod quite difficult. The sun also rarely hit the water in this section. Joseph Canyon itself provides a lot of shade in the morning and towards the end of the day in the roadless section. But here, the broadleaf trees are covering almost all of the creek as well. The water temperature here never got above 60 degrees either, even though it was a hot fall day in the low 80’s.
What I have found makes me think that the upper end of Joseph Creek has more to do with its water temperature issues than anything in the roadless section. In fact, the roadless section of Joseph Creek seems to mitigate quite a bit of the high water temperatures coming from the privately owned section with roads. The weekend before I recorded fairly high water temperatures above Swamp Creek while from Swamp Creek downstream had lower water temperatures. I think the combination of Swamp Creek’s lower water temperature along with other creeks dumping in cooler water and the substantial shade from the canyon provides a valuable cooling mechanism for Joseph Creek. It is hard to say how far downstream this will go since there is actually warm water entering Joseph Creek at the bottom of the Warm Springs trail.
-Access is similar to the other ridges going into Joseph Creek, but there are more unmarked dirt roads to get to this ridge. If you want to find it, you will need to get a Wallowa Valley Ranger District map from the Enterprise forest service office. Just look for Horse pasture ridge on the map and follow the roads to get there. Once you get on top of Horse Pasture Ridge the road splits. You will want to take the road to the right and follow it until it ends.
-This property belongs to the Nez Perce Tribe, but is open to public use. To figure out the property boundaries you will want to review the maps in their Precious Lands Wildlife Area Draft Management Plan. I also pulled up the tax lots online and between the two sets of maps I was able to draw pretty accurate property lines onto my ranger district map.
-Ridge Length is about 2.25 miles
-Minimum elevation is about 2,000 feet
-Maximum elevation is about 4,400+ feet
-Elevation change is a little over 2,400 feet