Snow and more snow and cold and more cold. That is what we have had for the last week. We now have close to 8” in town and who knows how much in the mountains. Add to that temperatures dropping down to 0 degrees several nights. Sounds like winter for sure. I really prefer to do my fishing when the rivers are not iced over even if it is only partially iced over. This usually means that the water temperature is barely above freezing and fish don’t seem to be very active either. Yet, it is beautiful to go out and see any river canyon covered in fresh snow.
I also got a new camera, so that is a good enough reason to go out even if the fishing isn’t any good. My wife was going to join me for the day, but as I was loading fishing gear into my rig she decided she didn’t want to wade freezing cold water with leaky waders when the air temperature was below freezing. That did not sound like a good excuse to me, but I told her I would get over it eventually. So I headed out alone.
The highway crews were out in force with three snow plows, one grader, and the biggest snow blower I have ever seen moving snow off the road just so I could go steelhead fishing on the Wallowa River in subfreezing temperature. Sure is nice of those guys to think of me wanting to go steelhead fishing on a cold, snowy Saturday morning.
It was snowing hard and I was a little disappointed my wife didn’t come with me. I wanted to try out my new camera and thought it would be fun to get some good shots of someone fishing in this heavy snow. Since she didn’t come, I decided to try and set up a tripod and use the timer on the camera. It kind of worked, but I definitely wasn’t going to run back and forth between my camera and my fly rod all day.
I put my tripod away and walked a few miles downstream before starting to fish my way back up the river. Almost every trip I have made down to this area of the Grande Ronde or Wallowa this year I have seen at least one bald eagle searching the canyon and today was no exception. The new camera was great. Although I didn’t get a great shot of the eagle, there is no way my old point and shoot would have turned on and focused fast enough for me to get a single shot off. I didn’t see this eagle until he was almost overhead and I got several shots off before my camera auto-focused on the bush beside me instead of the eagle in the sky.
Between getting a late start, the slow driving on the account of it being almost like a blizzard out, playing with my new camera, and walking several miles downstream in the snow; I really didn’t spend that much time searching for steelhead. I did fish several decent looking sections of water though and one of them turned into a whitefish bonanza. In fact I got tired of catching the whitefish so I moved on.
There was a pretty good midge hatch happening and I found myself wishing I had thrown in my lake fly box that is full of midge patterns. One of these days I am going to see if these fish will move to a midge pattern on a freestone stream when the water temperatures are barely above freezing.
The other curious bug was some sort of terrestrial beetle larvae that I saw crawling about on the snow. There were quite a few of these and they looked like they might feast on one of those midges if they ran across one.
I did not go through the day without hooking a rainbow colored fish. A nice one at that, but this fish had grown big without the help of the ocean, which in my mind is even more impressive considering the Wallowa and Grande Ronde are freestone streams without the high nutrient load of a spring creek or tailwater. What a great day.