Rafting the Grande Ronde from Elgin to Palmer Junction: Looking for Andy’s Rapid: June 26, 2011

One thing that I had hoped to do this spring was to fish the stonefly hatch on the Grande Ronde and Wallowa Rivers from Minam to Troy.  We have had an exceptionally wet spring and higher than normal snowpack and the river has simply stayed higher for longer than normal.  Despite the high and dirty water, the stoneflies have come.  Unfortunately for me they have not been kind enough to wait for better fishing conditions to begin hatching in large numbers.

The Grande Ronde has begun to drop and clear some while the warmer weather has begun to melt the higher snow in the Wallowa’s.  This has made for fun floating conditions on the Wallowa, but not good fishing conditions.  Since the water on the Grande Ronde upstream of its confluence with the Wallowa has begun to get clearer I thought that section might provide an opportunity to get in on the stonefly hatch.  After my wife and I bought the Minam Raft Rental and shuttle business this winter I have heard from multiple people that there was a class IV rapid called Andy’s Rapid about 4 miles downstream of Elgin.  Stoneflies hatching and a reported class IV rapid?  Sounds like fun to me.

After buying the raft rental business, we added quite a few boats to the rental lineup.  One of these boats is a 13’ long Maravia Spider.  I bought these boats with fishing in mind and as luck would have it we happened to have one unrented on Sunday.  Jeff agreed that it sounded like fun.  After getting some things in order at Minam on Sunday morning Jeff and I snuck off with the small and nimble Spider in search of stoneflies and a class IV rapid.

Grande Ronde Steelhead Guided Trips

Since the Wallowa River often contributes more water to the Grande Ronde in the summer than the Grande Ronde itself, rafting from Elgin downstream is a springtime endeavor.  During the summer there is not enough water in this section.  There is however a really nice public put-in at Elgin.

This was once someone's paradise.

This was once someone’s paradise.

 

The first four miles downstream are meandering through idyllic meadows with cows grazing next to old run down homesteads.  It was pretty, but the lack of action was making me feel like I needed a nap.  I was rowing (what little that needed done) and Jeff was not catching fish.  Unfortunately there were no large stoneflies flying about either.  This section of the Grande Ronde is not known for its fishing or stoneflies, but we were hoping that there would at least be a few.  There were however many birds and it was good bird watching country all the way down to Palmer Junction.

Bald Eagle above Grande Ronde River

Bald Eagle above Grande Ronde River

 

Eventually the canyon begin to narrow and we both began to get a little anxious for the class IV rapid that was supposed to be lying in wait around one of the bends.  The books I had said the normal route was on the right, but they recommended scouting on the left and portaging on that side if necessary.  When the river left the meadows and re-entered the canyon country, I could see there was a small rapid.  I got in a back eddy and stood up and could plainly see two large boulders on the left and an easy path on the right with room to eddy out downstream and scout the rapid that I assumed was around the next bend.  Jeff started my video camera and jokingly hollered and shouted at me trying to create some drama as we went through the rapid.  We beached the boat below and walked down river to scout Andy’s Rapid.

As we walked down around the next bend in the river we found no rapid.  We had apparently just ran Andy’s Rapid without knowing it.  My books call it a class III at lower flows and a class IV up around 8,000 cfs.  The Grande Ronde was running around 8,000 cfs at the Troy guage today.  What a disappointment I thought.  I sarcastically asked Jeff how he felt now that he was a class IV rafter.  It must be more difficult at certain flows, but it was certainly not difficult today.

Andy's Rapid on the Grande Ronde at 8,000 cfs

Andy’s Rapid on the Grande Ronde at 8,000 cfs

 

We floated our way down the river without any other major events.  The stonefies were sparse in this section of the river and the water had maybe a foot to a foot and a half of visibility.  There was however a darn good caddis hatch and the water was often covered with swarms of them.  That still did not make the fishing any better though.  It was certainly an enjoyable float even if we failed in our two goals of finding large numbers of stoneflies and a class IV rapid.

Raft below Andy’s Rapid on the Grande Ronde River

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