Steelhead Marathon Part III: Fishing the Grande Ronde River above Rondowa November 3, 2010

Today I tried to find roads that lead to Rondowa, the confluence of the Grande Ronde and Wallowa Rivers.  There are several different roads that go there on a map, but I have never heard of anyone driving there and last year I had heard about guys hiking from Palmer Junction, near the mouth of Looking Glass Creek, to Rondowa.  I assumed that the roads that are shown on the maps are closed since I had never heard of anyone driving there.  But I believe in checking on things first hand.  So most of today I spent driving logging roads high in the forest searching for an open road to Rondowa. 

I did not expect that there would be a drivable option, but I was hoping that there might be a hikable option.  I started on the east side of the Wallowa river since the maps show two different roads going to Rondowa from that side.  The first road I came to with a locked gate was the road that goes down Howard Creek.  This ground is apparently managed by Gallatin Northeast (I heard that it is a subsidiary of Boise Cascade).  I could walk down the road if I wanted, but the rivers were a long ways away from that locked gate.  After winding around in the fog on a muddy logging road that was busy with logging trucks I came to a second locked gate.  Apparently access is allowed on both of these roads before August, but not after.  So roads coming in from the east weren’t an option for steelhead fishing.

Grande Ronde Steelhead Guided Trips

I drove back down to the highway along the Wallowa River and couldn’t help but stop and fish a good run on my way by.  I hadn’t cut my flies off from the day before on the John Day River, so I just grabbed my rod and trotted down to the river.  I fished my way up the run and thought I had a steelhead on for a minute.  But it soon became apparent that the fish was too light.  It was however a beautifully colored, fat 16” rainbow.  I didn’t complain and let him go.  At that point I thought it was probably useless to try and access Rondowa by road from the West side, but I tried anyway.

Driving down Yarrington road and then Thompson road I could see the Grande Ronde and Wallowa.  They were tantalizingly close.

Wallowa River

I could even see the old road switching back down the nose of a ridge in the distance.  But it was not too be.  I came to another locked gate and this one had no trespassing signs all over the place.  Thompson road is right on the edge of the canyon in a few spots and if it were public ground I would have simply hiked down the mountain.

I was down to Plan C: hike down the Grande Ronde from Palmer Junction to Rondowa.  I was OK with that option, but I wanted to see if there were any other options as well.  I didn’t get to Palmer Junction until almost two in the afternoon.  I decided I would head down river and scout things out.  A little less than a mile downstream I came to a pool that I couldn’t walk by and threw my line in.  After about the third cast I had a steelhead on.  Out of the water it leaped; once, then twice.  I got it to shore and it was a nice hatchery buck that took my olive woolly bugger I had tied on the day before on the John Day River.  I cast a few more times and another fish was on.  This one did not come out of the water, but it made some long fast runs up and down the pool.  I slid a nice hatchery hen on to the bank.

Grande Ronde Steelhead

She took the flashback stonefly pattern that I have begun to really like.  Both of these fish I caught were in the head of the pool and as I worked my way down the pool into the slower water, my flies began to catch on rocks.  Rather than change my setup to fish higher in the water column, I left the bottom half of the pool untouched and went to see what else was in store down stream.

Another mile or so downstream I came to an enormous pool that I decided I couldn’t pass.  My first cast out I had another good sized rainbow on that was quite the acrobat.  It was another beautiful 16” rainbow on the stonefly pattern.  A few more casts and my line began to pulse with the heavy head shakes of a steelhead.  This one was wild and I released it quickly after snapping off a photo.  A few more minutes of casting produced another wild steelhead to hand.

At this point shadows were taking over the canyon and I decided I had better head back upstream before it got too late.  I stopped and made a few drifts through some likely looking runs, but did not fish anything thoroughly on the way back.  I was pretty happy with my first outing on this section of the Grande Ronde, 4 fish to hand in just a few hours of fishing.

Grande Ronde Photoset

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