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.
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.
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.
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.