CANYON NOTES: Steelies usher in spring

Written by Katy Nesbitt March 20, 2013 09:41 am

I don’t drive the Wallowa Canyon as much as I used to, which is a good thing, because now I tend to pay attention more to the river than the destination. 

A couple Saturdays ago I had the pleasure of driving through on a sunny afternoon. The river reached its emerald perfection, a color it takes when the steelhead fishing is pristine.

Within a few miles, I saw friends fishing along the highway. Later in the week I was privileged to see pictures of the fish they caught and hear a story about the monster that got away.

Steelhead season technically starts Sept. 1 and runs through April 15, but the Wallowa fishing peaks sometime “after the ice is out and before spring blow out.” If you prefer to use a calendar, that could be late January/early February to sometime in late March.

Many people from out of the area return each year for the season, or a few times, and the county becomes a second home. A chef from Montana has been coming to fish the county’s rivers for nine years, he recollected the other night. He easily knows more people than I.

Another friend who comes a few times a year to fish not only made a connection with the countryside, but is a university librarian and been involved with Fishtrap, the county’s literary nonprofit. 

This winter Cameron Scott, the fly fishing poet, returned for a second season as Fishtrap’s writer-in-residence. He sent me a text message on his way out from southwest Washington. He’d barely entered the Columbia Gorge when he wanted to know, “How are the steelies?” Conveniently, a fisherman was in the room so I passed along what information was available, and then sent him on to another friend who had advertised great luck on the Imnaha earlier that week.

Can’t throw a rock around here and not hit a fisherman.

Later in the winter I was grocery shopping and noticed pairs of men who weren’t exactly familiar looking, and yet they were — it dawned on me they must be steelhead fisherman by the way they were dressed and how they shopped: bottles of wine and dinner makings.

Remembering my days hosting fishers at the Minam Motel, I imagined they were going back to their rooms to turn the heat up to 75 and stand in the doorway smoking cigars with the wine they bought.

Steelhead fishing has a festival element about it. The Bacchanalian spirit is in the air as fish swim to their native waters, migratory birds return and pastures are dotted with newborn livestock.

There’s a cosmic homecoming going on out there right now. Happy spring.