CANYON NOTES: Ski trips give way to steelhead fishing

March 05, 2014 08:11 am

Katy Nesbitt
Katy Nesbitt

There are signs of spring everywhere. The Little Bear hamburger joint in Wallowa is open, my grass needs cutting and the air feels, dare I say, balmy.

Yet I cling to the hope of a few more days on the snow. Scoff, if you must, but my ski trips have been interrupted by two binding malfunctions, a dog incident, and a mix of icy, concrete and mashed potato conditions. There will be plenty of water for fish and farms this summer, but I am not satisfied with my skiing attempts.

You know it’s a special time of year when there are skis and fly rods in the back of the pickup, but last weekend the skis stayed in the mud room and fly fishing for steelhead was the target adventure for the scout and a trial run with my new camera was my goal.

The weather was perfect for steelhead fly fishing and photography — the wind and rain and snow held off during our hours on the Imnaha and the thermometer said it was a comfortable 36 degrees.

When I ran the Minam Motel and greeted a new crop of steelhead fisherman every weekend in February and March I asked them what it was about fishing in the dead of winter when it can be so cold the line on the rod freezes. It’s the tug of a big fish, I gleaned, that keeps people coming to Wallowa County and other steelhead Meccas, even if they expend thousands of dollars and never catch a fish.

Like all guests, the steelhead fishers were on vacation, wanted hot water and towels and were otherwise perfectly happy to be in an 8-room hotel on a Wild and Scenic River. My dogs strategically placed themselves next to barbecues, on doorsteps and sometimes were found in the guests’ rooms.

One group was so comfortable at the motel they showed up to buy licenses one morning in their boxer shorts with beer cans clutched tightly in their mitts.

This was no “mint on the pillow” scene, this was a scotch swilling, cigar smoking, leave the heat on 80 and the door open good time.

Every year at this time when I drive through the Wallowa River Canyon I slow to see who is fishing — there are bank fishers with bait or lures and the fly fishers who are in the middle of the river where their casts won’t get in the willows. When I recognize a friend I wave or honk — wishing them well.

A report received from our district fish biologist said as of Monday morning he estimated that 345 steelhead moved into the Lower Imnaha and 272 adult steelhead were in the Wallowa River above Minam.

I ran into a friend the other day. She said she had done a lot of soul searching about life and career and had found peace in it all, but more importantly she said, “But, it’s steelhead season,” meaning, “Who can complain?”