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Grande Ronde glory


They’re here. October steelhead and rising rivers can make for great catches. (Photo courtesy of Cameron Scott)

It’s already been a great day. Warmer than expected, gray overcast skies, and dropping water flows have all combined to make catching a steelhead a good possibility. I’ve been invited to fish the Grande Ronde from a raft, on a Thursday, when it just so happens the students I teach Monday-Thursday are all in parent-teacher conferences and because I’ll be working all weekend, makes taking a Thursday off from work essential to my well-being (really, taking any days off to go fishing is essential for anyone’s well-being, and I recommend it).

So here I am, floating down the Grande Ronde in a red pontoon boat, feeling like the luckiest guy in the world, picking pears off a tree which is somehow growing out the side of a basalt cliff, talking shop and life with Dave, cruising with the current, and being driven mad at the occasional steelhead which breaks the surface. All the best things about fishing.

Then, just before noon, it happens. Sliding into the bridge pool at Troy, no one is fishing the top of the run as we come around the corner, so I flick out my flies into a nice seam and whack! Fish on. Big fish on. One of the big beautiful two-salt steelhead who happen to be gracing our rivers this fall. Even better, it turns out to be a hatchery fish. Calling it good and filling out my catch card, we drop the boat just below the confluence with the Wenaha, and head up the bank for a lunch of split pea soup, bacon and ham. Kicking back, I think to myself, can life get any better?

Yes it can. Life can get even better. “How?” You might ask. How can you beat taking a day off work, catching steelhead, and hanging out with a buddy? As I finish filleting the steelhead, we head back to the river.

At 3:30 sharp, Dave’s kids cruise across the bridge and smile down at us. “Want to go fishing?” asks Dave. Their smiles spread from ear to ear as they break out leftover lunch food and scramble down the bank. Ione shows off her new Tenkara rod she’s used all summer to catch trout. Emmett commandeers Dave’s fly fishing pole and we set off downstream.

To the untrained eye, we must have looked like a heard of dancing cats. Rods, flies, hooks, Doritos, and bull trout were flying all over the place. Ione kept casting her Tenkara like a pro, hoping a trout would come up and grab the hopper. Emmett chuck and ducked Dave’s streamer out into the current anticipating a big hit. And for the most part I tried to stay out of the way.

After a little while we pulled over into a good looking run and Dave, Emmett and I got out of the boat as Ione kept casting off the back-seat. After a few minutes of fishing, hearing Emmett’s occasional hollers as trout attempted to hoover a streamer almost as big as their bodies, and admiring how the sun was descending over the basalt cliffs, I heard a splash. Turning around, a huge chinook salmon, back cresting out of the water, swam right by Ione, took a long hard look at her hopper, then disappeared.

“Did you see that?” asked Ione. “That was awesome.”

Yes it was. Especially getting to see a dad fish with his kids.

“I flick out my flies into a nice seam and whack! Fish on. Big fish on. One of the big beautiful two-salt steelhead who happen to be gracing our rivers this fall.”