Last week I took off to spend a week of fishing and taking photos with the folks from Sage in their van. They had the van at IFTD in Denver and needed to get it back to Seattle, so they decided they might as well get some fishing in along the way. I met up with Alex Blouin from the Sage marketing department in Boise. Originally our plan was to the spend some time on the Clearwater and Snake, but with both of their recent closures, we set our sights for the Grande Ronde and Deschutes. The Grande Ronde had been on my list for years, so I was glad to have an opportunity to spend some time there.
There are two things that really strike me about the Grande Ronde. First, it’s such a remote place to fish. Even the surrounding towns all have a rural and welcoming feel to them. Getting to the river initially felt like we were returning to some less developed time. The second thing I was impressed by on the Ronde was the character of the water. It really seems to be a place where each bend in the river offers another epic piece of water to swing and pick apart. Being new to the area, I felt that to be as much a curse as a blessing, because when it all looks so good, it’s tough to tell what side of the line you’re on between spending time well and wasting it.
We set up camp riverside and I remember just feeling so excited to be at the front end of a trip I’d been looking forward to for so long. We spent our days hovering over runs, discussing where we thought the good water was and how to approach them. In the couple days we spent there, we were grabless, which didn’t phase either of us. We did, however, get to spend some time up at Spey Water Lodge with Scott O’Donnell and some of the guides we works with. To those who like the feeling of being out there, on a river with endless spey water, you should definitely look into Spey Water Lodge.
We packed up camp on day three with our heads help high and ventured on towards The Dalles and the Lower Deschutes. I have fond memories of the Deschutes because it was the first river I spend serious time on steelhead fishing when I moved out to Oregon from Montana. As we entered the lower river, below Maupin, I was having de ja vu moments from my original trip out West. Along the way we met up with Sage Rod Designer Peter Knox and us three set up camp at Mack’s Canyon campsite.
For our first day of fishing, longtime Deschutes guide Dillon Renton met up with us and took us downriver in his jet boat. Although there is something calming about floating a river in a raft or drift boat at the river’s pace, there’s just no substitute for what you can accomplish in a jet boat. As we were riding downriver river, I was eyeballing all the water that looked good to me, which within a few minutes was uncountable.
We fished a few runs in the morning, and ended up in a long piece of water that Peter had been wanting to fish around lunchtime. We all split up to cover the run and I followed Dillon downriver with my camera in hand. Within a few casts, he had a solid grab. He was just going to make another cast toward the fish when we heard Alex upriver yelling, “Fish!” I looked back and saw my 7130X in his hand fully bent on a nice fish. After exhausting myself on the short sprint upriver, I was able to be in the right place to capture the experience as it all went down. As you can see I the images, our one and only fish to hand during the trip was an absolute gem – about as beautiful as they come. It was a cool moment to experience too because it was Alex’s first true summer steelhead experience.
Shortly after we released Alex’s fish, I decided to step in upriver in what looked like the juiciest part of the run. As I was working out to my comfortable casting distance, before taking my first step, I got a vicious mid river grab. I’ve had a lot of odd encounters this season which have resulted in missed opportunities, so it was so rewarding to have such a solid connection. The fish was large and colored up and it battled with its head down, in a gnarly tug of war that lasted about five minutes. Finally, after maxing out how hard I could pull on the critter, the fish left its holding lie and slid in toward the bank. Just as I was gaining some ground, the fish came up to the surface in a fit of head shakes, spit the fly, and that was that. There is still some disagreement among the group as to whether the fish was a chinook or large steelhead. Anyways, I love encounters that keep you guessing and keep you up at night long after they’re over.
The next morning we woke up to frozen boots and decreasing ambition, with our one fish to hand being such a stunner. We fished off and on and I tried as much as I could to take in the scenery of the canyon. The river and impressive canyon walls still weigh on me now as I write this. All in all, this was a trip I’ll never forget. It was good to make new friends with Alex, Peter, and Dillon through our shared experience on the water.