A week on the Ronde

So fall is here and with every fall my mind turns to the Eastern Washington rivers and their summer run steelhead. I fish the Wenatchee, avoid the Methow and the crowds, hit the Snake or the Clearwater, but the one thing that I never miss is the Ronde. Some weeks are busy. Some weeks are slow with people.

Some weeks have been blessed with a bounty of fish and some have been the “should have been here last week” trips. All in all, no matter what week we have, its still a special trip. Fish or no fish, there is no place in middle to late October I would rather be.

Just like every year, the calls of the Skeena tribs call my name in my sleep and shout at me as im trolling the local waters in September for pinks (on the odd year) and the summer runs in the upper streches, but I still can’t avoid going to the Ronde.

The Ronde is a special river. It is not known for the record breaking steelhead you find in the Clearwater or up in B.C. It is not the kind of river where you can go expecting 17 hookups out of the boat like you might on the Methow. For myself, its not always about the size or the numbers of the fish during the trip. Its being on a river that is as rugged as it is beautiful. The lower and middle streach of the river gives you the feeling of total isolation in the wilderness. And, as you are surrounded by all the wonderment of pheasants flying above, big horn sheep scaling the rock cliffs, deer poking their heads out of the brush, and grouse and chucker thumping away in the early morning or late evenings, every fish ends up being a supprise with so much to watch around you.

Grande Ronde steelhead are unlike many summer runs that I have caught in my time. They are not big. They are not always the most acrobatic. But, for their size, they are in a way, bull dogs. Bright, early-June steelhead on the Sky in are a battle of cunning and skill with blistering runs and large leaps. On the Ronde, its a battle of braun. These fish exert sheer power from their little frames, which they should, they just traveled close to 500 miles of river and crossed 8 dams in the process of getting to your fly. I don’t know if it is this fish’s travels or just the nature of this river but they are a very aggressive fish to the swung fly, either on the surface or just below.

But the fish are not the only reason to go to the Ronde in the fall for me. For the last 19 years it is a trip with my father and, most years his long time fishing buddy. Over the years, there are many memories with past fishermen and friends that have come and gone from our camp on the river. Some years there are two of us and some there are six. But every year is rehashed around the campfire at night with our wonderful libations in hand.

Even the years where we didn’t find the big numbers of fish have a place in our hearts and minds around that fire. It is the river where I learned and grew my love of Scotch, and because this is now public record, I will not divulge my age at the time. It is somehow by magic or a gift of the gods that in all the time that I have been on this trip, with the exception of two years for me, busy or slow, we always seem to find ourselves in the same spot to camp. It is amazing how that drive down the steep little dirt road and setting up camp in the same spot every year puts a good mood on the trip no matter what happens. This year was no exception. It is these little things in life that make this trip special. It all started with the pursuit of a steelhead but has grown into so much more than that. This is the reason why I go to this little river, a great fishing trip doesn’t always involve multiple numbers of fish or a 45” fish on the beach, its a great trip no matter what happens on the water.
The overall trip this year was a great one. We found fish willing to play with us everyday we were on the river. We found very little fisherman pressure for the most part. We were able to fish our usual haunts and found some new ones this year, much like we do every year. We were in a way humbled by the Ronde fish this year. We were able to find many fish willing to grab our damp fly or dry fly on this trip, and we were able to get most of them to stick… albiet that most of the sticking was for a second or two. Even the fish that we missed outright were a “how did that happen” kind of moment. The fish that we were able to keep on for any amount of time found ways to wrigle off after a short while. In the end only two fish made it to the hand out of the almost two dozen that we found willing to grace us with there presence.

One would blame the hooks, the line, the fisherman, but out the three of us this year, there were different lines, different tippets, different hooks (just about everyone you can think of). My theory was, it was just the fish.

So as I sit and type this now, revisiting my last adventure, my mind already starts to wonder to next fall and what exciting things are awaiting me on the Grande Ronde next year.
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