Summer must be here. Daytime temperatures in the Wallowa Valley are hovering around 90 and are hotter in the Imnaha and Grande Ronde canyons.
For stream anglers the arrival of July is the long-awaited beginning of fishing season. Wallowa Lake anglers have been filling their creels with kokanee and rainbows for months, but the streams were too high for most anglers during May and June, but now flows are lower and clearing, insect hatches are good and the trout are as hungry as ever.
The golden stonefly hatch arrived roughly on schedule on the Wallowa River and trout are gorging on the nymphs and often take an adult on the surface. Along with these stoneflies are excellent caddis fly and mayfly hatches, particularly in the evenings on these warm days, reaching its peak just as it's getting too dark to fish.
The Grande Ronde may still have a few residual stoneflies along the river and may offer the best opportunity for dry-fly imitations of adult stoneflies. Since the nymphs are long gone and the trout switched to adults, the small number may now make your fly more appealing than a couple weeks ago.
The water level has made a steady drop for the past couple weeks in both the Wallowa and Grande Ronde rivers. The Wallowa River remains in the 300s cfs range, but major tributaries like the Lostine River, which has lost half of its volume in the last week and Bear Creek, which has lost even more of its volume, have lowered water levels in the canyon to easily-accessible levels and greatly improved fishing there. These two tributaries give up a fair percentage of their water to irrigation, so their low flow at the mouth does not represent their volume in the wilderness and these streams, because of the steep gradient, need a few more weeks before they will offer good fishing.
The Grande Ronde River is now near 2,000 cfs, which is a good fishing level anytime. Caddis and mayfly hatches are the primary interest at the moment, but grasshoppers are quickly hatching and growing and will become an item of interest for trout during the next couple weeks.
The Imnaha River, like the Wallowa and Grande Ronde rivers, has dropped and cleared recently, but remains relatively high and the only apparent angling interest early this week was for the chinook salmon season which closed on Tuesday.
Dave Tanzey at Imnaha Store says the end-of-the-season salmon fishing was the usual anadromous-fish roller coaster - good one day, poor the next and good again after that.
The salmon creel survey last week tallied 18 hours per fish, with 39 marked chinook caught (seven of these were released,) and 25 unmarked chinook caught and released during the week.
In addition to the salmon the survey recorded bull trout caught and released. Tanzey says that bull trout were caught as far downstream as Cow Creek, implying that these fish are still moving into the river from the Snake River.
Wallowa Lake angling is similar to the last couple weeks. Rainbows are readily found and that fishery will improve this week with the delivery of another load of legal rainbows this week prior to the July Fourth holiday.
Gina Barstad at Wallowa Lake Marina confirms that fishing is good, but observes that the "big ones" are still absent from the creel. This is for rainbows and kokanee. Kokanee anglers are easily brining in limits, but the fish are mostly 9 to 12 inches. Kokanee are gradually sinking to deeper strata of water as surface water temperatures warm. Presently, most anglers are finding the bluebacks between 35 and 50 feet deep.
Rainbows are more easily located and become the staple during the summer. Fishing the shoreline during the middle of the day and where ever fish are rising in the evening should produce steady action.
The most popular trout rig is worms or Berkeley Power Bait, but spinners and spoons are also good bets, changing colors and sizes until you find the trout's preference that day, and flies anytime trout are rising to the surface.
Progress in many of the trails in the Eagle Cap Wilderness is proceeding slower than usual this year because of a large number of trees across the trails. The trail crew foreman says that on some of the trails the crew is only able to clear a mile or so a day.
Getting the trails cleared is probably still on a timely schedule, however, since the lakes basin and many other popular wilderness destinations are still buried with snow. The snow line in the wilderness area remains stalemated at 6,500 feet, which is not unusual because the snow line for major winter storms is near 7,000 foot level and above this elevation the snowpack quickly builds and correspondingly, slowly retreats.
The U.S. Forest Service trail report for last week shows increased access into the wilderness.
Above Wallowa Lake hikers will find a clear trail about eight miles up the West Fork and about three miles up the East Fork or the Wallowa River. Horseshoe Lake is now free of snow.
Hurricane Creek trail is cleared above the Echo Lake trail junction, but only recommended for foot traffic because of a snow bridge at Slick Rock. They also advise caution at the unimproved crossing at Falls Creek, a short distance above the trail head.
Bear Creek trail is open about 12 miles and the Imnaha River trail is cleared for about four miles.
The trail is open from Moss Springs to Red's Horse Ranch on the Minam River and the Minam River trail is open south to Crawford Creek and north to Rock Springs trail junction.
CANADIAN BIG GAME BAN
Big game hunters are not allowed to import deer, elk, bison, caribou, mouse, musk ox, pronghorn, bighorn sheep or mountain goat from Canada this year. These species are from the ruminant family.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife issued a statement banning the importation of ruminants from Canada, in compliance to a U.S. Department of Agriculture ban based on the identification of a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, or "mad cow disease." Similar diseases in the family of spongiform encephalopathies include chronic wasting disease in deer and elk and scrapie in sheep and goats.
Carnivors are not included in the ban and may still be imported into the U.S. These species include bear, cougar and wolves.