Steelhead seasons is winding down in northeast Oregon and with the end in sight, the number of anglers that continue to pursue these fish is quickly diminishing.
Last weekend the crowds on the Grande Ronde, Wallowa and Imnaha rivers were smaller than a couple weeks ago. There is still a fair amount of effort being made on all of these rivers, but anglers can find open water now, that wasn't available just a week or two ago. The effort is beginning to concentrate at the locations perceived to concentrate the fish. On the Grande Ronde, the effort is almost exclusively at the Cottonwood Creek trapping facility. The Wallowa River follows a similar scenario with the majority of the effort concentrated near Big Canyon trapping facility. For Grande Ronde anglers, this leaves three or four miles of river below Cottonwood Creek virtually untouched, but with plenty of steelhead still lingering there. In the Wallowa River there are six miles of river above Big Canyon that is accessible from the highway that has little to no angling pressure and, with steelhead still arriving at Wallowa Hatchery in Enterprise, steelhead are plentiful upstream from the Minam area.
Dropping and clearing water this week should benefit steelheaders during the last few days of this season. Early in the week, while water levers were relatively high, water clarity was excellent and anglers were having good success. The vast majority of the anglers fishing during the spring months utilize bait and spinners to combat the higher water flows, but fly anglers can have good success working the edges of the rivers where slower water allows them to fish effectively to fish congregating in the eddies and current seams.
Cottonwood Creek angling pressure has dropped to a fraction of what it was a couple weeks ago, but the angling success seems to be near the three hours per fish that steelheaders have achieved during recent weeks.
The Wallowa River, typically a distant second to the Grande Ronde River, likely hasn't changed greatly since last week. The catch average is likely still more than 10 hours per fish and most of the angling pressure remains below Big Canyon.
The Imnaha River turned out good results for "some" anglers, according to reports that Dave Tanzey gathered at Imnaha Store. Tanzey says that all of his information came from gear fishermen. There were a few fly anglers on the river, he says, but there weren't any fishing reports from them for the week.
Steelhead season closes on Tuesday, but good steelhead angling continues until the end of the season, although, the fish are past their prime for table fare.
Anglers that haven't had enough fishing and would like great table fare, there are good reports from Snake River reservoirs for crappie and smallmouth bass fishing. Crappie fishing seems to be on an up cycle this year with good numbers of fish in the pools and perhaps decent size. Smallmouth are abundant and aggressive with some large fish being caught among the typical assortment of smaller bass.
With the close of steelhead season on Apr. 15, anglers can shift their outdoors activities to hunting with the opening of spring bear and turkey seasons and on that day have the opportunity to pursue all three species. The bear season is a controlled hunt, so if you weren't successful in this year's drawing, then turkey is your only hunting option. The good news, however, is that you can buy your turkey tag anytime and if you fill one you can purchase a tag for a second gobbler.
The temperature at Imnaha on Monday reached 62 degrees and was forecast to be warmer on Tuesday before returning to "winter" for the balance of the week. Last week's return of "winter" set back backcountry travel as new snow blocked previously-open forest roads. The problem with access probably isn't a real issue for next week's spring bear season, though. Cold temperatures in March and April seem to be keeping bears in or close to their dens. Tanzey says there were no bear sightings reported last week, so another week or two to let the bears come out of hibernation will give the roads time to melt out again.
The snow pack in north Wallowa County melted to a broken snow floor last week and turkeys are beginning to show up in the forest areas below 5,000 feet with open ground.
Great snow arrived at Ferguson Ridge Ski Area last weekend, extending the season for perhaps a couple more weekends, but the late season accumulation induced only a small crowd of skiers and snowboarders to the hill last weekend.
There is more snow in the forecast this week making another weekend of operation a possibility.