Steelhead fishing is picking up in Wallowa County rivers as the prized sport fish make their way up the Wallowa and Imnaha rivers.
Randy Johnson and Jack Lewis of Joseph enjoyed some of the first catches of the season on the Imnaha Monday afternoon. Drifting clusters of salmon eggs below the Imnaha bridge, the pair hooked several fish, landing a bright hatchery hen within minutes after arriving to the river.
"It's my first fish of the season," Johnson said as he slid the 27-inch fish onto the gravel bar below the bridge.
On the Wallowa River, meanwhile, steelhead fishing has been fair in the Wallowa and Minam areas. Fly fishermen and gear anglers have both been enjoying success, although water levels have risen with recent snowmelt and rain, which has also dirtied the water.
So far this year, a little more than 100 steelhead have returned to Wallowa Fish Hatchery in Enterprise. A healthy return of nearly 4,000 fish are expected to return to the Wallowa River's fish traps, while another 2,180 are expected back to the Imnaha's trap.
March and early April are typically the peak season for the summer steelhead in Wallowa County.
The steelhead returned to the mouth of the Columbia River at Astoria in May and June, and are just now showing up in the Wallowa and Imnaha rivers, both major tributaries of the Snake River.
Johnson and Lewis rigged up with drift-fishing rigs, using a Corky to float roe clusters just off the bottom. Small pieces of pencil lead were used for weight.
"The river just came up," said Dave Tanzey, owner of Imnaha Store and Tavern. "It should start getting pretty good."
Tips on rigging up for the Imnaha or Wallowa rivers are available at the Sports Corral in Joseph.