Grande Ronde River
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This Snake River tributary has superb fall steelhead fishing amid beautiful scenery.
he Grande Ronde is a beautiful steelhead river that starts in Oregon but flows through southeast Washinton near its end. Located in a remote and isolated part of the Northwest, it's a long, long drive for most anglers--seven hours or more from Portland or Seattle. As far as the river's fans are concerned, that's just fine; they'd like to keep this gem to themselves.
However, it's a testament to the river's charms that you're seldom alone here. Despite the distance, you can always find a few dozen anglers who felt the rewards were worth the trek.
The Grande Ronde is reminiscent of the Deschutes, although it's much smaller, perhaps a third the size. And the vegetation is different: firs and pines rather than sage and juniper. Like the Deschutes, however, this is a classic step-cast-swing river. Most of the runs are easily read by an experienced angler.
The Grande Ronde's steelhead are summer-run fish, about 90% of which came from a hatchery. Most fish are between five and eight pounds.
When to Fish
These fish have to travel over 400 miles up the Columbia and Snake rivers to get here, so fishing doesn't get underway until mid-September at the earliest. By mid-November, the river has cooled, weather has worsened, and the roads have become dangerous. But in the six-week to two-month window, fishing can be excellent.
Only fin-clipped (hatchery) steelhead may be kept. Regulations change frequently and can be complicated. The most popular section flows through both Oregon and Washington, and the regulations can be different for each state. Carry a license and steelhead tag for both states and know the regs for each.
Most Oregon anglers will reach the lower Grande Ronde by taking Hwy 3 from Enterprise. After leaving Enterprise, the road climbs to an elevation of 4,600 feet, then twists and turns as it drops almost 3,000 feet into the canyon of the Grande Ronde. Near the end of your downward spiral, you cross into Washington and the road is now Washington Hwy 129. You'll soon come to the river.
Anglers coming from Idaho or Washington will probably want to come down from Clarkston-Lewiston on Hwy 129.
Where 129 crosses the river, turn left onto Grande Ronde Road. This paved road follows the river upstream and reaches the tiny town of Troy seven miles after crossing the Oregon/Washington border.
Some visitors to the Grande Ronde look at the map and see a "short cut" road between Elgin and Troy. Don't take it. It's a steep, twisting gravel road whose natural hazards are made worse by a few crazed hunters who roar up and down it like they were the only people on earth. Those who know the area don't use this road in fall.
The road to Troy gives access to the river's west bank. There are frequent turn-outs for parking your car. Just above Troy, the road swings away from the river, then comes back to it and follows the bank another seven miles. Then the road crosses a bridge, and anglers no longer have bank access.
There is a bridge at Troy, and a road goes down the south bank before turning up the hill. This road gives good access to about a mile of the south bank.
While the Grande Ronde is mostly a bank fishing experience, a few people take drift boats here. There are gravel launches at Troy, at the bridge above town, and at the Hwy 129 crossing. In the Troy area, a boat is more trouble than it's worth in the Troy area. The river is small and intimate, so a boat just causes conflicts and problems. There are some who feel fishing from a boat should be outlawed on this stretch. A pontoon craft, however, can be handy for reaching a few spots that fish best from the east bank.
A drift can be more useful farther downstream, in the Washington stretch of the river. Anglers often launch at Bogan's (where the road crosses the river) and take out at Shumaker Rd. This is a one-day, eight-mile drift through easy water.
Another drift is all the way to Heller's Bar at the confluence with the Snake. This is a two or three day drift. Near the end, the river squeezes through a narrow, dangerous chute. Drifters line their boats through it. Shuttle for both drifts can be arranged through Bogan's Oasis, 509-256-3372.
A few very hardy (and maybe foolhardy) anglers make a fall drift from Minam to Troy, a distance of 47 miles through an isolated wilderness. Since it is mid- to late-November before large numbers of steelhead reach that far upstream, the weather is likely to be unpleasant, even dangerous. And the nights are long, cold, and dark. And the fish might not be there anyway. But if you really want to do it, you need river flows of at least 1,100 cfs if you're rafting, and 2,500 cfs if you're in a drift boat. You need to carry a portable toilet, a fire pan, and pack out your ashes.
There are several places to camp along the river (see the map), including a grassy field just downstream from Troy. Expect no facilities whatsoever.
There is a 20-slot RV park at Troy. It has electricity, water, and a dump station. There is basic, informal RV parking at Bogan's Oasis, where Hwy 129 crosses the river. For either facility, call Bogan's to make a reservation (509-256-3372).
Troy is an exceedingly small town. It has a store with the bare necessities, maybe. But it does have pay showers in the back. There is also a restaurant and a "hunting lodge" that harkens to days of yore; for reservations, call 541-828-7741.
There used to be a log lodge near Troy, but it is now under private ownership.
Bogan's Oasis (at the Hwy 129 bridge) has five rooms for rent. They share a hot tub and two bathrooms. For reservations, call 509-256-3372. Bogan's is also an excellent source of current fishing information.
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