the film

Spectacular Fishing on Grande Ronde River

by Mike Benbow
The Daily Herald, September 25, 2011

The Grande Ronde River is blessed with exceptionally aggressive steelhead who like to munch on dry flies

The Federation of Fly Fishers got its start in the early 60s at the mouth of the Grande Ronde River when Bill Nelson of Eugene, Ore., met up with some buddies, had a few drinks, and talked about the importance of a national organization to look after their sporting interests.

Nelson, an Everett boy who had been a member of the Evergreen Fly Fishing Club in his hometown, had this to say about the Ronde in an oral history recorded by Western Washington University in 2007: "At the time, that was the best steelhead fishing in the world."

The Grande Ronde may no longer be the best steelhead river in the world. It's been discovered and it gets a tremendous amount of fishing pressure.

But on a good day, the fishing can still be spectacular. And the area's abundant wildlife -- from wild turkey, deer, elk and bighorn sheep -- are a special treat. Bird hunters go crazy over the number of chukar and Hungarian partridge.

The Ronde gets its start in Oregon and twists and turns about 200 miles through that state and the southeast corner of Washington before finishing up in Idaho's Snake River. In Washington state, much of the river runs through a steep canyon along private land, which protects the wildlife and provides little fishing access unless you have a boat.

Its steelhead aren't particularly large. A steelhead that has spent a year in the ocean returns at about four to six pounds. Two-year ocean fish are six to 10 pounds.

What makes them special is that the steelhead can be exceptionally aggressively and particularly like dry flies. Usually, a dry fly is perfect when the river temperature is 54 degrees. When it dips to 52, a subsurface fly will usually outfish a dry fly.

Most of the Ronde's steelhead are hatchery fish that are intended to replace some 9,000 adults eliminated by hydroelectric dams that wiped out nearly half the river's native steelhead run.

The Grande Ronde is French for "Big Round" and it accurately describes the twisty river.

Miners used to call it clay creek because it frequently ran slightly off color, a characteristic that remains true today, especially after a rain.

October is a great month to fish the Ronde because cool nights lower the river temperature and warm, sunny days make for pleasant fishing.

In Washington, there are good wadable stretches of the river near Boggan's Oasis, more in an area at the end of Shumaker Road, and a few more nice runs in the last two miles or so before Heller Bar on the Snake. A good one-day float trip is from Boggan's to Shumaker's, a public area that also allows you access to several miles of river.

If you go

Best time: Late September into early November.

Fishing headquarters: Boggan's Oasis, which is located in Washington, can provide food, fishing reports, car shuttle services or guide referrals. It can also arrange for lodging at its campground or hotel/bar in nearby Troy, Ore. Visit or e-mail

Best gear: A seven-weight rod equipped with a floating line and a 12 to 15-foot sink tip is ideal. Spey rods are particularly nice ranging from a six-weight to a nine-weight. Leaders should be eight to 10-pound strength.

Useful flies: Rabbit strip leech, October caddis, muddler minnow. Darker colors such as black, purples and reds work best for me. Also use slightly larger flies than you might otherwise select for summer fish in smaller streams. Size 3 is perfect.

Accessories: Polarized sunglasses, waders, wading staff.

Mike Benbow
Spectacular Fishing on Grande Ronde River
The Daily Herald, September 25, 2011

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation