Big fish. Busy river.
Like everything else this year, the 2020 steelhead season was interesting to say the least.
With more fish returning this season to the Columbia River than the past few years anticipation was high to start the season. As of this writing the counts over Bonneville Dam are approximately 37,000 higher compared to last year, a notable improvement for sure over a pretty dismal 2019.
As the season took form in late September our crew all noted fairly decent catch rates in the Grande Ronde. With good flows for late summer/early fall it seemed that fish were trickling into the system on a pretty consistent basis.
Kelby Braun and Bjorn Ostby who run the bulk of our trips both noted some of the nicest sized steelhead they have consistently caught on the Grande Ronde. Bjorn stated that the quality may be the best ever in his years down there.
The improvement in fish returning to the system also meant a large increase in the amount of river traffic. Kelby, Bjorn, Kenyon and Britten all agreed that it was incredibly busy boat traffic this year. The busiest day in the "canyon" below Boggan's upwards of twenty boats had launched in a single day.
So while the amount of fish returning was an improvement over 2019, it was still down by about 50%. Take that into consideration and a busy river means the catching is going to become difficult.
As the season progressed through October, the river didn't receive much rain causing conditions to become very clear and and even more challenging said Kelby. He also said many of the swing anglers would call it quits by 4pm, leaving the final hour(s) of daylight un-fished. I agree with Kelby, many a steelhead has come to hand in the fleeting moments of daylight. So when conditions get tough, it can pay off to stick around for the magic hour near dark.
By the end of October river temps had already plummeted below 40 degrees and the swing bite became very spotty at best. For those willing to use indicator tactics fish could still be found, though only 1-3 shots a day were to be had. Mess up on those opportunities and well... that's all she wrote! The plus side to late October was river traffic had substantially subsided, which overall is fairly typical the time of the year.
It has been a couple weeks now since we called it a season on the Grande Ronde and since then the river has even seen some early snowfall. If the air temps don't become too extreme hearty anglers will have opportunities all winter long to fish the Grande Ronde on their own volition, given that the river doesn't freeze up.
For 2020 that's a wrap on our Grande Ronde steelhead guide trip season! We deeply appreciate those that made the effort to come down and fish with our crew this fall and we are hopeful for an improved 2021 season down there.