Down The River


I'm not one to kiss and tell, but in this case I will, maybe just a little.  My wife and I just completed a float down the Grande Ronde River, a beautiful piece of water that flows through some splendid country.  It's not a wilderness trip, but there are moments when it seems so.

Grande Ronde Idyll
When we planned the trip late last winter (Flywater Travel arranged the trip and took care of the particulars), I was looking for a different experience to share with my wife.  The sublime days of autumn offer wonderful camping conditions.  What better way to spend a few days than by floating through the high desert while fishing for steelhead?


I was (and still am) a novice spey caster, Jo had no experience whatsoever.  Days before the trip I could sense the angst setting in.

"Do I have to learn how to spey cast if I want to fish" she asked.

"Well, uh, uh, of course not" was all I could manage.

Better yet, "do you think that I'll catch anything?"

Being a man of truth and decision, I said "sure."  My fingers were crossed.

By the end of the trip she was casting and covering the water better than me.

The Speywater boys getting the rafts ready.  Dave Goodhart, Scott (the boss) O'Donnell and Dax Messett  (l-r)
I've always been a sucker for float trips.  They are a great way to camp, fish and see new country.  It's even better when others do the work.  I've floated rivers unguided and have to admit that it's a lot of fun and satisfying.  Admittedly though, there are daily chores that require tending, thus cutting into ones fishing. This is where the guiding and outfitting come in.

Enter Scott O'Donnell and his Speywater Guide Service.  Scott is well known in the spey casting and steelhead fishing world. He and a few of his notable contemporaries were at the forefront of the spey casting phenomenon that overtook the Pacific Northwest in the 1980's.

Steve Morikawa launches one
For his river trips, Scott employs an able crew of guides, a cook and two swampers.  The daily routine is straight forward.  After breakfast and the obligatory morning coffee, guides and clients loaded into the rafts and spent the day floating to and fishing likely looking runs.  Meanwhile, the crew broke camp and moved it down river.  This left us free to fish at a leisurely pace.  Lunch was taken at some riverside locale.  Eventually, the camp crew passed us en route to the next camp site.  We continued to fish our way through good water until we arrived at camp near dusk.  Our home for the evening was ready and waiting.  All we had to do was unpack our dry bags and settle into our tent.  We usually fished the camp water while awaiting dinner.


Dax providing instruction on how to be a swinger

Why yes, I've been a good girl.  May I have a steelhead today? Please?

A happy photo session

A happy client makes for...

Scott O'Donnell, Speywater Guide Service
A happy Scott O'Donnell

But for a brief rain shower one evening, each day was a carbon copy.  Rise, float, fish, revel in the scenery, such is the relaxing daily rhythm of a float trip.  The mid-day lunch meeting of guides and clients allowed for storytelling and a comparison of the morning fishing activities.   As is usually the case, a sense of camaraderie developed.

Lunchtime on the river shared by a great group of guides and clients

Mmm, mmm good - Patrick Marlborough and one of his flies
Steve Morikawa, million dollar smile (you too Dax)
Dax on the oars, DanBodell and Patrick Marlborough (aka the Tuaca Brothers) head downriver 
Dan Bodell, Dax Messett and Dave Goodhart (l-r) - after the catch
Fish were caught, but they were earned.  The usual circumstances that affect fish availability were in play.  A smaller run, low water, warm temperatures, bright sunny days.  Still, more fish would not have made the trip any better.  Guides and crew were outstanding, the spey instruction without peer.  Their patience enabled a couple of rookies to catch their first steelhead with spey rods.  My only gripe is that Scott allowed Jo the use of his Sage Z-Axis for the duration of the trip.  Now she wants one too!

The blind hog (me) gets one - a most special fish - Thanks Scott!


Scott O'Donnell


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