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The Gearboat Chronicles

Wallowa Bighorn Sheep with Crystal Strobl

We’ve been getting wet out here with a fair serving of rain. Grande Ronde has jumped up and we’ll try to keep you posted on what that does for the fishing once this gets a chance to settle.

Happy to report success in the spey rod department. Broke that thing in last week on the Grande Ronde and was double-jazzed to catch my first steelhead on the swing and spey rod in one go. Thanks to a busted camera, I don’t have the photo to back it up so you’re just going to have to show some trust on this one. She was a bright hen pushing 30 inches. Scar on her left side. Came up and gobbled the fly I was inexpertly skating. She was a real beauty.

Remembering Crystal

I’ve got some pictures here taken on outings to count bighorn sheep with Crystal Strobl, a wildlife biologist and great friend of ours that we lost recently. She loved Wallowa County and the feeling was mutual.

She knew this country better than most and was great about sharing her unique vantage point through such a unique job. Take a look.

Here’s a view of the mountains while flying with electronic gear rigged on the plane to pick up radio collar signals. We also saw a mountain goat trotting across a meadow on that flight.

On the trips I went along on, Crystal would run the electronics, scan with binoculars and direct the pilot, Joe Spence, same guy that flies us out of Dug Bar, to where the sheep were. Joe would circle while we all counted bighorns.

Crystal and Joe were usually very close or exactly the same on their counts.

Crystal: “I got 18.”
Joe: “Me too.”
Crystal: “What about you, Jonny?”
Me: “Uh . . . four?”
Crystal: “Right. We’ll go with 18.”

Here’s what it looked like when the sheep were in timber and Joe would tip the plane up on a wingtip, circling and circling while they counted and I threw up in the back because of all the spinning.

Here’s the view flying over Hells Canyon Dam and the Snake River. Some of these bighorns make their way back and forth between Oregon and Idaho once in a while.

Check out the frosty breath on this ram from the Lostine River area. This trip was made on snowmobiles up to a trap where the sheep milled around, drawn by bighorn sheep treats that are fed in the winter to bring them in for research purposes.

I got pretty close, but they were far more comfortable around Crystal. I saw her reach out and pull a tick off one of the ewes. Amazing. Just amazing.

Crystal scanning for sheep.