It’s a cool, blustery morning in late April 1967. Opening day for stream trout on Couse Creek. Wisps of cottonwood bloom float above a field of alfalfa ready for its first cut. Basalt-studded slopes showcase the early bloom of sulphur buckwheat. A solitary crow spreads his wings and voices his opinion from atop a telephone pole. My fishing buddy lifts up the bottom strand of barbed wire and I crawl under.

Creeks is where we venturous youths fished when the Walla Walla River ran high and roily in early spring. Back then, pan-sized redband rainbow trout lurked beneath the protective root wads of alder, where a never-ending growth of blackberry vines restricted casting. A limit of fat trout could be harvested if you were a determined teenager with a carton of red wrigglers and spare tackle in your canvas creel.

A myriad of small creeks flow from the western flanks of the Blues to feed the Walla Walla River. Their presence led to the name “Wallah Wallah,” what regional Indian tribes refer to as the “place of many waters.” Historically, hundreds of these same Columbia Basin streams provided habitat for resident trout and migratory steelhead. In years of abundant rain and snowpack, rainbow trout and juvenile steelhead worked their way into the upper, cooler reaches of these tiny streams to live and grow. Juvenile steelhead that rear in their natal stream contribute to the catchable trout population before they migrate to the Pacific Ocean.

Couse Creek is one of many local streams in need of help. Sadly, roadways, dams, and irrigation diversions have effectively blocked the free movement of trout and steelhead. Low stream flow, artificial channelization, and removal of riparian cover has adversely affected their life cycle and reduced population size.

The southern-most tributary to the Walla Walla River, Couse Creek enters near Marie Dorion Park at River Mile 49. Its headwaters originate at elevation 3,000-feet, where Lincton and Basket Mountain ridges calve off the western slopes of the Blues. Movement of trout and steelhead upstream of its confluence with the Walla Walla River has been constrained by passage barriers and low stream flow for decades. Epic floodwaters that occurred in 2020 further damaged stream habitat.

Beginning in 2010, the Walla Walla Basin Watershed Council (WWBWC) initiated plans for restoration activities in Couse Creek. Great strides were made over the past four years when concrete migration barriers were removed, streambanks in key locations were stabilized, and riparian canopies were replanted. Placement of large woody debris and boulders provided a wider range of habitats for spawning and rearing.

The WWBWC is a non-profit organization that fosters education and cooperation among parties having a stake in the health of the Walla Walla River watershed. Their mission emphasizes resource protection and watershed health in a way that does not infringe on the needs and values of citizens who reside in the basin, (  The local office in Milton-Freewater employs a staff of nine natural resource professionals in a variety of disciplines. A dedicated board of volunteers also helps to assist landowners and promote healthy watersheds.

Next on the WWBWC schedule for Couse Creek is to improve habitats in the 11 miles of stream location upstream of former passage barriers. Restoring watershed function in the upper reaches is critical to increasing and stabilizing base stream flow; hence, benefitting both water users and fish.  Restoring vegetative cover to the riparian corridor will reduce evaporation and provide more water to the stream bed, as will re-connecting groundwater, springs, and surface waters with culverts and selective grading.

Pop over a ridge or two to the west and you will find Dry Creek and Pine Creek—what some folks consider insignificant “step-across cricks” because they lack year-round flow. It’s important to note that in 1898 the Weston Leaderreported that Pine and Dry Creeks were both excellent trout streams before they were obstructed. Although we can’t turn back the clock, change for the better seems to me a reasonable goal.

I often wonder what happened to those blissful days of youth. You could say time flies as it always does when the responsibility of a family and a profession takes over your life. Yet over the past few decades, I found time to return to Blue Mountain creeks, this time with a fly rod in hand. Admittedly, I often ended up with more ticks to pick off my socks than trout in my creel.

A short passage from my journal about an early visit to Couse Creek best captures my feelings for this special place:

Water striders race across the water’s surface to demonstrate the subtle power of surface tension. The undersides of rocks are crusted with stonefly larvae, tiny snails, and nubbly sponge. Shallow riffles are lined with the pebbly cases of caddisflies. Perhaps a nine-inch trout will rise to my fly at the next shaded swirl pool?

It’s unlikely those same feelings will be passed down to future generations unless concerned citizens strive to be better stewards of small streams.  Most assuredly though, good things can happen through the efforts of conservation organizations like the WWBWC.

Restoration activities of the WWBWC benefit from the cooperation of caring landowners and the financial assistance of the Bonneville Power Administration, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, and local fly-fishing clubs. With the collective support of like-minded citizens, they are taking on one Blue Mountain creek at a time – and making a difference!