Without Boggan’s, ‘Fishing The Ronde Will Never Be Quite The Same’

I’ll be rooting around my parent’s basement on Thanksgiving Day, searching for an old yellow notepad that’s gathered nearly 20 years of dust.

The words scrawled across those 70 or 80 pages go with a few dozen slide photographs I dug out of the back corner of my cramped attic yesterday afternoon and put on the light box.

I hadn’t meant to resurrect them all for another year and a half, for a magazine feature I’ve mulled, but then I learned that Boggan’s Oasis burned down Saturday night and I needed to remember right then.

ALL THAT REMAINS OF BOGGAN’S OASIS, THOUGH THE MEMORY OF THE ICONIC RESTAURANT ALONG HIGHWAY 129 HALFWAY BETWEEN ASOTIN, WASHINGTON, AND ENTERPRISE, OREGON, WILL LIVE ON IN THE HEARTS OF LOCAL RESIDENTS, STEELHEADERS, HUNTERS AND OTHERS WHO’VE STOPPED IN FOR A MILKSHAKE, A BOX LUNCH OR DINNER. (JENNIFER BRISTOL)

All that’s left of the restaurant is twisted metal, fallen cinder blocks and a hollow place in the hearts of everyone who knows this country.

Let me tell you about my connection to it.

I spent two weeks in a cabin and trailer above Boggan’s in March 1999, taking the aforementioned notes and images while fishing for steelhead above and below the iconic restaurant along Washington’s Grande Ronde.

I remember the kindness and wonderful meals served up by the owners, Bill and Farrel Vail, who today aren’t sure if they will rebuild or not.

“I’m 84, and my lovely wife, she’s 82,” Bill told the Spokesman-Review. “It will work out. Everything’s in God’s hands. It will work out.”

They’d been up later than usual Saturday night to watch Gonzaga beat Utah State when they heard some noises and realized the restaurant was ablaze.

With no fire stations able to respond and the fire’s heat having destroyed a water pump that otherwise might have helped hose things down a bit, there was nothing for the Vails to do but watch the business they’ve owned since 1983 burn.

If there’s solace, I’m told by a local resident that the shuttle service and cabins are still available; check at the double wide or call (509) 256-3418.

But the restaurant is “a complete loss.

I remember back in ’99, after the day’s steelheading was done, eating dinner there and tracking the Zags as they made their first deep run in the Final Four.

IMAGES FROM A MARCH 1999 STEELHEADING STAY ON THE GRANDE RONDE RIVER OUT OF BOGGAN’S. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

I know I took a lot of notes as the plug rods bounced on those floats down from Cougar Creek, but I hope to find in the pages of that yellow pad in my folks’ basement more memories from the wonderful evening sessions spent with fellow fishermen and others inside the cozy restaurant.

It was an important way station for those headed north or south by road, or east or west on the river.

Whether you were going to end your day at the takeout below Boggan’s or start there on the float downstream to Schumacher, whether you were coming from Enterprise headed for Asotin or vice versa, in a land where services are few and far between, Boggan’s was where you stopped for breakfast, lunch, dinner, local information or just to let the brakes cool at the base of the Rattlesnake and Buford Grades while you enjoyed one of their famed milkshakes.

“That place truly was an oasis in an otherwise isolated part of the world,” noted Chris Donley, a steelheader as well as WDFW’s regional fishing manager. “I’m going to miss the pay phone to check in at home and some great all-you-can-eat meals served up with love from Farrel. More importantly, this was Bill and Farrel’s home. I worry for them that they have a place to go during the holidays and beyond. I will miss the place and all its worn-out quirks. Fishing the Ronde will never quite be the same.”

I remember stopping at the restaurant in the mid-90s during a winter circumnavigation of the Blues and Greg using that payphone to make a call home to his folks.

Several years later, during that 1999 trip, my mom called the restaurant and left a message to tell me that F&H News wanted me to come in for a job interview at their Seattle office. I put the magazine off a week so I could fish some more, but did eventually hire on there.

As editor of the Washington edition, me or Randall Peters would call Bill for a report on the steelheading, which was typically all right if not good, even if the boys at the tackle shop in Clarkston thought otherwise than the savvy businessman on the Ronde.

The history of Boggan’s traces back to the post-World War II era, and is named for its original proprietor. Even as the nearby farming towns of Mountain View, Anatone, Paradise and Flora faded into history, Boggan’s was a coal that continued to burn in one of Washington’s most remote corners.

During the Vails’ ownership, smallmouth and steelhead runs increased markedly, and if you’d asked me after my 1999 trip, I would have told you it would have been impossible for the fishing to have been any better than it was that March.

A nine-fish day, a seven-fish day. Yes, I was in the hands of someone on their way to expert status, but I hit three on my own one day from the bank and felt pretty good about that, even if it was just below Cottonwood Creek.

That winter-spring season was actually only so-so for summer-runs, at least when measured against the years that proceeded it, one of which saw more than 325,000 fish over Lower Granite Dam and a Ronde harvest in excess of 13,000.

But the fishing wasn’t very good at all this past winter, one of the harshest to hit this country in several decades.

The river froze, then blew out. Participation in Boggan’s annual derby was half of usual, and only 29 steelhead were weighed in.

“No fish turned in at all after March 7,” they told me. “This year we are trying to forget.”

Those words, written in April as the Ronde tried to green up for the last week of season, were hopeful, but would be followed by a poor return this year.

And now the fire.

Looking through old slides and reading notes from days gone by won’t bring back the Boggan’s I knew, or anyone else did, but I hope to get back there this Thursday, as my family and I sit down to give thanks for what we have, and have had.

TO BE FINISHED PROPERLY …

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One thought on “Without Boggan’s, ‘Fishing The Ronde Will Never Be Quite The Same’”

  1. So sad to hear about Boggan’s Oasis where I stayed in the double-wide or one of the cabins while steelhead fishing the Grande Ronde many times. All the best to Bill and Farrel Vail–two of the nicest people you will ever meet. I hope they can rebuild and have it just the way it was before the fire.

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