Did You Know Stealhead Joe?

It's a mighty big river...

Does his spirit still walk the tracks from Maupin to Moody?


A buddy called the other day and asked, “Who is Steelhead Joe?” I had no idea what or who he was talking about.

“Me neither, but apparently he was a legendary steelhead guide on the Deschutes!” He was fired up, calling fellow guides for whatever info he could find. He sent me the link to an extensive Outside Magazine article.

After reading the story, I was more than curious. How did such an obvious character fly under my radar all these years? I fired off a couple of emails to friends who guide the Deschutes. None of them had heard of Joe either! At least not before his obituary was printed earlier this year. Finally, I contacted some of the people quoted in the article, and a more complete picture of “Stealhead” Joe (intentional spelling) started to take shape. He was a vibrant but tortured man who spent a few years of his life chasing steelhead. He guided on a shop permit for a couple of seasons, then went “independent.” Some say he was guiding without a permit. Brave, but not a good plan on the Deschutes, where guides take their business seriously, and cops come in every shape and color. These little additions to Joe’s story fit the theme of the article. His life was a tight-wire act. Portrait of a man whose addictions defined him, and whose mental illness took his life too soon.

Joe’s legend was unknown to most. He came and went like El Nino. But he affected enough lives in his short time as a steelhead guide to be remembered as a sort of tragic hero. It shows the power that fishing guides wield in a world of itinerant tourists. And it made me realize that a river the size of the Deschutes can encompass more lives and more stories than anyone could ever grasp. For every celebrated Deschutes guide you’ve ever heard of, there is another who has made his living in the margins. He doesn’t have a web site or a cell phone. And if you’re not paying close attention, you might miss him.

7 Responses to “Did You Know Stealhead Joe?”

  1. Alex says:

    This the most asinine blog post I have ever read in my life. You did not know the man, and your bio of him is ridiculous. Have some respect and do not speak of what you do not know.

  2. RR says:

    No disrespect intended here, Alex. Quite the opposite. Just telling a story the way it happened.

    I’m struck by the irony of a man preaching respect, who simultaneously exudes disrespect and misplaced anger. If I’ve made erroneous conclusions about Joe based on what I’ve read and heard from others, why don’t you help me understand Joe better?

  3. Jeff says:

    Alex” Dude “, WTF! Someone piss in your coffee?

  4. Big Kyle says:

    You where spot on rob . Knowing joe for his last few seasons on the D it was hard to believe how many people he fooled as to who he really was. the biggest heartbreak involved all of hiss so called friends not being there for him when he truly needed help shame on all of us for letting another one slip through the dark alone.

  5. the jeweler says:

    ” this is the most asinine blog post….” thats a pretty bold statement. go online much? let get the other side alex. set em straight.

  6. Flysonly says:

    I fished with Steelhead Joe in Chile February 2011 for 5 days. He was definitely a character.
    He came with a spey rod and gave us all casting lessons on the Palena River.

  7. Justin Karnopp says:

    well said RR!

    Like too many of us, I have lost good friends who have taken their own lives, and its horrible, so my condolences to all who knew and loved him.

    In my opinion, at issue here is not Joe, but Ian, who filled an homage to his favorite (albeit scofflaw) fishing guide with his own assumptions and exaggerations in favor of a good yarn. He’s actually doing the late Joe a disservice by calling into question his own validity.

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