With six clients and three packed drift boats we shoved off from Warm Springs boat ramp early Saturday morning. The group we were hosting had come from as far as Florida and as near as Seattle. They represented environmental consultants and energy industry folks. These people get together a few times a year to unwind and fish. They had diverse backgrounds as anglers, but all shared a passion for the art. None had spent time on our mighty Lower Deschutes, so there was a palpable excitement level as we set off in search of some fish to fool.
By lunchtime there were many stories about fish caught, fish hooked but not landed and the inevitable tale of woe for some who’d yet to get hooked up. The group was discovering that our native Redbands can be a wary quarry, not always so willing to engage. We ate Hawaiian-style chicken with salads on a small bluff overlooking one of the Lower D’s swirling eddies. Then it was back after it!
At our first stop after lunch, one of my clients was learning to cast a two-handed rod, the Redington Dually 11’ 5wt with a Switch Chucker line, a 10’ T-8 tip and a large olive Sculpzilla draped off a couple feet of 3X. His cast was a little shaky but as I fished my other client a little ways upriver I kept track of his presentations and encouraged him that he’d get one if he stuck to it. A bit later I heard a tremendous splash and looked over just in time to see his line sailing back in his direction, having come disconnected from something large. He let out that singularly pained sound of an angler who’d been bested by a big fish. As I made my way down to secure another fly, he simply stood there, eyes wide, mouth agape. Unlike me, he had seen the great fish leap and declared it one of the biggest trout he’d ever seen. While I tied another fly on, he went on and on about how big the fish was and what an intense grab he’d felt. I told him there were more out there, gave a reassuring pat on his shoulder and went back to the other client. For the next half-hour or so she and I hooked several fish but either got broken off or shook by each one. She was one of the quickest studies I’ve ever had the pleasure to guide and with every suggestion she dug in deeper and deeper, not just to pull off, but to perfect incredible indicator presentations. Then from down river, beyond my anchored boat, “GRIFF!!!” I turned to see the Dually just tacoed as Jim put pressure on something heavy. I ran down to help land what turned out to be a beautiful Bull Trout in the 17” range. We carefully admired its masculine beauty before release. I’ve been down there 39 days this season and that was only the second bullie we’ve landed. Such a special treat and an amazing reward for Jim.
Meanwhile my other client, Nandra, kept making great drifts and fooling the occasional fish. But it was back at camp that evening, as the others enjoyed hor d’ oeuvers, when she yelled for me to come net a fish. Lo and behold she’d fooled and landed another Bull Trout, this one around a foot long, super healthy and strong.
That night we were all treated to a delicious meal prepared primarily by our newest addition to the guide staff here, Martin Ciszek. He has been a very busy young man since late April, hosting trips from the Upper D to the Crooked to the Lower River; a dedicated, inspired angler who seems to have found his real passion. We’ve felt lucky to have him on our staff but it wasn’t until he took charge and put together a riverside feast none of us will ever forget that we realized just how fortunate we are to call him a co-worker. I’ll prep and clean up for that guy any day! Between socializing with clients, Kevin Hoar, the third guide and I took many mental notes on how to properly cook a camp meal. Both he and I have cooked for countless clients, just never as seamlessly and effortlessly as Martin.
As the perfect half-moon hung over the canyon rim, Kevin got is little propane fire pit out and we all gathered around for what would become the most hilarious client night ever! Through a mysterious combination of time, place and moonlight, wine, beer and bourbon, there was an unheard of amount of laughter, story and song. None of us will ever forget those hours as the mighty river whispered by.
For some reason, when everyone finally made their way to waiting tents, I stayed up enjoying a last little bit of fine bourbon. But soon I was audience to one of the more comical, stereophonic walls of snoring ever. With three tents housing five guys lined up, the constant swelling, subsiding, filling and emptying of sound was as compelling as any sound found in nature! I could barely tear myself away.
The morning dawned pleasant. Coffee was quaffed, breakfast burritos devoured and fly rods wielded. We fished camp water to pretty good success before the boats were packed and ready to go. It goes almost without saying that Jim was set on swinging Sculpzillas with the little switch rod all day.
Nandra meanwhile continued to awe me with her solid casts, timely mends, her ability to feed line out, making beautiful presentations everywhere I asked. She was eaten several times by nice fish that were just not willing to make into my new net. Those fish on 5X tippet simply hold all the cards some of the time. She wasn’t making obvious errors, just encountering especially badass fish! I felt bad that we weren’t landing more, but the amount of fish being fooled was hugely motivating for a woman who became easily the most accomplished nymph angler with only two days work I’ve ever seen. She did, it should be noted, land yet another foot-long Bull Trout before the day was through.
The trip sadly had to come to end Sunday afternoon under leaden skies at Trout Creek. The entire crew shared a few more laughs as the boats were stored. Soon they would all be aboard planes, heading back to their respective homes. They were full of gratitude, tired but satisfied in knowing they’d shared something memorable together. We, the guide staff knew we’d shared a special time with a group of special folks.
The drive back to Bend was punctuated with soft chuckles to an otherwise empty cabin. Being alone for the first time in a couple days, reflecting over the landscape of the experience all of us had shared, I felt so lucky to call what I’d just done a profession. Until the next such trip, I will hold fast the memories of moonlight, singing rivers, epic meals, dancing trout, strummed guitars and new friends laughing heartily.
Thank you for your time and tight lines until we see you again!