I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy several handfuls of truly memorable days on the Lower Deschutes over the years. From really good fishing with cool clients, to buddy camp trips, to solo adventures. Yesterday pretty much tops ‘em all! My son, Jasper who lives over in Eugene popped over the hill to spend a few days with us here in Bend. Sunday was spent carving up some pretty good snow on Bachelor. Yesterday was for just he and I to float the Lower Deschutes from Warm Springs down to Trout Creek.
This would be my second trip in the last week. The previous one being the most rain-drenched day I’ve ever spent on that stretch of river. It should be noted before going any farther that the wet day offered up great fishing under indicators for lots of eager trout. We didn’t land any steelhead but we made contact with some unseen foes that could have been steel. Yesterday was a day you would expect to have in the fall with a chilly morning giving way to a pleasant enough afternoon. The river was a bit higher than we see during traditional trout season, a touch over 5000cfs. I was pleased by how much sun was actually getting to the river. Late into the fall there are days when the entire middle stretch of the float gets zero sunlight. Yesterday, though we spent hours in bright, warm sunshine.
As for the fishing, we were into trout at every stop. We worked through a handful of flies before finding the magic combination. Then it was only a matter of re-rigging when we got broken off, which happened a few times… Fishing with my son has become one of the coolest experiences of my life. For the last year he has put in the hours discovering his own methods for approaching water, sussing out hatches, devising rigs, making presentations and fooling fish. I find myself more enamored of watching the kid fish that waving around a fly rod myself. Having said that, I did fish quite a bit yesterday. Caught a few too.
At one stop, having announced that a week earlier a buddy had a hook break off in the mouth of something big right in front of us, I cast into a sweet looking bucket, the indicator dove, I set the hook and felt the pulsing of a big fish. As is often the case down there, the first few seconds of resistance is a time full of questions. What have I hooked? What did it eat? What might the fish’s next move be? In this instant, with the old “could be a big whitefish hooked in the armpit” thought at the forefront, the line carved through the water towards the surface, which then exploded with the jump and subsequent thrashing of a steelhead. Jasper was in the front of the boat rigging when I announced what was happening. He grabbed the big net and then came and stood at my side for the next few minutes. He’d never witnessed a battle with a steelhead. Way too early in the fight he stepped out with the net and made ready. I had to tell him that this process hardly resembles that required with native trout. I might have, in the moment, been a bit more, shall we say, concise. He stepped back and saw, first hand, what a steelhead is capable of. This was one of those “doggers”. It never jumped after the first one. It did, however, take some short but blazing runs and classic subsurface barrel rolls. The big, exaggerated headshakes were especially impressive. I was using the old Winston 9’ 6wt LT, saddled with an even older Battenkill reel. Those of you who have suffered through some of my earlier writing may remember this rod from the “Bad Guide” story in October. I must report that this soft six has become a favorite down there for its casting and mending capabilities as well as how perfectly it plays large fish on relatively light tippet. Presently, this particular rig had 4x to the first fly and 5x to the rest of ‘em. I had a hunch the fish was on the top fly.
The fight went on for another couple long minutes before I had the sense the time was right. “Get ready, Jazzy,” was all I had to say. He stepped in, the fish allowed its head up and I dragged it into the net. This was a wild hen, still with some heft and vigor, but undoubtedly a shadow of her former self. Jasper held the net right at water level while I took the fly from her mouth. She gave a couple thrashes in the net but mostly seemed resigned to whatever came next. I explained to Jazzy that this was a wild fish as we admired her beauty. He readied the camera for the obligatory “Grip and Smirk” of me with the fish. With as little fanfare as could be expected she was allowed back to her realm. The gravel bar we stood on allowed us an extra couple seconds of watching as she swam way, strong, determined, as beautiful as any of nature’s creations.
Jasper offered congratulatory knuckles and then went back to re-rigging his rod. After checking all the knots in my rig I stripped out some line and flicked it back in the same slot. Any guesses as to what happened next? Yup, bobber down, hook set, great thumping, massive flashes of silver and red five feet down. I got a really good hook set, the fish ran twenty feet and stopped. The rod bent deeply into the heaving energy. “Hey man, you want to play this thing?” Jasper reached over and for the first time of his life felt the tug of an anadromous fish. For about thirty seconds. Then the brute strength and otherworldly velocity conspired to wrench the fly free. From tremendous tension to absolute slack. It happened. Just really hard to see it happen to your own son. But in typical Jasper fashion he hinged a few appropriate obscenities together, reeled up and laughed it off. After finishing his rig-up he fooled a handful of nice fish from the same spot before we moved on.
A while later we heated up some of my wife’s famous homemade pesto pasta and wolfed it down straight from the pot, standing close as we stuffed our faces. As a parent, this was another of those moments I live for, just Jasper and I far from the distractions, enjoying the simple perfection of present time.
We spent the rest of the day fooling many more nice fish. Even landed a few. We laughed. We gave each other crap. We shared some really good scotch. We acknowledged many times how stoked we were to be sharing the day as it lingered just long enough for us to feel as if the season is already turning.