PART TWO OF “THE COMPANY FALL FLOAT”
When last heard from, our intrepid Fly and Field Outfitters crew, consisting of Scott Cook, Dave Merrick, Martin Ciszek, Danny McWilliams, Andrew Hasbrook, Austin Bozwell, Jasper Marshall, Quintin McCoy, Eddie Mack, Kevin Hoar and yours truly, were midway through day two of a three-day float from Trout Creek to Harpham Flat in Maupin. Jasper, you may remember, had pretty much commandeered my Spey rod and had fooled his first fish, a lovely native Redband. Then this happened…
Once Jasper finished swinging the run, we all sat in the boat making sandwiches, having a beer and talking story. At some point we were made aware that the sky was darkening far too early in the day. Up canyon a dark, menacing storm cell ad developed and was heading our way. We pulled anchor and Martin began rowing furiously, in an attempt to stay ahead of the weather. The effort was for not. Within minutes we were being pummeled. The rain jackets went on, the sandwiches were wolfed down and the river lit up with countless tiny splashes. I was sitting in approximately thirteen-hundred and fifty dollars worth of Simms Gore-tex and was therefore unfazed by the deluge. My boat mates, on the other hand… couldn’t tell ya. Guessing they’re glad the storm was brief. Another sweet piece of kit I’ve recently been given to test had proven quite lovable during the downpour. Our Patagonia rep gave me one of their Stormfront packs while in Bend last month. This is a properly waterproof zipper system, one of those pricey deals I’ve often wondered if it was worth the money. Well, having been hammered that day on pretty short notice, forgetting in the moment that my cameras were on board, I’d no doubt have ended up with wet gear. As it was, the bright orange bag, zippered tight, kept the stuff dry that needed to remain that way. I know this is an extravagant item, but for those who spend time in the elements, and have valuable items along, I can’t recommend it enough.
Favorite new piece of kit
The squall filtered passed us, leaving a sparkling blue sky in its wake. The fishing went even a bit slower at our next stop. We soldiered on downriver in search of the rest of our crew, which had been downriver of us for hours. We came across Austin and Eddie fishing one particularly promising run. As we ghosted passed them, I looked up just in time to see Austin set on a fish. Immediately he was reeling as fast as he could and our collective thought was another trout, but then the line angled quickly towards the middle of the river. And then, with the line still cutting into the river’s surface, the fish exploded twenty feet off to the side. Steelhead! All three of us in Martin’s boat hooted into the otherwise calm canyon. It was an epic moment, shared in a really cool way. Austin raised an arm in celebration and then turned to Eddie, we presumed to request a net from their boat. Sadly, we were already too far downriver to get to their bank and hang out for the battle. Only later would we learn what had happened.
It would be a while before we caught up with he others. And by then we basically rowed together to one more stop for a “party fish” after which a couple boats headed for camp. We stopped at one last swinging run which meant that I’d watch while Jasper used my rod. This would become a theme. He did fool another nice Redband on the Intruder before the session was through. As much as the sought-after quarry continued to elude our boat, each grab on the swung fly was a sign of hope, especially for Jasper.
We pulled into camp to find a few of the boys had gone downriver to fish, while others were hanging out, claiming tent spots and sorting out the ever important area for our Washers pitch. The night’s game would prove a reckoning, the final showdown for all the marbles, not to mention bragging rights. The evening was a special one down there. Not too much breeze, a comfortable temp and an epic camp on a small bluff overlooking a big eddy in the river. We had enough wood to get us through, plenty of beer and whisky, and a major league hotdog feast on the horizon.
We heard a couple good fishing stories as the fire’s first embers began crackling into the darkening sky. Austin had indeed landed the fish we saw him hook. It was a wild fish in the six to seven pound range having been seduced by one of his own flies. It had taken several minutes to subdue after we had drifted around the corner.
Around that same time, but a bit farther downstream, and while innocently trying to fool some Redbands, Dave had hooked a steelhead on a 5wt rod and 5X tippet while “party fishing”. The story goes that once the fish launched clear of the mighty river, Dave called for a net from the boat. When Danny came Dave’s direction with a little trout net he was instructed in no uncertain terms that a bigger net would be required. There was a very brief back and forth regarding the merits of a large net in the given circumstance, after which Danny went back to the boat and retrieved the proper equipment. The fish was landed, photographed and then set free, Dave having never held it.
There were stories of many really nice trout having been caught, several by the young and fishy Quintin. As far as I could tell, I had the fewest fish to my name at that point, and I really could have cared less. Rarely have I had so much fun on a fishing trip, while barely fishing.
The fire burned late into the night. The Washers tourney was less intense for most of us. Matter of fact, some never tossed a washer all night. The build up was solely for the re-match between the teams of Dave and Kevin and Martin and Jasper. The previous night had set the stage and having been in a boat with the young challengers I knew that they were psyched. So the preliminary matches held little if any interest. It would all come down to the featured event. The action was taking place behind the fire pit so when the final matches began, it was low key. I kept one ear trained to the guys for scores and would then relay the info to interested parties around the fire. The first game was a back and forth affair, ending with the veterans on top. The next began lopsided, the young guys putting a smack down on Dave and Kevin. But just as one might expect of the two undefeated, undisputed champs, they came back valiantly and made a game of it, but ultimately succumbed to the sheer will of Jasper and Martin. What happened next will not soon be forgotten by any of us present. Dave and Kevin called the match. As quickly as the competition had begun, it was over. Amidst cries of disbelief and dismay, the two great ones could not be persuaded to have a tie-breaking toss-off. The teams, over both nights, were tied at “twos”, and so it would remain. A draw was declared, the dust -proverbial and literal- settled, and seats were assumed around the fire. Many of us -actually just me, most likely- felt denied a proper conclusion; robbed of a truly, historically significant showdown. The competitors acted calm, sanguine really, seemingly at peace with the outcome; somehow convinced that, via this scenario, everyone was a winner. Wrong! Completely and utterly incorrect! There needed to be one team, arms raised in victory, a ridiculous dance of some sort, awkward high-fiving white boy moves, and not-so-subtle smack talk aimed in the direction of the vanquished. And the other team must be dejected, understanding how close they’d come to the mountain top only to be toppled, feeling the full weight of their failure, allowed to wallow in the knowledge that they’d failed when presented the chance to triumph, all of this in the presence of their peers.
I, as a fan of sport and all its glory, need that. I’ll get over it. Just might take some time.
Not much more to report from the night. One by one the elders peeled off for their (our) tents. The young bucks stayed up talking raucous story. All the wood was burned. Most every drop of whisky imbibed.
Our third and final day began under a beautiful fall sky, the expected chill greeting all those who dared emerge from their tent. Some were up earlier than others. Some snuck off to swing the run below camp. Coffee was made. Slowly. Camp was broken and stowed and then we were off.
Our boat would once again be Martin, Jasper and I, meaning I’d not get even a touch of my Spey rod. In truth, I was happy to allow Jasper the time to hone in his budding cast. And I was cool nymphing the day away. At our first stop, Martin took the long swing while Jasper and I worked mostly trout rigs through the upper bucket water. We were both rewarded with some nice fish, all falling for small bugs under the bobber. Again, he comprehensively out-fished me. I could name a bunch of excuses, but they’d no doubt make me look bitter (I wasn’t) as well as be patently untrue (something I strive to not be accused of). And so I simply tip my hat to the young angler. And on some faint, hidden level, I’m proud of the fishy effer he’s become. We eventually rowed the boat down to find Martin at the very tail of the run, having given it the seeing to only someone of his casting skills could. But no steel. Crap.
At the second stop, with the Spey rod, Jasper was again into a chunky trout near the head of the run. Those pesky native fish. I still have a hard time being mad at a 16” trout. How many days down there during the season would that be considered a “trophy”?… All three of us caught some beautiful Redbands there. The fish had gotten “bitey” and were on anything from small Soft Hackles to big stones. Martin and I each had something “toady” on under the bobber but didn’t get a good enough look to know…
The fishing slowed after that, or maybe we just lost intensity. The whisky was just about gone. We were mostly on our own, rowing passed spots we’d typically fish, well behind the others. At some point everyone was back together and we “party fished” one really good looking run with everything imaginable. And only had a couple stout whitefish to show for it.
A couple of the boats rowed for the ramp after that. And some of us stuck around as the shadows overtook the canyon again. We had a couple spots in mind where Jasper was intended to get him some steelhead. We were putting him in the prime water, stacking the odds. He was casting consistently. We all felt as if it was only a matter of time. Midway through one run we realized his fly had busted off and so I tied on another, making sure the knot was sound. He was still using a black and blue Intruder just off ten feet of T11 tip. He went back in as Martin and I hung out next to the boat. Both of us assured him he was in the absolute prime, A-plus zone. Only a couple casts later there was a major disruption at the end of a swing. Jasper had felt the jerking grab, waited, and as he finally set, there was a massive surging at the end of his line. This was definite contact. Nothing else practically pulls the big rod from your hand. And then it was gone. Double, triple, all the way to infinity CRAP!! Upon inspection, the very thickest part of the short butt section of mono had broken. There was some evidence of the line having been previously traumatized. No steelhead, regardless of size, would break mono that stout. And yet that’s where it came apart. As we stood there in pained silence, I could feel the emotions racing through my son. He was externally calm, but I knew what he was feeling. We can only hope that through these episodes, little lessons are learned; tidbits are filed away. I felt terrible that I hadn’t noticed whatever was wrong with the mono, but honestly I never would have thought to inspect THAT spot. The tippet-to-fly knot was solid, that much I could recollect with certainty. But I had not fully evaluated the entire rig. And for that I’ll live with a pit in my stomach. What happened minutes later would grow that pit into a proper quarry.
I really will spare the details, aside from pertinent facts. Actually, I’ll omit some of them too. It’s all still too fresh. Too wrong. After re-rigging Jasper and getting him back in the game, all of us anxious to get the monkey of our collective back, I went back to the boat and began the process of putting some of my gear away. One of the single-handers was broken down. When I got to my switch rod -the trusted Redington Dually 5wt, the one set up in “switch-a-cator” mode with a big egg-sucking stone and an egg “pattern”- I considered stripping it of flies, and putting it in its tube. Then I thought to hell with it, lets just fish the bucket right above the boat, right where first Jasper and then Martin and beautifully swung. Do any of you see where this story is heading? It pains me to go on… I began the entirely inelegant procedure of chucking the aforementioned rig into the river; heart still heavy from what had so recently befallen my son. There was nary a hint of proper intent, just a guy standing in the Deschutes wasting time. I was convinced the rig was too heavy, too deep, not drifting in a way even a greedy whitefish might deem worthy. Then, after maybe five minutes, during which no words were spoken between the three of us, my great big, orange bobber dove for the bottom. In that instant I would have bet what little I possess that a rock had taken it; such was my frame of mind. But upon rearing back on the rock, there was a great heaving rush of energy. Do I need to go on? I’m not under oath here. Nobody is demanding the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth of me. And so therefor I will beg to end this ugly, regrettable episode and would ask the river goddess to offer some lenience in her sentence. Some of you may not see the intrusion into all that’s right and meaningful in what I’ve just admitted transpired. Others of you will never look at me the same. I’ve had a hard time with the guy I see in the mirror since. And perhaps that’s my penance. I am truly, deeply apologetic. And ashamed. And I only ask to be forgiven. Take your time.
Don’t want to end this story on such a dark note. You know, I usually strive for some levity. In this case, and now upon reliving what happened, I’ve little else to add. But I will take just a moment here to thank my boss, Scott, for allowing the entire crew all that time down there. He’s never before closed the shop, selflessly throwing away tens of dollars in the process, simply to create the chance for ALL of us to go hang out. I’d also like to proclaim here and now that I feel like one of the luckiest people alive to be surrounded by such a funny, fishy, joke-tellin’, whisky-drinkin’ -‘cept for Quintin of course- bunch of guys. We are all blessed to be right here, right now; it’s just that in my advanced years I perhaps appreciate it more than those young bucks. They’ll look back on this time, THAT trip someday and get what I’m talking about. And I’d like to thank YOU for taking the time to read this drivel.
Now go fishing!