When last visited, our crew of four anglers, Dan, Brett, Dale and Tony were visiting our fair neck of the woods from locales far and wide on a four-day camp trip from Warm Springs down to Maupin. We’d spent the better part of the first three days and nights catching fish, drinking really good wine and scotch and eating like kings thanks to Austin. Andrew and I were guiding, taking turns with various combos of the four clients in our boats. We’d caught steelhead, trout, whitefish and Butter Bellies, floated for nearly twenty miles of river including the famous Whitehorse rapid and pretty much enjoyed ourselves as much as grown men should be allowed. Now, let’s make our way down to Maupin…
Our last stop of Day Three turned into another “Party Fish” session. The evening was calm, sun-drenched and nearly perfect in every way. Just before joining us, Andrew’s boat, with Brett and Tony aboard, had stopped at a mid-river bar and both the boys had hooked really nice fish. Brett landed his, which was as slabby a Redband as you’ll ever meet. Tony, though, had his ass handed to him by something properly large. They reportedly got a good look at it before the fish made a decisive and successful move for the heavy current and rid itself of the annoyance in its jaw. A few minutes later they had joined us, Andrew still shaking his head at having not landed the beast. Tony was as cool as he’d been the whole trip, seemingly unfazed. All the boys got some action there before camp beckoned. Fish came from all the spots we’d expect them to. Fish were still falling for the combos we’d been utilizing most of the trip. The slot right at the top of our run gave up a really nice ‘bow just before we left, which ate the Prince for those keeping score at home.
We’d stay that last night at Tuma Bend, or as it’s known on the BLM maps, “Upper Dant”. This is one of my favorite sites both for the killer fishing right in front and also for the wide-open views it has. The downside is that it sits on one of the slowest railway corners in the country and therefore the trains go by at a snail’s pace. This is all good and well while you’re up and around. But when getting some precious shut-eye at like, say 3:30am, it is an amazing nuisance. One of the other cool elements of this site is that it still has one of the original BLM poopers. Back in the day when the Lower Deschutes camps were formed, all the vault toilets were positioned so that, while seated and with the door propped open with a nearby rock, the view was astonishing. There are only a few left now, and they’re worth having a seat in while they last.
Once we arrived at camp the boys got out of their leaky waders and into some really good wine and bourbon. I took my little switch rod out in front of camp and swung up two feisty Redbands on a little egg-sucking leech fly. Both ate just as I was beginning to strip line back in. The second was particularly fat and strong and gave that brief, but electrifying false alarm moment we get so often down there this time of the year. That Redington Dually has great action for just such situations. It was properly “tacoed” into that second fish as Austin watched from his riverside kitchen. So with a big smile I rejoined the crew for another amazing night of music, food, drink and conversation. Austin did us right with thick New York steaks, spuds and veg as we sat out in the soft breeze under the Wind Wing.
“Favorite comedian. One, two, GO!” The debate raged from Richard Pryor to Seinfeld to Eddie Murphy to John Belushi. And on and on.
We’ve done countless camp trips such as this one over the years, but I can’t remember any that had such an interesting, knowledgeable, opinionated, and openly contrarian group as these boys. The questions and answers kept coming until the booze and smokes were gone. “Jimi Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughn?” (Stevie, for the record. Jimi was an innovator. Stevie took all that stuff to the next level.) “Best movie ever?” (that one kept us busy for a while. I believe there might have been consensus on “The Godfather”) “Who should have stuck around longer Amy Winehouse or Bradley Nowell (singer of Sublime)?” (some serious debate on this one, which I found surprising. Bradley, by the way). That reasonably segued into the most tragic of the “27ers”. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it refers to the ridiculous number of hugely talented celebrities who died at the age of twenty-seven. We only delved into the musicians. Bradley only missed this list by a couple months. We touched on Jimi, Janis, Kurt, Amy, Brian Jones (original Rolling Stones guitarist and one of the more beautiful rock stars of all time), Jim Morrison, Robert Johnson (the godfather of blues guitar), Ron “Pigpen” McKernan (original member of the Grateful Dead who, if he’d stuck around, might have helped that band not suck so much). My vote went to Morrison. I just feel that there were a few more gears for him to find both in the Doors and on his own. That one, naturally, led to other musicians who’d missed the list by a year or two. Jim Croce made thirty. We lost him to a plane crash going from one show to the next. You might imagine the next debate being “Most untimely rock star dying aboard a plane or helicopter?” That is a long list. And this crew that night kept ‘em coming. Glenn Miller. Buddy Holly. Lynyrd Skynyrd. Patsy Cline. Jim Croce. Otis Redding. Stevie Ray. Richie Valens. John Denver. This is just the ones I can remember. It goes on. As did the discussion as to who should have been spared. (I have a soft spot for Jim Croce. I can only imagine the brilliant songs he had yet to write.)
At some point guys began trickling off into the dark and into a comfortable cot. Mine waited far out in the flat. As I laid down that night, under a vast blanket of stars and drifted between consciousness and chaos, I was unable to control my deep breaths of gratitude that this trip had come together and gone as well as it had; that these guys picked us to chauffeur them down the river.
In the morning, over coffee, juice, melon and breakfast sandwiches, we strategized our final stretch of river to the ramp. Andrew and I committed to our favorite spots. I’d have Tony and Dale. My goal was to get Tony into some steel. We had decent stops leading down to and through Buckskin Mary and Four Chutes, which the new boat felt really good in. It was at Gate Keepers that things really got going. Super Dale got himself a great trout out in the softer water while Tony dialed in the upper slot. I worked with him up there until we found a fly combo and set-up that found fish. The first was a nice trout that brawled in the faster water before succumbing to the net. The second, well that was an entirely different story. This was one of those fish that venture to the salt water and back. And this was one of the bigger ones. Yea, it showed itself to us just so we’d all know. It was a fish probably not best addressed with a Redington Classic Trout 5wt, but, hey, let’s see how it goes. The fish did a couple barrel rolls just below the shelf. Then it decided it wanted back to the Columbia. And there was no stopping it. A bunch of fly line and backing went with it. We began trekking down, passed the boat, passed Dale, who had reeled up and gotten out of the way. Then we were at the corner of the run; a great place to stand our ground, with the fish now way out in the soft water of the elbow. I can’t recall now if we were still in our backing or not, but the fish was out there a ways and thumping hard against the pressure in its jaw. We had the same chat there as I’d had with Brett back on Day One about waiting for the fish to turn towards us and then burying the rod and reeling like crazy. He seemed to get the concept. Then we waited. A couple minutes passed without any major give or take. Then, from where I stood, it seemed as if the fish was heading our way. I told Tony it was time and he dug in hard and began reeling. Only maybe ten seconds later the line went slack. There was no outward sign of extreme duress. No massive headshake or change of direction. Just full tension one second and none the next. That is a moment of despair and confusion rarely encountered in life. My life at least. We reeled in to find flies still affixed to tippet. No apparent or obvious excuse. Just unbuttoned. Shit.
It would be a couple hours before we found the other guys all the way down at Closures. We had a great stop at One Hour Island, enjoyed sandwiches as we rowed in the perfect autumn sunshine. At Closures we rowed in to that certain casual, confident quiet usually associated with guys who’ve caught some fish. It was Andrew who announced that Dan had caught not one, but two steelhead, one of which presently resided in a plastic bag in Andrew’s cooler. Both had fallen for nymphs. They were the only fish the boys had tangled with all day and they were perfectly content with that. I’d relate more details of Dan’s fish, but I don’t have them. I only know that the Wall brothers were both on the board and I couldn’t be happier for them. They’d put this trip together, brought the buddies, made it all happen and were deserving of every stoke they felt.
The row to ramp involved mellow conversation about life, music, fish, canyons and the last three beers to our name. It couldn’t have been a more fitting ending to one of the coolest camp trips I’ve ever been on. We hope to see these boys again someday, down there, with our crew looking after them, in our favorite place. And oh, by the way, as for the original question, which was “Marilyn or Raquel?” well it’s Raquel, of course.