The fly, a home-tied CDC Caddis, alighted no more than a foot from limp grass at the river’s edge. From the rock I was perched on I knew the client, Jonathan Korty, a man I’ve known for three decades, had finally put the fly right where it need to be. From thirty feet away we watched the fish -yes, that fish, the one we’d watched eat dozens of naturals as we worked on the perfect presentation- tipped up and swirled the fly into the other side of its massive head. Standing high up enough to see the whole thing, I gasped once we really saw how big this Lower Deschutes redband was. In two rapid blinks of an eye it was bolting for the middle of the river. Our new friend, Steve, staying in a house nearby and having witnessed the entire scene, offered a fist bump as I jumped from my rock into the river downstream and got ready to coach Jonathan through playing the fish. Then everything changed.
Every now and again a guide such as myself has one of those weeks where the stars line up and I’m reminded why I love this job so much. To fully appreciate why this week was so revered for me, it’s important to know that merely one week prior this one I was to be seen on the hot pavement in front of Fly and Field Outfitters in a fetal position, uttering profanities to disinterested ants as my back spasmed so intensely as to render my ability to walk useless. The episode began innocuously enough as I lifted a cooler into my truck to begin another day. Just a tweak, no big deal. Fast forward a couple hours to reaching abruptly forward so as to grab the 12 year-old year I was guiding from face planting into the Crooked River, her having applied just a little too much energy into the very first cast of the day. A tear to one of the horizontal “balancing” muscles in my back occurred then. The girl was spared an early and inelegant end to her day. My back has yet to recover. Between the Crooked and Fly and Field I found myself unable to walk when I stopped to pick up some meds. By the time I got out of my truck at the shop, I quite simply went down. It was, I’m sure you can imagine, not one of my brighter moments. But I’m glad to report that after nearly six hours of chiropractic care from the good doctors at 2 Chiros Mission Chiropractic here in Bend, and a therapeutic day of netting Scott’s fish for him on Crane Prairie I was able to go last Monday morning. The four trips that I missed can’t be made up, but in that moment as I writhed in the lot out front of the shop I had fears of a far worse prognosis. So it was with some extra excitement I met clients at the Madras Safeway for a full day on the Lower Deschutes.
David and Jude, both visiting from SoCal would be my little experiment as to whether the back would hold or not. This was a day spent with new love, a couple in their forties having just encountered one another six months ago. There was that pure, dawning appreciation two humans have for each other in that “court and spark” phase. The adoration they shared was palpable for every moment of our day together. He caught many fish on a mixture of flies, mostly nymphs but the occasional dry grab was there to be had. She had never held a fly rod. As is often the case, the “blank canvas” angler took to the routine beautifully. She fooled many fish throughout our eight hours but perhaps more importantly the two of them bonded in a realm unfamiliar to both, soaking in the spectacle and grandeur of the Lower Deschutes. I felt the love from my rower’s seat and especially enjoyed the quiet, wordless moments as they each absorbed the experience. I felt inspired and lucky to share the event. It made me crave a moment with my wife such as theirs’, a breath in time to rekindle, reflect, share solitude and beauty uninterrupted.
A couple days later, in the peak of this heat wave, I took two brothers from California down for a back-to-back with a camp out at Trout Creek. We had unreal fishing through the sweltering days. The caddis finally exploded, creating that “blizzard” hatch condition we’ve all heard about but seldom experienced. The fish weren’t on them immediately, but by lunch there were big redbands lurking in every eddy, big and small, splashing at the flittering bugs. Everywhere we stopped there was a grab, or three. Some of these fish were middling, in the 12-14” range. Some not so. Which brings me back to the beginning. The fish that ate Jonathan’s fly -the CDC his brother had tied!- had been working the bank right in front of the anchored boat for twenty minutes. Sometimes it ate a caddis, sometimes a PMD. But it just kept eating. We spent many, many minutes atop our respective rocks, strategizing, perfecting the cast, waiting out wind gusts, trying to time the fish’s pattern. We could tell it was a nice fish. But when it all came together, our collective breath was taken. I watched it swim by on its way to the depths of mid-river and recognized right away it was perhaps closer to two feet than 20”. But after I’d jumped from the rock and stood waist-deep, right then when the fish sailed three-feet clear of the river, that’s when we all saw how thick the fish was. This was a one in a million down there. I’d love to tell you about how the fish was played beautifully, netted skillfully, handled with great care, show you all the pictures of exhausted trout and trout bum. But the sad, and not even remotely surprising reality is that this fish would not be landed. It would eventually make a run for the opposite bank at such a rate as to overwhelm the breaking strength of the tippet material. Then there was the moment we’ve all endured wherein nature’s lack of sympathy and compassion lords heavily upon us; when we feel as if somehow the universe conspired to elevate our spirit only to destroy it. A moment when Christians doubt the existence of God, Atheists question if perhaps they should have believed. There really are no words to comfort. Then our new friend Steve chimes in, “Dude, that was awesome! That’s easily the biggest trout I’ve ever seen on this river.” It takes Jonathan many minutes to shake to angst. I silently sympathize with him, just letting him feel whatever he needed to feel.
I will report that later in the day he landed a ridiculously powerful fish after a masterfully fought battle. I will tell you that in that moment when the fish folded into my net I felt the weight lift. The photo tells a story of a man worn out by heat, self-doubt, the realization that in this place neither he nor anybody else is completely in control, that we all take good with bad and somehow it all melds into an experience barely understood so out of the norm as it is.
For four of the next five days I guided brothers, a forty-something and his dad, a forty-something and his 20 year-old son, people from as far west as Hawaii, south as Los Angeles, east as Cleveland. We landed so many stunning rainbows, some beastly whitefish, a couple obscene “Butter Bellies” and one truly mesmerizing Bull Trout. To a man, there was an awe for the canyon and its inhabitants that revives me when tired, motivates me to greet each day, each trip, with renewed vigor and focus. Each trip matters. Nothing is taken for granted. I’m a lucky trout bum to be sure. Even now, as exposed flesh resonates heat and eyelids droop, I can’t wait to get back down there.
For more info on flies used and water fished stop by the shop. The boys there know what I know. We’re more than happy to set you up. And if you’d ever like a guided trip, the other river guides and myself would consider it an honor to be your hosts.
Thanks for your time