The life of a fly-fishing guide here in Central Oregon is an interesting one, especially if you call the Lower Deschutes your “home water”. This is intensely seasonal work. There are even seasons within the season; a few months within the six months we’re down there when the workload is especially hardcore. These are heavy stretches for anyone, let alone a man of my advancing years. The days are long, usually pushing eleven or twelve hours Bend to Bend. The process of getting the boat hooked up, making sure every detail is covered before meeting clients, girding for another day of tough, physical work and then hitting the ground running is a grind. No other way to put it. We love what we do -most of us, anyway- but the day-in, day-out is hard work, no matter how inspired we are.
This year, when the river opened on April 22nd below the dams and above Maupin, we got straight after it. There was no gradual build up. We didn’t have the winter to fish and guide the river at a gentlemen’s pace as we did last year. No, this season went from a standstill to a sprint. One week the boat was out at Scott’s, propped up on a sawhorse, the winter’s snow having slowly melted. The next it was in my driveway, seats bolted in, anchor rope threaded, oars strapped, cooler full of ice and sodas, and away we went. Ruby Redsides, my trusted steed was ready for another year on the big river. But was I? When you get to my age and having fished for as long as I have, you never really know how you’ll feel after a break. I’d stayed relatively fit over the winter, my love for angling has never, nor ever will wane, but the mind and body have to convene at a certain place for this job to resonate in a positive way. And you never really know till that first morning towing the boat northward to Madras. The questions nag a little louder as you get older. How will my focus be? Can I tolerate the “Fifty-Fivers” (I’ll explain later, maybe) again this year? Does that fine balance between understanding and firm prodding still exist in my spirit? How will my body respond to the rigors of the job at fifty-two years old? These questions and others occurred to me as I drove into the emerging dawn on April 22nd.
Then, somewhere south of Madras, the first rays of sun crept over the distant mountains. I reached for my sunglasses and then it struck me: this is my normal. This is where I’m supposed to be. It was all the dawdling the winter away that threw me off and caused the questions, the introspection. I stayed plenty busy over those five months. But the occasional lack of balance came from being away from the river, it came from having a lack of immediate purpose, possessing no exigent assignment. I realized that my normal is right here, driving north into a sunrise, mist hanging over budding alfalfa fields, NPR in door speakers, big V8 humming along and an old, red, dinged up drift boat filling my rearview. My routine came sharply into focus and I knew exactly what would come next: I’d rumble into the Safeway parking lot and pull into my familiar spot first row in from the northern curb. I’d stroll into the store, grab a cart and then park it at the entrance of the aisle to the restrooms. The toilet on the right is where I get my morning business taken care of, so to speak. It is there that I review emails, visit FishHead for river flows, temps and weather forecast, return texts, maybe even check in on Facebook chatter. I’ll be multi-tasking at the highest level. Then it’s back to the cart, which I’ll wield deftly until full of what’s necessary for the lunch of the day. I have several favorite meals to prepare down there, and each one is shopped for with stunning alacrity. In the cart with lunch will be my breakfast: a Bear Claw pastry and Odwalla Superfood juice.
Then it’s out to the parking lot where I’ll stow the cooler, enjoy breakfast, rig rods, brush teeth all while being entertained by Casey, the morning manager of the Safeway gas station and resident know-it-all-about-everything guy. The dude is a classic and I always welcome him into my morning realm. As we chat, or should I say ‘he chats’, I’ll check my watch from time to time as the client’s expected meet approaches. Then, in some unseen transformation, I’ll turn from Griff, the fairly absentminded, somewhat over-the-hill, eleven-handicap golfer, mediocre dad and even more unexceptional husband, into one of the best damned fishing guides the world has ever known. It just happens. I don’t flick a switch. There is no conscious effort. It is an utterly organic transformation. In all honesty, I might not even be that good. But I sure as hell feel like it every morning the moment that car pulls up and out come the eager faces of my victims, er clients, for the day. In that instance my focus feels razor-sharp, my understanding of what lay ahead is a surety, my purpose in life is beyond question and a sense of normalcy is regained.