For those of you who had something better to do (not especially hard to imagine, that) than read Part 1 of this story last week but now have an abundance of time on your hands, it is currently posted on our Fishing Reports page of the website.
A few days later we welcomed a crew to town for yet another overnight trip down the Deschutes. The leader of this group was the incredibly fishy Nandra Weeks who some of you may remember from an earlier trip this season. It would appear I’ve created a monster in this one. She is completely addicted, reading fly-fishing literature, practicing her cast, focusing laser-like on her next chance to catch a trout. Anyway, she brought three of her colleagues along for an awesome couple days of fishing. In my boat was Nandra and a work associate from Portland, Brenda a complete newbie. I had been looking forward to fishing Nandra ever since she booked the trip and had heard Brenda would be a quick and eager study, so as we pushed off the ramp Saturday morning there was much reason for hope. As it turned out both gals got quickly into fish.
Nandra’s first trout was a beautiful slab. Brenda played several fish before we got one in the net. There were several hook-ups that might have been steelhead. With these nymph rigs I’ve been employing you really just never know what might be there! We enjoyed a mellow day taking our time from spot to spot and having the luxury of really giving each stop a thorough seeing to.
We pulled into camp that afternoon and got the folks situated in their tents before fishing camp water before dinner. Nandra, unsurprisingly, fished the hardest and hooked the most fish. This lady is just unstoppable! She fished right till dark just above camp as the sunset lit the canyon sky in pastels. I poked my head around the corner to check in on her sporadically as we made dinner. I do take special reward in watching one of my protégées clamping on so completely to fly fishing. She was just happy and content to still be knee-deep in the great river, working on tension and roll casts and a variety of mending techniques we’ve worked on together. Such focus and intent on improving at any style of angling is gratifying to behold.
Sterling and I prepared a massive steak dinner for our clients that we ate out under a calm, starlit sky. The evening was incredibly comfortable for late-October. Then the moon, still waxing, crept over the eastern rim of the canyon, lighting up the western wall, until the our camp was fully lit up! We had a big fire going in the saucer, more good wine, stories and laughter galore. This night only ended when the wood ran out. If we had brought more, we all may have stayed up till dawn!
In the morning, after a hearty breakfast, we set the clients lose on camp water. Some swung while others kept at it under bobbers. Some just sat back, drank coffee and enjoyed the beautiful new day. Once the boats were packed we set off in search of fishy water. The river was quite busy that whole weekend and Sunday proved a challenge finding good water even though we had gotten out from mid float in front of most day drifters.
At our second stop we hit pay dirt! We stayed in one zone for the next few hours, moving up or down bank every now and then. The old saying “You don’t leave fish to find fish” was especially relevant that day. We only pulled anchor when it was time to make for the ramp. Some days are like that down there, either because of how busy the river is or just finding a spot with lots of feeding fish. That day was a bit of both! But I’m not sure we would have pulled anchor regardless of the crowds. Fortunately, I’m glad to report that weekend was a bit of an aberration and that the river has been really mellow since.
Anyway, the trip did have to come to an end and so we rowed for Trout Creek under a heavy, damp, “steelheady” sky. Saying goodbye to those folks was hard. I’m sure we will see some of them again, but until then we’ll miss their spirit and ability to really have fun down there in that majestic canyon.
The very next day found me back down there with two of my favorite clients, Pat and Larry Burch. I know I’ve written of these two before. He is just flat out skilled and she is one of the most gifted beginners I’ve ever had the pleasure to guide and teach. But what makes guiding the Burch’s so good for me is their appreciation of the river, the canyon, the day away from electronics, cars and people. Each time we slide under the bridge at Warm Springs I can feel their enthusiasm and love for the place. And each time we get rigs in the river they catch fish! Pat has become easily one of my fishiest clients. Everything I tell her to do she does. She never over complicates situations. She knows what a good drift looks like. And she can SET THAT HOOK!!!
Everywhere we stopped that day fish were caught. We certainly targeted steelhead in places, but the trout fishing was so danged fun it was hard to pass up. At our second to last stop I had a season highlight when I was mid-riffle landing a really nice redside for Larry and Pat yells down that she’s got one. I see her line, tight and racing for the middle of the river just as one of my not-so-favorite guides down there came around the corner trying to not to look our way but the look on his clients’ faces was priceless. Please don’t get me wrong; I really hope they caught fish too. Really. I do. Really.
Or maybe I don’t.
But either way it was pretty funny. The moral of the story is if you want to have fun like the Burch’s, you gotta be in my boat! Or Sterling’s. Or Martin’s. Or Jerry’s. Man, did I get derailed there for a second…
As we rowed for the take-out I let the boat glide for periods, oar handles beneath my knees, not in any rush to have the day end, knowing that Pat and Larry were luxuriating in the slanting, autumnal light. Knowing it would be the last time I saw them this season gave me a heavy heart, but also reason for massive gratitude that the universe saw to it that our paths crossed in this life, here and now. Until next season, I will look forward to fishing those two over and over again.
With the 10th month winding down, I had a trip with a local doc, Bill Martin. Bill is a long-time angler and customer at the shop who I’ve had the pleasure of guiding once before out on the Crooked. He’s got plenty of game and an eagerness to get better still. We were armed with both single-hand and Spey rods for a day of properly probing all the money spots for trout and steelhead. It is a rare treat to have a solo angler in the boat. I can really focus on every aspect of their presentations and they get the ass fished off! We fished every good spot all day long with perhaps a little more emphasis on the single-hand stuff. What I’ll remember most from our day together, aside from what great company Bill is and what a dynamic, multi-faceted life he lives, is that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many fish hooked but not landed in one day by one person! And this is for a guy who can fish! It was just crazy how many different ways in ended in the fish’s favor. After a while it almost becomes expected. And through all of it, Bill kept his cool, stayed positive and focused, and kept fishing! Lesser men would have caved. I know because I’ve seen it. You ever play golf with someone who actually has a good swing, a nice consistent move, who you just know is capable of making pars, but on THAT day he has a hard time hitting it out of his shadow? Apart from hoping he hits it well because you don’t have a black enough heart to enjoy his flailing -or do you? Maybe there’s some money riding on it…- you’re also not sure how he’ll react if he keeps shanking everything. Clubs might start flying profanities of all color screamed at uncaring divots, execrations towards humanity in general sail downwind where other groups of golfers cower. Well, the same moments can occasionally exist on the river, when some poor soul feels the stars have momentarily misaligned for them, that God in all her wisdom has seen fit to torture, to test the spirit, to find out what someone is made of; if, at their very core, they possess the temerity to continue. I’m not exaggerating here! These moments actually occur! Well, I’m please and unsurprised to relate that Bill would be undeterred, would remain positive and full of appreciation for his position in the grandest scheme of things. The mettle of a man truly displayed. And behind him a guide stands on the bank, smiling.
Oh, fish were caught. Don’t get the wrong impression entirely. But the redside population as a whole scored a resounding victory on the day. Right up until last light, the 10th hour of fishing late in the 10th month of the year, Bill kept at it. We found a little bucket not far from the ramp where I believe we hooked 10 fish. A couple of these were genuinely large trout in full ass-kicking mode. Bill fooled and danced with some amazing fish. He didn’t get broken off once! I think we landed one… And yet the equable spirit of the man endured. It’s rare I’m left completely speechless, without words of either encouragement or condolence. But in this case I found myself capable only of shrugging shoulders, and little else. My mind raced through other flies we could use with bigger hooks, different water where the angler might begin the battle from a slightly more advantageous position, some equation that might end up with a fish folded into my net. But Bill was determined, serine even. I got the sense that all was right in his world, that our lack of words was allowing a closeness to an energy that only he felt right then, right there. And now that I think back on it, I felt something too as I stood there watching. Lacking any form of conventional creed, I’m not sure if there’s a way to explain. But you know me; I’ll try anything once. In that soft, cooling evening, as Bill fished golden-hued water, my boat bobbing nearby, a hackle-soft breeze whispering through the canyon, with each trout hooked and lost, I felt the cycle of birth, life, death, samsara. I saw forests burn and re-grow, listened to rivers flood and abate. I felt centuries of Native Americans footsteps, countless generations, newborns, warriors and elders. In this cyclone of silent energy there was a celebration, great ceremonious bonfires, the season transitioning as the earth spun on axis, infinitely against endless blankets of galaxies.
Then Bill’s bobber dove for the bottom of the river.