2010 April

A CHANGE IN THE WEATHER

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After the first night in the yurt, I was up at 6:30. I slept well, but Josh had been up around 1 or so trying to pre-empt a migrane. The pressure had changed, as forecast, and I stood under the porch roof looking at a slight drizzle, thinking about a plan of attack for the morning. By the time I made some coffee, finished a bowl of cereal and wrote some notes from yesterday in the notebook, Josh was up and at ’em. Seriously. Good drugs. After he caught up on a cup of coffee, we elected to walk, no waders, down to the day-camping area and see if there was any action.

When we checked in the afternoon before, one of the park rangers told us about a couple likely places down the hill from the back of the parking area across the street. That was his direction.
Down the hill from the back of the parking area across the street.
I’ve never fished it, but I hear people have had some luck down there
, he added.
Taking this bit of stream intel with a grain of salt, we geared up and hustled down to the area he had described. I was immediately struck by the rugged beauty. The river was clear but dark with its copper, brown and gold stone bottom. The shore was crowded with boulders and red-branched bushes and thorns and sage. And as I looked further upstream, I could see that we hadn’t even made it into the canyon yet, the elevation climbing its rocky way to cliffs and cuts above both sides of the river. After a couple sunset-filled, fishless hours, and a realization that the wading prowess I had on the Fall was sorely inadequate on the Deschutes (read: splash & stumble), we decided it best to let the river rest and head back to camp for dinner.

I felt good about the rain. It was a change. A signal. I decided that if our luck was going to change, it was going to happen this morning. I wasn’t the only one who got that signal. Standing on the low grass bank shore about halfway down a forty yard pool, I watched the faster slip of current on the far side. I caught one little splash. Then another, lower in the pool. Another. A nice mayfly hatch was coming off. Little grey-brown shadows as light on the surface as air. Blue Winged Olive is a rain and cool temp hatch. I tied on a #14, pulled some line from my reel, paced a couple false casts for distance and laid the fly neatly at the head of the run. As I was getting ready to lay down my eighth cast, Josh hollered from the next pool down. I pulled my cast, put the rod down and ran down with my camera.

The two handed fish picture

I returned to my pool. The fish were still rising. I cast again to the head of the pool, but while mending my line, the the fly skated about a foot across the surface and bang. I swear it was like that fly had touched the hot post on a truck battery or I had grabbed hold of an electric horse fence. After two full days of fishing without a bite, that 8″ rainbow was the pot of gold itself.

The pot of gold

As my notebook says: score.

I caught 7 or 8 more. Browns and rainbows. All on the same #14 BWO. All by skating it on the surface. Beat to hell and all cock-eyed, I clipped it off and sank its hook into the foam in my chest pack. A well earned retirement.

It was time to put on my waders. That canyon was calling.

We hiked a trail a 1/2 mile upstream before we decided to negotiate the boulders and brush below and try our luck. The water was bigger, faster and deeper here. The river far more narrow. Once in the water we picked our way over and around the back of the huge rocks that shoulder the steep shoreline. Thinking faster, deeper, I tied on an elkhair caddis with a copper john as a dropper fly. No dice. I climbed up on top of one of the rocks, lit my pipe and took a look around. The canyon was full-on here. Maybe 500 feet to the top of the red-stone cliffs, ponderosa pine, sage and giant, handful pine cones below. Perfect for big cats, I thought. Followed immediately by OK let’s think about something else there bossman.

Deschutes

Upstream from my seat

The rain was down to a sprinkle now. A fish started rising in the pool below me. I tied on a new BWO, snuck back down behind the rock to a spot I could cast from and managed to get the timing of my fly’s drift in synch with the pace of his rises. I watched him lift from the shadow of a big rock on the bottom, rise to just under the fly, consider it for a fraction of a second, then grab, splash, fish on.

In the next pool up I saw another rise. Bigger splash in a strong chute at the head of a pool. But there was nothing on the surface. The bugs were in or below the surface now. I brought beat-to-hell and all cock-eyed out of retirement. Unable to stay upright or above water, my third cast dropped the waterlogged soldier at the head of the chute and under he went. Bingo.

Deschutes Brown

Out of retirement. Into the net.

We hiked and fished and caught fish and stopped counting. It felt like I had just translated some lost language. Around 5:45 dusk began its crawl into the canyon. I lit my pipe on the hike out. Tired, heart soaring and satisfied.

THE LITTLE THINGS

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Home a couple days now. First day back to work under my belt. Kids are all tucked in and sleeping. I’m finally able to get my notebook out and take a read back through the pages I scrawled on between sips of sunup campfire coffee, on the road to Bend or Sisters or Sun River, or after we’d surrendered to days-end and a couple Pendleton & cokes fire-side.

Some of them are simply a few words like:
glacial cuts/valleys

cinder cone & lava fields

geese @6:00 a.m. – up @6:20
campfire feng shui (that’s a Pendleton & coke note)
Others are a full narrative recounting a stream-side conversation with another fisherman about his luck, how my fly selection changed with the changing hatches, or how I made three $7.50 casts in three successive pools on the Metolius. Hey, somebody’s got to keep the Fly Fisher’s Place lights on.

The beauty of the pages is the amount of memories that live in such an economy of words, and the lessons I learned – am learning now as I gather my thoughts here – about the importance of paying attention to the little things. I’m not talking about sweating the small stuff…that’s an entirely different and worthlessly laborious deal. Paying attention to the little things takes no effort, but is the difference between spending time on the water and gaining a small understanding of the ageless story that’s flowing past. It’s the difference between waiting for your chance to talk and listening to what’s got your buddy’s life tied in a knot, or what’s helping him untangle that knot. Hell, it’s the difference between accepting your lot and calling your shot. Excuse the gratuitous rhyme. It wasn’t on purpose.

I don’t know how many stories or poems I’ll wind up writing because of this trip, but by my estimation, I owe you all at least one per river. So I’ll start where we started: The Fall River.

Portland
Welches
Zig Zag
Government Camp
Hood River
Maupin (1st sight of Deschutes)
Terrebonne (Smith Rock, classic cars, Walmart)
Bend
(cinder cone & lava fields)
Fall River Campsite
15 mile marker
home for a while

Found out a day late from the Patient Angler Fly Shop that the Fall is tough enough to fish without bluebird skies and 70 degrees. In the end it was probably the best place for us to start our trip. We were humbled… and got lots of practice casting.

Day one, from camp we worked three miles downstream and then back about a half-mile above camp. Wide, thin water with streamside blowdowns that reminded me of Upstate New York after an ice storm. Some nice runs, and pools where the runs have worked them into shape.

Upstream from camp

Further downstream

Midges like mid-summer mosquito clouds and not a rise anywhere – except from the two pairs of argumentative geese and a mallard couple that would crash into every pool we were headed for, from every pool we were headed from.

We waded. I practiced casts. Roll, reach, slack-line, curve, bush, branch, boulder. I fished a #20 parachute midge on a perfect stretch along an undercut bank. I fished a #14 yellow stone nymph at the tail-end of a nice run. I ran a woolly bugger through a deep pool at dusk. Nada. I wondered if the fish could sense a NY disturbance in the force. Matt. You’ll never catch us, Matt.

Day 2 was all sun again to start. Walking past the camp while we were getting ready to drive further down river to fish upstream from the Fall River Falls, an old-timer from Warshington (yes that’s spelled right) stopped to talk and showed us the rig that enticed a 16″ rainbow to hit…40 yards above camp (see Upstream picture above). A #20 parachute midge tied off a small swivel ring about 18″ above a #14 rubber-legged, beadhead hare’s ear nymph. My immediate thought: yea, the force is definitely not with me.

The falls

We made our way to the falls and fished hard for the morning. Just above the falls, bigger boulders, and stronger, more concentrated current. Further upstream, higher banks and woods still bearing the scars of fire among the sagebrush and pine growth. Crowded by thick bushes and bog shoreline, the now slick, slow water made it difficult to get close to any stretch without being seen. At least that’s what I told myself when a likely bend with blow-downs and deep undercut banks showed no signs of life.

I checked the weather on my phone when we got back to the truck. Rain Tuesday. Snow elevation to 4500 ft. Wednesday – which means its going to stick. Neither day making it out of the high 30’s. I had packed for rain, but I wasn’t figuring snow as well. I’m no sissy, but I know how lousy it is when your crap is wet and you can’t shake that chill. We drove up to Tumelo State Park on the banks of the Deschutes, just up Route 20 from Bend. They have Yurts.

And they are seriously cooler than all get-out.
Next up, the Deschutes.

THURSDAY

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I’m not counting the days…I’m just close enough that I can say “three” without looking at my fingers.

I just packed and shipped a big box with my gear to Josh’s place in Portland. Inside, a duffel filled with fly boxes, waders, boots, a couple hats, handwarmers, my hunting backpack, chest pack, trout net, fly reels, wet-weather gear, clothes, head-lamps, hunting knife, one corncob and 2 Grabow pipes (plus lighters)…oh yea and my 8 wt Loomis, 5 wt Scott and 3 wt Eagle Claw (yes, you read that right…Eagle Claw). It’s going to be like Christmas morning unpacking that box when it arrives Friday morning.











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OLD MAN RIVER, Installment 4, Thesis

Posted by | In the woods, On the water, Poetry, The road | No Comments
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Another from the thesis. I spend a total of two months in the Delta doing research for a book about the Delta Blues. One day I had a chance to paddle on the river in a dugout canoe, hand made by John Ruskey. There’s only a handful of natural wonders in this great country that can grab you by your soul and fill you full of a profound new perspective. The Mississippi is one.

[17]

Yesterday on the river, the Old Man spoke in roiling current & half buried bleach-white branches. Heading upstream, hugging the shoreline to avoid thousand-yard barges & the Coast Guard tug snagging stranded buoys, we paddled past lifetimes of conversation gouged out of the rip-rapped banks, past forty, fifty foot trees beached thirty foot above water-line, like broken toothpicks discarded after a dinner of catfish, fried okra, black-eyed peas & sweet tea.

When you’re on the Mississippi you’re on river time.
I kept waiting for something to happen.

We made a fire among driftwood on a sandbar & boiled water for coffee while the river slipped past silent as the smoke from the black walnut we were burning. I crossed the tracks of beaver that had gnawed down brush-branches & dragged them to the water, a raccoon’s small hand-prints following the waterline for dead fish, the ghosts of coyotes wrestling around higher up the bank—tails swishing sand, paws, bellies, backs & snouts imprinted. The river is down 18 foot from normal for this time of year & we’re all taking advantage.

When spring sends its run-off from the Continental Divide & Ohio River valley, from Canada & the northern plains, our tracks here will be washed away—disappearing in that immense breath.