2010 May

THE DAYS OF BASS AND SUN

Posted by | On the water | One Comment
No Gravatar

Few things in life take me back to childhood summers faster than chasing largemouth. Mixing up that chase with a fly rod now, makes it just that much more fun.

Fish on...and on, and on

I was asked by the good folks over at Bloodknot Magazine to write a piece for their next issue. I pitched fly fishing for my beloved largemouth as a topic, with a little camera help (see above) from my friend and photographer, Grant Taylor (who you might remember from my Bowhunting Book post). Fish on.

It isn’t written yet, so…patience. In the mean-time, keep an eye out on their site, or give them a follow on Twitter (@bloodknotmag) for the shout.

THE TRIP. THE VIDEO.

Posted by | Fatherhood and venison jerkey, On the water | 8 Comments
No Gravatar

One very cool thing about this blog is the fact that my kids, when they’re old enough to appreciate it, will have a pretty exhaustive chronicle of who their dad is – through writing and pictures. I get the biggest kick out of looking at old photos of my parents when they were young and full of promise (translated: before mom was pregnant with me). The best are the backyard BBQ’s – dad in cut-off jean shorts, no shirt and a kick ass mustache. Mom in a tank-top, long hair and always side-lit by sun. I’m happy that my kids will have the same opportunity to get a kick out of my meandering.

On my trip, I was able to go one further than just snapping pics though. I took some video too…and it needs to be mentioned that all the pics and video I took were on my Droid. Freaking cool. So, over the last few evenings, I spent a little time editing some live-action and a handful of stills. I’m not smelling any Emmys, but it’s as true as it gets to the great time I had on the road, game-trails, boulder fields and water with Josh. Enjoy.

Traveling Riverside Blues from Matt on Vimeo.

STREAMSIDE HOSPITALITY

Posted by | On the water | 4 Comments
No Gravatar

Stan had pulled up a sunny patch of shoreline at the base of a massive ponderosa pine, fly rod laid on the ground next to him. Blue jeans and jean shirt, panama hat and a white beard. I had no idea how long he’d been there before I noticed him, but he looked like he was perfectly happy to stay until the day was over watching the afternoon pass. It was our second day on the Metolius and I had been standing on a gravel bar in waist-deep water, 35 yards out into the river for the better part of an hour, fishing down into a big pool and eddy below me. We we’re on the stretch from Bridge 99 to the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.

Downstream from Bridge 99

Downstream from Bridge 99

Earlier, I was looking at the same pool from a spot on the shore downstream. Casting with the pines and brush in my back pocket wasn’t too promising a scenario…it was 40 yards to the head of the pool anyway. A little further upstream, I noticed a color change above the pool. A section of copper beneath the surface about 15 yards wide that slid neatly along the edge of the main current and stopped short of the deep aqua-teal. I walked 50 yards back upstream and weaseled my way out into a secondary run, closer to shore and about 4 feet deep. One deliberate step after another I made my way toward the gravel bar.

Oh yea, goood current, I say out loud, about halfway there.
The voice in my head adds, you are so screwed.

cheese

Cheese

Josh on the gravel bar

Josh on the gravel bar

I took two more steps and felt the bottom start to incline. Once settled in on my nice little peninsula, a took to drifting the same gold stone and batman combo from the afternoon before through the pool – first close then deeper into the meat of it. I cast right, toward the shore, for a longer, slower swing. Left into the main current to tumble the flies out into the pool at varying intervals. Not 10 minutes had passed before a nice strike reminded me that I should probably double check my footing. The next cast, bingo. I managed to keep the rainbow in the pool and out of the main current. Josh was close enough this time to hear me holler. He jogged up to get as good a picture as you can take from 35 yards. You’ll have to take my word on this one…the pic is still on Josh’s camera.

As Josh walked back down to where he ran from, I clipped and retied the batman, just to put a good knot back on it before I cast again. I cast again. The flies reached the end of their swing and I let them hang for a second or two. As my mind’s eye pictured them starting to rise against the current, a big brown stopped them cold.

HELL yea!

Josh hollered something too, but I couldn’t quite make it out. Probably better I didn’t.

The fish went for the main current. I managed to turn him back into the pool and worked him toward me. He stayed deep and heavy, with big head-swings like browns do. As I got him up next to me and lowered my net, he gave me one last swing. The fly let loose, and in one slow, deliberate flex he was gone, gone, gone. God I love fishing. Josh moved into a run upstream from me. Between the sun, sound and pace of the river and the last electric twinges in my chest from the fish, my mind went on a distant walk for a while.

A strange voice from over on the shore, Stan brought my daydream to a halt, asking Josh if we’d got anything. The two of them proceeded to shout their conversation back and forth over the water.

Yea, I’m up helping my daughter find a place in Corvalis, hollers Stan.

My girlfriend is moving out of a place in Corvalis, Josh hollers back.

What?

My GIRLFRIEND is MOVING OUT of a place in CORVALIS.

And so it went for about 15 minutes, until Stan walked off to, presumably, get a pen and paper from his truck so he could scratch down Josh’s number. Stan returned about ten minutes later with pen and paper, and two longneck Budweisers, which he held up and motioned us over with. A grizzly would’ve been impressed with how quickly I navigated those 35 yards to the shore.

Josh and I pulled up some ground next to Stan, a long-haul trucker out of Nevada, shaking hands and accepting his gracious streamside hospitality. We sat for a while talking about traveling, places he’s lived, great fishing rivers and all the flies he lost in trees and bushes downstream. If you can get at ’em, they’re yours. He must’ve packed three or four dips of Copenhagen in about a twenty minute period.

After Stan left, we continued fishing, exploring a bunch of miles further downstream. There were sections that stayed 15 feet deep, fast and gin clear for a quarter mile. Rapids and runs that looked like the sun itself flowing through the canyon. Huge bends with giant deadfalls and hungry, bottomless, swirling undercuts. We saw two bald eagles gliding on up-currents above the canyon walls, not far from their immense nest. I was even fortunate enough to see an elk run a ridge on the opposite bank above us, loop down to within 40 yards and bolt off to where she came from.

Sun

Sun on the water

Getting a good look

Getting a good look

Now, I’m not sure if it’s because of Stan, but there’s something in the graciousness of others that opens the eyes to the bigger picture. I can tell you this, if he hadn’t been there, and we hadn’t taken the time to stop thinking about nothing but the next bite, those miles we explored downstream would’ve looked entirely different. Thanks Stan.

Thumbs up

Thumbs up

MY OWN MYTHOLOGY

Posted by | On the water | 4 Comments
No Gravatar

Wednesday afternoon Josh and I decided to drive to Sisters and scout the Metolius. Our original plan was to fish the Crooked, but reports of a malfunctioning dam at the Prineville Reservoir and flows over 1,700 cfs (normal, fishable levels are around 250) had us looking for another candidate.

After a windy, cold morning on the Deschutes below camp, I had completely mastered the art of the wind knot. My colorful, self-directed commentary probably ensuring that the stream-side bushes would elect to keep their heads down and bloom a few weeks late. Josh, on the other hand, in his quiet patience, had managed three or four fish.

It’s OK if you get skunked, dude, he offered. Just means I’m catching up to you. Yea, off to the Metolius we go.

Route 20 to Sisters

Route 20 North was our guide to Sisters. Mountains framing our horizon in any direction – Black Butte, Mt. Jefferson, the Cascades, the Three Sisters (after which the town was named). Between us and them, miles of ranches and grassland, wheel-lined irrigation pipes and a clearing sky. Sisters is a cool little town with a frontier-style feel…from its storefronts and hand painted signs to its sleepy side-streets and diagonal parking. I felt like I should pull up a chair out front of the bakery and spend the afternoon saying hey to folks walking by. Sisters is also home to The Fly Fisher’s Place – a small-town fly shop with some big freakin’ chops.

The Fly Fisher's Place

The menu

A pretty retriever met us at the door and Josh stayed outside to play fetch for a few minutes. I continued in, stepped up and put my hands on the counter. It was at this point that I realized the relative magnitude of the water we wanted to fish, my embarrassing lack of preparation for/knowledge of the river, and a shadow of intimidation about its mythology. Bear in mind, I’m not one to back down from a challenge, or to be intimidated. But this was a legitimately unnerving moment.

Now, out of fairness to myself, this mythology was formed from conversations with two other fishermen: one of the guys working at the fly shop in Bend, and Bjorn Stromsness, an avid and accomplished salt fly fisherman from California who fishes the river every year. I’d heard from both that the Metolius is arguably the toughest and most technical river in Oregon to fish. Big and fast and beautiful, but downright ridiculous at times. Bjorn told me that in 1,000 yards of river you might find 3 or 4 places that might hold fish. Also that an old timer had told him that if you can catch fish on the Metolius, you’re a true fisherman…or something to that effect. Mythology.

Needless to say, standing face-to-face with the guy behind the counter, who turned out to be the owner – Jeff Perin, I was hoping…no…praying please God don’t let him see through my ‘fearless fly fisherman’ cover. Our conversation went something like this:

Hey. How’s it going?

Not bad. Going to do some fishing this afternoon?

Hoping to. But let me ask you…we’ve got this afternoon and tomorrow to get out on the Metolius. I’m out here from New York and we’re just off a couple days on the Deschutes. Am I going to get crushed out there? Should we just go explore more of the Deschutes?

What the hell was that and where the hell did it come from?! So much for my cover. But I think Jeff got the drift. He answered with a question:

Have you guys been catching fish?

Yea.

Good, at least you won’t go back to New York skunked.

That’s all it took. I was ready to write some of my own mythology. Jeff put us on some good flies, and pointed out on a map two accessible and worthwhile stretches for us to get at it.

We kept North on Route 20 to the base of Black Butte and picked up Route 14 toward Camp Sherman and the Head of the Metolius. It was already 4:00 by that time, so we decided to save the stop at the river’s headwaters for the next day and get to Wizard Falls Hatchery and wet a line.

At the bridge to the hatchery, my heart stopped. At various points on this trip I stared in awe at a landscape that almost brought me to tears with its power and rugged beauty. But nothing prepared me for this first-sight. The water was topaz, roiling, shoving, churning its way through this glacial and earthquake formed canyon. Ponderosa Pine and Cedar rising from either side.

And so it begins...

We parked and I walked back down to the bridge to take a closer look. Bjorn had said that there’s just so much water, most of the river doesn’t hold fish.

Some of the fishiest-looking places are simply empty, he said. Look to eddies and pools. Places they can get out of the current.

Looking at the phenomenal chaos rushing below, I could see the sense of his advice. We half-jogged back to the truck to get in our waders and tie on the newest residents of our fly boxes.

My "Holy crap!" moment

I found an entry point that let me wade out about ten yards into the river behind a downed pine. For years, the current swirled behind the tree building up a hard packed sand bar around existing boulders. I had good footing and enough room to work an initial backhand cast to get the flies out into the current. My point fly was a #6 three-bead yellow stone. My dropper was a #14 bead-head Batman nymph. Jeff said to fish the stone on a 9′ 4X leader and the Batman 24″ behind on 5X. I paid out enough line to drop my first cast up and into the main current. I could see the shadows of a few big boulders in the eddy below me. Probably 10 – 12′ deep and moving. I smiled, shook my head and roll-cast the flies back up into the current, letting them drift down into the eddy below me a second time. The line stopped and I set the hook in a monster boulder. It wasn’t letting loose, so I broke it off. Fortunately it was only the dropper. I tied on a new one and let loose another roll cast.

This one drifted a little further out. As it started its swing, the line stopped again. At the same moment I thought freaking rocks, the line jumped. I lifted the rod into a good hook set, hollering for Josh who was one pool upstream. The river was too loud. By the time I got the fish to the net I was half crying, half laughing hysterically, shouting Metolius rainbow! I caught a f@*#ing rainbow on the Metolius! At least I had the presence of mind when all was said and done to get some pictures.

It's a deep net...

The fish heard 'round the world

We got some crazy-good pulled pork sandwiches from Slicks Que Co. for dinner back at the yurt. Campfire, plenty of Pendleton & coke and lot’s of laughs reminiscing about our time stationed in Germany. Tomorrow was going to be a very good day.