Sunday, September 3, 2017

A Fly Fishing Short: Advent of an Oarsman

Sitting next to the slow trickling creek, I caught myself daydreaming again and thinking of how everyone remembers there first time of something. For instance, do you remember the first time you kissed? or the first time you loved? Maybe the first time you danced?  But how about the first time you rowed a boat?  I continued to ponder and began to focus on a slow drifting dried leaf that struck a tone, conjuring warm thoughts of my McKenzie drift boat. The old but sturdy aluminum frame appeared to me like when I first pulled her home on its trailer with no taillights. Yep, I made it home!  I remember how excited I was, dreaming of all the new water adventures in store. Nevertheless, I will admit that the boat acquisition is noteworthy; however, what struck me the most was the remembrance of how I learned to row the oars, and navigate a mountain headwater stream, an adventure I’ll never forget.

Prior to actually floating down a raging river, I wanted to get some time on the oars in some water that was nothing but placid. In fact, this was the advice of the former boat owner that I took all the way to a nearby Dorena Reservoir. The boat launched, I sat awe-inspired by the beautiful mountainous surrounding, drifting quietly on the smoothest of morning glass-water. Rounding my shoulders, I drew the oars and pulled my boat a good three miles from the landing. My little excursion was so grand, until a strong consistent wind came from the northwest, turning liquid glass into a frothy chop. Struggling like hell to make it back, a ski boat full of bikini clad women happened to pull aside my gunwale and with an ever-so concerned voice yelled “you wanna tow?” Like the two idiots in the comedy film Dumber and Dumber, I stuck to my guns and replied “I’m good! Not far to go!”

After the lake excursion, I had decided that it was time to “just do it”; besides, a swimmer doesn’t swim without getting wet!  But I didn’t know anyone that had drift boat experience and I didn’t know a soul that wanted to take a chance as a drowning passenger due to my lack of water skills. Not to mention,  I was  pretty much clueless about river navigation and what kind of hazards, twists and turns may lie ahead. Nevertheless, I conducted my own research and turned to several books that covered essential navigable drift boat techniques. With the help of Google maps and some word of mouth, I settled on a slower flowing portion of Oregon's famous Willamette River just after the confluence of the wild and scenic McKenzie River.

On a crisp and clear autumn morning I arrived at the boat landing with some caffeine induced nerves and accompanying stomach butterflies that I hadn't really experienced since my first varsity ice hockey game. My trusty Diamond Back mountain bike sat disassembled in the boats stern to serve as my shuttle back to the truck.  The narrow landing, somewhat blocked by a large rock, was a challenge to say the least as I jockeyed the truck and trailer for what seemed like an absurd amount of time. Backing so far as to cover the tops of my trailer tires, I had forgotten that the flat and rockered drift boat bottom allows it to float freely in about 2 inches of water. Well anyways, after a little shove off the trailer, I pulled and drove the boat's hull into a nearby gravel shoal -- looking around sheepishly to see if anyone had noticed the "new guy" at the landing.

After getting my paddles and gear set, I looked out to the narrow channel that would take me to the main flow of the river. As I started to row away from the comfort of the landing and its safe harbor, the boat suddenly slipped past an obvious current seam and I unexpectedly started to drift in an uncontrollable manner. Moving faster,  instant panic set in as I firmly gripped my flailing paddles. Focusing on back rowing away from the eastern bank, I failed to notice a large downed tree, otherwise known as a strainer, coming up quickly on the opposite bank. I suddenly felt a large thud that seemed to emanate from the boats bow. As rushing water began to pin my boat against the tree, thoughts of impending doom flashed in my head. Somehow, I was able to calm myself, and using the wooden paddles like levers, I was able to wedge the boat off of the slightly submerged tree and back into the fast moving channel water.

Unconstrained at last, I finally found the main channel and looked ahead in wonderment of what other surprises may be presented. Still keeping my eyes on the water, I quickly grabbed my printed out river maps to try to gauge my location. Still trembling, I witnessed a pod of rising trout in some soft misty water near the not-so-far bank. Wanting to cast a fly or two, I looked back at my anchor, only to find a tangled intricate mess of knotted rope, which ultimately denied a boat yielding anchor drop. Truthfully, the smooth surface of the water was quite deceptive as the strong currents carried me further down the Willamette Valley and farther away from the trout catching chance. As my frustration with my lack of preparedness and experience began to build, I assured myself that there were plenty of more fishing opportunities downstream.

Further down stream, some small riffle runs would challenge my rowing skills. I began to grasp the fundamental concept of ferrying -- back-rowing a boat at roughly a 45 degree angle to avoid obstacles. I started to comprehend why an angle is preferable, while noticing and feeling less restriction and easier rowing as the boat seemed to slip effortlessly across the river. The feeling is unique to say the least when compared with v-hull designed boats. All the more, I was starting to harness some confidence as I progressed: my new found faith, allowed me to anchor at several points, to drink a beer, eat some lunch, and catch a few average size trout. Any doubts I had previously about the boat were instantly erased, as I relished the new floating aluminum addition to my fly fishing tool box.

Approaching the 3/4 mark of my float trip, I drifted upon a confusing point of three channels. Looking at my map, it seemed that all three channels could be navigable. I unfortunately opted for the eastern most channel, which happened to look very inviting and fishy. Halfway thru the channel, the waters began to slow and the river bottom became more and more visible. The boat eventually was slowed by bunches of slightly submerged thick vines of what looked like kelp. Unfortunately, I was too far in to back row back to the main channel, so I opted to get out and pull the boat over the clinging vines. Sweating profusely in the heat of the day, I finally reached deeper water near the main channel. I remember thinking back about one of the drift boat books I had read and the quote "when in doubt, always follow the main flow".

My journey was nearly complete as I approached the boat landing, nearly eight miles from my starting point. I was suddenly overcome by relief and realized that the only challenges that remained was a bike trek and the loading of the boat. Packing my backpack, and reassembling my mountain bike, I guzzled my last beer, already thinking about my next trip. Slightly buzzed, the pains in my lower back and shoulders were virtually non-existent -- all I could feel was a sense of victory as if I had conquered some instrumental quest. Pedaling on the size of the road, cars buzzing, I imagined that my fly rods jutting skyward from my back pack served as flags signifying the end of a great conquest. It was truly the advent of an oarsman, a glorious event in which I will always remember.

Friday, June 30, 2017

A Fly Fishing Short: Holding Hands in the Creek

I still enjoy reminiscing about  my childhood fishing experiences -- my dad handing me a five foot fiberglass Shakespeare rod with a Daiwa Closed face reel -- strung with the thickest of monofilament line tied to a lead jig head, heavy enough to knock out Mike Tyson in his prime.  Those were simplest of times don't you know? You could go to a big lake;  take a ride in a motor propelled boat;  park next to a bunch of other boats and then drop your fluorescent mini - bomb jig, baited with a bloody but still frisky shiner minnow to the dark and deep lake bottom. Truthfully, I never did understand why a group of 20 fishing boats would care to congregate around one little rock reef that took up less than one percent of a 300 square mile lake -- so much for solitude! I remember the Walleye, those slimy Jacks (a.k.a. Northern Pike), and the Perch that somehow always ended up as Seagull bait. Most of all, I remember being together with dad in a beautiful lake setting, feeling the gentle breeze against my young skin, listening to the enchanted sounds of small waves lapping against the side of boat and especially experiencing the not so sad but beautiful cries of the Common Loon.

Although we have lived in almost perfect harmony on a fairly reliable trout stream, my son, still in the rock throwing years, tends to beat around the bush when it comes to fishing. Some of you fishing parents can probably relate, as the youngster's fuse tends to burn short while fish are not being caught. Consequently, this situation generally heeds a barrage of large and small stones into the finest of trout holding spots with the harboring thought of the need for my hockey helmet. And yes, my son seems to have a system in place as the stones get larger in size with time. Not to mention, there are also the rock skipping sessions, which generally require a thinner and flatter rock that often requires my help to find. Oddly enough,  I always wonder what the trout may be thinking as various sized stones and boulders, normally set on the stream-bed are now hurling towards them. They're probably saying "damn we just got done fighting six months of spate and now this!" At any rate, I'm just happy he picked up the rod a little bit -- it's better than nothing at all!

One fine summer late afternoon, I received a tug on my shirt and heard a little voice. " Hey Pa, let's go fishing". I was almost is complete dismay, since I usually have to sugar-coat everything before he will even pick up the fishing rod. Nevertheless, I did not want to bore him with another one of our countless bank fishing stints from the property creek, so I thought about other nearby holes that might be productive. The only downfall, is that some of the nearby town's finest, seem to like to inhabit these areas when the weather is especially tepid. And by the way trout, you might think a large sinking stone is scary, but you just wait until 280lb. Mary-Joe flies off that rope swing! Regardless, we hopped into my old, not so run-of-the-mill truck with one rod, a small box of flies and a will to get my boy hooked on fly fishing. Somewhat differently, this time I wanted him to feel the rush of the water against his legs, which seems to instill a sort of connection with the river and the things in-which depend upon it -- that's just my opinion.

The big old V8 with 350 horses softly gulps as we arrive at one of my favorite but popular fishing holes, noticing a late model Blue Astro Van packed to the rafters with the all to common and inclusive savage mutt peaking its scruffy head out the sliding door, which happened to face the creek entrance.  I glanced over at my son, trying not to reveal my disdain, and plainly but quietly murmured " dam bums".  Moving on, we drove up stream about two miles to another spot with good access only to find a parked Durango; the topper window artfully inscribed with the words "Just Got Married". Well then... wouldn't want to bother the newly weds! I kind of wondered why they chose such a spot following such a significant event -- it's nice but not that nice!  Glancing over at my son again, I just shrugged my shoulders and kept driving, thinking of a third option. Finally, there it was: an obscure trail, partly covered with brush, the gnarliest of bramble thickets and the itchiest looking of poison oak.

Slightly embarrassed, I conveyed to my son, who now seemed confused -- that good fishing awaits - once we complete this small trail from hell. To be frank, I didn't  really plan on such an expedition, as we tromped on top of thick bramble with our "spur of the moment" sport sandals to avoid the stabbing thorns. I led the way down the path very Indiana Jones - like, trying my best not to discourage any future trips, until we got to about a three foot drop that would get us to the still slightly submerged rocky stream bank. The plunge into the stream was an awakening for sure;  it was cold but not so cold that it was uncomfortable. I could sense some slight fear and nervousness from the boy, as these were unfamiliar surroundings. The cast shadows from giant fir trees muted any natural colors, turning the stream into a visual parade of black, slow  moving mirrors.  From this vantage point, I pointed out the most popular fishing lies seen in the distance.

Holding hands in the stream, we slowly slipped and stumbled upon thick algae covered boulders. The first fishing hole seemed so close, but so far away. I started to wonder why my sandals were sold as "fishing sandals" instead of ice skates. While exclaiming a WHOOOAA and OHHH SHHHIII... the controversial felt boot bottom ban thing haphazardly seethed into my memory, only wondering if the negative environmental claim justifies all the fishermen cracked skulls, broken bones, gashes and torn ligaments caused by dramatic banana skin - type falls. For those who don't know -- the concern is that an invasive species of sort may adhere to the felt -- taking a free ride to perchance contaminate another stream. Fortunately, here in Oregon, we are still permitted to wear these felt soles, which to provide ample traction to get you where you want to go in the most slipperiest of conditions in the world! Finally, arriving at a series of small but rapid riffle sections, I glanced down and was glad to see that my little one was not the least discouraged.

My favorite way of fishing small creek riffles is to swing a lightly weighted wet fly from upstream. For a beginning child, this method is ideal, since the current of the river takes care of a lot of the work, moving and giving action to the fly. Generally, the "takes" or "hits" happen once the fly line becomes taut and a fish can be hooked without any sort of set. Not to mention, fish will also sometimes take a fly on a slow strip or retrieve. The stream side foliage was thick and overhanging with little to no area to back cast; therefore, I suggested letting some line out and using a little of the rod tip to position the fly. It did not take long until my boy got one hooked on a #16 Hare's Ear wet fly; and watching him standing unattended, rod bent, with such excitement, bestowed upon me the warmest of feelings.  After landing the fish, my sons eyes grew large as saucer plates; we admired a fair sized, deep colored native Cutthroat which are prime but not the only fish in this creek.

As the evening progressed, I made some adjustments due to the decreasing light and increase of bugs on the water.  I changed out the fly to a #12 Stimulator floating pattern, since we had witnessed a number of trout rolling for fluttering Yellow Sally Stoneflies. Ole' Yellow Sally prefers to deposit her eggs in the evening hours by dipping her pointed butt into trout frenzied waters.  Splashes and airborne trout surrounded the drifting and sometimes dragging fly, only mushrooming our excitement. We happily fished below a setting sun, hitting several other similar pieces of stream and landing some frisky but smaller sized trout.  At this point, we had pretty much burned out our chances on the three nearby holes and all I could think about was that trail from hell back to the truck.

Thoughts of the fishing experience with my son flourished inside my head while a few juicy stoneflies splattered upon the trucks windshield, making our way home. Staring at the windy road, I wished my conscience could answer the questions of whether my son really enjoyed fishing that day and if  I would receive another request to share the passion of fly fishing with him. Fishing in general, is a great sport, in that it promotes a greater appreciation for the environment,  it's inhabitants, self well-being and  family togetherness. Just the fishing stories culminated and left to tell another day are far worth more than any amount of gold! I owe it to my dad for taking the time to go fishing; he should be proud that his son has passed on a fishing tradition to live another day - a day wading knee deep and casting a fly while we're holding hands in the creek.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Fly Fishing Short: Old Man River

A light creamy white covers the azure of the sky, while we launch the McKenzie drift boat onto a swift flowing and mesmerizing gin. GMan settles into the boat's bow with all excitement and announces "man this looks good!" Floating calmly, tall ever-so-green fir and cedar lean from a heavily wooded bank while an osprey is seen diving for a not so elusive fish. Musical sounds of birds surround us amid the rivers soft whisper. Mainly, the river speaks to us as we study its wonderous surroundings; and we listen like astute sons to a great father.

A McKenzie River Dory or Drift Boat
We ground the boat on a gravel shoal, near a large, wide riffle and cannot help but notice a small river - dancing parade of yellow dun mayflies.  Still gazing, reflections of light bounce off the glassy pockets of water that are mingled in between boulders. I blurt out "there's gotta be some fish in here!"  As cold and pristine white water crashes into naturally painted river stones, we pick our way from bottom to top, pelting the surface with flies. After our brief separation we rejoin, thus conjure and conclude that we ought to move on to a fishier run.

Double D Casting
After little to no success, we approach lunch time, picking at fancy prepared sandwiches and sipping on the finest of Microbrews. Life is good! Not surprisingly, our conversation turns intimate as perhaps our minds are tired from the overall guesswork of landing a fish. We talk about our families, friends and even pets. We catch up on to what's currently happening in our lives. Interestingly enough, at that moment in time, the river seems to take the back seat.

We press on our river journey and remain optimistic regardless an unproductive morning. A vibrant sun temporarily peaking through the clouds is a welcomed sight, candy greening the surrounding mountains and warming my slightly chilled bones. A lingering alcoholic buzz from our lunch time brew encourages some playful talk and senseless jokes. Regardless our tom-foolery, GMan manages to pick up a few average size trout on dry flies off the bow of the boat as we approach the near-end of our day long float.


Approaching the final rapids, I wonder what may have been the facet of our misfortune. And please don't suggest that old adage "a bad day fishing is better than a good day at work!" Broken in thought, I advise we ground the boat off the far tip of a nearby island where another channel adjoins the main flow. Glancing over at GMan, I make a look that exemplifies "one more chance?" or a chance to redeem ourselves perhaps?

Flies strung, our initial casts were followed up by heavy takes. A large Redside screams into the fast water, dragging my line and forcing me in pursuit. Looking up for help, I could see that GMan was busy and in the midst of his own trout fight. Fortunately, I was able to steer the broad shouldered fish into calmer water and bring her majesty to the net. Finally, after we both bring more than several nice fish to the net, I exclaim "this is what we have been waiting for!" And I think to myself, "Old Man River's lesson today is about patience".

Native Oregon Redside