First of all, thank you all for being understanding of us closing the shop for a few days to get down the big river for some fishing, campfire-bonding and much needed chilling out. While it was hard for us to abandon all you local anglers, this was a must-do trip for us. So our appreciation for your being cool with us shuttering the place and apologies for leaving any of you in the lurch over the weekend.
PART ONE OF THE “FLYAND FIELD OUTFITTERS COMPANY FALL FLOAT”
It was under leaden skies with a breeze coming out of the south that four boats shoved off from Trout Creek boat ramp in the not so early hours of Saturday morning. At the helm would be Dave Merrick, making sure his lovely old Koffler still floats, Andrew Hasbrook, one of our incredibly hard working guides, Martin Ciszek, our hardest working guide, and Austin Bozwell, another young guide with an old soul, not to mention as fishy an effer as you’ll likely meet. Along for the sightseeing were Scott Cook, Jasper Marshall, Kevin Hoar, Quintin McCoy, Danny McWilliams, Eddie Mack and yours truly. There was a lot of firewood, several “happy” coolers, a real lot of fishing poles and not an insignificant amount of whisky.
It had been agreed well before launch day that while steelhead would be a huge bonus, we’d trout fish just as much. So each boat had everything from big Spey rods to switch-a-cator systems to everyone’s favorite trout stick. Martin, Jasper and myself began the day not far from the ramp in a zone known for both steelhead and trout. Being the last one out of the boat with a rigged rod, I let them have the “bucket” and wandered downriver to a nice swinging run. It felt wonderful to have my Winston BIIX 6/7 in my hands after a too-long break from swinging. My world has been more filled with trout trips this fall, both because my clients weren’t hung up on catching steelhead and because the trout fishing has been so fun. And personally, I’ve just not had the time to get out and properly see to the water with a two-hander. I was fishing a fairly heavy tip with an Intruder style fly, reaching out to a perfect seam. It was one of those times when, even on a year such as we’re having, I was filled with a great sense of positivity. Some of you might remember the trip I had lower down the river in the late summer when I was working with Black Strap and hooked four fish on dry lines in a total of five hours of fishing. What, you didn’t read that one? Oh, boy, let me rehash every epic moment… Just kiddin’. But it was pretty rad. Anyhoo, that was my last full-on swinging trip and even though it was months ago, I still have the feeling that every cast is gonna get crushed. So it was with that mind set that I waded out and began working line into the swing. Within a half dozen casts one of my presentations was clobbered right in the zone. This wasn’t a tap, tap, tap teaser; it was a full on ambush, only an unsuccessful one. As shook up and enlivened as the event left me, I made the next several casts with that lingering sense of disbelief and frustration. Then the next grab happened, only this time it was several nipping eats and then the panicked turn for safety. Sadly, when the rod at last was raised and poised for battle, a 13” Redband leapt from the river, not once, not twice, but perhaps thirty-three times. The thing was just freaking out. It fought with the tenacity we all love, but against ten pound Maxima and a twelve and a half foot rod, well this battle would only end one way. The fish was beautiful, healthy and appreciated. There are many days when such a fish might be the best one landed. And yet this one was released with very little fanfare. Matter of fact, the boys just upriver didn’t even know I’d fooled one.
A little while later, up in front of the boat Jasper stuck a gorgeous 16” trout on a little stonefly nymph. This fish fought hard, jumped several times and displayed that will to live Redbands are well known for. Once in the net my son and I knelt in close to admire this special trout. As occasionally immune as I might become to the moment one of these fish is subdued, on this morning my heart welled with adoration for the big river and its year-round denizens. Jasper has fooled a bunch of nice trout down there, but this one struck a special chord. An hour into three days of fishing, a trophy was in hand.
As the morning turned into afternoon, the sun shone low in the canyon. There was little, if any wind. We’d run into one of the other boats, drift along for a bit, pull over fish, sometimes just us, sometimes with a boat or two harbored alongside. At South Junction we passed Austin and Eddie just as they landed a steelhead, which turned out to be a small, hatchery fish, which ended up as an appetizer within hours. Later, our boat and Dave’s hung out on a long run, taking turns with rods, drinking beer, giving crap to the guys fishing, even fooling a fish or two.
One other thing of note: Our boat had established a rule back at the ramp. It was a pretty simple one: every time the anchor was drawn from the river’s bottom, we had a belt of whisky. The process, simple as it was, established a couple things from the get-go: one, we felt overwhelmingly compelled to share our appreciation of our lot in life just then, and two, ours would be the boat with the deepest, warmest buzz at all times.
It was becoming a day when you just never knew what might happen next. When we’re guiding down there, we get used to seeing certain people in certain spots at certain times of the day. You don’t know exactly who or when or where, but there’s usually somebodywhere’d you’d expect somebody to be. On this day, when a boat came bobbing around the corner upriver, or we bobbed into view of someone below us, it was friends, co-workers, brothers. And so a social fish would usually begin. If that sounds like fun, it’s because it is. We soaked up every minute of it on Monday. There was no rush to camp. Nobody else would be there. We’d get our pick of spots to put a tent, or fish.
I’d be lying if I told you I recalled every detail of the afternoon. I do remember Jasper catching more fish than I did. I seem to remember he rowed for a little while as Martin and I sat in the front, soaking in the late-fall sun. We got into camp around four and as I set up my tent and prepared a kitchen area, some of the boys wandered off to fish. Dave, Scott, Kevin and I strategized where to set up the fire pan, Washers game and stadium lighting. For those of you not familiar with the game of Washers, it is easily the coolest fireside recreation there is. Kevin has a nice set and it has entertained for many an hour in the canyon. Look it up. Then get yourself a set. Best money you’ll ever spend. So we got the zone all dialed in, prepped the fire and sat down for a whisky. Or five.
The night that ensued will be remembered (or not) for some time. The fire blazed. We stuffed faces with obscene amounts of BBQ meat. Drank some beer. Played Washers. Talked story. That’s about as much as I can recall. Dave and Kevin retained their crown as Washer Kings. Although a fair and mighty struggle was presented by Martin and Jasper, the two most likely legitimate contenders. But it was an epic night under a lovely sky, with the river humming as she does there at Whisky Dick camp. I begged off for the tent as most of the others continued their revelry and woke only once or twice before the next day’s first light.
Sunday would prove a day full of starts and stops. It began with a rather dire need for coffee, something that would come through seemingly too much struggle and time. We had, after all, not packed the full camp kitchen and were getting by with a cobbled system, which in that moment was proving a worthy task. I’m happy to report that once a half-dozen of us got focused, said task was completed. Then one by one, as zombies might, drawn by the smell of blood, the boys emerged from tents into the wet morning. A slight rain was falling from as “steelheady” a sky as you’d ever wish for. And yet, as I recall, nobody ran off to fish. Quintin, I believe, was the first to don waders and vanish with a pole. I do now seem to recall feeling self conscious to not be fishing -or even feel like fishing- as Quintin paced camp wondering why no one else was as excited as he was. Oh, to be eighteen again. Yea, kid, let’s see you bounce out of your tent all full of vigor at fifty-two! I was just happy to be able to get out of my tent. Allow me a minute to revel in that little victory.
It was my twenty-two year old son that finally guilt tripped me into going fishing. We wondered down to a productive little spot and began taking turns fishing the A+ bucket. Once again, he out-fished me pretty solidly, although neither of us was feeling entirely on top of our game. There was muttering; that much I’ll relay with confidence. One of his fish was a proper 16-17” Redband, fooled with a little PMD nymph. Once again, I was filled with a sense of completion, utter pleasure, sharing that moment with my son, my favorite human, and now an accomplished angler in his own right. I’d way rather watch that kid fish than just about anything else anymore.
We were in our boats and on our way towards the whitewater park by nine, I think. Coulda been ten. Or later. Who am I kidding? I’ve really no idea when we left camp. I just know that it was good to be afloat again. And as Whisky Dick disappeared behind us, for the first time in the trip I missed my boat. I found myself a little envious of the boys with oars in their hands as we coasted past the islands, dropped into Pony, and then glided the last couple hundred yards above Whitehorse. Martin was psyched to row her with me in the front of the boat, just as we ran it a couple times last spring, his first two runs, once in my boat, Ruby, and then the second time in his. They were massive, seminal moments in his progression as a guide and oarsman, and I’d been stoked to help. Now, as the three of us neared the chaos, I felt his broadened understanding of the rapid, her intricacies and perils, as well as the confidence that only comes with repeated runs through her menacing roar. His run Sunday was lacking any excitement of real note; just as one would hope for. We did pound the face of a wave in the Washing Machine than deposited a couple dozen gallons over the starboard gunnel, but I was sitting to port and therefore couldn’t have cared less. And it was my pleasure to crack open the obligatory beers once past House Rock.
As it was, everyone kept the flat side down that day. For a couple of the passengers it was their first time down that particularly nasty stretch of river. Of course, they just thought it was a cool rapid. No big deal. And that’s exactly what you want the person in the front of your boat to think. Our boat pulled in with Dave’s down at Redwall camp and celebrated life for a while. The fishing had gone to crap for a little bit that morning and so there was more joking that fish fooling going on. And, if I’m honest, that felt as it should have been. This was a “Team Building” exercise after all. And heaven knows we hardly ever get to give each other crap around the shop. Amazing how natural it felt.
Later that day, Jasper picked up a two-hander for only the second time. Andrew had given him some instruction out on the coast a few weeks ago and now it was my turn. He was using my Winston, same tip and fly. Not the easiest rig to learn with, but not the hardest either, and for sure a fishy one. He experienced many of the same hiccups as we all have, but before long found his stroke and began getting it out there. I’d gotten another solid grab only a few minutes after giving him the rest of the run, so there was reason for hope as he got into his rhythm. Martin was working down behind us and eventually came to give some tips. He is a much more experienced Spey caster than me -most are- and therefore far better positioned to instruct, not to mention a dad teaching his son to do anything is always a slippery slope. After a couple more technique tweaks I could see things clicking. He began to throw a little more line, do everything with smoother tempo, and make the entire move look more compact. After another twenty or thirty casts, just as he was dropping his swing into the best looking water of the run, there was a sudden, jerking grab. It was one of those takes when you don’t need to let the fish have the fly, it just makes off with it. Jasper was next seen with rod up and bent, line arching down into the river and something heavy thumping. Then it jumped. And that’s when we realized he’d fooled a slabby 15” Redband. This fish was tough as nails and pissed. But, as we’ve already explained, a trout on a steelhead Spey rod is not the worthiest adversary. I will report though, that when he hooked it, and we all saw the rod torqueing, there was a surety, momentary as it was, that he’d gotten his first. Martin and I were both to be seen arms raised and hooting into the damp canyon. But even as the letdown overcame the initial excitement, we all three realized what an awesome moment it was for my boy. Not everyone gets anything to eat their swung fly that quickly. And if nothing else, it gave him a sense of anything being possible. And yea, I know there are some who would say about a trout, “Oh, that doesn’t count.” But they’re assholes. A fish on a swung fly deep in the heart of the Lower Deschutes is AWESOME. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.
PART TWO NEXT WEEK. STAY TUNED AS OUR CREW CONTINUES THE S-SHOW…
Please enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving. We hope to see you all soon.