Tag Archives: Deschutes River

THE TRIP. THE VIDEO.

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.

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, On the water

MY OWN MYTHOLOGY

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.

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A CHANGE IN THE WEATHER

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.

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THE LITTLE THINGS

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.

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THURSDAY

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.

The plan is to camp 2-3 days each on three rivers: the Upper Deschutes, the Upper Fall and the Crooked below the Prineville Reservoir. I’m excited. Heading toward sleepless. In all my travels, I’ve never been to the Pacific Northwest. I’ve read stories about the rivers and the muscled spirits they hold. I’ve got my notebook for stream-side thoughts and fire-side recollections. I’m taking pics and video, downloading it all to my laptop when we pack out to the truck between rivers. It’s time for stories of my own. My imagination is stuck somewhere between the Field & Stream magazines of my childhood and Wonka’s factory. Golden ticket. Damn right I’ve got one.

The coolest part: I get to be on the water for  7 days with an old friend. It’s been 17 years since we we’re stationed in Germany, working god-awful hours at an ammo supply point, and keeping god-awful hours at the local bars. 17 years. We’ve got a lot of fishing to do.

Stay tuned.

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