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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.