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 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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.