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Our second day on the OP found us enjoying clear skies, moderate temperatures, a noticeably lower and clearer river, and all of the hallmarks of a non-productive day of steelhead fishing.

This would have been disappointing, were it not for not for several obvious truths:

I was fishing a river in the legendary rain forest of the Olympic Peninsula.
Yesterday was yet another good (sober) day added to the mountain of good days days I've been collecting
I'd had a bona fide grab yesterday
...on a fly I'd tied myself
My spey casting, while no work of art, was getting noticeably better.

We launched the raft, fishing some of the same runs we'd hit the day before, getting aced out of others by anglers who arrived at them before we did, and fishing new water that had been occupied yesterday, but not today. The raft served as a taxi, delivering us from one swing run to the next. Occasionally, Ryan would have us nymphing the water in between runs. I'm a lefty and hadn't brought a single-hander with me, so Ryan set me up with one of his. Of course, his rods were set up exactly the opposite of my own, a consideration that I gave little heed to at the time.

It sounds ungrateful to say it this way, but the day wore on. We worked good water and worked it well, with no hint of any active fish at all.

By 2:00 or so, we arrived at the run where I'd had the grab the day before. My enthusiasm renewed, I worked it systematically from top to bottom with no love. I then switched flies, dropped in at the head of the run again, and swung it top to bottom again.


It was now pushing 4:30, and we got back in the raft which we'd left at the top of the run. Ryan said "Thanks for sticking with it, man." I think he could sense my fatigue, and offered what encouragement he could. He then suggested that we put away the spey rods and nymph the same run before we moved to the next.

He gave me his eight weight rod, I hucked the nymph and indicator and tossed in a mend, and we floated perhaps 50 yard when the indicator jolted toward the bottom.

"Set! Strip, strip STRIP!!" he cried. I did all of the above, and a *very* heavy fish decided he wanted no part of this game.

I've lost count of the number of trout I've caught on this exact same setup. However, this time there were two key differences. First, this fish was far bigger, and far hotter, than any trout I've ever hooked. Secondly, and more critical to this story, is that the handle on the reel was on the wrong side. I was momentary and completely at a loss for how I would transfer the rod from my left hand to my right without having it yanked from my grasp...

...and just like that, my line went slack. My friend and my guide were both silent, whether out of respect or frustration I could not tell. I reeled up, and saw that the number 2 Gamakatsu Octopus hook had been bent open significantly.

Little was said. Ryan dropped the anchor and tied on a fresh hook ("can't trust that one" he said) and after re-rigging, we slid perhaps another 50 yards downstream when my buddy hooked up. However, a quick headshake later and that fish came unbutton. Two steelhead in fifty yards.

We were laughing at how our fortunes had turned, when my indicator shot down yet again. Having just been burned by my inability to act fast enough, I wasn't about the make the same mistake again. I set, stripped down hard to bury the hook, and transferred the rod to my right hand. Four blistering runs later, I found that somewhere in the process Ryan had magically negotiated the raft to shallow water and had slid out to net my fish.



Three chrome encounters in less than two hundred yards! Under bluebird skies! In a run we'd just swung for over two hours! Obviously, a pod fresh from the ocean! We talked over each other, laughed, and marveled at our good luck. Less than an hour later, we would find Jake's wading belt exactly where he'd left it the evening before.

I was two days into my quest to find The Tree. I was no closer to finding it than I had been at any time previous, but this trip was already shaping up nicely.


Last edited by K_P on Wed Apr 10, 2019 11:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Looks like the big fellah nosed into a net and hit reverse just in time!
OK, I'm caught up now, you may proceed.... :smile
A bump to remind KP of his popularity....So nice.
After a great weekend on the OP, Monday found us heading south on the 101 toward Oregon and The Tree, wherever it might be. The original poster had been cryptic, but his report clearly stated they had flown into PDX and headed toward the coast from there.

It's just shy of four hours from Amanda Park to Tillamook, but we were in no hurry. The day started out gray, and in short order it began to rain. We had an Airbnb rental waiting for us, and I was armed with a fifteen-page print-out of the original post about The Tree and an old Oregon highway map with notations and arrows written on the Pacific Ocean pointing to areas I'd explored online, but wanted to see in person. Loaded too were several private messages from members of various online fishing forums with suggestions of places to look. These ranged from "I talked to a guy once who talked about a tree on a river he once fished fifteen years ago," to "Definitely on the Salmonberry. Or Nehalem. Or Nestucca. Or upper Wilson. Or the north fork of the Trask."

Or, or, or.

One fine citizen even wrote me and said "That tree blew down a few years ago in a storm--sorry!"

My mind tried to organize, categorize, and synthesize all I'd read, seen, and dreamt of, but I'll confess it hadn't been successful. There were too many possibilities, too many loose ends--and frankly, too many rivers and temperate rainforests for me to assimilate effectively.

We drove mostly in silence, the spatter of rain on the windshield and the steady beat of the wipers establishing the tone and tempo of the morning.

We stopped for gas in Aberdeen, or "Scaberdeen" as our guide Ryan had called it. My fishing buddy (as a direct function of a horribly misspent youth) is much more street wise than I'll ever be, so when I asked him to top off the fuel tank while I used the restroom and he said "I wouldn't if I were you," I took pause and looked at him quizzically.

He replied by simply lifting his chin in a couple of different directions. I looked first to a man who was earnestly riffling through the dumpster behind the gas station near the men's room door. He was a dirty as the bin he was sorting. The the right were a pair of sketchy looking young men who were eyeing me and my truck a little too intently.

The bathroom could wait.

Before I finished topping off the tank, a man and woman came walking down the sidewalk. Gaunt, ragged, with sunken cheeks and deeply inset eyes, they continued past the gas station in the herky-jerky gait unique to hard-core tweakers.

I got in the truck and muttered "Holy shit." Jake nodded in agreement. "Meth's a nasty drug" he said.

We weren't yet out of town and when a cute girl in her late teens flashed us a huge smile as we drove by, turning her torso to give us a full view.

"Did she just troll us?" I asked Jake incredulously.

"She sure did. And if she doesn't take care, she'll look just like those zombies at the gas station in another ten years.

I could have cried. The ache in my chest was tangible, and wasn't soon to leave me.

We drove for a long time, not saying a word.


We arrived at our rental near Tillamook late in the afternoon. We'd stopped for lunch at a regrettably forgettable seafood place in some no-name coastal town, and made a second stop to load up on groceries at a Walmart Super Center. We off loaded gear, didn't feel like cooking, and hit the local seafood joint in the hope of improving over lunch.

Score. Blackened melt-in-your-mouth ahi and cioppino.


After dinner, Jake started sorting his gear for a day of fishing. I organized my notes and maps. A knowledgeable friend of his was certain The Tree was on the upper Wilson. In the morning, I'd drop Jake and his raft at a launch. Then, my plan was to drive the length of the river, stopping at each bridge to see if I could spy The Tree.

Sleep came, but my night was reminiscent of those from my youth on the night before opening day. It had been more than three decades since the anticipation of the next day invaded my dreams in this manner. I relished in the restlessness, reliving a chapter from my boyhood. I thought of the times when, as a boy in the pre-dawn darkness, I would hear my dad stirring in the house and I'd be out of bed and dressed before he came to wake me. Then, we'd go hunting or fishing as the case may be, and I was as free and alive as I would ever be--every fiber of my being humming with electric anticipation.

I drifted off, thinking of my dad and of dogs we'd owned and pheasants and rabbits and walleyes and of the smell of white gas and the hiss of Coleman lanterns and the taste of charred hot dogs cooked on a freshly cut green stick.


Early the next morning, I dropped Jake and his raft off at the launch.

He got in the raft and just before he dipped the oars, said "You don't even have an Oregon fishing license yet, do you?"

"No, I don't. I'm here for The Tree."

He smiled and shook his head. "Good luck amigo."

"You too buddy. See you this afternoon."

In a way, I felt as if the search began at that very moment. After all the time on the internet performing "virtual" searches and quizzing other anglers (most of whom I've never even met,) I was nowhere. I had boots on the ground, eyes not on a computer monitor but scanning the actual landscape.

It felt like opening day.

There had been a particularly intriguing image I'd found online of a spot on the upper Wilson. That, coupled with the absolute confidence of Jake's friend who assured him that The Tree was on the same stream had me energized. As I drove upstream in that beautiful forest, confidence was high.

I found the road that led to the bridge, and... dice.

No worries, there was another bridge just a few miles upstream off a side road.

Lovely, but no.

A little further up the road I found a small store that was just opening. The proprietor was carrying an ancient dachshund in, so I waited a moment while he tucked his old friend into a blanket on a padded chair.

"Good morning," I said as I handed him the sheaf of papers that was the printout from the eight-year old fishing report. I had it open to the full page photo of The Tree. "I'm from Montana, and I'm looking to find this tree. Are you by chance familiar with it?"

He smiled at me in a way that made me aware that I'd just made him nervous. I could tell that he wasn't sure if I was serious or not. If I was serious, that was grounds for concern. If it was a ruse, just exactly what was the game I was playing?

He backed away ever so slightly.

"No, no I'm not sure I can say that I know that tree--sorry."

I could tell it was time for me to leave. I thanked him politely and left him and his little dog in peace.

A little further up the road, I saw two wader-clad anglers stringing up spey rods. Certainly these guys would understand! I pulled in and parked next to them. Again, papers in hand, I asked if they'd seen "The Tree."

Same nervous smiles, same furtive glances. Same strained levity to placate the crazy man from Montana with his photo of a tree.

Five more times I tried. Five more encounters that left locals feeling uneasy. I might as well have been a religious zealot with a gospel tract. I put the papers away, determined to only look them over in the evening, sitting alone at the table of the rental.

I drove up the Wilson to the Devil's Lake Fork, realizing then that the river was now too small to be the one in the photo. I then dropped back to town, had some lunch, and repeated the process on the Trask to the bridge on the North Fork of that river.

No tree.


Jake caught a steelhead. He texted me a picture to prove it. My phone pinged when I got back within cell phone range.


Loving it. Your description of asking folks about local waters is spot on. Dog bless them. I’m

Gotta day though the juxtaposition of concern for tweakers then shopping at a Walmart superstore is ironic at best.
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