On the dark side of the road.

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Re: On the dark side of the road.

Post by stillsteamin » Wed Oct 11, 2017 9:04 am


“See when you get ‘er going about 40 you barely feel the bumps!” I state proudly, spinning the wheel to avoid another pothole as the rental car drifts sideways around a sharp bend in the road, wheels riding across the tops of deep washboards.

“Ya it’s not too bad…where are we again?” My brother asks, dabbing a gas station napkin at a pool of coffee that had spilled from the top of his mug when we’d gone straight through the last set of potholes. On the car’s GPS screen, the blue triangle that represents us drifts along through a featureless splotch of green. A lady’s voice had asked me to “proceed to the route” twenty minutes ago, then gone silent. She’d sounded a little annoyed, which I’d forgiven as neither the app designers nor Chrysler could have anticipated a suburban grocery getter being used this way. Or misused, which is what the rental company manager would call it, explaining that no, the road side service policy certainly didn’t cover sending someone out “five miles or so east of Blacktail mountain” to pull a car out of the treetops beyond a steep bend in the road “like that Jeep in Jurassic Park.”

The raft rental guy in Missoula sighed and grudgingly agreed when I asked if he could drop the raft here the night before so we could get on at the butt crack of dawn. The rocky truck-width paths through the forest don’t have signs so I drive by memory, headlights prospecting through Douglas Fir and the rusty trunks of Ponderosa.

The raft slides down the first set of braids below the launch, corrected with short, unnecessary strokes because I like the greasy slosh of the oar blades dipping in and out of the water. A few early morning clouds hide the rocky bottom with surface glare and there’s a thick layer of frost on the tops of the raft’s tubes. It’ll be 80 degrees by noon. In front my brother swears as the shadow of a long trout flickers from underneath a root ball up against a bank, swipes at his streamer, and disappears.

“Big bull.” He snaps a short roll cast, picks up the sink tip and shoots the full length back toward the bank.

“Next time don’t stop the-“ A solid brown grabs the fly on arrival and shoulders for the bottom.

“What?” He asks, smirking.

“Never mind.”

The fish has its width set against the heavy current but doesn't gain against the deeply bent six weight. It gives up and throws a flamboyant tantrum mid river. Childish for a fish that ought to know better, I guess.

Free of the net, the trout holds sullenly for a moment in the slack of an inside bend, then pouts away across the current. Good start, which is simply that. Some days are kindly and up front about their intentions. Other days are stickier, little more rusted to the frame, the screws all rounded out. You reach for the breaker bar and JB 80 from your toolbox of over-analysis, stubbornly fish dry flies because it’s a better excuse, or go belly up and start speaking in clichés and taking pictures of your beer. This day started on the first pull which is, despite all the literary sweat poured into the challenge, plainly enjoyable.

The sun tops a burn scarred ridge behind us and the heat we’d be hiding from in a few hours feels good on my back as I work on the oars to slow our descent down a chute above a tall stair-step section of rapids. Cold standing waves force my brother to abandon his lean against the front tube. From the front seat he distractedly slaps the streamer down into the back eddies on either side of the raft. I angle us to avoid a boulder that split the first step in half. The front of the raft drops over the edge, the streamer and a few feet of sink tip landing in the white froth just ahead of us. The line immediately pulls tight, stuck fast to something beneath the churn.

“Not stopping,” I grunt as we spin in another direction to skirt a rock shelf and fall cleanly through the second step.

My brother wraps a fist in the line and pulls. We choose different swear words with matching feminine pitches when the kype of a large brown breaks through the whitewater. He jumps back and drops the line like he’d been dared to grab an electric cattle fence. The trout and the raft cascade down the final pitch in swirling confusion, our incredulous noise-making rising with the roar of the water to fill the canyon as the goat rodeo progresses. Finding its bearings in the sensible current of the bottom pool, the brute makes a dive towards a deep rock pile in the tailout. The run is rebuffed with a scoff and a hand clamped on the reel spool. There was a time and place to lose the fight and we had swept quickly past both. The trout rests in the net, visibly annoyed. We laugh off the horror of hooking a big fish in a bad spot.

Around the next bend, I work the fly in the familiar oxymoron of unsteady rhythm, leaving a dripping splotch against the dry bank rock and retrieving it to the rod tip, wary of boat-side muskie takes by the river’s playground bullies.

Turning around, I look up at the sun then down at my brother. "Tricos should start coming off soon."

He pivots the raft for a line on a pocket behind a mid-stream boulder, and I watch a fish eye reflection of me and the front of the raft shift in his sunglasses as he plots our route. “Probably.”

"There's nothing more overrated than a piece of ass and there's nothing more underrated than a good shit." -Glen Blackwood

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Re: On the dark side of the road.

Post by rampant » Thu Oct 12, 2017 1:08 am

:cool Noice, mate

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Re: On the dark side of the road.

Post by stillsteamin » Thu Nov 02, 2017 8:30 pm

The Deshooties - A retrospective.

“We’re from Michigan, and we want to catch a steelhead” It sort of slipped out. We’d picked up a few Rainier’s somewhere on the drive around Mt. Hood and it was the simple truth. An older guy with a thick beard and the dusty tan of a fishing guide was pecking at the register. He assessed us over the top of his reading glasses. “Good! This is a good place to do it!” he boomed, without sarcasm.

At some point months prior, I’d been staring at the streaks of foam at the bottom of a pint glass, shifting focus between the edge of the glass and the drifting bubbles inside when someone must’ve mentioned how it was about time we caught an actual steelhead. One from the salt. In our early 20’s, we had the habit of conceiving these drunken plans to go to wherever and do something beyond our comprehension. If it could be paid for with a couple paychecks, the debate would make a few passes, then someone would say “Why not?” Anyone who had any legitimate answers to that question would eventually drift away, until one night months or years later their name would be mentioned and someone would sit up suddenly as if they’d been trying to remember something on the tip of their tongue and say “Ya, when’s the last time you heard from that guy?”

I don’t remember with any certainty how we decided on the Deschutes. It was supposed to be good and that must have been enough. We read a lot of starry-eyed, aquatic erotica penned about guys who fished with Wheatley boxes tucked into old wool jackets. Articles about steelhead fishing in Michigan talked a lot about run timing, which color spinner blade was best, or in what conditions steelhead found the unholy electric piss green of chartreuse yarn attractive. Out west, we read that in deep canyons steelhead had a “nature,” and chose flies that were fished well, which transcended technical presentation and bore into the depths of the fisherman’s worthiness in the eyes of some fickle deity. Western rivers that held trout were beautiful. Western rivers that held steelhead were holy, blessed with a fish that held in the wake of boulders within dimensions vaguely perceptible at fleeting intervals by men who maintained monk-like discipline. The ability to understand was innate, the understanding itself was earned, and walled off completely from those who had purposely or accidentally committed various unwritten transgressions and vagaries. It all sounded fascinating and only somewhat suspiciously over-the-top and impossible. Not having touched it was like some sort of self-imposed virginity that could be lost with the purchase of a plane ticket.

Plus, floating lines seemed like the right way to do it – a decision made with no context either. That it felt right without being able to explain it was reassuring. The night before we left I sat in my living room with a sloppily tied purple hairwing pinched between my fingers. I was having a hard time believing a steelhead in a big river would chase down something so insignificant. I supposed once I was there it might seem more believable.

It didn’t, but I’ll get to that. There’s also Randy Bo-Bandy, fly shop whiskey, a flat tire, a broken spey rod, Reuben snadwiches, tent farts, dirty socks, and a bag of carrots. And a nice girl paying her way through school steals my hat with her butt.

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"There's nothing more overrated than a piece of ass and there's nothing more underrated than a good shit." -Glen Blackwood

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Re: On the dark side of the road.

Post by stillsteamin » Mon Nov 06, 2017 6:24 pm

Part Deux.

Down the block from the shop, we found that the hardware store – the only place in town to buy licenses - was closed. Back at the fly shop, now also closed, we pitched our situation to a younger guy closing the cash register. He invited us into the back office to see if we could buy licenses online and print them.

The office was as if someone had built it on a Hollywood movie set, for whatever reason I can’t imagine a director would want to film anything in the ass end of a fly shop. Everything was accurately askew, with the comfortable feeling of a lived-in place. The universal fly shop smell was condensed, with stronger undertones of tobacco and dust than out front. Old rod tubes were stacked in corners, trout tubes dwarfed by the magnum spey tubes, their untouchable contents more experienced than I could imagine, like beneath the underpants of a senior girl glimpsed through the gap of an opened door at a house party. There were papers spread on the desks and advertising banners and posters from industry bellwethers like Winston and Abel tacked up on the walls. The older guide sat behind one of the desks, leaning back in a frayed desk chair, one hand around a glass of whiskey and ice resting on the desk in front of him. He was talking loudly with a younger guide about some mutually familiar stretch of river, its history-laden landmarks as foreign to us as the dark side of the moon.

After introducing ourselves we found resting places in an open chair, on top of a desk, or leaned against a file cabinet. The older guy, John, offered us a drink and said we ought to like Bushmills. Bear had kept one eye on the fifth since we’d walked in and said that yes, Bushmills would do nicely. I wondered if this was the way it worked out here, you just drove into town and a half hour later you were in the back office of a closed fly shop, someone else’s glass, ice, and whiskey in your hand, a thorough yet understandably vague crash course on swinging small flies with big rods streaming from the mouths of three guides as your licenses groaned out of the impossibly slow laserjet printer. The only hint of hostility was when Bear kept pronouncing Oregon “Ore-gone” and was told it was “Ore-gun” in a tone that meant get it right or get the fuck out.

Walking back across the road to our car, a little more buzzed, we debated what John had meant on our way out when he’d said that he would see us “in a couple of days.” We had instructions to drive to the end of the access road, find a campsite, think about a time in the morning we considered early, get up an hour before that, and fish any number of places circled on a map. How we were to fish exactly was less than lucid. For the past hour advice had swirled around us like leaves in a windstorm and I wouldn’t have caught half of everything if I’d been sober. We pulled a few things out of our collective memories. The fly didn’t seem to matter as long as it was one we thought would catch fish. How we were supposed to know that we no idea, I picked one from the prairie-like expanse of fly displays at the shop because it was sparse and looked how I thought spey flies were supposed to look. Plus I liked the golden yellow tail. John said he’d designed that fly and it was called a “Steelhead Coachman.” I guess that made me think it would be the one. A few others with names that suggested stories were tossed our way, Streetwalkers, Purple Perils, and Comebackers. We were told that it didn’t matter what tippet we used as long as it was 10lb Maxima. A few flies, one spool of tippet, and floating line simplified things to a point that by the time we turned off the blacktop north of town and onto the dirt access road, I began to think that we had to be sliding our fingers toward a mousetrap. On every trip at least one nasty thing lurked in the dark, just off the path, ready to lunge out and rip away our confidence, self-esteem, morale, and whatever else it could grab as we stumbled by.

I didn’t waste too much time trying to remember what I’d never known because there was camp to make, Rainier to finish, rods to rig, gear to ready. Someone hoped aloud that we would be able to figure out where we were supposed to be fishing in the dark. I wasn’t sure, but I could see the river sliding by underneath the moon and I wondered if there were steelhead down there riding current seams in the dark.

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"There's nothing more overrated than a piece of ass and there's nothing more underrated than a good shit." -Glen Blackwood

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