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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Re: On the dark side of the road.

Post by stillsteamin » Tue Feb 20, 2018 4:53 pm

Can’t leave things unfinished. Settled in a little bit after our move to the Northwest so I should have time to reboot this thread a little bit. I’m sure everyone that comes through here on their way down to the basement has been waiting with bells on.

Sometimes the wind will blow you around to a better part of the lake. The winds of fortune. Shortly after making our camp, I had some sausages frying on the camp stove and the wind blew some fortune over toward us. Fortune was drunk off its ass, and slurring its words. Likely had been sitting over in its dark campsite drinking from a lonely bottle, hoping for company. I got the feeling you might have to wait awhile for good company to blow through the canyon, not unlike sitting with a view of the door at the tavern in town, waiting for a single, attractive woman to walk in. Better have some provisions and a sense of northern Michigan deer blind patience.

Fortune’s name was Randy, and after it was clear we wouldn’t be quickly rid of him, we learned he owned a sub sandwich franchise over in Portland. I don’t remember how long it took to get around to talk of fishing, the conversation felt like getting to know some guy with a stack of six empty beer cups in the cup holder in front of his box seat at a baseball game. That you were both there to watch baseball was a given, and you figured you’d get around to that eventually. We did, and it turned out he knew the river well. He said he was only there for the weekend, and had to get home tomorrow, but in the morning he’d be happy to show us a couple spots. We parted that night, us to our tent, Randy doing sort of a two-step shuffle over to his cot in the grass next to his truck. Over his shoulder he said something about 5am and “tough wading.”

“What did he say?” Bear asked.

“I don’t know, something about the spot he’s taking us to being tough wading.”

“Ya, we’ll see if he’s up at five.” Travis zipped himself into his bag.

It felt like my phone was inside my head when the alarm went off at five. The roadies, fly shop drinks, and subconsciously keeping pace with Randy had backed me into a corner, unawares. So there’d be that to deal with. A familiar swampy air festered inside the tent. Farts and dirty socks, we stewed in it like cabbages in a rank barrel of kimchi. I rubbed my temples, and heard someone cough over in the direction of Randy’s camp. A headlamp flicked on.

“That fuckers awake already.”


“Randy. Let’s go.”

Bear moved in his bag, closer to Travis and farted a long, drawn out baritone.


“Get the fuck up Bear, Randy’s up.”

“Grmm… fuckin’ Bobandy” he slurred, farting on Travis again.

Travis half ripped, half zipped open the front door of the tent, and disappeared into the dark, swearing. We were moving.

I followed Randy’s taillight-lit dust cloud down the access road, the unending washboards swelling my head. It was dark dark, black. The river was somewhere to our left, down the hill. I couldn’t even see a shimmer off the surface under what must have been an overcast sky. The taillights slowed, and pulled off at a slight widening of the road. We pulled up behind him, and climbed out into a cloud of cold dust. The roar of the river saturated the otherwise blankness of the canyon. It sounded like it was right below us, just off the edge of the road and moving fast. I stood on the edge of the turnout, my boots planted in the gravel inches from what seemed to be an infinite precipice, eyes searching for context over the edge, trying to tamp down the creeping feeling that I had no idea what the fuck I was doing.

Randy, suspiciously appearing to be no worse for the wear, said we were at a spot called “Wind Knot” and that it was good. “Sit here till first light, then head down and fish from the tree to the tailout.”

We could probably handle that.

Climbing back into his truck, he said he was going to go fish farther downstream. Pausing with the door halfway shut, he looked out over the edge, then at me. “Be careful. It’s black diamond wading here.”

We watched the red-tinged dust cloud fade out down the road.

“Fuckin’ Bobandy.” Bear climbed into his waders, farting as he strapped them over his shoulders.

“Ya, strap ‘em up.” Travis was poking around in his fly box. “That one’s your problem now, Bear.”

Grey light slid into the canyon, showing us that we were in fact parked almost directly above the water. Geometric chunks of basalt lined the descent to strong current, pushed at and then down the rip rap bank by a heavy looking chute upstream. Slate colored standing waves, three feet high, rolled mid-river. Your classic intimate dry fly riffle. The pitch of the bank didn’t appear to get any kinder as it entered the water, tremors from the rapids lapped at the tops of more sharp rock and I started to wonder if Bobandy might’ve been fucking with us. This didn’t look like any place a steelhead would hang out. It looked like the rougher side of town, a place clean folks would hurry through on their way to somewhere nicer.

We lined up our spey rods, and picked our way down the rocks to the river. I stepped in first, a kind metaphor for an awkward, one-legged reach down into the dark water from my seat on top of a rock. I gripped a tree branch above my head, letting it go when my foot found more rock. Now I was waist deep, on a rock ledge, inches probably from who knows what additional depth. The river looked bigger from there, an expanse of strong current sliding by in illegible swirls and pushes. Its unhurriedness reminded me of some movie scene, where a killer has gotten the clear upper hand, and grips a handgun loosely, strolling toward a helpless victim crawling away across the pavement. No reason to hurry, because there’s no other possible outcomes. The ledger is innumerably one-sided, the conclusion forgone. From my tense stance I was, for a moment, fully aware in every possible way that this river would have its way. If that way happened to include my end, it would happen with no greater ceremony than the setting of the sun or the flick of a sparrow’s tail. I was strung up in a cobweb of reverence, to unhook the fly from my rod required deliberation, as did making that first sorry flop of line that will forever stand as my first attempt at a Deschutes River steelhead. I actually fished it out, from beneath the tree, ten feet of line out including the leader. John had said to start short, so that’s what I was doing. After another couple attempts and a few leaves ripped from the tree above me, I had most of my shooting head out and someone driving by may have glanced at me and seen a fisherman. The water still flew by in a foreign language, sweeping my casts downstream before I could decide if they’d been any good. I certainly wasn’t fishing yet, but I was more sure on my feet. Travis and Bear had ventured in upstream, and traded glances ensured me we were all working through our own sets of issues.

Line trailing downstream, I worked my way around a boulder, feeling with my boots, and found gravel. I ground my boots into it, leaning into the current pushing against my waist but feeling solid. My heart decelerated and my eyes began to focusing on the river’s burnished steel surface, picking individual faces from the stampeding crowd. I was just below the tree where Bobandy had said to start, which kindly freed up my casting a little more. Down a ways, just out of range at the moment, I made out a group of deflections in the current, slight bulges with hints of dead space behind them, framed by quicker current on the outsides. Another twenty yards beyond that, the current seemed to rise and thin out, forming what looked like a shallow riffle. The tailout, I thought. And boulders just ahead of it. Now that looked like a place a steelhead would rest. Focusing on form, I stepped through two more casts, cleanly shooting the head and a length of running line, turning the tip over cleanly, mending, and following the swing down in what I remembered was the general curve John had sketched on that scrap piece of paper. Stepping down again, I laid out another cast. It drifted down, a little slower now, across the choppy surface just ahead of the first bulge, the line breaking and tipping with the gentle peaks and valleys. There was quick pop, the line snapped straight and dug down into the water, then a pull like a small dog straining against its leash. I lifted the rod, and felt a series of retreating headshakes as line began to turn off the reel. Words caught in my throat as a bright, colorful light flashed behind my eyes, a disco ball trapped inside a coked-out brain, wiring all crossed and misfiring. I was a ball of tinfoil in a microwave. The pull accelerated, and turned downstream. Line was rushing off the reel. All I did was touch it. I don’t think I even touched the handle. Just the reel itself, as it spun. One touch, piss on a cattle fence. The fish was up in the air, hundreds of yards away it felt like. Probably closer to fifty feet or so, as that’s about the distance I had to reel in before I could see the frayed end of the tippet. The lights in my head began to come together into one big highway construction sign flashing “Fuck” with a big orange arrow pointed at my spirit, tied up to a lamp post, head hanging low, an effigy of embarrassment for passing motorists to laugh at.

“Look at that idiot honey, he looks like the kind of guy who’d travel two thousand miles to fuck everything up.”

“Oh, be nice!” She’d say. “At least he wouldn’t make a pass at my sister every 4th of July” She’d think.

Hooking a fish on the first day of a trip like that was about like your buddy’s new girlfriend showing up to a double date he talked you into with a friend who’s actually attractive. You’re not prepared to close the deal, you’re not even wearing clean underwear. Even if you manage to pull everything together and catch what’s miraculously fallen directly into your lap, sure you’ll take it, but is it how you would’ve written it? Depends how attractive she is, I guess. I could’ve probably made my peace with it.

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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 west_jay » Wed Feb 21, 2018 4:22 am

About time :smile

Good stuff.
I never met anyone named Joel that wasn't a complete knob. – CharlieJenkem

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