Drakemag.com is a supplement to the Drake Magazine, a grassroots journal for flyfishing enthusiasts. It was founded on the principal that too much contemporary outdoor writing gives away all the answers to people who never learned what the questions were. http://www.drakemag.com/phpBB3/
“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.
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.”
Re: On the dark side of the road.
Posted: Thu Oct 12, 2017 1:08 am
Re: On the dark side of the road.
Posted: 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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Re: On the dark side of the road.
Posted: Mon Nov 06, 2017 6:24 pm
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.
Posted: 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, 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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Re: On the dark side of the road.
Posted: Wed Feb 21, 2018 4:22 am
Re: On the dark side of the road.
Posted: Thu Feb 22, 2018 2:52 pm
The banging jolt of a car driving over the cattle grate just up the road woke me from a restless drift through the darkness. I bumped my phone on the dashboard, 5:15 am shined back at me. Sitting up, I turned the key and flicked on the headlights to let the car know to keep on going. The approaching lights slowed as mine came on, then sped up. A truck rolled by us, and though I couldn’t see into the cab I could feel the driver staring at me.
“Tough shit, guy.” Bear was awake in the passenger seat, and turned to watch the truck pass.
“White truck?” Travis asked from the back.
“Guarantee it was. Sucks to suck… ah shit…”
“He stopped at that next turnout.”
I glanced into the rear view mirror and sure enough, the tail lights had stopped just down the road.
“What’s he planning on fishing down there?”
“Nothing. He’s going to walk up.”
“The fuck he is. Let’s go.”
We piled out, stuffed our feet into waders, grabbed rods and hip packs, and started down the hill to the river, headlamps picking through the sagebrush. I hate that kind of shit, waking up early to start some stupid game of chess with a bunch of other guys. It adds an annoyingly familiar societal element to an activity I appreciate for its bohemianism. Having people stare at you incredulously and ask “You’re seriously going to get up THAT early to go FISHING? It’s like, snowing out!” is a large part of the fun. People at the office turning to other people at the office and repeating my plans as if they include riding the Easter bunny around the moon is what tells me I’m still headed in the right direction. If I wanted to beat fucking Phil to the sale on Toro weed whippers at Home Depot I never would have left town, but it’s what things had come to by day four.
It didn’t stop me from feeling dirty about waking up at 3am to go sleep at a turnoff, turning my lights on each time another truck drove by. Guy in the white truck deserved it though, we’d decided, after he’d spent the last two days camped at the same run. Literally, camped. He’d be parked there by 5am, lights flicking on at us as we passed two mornings in a row. Then he’d fish through the run, once, twice, three or four times before going back up to his truck, opening a folding chair and reading a book. Each time another car would pull up, which included us a few times, he’d calmly close his book, set it down on his chair, amble on down to the run and begin fishing again. By the end of the second day of that, still fishless after my screw up the first morning, I was whipped up into such a booze enhanced rage about the guy’s poor etiquette that I was stomping around camp in the dark, mug of bourbon sloshing around as I performed an animated rendition of the guy’s unfortunate end.
“Never seen anything like it,” the local sheriff would say to his secretary, shaking his head slowly as he hung his hat on a hook inside the station.
She’d look at him, concern furrowed on her forehead.
“We found a body. Man drowned, pulled him out of the big deep bend below Mack’s… he was caught up in a tangle of tree roots.”
The secretary would look confused, and after a moment she’d say “We’ve had drownings before…”
The sheriff would pause at the door to his office, studying the wood grain in the door frame. “This was different… he had… there was uh, there was a carrot in the man’s ass.”
“Oh my!” She’d exclaim, blushing.
“Biggest carrot I’ve ever seen. Had to have been handpicked from an entire bag just for the purpose… it was really wedged in there. Kind of sideways… it was really something. Clearly ended up on the bad end of a lover’s quarrel. Used to be, folks all had their fetishes, you know, you’d have your key parties, might see a hole drilled in a bathroom stall here and there… maybe you’d ask your wife to get dressed up like Batwoman, tie you down to the bed and whip the demons out of you with an old serpentine belt…”
The secretary would nod, knowingly. He’d continue, “But now, I guess now we’re fucking each other with carrots in the river. I told myself I’d do this job till I couldn’t do it any longer, law enforcement is the only thing I’ve ever known.” Stepping through the door, he’d turn back to face her, his eyes searching for understanding, “I just don’t know how many more years of this I have in me.”
We sat on the river bank in the deep grass, just our boots in the shallow water, watching the sky along the fringe of the rimrock flush with pink. With the canyon suspended in a yawn, we slipped into the edge of the run, leaving matted nests in the grass. Equally spaced, a hundred feet or so apart, Bear at the top, myself in the middle, and Travis at the bottom, we started fishing. Big casts felt like too much for the dim light, so I started close, easing the length of the shooting head out into the loose chop, breathing in, lifting a mend, and lowering it back down with an exhale. I could feel the small peacock herl-bodied hairwing riding just under the film, tipping as it switched currents above the boulder pocked run, a miniature train car making its way across a vast rail yard.
Another swing hanging below me, I turned to look back at Bear. Blue hoodie? Bear was wearing orange, I thought. There was definitely a guy standing there in a blue hoody. I looked again, there was Bear, farther up. In orange. The guy in blue noticed me staring at him and froze, midway out to the edge of the run. He was maybe fifty feet above me, and just a short cast below Bear. White truck guy, that son of a bitch. Had to be. John had made it clear that my hatred for low-holers was not only accepted here, it was encouraged. Maybe they’d get a flat tire, he said. “Nobody should be doing that, they all know better.” I could remember his voice booming across the shop. “Which makes it worse!”
I’d had it with this fucker. My fly still dangling downstream, I yelled up at him.
“NOPE! Nope!” I pointed back at the bank. He was still just staring at me.
“Nope!” I yelled again. “Get out!”
Shoulders slumped, he walked back to the bank and disappeared into the alders without a word. Seemed easier than I’d expected. Probably because he’d known what he was doing. Which did make it worse.
I watched him go, then turned back downstream. I stripped in and started another cast. “What a piece of shit” I said to the river as the line laid out. No way to start a dry line swing for summer steelhead, I knew. I couldn’t feel the fly anymore.
“Hey” I barely heard it from upstream, and wasn’t sure if I really had.
“HEY!” No, I had heard it.
“FISH!” Spinning around, I saw Bear leaning against a deep bend in his rod, palming the reel.
He tailed it in the slack below a slight point in the bank, a clean wild hen, his fly planted firmly in the corner of her mouth.
“Right after you yelled at that fucker, I could just see the wake of a boulder out there, and right off the edge of that, boom!” Bear stammered, short on breath. He cradled the fish, pointing her into the soft current.
Travis came running up the bank and plowed into the river, stopping short, hands on his hips, sucking air. We stared down at Bear and his fish.
He looked up, eyes wide, unfocused, like he was seeing an explosion of a hundred thousand good things racing toward him, impossibly trying to pick just one. He opened his mouth to say something, but just looked back down at the fish. We stood there, dripping, smiling, breathing, watching her glide over the cobbled bottom and back out into the run.
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Re: On the dark side of the road.
Posted: Sat Feb 24, 2018 9:58 am
Fine wordsmithing going on right here
Re: On the dark side of the road.
Posted: Thu Mar 01, 2018 1:22 pm
by CC Riebeeck
'Bout time as we were starving for verbiage.
It’s been three days since Bear landed his fish. Those days, while being fishless, certainly were not unmemorable for us, though are probably better left mostly unremarked upon for brevity’s sake. More long, rattling trips into town, a few rueben snads from the Rainbow café, many more empty beers. Our tent (a rental from a shop in Portland) was in a decidedly poor state. The smell of dirty socks and camp food farts had long since been baked into the tent’s fibers by the sharp afternoon sun. We’d lost a tire on the rental. Figuratively, as it was strapped on top of the car. I’d tossed all our shit out of the back, wondering if a 4x4 SUV would feature a full size spare. That hadn’t been the case, though in the following days the doughnut only slowed us down to the extent that I started being extra careful around chunks of rock in the road. Because I’m responsible. It was Bear’s fault that I hit that first rock anyway. He kept trying to replay the same song over and over. Something about wolves. He said it was the trip song. I was calmly explaining he didn’t get to decide that and then we hit a rock. Bear immediately admitted it was completely his fault, something he vehemently insists upon to this day, despite my attempts to accept a small part of the blame in the interest of fairness. Probably my most reasonable and least argumentative friend, which is saying something.
It’s day seven, before dawn. Way before. We’re parked up above the river at a gravel turnout, steam from the percolator swirling through the shifting beams from headlamps, before rolling up and around the raised back door of the SUV. If we speak it’s dry sarcasm or one of the same insults that have been repeated for most of the week. There’s no talk about fishing, nothing to figure out it seems. We’ll do nothing different this morning, same run, same lines and rods. Same casts to the same seams, the same flies crossing the same current at the same speed. It’s out of that persistent sameness that we hope something incredibly different will happen.
It does, for me, like one leaf in a tall tree blowing in the opposite direction of all the others, bent by some fleeting swirl in the predominate wind. I’d just began fishing again after a pause to regain my composure after yelling at some asshole for trying to low hole me. He sulked back to the bank, and I watched the river slide by until it filled my mind. It was too good of a spot and the light was too perfect to waste any casts wondering what it must be like to want a fish bad enough to act like an asshole to get it. Could it be any fun at that point, or was it like standing outside in the snow smoking a cigarette while your family is inside eating Thanksgiving dinner?
I made a long cast, mended, let it swing, and it almost ended the same as the others, filed away in some corner file cabinet in a folder labeled “Trying” sloppily jotted in black sharpie. It happened right where it should but rarely does, three quarters of the way through the pass, when the line starts to straighten out and the fly slows down. In the moment it was easy enough to be anti-climactic, something obsessed about for seven days coming as smoothly as opening another beer. Bear was sitting a few feet away on the bank, I thought he’d been watching me, but when I lifted my rod, came tight to the fish and said so, he started as if he’d been asleep. It wasn’t until after he tailed her, I posed for a picture, and she pushed off back out into the run that I got the shakes. I watched Travis fish the rest of the run as the canyon filled in with color, a hard early sun rising behind us pushing the shade back toward our bank.
The night before we’d decided we wanted to see the coast, so I left to go pack up camp so we could make it out there with enough time to have a look around. Using the cooler as a plunger to pack everything tighter into the back, I heard a familiar sound amongst the slosh of melting ice. I pried open the lid, and there it was, a lone can of Rainier, the last of its kind. I held the can out away from me, into the sunlight. I turned it sideways, the red lettering glinted in the sun as I read the side of the can. Yakima Valley hops. I remembered a guy behind us in line at the grocery store outside of Portland. He’d tipped his head slightly, looking at the case of beer under our cart then at each of us individually. When he got to me he asked, “Oly, eh?”
“Figured it looked like a good cheap case.”
He’d just stared at me. “We aren’t from here.” I added.
He smirked and nodded, “Ya, you’re gonna wanna put that stuff back and grab yourself a case of Rainier.”
I thanked him with a nod towards the canyon wall beyond the beer can, before cracking the top and draining it. He hadn’t been wrong.
Climbing out of Maupin, I caught one last look at the river snaking north away from town. The dust had settled in my mind, and I knew I’d never be rid of it. I’ve been lucky enough to leave parts of me in all manner of beautiful places, and while total immersion is always more infrequent and brief than I’d wish for, there’s a slick spot in the riffle of my soul into which I can wade whenever I like, a momentary respite just beyond the back door of my life. Crossing the last wash of current and stepping into the calm, the fluorescence fades, beige gives way to basalt, and I’m there again, at first light, hidden in a fringe of dark green bank grass, a gloriously unimportant fleck in the deep, dry canyon, on the doorstep of possibility.
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