A day of fishing on the Deschutes River
The rain fell from the sky, making small imprints on the slow-moving river that carefully carved through the countryside. I was alone out here, no one could see what I saw nor hear what I heard, and then again, I liked it that way. Today I needed space, and the Deschutes River was an excellent place to find solitude. I intended to catch fish, and with each one brought to my net, I would feel closer and closer to sanity, and right now, it is what I desperately needed. Nothing made sense, and the world seemed to be closing in on me.
I carefully chose the fly that I would use, going with a small blue wing olive suggested by the fly fishing guru from a fly shop called, The Flyfishers Place. They always seemed to guide me the right way when fishing the Deschutes. Slowly I cast the small imitation onto the water and watched as it slowly drifted downstream. It seemed to take me with it; each ripple that it rose overtook its toll on its ability to float, and after a few more casts, it began to sink and me with it.
Fishing isn’t what it used to be for me, I really cannot pinpoint one thing, and it just lost its luster.
The days of rising just before sunrise to be at the river and staying until sunset was long gone for me. I have come to hate it, I was angry at what it took from me, yet to my despair, I could not leave what had been grafted into my very being. This art form, religion, sport, or whatever else it is labeled has captured me and refuses to let me go.
Yet ironically, I have fallen in love with it too, my capture has become my savior, and my cold confined cell has become a release and a chance to be free.
Fall on the Deschutes River
It was a calm, cool summer day on the Deschutes River; I arrived in time to see the sun peak above the canyon walls. The air was brisk, and I could feel the wind cut through my waders and pierce my skin. It was a small price to pay to be here. Times like these that is where you would find me, alone, fishing, and recollecting of times past.
The Deschutes River draws me again into the frigid shoreline; it whispers to me, calling my name. I gingerly planted myself in the prime location to fish this mighty deluge. I eagerly opened my well-loved fly box to find the perfect fly for this. Quickly I tie on a size 16 Renegade fly that has become my favorite one to use. It had the makings of another ideal morning on the Deschutes.
I cast my line with my fly on the line and my favorite pole in hand. Satisfied by the familiar sound of the line floating from my hand and cracking in mid-air, I purged deeper into the river.
The sounds of the rapids are the only sounds I can hear. It refreshes me; it was good to be back. Here is where I do most of my thinking and remembering. Stress tends to disappear when I am wading in the river. I really cannot tell you what it is about the river that calms me down.
A fish’s journey
It could be the fish; trout are a peculiar species. They astound me as I realize how similar they are to us. They start in one place of the river and spend their life moving upstream and perhaps to the sea.
Each turn of the Deschutes River brings new challenges and rewards, and no matter how hard the river gets, they cannot turn back. When they rest, they find the calmest place in the river and stay there for sometimes days. Yet if they wait too long, the resting-place becomes overpopulated with other fish, which is when fights occur, so instead, they know when to move on.
It would be similar to us, going to work to save enough time and money to go on our vacations, only to return to work again. I find that I am just like them in so many ways. Yet, I wish I had their courage to go on.
Fish tend to be lazy or smart. I guess it depends on how you look at it. There is more food on the bottom of the river than there is on the top, so instead of fighting the current, they eat on the river bottom most of the time. Sometimes they get greedy and battle the force of the water to rise for a relatively small insect. I respect them for their tenacity, and I feel a sense of accomplishment when I can trick one of them to receive my fly imitation.
I usually fish for the reside trout that are native to this river. Like the other trout, they spend their lives in the rivers, and just like their cousin, the rainbow trout, their beauty is only shadowed by their ability to fight. They tend to be much stronger than other trout that I have fished for and much larger. They fight magnificently and are beautiful to watch. I have not seen many jump, although it is a sight to watch when they do. They do not migrate to the sea, but they do become enormous.
Another elusive wonder of the Deschutes River is the brown trout, they are not natives, but they have been here so long they might as well be. The British brought them here when they were on quests to conquer more land. It was said you could track the armies of England not by the roads they made but by the fish in the water. I suppose this is true to some extent, although it doesn’t explain how they ended up in the rivers of Oregon. They are brown with tiny blue and purple spots on them. They fight hard and are very strong, making for a fun day if I catch a few.
The scenery on the Deschutes River
Perhaps it’s the scenery that captures my desire to go fishing. The canyon and sunset are breathtaking. It is something that I would not see had it not been for fishing. It can be so easily missed,
I remember when I was fishing with a good friend of mine. We had been catching fish all morning long. It seemed that each time we pushed the boat out to go to a different spot on the river, we would see more fish. It was not until we were floating for an extended period that I began to notice the different rock formations that rose high above the canyon. I looked to the other side of the river and saw the hills that looked as if someone just threw a brown blanket on them; each crevasse and dihedral was brought out by the shadows cast by the rising sun.
“It’s pretty spectacular, huh? I asked my buddy.
“You know, as many people that I take down here, only a few ever notice the beauty of it.” He responded.
Early in the Fall, I will get to the river in the morning and hike down in the canyon just in time to see the fog roll off the river. Once, I even spooked a sleeping deer with a fawn, although I think they frightened me more than I did them. Of course, I had to look around to make sure no one saw me let out a gentle scream.
Then there are the sunsets; each one is different and gone as quickly as it came. It is as if a painter started painting only to erase and start again. You can indeed capture the work on a photo, but it tends to lose some of its luster and beauty. Instead, I take my time hiking out of the canyon, trying my best to capture all that I can of the grand view. Occasionally I find myself stumbling over unseen rocks or slipping on loose gravel; in the end, it is worth the bumps and bruises to witness the painter’s masterpiece.
I usually stop fishing around dusk, or sometimes right after sundown. So I have the opportunity to capture the sunset; some days, the sky will be painted with so much red and orange that I believe that it could be on fire had it not been for Mt. Jefferson that stands so tall and proud against the sky.
Sometimes, I have to stop my car and watch the sunset for a while. It is too marvelous to drive on. It is sad but true that beauty becomes ordinary if not renewed or rekindled from time to time.
I find that life’s simple things that I tend to forget are brought back by some unseen tragedy. I remember a time when an old fishing buddy and I got into a fight; it was so petty that I can’t even remember what it was about, yet it was enough to keep us from talking or even fishing together for a while. As I was fishing alone, which of course, I did out of pure spite, I began to notice the scenery once again. Each tender leaf weighted by the soft, calm breeze was more colorful than when I saw it last. The sun seemed to glow softer and enhanced everything around it.
I can only draw this conclusion about life. It takes a tragedy to show us reality, death to give us the meaning of life, and war to bring peace. I guess the river has shown me that throughout the years, or perhaps the events surrounding the shoreline, played the leading role. No matter what it was, the sun is now setting like the curtain being drawn on the closing scene of some Shakespearean play. The picture is once again erased, and the painter is yet again dreaming up another portrait to display for the world to see. Let’s hope I am here to see it.
Lessons from the old man
One time, after climbing out of the canyon and just as I was about to get into my car, I noticed someone else just of to the side of me. I decided to be friendly and ask how they did on the river today. As I got closer, I noticed an older man sitting in the back of an old blue Dodge pickup. He looked about in his seventies or so. He had a flannel shirt covered with tied flies and holes with tufts of cotton hanging out. Also, he had an old cowboy hat on that too was covered with tied flies.
I felt like the squire approaching a knight of old. Shyly I approached the older man and asked how he faired on the river?
He replied, “Boy, I didn’t come to fish tonight. There is more to do than just fish.”
“What?” I asked, confused at the moment,
Here was a man covered in fishing apparel, yet he didn’t fish.
“I have been fishing these waters for forty years or more.”
“I have caught more than my share, some I have kept others I let go, but that is not why I come back here.”
“After each trip, My father and I would sit on the hood of his car and talk while watching the sun go down.”
“Didn’t appreciate it as much when I was a kid, but when he was gone, I realized how much it meant to me.”
“Sure, the trout are fun to catch but just as important to me as watching the beauty surrounding them.”
I had never looked at it that way before, so that day, I joined him in the back of his old pickup and watched as the sun went down.
Winters on the Deschutes River
The winters on the Deschutes River are just as pretty. Snow covers the banks as the river rises to its winter flow. The colors of the flowers are long gone, yet somehow it doesn’t matter. The beauty of the colors has been replaced with the beauty of the snow and ice. I have seen rabbits coming down to the river edge or elk sipping out of a calm spot of an otherwise mighty river.
It’s funny to me, just when most ordinary people are thinking of opening their Christmas presents, I am thinking of venturing down to the river. Some look at the snow and marvel at its beauty; others look at it and dread going out in it. I see the snow and know that fewer fishers will be on the river and just as many fish. You have to increase the odds any way you can.
I remember the first time I did some winter fishing. It was the winter of 2002; the snow wasn’t very thick, so driving down to my spot wasn’t that hard. The temperature must have been 32 degrees or colder because everything was still frozen.
I chose to go down to the Eagle Crest Resort to fish the Deschutes River. It has an extraordinary place in my heart; it was here that I caught my first fish. True, the fish aren’t that big and relatively easy to catch, but it made no difference.
Just as I got out of the car to put on my waders, I noticed that people were peering out their windows with funny expressions on their faces. I must have looked crazy to them for fishing this early in the year. It gave me a sense of pride and a feeling of a champion when I thought that I alone would brave the weather. The feeling of being a superhero soon wore off as the cold began to set in and make my hands numb. I was kicking myself for not bringing gloves.
I made it down to the river safe enough and set in for a long day of fishing. After careful thought and inspection of the river, I decided to tie on a Pheasant tail nymph. It is great for this time of year; it imitates a small Baetis fly in its aquatic state.
The water level was noticeably higher than in the summertime, and the spots where a fish could rest were a little further out than I could cast from shore. I have waded this water in the summertime and remember it being easy. I slowly stepped into the cold deep water when I noticed that it was moving faster than it looked. It was too late now; I was already waist-high in the water. The water was pushing against my cold, shivering body, and fishing was the last thing on my mind.
Before I left on this adventure, I read in a book to never fish alone and don’t wade in water that you haven’t tested before. Of course, I didn’t listen to those words of wisdom and regretted it. There was no one I could even yell for help too because they were all nestled away in their cozy warm homes.
The water was slowly gaining ground and forcing me further and further downstream. There was little I could do about it, I was too far from shore, and the force of the water was too strong to fight against. Luckily I could still feel the rocks on the bottom, but for how long? Water was now getting into my waders, which only made matters worse. This merciless river was slowly pushing me down.
Then just ahead, I could see that there were a group of big rocks that stuck out of the water. I thought if I could get to those, I would be fine. Frantically I swam with my rod in my hand towards the rocks, and thankfully I reached them.
Tired, wet, cold, and humiliated, I rose out of the bitterly cold water. After assessing the damage, primarily to my pride, I grabbed my fishing rod with the fly still on it and made for the car. This wouldn’t be my last time fishing in the winter, but I was just a little more careful.
Spring on the Deschutes River
Then, just as I think winter will never end, Spring appears. The canyon looks green again and full of life. Bird songs fill the air, and the smell of fresh vegetation can energize you. The sun is out more with it brings the rain. Occasional lightning storms appear, forcing me out of the water, but not out of the canyon, there. In the middle of the storm, I see the incredible power of it.
One time I was fishing a series of small rapids in hopes of landing a few trout when I saw the clouds roll in. It didn’t make much of a difference seeing how it wasn’t raining. The shift in the weather must have done something to the fish because I started catching quite a few.
A short time later, the rain began to fall. First, it was a drizzle, but it fell like buckets. I could feel the rumble of the thunder through my bones as the storm grew larger. My shirt was already soaked through. I really couldn’t tell how deep I was wading. My whole body was drenched.
Thunder & lightning
Suddenly, I saw the lightning strike above me in the cloudy sky. The rains continued to pound upon my face and make little ripples out on the water. It was like I was watching a water and light show, and I had front row seats. I heard a song from a redwing blackbird trying to find shelter in the barren trees on the hillside.
The lightning became more frequent and prolonged as the sun began to set. Yet how could I leave? This dramatic moment doesn’t come often, and even if it did, it sure wouldn’t come with so many fish and the end of my fly line.
The power behind the lightning was seen and felt to some degree. It made me appreciate life much more and the power behind it. One tiny spark could ignite a small flame. One small flame could birth a forest fire. It all could start with the lights in the sky above me now. Each lightning bolt gave me a more profound respect for this wilderness I have come to love and the fragility that it existed in.
They say fly-fishing is an art form and perhaps is. If it is, then the art of Fly-fishing is undoubtedly an interesting one. Could there be anything more beautiful than that elusive perfect cast? Yes, fly-fishing is an art form; however, the assumption is that it’s a “thinking man’s sport” is just not so, times it’s a matter of pure luck. While trying to untangle some line near my reel, I caught my first trout. Of course, at the time, in a desperate attempt to save face, having caught my fish while untangling my line had been part of my master “game plan.”
As any seasoned fly fisherman will tell you, you have to fool the fish. Judging by my first measly trout entangled in a mass of twisted fly line, it was apparent my many years of experience and fly fishing technique resembled nothing of the reported “thinking man’s sport.”