Judith O’Keefe is ready for summer fishing! But with any fishing or planned trip, there always seems to be a few surprises that you don’t expect. After reading this, you’ll appreciate any of your future fishing trips that go smoothly.
Some days are just like that, and when it’s all said and done, you just have to laugh.
It was my birthday week. I’m big on traditions and one of my favorites is fishing the salmonfly hatch at South Junction on the Lower Deschutes River.
As usual, I was running a little late, but hey – it’s fishing, not a dental appointment. After driving an hour north, then down a gravel road that redefines the term washboard, through two locked gates, I’m finally there. It’s a beautiful, sunny afternoon and the air is filled with flying insects. Perfect. I pull on my waders, lace up the boots and am ready to rig up my rod. No rod. Unbelievable. I was so concerned that I had 4x tippet that I overlooked the fly rod. Well I was not going to limp home, so I called my friend John, who owns a fly shop in the nearby town of Maupin. He agrees to loan me a rod. Great. Up the gravel road, then another hour north, but it’s still early, at least by summertime standards. I determine I can be back on the river by three o’clock and ready to go.
As the river comes into view, I can see at least one angler fishing “my” run. As it turns out, there are two of them, Dan and John. During our brief exchange of niceties, I mention this is my annual birthday fish and they graciously agree to finish up and go fish other water. Very generous, indeed, and I’m appreciative, but being a strong believer in streamside etiquette myself, I offer to hike down river quite a ways so they won’t feel rushed.
It’s worth mentioning that while we’re standing streamside in knee high grass, Dan breaks into a little dance as a rattlesnake with girth the size of my wrist slithers through his legs. Fortunately, I like snakes, but this one has definitely encroached on my personal space. Or perhaps we have encroached on his.
Thinking that the day has already been an adventure, I’m full of happy anticipation as I stride along the path toward the place where I will skitter down the bank and start fishing. I have seldom fished this far down river and I’d forgotten how swift the current is here. No matter, I’ll stay close to the bank anyway, and cast that big, beautiful imitation of a salmon fly under trees and along the bank where the tall grass overhangs. On my second or third cast I hook a big rainbow trout. You know the feeling; this monster of a fish rolls on the surface as it grabs your fly. Bam! I set the hook and we’re off to the races. This fish knows just what he’s doing as he hits that swift current and heads downstream. Twenty seconds later and I’m already into my backing, but I can do this. I’ve heard many a tale of fisherman who’ve hooked big salmon in Alaska and chased them down river for miles. The first thing I need to do is to thread my rod under a tree branch that has fallen in the river. It requires a nimble move or two and, in the process, I get some water down my waders and my right sleeve is soaked up to the shoulder. Now a bit of water is not going to deter me, but I start to have second thoughts about this pursuit as I consider that on a good day, the Deschutes River is a challenging wade, but with fast moving water, downed tree limbs, and steep banks, it’s going to be virtually impossible for me to get to that fish. . . and he’s not budging. I picture him with his fins wrapped around a submerged rock. I try reeling ever so slowly, ever so gently. Maybe I can wear him down. Nope. I feel the gentle release as that 4x tippet gives way and he’s free.
Oh well, there’ll be more fish. I fish a run, scramble up the bank and down again, fish another run. In the next thirty minutes, three more fish approve of my fly and I miss them all. I’m out of sync and just to confirm that fact, I step into a hole and I’m neck deep in the Deschutes. Cold and soaking wet, I’m ready to call it quits. As I drudge back to the truck, I just miss putting my foot down on another rattler. I’m ready for a cold beer and a hot bath.
If fishing were just about catching fish, this day would have been a disaster. But it’s not just about catching fish. It’s about a lot of things. Enjoying the outdoors, good times with friends and it’s also about the big picture and one’s perspective. A disaster? A fiasco? No way, just another opportunity to enjoy the ride.