GUEST BLOG: Judith O’Keefe, Just one last cast

Judith O’Keefe started off her fall with a fishing trip in Southeast Oregon. Her passion for fishing has developed over the years. Here she tells us about when she escaped to find a little fishing hole to call her own.

When I hear the phrase, wide-open spaces, I think of southeast Oregon.  I’ve had an on going love affair with the region for quite some time.  The land is truly Big Sky Country with the majestic Steens Mountain, abundant wildlife, and a healthy watershed, which is one of the reasons why it is a major fly-way for many migratory bird species . . . and there are few people. In fact, Harney county boasts of having just one person for every square mile of ground.  Did I mention that some of my favorite days have been spent wading though the area’s beautiful rivers and streams?

I just happen to have had one of those days last week.

It was the first day of autumn and the weather was perfect.  Perfect for throwing hopper flies into the river.   I’d arrived the night before to have dinner with friends who were vacationing in the area.  The next day I set off solo, to fish one of my favorite stretches of river.  It was going to be a ninety degree day and this is the time of year when I wouldn’t think of climbing into a pair of waders anyway, breathable or not.   Wet wading is great once you’re in the water, but it’s getting there that can leave a few scars.  So I did a bit of bushwhacking – ouch – then slid myself into the river just below a bridge.  Immediately I spotted a couple of fish rising downstream, just under that bridge, so I decided to send a fly down in the hope of hooking what seemed to be the biggest of them.  One pass, nothing.  A second, and dang – I was too slow on the hook set.

I knew I’d missed my chance and had better start my wade up stream.  The next few hours were spent blissfully fishing from pool to pool.  I landed a dozen or more rainbow trout in the 14 – 16 inch range, using a couple of different hopper patterns, with Yeager’s Hopper being the most productive.  At about three o’clock I decided it was time get out of the river and start my hike back to the car.  I still had a three-hour drive before I was home. But that stretch of water just up ahead looked so good, so you know how the story goes . . .just one last cast.  As soon as the fly hit the surface of the water the fish had it.  It was one of those heart-stopping takes.  Boom!  This was one aggressive fish.  You know when a fish dives deep, taking line off the reel and shaking it’s head, it’s got to be a big one.  After a short fight, I landed the biggest trout I’d ever seen in that stretch of the river.  It was too big to hold in one hand for a photo, so I quickly measured it against my arm before slipping it back into the water.  I was stunned and elated!  It would have been a great day without this fish, but now it was practically a perfect day.  Just one think left to cross off my list – that trout under the bridge.  I hiked back down stream, and finding  the spot where I first got into the water, I carefully eased my way into the river, and stood there,  barely breathing.  Yes, he was still feeding.  I checked my leader for nicks and decided to use the same lucky fly, now showing some wear.  I cast it just up stream from the fish, let it drift down, and YES, he takes it.   After releasing the fish, it’s a short walk to my car and back to the cabin to find that tape measure.