Monday, February 28, 2011

Nice. Very, Very Nice.

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As February blows away softly on the south wind I've been thinking about that nice Steelhead last week. I didn't say much about it at the time, but I've had the pleasure of going over the experience in my mind. Thought I'd share a little of that before the March Steelhead reports begin.

One of the notable things about this catch was that it was the first time I've caught Steelhead in back-to-back trips to the river. I had caught this one just the week before. That bodes well, perhaps, for increasing numbers of fish in the river.

Another thing is that I caught them both in the same location. Right there:

Based on the riffles, there's a pothole there, and based on wading explorations in former times, it can't be very deep; maybe three feet. There are other potholes, too, but these two fish liked this one best. Later, on a sunny day, I'll see if I can make out the lie.

On both occasions I fished out the run with no further hookups, leading me to believe that these are solitary fish. There is another explanation, of course--that's what keeps us going back out there again--that there may have been two or three more fish in the area, but they scattered. Maybe I need to wait longer before going back through the run.--give them time to come back to their lies.

Finally, this is my biggest Steelhead to date, a good thirty inches. On one lovely morning in September on the Grande Ronde a few years ago I hooked four and landed two. The last one I hooked would have beat this one, I think. I had already caught two in the mid-twenty range, and I had that fish right up within three feet of me, close enough to have measured it over thirty in my mind's eye. But I couldn't budge it out of the current into slack water. And then the fly popped out.

On this occasion I hadn't changed the setup from the trip before. I was using the sink tip, and had kept the short leader--about 18 inches of 8X, and 18 inches of 6X. I had on the requisite Stonefly nymph, the same one that had enticed the smaller fish the last time out. The current is slower here, so the swings were nice and deep. I wasn't using a loop.

This time there wasn't a grab; I just felt a bump. Then the line began to go out slowly--I had the drag set very light--and I waited, waited, waited too long. Just as I raised the rod to set the hook I saw a big head come out of the water, the fish rolled, and I missed.

I went right back. Nothing. So I waded out and sat down to give the fish some time to settle down. I decided to change the fly--from an olive-bodied fly to a brown-bodied fly with a black thorax. After about ten minutes I went in again and worked my way up to where this time I knew the fish was--or should be.

The take was exactly the same, and this time I didn't wait as long. I set hard and the fish was on. Like the previous fish, the hook was firmly embedded in the upper jaw just to the right side. No blazing runs, but a lot of headshaking and rolling, and a few deep, slow, strong runs. It took awhile to get this fish in, and I felt that good ache in my rod wrist as I kept the pressure on.

When I finally had him in the shallows I tried to tail him, but I couldn't get a grip. So I picked him up with both hands and moved him up for some photos. I carried him back out afterward and before I could put him in the water he twisted out of my hands, splashed into the water and swam strongly away.

Nice. Very, very nice.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Joke Time Again

One Last Run

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Like every fish I've ever caught, when it sees the net, Winter is making one last run.

We had a light, dry snow, the wind started to blow hard out of the North, and temperatures plummeted. Some forecasts called for temps below zero, but all Winter could muster here were temps in the low teens.

Tonight it's cold, but the wind has shifted back from the South.

Those delicate pastels in the sky yesterday don't lie.

And the message in the calligraphy of little bird feet is true.

Winter, we've almost got you in the net.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Keeping An Eye On Me

I just got a text from my daughter Laura. She says:

DAD. Just read your latest blog post--
please don't be a dummy
and drive yourself off a snowy mountain.

Thanks for caring, sweet Daughter. I won't.

Love you lots. Seriously.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Why I Didn't Go To The Rogue

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In my long litany of rivers a couple of posts ago you may have noticed the absence of the Rogue. So why didn't I drive down there? Well, it happened this way...

On Sunday after the retreat was officially over I decided to head east on Highway 42 to a bluegrass festival in Winston. My friend Pat, a washtub bassist who has numerous bluegrass contacts throughout the Northwest, gave me directions. I looked forward to some good photos and videos.

Just up the road I came on a long line of vehicles. The highway department was working to clear a slide. Coming in on Friday evening, in the dark, I had seen where they had cleared the road, but there was still a jumble of rock piled on the mountain side of the concrete barriers. Now they were clearing that out.

So I waited. At least I had something to look at, and I'm not talking about the sheep's butt.

They were letting only a few cars at a time go through. When it was my turn I saw two observers keeping a close watch on the mountainside and waving us through quickly. I realized I was glad not to have the job of operating that loader or sitting in that dump truck under an apparently still unstable mountain of rock.

I drove up to Winston and tried to find Grange Road. The directions I had been given seemed to have a fatal error. Couldn't find it. I stopped and asked. Went right where they told me to go. Couldn't find it. Based on my experience, and an hour spent driving around Winston, Grange Road does not exist.

I gave up and decided to head back and maybe go scout out the Elk. I bought an Oregon map and headed back west on 42 toward camp. I got back to the slide area and took my place in the long line of trucks and cars. The work zone was out of sight around a bend. I waited. They sent a few vehicles through; we inched forward. I waited. They sent another small group of vehicles through. We inched forward. I waited...

Then no movement for a long time. People were getting out of their cars and walking down the road to see what was going on. Then they were walking back and cars ahead of me began to turn around. Then a highway department pickup came driving slowly along the line informing us that the road was closed: rocks over the road. Apparently no one was killed.

So now I had a new primary objective: finding my way back to camp. At least I had a map. I congratulated myself on my foresight in making that purchase. I failed to remind myself that a man and a map can be a dangerous combination. I found a road that would get me around the slide and back to camp in no time. No sweat. Off I went.

A couple of other cars, fellow refugees of the road closure, had found the same road, so we drove blithely along together. All went well until the road began climbing into the mountains. Then we came to a road sign that said, "Road Not Maintained For Winter Travel." Yeah, no shit. It was snow covered. Wet, heavy snow. But there were a couple of tracks through it. Someone was getting through. Why couldn't we? I've got studded tires. I'm a stud. We ventured forward.

Long story short, we didn't make it. The car ahead of me lost traction on a grade and went sideways in the road. I pulled over to get out of his way and lost traction too. So I began backing up, trapped in that terrifying duel with gravity and snow, trying to maintain that balance between not going so fast that you can't steer without going into an uncontrollable slide, and not riding the brakes so hard that the tires lose traction sending you into an uncontrollable slide. I almost lost it once, teetering on the edge of the snow-filled ditch. My legs and hands were trembling from the adrenaline rush.

I finally got to a more or less level place with room to turn around. While I was doing that the car that had been ahead of me came back down. I don't know where the other car was. They had gone on ahead. Maybe they're still up there. The camp manager, when I told this story later, said--incredulously, "You tried to go through the mountains? People have died up there..."

I got back down to 42 and regrouped. Time for Plan B. Plan B, it turned out, was a long circuit north on I5, then west on 138 and 38 all the way to the coast, then down 101 to 42 again. Well over a hundred miles. I considered heading back west on 42 to see if maybe they had cleared the slide, thinking I would feel foolish if I made that long drive when I could have gotten through. But then I'd also feel foolish if I got there and couldn't get through.

So I gassed up in Rosedale and did some sightseeing. That's when I saw those rivers. Highways 138 and 38 parallel the Umpqua all the way to the coast. It was beautiful, but I was in a hurry so only stopped for this one photo of the Umpqua.

On 101 I crossed this bridge. When I got to 42 there was a big flashing sign announcing that it was closed ahead due to a rock slide. So I hadn't made the long drive in vain.

By the time I got back to camp I had been seven hours on the road. I knew I had a 12 hour trip home, and didn't feel like making any extra trips. So the next morning I got up early, crossed the same bridge, stopped for one photo op along the coast, and rolled on home.

So that's why I didn't go to the Rogue.

Scenes From The Retreat

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Our home away from home.

We eat, we sit, we read, we play games, we talk.

We're reminded of who were here first.

Mostly we kick back in the warmth of fireplace and wood stove.

We get ready for a sweat in the Lakota tradition. 

Volcanic rocks, our "oldest relatives" who have seen and survived it all, and who will hear our prayers and take on themselves the things we want to leave in the lodge, get heated red hot.

The Sweat Lodge. We will throw a pinch of tobacco in the fire, then circle around the lodge in the direction of the sun and enter a small opening. When the red hot rocks are placed in the center pit and the opening is closed it is pitch dark except for the glow of the rocks, and fragrant with the sharp smell of cedar needles sprinkled on each rock. It is a place where the spirits are close and our drums and songs and thoughts and prayers will be heard. 

The implements of the sweat: antlers for placing the red hot rocks in the center pit--"Welcome, Grandfather;" a dipper for splashing water on the rocks, great clouds of hot steam rising up to the willow ribs of our Mother's womb and descending over us in waves, and for passing around the circle after the third of four sessions for a cold drink and a splash of water over our heads and faces; and cedar branches for sweeping the air between each session; reminding us of the world outside into which we will be reborn as new creatures.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Welcome Home

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I couldn't ask for a better welcome. The river was perfect, and this beauty was pushing thirty, if not spot on.

Ah. Nice to be home.

Happy Birthday, George.

I stole this from Moldy Chum. Don't know where he stole it from found it. 

An Excellent Scouting Trip

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Back home again from Oregon. The camp has changed its wireless setup so I was unable to get online while there. Their bandwidth is capped now, and I was told that the camp dog chewed off one of the antennas on the router, so no signal where I was set up.

Then again, there wasn't much to report on the fishing front. The retreat was good; the fishing was a bust.

The camp and the entire region was sodden with wet snow melting under a cold, steady drizzle.

The rivers had been raging a week ago, but though they were going down they were still high and dirty. This is Myrtle Creek, a trib of the Coquille, where it runs through the camp.

This is the Middle Fork of the Coquille. I fished this whole stretch last year. I also saw the North Fork, the South Fork, and the main river. All the same.

And this is the Umpqua. I also saw the North and South Forks of the Umpqua. And Elk Creek, Dean Creek, the Sandy River, the McKenzie, and a plethora of small tribs. Seen one you've seen them all.

The camp manager, who has lived here for a long time, recommended the Elk River. He thought since it was shorter and flows through forest rather than farmland that it might be fishable. I never did check it out. But on the way home I talked to a friend who had been at the retreat. He had talked to a guy who told him the Elk had fished well early last week but then had gone cold.

Pun intended.

So a bad fishing trip, but an excellent scouting trip. I saw a lot of rivers I'd never seen before, and even through all that muddy water I saw some stretches that I'm eager to get into.

One day.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I Really Like It Here

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All this talk about rivers. Don't forget the lakes. I drove past the lake at the head of our mountain today, as I often do, and found two delights: the ice is breaking up, and the swans are back. You can see both in this photo, though the swans are mere white dots in the background.

There was a pair a little closer, and I got a couple of shots as they drifted across the sunshot water and climbed up onto the ice shelf.

These are good days, as Spring slowly makes its entrance, and it won't be long until Jeremiah and his friends will be swimming and hauling in little Bluegills in this very spot. Long before that I'll be out catching early Rainbows. The wind, strong out of the south today, told me so.

Later, at home, the windy Spring sky was working its magic on the mountain.

I like Oregon. But I really like it here.

On My Desktop

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This is what I have on my desktop now--oops, wrong image.

This is what I have on my desktop now, some of the good fun provided by the river at my doorstep. It's nice to know that if Oregon is a bust my own river right at home is just getting good.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Things are looking dicey for my big fishing trip to Oregon. The Coquille is the nearest river to the camp I'll be staying at, and last year it was eminently fishable in the balmy temperatures amid budding leaves and wildflowers. Not looking so good right now.

 DateStage ftFlow kcfs
 02/16/2011 11:00 am19.120.2
 02/16/2011 12:00 pm19.1620.3
 02/16/2011 01:00 pm19.2120.3
 02/16/2011 02:00 pm19.2720.4
 02/16/2011 03:00 pm19.3320.5
 02/16/2011 04:00 pm19.2420.4

oquille River Latest Observation

Updated: 10:30:00 PM PST WED FEB 16 2011
Stage:18.83 ft
Flow:19.7 kcfs*
* Thousand cubic feet per second
The North Fork of the Umpqua, just down the road, is also having its issues.

The Upper Rogue looks like a better bet.

My fishing window is Sunday to Wednesday, so maybe there's a chance rivers can come down. But the weather looks like it's not going to help matters much: 

Sunday: A chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 47. 

Sunday Night: A chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 31. 

Washington's BirthdayA chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 44. 

Monday Night: A chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 29. 

Tuesday: A chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 45. 

Tuesday Night: A chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 32. 

Wednesday: A chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 44. 

I still plan to pack the fishing gear. And I'll be packing warm.