(Above: Doug enjoying a PB&J between runs last week.)
This past week I managed to get enough time off to take an out of state trip. To avoid our big push of high water here at home in Bozeman. A good buddy of mine, Marley and myself loaded up in the car and headed west. Our plan was to spend 2-3 days at the Spey Clave on the Sandy River in Oregon. From there we would go up to the Olympic Peninsula to do a little bit of spey casting for a lonely Steelhead or potentionally a Spring Chinook. With low water and imperfect weather forcasted, we headed out.
So we go, show up to the Clave on the Sandy and come to find out.... No dogs are allowed in Oxbow State Park on the Sandy River... So, we hit our first bump in the road. We bounced around the booths for awhile; shook a couple spey rods, got a couple free flies, (which is always worth it... No matter what) Ate a free hot dog and then we left. With a whole week in the palm of our hands we headed west to HWY 101. Crossed the Astoria Bridge and headed north. Not a bit shook by our current circumstances.
We ended up camping on the beach over the course of the next several days. Swinging flies in a crystal clear river in the middle of the forest. Nearly baren of fish. And yet, all three of us seemed to be in heaven. Doing the thing that we love most. Fishing, of course. Doug, who has been fighting MS for nearly 10 years leaned against the current, spey rod in hand. Fly probing across the river in such a way that each cast looked like the one. The one the fish would eat. Marley, standing chest deep in the water next to Doug, watching his fly line, waiting for it to come tight and a fish to make a spash. She really gets off on watching fish jump.. Her reaction alone is a sight to see.
(Doug and Marley in their element.)
With the conditions we were delt while on the OP, fishing was pretty tough. We chatted with a couple gear guides each morning on the river. About 9AM is when we would usually see them. We would have a coffee in hand and coal in our eyes, rods in 4 pieces, sand between my toes from sleeping on the beach. The guides on the other hand were getting off of the river at 9. Trips were over, fish were in the bottom of their boat. Clients were happy.
We found out that their trips were starting at 3-5 AM. With the clear water conditions, bright sun, and real low water it made great sense to fish like that. But that wasnt really an option for us. We would get looks from the guides, as if they felt bad for us. Fishing mid day for Springers in the sunlight? Foolish they thought.
Yet, we fished anyways. Fished hard at that! We averages about 6-7 hours of swinging per day. Long story short we landed 0 anadromous fish in 6 days. I will say though, that I have never had a 14inch cutthroat bring me to my knees on the side of the river until this trip. As anyone who has swung a fly to a Steelhead would know, that the slightest tug from a rock can nearly bring tears to your eyes because of the anticipation. So to be running a skating dry fly through a slot that you would bet the farm on already has your heart rate on another level. So to have movement, a push of water, a wake behind your swinging fly, is like being at the end of a rainbow. Its pretty cool. So anyways! I have this trout come up and smash on my skating fly. Coming tight and heading down towards the bottom. I'll leave you to imagine what was said and done between that moment and the moment I pulled the hook out and let the fish go.
Regarless of the significance of that particular fish, it sent me to the bank to sit down. I had to. My hands were shaking bad enough I could barely untangle the leader that had found a mess of moss to wrap around. So I sat, and I looked down at my shaking hands and felt my heart beating in a borderline unhealthy manner in my chest. And then I came to the conclusion that this young trout just became the climax of my trip. It was everything I was hoping for except.... It was obviously not a Steelhead.. Close enough right? I mean the tug is the drug? Thats the popular hashtag I would have posted on a video of that moment if I had a video of that moment. What I am trying to say here is; don't throw in the white flag when conditions aren't perfect. They rarely are. And the stories that will stick with you, (or me anyways) are the ones that take place in those imperfect moments. When the river is blown out, or too low, too clear. When the weather is blowing sideways snow down your neck or if the sun is shinning and there is not a cloud in the sky. Expecting to have the conditions you want is just plain silliness to me. "You don't always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes, you get what you need". Big believer in that right there.
Moral of the story; when the weather sucks, the river is in rough shape, you don't have extra money for gas for the rest of the week, whatever it is. Go anyways. Just do it. It might not be the Cinderella story we all are looking for on a day to day basis, but it may just be something that gets you by for a little while. Sieze the day. And don't write off 14inch cutty's in a Steelhead river!! Believe it or not, that fish might just be the one you were looking for all along.
(Doug, in the slot.)
(Evening cruising the beach in La Push, WA.)
Also, mad respect for The Rolling Stones.. Just saying.