Throughout my life I've been very blessed with the role models I've had. My dad and my grandpa were the first to have a huge impact on me and the man I wanted to be when I grew up. Later, men like James R. Tharp, Frank Moore and Harry Lemire would further provide a model for who I wanted to be like.
There were other's too. Men I never met in person, but read about and admired. Men like like Syd Glasso, Walt Johnson, Trey Combs and Bill McMillan.
Life is strange with twists and turns that no one could imagine. So when I agreed to guide a couple of gracious anglers who made large donations to TU's wild steelhead initiative this past November on the south coast for fall chinook, it was a little surprising that another angler with a great reputation would be joining me to help out on the trip. TU had recently hired none other than John McMillan (Bill's son) as our science director for the steelhead initiative and John would be joining us on the trip. I knew only of John by his reputation as a world class scientist and innovator of fish observation techniques and steelhead fly fishing MONSTER!. I couldn't wait to meet him and share some of my favorite fall chinook fly runs with him.
He arrived ahead of our guests and he and I hit it off like peas and carrots. Generous, polite, gracious, intelligent, articulate and one helluva great fishermen. Everything I had heard about him was right as rain.
John with a south coast fall king.
Legends are made in the most unintended ways sometimes. On one cool November afternoon during this trip, John hooked a decent fall chinook that immediately dove into a huge brush pile across the river. Try as he might to extricate this beast from the brush, this fish was having none of it, simply burrowing in even further making it unlikely that John would ever see his spey head again. John was having none of that! When John handed his rod to one of our guests and began heading up the bank for privacy, it occurred to me what plan had been hatched. I implored John to abandon such foolishness, adding that I had literally dozens of other suitable heads that he could have back at the cabin. I told John that this is what gets folks to read about oneself in local newspapers. Undeterred by my offers or admonishments, John reappeared from the streamside brush wearing only his boxer shorts as he hurriedly crossed the gravel bank and plunged into the icy waters. A quick swim across the river to the brush pile and several minutes exploring the depths with his toes allowed John the ability to reacquire his spey line and begin the process of getting it back. Our other guest joined us on the bank to watch the spectacle unfold. As a way of cheering John on, the guest offered "if you get your line back and land the fish, there's a hundred dollar bill in it for you". Over the next five or more minutes John did his very best to earn that $100 bill, but was only able to manage getting his beloved spey head back. Legendary.
On the last night of our trip, John quietly departed the cabin we were using as our salmon camp at 2:00 a.m. with a very long drive ahead of him. He was determined to make it over to the John Day early enough the following day to hike in three or four miles and camp for a couple of days. He was dying to fish his favorite steelhead river before heading back home to Washington.
The other day John and I had to meet in Portland for work. Gracious and giving as ever, John presented me with three gifts. The first, a book he co-authored with his father "May the Rivers Never Sleep"
An amazing book detailing our northwest rivers, the fish we love and observations made through the seasons by John and his dad. Amazing imagery and heart felt stories of these two men who have devoted their lives to our rivers.
The second was a poster created from an image John captured while diving a Washington Steelhead stream. This poster will find its way into a frame and will adorn a wall in our cabin on the Umpqua for the rest of my days. John and I share a love of donning fin's, mask, snorkel and wet suit and slipping into our favorite salmon and steelhead streams to observe. I admit though that my interest lies in finding steelhead lies that can be covered with a fly, while John is more interested in learning more about the fish he's devoted his life to protect.
The third gift was a simple paper box containing a variety of John's fall chinook flies. His generous way of helping me restock some of my fall chinook fly boxes from the loss of flies to brush piles during our trip. Truth be told, none of these flies will likely ever be used to catch fall chinook. Nope, these flies will end up in shadow boxes with other flies tied by other role models.