Thursday, December 18, 2014

Role Models

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.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Its been awhile since I've posted to this blog.  A variety of reasons really.  My work with TU has kept me busy.  I've enjoyed every minute of it too!  Great work, great people and partners and its work that is so important for the rivers and fish I live to love.  

Our new home on the lower Umpqua has taken a fair amount of my time the past few months as well.  Now that we've got most of that done and can just enjoy the place, you'll likely see more posts from there.  We've scuba dived the whole river in front of the place.  We've chased fall bear and elk during archery season in the hills and canyons surrounding it.  The boys caught tons of smallmouth bass out front before the cold high water came in September.  Fall Chinook and Coho have slid by, unmolested by yours truly or any of my family, friends or guests, in spite of more than just a few casts with spinners from our dock.  The winter steelhead started showing up around Thanksgiving like they always do on the lower Umpqua, but this years rains and high, muddy water hasn't lent itself to swinging flies.  Kind of a bummer for me and my buddies, but its also nice to know that the beating the fish have taken from the hordes of anglers plying the low water we've had the past two years didn't happen again this year.   Maybe this winter there will be a few more wild steelhead in the North Umpqua fly water.  Something else to blog about in the coming months I suspect. 

Winter steelhead hold a special place in my heart.  They're TOUGH! Not only in terms of just plain old grit, they're tough to catch, especially on flies.  The past 15 or so years has changed the game and leveled the field quite a bit with our advances in gear...rods and lines particularly, but in fly design and tying materials.  But even with these advances, they're still damned tough!  

Step, cast, mend, swing.  Step, cast, mend, swing.  Step, cast, mend, swing.  Hour after freezing hour.  The lines swing stops at some point, sometimes days into it.  Slow steady weight transmits up the fly line, into the rod and your numb hand...followed by that sweet sound.  The sound of your click-pawl antique Hardy reel as line melts from the reel and backing leaves the guides.  GREAT STUFF! and once experienced, tough to walk away from. 

Until the flows recede a bit and/or the winter fish start showing up in fishable numbers in some of my coastal streams I'm content to hang around the house, get my TU work done and do a little bird hunting.  I have a friend from Montana who corrects me every time I call ducks and geese "birds".  

In Montana where he lives I guess a "bird" is some little feathery creature that hides in the brush until your uppity English pooch sniffs the smelly little bird up and stands there "pointing", another word for "telling" you "hey here's one, here's one boss".  Then you simply dismount from your trusty steed and flush the bird for dispatching with your high dollar over and under 20 gauge. 

 I point out to him that the "birds" me and my sons and buddies hunt require a little more effort to bring to hand.  We often plant and flood ponds to provide quality feed and roost area for our birds each spring.  Then in the fall we construct blinds that allow us to hide from the wary eyes of our prey.  We intelligently place realistic decoys (sometimes hundreds of them!) in a manner that accurately depicts what these "birds" look like when relaxed and social and feeding/resting.  Then when the birds fly by we use all manner of gadgets and gizmo's to clinch the deal.  Calls, jerk strings, spinner dekes all further the illusion that all is calm, all is bright... finally, after ALL of that effort, we might actually get a chance to bring the bird to hand with camo painted 10 or more likely 12 gauge pump or semi-auto shotguns.  And IF we don't blunder and miss (happens way more often than I willing to admit) our poor old trust worthy "working mans dogs" like labs and Chesapeake bay retrievers finally get a chance to do the deed that they live for, retrieving!    

Merry Christmas to you and yours and here's to a great New Year!