Sometimes the story of this migration borders on the unbelievable, yet buried in the tale I’m about to share is enough truth to make you wonder what secrets lay waiting in your collection of feathers, fur and steel. This, my friends, is the legend of Kenny 5 Legs.
In the very early hours of a cold winter day a tyer sat at the vise trying to pull the vision that had possessed his fevered dreams and transfer it to the hook locked before him. Scattered among the materials across his tying bench were photos and sketches of the creature that had caused his nightmares for many years. Some had been done when his mind was clear and he could focus on the task at hand. Others were hastily scratched on any surface that was available and ranged from cocktail napkins to the tossed off packaging of a newly acquired waffle iron. Bottles of insects preserved in various liquids peered down on him from the windowsill as he worked, seeming to mock his attempt to create what they had been in their short life. In frustration he sat back and sipped cold coffee from a pilfered diner mug and turned to watch the sunrise over southern Oregon.
Dark clouds that had blanketed the valley parted briefly as the glowing orb mounted the sky scattering into a thousand beams cutting through the gloom. His hand went up to shield his eyes as a laser of light focused on the window illuminating the dusty room in which he worked. He had to turn away and in doing so saw a vision on the wall before him. The outline he was looking for was being projected in great detail by light that had traveled 93 million miles. There between his hanging leaky waders and favorite poster of the pirate Jack Sparrow was the shadowy answer. He just had to get it right.
Months turned into years as the process of bringing his creation to the public plodded on. Samples were tyed and rejected then tyed again. Finally, all parties were satisfied and small boxes filled with flies made their way from distant shores to fly shops across the land just in time for the annual Salmonfly hatch.
As a shop owner I feel that part of my duty is to test many of the new patterns that come into the shop. While some are simple enough, others seem born from the philosophy that anything worth doing is worth overdoing. These tend to get my attention as I’m a firm believer in the “Keep It Simple Stupid,” principal in most things and become suspicious of complicated creations. As I poured though the new offerings and distributed them into the bins, one fly destined for the “Morrish Fluttering Stone” bin popped out and landed on the floor. Retrieving it and tossing it towards it’s new temporary home it bounced off and again landed perfectly on the floor. Upon closer examination I was convinced that this was a pattern far beyond the level of talent and time that I would personally dedicate to it’s creation so I grabbed this stubborn sample for my box box.
The Salmonfly hatch on the Deschutes is like a combination of the opening day of duck season in Louisiana and Carnival in Rio. Anglers who’s gear has been left idol for 12 months withdraw it from spiderwebbed storage and descend on the river armed with a collection of newly acquired flies. All professed by their friends and friendly shop owners to be much better than the ones they fished last year which still hang in the trees along the river.
When the population of big bugs booms up and down the Deschutes River, places like Maupin, Warm Springs and Mecca become trendy destinations with Range Rover wantabes double parked in front of fly shops and purveyors of liquid refreshment. Parking at boat launches becomes competitive, but by 11:00AM shuttle drivers have things under control and peace is restored to the land for the most part. It’s a social event not to be missed, but I do try.
While I prefer to fish in solitude, it is hard to escape the draw of the Big Bugs and so a few days each year I pull out my box of Salmonflies and hit the river. I drift or road fish depending on the day, but never take the adventure too seriously. It’s a time to run into old friends, reconnect to the river, take photos and test out a few new flies. Sometimes it’s about reconnecting with an old fly.
Kenny 5 Legs has lived in the same spot in my Salmonfly box for three years now. His stubbornness in refusing to be left in the bin with the others of his kind set him apart in the beginning, but his prowess at convincing big Trout to grab earned him a permanent place in my Salmonfly rotation. He has survived excursions deep into stream side vegetation and trees, always returning with the help of a good yank on the fly rod. Strong 3x tippet and well tied knots have been his salvation over the years. He lost a leg the first year in a battle with an overly toothy Trout, but seemed to still fish well, and thus maintained his ranking. I’m convinced that Trout aren’t mathematicians so the loss of an appendage was no matter and earned him his nickname. Another leg was lost in the second year, but nicknames are never modified and so Kenny 5 Legs he remained. Close friends came to know of him and often asked about his successes. Some wished to acquire him, promising cash or other custom creations in exchange. None would meet my price so Kenny 5 Legs continued to build on his legend.
This past Monday I stood on a basalt knob 15 feet above the river and surveyed the water bubbling around a grassy archipelago splitting the river a very long cast from shore. I had remarked to Brian Silvey about my infatuation with this island while drifting by one day several years ago. A few weeks passed and a customer came in wishing to pay the toll for fishing Joel’s Island as he had been directed to do by Mr. Silvey. I wasn’t sure what he was talking about, but soon deduced that Brian had made landfall and successfully explored the island kindly naming it in my honor. I waived the Island fee and called Brian. Since then Brian and I have fished it together a few times, but today I was separated by 75 feet of raging water.
Optimism is perhaps the most important ingredient in the building of an angler. Not knowing that it can’t be done or not caring and doing it anyway pushes the limits set by the less adventurous. I stripped most of my fly line from the reel and coiled it at my feet. Checking the knot that secured my old friend to the tippet, I launched into a series of false casts to build up line speed. The breeze abated for just a second and I released the cast. Kenny 5 Legs flew as gracefully as his non-aerodynamic body could. He bounced off the grass on Joel’s Island and into the waiting grip of a very large Trout.
The battle won it was obvious that this hook-jawed encounter had taken it’s toll on these bits of rubber, foam, deer hair and imagination. Kenny 5 Legs was pretty much used up and had earned a rest. I clipped him from the tippet and replaced him with another version of the dream. I neatly snipped away one front leg before making a cast towards the Island. Expecting the same result is the optimist in me, but the realist knew when the second fish rose the story would be different. The line ran deep into the island and went slack. The fish and fly were gone, but the legend lives on.