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A Shy Fish

Joel La Follette - Wednesday, March 02, 2016
Inspiration comes in many forms. A simple story passed on for generations or a scrap of paper marking the location of a special place. Whatever it may be, it has caught your eye and now you are easily distracted as you attempt to peel away time to uncover the true details. Somewhere beneath the moss and bark are the roots you are seeking, held fast in history, set in stone.

But even stone turns to dust making the truth even harder to find. The whole story may never be found, but the adventure is in the attempt to uncover what has been forgotten. The pieces now are spread farther from where they once stood. Details mixed with the dust and pine needles of time require more patience to reassemble. It is a challenge.

As I brush away the years to discover my roots as an angler I hope to share some of this journey as it unfolds. We will start with my inspiration, a short story about a boy, a fish and a forgotten place in the Ochoco.

Dale La Follette Sr.  on the Metolius circa 1912

This story was originally printed in "The Creel."
The bulletin of the Fly Fisher’s Club of Oregon Volume 3, No.1, July 1964

An excited jay sent his warning echoing through the pines of the narrow valley but the red-tailed hawk riding the thermals above didn’t see anything to get agitated about. It was too hot.

The Upper Ochoco wandered there below, first in a sweetgrass meadow, then in brush pasture dotted with random pine. The stream was not impressive, just shallow pools separated by thin riffles but in places there were deeper, narrower runs under the cut banks. Thick willows lined most of the bank but frequent openings gave a young fisherman access to the stream.

The lad, about eleven, moved quietly along the shady side of the willows. Once in a while he slipped through an opening to return with a trout wriggling from the short length of line which hung from the tip of his old bamboo brush rod. The trout were slipped into his small creel, and he advance to the next opening, careful to keep his shadow away from the stream.

He faced an old problem up ahead, however, and his mind was fixed on a pool set below high cut banks where one large trout constantly eluded him even though the boy knew every detail of that pool. It was surrounded on three sides by overhanging brush, and the lone opening was toward the afternoon sun. The problem trout would be out there in full view, finning to maintain his feeding position in the Ochoco’s currents. Where the water flowed into the pool, a large red-horse sucker would be examining the debris in the deeper slot, and the water would be so clear that the fish would seem to be suspended in air...he always saw the fish’s shadow, in fact, before he saw the fish.

He walked through the grass pondering the problem of how to present the fly without frightening the trout. The slightest motion-the shadow of a head thrust above the edge of the cut bank-would spook him back past the old red-horse into the shadows. It happened many times before and he feared it would happen again today.

So he waded a shallow riffle and continued toward the trout. Then, just above the pool he swung away from the stream and seated himself against a pine trunk to examine his tackle. The snelled McGinty tied to the enameled salt and pepper level line seemed sound. He was innocent of Mucelin; besides, there was no room for a cast or a float. Dibbling or dapping was the only technique he knew.

He started to rise, but halted. He would assume the trout was there. So he started toward the opening above the pool on hands and knees. Several feet from the water’s edge he gripped the butt of the rod in his right hand with the fly pinched between thumb and fingers. Then, thrusting the rod ahead like a foil he began to squirm forward with one cheek to the ground, his heart thumping in anticipation.
He resisted the temptation to peek at his quarry, and edged forward cautiously, extending the rod forward slowly until all but the butt overhung the edge of the cut bank.

Slowly then, he lifted the tip of the rod and released the fly. In his mind’s eye he could see it swinging out just above the water. Then slowly, from the wrist, he lowered the tip as his heart thumped against the earth.

The splash of the striking trout frightened the boy and he responded instinctively by putting both hands to the rod grip. Then he threw that trout over his head. The old line parted and the fish fell in the pine needles. There was a brief scramble but he finally hooked his thumb through the trout’s gills, and he ran for the ranch house!

There, in the sheet iron sink he pumped cold water over the beautiful trout to loosen the pine needles.
It was a picture I would never forget.

About the author, Dale La Follette Sr. (1907-1984):
Since the days when he pondered the ways of trout in the Upper Ochoco pastures where the hawks used to dive at his head unpredictably, Dale La Follette has cast for trout and panned for gold in many waters. The biscuits he bakes and the dry flies he ties please all who try them. He impressed the 1963 Dean River Expedition with the gourmet flavor of his smoked trout and his daring boatmanship at The Rapids. (The Creel July 1964)

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