Everywhere we look, we see changes; I don’t know about each of you, but this season of life has been all about being up in the air on an emotional rollercoaster. In my neck of the woods, chicken feathers are falling with a hard autumn molt, along with a decrease in egg production. Late fall dahlias are making the most of a few warmer days while I try to keep my mind set on our upcoming hosted saltwater trip to Cuba, knowing full well that when we are away, Jack Frost will be preparing the leaves and petals for winter‘s blanket of frosty white. Hardcore winter Steelhead anglers will be deciding which Skagit fly to sink come January, while I’ll be happy skating dry on floating lines.
And on that note, the desire to continue to up the odds to find deeper rewards is also what keeps bringing us back to the Metolius. A place where, as Joel says, “fishing with your eyes and not your boots” is the name of the game. “From your mouth to God's ears,” I say! A beloved Yiddish-language expression meaning, “may what you've said come to pass.” A phrase that entered into American English via Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe during the decades preceding the First World War and a one-liner I commonly use when listening with hopefulness to extract knowledge from experienced individuals. After watching the Deschutes fluctuate with water clarity on Sunday, we decided to make another mad dash over to Camp Sherman as the West Linn weather report showed a deluge of rain.
Our regular pitstop on the way east is at Rosie's Mountain Coffee House in Mill City, OR, for extra hot vanilla chai‘s, a breakfast burrito or quiche, and a fresh morning muffin…certainly ample caloric intake to fill our bellies well past the noon hour. We were delighted to see the weather break as we came over the top of the Santiam Pass. Just weeks ago, vine maples that were in full autumn splendor now tinged a faded glow of diluted amber and rusty spinners, all not long for the world.
Gearing up at Bridge 99, we caught glimpses of a fleeting blue sky and brighter light that danced across the water between darker moving clouds, making me thankful I had packed my low-light Costa sunglasses with a favorite “Silver Sunrise” lens. Knowing full well that today was all about watching and waiting. But truth be told, we just didn’t see much in the way of hatches coming off nor fish sipping, so we hiked. And hiked a bit more. Various-sized Caddis are usually cruising about, but nothing prolific on this day at all. An occasional small BWO was spotted mid-afternoon along with a single Green Drake and a few small Flavs. But again, we didn’t see a single nose up.
It’s easy to think that there are no fish in this magical river, but if you’re patient enough, the conditions will present themselves for the perfect opportunity to present a matched hatch to a happily feeding fish. And, if you get really lucky, all the pieces of the puzzle will align like stars in the sky, and your very best catch will find its way to your net. Or, in this case, my kind Sherpa guide of a Husband’s net who was very much wishing for a longer handle, a flatter, less slippery grass surface to lay sprawled out on his stomach, reaching with all of his might to land this beautiful specimen who had picture perfectly taken my biot bodied CDC comparadun in a size 18, on 6.5x tippet. ~ Remember, sometimes 18 will get ya 20”!
The location was made for a Lefty. Lucky me. We had made our way up to a favorite spot where fish are often seen tempting the watchful eye with exuberant splashes or whisper-soft takes to what seemed to be some type of invisible bug cruising by just inches off of the hollowed bank. Each tasty treat all in line with a myriad of swirling dead leaves and velcro-like, tippet snagging Pine needles, all making it virtually impossible to watch a fly and properly tend to the drift, let alone the potential hook set.
Having another set of eyes carefully watching at a different angle is very helpful in a situation such as this; Joel stood well off of the bank in the shadows of a tree where he was behind the happily feeding bruiser. We must’ve watched the fish for five minutes from a distance, and we couldn’t believe he was continuing to take flies off the surface! He was a whopper! “Do you have anything really small?” Asked Joel. I reached for a size 18 black, fuzzy BWO with a hot pink post. Joel said, “No, whatever he's eating is so small I can't see it. You need something darker and with less profile, here here…” Knowing we love CDC and how it rides high and is easy to see, I tyed on his fine pick of a BWO CDC Comparadun.
Quietly walking backward and down the short, steep slippery grassy bank, I quietly pulled off line with a guess to the distance I needed to cast towards the bank on my right. My left foot was holding all of my weight beneath me, and my ankle was canted at an odd angle. One slip, and I was swimming. I had my hex cleats on my Korkers, and at that moment, I wished I had swapped out the soles to my aggressive studded cleat for more grip. Lesson learned and noted.
Even having come closer to the water, I still hadn’t seemed to startle the fish back down. At this point, he wasn’t as actively feeding but was still occasionally coming up. Joel had a good lock on his body language from where he was standing and kept reporting to me, which was very helpful in knowing when to make the cast as to time it with when the fish would hopefully be on the rise. While I had ample backcast room over the river behind me, I knew that if I didn’t stop soon and hard, my little fly and tippet would be lost forever in the looming pine branches above my head. I made a cast, mended the line appropriately, and studied like crazy for the little fluff of CDC that seemed to disappear instantaneously upon contact with the water. Do you see your fly? I see it. No, I don’t see it. Yes, no. I got it. Wait. He’s down, he’s coming back, and I’m past him.
I repeated the technical cast a few more times as the clouds parted and the sun began to beat down on the water and my multiple layers of morning clothing. I started sweating with heat and focused on the task at hand. I decided to step back from the water, take a breath, shed some layers, and re-dress my fly. We waited & watched again to note this fish’s behavior. I knew that I didn’t have too many chances left, and I needed to be more assertive with pushing that fly even closer under the bank. I carefully made my way back down to the small grassy platform, assertively stopped in my back, cast, and laid down a perfectly straight presentation. Exactly in the line we needed. The fish cruised out from underneath the bank a couple of feet and came up, turned, and ate my fly on his way back down. In my mind, I said the word “1000” and then set the hook by gently lifting up the tip of the rod.
What a fish! He was there on the tight line, wanting to run deep under the snag. I said nothing at first, but I could feel the big open-mouth expression on my face of ah and deep gratification. “We got him!” I said, and the conversation quickly turned to how I was going to keep him out of the snag on delicate Tippit, guide the fish in at this angle, and not have both of us end up swimming. This was too fine of a fish not to do our best to get a photo of, and there was no way we were taking it out of the water.
Joel gallantly lay down on his stomach and reached out for all his might as far as he could as I directed the fish's head to the net. He was fantastically beautiful, a perfect specimen, not a scale out of place or a chunk missing from his lips. Hands down, the finest Metolius fish I have ever seen. A true testimony to awesome teamwork. This is the only fish we saw rising all day long and the only fish we specifically cast to. The experience was definitely worth the trek over and will go down as one of our most favorite fishing memories together.
Now, until the end of the month, you will need to have your fly boxes filled with a few Flavs in 12-16, BWO on the smaller size 16-22, Misc. Mayflies in 16-22, and October Caddis in 8-12. There’s no need to get up too early as the majority of your hatches are going to come in early to mid-afternoon, so make the drive over before the weather turns. And remember, Kokanee are active, breeding, and dying, so now is a great time to target Bull trout. Please pinch those barbs and keep all fish in the water.
The drive home was a bit treacherous as we met buckets of relentless rain in the dark windy stretches to meet I-5 again. We talked about the sweet new friends we met on the river that day with their two dogs, our joint contacts in the fly fishing world and how it always connected us quickly with other anglers; what a small world it really is overall and mostly our dear friend, Brian Boucher, whose celebration of life was last Sunday and the reason we so craved some quiet river time to just decompress.
We are so proud that Brian’s memories of a life well lived and loved are so close to our hearts and that he was a part of this special day on the Metolius with us. At Brian’s service, a loved one shared a truth that the last thing he saw before his heart stopped on the riverbank was an image most Anglers would only dream of~ “a whopper of fish just landed in a dear friend’s net and a big smile on his face.”
In loving memory of;
what has left
And what is on the way
We are so grateful for each one of you!
Make the most of every day because it’s truly a gift, hence the reason it’s called “the present”.