October 22 - 29th: North Umpqua and the Deschutes, Oregon
Wednesday I left California for Oregon. I'd read about the long history of fly fishing on the North Umpqua but had never fished there or anywhere in Oregon. A hot shower and shave in a cheap hotel in Roseburg brought me back to respectable presentability. I found a good restaurant, Teske's Germania, right in the downtown. According to the waiter it is rated the fifth best restaurant in Oregon in Sunset magazine. Pardon my terminology but their weiner schnitzel was the best chicken fried steak I've had in my travels so far.
In the morning I drove up the river to the thirty mile fly only section. Nobody was fishing. In steelheading you look for local angers to mark the concentration of moving fish. With no telltale parked vehicles I stopped at Joe Howell's Blue Heron fly shop in Idleyld. One angler there had caught a steelhead on a waking dry fly, a big orange muddler. I bought some like it and some other heavily weighted flies. Fishermen, especially steelheaders, are notorious for being tight with information, but I have always found that the ones who catch the most feel good talking about it. He and Joe agreed that the fish were spread out and their best advice was to cover a lot of water throughout the river. I set up camp roughly in the middle of the fly water at Bogus Creek campground. That evening I walked from camp and tried a few pools and runs upstream and was very satisfied to get a few tugs and a small brown trout for dinner.
Thursday I bowed to the advice and drove all the way to the upper limit, and fished quickly at pools and riffles about every mile or two on the way back. Access on the North Umpqua is complete - a road on one side and a trail on the other, with a few bridges across. With enough time and stamina you could fish the whole river thoroughly and I tried my best. Just below the famous Mott bridge above the Steamboat Inn, where construction flagmen had traffic stopped, I hooked a good steelhead and gave them all a show.
Friday I slept in while the sun burned off the fog then went out to paint. On steelhead rivers every pool or riffle that can produce a fish has a name, and locals know them though they do not appear on maps or guidebooks. This place has a name but I don't know it. I sat on a car-sized boulder at the edge of the white water below the pool. The vibrant green of lichens on the cliffs caught the sunlight against the dark shadows of the ledge and forest along the river. The water was dark emerald against the base of the cliff. As I painted I was in the happy glow that catching a steelhead brings, and this turned to laughter out loud when somehow a song got stuck in my head as I painted. Instead of John Cougar Melloncamp it was the Wicked Witch of the West in my head singing "I fight Dorothy, Dorothy always wins".
Saturday I left for the Deschutes, another Oregon river of fly fishing lore. After a brief hike to Umpqua Hot Spring I drove up past the headwaters and over a low pass to the east side, where the scenery became more sparse and sage and pines took over the land from the mixed maples, oaks and conifers of the Umpqua. I continued north with a brief visit in Bend with Trace and Tenley, whom I knew fondly as coworkers nine years earlier. As the Cleveland Indians held onto their chances in the World Series we reminisced about the stressful days of the company when it was just starting up. We had company tickets to A's games as they went to three World Series. We could go to a day game and not be missed, not because the work was slack but because when everyone is working around the clock it doesn't matter whether the time you are not there falls in the day or night. Most of us were young enough to not have houses or families, and we set up facilities so you didn't have to leave for normal life necessities. We put laundry facilities in the building so you could work instead of waste time at a laundrymat. We had beer and food on hand. We were the prototype Berkeley company. Most of the people from those early days went on to start other companies, like Trace did up in Oregon. I stayed on as nine years went by like a weekend, so I got to fill in Trace and Tenley with years of inside gossip. But the evening was approaching and I was antsy to get up to the next fishing and painting river.
The Deschutes cuts a narrow canyon through the high desert country as it drains the east side of the Cascades northward into the Columbia. Volcanic rock ledges loom over sage and dry grass slopes. Cottonwoods and willows line the river below and now they were golden with the turning of autumn. Reports were that the steelhead had been hot.
I fished three days, some with big grease liner dry flies but mostly with the weighted flies and lead core sinking tip methods for putting the flies on the bottom for steelhead. Caddis were thick and trout were rising for them but I stuck with the steelhead methods. After three days of that with just one trout and one whitefish to show for it, I thought I perhaps should have fished for the trout instead. Most of the time the weather was damp so I made fishing the priority, but on the third day with shoulders sore from throwing the heavy lines, I sketched this view of the river a few miles upstream from the town of Maupin.
Serious rain came in that night so I packed up camp the next morning and moved on, to give a try at Washington State steelhead if weather settles down. As I write in an Ellensburg hotel room, the tent is still drying as the rains continue and all the rivers are flooded. I'll let the fish and brushes rest for a few city days in Seattle.