Fishing in Oregon- Sasquatch Style
And so it would be. My fishing buddy, Mike had just booked a guided fly fishing trip on an Oregon coastal river well known for being not well known. This would be a special outing on one of the Pacific Northwest’s best wild steelhead rivers. We would be accompanied by an accomplished fly fishing guide, Jacob Lund, who would help us find and maybe catch a particular strain of steelhead ranging from 12-25 plus pounds.
The email I received from Jacob a few weeks before our trip piqued my interest. A few key points that I found interesting were the nine mile hike and dressing in camouflage. And the best part was what he told us: “We will be carefully approaching spotted steelhead due to its wary nature. These fish typically spook or explode. This is sight fishing at its finest!” (this is not the usual boiler plate advice provided by a guide prior to a trip). After reading this, the excitement of the trip quickly elevated.
Before I knew it, it was 5:15am and Jacob was calling my cell.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
“Yep, on my way down.” I called.
Even at such an early hour, I had been ready to go for at least 15 minutes. As any fisherman knows, the night prior to a guided trip is never one of sound, restful sleep. It is usually filled with thoughts of what the next day will bring. Is the weather right? Flows right? Did I pack everything last night? Waders? Boots? Lunch? Vest? Flies?
We picked Mike up and before long we were on a dirt road making our way into a canyon in the heart of a 60,000-acre roadless forest. It was still dark and snowing pretty hard. As we got deeper into the forest, Jacob mentioned, “I’m not sure if you guys are into this sort of thing, but there have been quite a few Big Foot sightings in this area.” The mood was set.
As we made our way toward the bottom of the canyon, I was saddened by the realization that I would not be able to return to this place even with my 4-wheel drive Subaru. Jacob mentioned there was a chainsaw in the back of his truck for the trees that often blocked the road and he simply said “hold on” as we crossed the really deep mud holes, and punched the accelerator for maximum forward momentum. It wasn’t until the ride out, in the light of day, that I realized just how scary the drive in was.
When we arrived at the river, a combination of caffeine and adrenaline had me unusually amped for 6:45am. We hopped out of the truck into the damp snowy darkness to gear up, and the first thing I noticed was the rushing tumble of the river near us. Even though it was pitch dark, I had a sense of where the river was, how big it was and what she looked like. As I put on my waders by the light of my headlamp, I saw the light of a train approaching in the distance. It took longer than expected because the train moved at a pace in between a jog and a fast walk. The sound of the train and river, mixed with the wet snow and excitement of what was to come was perfect.
Just as we finished rigging up, the sun rose just enough to offer my first true glimpse of the river. It was about 30 yards away and a shallow pool of water was coming into focus. Jacob informed us that this was the “parking lot pool” and that fish have been caught there. The three of us stared at the pool for what felt like hours. Once we were sure there were no fish in the parking lot pool, we ventured off downstream, along the railroad tracks in search of stories.
Jacob explained to us as we walked just how spooky these fish could be. “Be sure to walk with your rod tips pointed away from the river. Be sure to walk behind me. If I see a fish I will say -shhhh- at which point we will all freeze and then slowly walk backwards away from the river,” he explained. This was pretty intense even for a fanatic like me.
We walked for about a mile and half through train tunnels and over bridges in an area that truly felt like time had been forgotten. Finally, Jacob spotted a fish and we followed protocol- freezing, sneaking away backwards and setting our gear down. We then crawled up to the edge of the bank and looked down on the river and the fish below.
“There- a male with a female. A good situation as the male will probably take a fly,” Jacob assured us. For five minutes we watched the behavior of the fish – where it swam, where it decided to hang out, and what it was doing.
Then Jacob asked, “Who’s in?”
Mike and I looked at each other and tried to be polite by offering to the other and then quickly realized the only gentlemanly way to decide was with a round of rock paper scissors – winner takes all. After a tie with rock, I prevailed on the next throw with paper.
I was in. Jacob told me to take a mental picture of where the fish was, attached a radio to my jacket and sent me up the trail to access the river so as not to spook our prey. I walked up river about 40 yards, headed down to the water and then began creeping my way back to the place where I remembered the fish.
I looked to the bank for acknowledgement from Jacob that I was in the right spot. After what felt like an eternity, I was in the zone on many levels. Jacob gave me the thumbs up, and I started pulling out slack line to prepare for my first cast. My heart was racing. As I readied my rig, Jacob’s voice came over the radio: “Hold on!” he shouted.
“Why?” I think to myself, “I’m so ready.” Then I heard the sound of a slow moving train making its way upriver along the tracks. “This can’t be good,” I thought to myself. And sure enough, it wasn’t. After waiting five minutes for the train to pass and another five minutes for the fish to settle, Jacob informed us that the fish were gone.
After walking another mile and half, Jacob spotted another fish. Again it was a male and female, and they were right on the bank. This time it was Mike’s turn and he made his way up river to circle back and begin his hunt. I stayed down below and watched the action unfold. Mike made about six casts before I saw his indicator (basically a bobber that helps you keep track of your submerged flies) streak across and down the river at speed so fast Mike’s fly was 40 yards down river before I could shout, “Set the hook!”
And unbeknownst to me, the battle was already lost. Turns out, Mike was not able to set the hook on account of his rod hitting a tree during the critical hook set. The fish was gone and we were 0 for 2.
A few miles later I had another chance. This time it was a single male and it was large. Jacob estimated 15 pounds. I dropped in and began drifting my egg pattern down to the fish. I looked to the peanut gallery up on the bank after each drift to gauge what was happening. Looking at them, I could see that the fish was interested in what I had to offer. After casting the egg about 10 times, I felt the tug I’d been waiting for and immediately knew I wasn’t stuck on the bottom or a branch. I was connected to a giant steelhead that was not as happy as I was.
As I reeled in the slack line to fight the fish, the realization of what was unfolding hit me. This was the last conscious thought I had as I entered into a zone only steel headers know. I wrestled with this fish for 10 minutes, flirting the fine line of fighting him too hard and letting him go too far back into the current. Eventually the fish began to show signs of tiring. The first time I brought him toward Jacob for a possible landing the fish took off and ran with the same energy he had when I first hooked him.
We did this same dance two more times before Jacob made a final attempt to grab what we could all see by this time was a beautiful 15 pound buck. By far the largest fish I’d ever had the pleasure to dance with. Only this time as I raised my rod to bring him in one last time, the fish flopped away from the bank, the fly popped out, and the greatest fish I’d ever had the pleasure to fight was gone.
The fish disappeared back into the wild – Sasquatch style.
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