For over a decade, I have always looked forward to at least a week on either the John Day or the Grande Ronde Rivers in NE Oregon. This year was not exception as I was about to spend 4 days with my dad, whom despite both of our efforts just don’t get to spend enough quality fishing time together. I will leave “enough” up to those of you who don’t fish for a living to decide how much is enough. Anyway, all of it I do, most is not with my dad unfortunately.
This was going to be the year where I got to watch him catch fish in front of and behind me in every run, some with eyes closed, others on terrible fluke casts and even a few (not just a couple) with a hookless fly — there were going to be that many fish. I mean come on, last year I got a fish on my second cast, AFTER I rowed over my water first!
This year it was the Grande Ronde and it didn’t disappoint, at least not the piscatory sense everyone should expect, it is simply one of the most beautiful multi day floats one can do for steelhead anywhere.
Fish were abound, somewhere, just not where we were swinging flies so numbers of fish caught with 6 anglers over 4 days, hold on to your seats — exactly 5 and I have gone over every minute of the trip so as to not overlook any landed fish, because they would have been easy to forget…
Day 1 — Randy, Allan, Nancy, Roy, dad and myself put in with the guides and bag boaters on the Wallowa River and float about 12 miles to our first camp, no pressure for a fish on first day, just reacquainting myself with a raft in low water with a load of 15 full bags, dad, 100 pounds of camera gear and some libations. Some fishy water covered and spey casting coming around for everyone. Day ends with confidence in our casting, beautiful stars at night, great dinner and lots of laughs at all things surrounding fishing.
Day 2 — Wake up and feel fishy. Not cold out and water is in the high 40’s so ALL those fish should be really active, I bat around the idea of skating a fly, figure I will stick a few first before I really make it challenging. Lunch time, no fish to hand, 1 grab and 3 near swims by Allan and dad. Today ends with Roy landing a steelhead finally with a gentleman’s release about 2 feet from his hand. PERFECT!! We have FOUND the fish, tomorrow will be epic.
Day 3 — Coffee, everyone scratching at their rods like two pistol fighters in an old West shootout, daylight finally pokes through the fog and Nancy, Randy and Allan all draw their weapons and its game on! After fishing the home water which is SWEET, no fish. Lunch time, no fish, dinner, Roy has 2 steelhead landed (for real this time) and Nancy is on the board with her first ever steelhead, not just swinging, EVER!! Countless days on Cowlitz, Skagit, Snoqualmie, O.P. rivers and others, she finally brings a bright and beautiful wild hen to hand. My heart swells for her as I love and appreciate nothing more than to see the final nail in someones steelhead coffin. She is all in, forever! As I roll past another boat with 3 guys from Montana who had asked for a whiskey fix in exchange for dinero the day before I ask if they were still in need, the answer wasn’t even necessary.
I hand over my flask of Glenlivet and emphatically say “enjoy” in hopes the fish Gods will reconsider our fate for the next day. Another great feast and some culinary discoveries in the kitchen, Ted is reassuring everyone they found most of their fish really on day 3 and 4 so still plenty of time. So we hit the sack with sugar plums, I mean steelhead dancing in our heads. No problem sleeping tonight.
Day 4 — As we begin to float out, I more or less resign myself to going fishless this trip and I am actually totally fine with that, seen it and experienced it enough to know, it isn’t really in my hands, not this time or ever. All I want to see is Randy and Allan get into one. Their spey casting has been looking awesome and some of the water towards the end of the trip is just gross. I mean some of the most structured, ripply-slick, fishy looking water anywhere so my resignation letter turned in, I ask for it back, I can’t help it!!
Dad and I hit it HARD. Dad, finally and I mean finally slips in and goes for the full swim. All my life I have enjoyed watching that and now, maybe even more so. He is fine so not worried about that, another few years and I will but we laugh about all the times on other legendary water he has done it, early in my childhood while I was on his shoulders he really tossed me — that explains a few things to those who know me!
Finally I feel it, a tuggus legitamus!! I let my loop go til I feel the weight and then hit the sob with all I’ve got — a giant strip set that is still fresh in my muscle memory from Bolivia and Golden Dorado. Fortunately he stays on and comes to hand. Dad, getting even with me for laughing about his swim and possibly for this being the FIRST EVER fish I have ever taken fishing behind him “mishandles” or “Bob Leaches” my fish so photos of the fish are a bit less stellar than expected. Each of the rest of the boats go by and nary a fish for anyone, that was the last one for the trip.
Trip ends with hugs, exchanges of contact info and a resounding agreement that despite the triple digit fish count I had promised, even guaranteed, it was a great time and a trip of a lifetime for Nancy.
Thank you to Ted, Brian and the boys, Randy, Allan, Nancy and Roy for dealing with some of my neuroces and to my dad for being my dad, this would have never happened if it wasn’t for you!