Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Endless Summer (SR 11/07/2015)

I'm incredibly grateful for my teachers that have shared their knowledge with me along the banks of the river and within the pages of magazines like Northwest Sportsman. The potential for product innovation and improving techniques is infinite, and I've been introduced to some very respected guides and industry professionals. I'm fortunate to have made some incredible connections as an outdoor writer that have sped up the learning curve of becoming a versatile and successful angler.

Don't get me wrong, but with that being said, at the end of the day, nothing beats fishing with your buddies. Every river has it's own set of locals that know every nook, cranny and boulder from the deadline to the ocean. The anglers that not only learned the ethics of fishing on that water, but developed their own set of rules through their experiences with their peers.

Stepping outside the box of our "home river," I always feel like the training wheels are coming off and it's time to get serious. However, there's something special, personal, sentimental to making that pilgrimage to the home river, even after you've moved away from it. The tractor beam of nostalgia draws anglers back to familiar waters, reconnecting groups that have drifted apart over the years. A reunion of sorts. The following is a story of one of those outings that happened on the central Oregon coast this November. The names of the parties have been changed in an effort to conceal the identities of those who wish to remain unknown.

"C-dub" taught me how to fish for steelhead. He wasn't there for my first steelhead, but he taught me how to tie a single-egg pattern and fish it under a float, which was a game-changer that got me my first limit. Eventually we developed a group of friends that started filming each other's catches and making short videos for our entertainment during long nights of cooking up fish, drinking cold beverages, tying jigs and flies on the vise in preparation for the next day. The camaraderie of our group revolved around C-dub being the one guy everybody could count on to drop everything and go fishing when the conditions were right.

Nowadays, C-dub resides in Santa Cruz, California catching striped bass, ling cod and halibut. However, the draw of our home river brings our group together each year as the end of the Central Oregon coast Fall salmon season approaches. There's an odd purgatory within the seasons where everything just falls into place and we usually have no problem getting a good stretch of water to ourselves.

While most salmon anglers have put a few on their tags, through the smoker and into the freezer by that time of year, elk season also draws many sportsmen away from the water. It's still a little early for winter steelhead, but don't count them out just yet. Summer steelhead on the other hand are a neglected fishery this time of year. While early summers overlap late winters, the late summers are often swimming with a mixed bag of fall salmon species and the earliest of winter steelhead. Some of the best river memories I have are fishing with close friends during this aquatic phenomenon.

With a few of our friends entering new marriages, careers and parenthood, this November's excursion seemed to be "the good old days" in that present moment. Meeting at the Moonshine Park campground, we rendezvoused and set up camp that Friday evening, chowed down on bear chili and smoked kokanee, rigging up for the morning on the water. A little rain brought the river up on Thursday and it had just started to drop and clear as we showed up to the water on Saturday morning. The Plum Creek Timber Company road is only open to public vehicle access Saturday and Sunday, which reduces a lot of the fishing pressure upstream. A 12 mile drive up the gravel road to the deadline, we rolled several vehicles deep enough to discourage any other anglers from even stopping along the road to check things out. We crawled down into the gorge to that familiar stretch where we had made so many memories before.

As we've all matured and the distance between us and the days we get to spend fishing together get further and further apart, it's understood that up there they've got to do what's best for them, because it's their time. Their time, up there. But down here, it's our time. It's our time down here, in the gorge, grown-up Goonies, stomping the banks for anything that will provide us with the tug that is drug we're all hooked on.

Every species of trout, salmon and steelhead are in the river this time of year, and all of them eat eggs, or anything that even closely resembles them. The action can be unbelievable at times, especially when you're fishing with a half dozen friends or so, searching through every inch of water like a fine-toothed comb. Summers that have held out for rain in deep pools along the lower parts of the river are racing to the finish line, with surprisingly bright patterns and firm-fleshed, quality table fare among the hatchery run. Changes included in the Multi-Coastal species plan that cut the release of summer steelhead smolts in half back in 2013 could mean that this year is as good as it's going to get. These are the glory days we'll be yammering on and on about to future generations of anglers about how good things used to be.

C-dub landed the first fish of the day just after daylight, a hatchery, which took a little pressure off him taking home some meat back to California. I hooked a wild steelhead only minutes later, then our friend "Biggums" pulled in a nice sized wild steelhead a few casts later, "Muskrat" put a hatchery summer on the bank, followed by several triple hook-ups that resulted in action that didn't seem to stop for at least an hour. When one pattern got slow, we'd change things up and the bite was back on again. We hole-hopped to a few other areas of the river miles apart and it was the same story.

A few hours into the morning, several of us had a fish on our tags and we were handing off the rods to each other to keep from limiting out. We headed back to camp around noon and proceeded to celebrate in proper fashion as the rain started pouring down, like a baptism cleansing us of the scent of roe and fish guts, drenching our worries and drowning our problems.

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