Fall Retreat

fly fishing

by Scott Sadil

It’s hard to know where to turn.

The fourth Sunday of September brings us the annual World Rivers Day, an event I had never heard of until the August newsletter from the Oregon chapter of Trout Unlimited appeared in my electronic mailbox. 

Not everyone may be a fan of an organization like TU, but I won’t hear a word against them, if for no other reason than their quarterly journal, Trout, landed writer John Gierach and artist Bob White after their long run together in the now-defunct Fly Rod & Reel magazine came to an end.

If TU endorses World Rivers Day, I’m willing to give it a chance, too. Is it as big a deal as some make it out to be?  “More than 100 countries,” claims the literature, “will be participating . . . in what has become one of the planet’s biggest environmental celebrations.”  Australia, Malaysia, rivers all across Europe and North America, in Africa, the Caribbean, Taiwan. 

The events themselves take all forms imaginable, from canoe trips to trash collecting to song and dance and art festivals—all in the name of bringing people together to protect and care for and even help restore the rivers that, for many of us, play such a big part in a sport we love.

Dam site or fishing hole?

But can a day like this really make a difference? Or are we fooling ourselves while the wolves keep gnawing on the doors?

Okay, I know, I’m an old man. Yet it’s tough not to grow a wee bit cynical in the face of so much troubling news—even if Yvon Chouinard is willing to give away his three-billion dollar company, Patagonia, in hopes of easing the strain of a changing climate on the planet.

For example: Not far upriver from home there’s a dam across a particular upper Columbia River tributary that has blocked hundreds of miles of salmon and steelhead habitat for more than 100 years.  The dam, a 54-foot concrete wall, was originally built for the production of hydroelectric power. As was often the case in those days, no provision was made for fish to pass either upstream of the dam or down.  More significantly, the dam hasn’t produced a watt of power in more than sixty years.

Meanwhile, it’s begun to fall apart. Three years ago, the local public utility district in charge of managing the dam declared it financially unfeasible to ever restore power production—while at the same time it continues to fund dam maintenance with rate payer money. 

Fortunately, there’s a movement afoot to remove the dam.  Yet it takes but ten minutes of research to come to understand just how much effort is being put into blocking the dam’s removal, to keeping this kind of relic alive.

It’s hard not to conclude that this opposition has nothing to do with dams at all.

I tend to grow frustrated. Maybe, at my age, life seems too short to try to change anyone else’s point of view, no matter how senseless it appears to me.  

Wild creeks hold wild fish

It’s a tendency I’m not proud of.  What will happen come World Rivers Day, I suspect, is that I’ll end up visiting a nearby creek that’s as close to a secret as any place you can find today.  It’s a hike, and a steep climb down into it, and all you can really expect is an unlimited number of small wild trout ready to attack a big buoyant fly, one of those modern concoctions with enough rubber on it to float your old Zippo lighter should it drop into the stream.

A day like that is hardly going to save the world—but maybe it leaves it no worse for the next angler, either.

Fifty years ago, Gray’s Angling Editor Scott Sadil won a prize for a poem that began, “From the freeway you can’t tell the good guys from the bad.”