Once More, With Feeling

Deschutes redside
Deschutes redside

by Scott Sadil

As is often the case these days, I had a number of good reasons not to go fishing.  I was just back from a long trip, elbows deep in the middle of assorted boat jobs.  The promise of spring was beginning to stir the garden.  Deadlines were looming.  The carpet needed cleaning.  I still hadn’t replaced the wax ring on the bedroom toilet. 

Not one of these reasons, however, proved good enough.

When you live in a state where you can fish year round, where feeding trout, even, can be found each and every month, it’s easy to grow complacent, even a wee bit lazy.  Like many anglers, I try to arrange my fishing calendar around certain predictable spells—hatches or tides or flows or a run of a particular species of fish.  But, of course, one of the great gifts of the sport is that it remains unpredictable, beyond anyone’s control—that the insights and sensations we so desire can’t be called into existence simply by waving a credit card or swiping a screen.

Deschutes River

I know of only two certainties in fly fishing:

  1. You don’t catch fish without your fly in the water.
  2. You catch fish on the fly you’re using.

Given all we don’t know, I try to keep my eyes open for signs of the approaching trout season.  A sweep of grass widows, Olsynium douglasii, on the Rowena plateau.  Tomato seeds sprouting in cold frames and window sills. The photo of a duck egg in the flower pot on my sweetheart’s deck.  Forecasts of another 70°F afternoon. 

And, anyway, behind the wheel of a pickup, cresting a rise in the morning sun, there’s still the delight of playing hooky.

Then again, at this point in my life, I do have to ask myself: Hooky from what?

Largescale sucker, Catostomus macrocheilus
Largescale sucker, Catostomus macrocheilus

Deep in the canyon of the lower Deschutes, I have so many memories that I have to tell myself to pay attention to what’s here right now.  Vibrant light.  The towering, striated walls. Not one but two different clusters of bighorn sheep, the clucking of chukars nearby when I roll down the window for a better look.  A brilliantly sharp outline of a bald eagle, its white head radiant, sweeps out over the river at the exact same pace of the truck. 

Not a tent or trailer in any of the camp sites.

Still, the morning does suggest I really am early in the season.  But after lunch there are a few brown-colored caddis fluttering out of the alders, bugs big enough I first mistake them for small winter stoneflies.  Size 12.  A dark soft-hackle finally fools a robust redside, the classic Deschutes River trout, spinning line off the reel, a complement to many young whitefish and even a fine example of our native sucker.

Sometime in the afternoon I also stumble, go down, and soak my socks.

Deschutes River
Deschutes River

The sun sinking, I drive up to Sherars Falls and pull off my wet waders.  The Falls, I’ve mentioned elsewhere, claimed a Portland cousin of mine some fifty years ago, when he and a buddy tried a stunt that, looking at the falls, you can see was complete foolishness.

Of course, I’m always reminded of that fatality whenever I see the falls. They’re always there, year after year, the power relentless, palpable, intoxicating.

There’s more, as well, to that reminder. 

I’m just not sure what it is.

Having grown up in California, Gray’s angling editor Scott Sadil feels it’s a good idea to be grateful any time you find trout where you last saw them.