Fishing the Big “D” (Deschutes)

Contemplating a fly change on the Deschutes

Contemplating a fly change on the Deschutes

Fishing the Big “D” (Deschutes)

The Deschutes is really one of those magical places, an oasis of verdant green hidden amongst high desert basalt and sagebrush. It’s a place that can get under your skin, and every time I fish it I remember why she’s pulled me to her banks so often for over 20 years… It’s the river where I finally started “catching” trout, instead of just angling for them. It’s where I began my illustrious guide career, and it’s where I think I found who I am. It was right there, fishing the hummocks of the Deschutes that cemented the fact that I was destined to spend my life chasing the dream of fishing for a living.
Maybe a trip to the Deschutes is a ritual that has to be undertaken each spring, or maybe it’s just a burr that gets under my saddle, but each spring I have to make at least one pilgrimage back to the river I think of as my “home river.” So many things have happened to me along her banks, so many profound changes to my life in the simple form of fishing, that I just can’t bear to let a season pass without at least one visit to her beautiful shores.
Yesterday I was working around the house, preparing my gear for my upcoming move to Garibaldi when my good friend Lance Fisher called and asked if I wanted to join him for a trout excursion over to the Big D. Well, that was a silly question Mr. Fisher, of course I want to join you!! It falls right into my right of spring, and it couldn’t come at a better time, when my world has seemed to implode around me a bit. I can’t tell you how comforting the thought of bright sunny skies, warm canyon temperatures, and crisp cool water comfort my soul. Have you ever noticed when things don’t seem to be going your way, going back to basics, trying to find one of those things that kind of anchors your whole being, helps you find some peace and perspective in the hectic messes we get ourselves into? That’s exactly what a fly-fishing trip to the Deschutes will do for me… It will let me get lost for a time in the methodical pursuit of the rivers beautiful denizens. I will fish, I’ll sweat, I’ll enjoy wading in the cool water, I’ll sit on the bank and watch water ouzel’s feed on the rocks, I’ll feel the wind on my cheeks, and I’ll hear the creak of the oars as they strain against the emerald waters, and when I get home, some perspective to the mess my life seems to have become will hopefully be shown in a new light.I know way down in my soul this little break is needed, and maybe my only regret is not going alone. Sometimes those days spent alone at a place like the Deschutes are where perspective really gels into reality.

Beautiful butterfly on the banks of the Deschutes River

Beautiful butterfly on the banks of the Deschutes River

I remember when I was young, still learning to fly fish, so desperately trying to become a competent angler, spending weekend after weekend camped alone along the banks of this river. I remember cooking breakfast along the waters edge, and pondering about a life that was mostly still in front of me, wondering what was the right path, and how to choose which route to take along life’s crazy journey. It’s always been moments like that when a real clarity sinks in. When I can look at something as objectively as I’ll ever be able to, and my subconscious is finally allowed to air its opinion as to the path I should follow.

It’s often this part of my mind, which allows me to make those decisions about my life, but also to strip away the fog in my mind, and bring situations to the stark reality that I need, so I know how to act.

Mating Golden Stoneflies on the banks of the Deschutes River

Mating Golden Stoneflies on the banks of the Deschutes River

I guess this is the only regret of the upcoming trip, knowing that the camaraderie of the day won’t allow for contemplative sitting under and alder on the bank, watching the stoneflies fly by like small sparrows, the swallows dipping and darting through the air catching their afternoon meal, feeling the cool breeze against my cheek, and hearing the gurgle of the stream as it ever burbles on towards a meeting with the ocean. I know they would find this eventuality strange, me sitting on a rock. Why I would need to do such a thing, not understanding I’m searching for something more than just another trout, not understanding that what I search for is hidden in the recesses of my mind.

It’s okay though, sometimes the act of just being with such good friends allows some of the same reflections. Maybe not exactly the same; maybe not the chance to finally strip away the gauze of subterfuge we each plague ourselves with, but I’ll still have those quiet moments alone, working up a bank rhythmically casting, stripping, looking for the elusive signs of a trout hidden below in his liquid world. Just these little moments can still help to find those glimpses into my soul to help me decipher what’s real, and what my course should be.

Fishing up through a riffle on the Deschutes as the stoneflies mate and fly back to the river to oviposit

Fishing up through a riffle on the Deschutes as the stoneflies mate and fly back to the river to oviposit

I hope the fish feel in friendly mood when we get there, but I also know their cooperation isn’t mandatory for a great day. I guess I don’t want them to be easy, and in fact I’ll search out those fish that are a bit tougher to catch, the ones snugged up under a tree in an eddy where it’s tough to get a good cast, much less a drag free drift, but catching a couple of these gorgeous fish would brighten my day considerably.

The Deschutes fish really are an amazing fish to look at, with their dark olive backs, crimson sides, rosy cheeks, and their amazingly large ink black spots, with the biggest eyes… I’m captivated by their looks each time I’m lucky enough to hold one for a moment. It’s in fact in the very moment of holding one of these magnificent creatures that I’m brought back to the very bedrock of why I fish… the chance to spend time outside in fantastically gorgeous places, catching something so wild and pure. It kind of defines the whole sport of angling for me.

It’s also the beauty of the settings, and the quietness of the world outside of our bustling metropolis that begins to settle my soul. I need these respites from the compact sprawl our urban communities have become, to help bring clarity to my life. I live for each of these opportunities.

“Yes, Mr. Fisher,” I replied, “I’d love to spend a day on the Big D chasing some rainbows with you!”