Jul 22, 2014

Who needs fireworks?

Starting somewhere around the first week in November I start jonesing for 4th of July weekend on the Deschutes. Every year we float the river with friends over the 4th looking for a good time and potentially an early summer steelhead. Launching at Mack’s Canyon is a short 24 mile float through the roadless section of the lower, lower Deschutes. I had the priveledge of working this lower 24 miles for the previous month running trout trips and knew every camp was overgrown and tick infested so I wasn’t upset when our standing date with friends was cancelled. So what to do? We hemmed and hawed around a bit about possible road trips far far away but settled on easy. A nice jet boat trip, just Marni and I, to relax and maybe fish and maybe not.

The Mayor with a July Hog.
I had been up the river on the 3rd with the Hood River “fish boy” Gabe Cunningham and the river had been kind. With my itch scratched, my mindset was that of a camper not a fisherman…or so I claimed to my wife. So we packed up our backpack size camp and headed up the mighty Deschutes the afternoon of the 4th, no fireworks just each other’s company and the river. Had I not scratched my itch the day before I might have been upset to see one group spread out acrosss the vast expanse of Wagonblast but I was just camping out so whatever. We made our way up the remaining rapids to the middle lower lower and found a nice shady camp sitting on a two hour fish, gotta love July.

Now that’s’ a small camp!
Setting up camp for us consisted of tying the sled up so it wouldn’t get blown around, setting up a couple cots, plus the BLM required toilet. Cool, how about a cold one to celebrate the Declaration of Independence. It didn’t take long to take in the sights and sounds of the river. A deer scampering into camp way closer than normal so I snuck up and tried to get a close up, no dice she busted me right away. We watched her for a while, she was big and it seemed odd she didn’t have a fawn with her. So we watched a bit then settled back into the shade.

Notice our little friend in the background, proably looking for her fawn.
The camp we chose has full day shade, is one of the hardest spots to get, buts there’s just one thing… it’s shown us a few too many snakes over the years. Marni has a pretty good eye and it’s not long before she spots a very large rattle snake making the crossing through the sand. We been walking around barefoot all day and I’m a real softy and love all animals so I grab my snake gun, a small caliber pistol with bird short and snake be gone! Nine buttons on that bad boy and just over forty inches long, good riddens. Now Marni’s in the boat and I explain to her, “it’s the same as last time, now they know we’re here”, trying to convince here no more reptilian visitors will come.

No caption needed, those are our footprints all around.
The sun dropped behind the rimrock of the canyon and I felt a gravity level pull to the river. Marni gives me a green light and says “just be back by dark”, yeah right! So I pull up my spanking new Simms G3 waders, strap on my wading belt (required for this run), and head off to where there should be a cut in to the river. Tomy surprise no one has cut a path into the not so secret spot, looks like I’m cutting trail. There I sit with my virgin stick the Winston 6126 B3X, that’s what I’m callin it BIIITH just sounds lame, sorry winston should have asked I’d of told you.

 Secret spot, this ended up being out of range for my Hero shot…
I’ve made this fish with and without clients for a long time. Standing before me is arguably the most consistent and productive steelhead run on the entire lower Deschutes and I’m all alone. So I start in, the wind is blowing July hard and I’ve given it a name, it’s “nuclear”! The B3X is lined with a 420 Airflow compact scandi and a 9’ 0x leader, same set up I used on the B2X predecessor. I’m having no problem fishing my standard twelve strips even in the wind. I wasn’t sure I would like this rod as well as the BIIX but it is easily the best casting 6 weight spey rod I’ve cast. So cast and step with the assistance of my trusty wading staff, I nearly go down a half a dozen times as I negotiate the river bottom by brail. With every passing second it’s getting darker and my chances fewer. I can still make out the fly line in the distance but I am pretty much guessing where my fly is. I make it to the wet rock which is where the magic usually happens. So I’m 45 minutes into my only run of the day, my purple green fly is making it’s way through the pool and I’m anticipating getting throttled. An hour in, I’m reminding myself how early into July this is. Somewhere in the middle of my day dream the line comes tight and my Hatch 7-Plus blows up into knuckle buster mode. By the time I get my rod up and realize I’m fishing a right hand retrieve reel this fish is three hundred feet straight below me doing cartwheeels in the tailout. The Winston is still in my right hand so I shove my fingers into the spool to slow the situation down, more cartwheels at 300 feet. I finally get things under control, rod in the left hand and a some minor drag udjustments and I start working this little piece of insanity back up above the island but this fish isn’t done. My line is running up river and the fish is doing cartwheels 100 feet up river from where my line is making a little white mouse, God this fish is hot! I finally get the running line back to the reel and start working the fish up, I’ve been hooting and hollering for about fifteen minutes and I can see the flashes coming from the camera a hundred yards upriver. I slide the most beautiful little hen you’ve ever seen right alongside me, tail it and pull a perfectly place fly from the corner of its mouth. I turn back towards the boat and heft the fish into the air with a war cry and see more flashes. Literally this was amateur hour for me, you know, “act like you’ve been there before”…not this time.

My itch is scratched again, should I wade back into shore and call it a night? I thought about it, I really did, didn’t do it but I thought about it. So I come tripping my way back to camp in the dark (no head lamp, I said it was amateur hour) about two hours from my start time. All is well so I grab a cold one.

It’s dark out with a half moon sitting just over the canyon wall straight across river. We are looking at the small group of planets and trying to decide which one is Mars. A really peaceful night, the stars had aligned that night for me. As we sat there in the dark listening to music and reminiscing about the loss of our beloved hound, Winston, a couple months ago. We relived some of the memories we’d made on this river together over the last twelve years. The night was peaceful and all was well…at least unitl a loud thud hit the floor of the boat behind me. Marni starts screaming non stop like a Freddy Cruger movie. She’s sitting in the front seat looking back and I’m in the back seat looking forward, I’ve got no idea what’s going on. The thud rewinds in my brain and I realize there is something in the boat with us and it’s big! I stand quickly spin around and trip over the cooler scuffing my knee on the diamond plate floor. The creature stands up off the floor dazed and confused, Marni is still screaming non stop. Suddenly I realize it’s a deer or more specifically, a small fawn! Suddenly the deer decides to abandon ship the opposite side of the boat and into the river it vanished. Still in shock, “what just happened here?”

So I spend the next fifteen minutes or so making fun of Marni’s survival instinct and pondering what would cause a deer to jump into a jet sled with people in it talking and listening to music? Was something chasing the deer? Was there a cougar in camp, a coyote, this is when I really started missing Winston, our 90 pound chocolate lab. Head lamp on, pistol in hand I get out of the boat and check stuff out fully knowing if there was a cat in or near camp he could see me but I would never see him. Let’s just say we slept on our cots that night with a third eye open.

What a crazy day, a giant rattlesnake encounter, a fourth of July steelhead and a deer jumping into my boat…I have seen it all today, who needs fireworks?

Contributed by: Sam Sickles
Steelhead Outfitters

"Fly Fish the World with Us"

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