North Umpqua. Three evenings and three mornings to poke around and fish a Muddler.
I’ve just finished tying up ten or so dozen of these silly flies. Time to fish the dang things. Whoa! Forecast says partly cloudy for the next few days, so off I go. Simplify, my friend Rob tells me. Take a few flies and fish them well.
I am moving slowly on this trip. I often must stop walking on the trail because my chest hurts and I can’t breathe. But the feelings go away when I stand and cast. So on I fish.
Three evenings and two mornings without a grab, a boil, or a tug.
It’s my final morning and I am really tired. I fish a few of the places I have visited the last three days. I fish with anticipation and deliberation. I am so tired that I don’t move around much. I don’t wade much.
About 9 AM, I’m fishing a piece of rough bubbly water. I’ve heard that this a good place to fish and remember hooking a one-salt here long, long ago.
Thirty minutes covering the same piece of water. Long casts. Short casts. Slow swing. Short, choppy chugs. I stand in one place at the water’s edge. It’s about all the energy I have. At least my Snap-T is looking good. The AirFlo Scandi Compact makes me look way better than I am.
I’m distracted. I’m exhausted. I’m ready to go home now. I make a short cast, let my Muddler start to swing and see the shadow. There it is again. Oh my God! A steelhead. An honest-to-goodness steelhead. And a big one too. The fish takes a swipe at my fly and misses. I twitch, the fish romps me, and everyone disappears in the foam. I feel nothing. I wait. Still nothing. I pull back and there’s the fish. Slack-lined but connected.
The fish promptly exits the hole downriver and just as promptly dashes back upriver to leap at my feet. I’m elated.
I slide the fish to the water’s edge and pull out my camera. The piece of technological crap won’t turn on. I slip my barbless hook free and she bolts back into the pool. Twelve pounds, I think. Nah, twenty. Hell, claim she’s a thirty-pounder. Who cares? Might have just been eight or nine. I laugh. I smile and smile and smile some more.
I sit there on the gravel bar, crying and crying – big sobs of joy.
Still sitting there, I cut off my leader and fly, wind a neat coil, put them in my shirt pocket, and walk back to my truck.
Less than two weeks later, I nearly suffered a fatal heart attack. Turns out that dry fly, wild, North Umpqua summer steelhead was a gift of life on more than one level.
Today, I can see that steelhead dash my Muddler. I can see her laying in the water, me kneeling on big cobbles as I slide the hook out. I can see the huge spots on her back. I can see spots on her adipose fin, a faint rosy hint along her side. Deep and clean.
Today, too, I can see the evening that Lisa and Jackson drove me to the emergency room. “I’m fine,” I said. “Just take me home,” I said. “No Dada,” my son said, “Mama’s taking you to the Emergency Room.”