Far too much time has passed since I’ve had an easy going afternoon with Chris. Just back to Eugene with his family from New Zealand, Chris invited me for a float to check out his home waters on the McKenzie yesterday. We floated. He rowed, shared a half sandwich, and I fished wet flies from about 1 – 5.
Chris made about five casts with a dry fly, hooking about five trout. I managed to catch a few fish too, mostly cutthroat, with a few rainbow and many hatchery steelhead smolts in the mix—entirely on wet flies.
I drove home at day’s end and promptly fell asleep watching YouTube instructional videos on Macro Photography.
Up this morning at 3 AM, I tied a few flies that might tempt a fish or so on the coast soon.
I wish everyone good health and eager fish to tug on your lines.
This is a place and time largely overlooked by most Oregon estuary fly anglers. Being a curious angler at heart, I often wander about with fly rod in hand, looking for spring Chinook, early summer steelhead, late winter steelhead, and whatever might be legal to fish for like starry flounder and surf perch.
I’ve learned that there can be a lot going on in these late winter/early spring months—or very little. Seals are chasing fish of some sort. Cormorants are working fish of some sort. I have found juvenile chinook (hatchery fish about 6″ long) wild and hatchery steelhead smolts, feeder coho (14″ – 18″), cutthroat (9″-18″), adult summer steelhead, spring Chinook, Winter steelhead kelts, late run winter steelhead, and shiner perch. And bullheads. I have hunches about starry flounder but have not caught one over about 6″ yet. I have had sturgeon roll within a dozen feet of my boat—fish so big that I nearly fell over backwards in my surprise.Spring chinook roll in two feet of water, and will sometimes grab a fly if I plopped it in front of their face within seconds of their show.
Of course most days find me without a tug at the end of my line, but an occasional yank yields great surprises. I’ve learned, for example, that immature chinook, steelhead, and coho venture into our estuaries and the lower reaches of coastal rivers during late winter and early spring. The hours and days I have fished the estuary in the off season, with virtually no one around me, has been a wonderful time to reflect on past seasons and dream about the season about to unfold. It is a time to discover new sandbars, learn how the incoming and outgoing tides swirl and eddy around shallows, find new buckets, and anticipate the days when schools of chinook (not just the rare few) might suddenly appear within my casting range.
May your days on the water be abundant and full of discovery.
Might as well tie a new fly for the 2016 season, something perhaps unexpected but likely to produce if fished at the right time and place. Hummmmmm. I know what to do. Kings eat plenty of Krill in the ocean, not only baitfish. This basic pattern is one that I found laying on Chris Daughter’s desk at the Caddis Fly. I asked him about it. He couldn’t remember—thought I had tied it. Nope. I fished it last spring for sea runs and had one of my most productive days ever in the estuary. Of course it helps to find the fish too. I tied up a dozen (10 yesterday and 2 this morning). I’m going to see if the Spring Kings will eat these beauties. My thanks to whoever crafted the sample that I’ve modified here.
Wish me luck, and may you have a wonderful season too.
Oh yes. These are tied on a #6 SW Gammie, light wire, with glass beads for the body and Ice Dub for tails and shoulder. Wing is orange ProSportfisher American Possum with a hint of black bucktail over the top. Bead Chain is large with the rough edges filed down. Thread is white. I have used clear or orange glass beads and a variety of clear and shrimp pink Ice Dub for the tail. I think these will do the trick for something in the estuary, at least the Staghorn sculpin should like ’em!
There are at least a dozen higher priority tasks I should be working on at this moment, and the same goes for writing projects too, but I’m currently seated here at the computer with so much swirling around in my brain that has being going around and around for months if not longer that I’ve decided to let go and see what comes out.
For one, I’m a little befuddled with the fact that I’m alive to write this as I’ve likely outlived my shelf life and bearing an expired “best if used by” date. I chose the word befuddled rather than disappointed (I’m actually very happy to still be alive), or surprised (that Implies a greater measure of certainty than I had about when I’d expire), or ……. some other word.
This brings me to the realization that I seem less able to write in the last several years than I was twenty years ago or even ten years ago. This may or may not be true but it seems so to me. When I was in my late 20s, 30s and 40s I seemed able to write far more easily, and more richly than I can muster these days. Not just using fancier words with more syllables, but really creating richer images in words. I look at what I write in the last several years and think I’ve declined. This seems most obvious when I look at a book like Revelation (the fly fishing glossary) that contains passages created over a period of years. I read some of the older material and wonder who wrote it. I know it was me but wonder what happened to the fellow—why It seems so difficult or impossible to create similar narrative in recent years.
I look at myself in the mirror and all I can see is an old buck steelhead or salmon—a fish well past his prime.
In my 40s and 50s I felt entirely capable of taking on any task from the physical to the intellectual. I’m the guy who rode a bicycle from Seattle to portland in a day, the guy who rode from corvallis to the top of Mary’s Peak, down to Alsea, back to the top of M Peak, and home to my humble rental on 15th street. Im the guy who would ride fifty miles, run the stair in Gill Stadium at OSU with the Crew Club for 45 minutes, and then do an hour on the Concept Ergometer. I was in my mid 40s and fearless, pushing my body into condition that surpassed any thing I ever achieved in my teens and twenties. I laughed at physical and mental challenges because I just knew that I had the determination to build my strength or stick to the project until it was complete.
Now-a-days, I’m well aware of my limitations. Two heart attacks, two heart surgeries, five stents, two knee surgeries, two hernia surgery, one malignant melanoma removed, one Morten’s Neuroma removed, on and off SSRIs, on and off anti-epileptic mood stabilizers to moderate my bi-polar, therapy to deal with OCD, hell of a time sleeping, a two year rash that migrated all over my body, IBS that made wader wearing a challenge for two years, feeling drummed down most of the time, bouts of depression and anxiety, a right foot that hurts with every step, a knee that is weak and swollen to the point where it is interesting to get wading boots on and off, and a constant dull ache in my right hip . . . . . not complaining, just assessing my daily checklist of physical/mental status.
I still get up every day with something to drive me. A new book to write. A book to revise. An article to write for a fly fishing magazine. Work obligations that help pay for health insurance for my family. Flies to tie. Fish to catch. Tackle that requires maintenance. Cats and family to love. A blog post for the Caddis Fly. Rarely, i’ll write a post for this blog.
I met a young man recently, all smiles and enthusiasm. He was kind. He said he had read my books, and wanted to hang out and talk fly fishing for steelhead and salmon. He offered to row me down the river anytime. This young man seems everything creative and energetic that I was at his age—with more wisdom, more energy, more good karma, and generally a young me but way better. I don’t know if that made sense but what I mean is that I see a young person like Matthew smile when I imagine the possibilities he has ahead in his life.
I was tempted to let it fly when I began writing, at 3:00 AM on April 5th, 2016, but I also remembered my dear friend Boob Hooton telling me that unpunctuated and uncapitalized rants are really difficult for the normal non bi-polar and non-OCD reader to digest. Since in my heart I know Bob is correct, I tried to create a narrative with basic structure that will allow the reader to take a mental breath once in a while by applying at least the most rudimentary elements of writing style and convention to this dump I’ve unleashed.
The winter of 2014-2015 was a remarkably good season for me fly fishing for winter steelhead. The recent 2015-2016 season was quite the opposite of the spectrum. I wade fished the upper Nestucca in January, February, and March. I fished at least 18 days when I never toyed with beads, egg patterns, jigs, or pink worms. In these 18 or so days fishing the swing, I hooked 8 steelhead, bringing 4 to hand, but was only able to get a photo of two fish. The best fish to hand was a 12 pound chrome hen that came loose before I could shoot a digital image. I guess that’s what I should say rather than take a photo.
I needed a photo of a live steelhead caught on one of my Micro Intruders. Needed it for an article in Pat Hoaglund’s Steelheaders Journal. This was the prime fish on the right fly. my knot severed in the middle of the clinch know and the silvery sided, blue-backed hen drifted back into the pool.
I was crushed by the loss the loss of the image, not the loss of the fish. which would have been released anyway.
I got to thinking about why we seem to need proof of our catches. A few of my friends just fish and never carry a camera. As a writer and photo journalist, the digital image seems like a requirement, a climax, the deal sealer. It seems essential to the point where – without the image – it is as if the fish never existed.
My mind wandered. What if i had been somewhere in the world and fallen in love. Fallen in love with someone who loved me as unreservedly and fully as I loved. What if we loved for two months, three months, a year. Really loved each other. What then if the love ended. The reason wouldn’t matter. A death, just falling out of love and moving on emotionally. Whatever. What if there was no one who had witnessed our love relationship. No photos of my lover. No mementos. Just memories. Memories of a deep and rich love.
Without evidence, would the memories be enough? Would memories be sufficient for who? For whom? For me? For my friends. Why would I care if my friends did or did not know about me loving and being loved? Why would I care to talk about it with anyone?
So I’ve been considering love and steelhead, each with and without tangible evidence, of their respective existence and whether they are they any less important in our lives under each scenario
Sadly, the absence of a steelhead photo to place with an article seems like quite an obstacle.
Where love is concerned, the experience of loving and being loved fundamentally changes a person, I think, so thus the love intrinsically changes those who love and are loved.
Perhaps it is so with the un-photographed steelhead, with both angler and steelhead ultimately transformed regardless of whether or not a photographic image was recorded for anyone else to view.
So much for that. I took a nap from 4 AM to 6 AM and have been jumping from my Turbo Tax, to refinancing the loan on the cabin, to working on the Caddis Fly Catalog, a few Facebook messages, tying two reverse spider sea run cutthroat flies, eating two scones with three cups of coffee, a ten minute nap at 10:30, a walk around the block with Lisa, agonizing over returning a new camera that is not functioning properly, retrieving records of my military service, pondering how to mount my father’s Army Medals, and more.
So it’s a fact that there is almost no evidence of my father’s existance in this world but for records buried in the government files somewhere.
I went to Michael’s last week and bought a shadow box to frame his medals and two photos. Not much but something. Technical difficulties brought the project to a screeching halt but here is the basic layout.
Col. Jack Voorhies Nicholas (1909 – 1975) born in portland Oregon, died in portland Oregon. The photo in lower right is my dad as a child. He lived with his mother on Vista Avenue in Portland, his father was killed when a log fell off a truck on the southern Oregon Coast. I think my dad was 8 at the time but have no real idea what makes me think this.
The photo in center is his enlistment photo taken in 1941 when he joined the US Army to go to war. He enlisted from Butte Montana where he was working for his mentor Mr. Ed Craney at a radio station. His rank was ( I believe) a second Lt. and analogous to an Ensign in the Navy. Dad served in Australia and New Guinea during WW II. He was part of the Atomic Bomb testing in the US and south Pacific. We talked little and I have only the smallest scraps of information about his life.
The A-Bomb tests affected him deeply. He served in combat in Korea. One day he got in a dispute with a friend out in the bush about which fork of a road to take. The other fellow said left and dad said right. The man insisted so dad got out and walked. They never found the other soldier’s body. One soldier in a jeep with dad driving had to piss so he stepped out off the side of the dirt road. A shot rang out and the man crumpled to the ground, shot in the helmet. Dad retrieved his body and drove off fast. Turns out the bullet had pierced the helmet and traveled around the man’s skull, falling into the back of his jacket and shirt—to be retrieved when he regained consciousness later. Dad noted an old woman crying hysterically over her shattered treadle sewing machine in the streets of a village they were fighting in. She just sat by the rubble of the machine wailing and rocking back and forth. In the same village, same battle, dad stepped around a corner to come face to face with an enemy pointing a rifle at him. Six feet apart, they looked at each other for a moment, and dad shot him. Several men in Dad’s command lost their lives, toes, fingers, feet, and hands to frost bite when they got wet and the temperatures plunged overnight. Korea was a terrible war. Vietnam was a terrible war. Now we are sending men and women of all ages to be forever changed in new wars. The survivors of WW II and Korea are fewer and fewer these days. The ranks of survivors (and the casualties) of our new wars are mounting.
Dad sent me off to Oregon State University with a car and financial support. I worked as house manager and enlisted in ROTC and worked for the USFS during my summers to make ends meet.
I wish I had been able to talk to him when he was alive. I wish I had been able to talk to my mother when she was alive. I mean REALLY talk. About important stuff. The dynamics of living in a home with an alcoholic are tricky, and so the conversations never happened. I’m ready now, but it’s too late. So I deal with fragments of knowledge and am thankful that my life has taken a better turn.
I wanted to write a letter to survivors recently. Never got it done. A letter of thanks to all the boys, girls, men, women who have survived abuse of every imaginable nature. Physical, mental, sexual, emotional—hell, it’s all torture of various form.
Thank you, whoever you are. Thank each and every one of you. Thank you for not giving up. For not giving in to the abuser. Thank you for doing whatever it was you had to do to survive. Because you did, my world is a better place today. Because you survived. Because there is one more good soul in this world to speak out against the evil people in the world. Because you survived, I have shared your smile, your touch, your love and your understanding. I say this as if I know you, even though I know only a few survivors, I know many who are far away and who I’ll never actually meet. I take comfort knowing that you did survive terrible things. I don’t know if anyone has hugged you today or said something kind or reached out and told you how proud they are of you. This matter deserves pages and pages and pages. The matter of saying thank you to survivors of war and atrocity and the meanest of human behaviors deserves more than I’m capable of offering this moment.
In a few minutes I’ll be off blathering about fishing or tying flies or other mundane activities. But now and again I’ll pause to say thank you – if silently – for surviving.
I’m blessed with a family and two great fluffy cats. I’ve been able to love and be loved in many wonderful ways. My family is working on a project to collect a disaster kit, in case the 9.9 quake and subsequent tsunami hits during our lifetime. This very real possibility poses a dilemma—why invest in a new roof because the cabin could be gone before the old roof leaks anyway. Why bother writing those three new books because hell the computer could be washed away before I get it published. Why bother with a new fish finder or new motor or camera or anything. Hell with that. Il’ll collect my disaster kits and get on with life, because every moment is precious. Got to live like life matters — because it does.
Courtney my teenager (formerly Jackson) just came in to show off a fabulous new pair of shoes she (formerly he) ordered to wear to the Prom. Wow! High heels. Bright white with a black toe. Matt called and told me he got a good tug swinging a fly in Lower Chicken Wire yesterday evening. I got off the phone with Thomas at Fish Hunter placing an order for the Fly Shop. I Ben our Lagartun Rep and am excited by the prospect of adding their wide flat braid to the Fly Shop inventory and catalog. I’ve been eating too much lately in spite of the fact that I have no appetite and nothing tastes good except pizza and scones. And in case you are wondering, the last several sentences have perfect harmony and logical connection.
Rob is working on the final edits to our most amazing book Modern Steelhead Flies. Jason is sitting in a hog line catching spring chinook on the Columbia (probably) Jeff and Kathryn are within a week or two of a new baby arriving just prior to their departure to Kimsquit Bay Lodge where they will host clients all summer. Steve and Mike aren’t talking to me. My son David went back to work after bonding with his second child, my second grandchild, a beautiful baby girl. Trey is recuperating while working on his own steelhead fly book. I’m still pondering how I’ll find a donor to finance the considerable publication costs of my Salmon Journal at over 600 pages. One of my friends is in the process of purchasing a new sled boat. Guy and Jim are getting ready for their Baja trip. Ed is working too much, and so is Kevin, time to get the dory boat ready and out on the ocean. Jimmie is tying gear for commercial salmon fishing in the next few months. Jack and I have fished steelhead (barely) and trout up at Lake Hebo (just a little) but we are going to go after cutthroat very soon and the springers will be in the estuary by late April. Lisa is going to see the Star Trek Orchestral presentation tomorrow night. I’m tying collector’s flies and mounting them on wool felt in cards. My family’s friends at the Grateful Bread have been wonderful as always. Luke got some late season winter and early summer steelhead action. Rob and Erin are charging into the new season and ready to hit the ocean at PC. John may have been out already in the Fly Guy. Capt. John Harrell is making final adjustments to rigging on his dory Gold comet and will be ready to fish in a few weeks. Everything and everyone seems ahead and behind schedule this season.
I really really really really hope I’m here this time next year to rant again. My right foot and knee and hip ache all the time and I do mean all the time but who cares because I scrambled (limped) up and down the river banks for three months just like when I was in my 40s (OK, maybe not quite like I did back then but at least I did wade fish this season) and it was glorious.
All is how it is supposed to be in my funny little family. In the days to come, I’ll be writing about things that are not so personal, but for right now, this day, I wanted to ramble on about a few things that have been on my mind and a few things that just sort of popped into my head.
Thanks to each of you who managed to make it this far, for your good wishes and support over the years. Please let me know if I may help you in any way. Anytime.