Journal Entry: North Umpqua, January 8, 2010

Journal Entry: January 8, 2010

Note:  all of these journal entries are true, more or less.  Blatant lies and exorbitant exaggeration will be denoted by a small asterisk (*) at the end of a sentence.  Small inconsequential exaggerations are considered fair game because they either have happened on some other day; may occur at some point in the future; have been experienced by someone, somewhere, probably; or were part of a hallucination that has become real in my mind.

Remember, steelhead are Pacific salmon, so this is still a Salmon Fishers Journal. Ha ha.

I peek at my watch for the umpteenth time.  4:20 AM.  What the hell, I might as well get up.  There are flies to tie and this will be my first day fishing since mid-December.

Frank and Jeanne left for New Zealand on the 7th.  Dale is house sitting.  I can hear him snoring gently up in the loft over the kitchen table.  I make a feeble attempt at starting a fire in the wood stove and give up rather quickly.  Dale will get it going when he comes down.

4:30.  I pull up a chair at the table and stare at a mountain of fly tying junk.  What a mess.  Four vises, a dozen saddle patches, ten thousand hooks, twenty shades of Krystal flash, rubber legs, a dozen shades of dubbing, arctic fox.  Finnish coon.  Egads. Where to start?  Locate scissors and a bobbin.  Decide what to tie.

Nah. Make coffee.  microwave water.  Filter water through coffee grounds.  Awful, but it is caffeine.  Add Swill Miss Hot Chocolate to make it palatable.  Face the fly vise again.

Ahah.  I know what to do.

Hook: size 2, heavy wire.  Thread:  black Lagartun 95 denier X-Strong.  Body: blend trilobal purple, blue, black, and red; add pinch polar white ice dub; finish with another pnch gold ice dub.  Rib:  Lagartun oval silver tinsel.  Hackle:  Kingfisher blue saddle: webby, sparse.  Wing:  six strands Mirage Opal Flashabou.

I secure hook in vise, start thread.  Uh-oh.  No tinsel.  None.  That’s OK.  Frank will have some.  I root around his fly bench.  Nope.  There are probably a hundred snarled old fly lines, tippets, chewed up flies, and abandoned projects.  Only wide Mylar tinsel, which I detest.  No oval tinsel.

OK.  I can adapt.  Sip more coffee.  Rethink fly.  Ah ha.  Got it.  Substitute reverse palmered blue grizzly saddle, very narrow, for the tinsel.  Counter wrap saddle with copper wire for security and fly longevity.

Crap.  No copper wire.  No use scouting Frank’s desk.  There ain’t none there either.


5 AM.  Dale wakes and joins me.  He struggles with a smoky fire and finally succeeds.  Hot water, and maybe, good coffee will soon follow.  Dale sits across the table from me and we both stare at our vises.  I start with a big rabbit leech.  Nothing to tax my brain here.  I use some cool lookin’ two-tone crosscut colors that are sure to attract monster steelhead.  Dale secures an Eagle Claw 1197-b in his vise and gets started on one  of his signature traditional steelhead flies.  We tie and tie some more.

10 AM.  Our neighbor friend knocks, shoves the door open, and pulls up a chair.  He eyes one of the flashy monster flies I have been tying and shoots me a look of disapproval.  That’s hardly fly fishing, he’s thinking.  He is a traditionalist, like Frank and Dale.  You probably brought a Spey rod too, he remarks, half kidding, half deriding.

11 AM.  We stuff ourselves in waders, borrow Frank’s magnetic rod carriers, and pile into my 4-Runner.  Off we go.  Dale and our neighbor strategize as we drive the river.  Color is good.  The water is maybe 3-inches too high, but fishable.  Fish should be moving today.  There should be old summers and a few early winters around.  I get detailed over a roadside bank.  See that rock there?  See the tuft of grass in the water.  See if you can get out there without drowning.  Make your cast to swing across that big boulder.

I do as instructed, more or less. Be careful about that loose boulder.  Go to the right around that tree.  Avoid the poison oak. Tentatively make my way out to the tuft.  A coho carcass lays on the bank nearby, feeding river life.  I balance precariously and roll out a cast.  I am fishing my brand-spankin’-new Burkheimer 7127-4.  I have been dreaming about making Ed Wardish casts for a month.  Unfortunately, there is no way to achieve a D loop so I resort to messy splatting and roll casting until my fly swings through the targeted area.  Third cast I feel a tug.


Three hours slip by in an instant.  Good conversation.  Days gone by:  fish hooked, lost, and landed over the years.  Holes changed.  More people.  Dastardly deeds and unsporting anglers.  People we love and respect.

My casting is world-class.* My companions marvel at my grace and finesse as I fish water they have dreamed about but have been unable to reach with their single hand rods.* I hook a brick-red buck, a big fish, pictured above, and release it as my friends marvel at the fact that i hooked this fine fish behind them, noting the superiority of my presentation and the attractiveness of my original fly pattern.***

4 PM.  I uphold my tradition of nearly always falling in.  My feet slip out from under me in three feet of fast water and I scrabble around for a minute trying to get my feet under me to stand up.  New Cannon G11 is soaked.  I am so disgusted that I throw my rod.  But I make a point to throw it where I can retrieve it easily and the water is deep enough that rod and reel will survive: wet but unscathed.  I release frustration without damaging gear.

Back to the truck.  It was time to go anyway.  And who knows, maybe the camera will dry out.  My companions suggest burying camera in a bag of rice.  This sounds ridiculous to me but I eventually comply.  Nuthin’ to loose, I figure.

6 PM. Dale and I eat dinner and our neighbor joins us at the kitchen fly bench for conversation.  Dale fries up a SPAM and Cheese Sandwich.  Honestly!  Apparently, Dale developed a taste for Spam when he served in Korea.  I concoct a main course of lima beans, black beans, corn, yogurt, and applesauce.

I turn my waders inside out, empty water from fly boxes, hang my flies near the wood stove to fluff out, and use a towel to dry out the insides of my Gore Tex coat.

Dale and I tie flies.  The mess of materials on the table grows.  We listen to a Blazers vs. Lakers game.  Talk turns to salmon season past.  I try to pry our neighbor’s secret salmon patterns.  Without words, his eyes say, “no way.”  I resolve to interrogate him in coming months.  He resolves to resist my prying.  My shoulda-been 20-minute fly turns into a one-hour mess.

Time to sleep.  I turn in and turn off the light.  I got a grab.

Beauteous day.


Traditional Steelhead Flies

Dale Greenley Steelhead  Flies

I had the opportunity to spend some quality time with a friend and old school fly tyer recently.  Dale Greenley tied commercially for Orvis and others back in the 1970s and has fished for salmon, steelhead, sea-run cutthroat, and resident trout in a lot of places.  The Umpqua might be pretty close to what he would name as his home water.

Dale has seen fly patterns slip in and out of popularity.  He tied and fished with Joe Howell on the North Umpqua before it was discovered by the unwashed masses.  Frank and Jeanne Moore pretty much consider Dale family.

Dale and I remember buying our materials from Herter’s.  India capes.  Nymo thread on 8-ounce cones.  Wood clothes pins for bobbins.  Mustad 94840s.  And more.

Anyway, Dale and I sat at Frank and Jeanne’s kitchen table at 5 AM and tied flies.  I tied my Last Shadow getting ready for a fly tying event I was preparing for.  We sipped really bad coffee made palatable with a lot of Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate.  While I used my Petitjean magic tool, stinger hooks, and fancy new grizzly Krystal flashes, Dale tied his elegant traditional steelhead flies on Eagle Claw 1197-Bs.

Dale, in his usual modest fashion, praised my creations while we chatted, and dabbled with some of my favorite dubbing blends.  As I toiled away, Dale crafted steelhead flies that are much unchanged from the once and always dependable flies he has fished on the North for close to fifty years.  Frank, too, fishes these flies today, knowing that they are still effective, after all these years.

I wanted to share a photo of a few of the winter steelhead flies Dale tied last week.  They are a present day reminder that the good stuff never goes out of style.


Thanks Dale.


JULY 10 2009 – Great Grab

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.”

Thanks, Lord.


North Umpqua Winter Steelhead

The North Umpqua is among a small number of gems valuable beyond price: a river, wild fish, history, and an International a reputation well earned.  Management of this river and it’s salmon and steelhead will be shaped by science and policy.

Pay attention.  Get involved in the discussion.  Try to understand the fish and the management options.  Keep a level head.  Speak from your heart and head.  Be part of the solution.  Think about the future of wild fish and fishing.  Think about people who are expert fly anglers.  Think about a grandma trying to take her grandchild fishing for the first time.  Try to look at the big picture.

Take a look at The North Umpqua Wild Steelhead Coalition –

Take a look at a Q/A that touches on some of the issues related to management of the North Umpqua –