When jobs allow for travel, I cross my fingers for places to double down, and couple work with some fun outdoors. So, upon accepting a territory parts position for a material handling manufacturer, it was exciting to be assigned dealers in the Northwest. The beautiful cities there draw professionals from every industry to conduct their business, and the NW states also contain tributaries producing some of the best migratory fishing in the lower 48. It’s the first week in October, and I’m thinking Steelhead, baby.
After getting acquainted in my new position, I reached out to secure an intro meeting with my dealer in Portland. In addition to running a fall parts promo, we’d establish a framework to setting & achieving annual parts goals. Waiting at baggage in Portland isn’t much hassle, I had with me a wheeled carry-on full of pressed button-downs, leather loafers & a dopp kit. Also, a stylish new laptop bag, (bit purse-esque for me, a best-effort to looking polished for the office) packed with my work computer, handouts and marketing literature. The checked bag had the prized goods…waders, boots, the 8 weight Redington, 5 wt Sage (in case of trout), landing net, sunglasses — along with other essentials. Wasn’t sure what of this gear would be used, but better to have and not need than the other way around. My oldest cousin John, was circling new arrivals. It was Friday, the first meeting wasn’t until Monday, and we had some fun to look forward to.
After greeting John and loading up bags, we headed back towards his place. “I scheduled a guide on the Santiam for Sunday”. I’ve fished some in Oregon, mostly I’m familiar with the central Deschutes, from a college summer spent running raft trips from Maupin. The Santiam would be new water for both of us, and John said we’d be using spey rods to target both wild and hatchery raised Steelhead. A couple things about my cousin: He’s the son of a dutch dairying family, raised on a farm in Grants Pass. After graduating from Montana State in the late 80’s, found his groove in investments and has spent the past 25 years building & brokering business ventures. Many times, I’ve witnessed a masterful integration of two realms, as he seamlessly transitions from redneck fly-fishing-junkie to an articulate, easy spoken corporate leader, brokering deals or diffusing office drama from his waders on the bank. The dude stashes Skoal Classic in his silk dress socks during board meetings, so as not to leave a permanent can-ring in his slacks. Suffice it to say, he’s an uptown suit with down-home roots, and handles his work accordingly. Our age difference and distance between hometowns has no bearing when we re-unite, we act like brothers. This trip I’m sure, will be no different. After reconnecting with his wife Chris & the rest of the family over dinner, we discuss the weekend plan and head to bed, I can hardly sleep.
Saturday morning, with steam rising from our mugs, we stood in the garage, assessing scores of gear to select what would come along. We started with the two motorcycles. I called dibs on the 650KLR, he opted for the lighter KTM. Panniers clicked into place over the rear fenders and the gear loading began. Stuff was stowed, tied & strapped so by the time we finished, it was a scene from Mad Max and we were prepped for Thunder Dome. John pulled around his cul de sac to check weight distribution. Judging from the length of the wheelie he pulled, it felt pretty good. A friend rolled in, making our posse of three for the day. Ross was kind enough to remove his riding glove to shake hands, but didn’t bother taking off his helmet. His bike was loaded up like ours, so he’d clearly been briefed on the plan, excited to take part in the day’s adventure.
The 3 of us raced off — through the subdivision, for a short stint on the freeway. As we exited and rolled into farm country, I was geeking out, literally -(I’d be embarrassed to hear a recording, but imagine an angry bee trying desperately to escape my cemented smile.) We climbed in altitude for what felt like an hour, cruising a shaded two lane, both sides lined with towering Douglas firs. After skidding into an unmarked turn-in, the two veterans throttled hard up a technical section of fire road. I was finally getting the into the rhythm of jumping a 400lb bike over washouts, and almost failed to notice the view. The backdrop was stunning; The snow covered, sun-kissed peak of Mt. Hood. Just yesterday, from our final approach, I stretched out to see her from the window seat, wondering how long we’d wait to reconnect. Now I was riding up her back side, ducking branches, hopping logs, and cleaning bits of her from my goggles. She held in store many highlights for us. We drank cold & refreshing water straight from a spring on the old Oregon Trail, held rimfire competitions, cooperated with with federal law enforcement, (no citations were given), and had our fill of breathtaking views. The first day was a huge success, day two had some big shoes to fill.
Sunday morning unraveled similarly from the garage, with coffee and gear. This time, we loaded the truck with waders & fishing bags, our pace much more deliberate. We met up with our guide, Barett, who showed us our places in the drift boat, already launched and anchored. As the sun rose we got acquainted with our setups. Barett gave pointers on properly loading a Skagit line on a Spey rod. I’d done this before, but it wasn’t second nature. “They were taking it on the swing yesterday” he said, and encouraged me to leave my fly bouncing downstream for several seconds at the end of each drift. I did just that, and immediately felt the unmistakable “rap! rap! rap!” of an aggressive Steelhead take. John flipped out. I was trying to save face, but this never happens. First cast success isn’t just improbable for these, dubbed “the fish of 1,000 casts” -it’s impossible, well almost. Barett was on the net, and together we brought him in quickly, a beautiful Buck, 7 or 8 lbs and full of deep red color. Everyone went nuts for a minute taking photos & slapping high fives before getting back in the water. A beacon of light shown down on this rod, and after a few more drifts, lightning struck twice. I hooked up again. This time a beautiful Hen, her silver sides bright as chrome. I removed the hook and turned her loose before asking John if we were about to make our own version of fishing history. In short order, he hooked up. We took turns hooking and fighting these heavy muscled torpedoes well into the afternoon. “The Tug is the Drug” goes the saying in the fishing world, as it pertains to catching steelhead on the swing. Together we took 7 doses.
That night I put together final preparations for my work meetings, still drunk on the euphoria brought by fighting these awesome & beautiful creatures. It was as close to a Spey Clinic any angler can hope to put on. John & I agreed the bar was set pretty high; Moving forward, any attempt to re-create a weekend like this might end in disappointment. We like our odds stacked against us.