It was early, perhaps too early. It was o’dark-thirty in the morning and I was tossing my gear bag out the slider onto the patio as Ryan pulled up. You’d suspect we where going steelhead fishing on the Lower Deschutes. But no, we where not, we were not even heading far enough from town to warrant such an early departure. We were simply heading over to the Metolius for some trout fishing. So why so early? I don’t know: hedge our bets on getting into fish by having more time, give Ryan first light opportunities for his photography, I’m that slow at rigging up. It could be any number of things. One thing for sure, we both thought our departure time was sort of ridiculous. But there we were throwing my gear in the back of Ryan’s truck in the dark of the morning. I looked back at my place and saw… well I didn’t see much. It was dark as hell and all the lights where out. I didn’t stir wife or son. It would be an hour or more before they woke, flicked on kitchen lights, and started their day. By then I would be on the river trying to sniff out the notoriously educated Metolius bows.
The ride out wavered between fishing and having kids; Ryan’s expecting his first born soon and I’m battling mine and the horrible threes. As for the fishing conversation, thoughts where expressed on how hard the Metolius can fish. There’s times when things click and everything goes well, but there are often times when it doesn’t click and there seem to be nary a fish around. We decided we had enough time to fish any water we wanted
There seems to be plenty of evidence to suggest the river is chock full of fish, such as the redd counts being up. Stocking of hatchery reared fish ceased on the Metolius in 1996 and it became a wild trout fishery once again. Subsequently, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife started studying spawning activity via redd counts. According to the study the count went from approximately 150 redds in the mid 1990’s to nearly 500 in the late ’90’s with a huge jump in 2002-’03 of nearly 1,200 redds. It had a drop in 2006 to around 600 and since then has seemed to settle on around a 900 redd count. There’s definitely fish, but they lack the hatchery nature, which is great. Moving fisheries away from hatchery stock and towards a healthy and vital wild fishery is and should be a goal on many rivers. However, it means you trade the gullible sluggish pale hatchery fish for a Ph.D educated strong beautifully colored wild fish. The fishing can lend itself towards difficult, especially when we’re talking about that fishery being on a clear, glacier blue, spring fed river. It’s a trade off, but one well worth it.
We turned onto Camp Sherman road and headed towards what we hoped to be a day where everything clicked. We swung by the headwaters for Ryan to snap a few first light photos for his stock images. I was unsure why he thought wet wading the Metolius (a river with a consistent water temp of 48 degrees fahrenheit) on a slightly chilly morning seemed like a “quick and easy” solution for his pics… But hey, it wasn’t my sack going in the frigid water. Once Ryan shivered out of the cold water we motored down river and stopped at the small quant Camp Sherman store. It’s a place that sells most anything anyone could need or want in these parts. Anything from micros and macros, deli meats, camp accoutrements, handcrafted bamboo fly rods to post cards to send back home saying you might be gone longer than originally thought. They even have some good espresso, which I was in need of. Just one catch. The store needs to be open to acquire any of the said items, at least in a legal fashion. I was in need of more caffeine but not of a criminal record. Damn early starts and not enough coffee.
We hit a couple spots we both knew fairly well, looking to get on the board early and fend off any skunk. Although quite a few campgrounds had a decent amount of filled sites, there wasn’t anyone on the water fishing, but that was sure to change. Our spots turned up nothing. We didn’t even get a sighting. We tossed a few under some brush and over hanging branches here and there to no avail. The thought and hope was to coach something unseen out. We talked about it being too early, how hatches and fish seem to keep gentleman hours and things will pick up later in the morning. All the normal talks everyone gives themselves when things are slow. Which saying that is in itself funny. The phrase “it’s slow” is used when things are not just slow but rather aren’t happening. It’s comforting self rhetoric.
It wasn’t just us. Later in the day we bumped into two other fisherman, only two so far, who claimed things were slow too. Shortly after leaving them we spotted a nice fish finning under a down tree. Lined up just perfectly where the cast had to be dead on, the drift just right and the hook set and play of the fish well orchestrated. He was the valedictorian of his class. Ryan attempted the fish while I rigged up for the challenge. He tangled and broke off just as I finished my double nymph rig setup. As he was re-rigging I managed a couple valiant attempts, one of which nearly tapped him on his nose. Then one too many bold attempts and I found myself in a tangoing with far too twiggy bush. Ryan, now reset, went back at it while I tried to unweave my tangled web of monofilament. Back and forth it went, ailing attempts to reach such a precisely lying fish. We surrendered our feeble pursuits conjured by our 3 pound (six collectively) human brains to his apparent malevolent, and obviously more sophisticated, pea size brain and perfect position. We however kept one eye on trickster as we backed away.
We spotted a few more fish in a deep pool. Couldn’t slam anything down far and fast enough for them nor could they be brought up. The day stretched onward and the conversation during hikes and new locations and fish hunting went towards the eerily missing fishing folks. It was a weekend, why wasn’t there more people on the river? Was that a sign of something we didn’t know? That the fishing on the Metolius has been slow and folks camping out here were “just enjoying the view” and not here to fish? Not only where there nary a fish around, there was hardly anyone out besides us trying to find them. I’m sure they were there, after all there’s the redd counts and fish studies to support it. However, we were getting beat. Beat by the fish, beat by the amount of time we had been hiking, beat by our early rise… We had enough.
I’m thinking of resting the river until it’s time to chase the Bull trout who chase the Kokanee. It comforts me to think I wouldn’t be foolish enough to repeat this day so soon and expect a different result. I probably won’t, but right now, that’s what I’m thinking.