Return to the twilight zone
Fishing and hunting
FRASER HESTON AND STEVE KYLE hold the great steelhead of their dreams – the one they didn't catch last week on the Deschutes.
You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's the signpost up ahead—your next stop, the Twilight Zone. — Rod Serling
Upstream and down from me are other humans, my Sonoma fishing buddy, Steve Kyle, and filmmaker Fraser Heston, son of Charlton Heston. We are on the same bend in the river, but they are clearly not in the same dimension. While my casting strokes are jerky and awkward, theirs are smooth and graceful. While my fly-line bunches and flops on the water like a soggy hairball barely 20 feet from me, theirs uncoils in an elegant arc far out into the current.
Just a little farther downstream and upstream from us, but in that twilight zone with Steve and Fraser, are another score of anglers, all casting with that style and effortless grace that eludes me.
They are confident, optimistic and comfortable in the knowledge that there is a steelhead cruising upstream that will eventually take their fly as it swings down and across the current. The slightest pull on their line brings joy. A hard pull brightens the day. An actual fish hooked, even if only for a few seconds, makes it a great day, and a native steelhead brought to the net and then released is cause for a three-day celebration.
These steelheader/Spey-casters of the Pacific Northwest are the Don Quixotes of the fly-fishing world. They believe in the nobility of swinging a barbless fly across big rivers in a style created in Scotland several centuries ago. They shun all other methods of fly-fishing for steelhead and salmon, even if the others are more effective at catching fish.
Their motives are pure. They pursue an impossible dream, believing that somewhere on some beautiful pristine river, at the end of a thousand casts, or ten-thousand casts, they will hook the grandest, most beautiful native fish that ever lived – and then let it go.
I, on the other hand, am a pudgy, aging Sancho Panza, in awe of their idealism and intrigued by their quest, even as I question their sanity.
But on those three hot days earlier this month, we shared one thing in common – almost none of us caught a fish. Undaunted, my companions seemed even more resolved to continue their quest.
As we enjoyed beer and wine in the late afternoon and evening, sharing tales, long and shaggy, short and witty, there was an undercurrent of unshakeable optimism that the next day, or the next day after that, or next month or next year, they would find that dream fish.
We actually shared one additional, not as impossible, dream, the restoration and preservation of the beautiful anadromous fish (steelhead and salmon) of the west coast. The three-day gathering was a fund-raising event for the Native Fish Society, a Portland-based nonprofit organization doing remarkable work bringing back the population of these precious fish, and turning the tide against decades of pollution, overfishing, gravel mining and counter-productive hatchery practices that have decimated the wild fish population of the West Coast.
Tom Derry, NFS wild steelhead chairman, and the leadership of NFS, organized the event, and through the generosity of John Hazel, of the Deschutes Angler Fly Shop in Maupin, and his team of expert guides, all of the float and guiding services were donated, and the money we paid for the adventure went directly to NFS.
If you are an angler who considers native salmon and steelhead a precious resource that must be saved, please consider joining NFS. You can find all of the necessary information at www.nativefishsociety.org.
I'll get back to local fishing reports next week.