Wine, food and fly-fishing - Part II …and then the lights went out
GUIDE BRIAN STYSKAL gets ready to release one of two nice steelhead we caught fishing with him on Washington's Klickitat River.
By Bill Lynch
Following our drive from Portland, Dottie, our Lab, Annie. and I checked into the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel, perched on a 200-foot high bluff overlooking the Columbia River at the top of Wah Gwin Gwin Falls. Built in 1908, this once grand lady of the Gorge was hostess to presidents (Roosevelt and Coolidge) and actors Myrna Loy, Jane Powell, and Rudolph Valentino.
Recently reopened under new ownership, it has a way to go before one could call it "grand" again, but it does have a certain charm, an excellent chef, and a dining room with a breathtaking view.
They put us in a room on the highway side. It took only a few minutes to realize that highway truck noise would keep us awake all night. We complained and got a room on the river side. If you can't get the river side of the hotel, don't stay there.
In fact, right next door is Columbia Cliff Villas ( columbiacliffvillas.com), a beautiful new condominium complex built in the same architectural style and run as a separate luxury hotel (with a choice of full suites including kitchens and dining rooms or more standard hotel-type rooms). Had we know about the Villas, we would have opted to stay there. They are beautifully furnished and most important, much quieter.
Meanwhile back at the classic old Gorge, we were contemplating dinner when the power went out. We made our way downstairs where we found our fellow guests gathered around the parlor fireplace being served wine and cocktails by candlelight. It was actually very nice, almost a step back in time.
In the dim I swear I saw Rudy putting moves on Myrna over by the bar.
Although our hosts hoped it would be just a matter of minutes, the power remained out, and they regretfully closed the dining room.
We drove a half mile down the road to Stonehenge Gardens (stonehedgegardens.com), where owner Mike Caldwell, former maitre d' at the Columbia Gorge Hotel, runs a fabulous restaurant in a rustic and charming old Victorian-style farmhouse surrounded by enchanting gardens. Mike's credentials include a stint as cellar-master for a local winery. He is a cordial host and the food, wine, ambience and hospitality were perfect.
The lights were still out when we returned to the hotel, so we fumbled around the room aided by a couple of small flashlights, trying to get our gear together for a very early-morning connection with our fishing guide across the border (Columbia River) in Washington.
Sometime during the night, the power came on, and I got out of bed and turned off all of the lights.
By 6 a.m. we were on the road to the town of Klickitat to meet our guide, Brian Styskal, who is part of Tom Larimer's team in Hood River (larimeroutfitters.com). The Klickitat River is a 75-mile long tributary of the Columbia, draining part of the eastern Cascades in Washington. It is also home to a large run of steelhead and salmon.
Brian camps on the banks of the Klickitat during the season and knows all the best places to catch steelhead. Normally, a good day fly-fishing for steelhead is having a fish on for a few minutes. Landing one is a great day, and landing two or more, well, it is simply off the charts.
That day, the Klickitat yielded to us two beautiful seven to eight pound steelhead, and a 12-pound Coho salmon, all three of which we returned to the river to continue their migration. And, we were off the water and headed back to our hotel by 3 p.m. It was all Brian's doing. We just cast our flies where he pointed.
In all my years of fishing, I've only landed a few steelhead that big, and never more than one in a single day.
We spent a little time poking around the charming little town of Hood River, had a great meal at the Gorge Hotel and got a good night's rest in preparation for the next leg of our meander through Oregon – A return to the Metolius, the most magical stream from my youth.