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Afternoon with an old friend

The first time I fished the Metolius River I was only 12 years old. Already an avid trout fisherman but still a fledgling fly-fisher, most of my angling had been in Sonoma Valley’s small creeks.

My dad’s best friend, Al Maggini, had persuaded him that we would enjoy a vacation on the Metolius, located in central Oregon near the town of Sisters, because it was one of the best and most beautiful trout streams in the west.

The Metolius is a tributary of the Deschutes River. It flows north from springs near Black Butte, a large cinder cone. Its underground origin makes the water very cold. Its inhabitants, rainbow trout, bull trout, kokanee salmon and whitefish, love it.

In total, it runs for 29 miles through the Oregon woods before connecting with the Deschutes.

In anticipation of that first trip, I persuaded my mom to take me to the Abercrombie & Fitch store in San Francisco to shop for flies. When I told the guy in the fly-fishing department that I was going to fish the Metolius in June, he smiled, told me how lucky I was, and pointed out the flies I should use.

He recommended the grey Wulff, originally developed by Lee Wulff. I liked it because of its thick grey hackle that made it ride high on the water.

The Metolius was every bit as beautiful as Al had described it, lined by pines and wildflowers, gin clear with deep blue pools fed by dramatic riffles.

I tied on one of those expensive grey Wulff flies and started casting. A trout rose about 20 feet upstream. On my third try, I placed the fly so it drifted down to where the fish was working.

It bobbed along, easily visible. Suddenly the water beneath it opened up and a large mouth pulled it down.

My fiberglass Jimmy Green fly rod bowed and the reel whined as the trout got out into the current and took off. Compared to the little trout in Sonoma Creek, this was a monster, a 16-inch rainbow. After a five-minute tussle, I released him.

I’ll never forget that first Metolius River trout.

The river has aged and changed a bit since that time. Me too. But as I stepped into the water last week not far from the spot where I caught that first rainbow, it was like visiting dear old friend.

Today it is pounded by thousands of anglers and lined by cabins and campgrounds, none of which were there many decades ago. Its trout see every fly known to man, including the Wulff. They are very difficult to fool.

I spent my reunion afternoon trying.

Except for too much stream-side development, the river is still incredibly beautiful. The fish are still there.

To punctuate this point, I was in my last pool of the afternoon, drifting one pattern after another through very trouty looking water without a nudge.

While I stood there watching my offerings drift untouched, a very large grey caddis fly dipped down to the surface only 10 feet downstream from me. It accidentally floundered on the surface for a second too long. A big rainbow rose up to suck it down – exactly where my flies had drifted multiple times.

My old friend the Metolius had just reminded me of why we call it fishing not catching.

Meanwhile back in the Bay Area, the wind is the only thing preventing anglers from having good days. When it’s not too windy, anglers are catching striped bass and halibut in all the usual spots on San Francisco Bay. To get the latest reports and book a party boat call Keith Fraser at Loch Lomond Bait Shop in San Rafael at 415-456-0321.

While salmon action has been hit and miss off the Sonoma Coast, rock and ling cod fishing remains outstanding. There too, the wind or lack thereof can make all the difference. Call Capt. Rick Powers at Bodega Bay Sportsfishing to book a trip, 875-3344.

If you just want to sling some bait and catch a few striped bass, possibly even a keeper or two, you can drive over toward Napa and take Cuttings Wharf Road down to the Napa River, where anglers are catching lots of stripers, mostly undersized, casting from the bank.

Sweeney’s Sports in Napa has bait and people who can tell you where the best fishing is now.