I haven’t spent many days on the water this year. I make the typical excuses: time, money, girlfriend, too hot/cold/wet/windy, etc. Overnight river trips I cherish and take advantage of them when I can.
I’ve learned much about navigating a boat/raft on moving water from one person. He has been generous with experience and has displayed great patience with me while I ask endless questions, many multiple times. This last weekend we were floating from Mack’s Canyon to Heritage Landing. The second boat in our party was being skippered by a virgin to the lower river.
New adventures should always include the pucker factor. Preparations need to be made. Shuttles need to be called in. The appropriate ratio of foods to sugars need to be purchased and properly hidden, all portioned for the days that lay ahead. A checklist of items needed on the boat: life Jackets, anchor, oars, straps, ropes, stoves, utensils, etc. has been gone over at least 3 times and you’re still confirming you have it all.
New water raises questions. And some people, in particular, ask a lot of questions. Are there any waterfalls, side channels or braids I should avoid taking my boat over, down or through? What are my emergency egress options? How many river miles? How many days do you have to float those miles? Where do I fish? Can my boat survive its maiden voyage? What do I do about power boats? What do I do about a shuttle? All great questions. All questions and their answers are preferably known by all individuals in the party and should be confidently confirmed. We are talking about navigating a section of moving water with a long, well-documented history hoping for a prime camp that will afford you opportunities that evening and at first light.
Now, one of the benefits of being friends with an experienced oarsman and fly fisher, I get to sit in the front of the boat while he maneuvers us through the incredibly beautiful Deschutes River Canyon. Placing me in all of the best places to swing flies for wild steelhead. I get to enjoy the flow of the river, watch for Osprey, Bighorn Sheep, and all of the amazing creatures that inhabit the canyon.
Seeing firsthand the remarkable comeback of riverside vegetation after two fires burned much of the lower rivers landscape. Rowing downriver, well trying anyway, through gusting/sustained winds for hours making little progress while the topsoil from the farm fields above the canyon walls blows into the canyon obscuring our visibility while I sit in the front of the boat happy that I am not wearing contact lenses. I still have dirt exiting the pores of my body.
Another benefit of being with an experienced person is that they have the ability to give very precise and direct instructions/responses to these questions that should be asked. If you're not listening, you will find yourself needing to ask again. This is typically greeted with even more precise and direct instructions. Finding yourself now with less information than you received from the initial response. So having a question that you are pretty sure you already know the answer to is met with something like “What’s the question? To which the response is “Where are we camping when we get there? Now, this causes pause to allow a well-crafted answer.
I’ve never really tried to learn the names of all the runs to fish and rapids to run. This, unfortunately, does not mean that I do not ask…. I try to focus on the geography and geology and how centuries of time have passed while this canyon remains beautiful to this day. Having an experienced friend really helps with this process. History becomes more important with this documented region of Oregon. So knowing the names of some of the side canyons and the folks that traveled down them to create homesteads and live a life of self-sufficiency, railroad construction and devastation does garner knowledge.
The first night we arrived at the boat launch late, just before dark. We packed the boats and launched in the pitch black. This is a thing we’ve done many times before but raises questions from someone less experienced. We floated a mile or so to our first camp, navigating by the stars.
By this time the birthday boy is deep into his first bag of skittles and is contemplating what other sugary snacks he might have.
That first night is spent photographing the stars and anticipating an exciting hopefully fishy trip.
We are up early the next morning. We spread out in front of Camp and get to fishing. Nick is the last man fishing and is deep into the run. On what seems like should be his last
cast he hooks a hot, hot fish. Before we have time to react we can see it cartwheeling off in the distance. After a long hard fight, Nick wins his birthday battle and his first gift is in hand, a 4 or 5 pound wild little net runner. The fish is a perfect specimen and after a couple of pictures, the little beauty is set free.
We push down the river looking for new water, more fish, and our next camp. The river is surprisingly quiet. Brian Silvey and his group of anglers are out and we hopscotch with them. We arrive at our next camp at around 2:00. Sadly we didn’t hook any more fish but we had a great time.
Shortly after we arrive at camp Nicks curiosity gets the best of him and the questions begin.
What were the names of those runs, where did we camp, where is Silvey camped? Zappy’s, Zapperinos
, Ned Flanders, Trans Silvey Ania, Austin Millbarge, Nick’s Fish Hole. Where is that next run? Wrong Turn at Albuquerque? What is the name of that camp?
The further along we get in the day the bigger Nicks antics became. “I’m going to have Mac and Cheese if I can find my blue bamboo spoon. Along with German Chocolate Cake and a few other sugar food groups.”
Nick, “While you were asleep some guy walked into the top of the run in front of camp.”
Josh, “ Oh yeah? What did the guy look like?”
Nick, “He wasn’t wearing a shirt but did have on a gray Simms fishing vest, carried a Spey rod and he might have had a prosthetic arm.”
Josh, “Oh yeah? Hmm?
Nick, “Or did he have a white long sleeve shirt on? Or was he just wearing a dark tee shirt tucked into his waders? I don’t know, I wasn’t wearing my glasses at the time and just saw this blur of a guy walking down the trail.”
For Nick, giving up the tent was a big step. Sleeping under the Milky Way framed perfectly between the canyon walls on a cot was an acceptable 2nd choice. The second night’s camp, a day closer to his Birthday, was greeted with a hammock hung across the entrance to the camp. Thus began the evening's discussion of being either duct taped or cargo strapped inside of the hammock along with a few rocks would really teach him how to navigate the river.
Having a healthy sense of fear is paramount to having an enjoyable time on the water. Respect must be given and patience and relaxation should be employed. Pay attention to your gut. Trust your instincts. Listen to your friend with the ability to safely pilot you down the waterway.
Happy Birthday, Nick!
It was a pleasure spending time on the water with you and I hope we do it again soon. I am glad you caught the only fish of the trip…not really.