Commentary, Front Page, Oakridge/Westfir, Outdoors

Rattlesnakes take a bite out of my career as a catch-and-release flyfisher

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dean rea,musings,highway 58 heraldI don’t need much of an excuse to think about fishing. So, when the Tenkara Bug Out was mentioned Monday during the Westfir City Council meeting, I learned that some folks fly-fish without a reel attached to the rod.

It’s a form of Japanese fly-fishing known as tenkara, which doesn’t sound promising to a guy who still finds it difficult to dress up and to rig up for such an outing.

tenkara bug out,westfir,flyfishing,dean rea,musings
The Tenkara Bug Out logo says ‘Oakridge,’ but neighboring Westfir is actually where the fly-fishing event is planned for this summer.

I learned during my career of casting artificial flies into a fast-moving stream that I am a flyfisher, not a fly-fisherman.

Learned that one evening during a social event in Bend while talking to a woman who spent much of her spare time casting flies and catching fish.

I mentioned that I knew a few women who were fly-fishermen.

“We’re flyfishers,” she retorted in a tone fitting a person who had swatted mosquitoes and waded through miles of water in search of the wily trout.

So, to be on the safe side, that night I became a flyfisher.

My failure as a flyfisher, however, should not be blamed on my vocabulary.

I’m afraid of rattlesnakes, and Eastern Oregon where I often fished is crawling with those critters.

My eldest son introduced me to fly-fishing, an interest he developed in high school while learning to be a master at tying flies.

After he finished college, he zeroed in on fishing and tying flies. I followed in his footsteps, purchased fishing gear and began tying. His nicest compliment about my tying ability was voiced during that era.

“Dad, your flies will catch fish,” he said.

“Why,” I asked while touching up a Caddis.

“Your flies look like they’re injured,” he replied.

We fished rivers and lakes in central and eastern Oregon and the North Fork in Herald 58 country with varying degrees of success.

dean rea,musings,fly-fishing,tenkara
Lovely . . . but will it catch fish?

Didn’t matter because we are catch-and-release flyfishers.

That didn’t work out so well one afternoon on a mountain lake during which we caught and released several dozen trout. When our wives heard about our success, they asked if we had kept any fish, which they planned to serve for dinner. Took us nearly two hours to catch a half dozen keepers.

I’m always watchful for rattlesnakes when I travel to Fish Lake atop Steens Mountain in Eastern Oregon. I once was wading up to my waiste in mid-lake and wondering if rattlesnakes swam there. I nearly fainted when something bumped me in the back. Turned out to be a tree limb floating in the water.

I once spent half a day fishing a small stream out of Burns only to learn later that one of the country’s largest rattlers had roamed the rocky banks.

The greatest challenge, however, was fishing the Deschutes River near Maupin. My son would take me along railroad tracks and point down a steep hillside covered with brush.

“We put in down there,” he would say.

“But I can hear what sounds like rattlesnakes,” I would reply.

“You’re right. Let’s fish.”

Fortunately, I’m no longer athletic enough to wade streams. Nevertheless, I’m still a flyfisher at heart and recently picked up my 2022 license.

In honor and memory of the woman who set me straight about flyfishers, I wish to quote the introduction to “I Don’t Know Why I Swallowed the Fly,” a book written by Jessica Maxwell.  She describes why I and thousands of flyfishers suit up, set out and seek the wily fish:

“A million gallons of water pressed hard against my thighs. Ancient rock cliffs soul-kissed the sky above me. Every move I made had distinct dinosaurian qualities. Every step I took seemed to take eons. I felt like Tina Turner trapped in a Palcozoic music video. What was I doing on the wrong side of Oregon standing in the middle of the Deschutes River with nothing to hold onto but the butt-end of a fly rod?”

P.S.: For the record, I have never encountered a rattlesnake while fly-fishing.

Longtime Oregon journalist Dean Rea, widely known for his years as a University of Oregon journalism educator and as an editor at The Register-Guard in Eugene,  serves as editor of The Herald.

deschutes river,maupin,flyfishing,dean rea
The Deschutes River, as seen here near Maupin, is a popular fishing site in Central Oregon




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