OUTDOORS - Fishing the South Fork Umatilla River yields high catches

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A small trout swirls in the water after being released.

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Nora the Schnauzer gets close to the action along the South Fork Umatilla River.

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Deer scatter (below) along Wildhorse Road.

After I hooked and released a third 8-inch rainbow trout without removing it from the South Fork Umatilla River, I paused and pondered.

I had cast half-a-dozen times, so 3-for-6 means a .500 catching percentage.

Usually my percentage hovers in the .085 or .090 range. That's before a frequent late-season slump.

So, a .500 average in the fall left me pumped.

It could have left me smirking, too.

Not for long, however.

On my next cast, I hauled in a four-incher and felt like a bully picking on small fry.

So, I reeled in the line and hooked the fly into the rod's soft handle.

"Let's move," I said to Nora the Schnauzer, who grazed on succulent green sprouts among the rocks.

"Let's stumble upstream a ways," I added.

I held the rod in one hand and the camera at the ready in the other, as we stumbled along the cobbled bar beside the narrow channel.

Two white-blotched salmon had rippled like ribbons in the pool that I fished so successfully. My attempted photos had failed.

Yet, if a salmon scrambled through the narrow shallows above the pond, I aimed to get a shot of it in motion.

Or not.

We had left Walla Walla at 6:30 a.m. and stopped in Milton-Freewater for a bacon-and-egg biscuit to share. After passing through Weston, I stopped several times to photograph hawks and deer.

I turned around once along the Umatilla River road to snap a sign at a private-property line: "Trespassers will be shot. Survivors will be shot again.

Anyway, I didn't toss flies until after 9 a.m.

I used a two-fly rig with a vivid, orange strike indicator. I tied a No. 6 bead-head black nymph pattern to the main tippet with a smaller No. 10 grasshopper pattern on a 10-inch dropper a foot below the strike indicator.

On the first cast, I hooked a fish on the grasshopper and brought in a tangled tippet.

Drat. A curse on the two-fly rig. I removed the dropper and the black nymph in favor of one fly.

Then, after going .500, we moved upstream in search of another pool.

Nora and I skirted the narrow channel for a few hundred yards, but no water enticed me to toss the fly.

Back at the wagon, I headed for Umatilla Forks Campground. One RV had taken a spot. Fourteen remained vacant, and I parked near where the forks merge.

A blotched salmon lay dead up against the rocks along the South Fork.

I tossed the grasshopper upstream on the South Fork. It drifted into the seam between the two streams and took a hit. I lifted up a 6-inch bull trout that I slipped free.

I tossed onto the swift North Fork current and caught another 6-inch bull trout.

I thought about trying larger nymphs to move larger fish, perhaps one of those 22-inch bull trout that I hear about.

Then I thought about lunch. Catching fish at a .625 percentage rate, even if they're minnows, makes a person hungry.

"Hurry, Nora," I said. "Let's go home."

Contact Don Davis at dondavis@wwub.com.

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