Fly fishing follies

A day at the mouth of the Deschutes nets little but an empty stomach.

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An angler uses a float tube at the mouth of the Deschutes River.

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An angry preying mantis clutches a grasshopper at the mouth of the Deschutes River.

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The mouth of the Deschutes River provides rugged scenery for anglers.

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Steelhead may rest below or above rapids at the mouth of the Deschutes River.

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Anglers find good access to the water at the mouth of the Deschutes River.

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Anglers may employ colorful two-fly rigs to attract steelhead.

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Calm water often looks like a place to toss flies.

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Nora takes a break from exploring to soak up some sunshine.

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Fishing pals wait patiently for the action to occur.

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High water has left large debris along the bank of the Deschutes River.

A week ago Tuesday, the Deschutes Canyon Fly Shop's web site revealed "fish throughout" the river system.

I suggested to Darlene and Nora the Schnauzer that we motor to the confluence of the Deschutes and the Columbia rivers near Biggs Junction to hunt steelhead the next morning.

If we left Walla Walla at 5 a.m., I could toss flies across from the Deschutes River State Recreation Area, 140 miles away, by 8:42 a.m.

They agreed, seemingly.

So, with four large, crisp apples, Nora's Lean Treats and two water bottles, we set out on Wednesday.

Not at 5 a.m.

After stopping for coffee and scones to go, I figured to unlimber my first cast by 10 a.m. Or 10:42 a.m.

Maybe.

Then we made a rest stop at Pendleton, and another near Boardman.

Finally, at the bridge over the Deschutes, my eagerness waned.

"Darn," I muttered. "Should be a flotilla of fishing boats on the Columbia."

I saw none.

Across the bridge, I turned left and passed a boat launch area with three boat-trailer rigs where 15 should be.

I parked above a single white pickup, loaded with a rubber raft, at the trailhead with access to the river.

Nora leaped out to plunder the weeds. Darlene rigged a paper curtain to defend her right ear from the sun. She opened her Harry Potter novel.

I opened the back and geared up. No one else arrived before I affixed two flies to the tippet on a nine-foot leader. I stuffed two apples, a water bottle and Nora's treats into vest pockets.

Nora and I hurried down the dusty trail.

"This way," I called at a path to the river.

Nora dashed back and padded on ahead.

I unleashed my first cast as a man across the river whipped a side-arm fling with a spinning rod. The bronze lure gleamed in the sunshine It sailed to mid-stream.

It landed with a barely visible spew.

I cast repeatedly. I aimed the tip of the nine-foot, eight-weight G.Loomis graphite rod at the water and led the line downstream with the current.

Fish ignore a fly that the line drags.

Apparently.

The man across the river yelled that a big fish jumped "about 40 feet out" to my right.

I eagerly threw the flies there 50 times. They plunked down and drifted to where the fish lurked.

To no avail.

Occasionally, I looked at Nora. She lay on a grassy knoll and looked at me with curious, chestnut-brown eyes.

Then, with the noon-day sun shimmering on the water, we hiked upstream.

We stopped at a dozen enticing riffles, and I cast many times. I changed the two flies twice, with the same luck. I tied on a twist of orange wool, as a last resort.

Eventually, at a cable pole a mile up from the truck, the afternoon sun stretched my shadow upstream.

I tossed 10 casts there.

"Let's go back," I said to Nora. We squinted into the sun on a two-track trail 100 yards from the river.

When we reached where the fish had jumped, my impulse said, "Don't go. Catch the fish!"

So, Nora followed me to the river again and lay sleepy-eyed on the grass.

I made several 45-foot tosses, expecting each time to feel a steelhead's muscular pull and see the rod curl into a capital "C."

After 20 tries, however, my impulse said, "C'mon. Give it up!"

I did.

On the trail again Nora sniffed at a preying mantis clutching a grasshopper's remains. I flopped down to snap a photo, and the shadow of a man with a fly rod fell over me.

"The preying mantis caught dinner," I said, a bit red-faced.

"It's a big one," he said and strode past.

"You have any luck?" I called.

"I caught two," he said without turning.

I almost said, "I caught three."

I didn't.

Darlene, as usual, asked where the fish were as she closed her book.

As usual I said, "In the river."

Nora and I had fished for four hours.

Time does fly, etc.

Darlene had eaten one apple. I ate one.

Hungry, I packed away the gear, and we drove to Biggs for lunch.

Darlene had a McRib.

"I've heard they contain an ingredient found commonly in Yoga mats," I said. (Google McRib for details).

Nora and I shared a dollar cheeseburger, the last two apples and several Lean Treats.

Then I nursed my tennis elbow all the way home. We made it before 8 p.m.

Contact Don Davis at dondavis@wwub.com. More of Don's photos can be found online at www.tripper.smugmug.com .

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