Wednesday, September 29, 2010

#21 - Live like You ain't Afraid of Dyin'

All the romance of trout fishing exists in the mind of the angler and is in no way shared by the fish. - Harold F. Blaisdell, The Philosophical Fisherman, 1969

We call it 5 Junipers Hole. It's a tiny oval-shaped pool at the end of a swift, shallow riffle that flows past a row of towering juniper trees about a 5 mile hike upstream from Page Springs Campground on the Donner und Blitzen River. It's a special spot . . . it's going to be my final resting place.
If there's a Heaven on Earth for me, it's the Blitzen River basin. Tucked away in a remote corner of Southeastern Oregon near Frenchglen, the Blitzen is a classic high desert freestone tailwater meandering through a narrow rugged canyon that's spotted with thick patches of fragrant sagebrush, thorny teasel, and bushy juniper trees. It's a natural, unspoiled paradise teeming with wildlife that features cold, clear waters supporting a healthy Redband Rainbow Trout population. In other words, it's a fly angler's dream come true!

So I couldn't wait until Labor Day Weekend for that's when my nephews, Michael (with long hair) and Adam Manke, agreed to meet me there for the first time. Pulling into Page Springs around dusk, I believe the boys were immediately impressed seeing 6 Whitetail Deer closely milling around our campsite. The natives turned out to be restless however, and took off with our tostada shells and a box of granola bars in the middle of the night, devouring the goods then quietly disappearing as quickly as the pair of shooting stars we saw streaking across the ebony sky over our campfire.

As the sun rose, the river level continued to fall, so the angling was going to be tough but the 5 mile hike in front of us seemed like it was going to be easy. Crossing fields, marshes, meadows, rocks, and river, Michael, Adam, and I strolled upstream over dry dirt, moist mud, tall grass, slick boulders, and pure water amazed at the diversity of insect life around us. There were butterflies, caterpillars, and dragonflies -- of all varieties, but most importantly there were grasshoppers and they were abundant and active and the first dry fly pattern out of our boxes too. Sadly as predicted though, the fishing was tough - only a half dozen 8 to 10 inchers, and a multitude of missed strikes - but later that evening, our barbequed chicken dinner was tender and delicious and the perfect meal to end the near-perfect day. (Note: the sauteed zucchini was excellent too, thanks Chef Michael!).

Day two brought cooler temperatures (still in the mid-80's), a few more clouds, less hoppers, and changes in our strategy and my nephew's outfits. Apparently my wading shoes were too small for Michael and too big for Adam so they happily switched to their sneakers, successfully avoiding another blister on the bottom of their feet or two. Unfortunately our change in tactics - indicator nymphing with my top secret caddis pattern - didn't fare as well although both Michael and Adam finally landed a fish. There was one minor tragedy too, involving Michael, a big snake, myself, and my camera. It's not what you think! I simply slipped on a rock attempting to turn too fast to photograph Michael with a 3 foot snake dangling from his hand ("Uncle Gary, look what I caught!" he shouted) and fell into the river on my clumsy butt, instantly filling my hip boots and my camera with clean, fresh Harney County water! I missed the picture then I lost my first digital SLR to boot! I tried CPR but it was too late. At least I salvaged the card and my entire photo essay up to the drowning, and after some sober reflection, I can't think of a more appropriate place now for the camera to have died.

Live like You ain't Afraid of Dyin' -- that was the message on the old pick-up truck's bumper I was forced to follow down the highway on my way to the Blitzen. Since then, it's become my mantra. So when I die, why do I want to be cremated and have my nephews spread my ashes at 5 Junipers Hole? Because there's no place on this planet where I feel more alive.

Thanks to the miracle of modern multi-media technology and the skill of my friend Kevin Beckstrom at using it, we're pleased to present a Windows Movie of the entire photo essay -- you can view it by clicking this link:
The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but obtainable. A perpetual series of occasions for hope. - John Buchan
Thanks again to graphic artist friend Kevin Beckstrom for creating the video: 5 Junipers Hole. Please check out his daily updated, fine collection of cartoons and illustrations here:
Special thanks to my nephews Michael and Adam Manke for camping, fishing, and sharing the Blitzen River experience with me. But most of all, thanks in advance for doing what you promised to do -- tight lines, Uncle Gary