There are many milestones along life's way, we recently hit one that will be forever in all our memories......
It was a gorgeous late summer day. I was with the family and we were having a great time camping,fishing and spending quality time.
My wife is becoming quite the fisher woman and after many steelhead on a single hand rod on the North Umpqua, she has taken up the two handed rod and has started to master it. She knows the runs and the technique and needs little hand holding ( just ask her). Sometimes I get a little too vocal when I see her miss an anchor placement or stop her rod too low. She does best when I shut up and leave her alone! I'm slowly learning! I knew she did not need me to show her anything about the run so I concentrated on my son and made sure he was set up in a spot he could cast in without being swept away,and might have a chance at a fish.
I put him up in the head of the run and showed him where the fish usually lay and what he needed to do to get a good swing through the bucket. He listened intently and I could see the wheels turning hard in his head. Once I knew he was in a safe spot, I wanted to leave him on his own.
As I was walking away he said "Hey Dad!" He then flips his hat around backwards on his head, flashes me the shaka brah "hang loose" hand sign and says "Old School Baby!" I laughed hard and walked away shaking my head, what a crack up!
I turn and leave him on his own and walk down to where my wife was swinging through the lower part of the run, admiring her left handed Snap T and probably firing comments about rod position and anchor placement and giving her "casting pointers" which, as I noted above, never works out well for me. Maybe its my delivery.......
Then the silence is broken
My wife and I were fishing down lower in the run and we heard the cries of a very excited boy into his first steelhead. Sweeter words have not hit my ears in a very long time......
"I got one, I got one!"
He's yelling, we are yelling, the dog is barking, the reel is screaming and we are all on instant high alert. I run from the lower end of the pool upriver towards him as I yell "keep the rod up, keep it tight, let um run if he wants!" and other unintelligible gibberish as my mind is blown that he has actually hooked a fish.
"He's pulling hard Dad!"
The reel pays out line fast and bucks hard as the fish dogs around on the ledge on the far side of the run. I can tell by the way its fighting its a big buck. We never see the fish as it stays deep and swims where it wants, barely aware of the hook in it's mouth. It would swim upstream as my boy continues pulling as hard as he dare on the 10lb Maxima. We scramble down stream and I have a hand on the back of his waders ensuring he doesn't go down in the swift water.
"You are doing great son, lets move down a little and get an angle on him and see if we can land him"
We move down stream, straight across from the fish and all the while he is pulling hard on it trying to move it off the ledge on the far side. He gains line onto the reel a little then looses it in the deep, rod bending slow run of a large fish. Its been a few minutes now and we are in a stand off.
Every one is yelling and the excitement is high. Mom makes it up where we are and shouts encouragement as I spy a tear of joy in her eye as she is hit with the overwhelming weight of the river tradition that is being transferred from father to son at this very moment.
My daughter joins in shouting and screaming at her bro as he fights his first fish. " Don't jack it up" she yells ribbing him mercilessly. We all are still amazed at what has happened and time stands still as we all realize, Wow dude, you are really hooked up!
The dog is going bananas as he knows what each of my reels sound like, the Daiwa 812 purrs and functions flawlessly. as K2 fights the fish hard and perfectly, never giving slack to the line and always having a good rod position.
This fish wont move!
I fight every bone in my body not to grab the rod away and try to budge it off the ledge. I think to myself, this is a big fish and may need some old tricks to get him landed, I know I can get him in if I...........
I am snapped back to reality knowing I can't do that. It was HIS cast, HIS drift and HIS hookup, it's HIS fish, lay off you knuckle head DON'T TOUCH THE ROD! I resist the urge knowing what ever happens will happen. I continue to try and relay information on how to fight this fish, telling him about rod position and side pressure, trying to get the fish to roll or turn by pulling on him at different angles.
He pulls the fish away from the ledge, the fish swims right back over and hunkers down. Again and again this game is played out until..........the hook comes out and the fish is gone.
Now we all wanted to see this fish but it was not to be this time. I tell K2 that almost no one lands their first steelhead. He understands and is ready to catch another one almost immediately.
The awesomeness factor on this experience was off the chart, landed or not this was a big deal for everyone. His whole family got to witness his first fish on the North Umpqua. To say I am proud at his accomplishments thus far in his young career are an understatement.
This river can make a grown man cry and a young 8 year old boy can become a man just like that. The torch has passed and he is running hard with it............
Continue to grow and learn and above all teach well my friends
2 Timothy 3:14
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
Next Generation Skating a Dry Fly
The North Umpqua should be held up as a showplace for good management practices. Common sense regulations favoring wild fish are important, and they are in place and working on the North Umpqua. Thanks to some of the early conservation minded pioneers of the river like Frank Moore and later the Steamboaters and others, the fishery has maintained itself in a healthy way Eliminating hatchery fish in the fly water was a major victory for wild fish and this river. The etiquette and history also still remain making it one remarkable place.
The protection of a deep water sanctuary for fish in summer by eliminating weighted flies and indicators was probably one of the most critical regulations for wild fish on the North Umpqua in the summer. The no kill rule for both winter and summer has obviously also done a lot for wild fish protection. These rules ensure no wild fish are killed and a lower percentage of fish are repeatedly hooked and a higher percentage will make it to spawn every year.
The initial logging destruction in the early days did have negative effects for sure but since then, the river corridor and its tributaries have been managed fairly well. Logging regulations and required stream buffers have gotten better for the most part with regard to maintaining vegetation and stream side habitat. This along with the protection of the fish in Big Bend pool up Steamboat Creek and all its tributaries has been the key to this rivers success over the last 50 or so years. If we can get the Frank Moore Wilderness designated permanently it will be a huge win. Spawning habitat is key to these wild fish surviving for the future.
River closures were never part of the management practices and should not become the normal emotional reaction to having to “do something” for the fish. Especially on a river already so regulated. These fish are resilient and have adapted to the warmer water times of summer by staying down in the deeper pools where it’s cooler. When its hot they are hard to catch, period! I don't see any fish being saved right now by the ruling and closure. Yeah they are getting a break for sure but at what point do we just close the river altogether?
Fishing is a blood sport people weather catch and release or not. We are predators when we fish and we always have the potential to kill a wild fish accidentally even with the best and most responsible practices.If the North Umpqua isn't a river that can show by the return numbers and the rules in place that these fish can handle pressure and still survive, even thrive than I don't know what river can.
If we are having that much impact on the fish, we should just close all rivers and not fish anywhere there are wild fish ever again. Think about that for a minute. Do we want to regulate ourselves right out of fishing? We need to be careful or it could happen. Look at the Skagit river. Yeah something needed to happen for sure but on the track that river is going with the ESA listing, it may end up being a wild fish sanctuary, forever closed to fishing. Sold down the road by groups that you thought had your best interests in mind. It can happen that fast......
Back to the NU. In fact it is my opinion that more fish are actually being hooked by people using sink tips in these low water conditions. A sink tip in these low water conditions is breaking into the deep water sanctuary ( hey, there isn't much deep water out there right now) that the no weighted fly in summer attempted to protect. I will say that instead of a 2 pm closure, a much better rule in the warmer water of summer is a no sink tip rule. Keep the river open all day and no sink tips, that will save some fish from being hooked for sure!
The NU can’t and shouldn’t be lumped in with other rivers struggling along trying to maintain a healthy fishery. 70 years of data shows that this river and its fish are special and are doing as well as any wild steelhead run in the world for its size. Its a world class fishery that has been maintained and regulated for exactly that, FISHING! Its a healthy river for wild fish and the regulations are in place to see that trend continue.
We should hold the river up and show case it as an example of what good management for wild fish looks like. The North Umpqua is unique and should always be managed that way. It has worked well so far. I don't want to see the ODFW broad brush this gem in with other rivers with major problems. The North Umpqua has already addressed and overcome.so many hurdles, it is standing the test of time as a strong and healthy river with a vibrant wild fish population.
That being said, as much as I disagree with the current closure I will always respect the fish, the fishery, the rules that are in place and the river and do my part to ensure that generations can enjoy this river in the future.