TUMWATER – Most river anglers have home water – a stretch of stream that is a combination getaway, classroom, testing ground – and stress-free zone.
Home water should be within a short drive of home, but some anglers treasure home water that is hundreds or thousands of miles away from their doorstep.
My home water is Thurston County’s own Deschutes River, which flows through the countryside less than 10 minutes from my home.
I found the river when I moved to South Sound back in 1996 to work at The Olympian.
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It was my third day in the newsroom – and I was on my third story of the day. I was so stressed out it felt like my hair was standing on end.
I needed a river – and just about any river would do at that point.
I pulled out a local map and found three access points to the Deschutes. I finished my last story of the day, raced home and dug my 4-weight fly rod, waders and fishing vest out of a box.
Then I raced – far too fast – to the river.
It was just about this time of year, and the sun was still high in the sky at 6 p.m. It was too bright for good fishing, but I was willing to wait a couple of hours.
I wandered down the stream a ways – using shallow gravel bars to cross the river from time to time – until I found a spot that looked good.
A riffle – bouncing, rocky, shallow water – hugged a tree-shaded bank and then spilled into a deeper pool with dead timber poking above the surface.
The spot shouted “Trout Live Here!”
I sat on the bank and rigged up with a size 16 X-Caddis fly. The X-Caddis, the creation of Yellowstone angler Craig Mathews, imitates a crippled caddis fly, and it’s a great choice for a summer evening.
The fly is even a better choice when you see adult caddis flitting around in the bankside trees and over the water.
But no fish were rising just yet.
As I sat there, I thought about my previous home river – Oregon’s Willamette River between Eugene and Corvallis.
This section of the Willamette is big water – but it was a short drive from my Corvallis apartment, and it can offer spectacular fishing for rainbow and cutthroat trout. I also love the river because it used to be a sewer and trash dump for the entire Willamette Valley.
But the people of Oregon started working together during the late 1960s to save their river – and they did.
Oregon’s Willamette kept me sane when my editors were trying to drive me crazy. Wading out into a stream dotted with rising trout one or two evenings a week is much cheaper than alcohol, drugs or trips to a therapist.
I decided to move to Olympia and take a job at The Olympian during an evening session on the river.
Before the Willamette – which was also my home water during my years at the University of Oregon – my home water was Oregon’s Deschutes River, which is one of the best trout streams on the planet.
Oregon’s Deschutes taught me a lot about catching trout – and it is still a favorite destination throughout the year.
Anyway, the sun eventually dropped below the streamside trees during that first Deschutes evening about 13 years ago.
I kneeled on the gravel and watched fluttering caddis vanish in quick little rises. Wild trout were rising less than 5 miles from a state capital city. That says something about the state and the people who live in that state.
I cast my fly into the sweet spot where the riffle dropped into the deeper water, but a current tongue grabbed my leader and turned my fly into a tiny motorboat. Trout usually don’t eat bugs that act like motorboats.
I eased to a different spot and made a cast I first learned on my first home river – Oregon’s Deschutes River.
The cast – an upstream reach cast – asks the angler to cast the fly downstream. But, before the fly lands on the water, the angler swings the fly rod out from the body and upstream. The cast puts the fly over the fish’s snout before the leader – and it creates enough slack line to drift the fly a few critical feet without it turning into a motorboat.
The cast sounds a lot more complicated than it really is. It took me about 10 minutes to learn.
A trout rose, sucked down the fly and popped into the air. I was hooked as surely as that 8-inch-long cutthroat.
Thurston County’s Deschutes is a modest little stream – with some big surprises from time to time. The water still calms my mind – and sometimes slaps down my angling skills.
I bungle fish, fall into the water and get tangled up in the streamside thickets.
But it’s my home water.
Chester Allen: 360-754-4226