I hadn’t gone fishing for over a week and I needed a fish fix. Okay, I lie. I fished the lower Umatilla River two days ago and caught a 12 lb springer, but once you catch a springer you are addicted. You need to catch another one and soon. My dilemma is promising to spend the day with my 93-year old Mom. I quickly assess that taking the long way to Walla Walla through Umatilla will allow me to cast for springers and arrive at her house before noon.
So I hit the road with salmon gear, my fly vest and four-piece Reddington fly rod nestled in the back of my truck. One hour of casting roe in Chinaman’s Hole produces no result so I motor east through Wallula Gap passing a steady lineup of RVs getting an early start on Memorial Day weekend. After paying bills, fixing lunch and watching dickey birds on the back porch with Mom, I share that I plan to try upper Mill Creek for trout.
“I wouldn’t mind going along,” Mom replies.
“But there’s no place for you to hike,” I say. (Did I mention she relies on a walker to get around the house?) “I guess I could park you in the shade while I wet a line. It might mean skipping your afternoon nap though.”
“I’ll take my binoculars and look for birds,” she replies. “And my pillow in case I get tired.”
So we take a scenic drive up Mill Creek, my hopes for serious fishing dashed. However, there are only so many sunshine days in May where you can look for song sparrows with your 93-year old Mom.
I pass mile after mile of “No Trespassing” signs before reaching the upper watershed. Steep shale slopes and dense undergrowth block easy routes to the creek. I find a wide spot in the road where I imagine public access is allowed, leave Mom with her binoculars and drop over the edge of the road to a short stretch of fishable water. Bank-full flows lead to treacherous wading in thigh-deep snowmelt, but it is fishing nonetheless. I tie on a Parachute Adams working my way upstream through pocket pools shaded by overhanging alder. No takers.Hmmm. Are there no trout or is the problem no bug action? I swap patterns to a #12 Stimulator before my line tightens to the dance of a small rainbow trout. I hold the fish in the palm of my hand to admire before dropping it back into the river. There is magic in the first trout of the year even if it is only 6 inches long.
A long stretch of barren riffles and guilt about leaving Mom alone dampens my enthusiasm. I elect to quit for the day but vow to return when flows have dropped, a mayfly hatch is on and I have more time. Bare ankles scratched and bloody from encounter with thorny blackberry vines, I hike back to my truck where Mom patiently sits, binoculars in her lap. “See any birds?” I ask.
“Nothing flew by,” she replies. “I heard a song sparrow though. How was fishing?”
“Sorry I didn’t catch you a dinner trout, but thanks for letting me fish,” I say, like the good son I try to be when fishing doesn’t get in the way.
Sometimes your reward is found in heaven. Mine came the following morning when I get a call from my bass fishing buddy Wayne. “We caught a ton of smallies in upper Crow Butte last week,” he said. They were small and skinny but action was good all day long.”
So I pack my six-weight and a handful of meaty flies, hoping that bass are still on the nest. As things turn out they had moved to the Columbia River and deep water, but thanks to Wayne’s electronic diary of a thousand GPS weigh-points, we catch and release over 80 bass up to 3½ lbs in size on curly tail jigs over the course of the afternoon.
It took three different angling venues, a few extra road miles and 36 hours from the time I started, but I finally got my fish fix.