BOISE TO BEND, June 7-11, 2013

By Dallas Cross

Gerry and I drove to Bend, Oregon from Boise, Idaho on Highway 20, a 350 mile trip that took seven hours. This was new country for both of us as it soon became high desert with sage, rabbit brush and junipers. The route followed the Malheur River and echoed the "Disaster Trail" or Free Emigrant Trail where two pioneer parties attempted to shorten the trip to Oregon Territory while avoiding the travails of crossing the Blue Mountains on the regular Oregon Trail further North. During one of these failed attempts twenty settlers died before the others were saved by a rescue party from the Dalles. The misinformed wagon guides did not know the trail was incomplete and there was virtually no water, except for Bad Smelling Creek, between the Malheur River source and the rivers near Bend. One trying stretch had 70 dry miles. Driving on we saw desert landscape with continual lava flows and basalt bluffs. We traveled through several low passes climbing from 2500 feet elevation to just over 4000 feet at Bend. The drive at the 55 mph speed limit on the two-lane road gave me ample time to imagine pioneer problems and admire the scenery, except during the curvy part of the highway that climbs out of Burns.

With directions from our satellite guidance device and instructions from our soon to be hosts, Vern and Koni Jeremica, we fixed the device on Century Drive in Bend as a first destination. Unfortunately for us, as Vern later explained, Century Drive is a 100 mile circuit around a mountain. We mistakenly started the tour, realized our error and re-fixed the device on the proper address some ten miles up the Deschutes River from Bend.

Vern and Koni started building their house three years ago on a lot adjacent to a broad portion of the Deschutes River South of Bend. They were in the throes of finishing the last of interior odds and ends and completing the landscaping, but the well designed house already had the appearance of a fine river home. They and the house welcomed us warmly with a spacious guest suite, wonderful meals, ample conversation and loving camaraderie.

house on river
Jeremica Home on Deschutes River. Photo from dock on the river

The next day Vern and I headed for the upper Deschutes River to fly fish in what Vern described as a wooded combat zone. He understated the technical difficulties of fishing this stretch but was spot on with the promise of reward for successful combat casting amongst the trees and under the banks. Beneath every log and bank undercut there seemed to lurk a hunky brook or brown trout.

deschutes river
Deschutes River "Combat Zone"

Even though the conditions were challenging I was eager to get on the water and try out my brand new Sage One, five-weight rod and reel. The outfit was light compared to my trusty 6-weight Loomis rod. I had doubts whether it would handle the inevitable snags, and wondered whether it was strong enough to turn a hooked fish running back under cover. Neither concern was realized.

casting fly
Vern's gives me a fly to try on the Deschutes

The fishing problem was two fold, matching the food source and negotiating hazards to convincingly present the fly. Vern had given me some flies he had tied. The first I tried, a light brown dun, did cast beautifully and I caught a couple of small brook trout before my over ambitious and premature reaction to a strike put the fly high up in a lodge pole pine on the bank behind me. I then tied on Vern's green drake dry fly and caught some more. It had been a long time since I had a brook trout in the net. I lingered before their release to admire their white rimmed fins next to a black line and the colorful spots with red ones running down the center of their sides.

The action was slow for me and at Vern's urging I switched to his brass-headed, sculpin pattern fly. Adding to the overhead danger, the sunken wood and rock ledges in the stream became adversarial. Watching carefully in the clear water I made last second lifts to try to avoid hook ups on ledges and sunken logs and was mostly successful, loosing only two flies. Casting the weighted fly was jerky and awkward for me and, and unacceptably inaccurate. But I improved with practice and Vern's coaching to a moderately acceptable level of intent-to-result casting. After landing couple of smaller brookies I connected with my catch-of-the day and successfully brought to net a brook trout a bit longer than my 12-inch boot. That made the day complete, I was tired and needed bank time and some water.

Meanwhile Vern had been fooling brookies at a rate of about four times that of mine. He kept three, including a lovely 17-inch trout, all destined for the wonderful surf and turf dinner he would prepare for us that evening.

The next day Vern mercifully refrained from running me up and down another creek as I have some ambulatory limitations from a recent mini-stroke. Instead, he took me to downtown Bend and showed me the fly casting competition course the merchants and city created. The competition course borders and crosses the Deschutes river for about a mile in length. I assembled my new rod and Vern strung it putting a piece of red yarn on the end of the leader. He then demonstrated how to negotiate a few of the different "holes" on the course. Every hole requires a different casting technique and has a "par" score of the minimum no of casts to get the yarn in the target circle. Vern, being a professional fly casting champion, was the perfect coach and demonstrator of what it took to approach or better par. I started getting the hang of it and especially had fun with the holes requiring roll casts, as well as one hole with a hoop on a pole through which you must cast a tight loop along with your trailing fly in order to score. However, I don't think I will ever get to the competitive level. For anyone it is excellent casting practice.

Vern stringing rod at Bend fly casting competition course.

Vern - Long casting practice. Note casting hoop target (par 1) behind him on the competition course.

On the third day Vern drove us to the nearby Falls River with much less wood fall and more open casting water. We plied the edges of banks, ledges and banks catching a few rainbow trout and I scored on my largest fish of the trip, a 14 inch rainbow. I spent about 20 minutes stalking a huge brown trout that, several times, would rise to within an inch from the fly but never opened its mouth. We ended up at the falls and the air around the falling water seemed 20 degrees cooler. This I needed as I had on heavy, booted waders that drew sweat enough to sodden my trouser legs. Most of the fishing was from the bank so I didn't get the cool relief from wading. Trout at the pool below the falls were continually flashing up to the surface to feed but refused our march browns, caddis and green drakes dry flies, turning away as they approached to investigate. I tied on a small drake emerger and finally caught a couple of rainbows before I decided it was bank time. From there I watched Vern continue to score, until I slipped in a short nap.

The next day we reluctantly drove home arriving to find that the expensive leader nippers I had ordered a month before, and sorely missed in the combat zone three days earlier, were waiting in the mail.

copyright 2013 Dallas Cross

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