Fishing alone: A Coast Range Ramble

A yellow road sign, spattered with buckshot, holes rusting through. It read: Narrow winding road, next 3 miles. More like, next 100 miles. But who’s counting?

Coast Range Newt

I’d gassed up on the way out of town, and the attendant said he’d heard there were fifty cars parked near Whitaker Creek boat ramp on the Siuslaw. I didn’t expect to see those numbers where I was headed.

Boulders the size of my Honda studded the road, recently calved off the sandstone cliffs hanging overhead, a tangible reminder of the potential dangers, fishing alone in the Coast Range.

The water was high and cloudy at my first stop. Fishable, but I’d need to go big and flashy to get any attention. The logging trucks I’d passed every ten minutes or so since I’d climbed into the mountains weren’t helping with the visibility. I’d passed a new clear cut on the way into the valley.

I considered my inability to tell whether the world was getting better or worse. Gains in my lifetime: increased equality, information. Losses: declining species diversity, free time. I didn’t know if it penciled out.

My waders kept breathing into my face. They smelled terrible, worse than usual. Coffee-piss, sweat, mildew, chewing tobacco. I spotted a pull-tab can of Black Label Beer that must have been rusting out here for thirty years. There are cigarette butts on the ground, more recent. I wonder if all fishermen are slobs who make terrible decisions, or if that should be applied to men in general.

We’re moving this summer, to be closer to my family and for my wife’s new job. I think about exploring this landscape with my son in a few years, traveling from the Midwest to show him the place he was born, the climate that shapes the way he thinks and feels, this temperate jungle where wild fish run up abandoned rivers from the ocean.

Fishing alone, you get to do things differently. Think crazy thoughts. Stop to fish at random spots.

I pulled over at a run I’d never stopped at before, but didn’t see any obvious human impact. Banky conventional wisdom: If there’s a trail wide enough for a bunch of fat dudes to waddle down to the river and it’s littered with pork rind bags, it’s probably a productive run. Fish are going to stop in the same places, tide after tide. No trail, no trash — no fish in that spot.

I jumped over to another basin, to see if the water was clearer. There were cows all over tidewater, shitting, tearing down the floodplain, just like every other coastal river in the Northwest.

I headed up another dirt road, my Honda groaning and juking potholes. I can’t believe I’m doing this. The maintenance light has been on for weeks. The car nearly stalled a few blocks from my house, just before I’d left.

I arrived at one of my favorite spots and stumbled on a newt. We have a lot in common, walking the paths along the bank, seemingly aimless, unlikely predators – but our feet keep us moving. I kept casting.

The piece of water usually runs knee deep with riffles and big holes carved into the bedrock. But today the water along the banks was over my waist. I gave up my plan to cover miles on foot. I’d have probably tried it, before my son. But now I’m too afraid to drown. Or too afraid of my wife to come home hours late because the wading was tougher than I’d planned.

The danger creates tension. One misstep wading and the river swallows me up. One slip of the steering wheel and my car dives over the side of a cliff, leaving a small hole in the dense forest. Tiny decisions.

I tell myself that with this much water, the winter steelhead won’t wait. They shoot up the river. And I drive home. I wonder what my son will think when I drag him into the wet, cold woods to get skunked.


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16 Responses to Fishing alone: A Coast Range Ramble

  1. Horatio says:

    Moving? Say it ain’t so!

  2. wags says:

    Your son will appreciate the time you spent w/ him 1:1 telling him stories of his heritage and what this area meant to you. It will not be wasted time~

  3. Capt. Nate says:

    I miss it too…but have plans for you both… See you soon!

  4. nic callero says:

    Goddamnit! You are moving also? Bright side more fish for me to catch, down side less great pieces like this to read. Well done Matt.

  5. David Jensen says:

    The moving part just isn’t right, Matt. You have done so much to energize people around here to stand for and advocate for native fish. That is part of your legacy which needs to be passed on to your son.

  6. married to flystud says:

    lovely writing, thanks for sharing…

  7. Anthony says:

    Dang, Matt. I have shared only a few handshakes and a few reintroductions but your posts have reminded me many a time of why I love to fish and why I should fish more often. Glad to hear you’re out getting the last few trips in. With regard to sons, I hope to have days where my boys and I get skunked by fish but blessed with conversation and time (whatever that is). Although the potholes you may encounter on the Right Coast will have different vegetation surrounding them, I’m sure the log trucks will be happy to welcome you just the same. Thank you for the impact you have had on this community. Best wishes.

  8. Lou says:

    Matt- as always – AMAZING!!!

  9. Shoshana says:

    Matt – Good luck on your move. Your leaving is a big loss to the local fly fishing community. I will miss running into you at the Caddis Fly Shop talking about fishing and seeing your son get bigger.

  10. Oregon Fly Fishing Blog says:

    Thanks for the great comments everybody. I’ll be here till July, dragging myself up and down the banks of these rivers whenever family will let me. Like I’m sure everybody else says… I’ll be back.

    Ohio was where I was born, but this is the place I would choose to make a life.

    This blog is my baby, and I can’t just leave it. You can count on reports from far-flung and exotic locales (trust me, Lake Erie is exotic) and product reviews for stuff I can get Chris to send me.

    I also have plans for a lasting conservation-related project that will keep me connected to this area.

    Also, my house is currently $43k under water! I’ll be an Oregon landlord for a good long time waiting for that to bounce back.

  11. Rob R says:

    Ohio must be pretty awesome. Maybe we should all move over there with Matt?

  12. Chris Nanoski says:

    My wife and I let the bank have our house here in Arizona. $95,000 underwater. We’re moving from Az to Oregon. I grew up in Corvallis and throwing flys around on small coastal streams. It’s not perfect anywhere right now but Az is absolutely terrible.

  13. Chris L. says:

    Wow, almost teared up reading that one. I’ve read this blog for a while but never commented. This relation just pulled too many heart strings. Like so many others, here I grew up somewhere else (Mississippi Gulf Coast) fishing since I can remember. Oregon has made an indellable impression on my spirit; fishing amidst majestic scenery for ever elusive, but amazing fish. My whole family is east of the Mississippi, continually feeding that draw homeward. But I feel the roots that have taken hold here being ripped out of Oregon soil every time I think of going home.
    I’ve begun fly fishing with my son here in small trout streams lately. The joy in his face when he lands a fish he found all on his own makes every effort to get him there worthwhile. That holds true wherever you may be.
    Best of luck over there… And thanks for so many great entries!

  14. marc robershaw says:

    First Captain Nate and now you. The midwest pulls its rovers back home, much like Oregon pulls midwesterners towards the Pacific. Happy travels thanks for the good tips, tricks and info.

  15. Matthew B says:

    Beautiful writing. Fishing doesn’t always dovetail nicely with our contemporary home lives, but it none the less draws us out. Something about our link to the past, to the days our ancestors actually had to outsmart the critters to feed ourselves. This essay is well crafted.
    I’m also from Ohio, and recently transplanted out to PDX as my wife attends to her 2nd masters. Money is a bit too tight right now to consider fishing (that is even hard to write…), but reading a piece like this keeps the fire burning. Thanks.
    Regarding Lake Erie, I spent the last 4 years chasing the chrome in the NE rivers. Umm, it is pretty good, 5-8 fish a day in the 5-7 pound range when the conditions are prime. Most days in fall/spring can be rewarding if a bit more humbled surroundings. I frequented Chagrin River Outfitters in Chagrin Falls. Dan and Pete are great guys who have been nurturing along the FF community.
    Hope to cross paths before you head back to Ohio.
    Cheers, Matt

  16. dave harrison says:

    Matt your articles were always the best of the blog. I’m glad you’re going to continue with your writing… Good for you for having your priorities straight and putting your family first. The fish will still be here when you return!

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