The fire burning just north of Rt 138 caused my buddy Mike and I to question our plans to head to the North Umpqua. Would it jump the containment areas? Would the crews working the fire close additional stretches of the road? Just how smokey would it be up there? These and may other questions bounced back and forth over the phone and through the digital networks in the days leading up to our planned departure.
The final consensus, lets just go but keep a backup plan. The backup plan entailed hauling the drift boat up to Medford and dropping it off so we could, if needed, float a few days on the Rogue. As it turned out there would be no drifts on the Rogue during this trip.
We hit the road at O-dark-thirty, dropped the boat boat before noon, and after a quick stop at the grocery arrived at Island campground by 4pm. We scurried to set up knowing full well that it would be dark by the time we got off the water.
The road closure began just down river from Mott Bridge, allowing access to the camp water stretch. As we pulled into the parking area, to our great surprise, we had it all to ourselves. Half-way through the first run I knew that it was going to be an epic trip. I rose two fish to a dry and was able to follow up and hook one on a wet! The first fish of the trip came unbuttoned but the story had just begun.
A few nips of Scotch and a beer with dinner were all we could handle before our heads hit the pillows and it seemed only minutes later the alarm going off at 4:30. A pot of coffee into the mugs and back to the river we went to sip our coffee and wait for day to break. A front had moved in over night bringing with in much cooler temperatures and a thick cloud layer. The steam rising from my mug of hot 'Joe' told me that it should be a fall morning but a steelhead morning it was none the less. Before even stepping foot in the water fish were rolling everywhere! Standing on shore sipping our coffee we looked on in amazement that we still had the place to ourselves.
We rose a few fish in our first runs and set off to explore some upstream water. A quick break for lunch and back to the water. The smoke mixed with the clouds kept the sun at bay for the entire day and aided in bringing numerous fish to the surface after our dry flies with two fish to hand by late afternoon. By all accounts this was already a completely successful trip and anything more would be 'gravy.' I remember thinking "I want to get as much as I can, cuz this just doesn't happen very often!"
The above would be the plan for the following two days and it paid huge dividends. We had a second full day of cloud and smoke to keep the sun off the water entirely. The third day was split by 3 hours of sun in the afternoon but the shady spots still produced. After three and a half days on the river we were 7 for 17 with 10 to the dry fly. All seven fish were wild and totally full of fight. All were pretty typical summer fish in the 5-8lb range except for one lunker that was well over 10lb. It came unbuttoned at the bank during the landing process so no physical evidence but it will not soon be forgotten by either Mike nor I.
They opened the road on Friday afternoon but all of the parking for the first 10 miles down from Steamboat was still closed for fire-crew access. A few more folks showed up on Saturday but for a typical August weekend on the North it was deserted.
Next time you are on the fence about making a trip just go for it, as it may turn out to be a trip of a lifetime.
The tug is the drug
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