Voices from the river

Voices from the River: Characters

The author’s father, Steve, enjoys a laugh with dedicated steelhead angler Pat Wright on the South Umpqua River in Southern Oregon.

By Mark Taylor

I’ve been hearing the fish stories for years.

“Lost a chromer today. Man, she was hot. Jumped six times.”

“Hooked three and got a nice 7-pound buck. Pat got a 15-pounder.”

And then the most outrageous one: “Got my limit of two today. Of course I had to hook nine to make it happen.”

My dad loves to fish for steelhead and is fortunate to live a short drive from one of the more productive winter steelhead rivers in Oregon: the South Umpqua.

Now, one of the reasons the South Umpqua is so productive is because the fishery is hatchery-supported. The system has some wild fish, too, and it could be argued that the river should be left to the natives.

It’s an important issue, but admittedly it wasn’t one I was dwelling on when Dad and I headed to the river on a recent cool March day. Having made a rare late winter visit to Southern Oregon, I was happy to be fishing with the guy who instilled this passion for the outdoors in me, and glad to finally be getting a chance to see what all the fuss has been about.

What I found is that the fishing at his go-to spot is good but, like so many things, a big part of the allure is the experience. And, really, that means the people.

Every fishing spot has its characters, and this one is no different. I got to meet a few, including Pat Wright, a guy my dad calls the “most dedicated fisherman I’ve ever known.”

Like Dad, he’s retired. When the river is fishable Dad gets there most days for a couple hours. Pat is there all day. Or until he has his limit. Which is fairly often.

He’s dedicated but still social and friendly. He will take breaks to chat and he was quick to offer me a bunch of tips the first time we met.

The author’s first trip to his dad’s favorite fishing spot produced two steelhead, including this 7-pound hatchery buck.

The tips, along with intel from Dad, helped. That first day I actually hooked and caught two fish in a couple hours.

Some of the regulars are known by their actual names, but some have nicknames and most have reputations.

“He’s a great guy.”

“He has no idea what he’s doing.”

“He exaggerates.”

Some are great fishermen, but some are not.

Dad complains about the crowds but I think he’d rather have more company than less. Guides who roll through his spots in their drift boats, and motor back upstream and do it again and again, are an exception.

One afternoon during my trip Dad was stuck doing some things on the homefront so I headed down to the river on my own after taking care of some work chores on the local library’s wi-fi.

Pat was at his truck, taking a snack break, and invited me to fish with him. I didn’t want to barge in without Dad there so told him I was going to explore some other spots on my own.

But, after losing a few rigs and pretty much flailing for an hour, I headed to Pat’s spot. He started telling stories about Dad. Stories about him falling down. About his interesting exchanges with other anglers. And, of course, about catching fish. They were the kinds of stories that confirmed that Dad is also something of a character in the cast.

I was sorry Pat was gone — no doubt having limited out — by the time Dad and I got there on a recent evening. He would have gotten another good story.

We had been at it for maybe an hour when my strike indicator plunged. I yelled to let Dad know I was hooked up. He grabbed the net and headed upstream toward me, making it about 50 feet before he stumbled and fell in up to his waist, water pouring into his hip boots. He swore the appropriate amount and continued upriver to net the 9-pounder.

We whacked the hatchery fish for the smoker and Dad went back downstream to get his gear so he could fish up near me. On the way back upstream he tripped in the same spot and filled his boots again. He swore more loudly.

To his credit he stuck it out for another hour after draining his boots and ringing out his socks.

I’ve got a few more days before I head back East. I’m glad get a little more time to enjoy the fishing spot show before I go and I expect I’ll get another story or two along the way.

Mark Taylor is Trout Unlimited’s eastern communications manager. He grew up about 200 yards from the South Umpqua River, in the small town of Myrtle Creek.

By Mark Taylor. A native of rural southern Oregon, Mark Taylor has lived in Virginia since serving a stint as a ship-based naval officer in Norfolk. He joined the TU staff in 2014 after a 20-year run as a newspaper journalist, the final 16 as the outdoors editor of the Roanoke Times. A graduate of Northwestern University, he lives in Roanoke with his wife and, when they're home from college, his twin daughters.