Wednesday 12th December, 2007
This time it's a small stream, barely 25 feet wide. Massive trees draped in moss lean in from the steep canyon walls. It's midday, but it feels like dusk. Down here, what little light permeates the dense overcast of Oregon winter is further filtered by layers of cedar, fir, and maple. Everything is wet. The smell of rotting leaves, ferns, and cedar boughs fallen to earth during the last storm fills the air.
Somewhere up above the canyon rim there is a road, but the distance, and the sound of the rushing water and the dense woods muffles out the sound of any passing cars.
There's no trail down here. And no people. This tiny stream is barely worth fishing. No hatchery fish return to this stream, and the natives cannot be legally killed, so noone bothers.
I've been hiking this stream all morning in search of something fantastic. Perhaps a few winter steelhead have returned early this year with the first big storm. The water is low and clear now, but was a raging torrent just days ago. If they are here, they will be in the deeper pools along the bedrock ledges and under the log jams, stranded by the receding flows and seeking refuge until the next freshet grants them safe passage upstream.
The pools on this stream are divided by long stretches of fast and shallow riffles and pocket water. I move upstream as quickly as the dense undergrowth, fast current, and treacherous boulders allow, pausing at each pool to look for a fish. Pool after pool. Nothing.
As the temperature drops into the 30s a light mist fills the canyon. I'm winded from several minutes of strenuous wading. The water vapor, visible in my breath, swirls and joins the mist. Just up ahead there is another pool, the best looking one I've seen all day. A small log jam forms the head where the riffle drops into the shady depths, and a huge cedar log overhangs the heart of the pool, spanning from bank to bank.
My arrival surprises a tiny water ouzel perched on the log. No fish is visible in the pool, but I don't trust my eyes in the dim light. I strip line from the reel and make a lucky cast, nearly hooking the overhanging log. Relieved, I quickly remind myself to mend, and follow the drift. The indicator pauses and I set into a good fish. The flash of silver in the bottom of the pool becomes, in an instant, airborne. At just under 30 inches, it seems absolutely massive and out of place in this tiny tributary. The fish dives again, turns, and races up the pool, under the cedar log and up into the logjam at the head. I can't follow. The fish is too fast and the pool too deep for me to follow. In an instant it is over.
Hands shaking, but no longer cold, I reel up the slack line. I feel a smile spreading across my face as I look upstream toward the next pool.
Real or Dream? I'll never tell.
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