Greg Hatten is our guest blogger today. Usually he writes about heart-stopping whitewater river journeys in his wooden boat, the Portola. Today’s post is about another kind of adventure, and it’s more heart-tugging than heart-stopping. We hope you enjoy it.
My youngest daughter and her serious boyfriend, Josh, took an Oregon river ride in my wooden boat one hot summer weekend last year. Despite the lack of fishing time, we all had a great time. This trip was about the water, the waves, and the old man checking out the young man in my daughter’s life. He checked out fine. I liked him much more than the others that had come and gone before him.
One year later, he was eager to come back to Oregon. He was ready to get back in the boat and maybe catch a steelhead on a fly. Understand, this is an accomplishment that requires thousands of casts and years of suffering broken rods, broken leaders, broken spirit. But he had a goal, so we saved the date. As it approached, his interest and questions about the details of the trip increased.
It was going to be a hot, sunny day. We started early. ‘0 dark 30 early, 4:30 AM early. Mentally making our offerings to the steelhead gods, we climbed in my FJ40, pulled the choke, turned on the headlights and headed up river, boat in-tow. We pulled into the boat launch. Judging by the lack of trucks and boats at the ramp, most fishermen had stayed in bed, conceding the day before it even began.
The most elusive of Pacific Northwestern fish proved to be just that. For two hours we fished some of the best pools and slots on the river and felt nothing – not a bite, not a hit, not a take-down, no sign of a steelhead. A familiar fishless ache in my gut prompted me to remind Josh of the degree of difficulty and disappointment associated with chasing steelhead on the fly. And then–WHAM! Josh felt “the tug” — a strong one – and suddenly line was peeling off the reel and the rod was doubled over in a rainbow arc. I heard him say, “WOW.”
It was a great fight with impressive runs and a few sharp jumps caught in vivid HD by the Go-Pro mounted on the bill of a fishing hat. A thirty minute tug-of-war brought a tired fish to the net and into the boat. He did it! On one of the hottest, sunniest days of the summer, Josh had hooked and LANDED his first steelhead on the fly.
We took the required pictures. He sat there holding the big fish in my boat, looking very serious and clearing his throat. Then he asked my blessing to propose to my daughter. Then it was my turn to feel “the tug,” and Josh heard me say “WOW.” But this had nothing to do with a fish. I thought, are you kidding me? Who’s writing the script for this? He’s holding a trophy fish in my wooden boat and asks for my daughter’s hand in marriage. What could a fly fishing father say but, “Let me shake your slimy hand and welcome you to the family, Son.” Especially since fifteen minutes later, in the very next pool, Josh hooked up and landed a second steelhead in a battle that was even more dramatic than the first. That time, we both said, “WOW”.
That evening, after a dinner of fresh steelhead on the grill, Josh pulled out a ring and proposed to my daughter Sarah by the light of the campfire over the sound of the McKenzie River flowing behind Eagle Rock Lodge. She said yes. And then I’m pretty sure she said, “WOW.”
Quite a day.