"What do you
mean, finish the story?"
Wading a big
hefty river is always dangerous, but especially so the North Umpqua. The water
moves with exceptional force and power and the bedrock basalt is faulted with
cracks and holes to depths of 10 to 12 feet. Much of the rock is vitrified,
polished as smooth as window glass, and covered with fine algae and silt that
act as lubricants. The North Umpqua is made up mostly of snowmelt, and its
temperature except in midsummer can send a strong, healthy man into quick
convulsions. "A man who can swim three miles will turn belly up in a few
minutes in the Umpqua," says Moore. "It's a very cold and unforgiving
And yet the North
Umpqua forgave the great fly-fisherman Clarence Gordon, owner of the forerunner
of Steamboat Inn, for long years. He would wade out to a deep crack, make a
dainty hop, skip and jump, and land on the other side like a moon walker.
Others in trail would sink to their eyeballs. Once Gordon was leading a
prominent San Franciscan to the Station Pool when the man tried to take a
shortcut. The hat was found immediately, the body several hours later. Gordon
pronounced a harsh epitaph: "He was fishing with a fly, but he had spinners
in his heart." A true Steam-boater would rather see you stick up a nunnery
than fish with metal.
One of the
favorite pastimes of fishermen at the Steamboat Inn is to sit around telling
wading stories, many of them featuring a wild character named Claude Batault,
French consul general in San Francisco until a few years ago. Batault, a former
race driver and deep-sea diver and semipro bourbon drinker, waded the river one
full summer with a foot-to-hip cast on a broken leg. Once he hooked a fish just
in front of the inn and played it for two hours, all the while sending booted
messengers for bourbon. On another occasion he tried one of his typically
herculean casts with a Ritz Parabolic rod only to have the backcast go awry;
the hook tore through the cartilaginous part of his ear. Bleeding merrily and
bluing the air with Gallic curses, he broke the leader and left the fly in his
ear while he fished for the rest of the day. That evening Betault clomped back
to the inn and began yanking viciously at his ear.
"What are you
doing, Claude?" Frank Moore asked.
"One can see
quite plainly, I am trying to remove a fly," Batault snapped.
"Well, let me
snip off the barb and it'll slide right through."
Batault shouted. "Absolutely no! I will not permit you to snip the barb off
a Golden Demon tied by Cal Bird." He twisted and jerked until he had
enlarged the hole in his ear sufficiently to allow the hook, barb and all, to
pass through. "Voil�!" said Batault, dripping blood all over the floor.
"We have recovered the fly."
is a character-builder," says Frank Moore, "and also a lunacy-builder.
You wouldn't believe what some of the people do when they get a big fish on.
Chuck Tannlund, a race-car driver who fishes here—when he hooks a big steel
head he cinches up his waders and dives right in. Head first, splash! and down
the river they go, Chuck and the fish. Of course, that's not for your average
person. One summer there was a college kid here from Corvallis, had a temporary
job, and somebody put a rod in his hand. He hooked a big fish and by God he was
gonna catch it! The fish went over the falls and the kid went right over the
falls after it. He came out all bruised and shocked; he said he grabbed for a
string of bubbles but they wouldn't support his weight. He caught the fish,
too—a 10-pounder. That kid spent the whole rest of the summer fishing—he never
did another lick of work."