SI Vault
 
LOVE LETTER TO A RESTLESS RIVER
Jack Olsen
August 20, 1973
Although Zane Grey wrote glowingly about other great American fishing streams, he selfishly kept mum about the greatest of them all, the Umpqua. This writer, a weaker man, simply could not carry the burden of silence
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
August 20, 1973

Love Letter To A Restless River

Although Zane Grey wrote glowingly about other great American fishing streams, he selfishly kept mum about the greatest of them all, the Umpqua. This writer, a weaker man, simply could not carry the burden of silence

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4

"What do you mean, finish the story?"

"Was he catching anything?"

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 river."

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."

"No!" 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."

"This river 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."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4
Related Topics
  ARTICLES GALLERIES COVERS
Frank Moore 1 0 0
Zane Grey 16 0 0
Oregon 1085 0 4
Clarence Gordon 1 0 0
Claude Batault 0 0 0