For a long time I've considered myself a serious fisherman and a reasonably skillful one. Therefore, the enormous increase in the popularity of river rafting and kayaking that began a few years ago and continues unabated strikes me, as it must nearly all river anglers, as disastrous. When I go to a stream I love anticipating a quiet afternoon—and maybe even a few good fish—instead I find huge rafts filled with screaming beer drinkers or sometimes 15 to 20 fluorescent orange inflatable kayaks bouncing down the riffles. When that happens I feel much as a dedicated golfer might if he arrived at his favorite course only to find it converted into a circuit for trail bikes.
Four years ago the issue was complicated for me when Rob Carey, one of my best friends—best fishing friends, too—went into the river-running business himself. His outfit in Ashland, Ore. is called River Roam, and Rob, his partner and his guides take parties in inflatable kayaks, otherwise known as Tahiti boats, down sections of Oregon's Rogue and Northern California's Klamath rivers.
Rob and I remain friends, and we continue to fish together, but I've always stayed away from the subject of River Roam. Last year, though, Rob came out point-blank and invited me along on a River Roam expedition.
"We're thinking about scheduling some trips on the North Umpqua next year," he explained. "But first we'll have to spend a couple of days checking it out. You're welcome to come along if you'd like."
The invitation wasn't as simple as it sounds. For one thing, the North Umpqua, which is about 100 miles up from the California- Oregon border, is my favorite fishing stream of all. For another, even I knew it would be a difficult river to navigate in an inflatable kayak, with rapids rated up to Class IV (on a scale of I to VI), lots of rocks and year-round cold water. My experience running white water had been limited to a few short trips on easier streams, and Rob knew it.
"You want me to be your guinea pig," I said. "If you can get me downstream in one piece you can probably get your guests down, too. Is that it?"
He smiled. "Well, sort of," he said. "But I figured you know the river fairly well. You'll probably make it O.K."
"But the North Umpqua's a fishing river."
"We have it all worked out with the fishermen," he said. "We've had meetings up there about it. We'll stay off the water until 10 a.m. and finish by four in the afternoon. We won't even run through the prime spots, between Island Campground and Bogus Creek. There won't be any conflict."
"O.K.," I said, thinking I'd be able to prove to myself that river-running wasn't much fun. "I'll go. I'll try it."