SI Vault
Michael Baughman
May 07, 1984
More than a decade ago, while spending a summer working at the Steamboat Inn, a fishing lodge in southwest Oregon, I listened in on a late-night conversation concerning the combination of qualities that would constitute the "ideal river fisherman." Haifa dozen knowledgeable anglers, fueled by bourbon and enthusiasm, worked the subject over for an hour or more and finally reached general agreement: The ideal fisherman would have to be an expert caster with bait, fly and spinning gear but wouldn't use anything other than flies unless conditions made it absolutely necessary. He would be a strong and daring wader, with the stamina to stay on the water from dawn until dark in any weather. He would have the almost mystical gift of being able to "read water"—accurately predicting the holding and feeding spots of fish—even in unfamiliar streams. And he would also be blessed with exceptional vision, enabling him to detect even the faintest surface disturbances caused by rising fish and the vague, flickering movements on the river bottom that indicate fish holding deep down.
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May 07, 1984

Meet The Okie: This Is One Angler Who Fishes For The Sheer Fun Of It

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As was his custom, he had stopped at West Yellowstone, Montana, for browns and rainbows and then again at the North Umpqua, in Oregon, for steelhead while on his way to the Elk. He told me about his trip that night in his room as he tied up some flies for the morning. "I blew a tire in Montana. It was cold out there, too. That's a new rig I got—it cost so much, I was sick for two weeks after I paid for it—but the regulator went out in Idaho, and I was lucky to make it into Ontario on the battery. One morning I forgot my rocking chair in a motel room, so I drove back and got it, and later on I realized my watch was still in the room, so I drove back for it, too, and when I tried to make up some lost time I got a speeding ticket. But it's worth it! After the Elk. I head down to California for channel catfish! I get them on a baited fly rod, too!"

Well before dawn the next morning in Port Orford, we were bouncing along a rutted dirt road through a sheep and cattle ranch, the headlights showing a light rain. "See that little ole box up there on that post by the gate?" the Okie said. "We got to put $2 in there for the guy who owns this spread." He braked to a stop just long enough for me to slide the money into the slotted metal container. "Now we got to get to that river. Oh, it might be hot today!"

We parked at the end of a long line of cars, campers and pickups. Beyond the vehicles, cigarettes and flashlights glowed orange and white in the darkness along what must have been the bank. "The word's out!" the Okie said. "It's crowded! But it might be crowded with fish, too! This is what we travel all over the country for. What we freeze for, out in the wind and rain and snow and all. This is it!" He laughed aloud.

We waded across a wide, knee-deep riffle, the gravel bottom firm underfoot, the Okie leading the way. "There's a big hole out here somewhere," he said. "I think we'll miss it. We better miss it. It's six-feet deep."

We missed the hole and made it safely across, walked up the opposite bank past the flashlights and cigarettes, then waded back in and began to fish what I thought must be the head of a long, deep pool—it was still too dark to see much. The Okie was visible, though, a few yards below me, his bright yellow raincoat tucked into his chest waders, up to his waist in the water, casting, twitching the fly with his line hand as it swung downstream, then picking it up to cast again. Most of the fishermen across from us were using large lures and weighted baits that splashed loudly when they hit the water. "That one almost got me," the Okie muttered, then laughed again.

Soon it began to grow light, and the calls began:

"Hey, Okie, that you over there?"

"Hey, you guys, it's the Okie! How long you been in town?"

"You hit any good fish this year, Okie?"

There were probably 20 fishermen across the pool from us, and at least half of them knew the Okie. It was that way everywhere we went for two days.

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