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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Next we moved on to a coastal stream, and everything looked right for Chinook fishing near its mouth. Commercial boats were working just offshore, which proved the fish were schooled out there. It was time for Chinooks to be moving into fresh water and upstream toward their spawning grounds, and the river had good height and clarity.

But, as so often happens, things weren't as right as they seemed. I fished with the Okie for two long days, out in the wind and the rain and the cold, wading the river on numbed feet, changing flies and tying knots with frozen fingers. It was crowded out there, too. I'd never in my life seen a river so mobbed. From before dawn until after dusk, anglers stood elbow to elbow along both banks of the salmon pools, casting every conceivable variety of spoon, spinner, bait, plug and fly. I saw three fair-sized fish landed, the largest just over 20 pounds. The Okie caught a jack salmon—an immature male of two or three pounds—and missed a strike from a fish that he said felt considerably larger. I missed a solid strike each day, and that was it.

I didn't talk about it, but I was miserable in the weather, and I ended up depressed by the fishing and maddened by the crowds—none of which fazed the Okie. He was happy, even euphoric. From my viewpoint, his periodic monologues were the highlights of the trip. There were dozens of them, and I'll quote one that he delivered on a Tuesday afternoon, with the rain pouring down and the wind howling:

"I love doin' this! What beats fishin'? Hey, there's another carload of Calies. I made that term up! If a guy from Oklahoma's an Okie, a guy from California ought to be a Calie! They're good boys, that bunch. They were up here last year, and the year before that, too. Oh, it was hot this time last year. I hooked 18 in three days! Big ones! The biggest ones! I had one close to 50 pounds! Looked like a silver pig when it jumped. Every time that fish came out of the water, people said, 'Look at the size! Look at the size!' Fifty pounds, I bet. Well, I tried to horse him a little, because everybody'd reeled in to let me fight that fish, and I hated to keep 'em all from their own fishin'. Now, some fly fishermen are snobs, you know that. They think they're superior. But those spin fishermen, those bait fishermen, they got the same rights we do. Anyway, that hook pulled out. That's why I tied these up on heavy hooks, for a better hold. But if the hook pulled out, so what? There's another one out there, somewhere! Maybe you'll get it. Maybe a Calie will! Maybe I will. So long as the gardens grow and the fish hit once in a while, life's just fine!"

I left Port Orford the next morning, quite impressed with the Okie—or with his fishing, I should say. It's not that his casting or wading are exceptional, and I don't know a whole lot about his ability to read streams or the acuteness of his vision on or through the water. What two days with him proved to me, though, is that a crucial element was missing from the definition of an ideal fisherman that I'd heard at the Steamboat Inn. I realize now that the degree of honest pleasure an angler gets from his sport—no matter what the setbacks and hardships or the outcome in terms of fish landed—has to enter into any reasonable evaluation and, in fact, is probably the most important ingredient of all. Given that premise, I'm convinced the Okie must rate near the top of the scale wherever he fishes.

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