The motor on the sled coughs twice and then fires. It's 7:00 pm on Friday night and after a rather hasty drive down to Macks Canyon, my good buddy Tim and I have committed ourselves to driving the sled down river and finding a camp in the 20 minutes or so of remaining light. We are pushing the limit, but we have done this many times before. We know every rock in this section and where the water flows and exactly where we need to be.....and right now we need to be down river QUICK! Oh yeah, there are about 10 sled trailers in the lot and more floaters rigs and trailers than you can shake a stick at. Right out of the box it doesn't look promising to find a camp anywhere in the first 3-4 miles. We run wide open past camp after camp as the darkness starts to close in.We pass several marginal camps and cash all our chips in and gamble for a lower camp.....it's gonna be tight. We round the corner above our desired location thinking surely we have a winning hand.Slowing slightly in the fading day,we strain to see boats,lights or some color from tents or camps. As the camp comes into view, our worst fears are realized.It's fully loaded up on both sides! Dang, this could get ugly. With scant minutes of safe running conditions the throttle is twisted to the limit with renewed vigor.Tim banks the boat and powers through a class 3 drop at bone jarring speed. Fishermen and rafters, sitting down for their evening meal look up in surprise as we leave a vapor trail down the center of the river. We have an ace in the hole and a card or two up our sleeve but were gonna need a good river card. And we get it. At the last possible minute,the sled slides into the sandy beach of a primo unoccupied camp.We both breathe a silent sigh of relief while still maintaining our poker faces. Comments like "That wasn't too bad' and "I knew we would find a spot" are softly spoken....but we both knew we pushed a big stack of chips and we were All In on this night. And the gamble paid off.
We awake to what I can only describe as pandemonium. Sleds going upriver, sleds going down river, guide boats with 6-8 side planning gear guys,spey guys, hunters... a total zoo. We sit in camp and watch the debacle. We are in no hurry to join the boat races this morning and we calmly sit and map out a plan. When we finally jump in the boat to fish we are in no particular rush. We have no idea where we are even going. We take off up river and then start passing the hordes of early floaters that are moving camp. Really, never seen anything like it down there. It seems as if everyone that lived within a 1000 miles had just bought a new pontoon boat, drift boat, sled or other floating device and all of them decided to come and try them out this weekend. I have never seen so many boats of all kinds that were on their maiden voyage.
Despite the traffic, we found willing fish in almost every run we fished. The fish were happy and real players. I had more than a few fish raise multiple times and never even needed to change flies. I just kept sending the same skater through and eventually they would hammer it. The first fish I hooked was a first time,no messing around, zone in on it with lazer lock precision and kill the fly with a full head and beaver tail slap. No waiting for the weight of the fish, it was a solid eat and instantaneous Hardy paying out kite string like it was going out of style. A perfect wild Deschutes buck of about 8 lbs. Not a mark on him and just barely getting rosey.I rose one 5 times last night that I finally got to go and he ate with an amazing broadside flourish that left me shaking. Watching a fish that you have risen multiple times finally commit and eat is a chess match that never gets old. Each drift into the zone brings an excitement that I will never outgrow.Then seeing the entire body of an almost 30 inch fish pounce on the fly is almost indescribable. Those of you who know, well you just know. I got another beautiful wild hen this morning that again ate with an aggressive, vicious rush at the fly after several rises. She made strong powerful runs and did everything she was supposed to do.
I am a firm believer in showing the fish something different and with all the flies and gear these fish were seeing, the surface presentation just seemed to be the ticket for us. Tim's experience mirrored mine and he hooked and landed a few nice fish as well with multiple players along the way. Not bad fishing for the crowded conditions and the short time we were there. I think we moved 10-12 fish in a couple days and actually hooked 6-7 of those. Landing them all is secondary to me.
It's always an exciting time anytime you can get out on the river. We slept under the stars and waning half moon with no tent. We fished the method we wanted to with single handed rods and long belly steelhead taper lines. We didn't let the crowds get to us and just fished new water when we were forced to. I hooked fish in a couple places I never have, exploring those places we always looked at but never tried. It was a great trip.
Sometimes you gotta push your chips in to the middle and hope your hand develops as those last cards hit the table.This time it paid to gamble.