Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Guide Mike Duffy Shares Insights on Life, Steelhead and the Pursuit of Happiness

Mike Duffy in his element...

When I first came to Oregon, I was surprised to find that the majority of the population did not fish.  Furthermore, I discovered that of those folks that enjoyed fishing, only a small percentage chose to fish with a fly.  But what was most disturbing to me, was learning that most fly anglers here, forgo the opportunity to target Steelhead via fly fishing methods.  I have heard, “I’ll bust out my gear rod when I’m Steelhead fishing,” over and over again. What is it about these mythical creatures that breeds fear, or thoughts of being unattainable in our weary hearts?  Could it be that the task demands an elevated level of practice, understanding and perseverance?  That is certainly understandable.  People like to see immediate results for their actions.

Is it that folks have too many other things going on in their lives that there seems to be little time for standing in a river?  Sure, there are only so many hours in the day, and we all need to choose our battles.

The wonderful thing about the world we live in is that we all have different thoughts, points of view and yes, we all have different interests.  It is our personal diversity that lends itself to a robust world; full of dreams and actions that splinter like a web and that are held together by the places that we intersect.

If I was to describe myself- my path, I might explain that I yearn to experience the beauty of place, the inhabitants and explore the possibilities that the web offers.  With a keen eye, and an open heart I follow a journey that encourages an understanding of the way things are.  And from this understanding, stems a passion and an ability to perform, albeit under challenging conditions, to find a connection and a satisfaction that resembles some form of accomplishment. 

I must confess, more than any other road, my path ends at the river.  You see, results for any of our actions, often go overlooked.  Hearing the gurgle of cool river flow over a slick, mossy ledge, or noticing the swirling eddy line that presses just firmly enough against your leg is a result.  I am fishing.  I am on the journey, and surely when the firm steel jaws crimp down on my swung fly, the ultimate goal will be achieved.  However, the true beauty lies along the path we take.  Noticing, learning, understanding, practicing…

One day on the Deschutes River, I stood like a speck under a canopy of blue, wading into a gorgeous run that cut and continued through the green walls of the sage-painted canyon.  A snake slithered past in the grassy shallows with the tail of a Sculpin waving from its jowls.  I stood to watch her jaw unhinge as she slowly worked her lunch down the hatch.  The head of a trout broke a few yards out on the seam line, leaving bubbles in its wake.  After glancing down the pool, I stepped out, and began my presentation.  A soft breeze brushed my hair as I worked out more line.  I fell into the zone, whereupon there was no more separation between myself, and my surroundings.  Experience told me, that the fish should be holding along the faster edge of the seam, especially at these water temperatures.  After a few funky casts, I corrected my motion and witnessed an astonishing loop of line blaze out over the current.  The line came tight and pulled across the flow with a tension that could be felt in my bones.  Step by step, my line probed the likely holds, and it trolled the depths with an anticipation that could be shattered at any moment.  And so it went, tailoring my casts and presentations to the subtle current differences, when I noticed a pair of eyes on me.  Up above, the face of a praying mantis curled under the brim of my hat to say hello.  Her head twisted to and fro as she wiped her eyes with her little green elbows.  She looked through me and she evidently decided to join me on my journey this day.  Together we fished on down the run and I wondered if she could feel the connection that I felt so fortunate to be a part of.

The grab did not come that day.  But on the day following, my rod was nearly ripped from my hand, as a Steelhead, no smaller than 15 lbs tore at my fly and in seconds, she managed to turn my world upside down.  Three years of ocean living had left her in remarkable health, size and a beauty bordering on exquisite.  In that moment, the pieces all came together and it is during these times, when I feel most alive.  But I can say that in my life, it is the placing of those pieces that is most important to me.

So we’ve all heard that saying, “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”  Well I suppose that is true.  But what is the big interest in “easy?”  What magnitude of reward are we granted if the pieces come already put together?  For those anglers that are on the fence about fly fishing for Steelhead, I can tell you from experience, that there is no greater reward than hooking a Sea Run Rainbow on a swung fly. 

How about the saying: “When in Rome.”  People, we are surrounded by these magical creatures!  Oregon and the legendary Columbia River Tributaries are laden with Steelhead.  Our coastal streams run with chrome blood!

OK, ok now for the big one:  “I can’t really afford it.”  After years of living on Ramen Noodles, hunks of bread, and cheap beer, I know the financial thing all too well.  There is little doubt that there is some upfront cost involved, but there is a logical way to go about it...  You're paying for an education while on vacation.  Without investing in all the gear, grab a loved one or a buddy, and take a guide trip.  Besides walking away a better angler, you'll spend the day in a beautiful place pursuing a beautiful animal.  I would consider it a privilege to join you during your initial steps into this world of endless opportunity. 

Presently, area rivers are ripe with winter Steelhead and as May creeps in, we can expect the arrival of our fabled summer Steelhead run.  Give us a call or drop us a note any time.  We would be happy to answer any questions that you might have concerning this amazing journey of discovery.

-Mike Duffy is a guide for Larimer Outfitters.  He Guides the Clackamas, the Hood, and the Deschutes Rivers.

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