Sunday, December 13, 2009


My fishing partner, Mike, picked me up a little after 830 on a Sunday morning late last winter. He usually drives as he has an all wheel drive Mercedes with heated seats and a great stereo. I drive a '68 VW truck I've named VW Coho which doesn't have heated seats; however it does have a working heater and a stereo.

A light morning cloud cover was just beginning to burn off here in SE Portland; hopefully we would have clear sunny weather for our weekly steelhead angling adventure. Within just over twenty five minutes we reached our destination, the Sandy River. The river itself was shrouded in a moderately dense fog; but all around the day was clear and bright. It was only a matter of a short time before the fog would dissipate from over the water.

The trek to the actual river bank involves hiking through, or around, a moderate size creek; crossing a small, weak flowing slough; climbing a slightly steep rise; and then trying to locate the path of least resistance through the riparian brush to river's edge. An additional challenge today was that we were trying to access the river from a different approach from our last trip; and recent flooding had left large piles of debris scattered across the lower plain to the bank. We planned to fish a stretch farther up the river than we had fished the previous time.

We were above the creek mouth so we had no need to ford the creek. Even after the recent high water the slough bed was only puddles, so the first obstacle we faced was about a ten or twelve foot rise up from the slough at only a slight angle. Only a moderate effort was required to top this. However, once over the rise there was another washed out stream bed and another much steeper rise to what I hoped would put us on the plateau of the small island we would cross to get to the Sandy. Mike thought we should just follow the washout, the path of least resistance. I mistakenly thought by going up the rise we would have only a short hike to the river. After a steep climb up about fifteen feet, with only ferns and small bushes for handholds, I topped the rise; only to discover it was a very tall berm that was even steeper on the other side. We descended without injury, mostly sliding on our butts. The brush was taller than us, but we immediately found fresh deer tracks and followed them. This was not difficult as we only had to push away the higher branches of the brush.

We finally came to the riverbank, I was a little short of breath, and my quads were still burning from the climb up the berm. The fog was still on the river with visibility of approximately 150 yards. I thought we were well up river to where we had planned to begin, so our plan was to fish as we worked our way down stream to the mouth of the slough. I rested my legs, caught my breath, and assembled my rod, and tied on the fly with which I wanted to start fishing. We were finally on the river and fishing!

The current was strong, but not flood strong; and the water was a cloudy green with visibility of about three to five feet. We continued to cast and retrieve our flies as we slowly waded down to a sand island of about 30 by 60 yards we would have to cross to reach the mouth of the slough that led to the mouth of the creek. The fog had burned off, the sky was clear and dazzling, and I watched a bald eagle watching us from a tree across the river.

I wanted to try some egg flies and flesh colored streamers near the mouth of the slough because we had spotted hundreds of chinook spawning in the slough and the creek. Eggs and flesh are a main source of food for Steelhead and salmon. I hoped to finally catch a Steelhead!

The sand island was hardly that, as it was barely above the surface of the river, and, as we quickly discovered, was only a very unstable mass of quicksand about 24 to 30 inches deep. Quickly I tired from taking giant steps out of the sand, and stopped to rest. This was a big mistake as I became completely bogged down up to my mid thighs. Mike suggested that I go forward onto my hands and knees. I did and this freed me to crawl my way over to the island's edge and was able to stand and wade to the shore.

Again, sitting on the bank catching my breath, I said, "Mike, I don't think it gets any better than this." And I meant it!

We fished a little longer, long enough for me to lose a couple of flies to the rocks on river bottom, and started the hike back to the road. We hiked through the tall brush, crossed some ankle deep washouts from the flood, and approached the slough where we saw dozens of salmon spawning. We waded through the slough as gently and reverently as possible, and climbed up to the road. About halfway up is a wonderful viewpoint of the slough and the spawning salmon. We observed silently for a minute and continued our climb to the road. From the highway bridge over the creek, we could see the same two salmon we had observed as we began our angling adventure.

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