March 18, 2022
By John Larison
I was sweating at the curb when Peter and Jason pulled up in the pickup on a hell-hot Wednesday afternoon. We needed out of this concrete jungle, away from the melting asphalt, away from our dehydrated and snappy neighbors. As always, late July brought out the worst.
Peter found our destination, a tiny little creek called Quartzville, on a topo map a few days before.
“Almost forty miles from the nearest sidewalk,” he said. “A remote logging road parallels its length.”
We instantly consented to a recon trip, and Jason Googled the creek, just to see if any glib anglers had posted reports.
He found out the creek is a major destination for kayakers during the spring, with Class IV and V rapids. But nobody seemed to visit the place during the summer.
I sat cramped in the back, barely able to hear Peter and Jason in the front, the wind ripping through the cab. On the seat beside me were three rod tubes, two chest packs, and a six-pack of fine Oregon microbrew. As long as the truck didn’t overheat, or the Apocalypse arrive, it would be a stellar evening.
This wasn’t your regular fishing trip. Jason had recently returned from a stint in Guinea—a Peace Corps expedition. For two years he lived with no fishing. When I asked why he went, he smiled and said he needed time to catch up on his fly tying. This was his first trip out since finding an apartment and scrubbing off the DEET.
Peter, on the other hand, hadn’t left the state since our Florida trip the summer before—but he hadn’t fished much either. His recent procurement of a tenured gig in Oregon State’s English department had cramped his angling ambitions. By my count, his last trip to the stream occurred back in April, an overnight sojourn to the Metolious River—a trip that demanded heavy nymphs and whitefish-size streamers.
I, however, had been fishing more in than ever. My wife was nine months into her first pregnancy and six months into her nesting phase. She’d wake up at 4 A.M., pull on banana-colored latex gloves, and start bleaching the walls. By 7 A.M., I was a cumbersome (and perennially filthy) nuisance, and she would politely suggest I leave. Who was I to disagree?
In the last three months of her pregnancy, I’d logged more days in waders than during any other period in my life—including the years I worked as a guide. But this would be my last trip for a long, long, long time: Our baby was due to emerge in four days.
An hour later we caught the first glimpse of our destination, a slick of tan water gliding between massive white boulders. From the road, the streambed looked like the bleached spinal column of some prehistoric beast. Already the sun had pushed beyond the hills, leaving the water in the shade.
But other anglers had beaten us there. Three men armed with bait rods sat atop the biggest of the boulders, their foam worm containers resting beside them. Downstream, where the creek was lost to the reservoir, a boat picked up a bobbing water skier. Country music blasted from the boat’s gargantuan speakers, deafening even at a distance.
We continued up our “remote” logging road, the little creek within sight the entire time. A waterfall dumped into a pool the width of a short roll cast. A suggestively green run smoothed out below a logjam. A perfect riffle glided under another rootwad. It was ideal mountain trout water, and there wasn’t a worm container in sight.
But there wasn’t any shortage of people, either. At every place wide enough to leave vehicles on the tight dirt road, there was a van or a camper with doors flung open, occupants sprawled out in lawn chairs. Wood smoke and AC/DC lyrics filled the air. Children chased each other with sticks.
In one place, a laundry line spanned the road, swim trunks waving like Buddhist prayer flags just higher than the roof of the truck. A bleach-blonde woman waved as we passed. Her bearded man-friend flipped us the bird.
“It’s a zoo up here.”
“A zoo on fertility drugs.”
As the odometer clicked away the miles, and as we continued to discover vehicles occupying every parking area, we struggled to contain our frustration. At one point, Peter even apologized for suggesting the destination. But Jason and I promptly shushed that sinful utterance.
About two hours into our drive, just after we rounded a cliff wall and found an RV parked half in the road and half on the shoulder, Peter finally spied an empty spot. He slid to a stop before an approaching minivan could swipe it. Below, a cliff barricaded the creek, but we could hear water nearby. In five minutes, we were searching for a way down.
“Finally some nature.”
“Don’t count on it until your line is in the water.”
As it turned out, the only path to the river was back near the colossal RV. So, after calling out our “Hellos!” we skirted the edge of their fire—which blazed high and hot and completely unguarded.
Below, only a stone’s throw away, sat Quartzville Creek. The emerald water pooled along a pebbled beach, dancing caddis filling the air. This was trout heaven—minus the eight to ten children playing Marco Polo in the stream.
We trudged upstream.
“There has got to be a private place left somewhere in the world,” Jason lamented, stepping over an abandoned, dangerously swollen diaper.
“If such a place exists,” Peter replied, “it’s on the other side of that.” He nodded toward the 15-foot cliff in front of us.
With rods in teeth, we scaled the wall, each man for himself. I’d worn studded boots, normally a godsend on slick Northwest streams, but now their weight proved a hindrance. Peter made it to the top as if he had wings; Jason as if he possessed an afterburner. A minute or two after them, I heaved myself over the top.
Before us sat a quiet pool, green with the mossy reflection of the surrounding cliff walls. Springs sprouted from the moss, fingers of water tickling the edges of the creek. Goose bumps appeared on my sweaty arms, the air at least 10 degrees cooler. Not even a footprint littered the shore. And as if on cue, a trout nose bulged the surface.
Immediately, Peter ripped line from his reel and fired a tight loop, his Parachute Adams landing just upstream of the rise. His mends allowed a perfect drift, yet the trout refused, taking a natural instead. Jason yanked out his box, fingering its contents.
“Try this,” he said. “That’s African mutt fur dubbing.”
A minute later, Peter sent the Peace Corps Caddis on its way, Jason in gillie-pose over his shoulder. Both of them leaned with concentration as the line drifted downstream, the hustle and bustle of civilization a continent away. And then, a snout pushed the surface and the tippet came tight.
Later, after Peter had released the fish and Jason and I had touched a couple of our own, we cracked the beer in the half-light of the gorge. Peter swigged, his 4-weight leaning against the cliff.
“You know,” he said, “if you focus hard enough on the stream, you might as well be in Timbuktu.”
John Larison is Fly Fisherman’s Northwest field editor. He lives in Corvallis, Oregon.