Found along the river


Last updated 8/15/2023 at 10:24am

Photo by Chester Allen

Stacks of rocks caught Chester Allen's eye during a sojourn along the river.

Over time, a river flows into your mind.

What you see, hear, feel, smell, and touch swirl into memories. Sometimes what you see, such as swarms of mating mayflies rising, falling, and rising again 20 feet over the river's surface, becomes knowledge that helps you lure trout to your fly.

Other times, you discover simple beauty that will vanish in a matter of minutes, hours, or days. I always want to catch trout, but sometimes I catch other things as well.

I fish the Metolius River several times a week every month of the year except in January. The river changes every day, and I've discovered that moving slowly - or just sitting on a rock - reveals far more than flogging flurries of casts onto the water.

A few days ago, I slowly walked down the river, as a hot, smoky afternoon drifted toward evening. Few anglers were on the Metolius, and most of them were headed toward cocktail hour.

"Hey, here comes the evening shift," one friend said as we passed each other.

Evening fishing had been slow for a few days, and I wanted to see what I had been missing.

I sat on a fallen tree that overlooks several bends on the Metolius, and I began to look down into the clear, swirling water. Metolius trout are very, very good at hiding in plain sight, and the only way to find them is to stop and stare at the water.

This is a wonderful way to unwind from a busy day.

Tiny treasures

As I sat on the rock, I scanned the water and banks. My eyes caught on something new - small stacks of river pebbles piled on rocks. I got up and kneeled next to one tiny stack of pebbles. Someone had carefully piled one pebble onto another pebble, forming a tiny stack of perfectly fitted stone.

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One small tap - or a strong breeze - would knock each one of these tiny works of art into oblivion. These small gifts to my eyes were as temporary as a beach sandcastle before a rising tide.

As I admired the tiny stack of pebbles, I remembered seeing artfully stacked piles of basalt boulders along an Interstate 84 on-ramp in Hood River, Oregon a few years ago. Some strong artist - or group of artists - muscled flat rocks that weighed up to 100 pounds each into finely fitted towers that rose four or five feet into the air.

The pebble stacks along the Metolius were tiny, exquisite versions of those heavy, sturdy works along that I-84 on-ramp. Some of those big I-84 stacks still exist. These pebble stacks would not survive for more than a few hours.

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I dug out my camera and began taking photos of the pebble stacks. I knew they would live in my mind long after they fell apart, but I wanted to capture how the fading evening light flowed over the tiny rocks. I also wanted to somehow preserve the careful work. I wondered how long it took this artist to make these tiny, temporary treasures.

I kept finding new piles of pebbles, mostly because my eyes now automatically found them as I looked along the river. The sun was now low in the sky, and most of the Metolius now flowed in shade. I was done taking photos.

I put my camera back into my fishing vest and slowly stood up. I had to find my fly rod, which I had propped against a big ponderosa pine tree. I discovered that I had crawled and crept about 50 feet from my rod while finding and photographing the pebble stacks.

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When I got to my rod, I looked down at the river. My eyes floated over the water. A dimple near the bank - in a slow seam under some bankside brush - caught my eye.

A feeding trout often leaves a rise form that looks harder - and more alive - than water gently swirling over rocks. Another hard dimple!

Then a group of dimples.

Over the next five minutes or so, those tiny dimples turned into three or four trout rising very gently to some kind of floating bug.

I walked about 20 feet downstream of the rising trout and stared at the water. Tiny blue-wing olive mayfly duns rode the currents. These bugs were about size 22, and I luckily had some tiny olive Sparkle Duns that matched these bugs in my fly box. I tied one onto four feet of 6X tippet. My leader was about 16 feet long.

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I got on my hands and knees and crept upstream to the rising trout. When I was about 10 feet downstream of the fish, I made a short cast and dropped the fly about six feet upstream of a feeding redside rainbow trout. The fly fell to the water like a snowflake.

The fly, a speck of light on the shaded water, floated downstream. The water dimpled, and the fly vanished.


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