One late Fall morning, over a dozen years ago, my friend Wally called to say he had an extra ticket to the Sportsman’s Show at the fairgrounds in Eugene. Did I want to go? I normally avoid crowds, but I had never been to a Sportsman’s Show, so I went along.
I was walking the aisle where the fishing guides had their booths set up. I was just gawking at fish pictures and drift boats, idling along. (Gawk: Webster’s says that means to stare stupidly.) Anyway, I spotted one young guide who was busy being ignored. (I knew what that felt like from my book show experiences.)
I stopped and chatted a bit, asked the usual questions about where he fished, what he fished for, what he charged, what kind of drift boat he used, time of year…fishermen chit cat. I took home one of his rather plain flyers…one that said Hookin’ Herbert’s Guide Service…and decided to worry about Ryan Herbert a little bit…and hope he could earn a living because my sense of his efforts told me he was following his dream. (I try to encourage individuals who follow their dreams.)
That winter I cleaned my desk off…which I do about once every decade or so…and uncovered Hookin’ Herbert’s flyer. And because winter is when I dream about fishing, I called Wally and said, “Let’s give this guy a try this spring.”
It must have been February before I called. We agreed to meet at 6:00 (also known as o’dark hundred) at the county park in the little town of Siletz. It meant leaving at 4:00 a.m. to make the drive from Springfield, but what the heck. We had a new adventure in front of us.
We parked in the dark and tried to figure out which of the four drift boat and pickup combinations was Ryan’s. My anticipation and excitement might have led me to overlook one important detail…like make and color of Ryan’s pickup. Regardless of my oversight, we found each other, stashed my pickup at the county park and piled into Ryan’s pickup for the drive upriver to Moonshine Park. On the trip upriver, we spotted a herd of elk, which put a shine on the day.
The Siletz isn’t a big river, probably about the size of the upper Rogue River above Shady Cove, and it doesn’t have any real rapids…except for that short set of bumps right after the first bend down river from Moonshine Park. Sure enough, Ryan managed to bring a big curl of cold water over the bow and right into my lap. No harm, no foul, right? I had my storm gear on. If I had just zipped my rain jacket, I would have been snug and dry.
Ryan cranked up his little propane heater and I was warming my hands and wondering if Ryan knew what he was doing, when he said, “Cast right.” Wally and I chunked our lead into a fast moving channel and started bouncing bait off the bottom. Nada. No fish.
Ryan says, “Let’s try that again.” He caught the edge of a little backwater eddy and rowed the drift boat back to the top of the hole. We cast again, bounced lead off the bottom, and just where the bottom dropped into a big hole, a steelhead picked up my bait and headed downstream. Ryan shouted, “Set the hook!” I shouted, “Fish on!” And the rodeo began. Unlike most steelhead, this one jumped three times.
I’m keeping a tight line on the fish, Wally is trying to snap a picture while the fish is in the air, and Ryan is busy giving me advice. The fish tires out, I get his head up and slide him up to Ryan’s net. It’s game over, and I’m grinning like a kid. Ryan tells me it’s a keeper…maybe eight pounds. Not huge, but a nice gleaming silver fish fresh from the ocean. By the end of the day Wally and I each have two keepers in the boat, and I also had the fun of fighting a wild fish that might have gone fifteen pounds. Wally took a picture of it and we turned her loose. That’s when I decided Mister Ryan Herbert was one heck of a fishing guide.
That started a four year run for Wally and me, and I continued to fish with Ryan for another few years after Wally died. This spring, I called Ryan and danged if he didn’t tell me he is giving the guide business up. Says he’s missing too many school functions with his boys. I’ll miss those drift trips with Wally and Ryan. But it was a darned good run.
And my point? I’m not sure there is one. It’s just that as I sit here on the edge of old age, my memories are triggered by all kinds of things…cooking odors, the slam of a screen door, rain on the roof, thunder storms, wood smoke…bagels and bacon.
I wonder if it is a form of mourning…or a form of celebration? I haven’t asked any of my surviving friends, but I wonder what trigger’s their memories?