Every year Southern Oregon gets a long, sustained hatch of Pteronarcys Californica or giant stonefly. These salmonflies are the largest members of the stonefly family and generally come off consistently somewhere between the end of May to the middle of June. Every year it's a large, glorious event that draws people from all over to throw big bugs at rising trout. Not as many people as you would think though, given the popularity of the hatch. More famous rivers in Central Oregon tend to draw more crowds, so it is occasionally possible to have sections of river to yourself. It is a great thing (especially after a long winter) to have uncomplicated dry fly fishing and eager trout that are mostly where they're supposed to be and will mostly rise to your fly. This year, however, has been noticeably different than any other hatch I've experienced on my home water.
It started in late May rowing down the river with my dad. The hatch was late this year because of high water and colder than usual temps, but I figured there would be some fish looking up. I had just released a small native cutthroat, when I looked up and saw a slurp against the bank under a tree. The cast and drift would be tricky, I would have to place the bug perfectly about 15 feet above where the fish rose so it could float under the tree to where the fish was rising. I made my cast, just good enough, and was halfway through saying "that's the drift" when the fish smashed my fly. The next thing I remember is line screaming off the reel and thinking "what is the fish doing on the other side of the river?" After about 10 minutes of just barely maintaining my composure (and two attempts at anchoring and netting the fish) we had him in the net. A 22 inch native cutthroat and my personal best for this river. For the rest of the trip, I would randomly start laughing or just say "wow" in various tones of excitement whenever I would think of that fish.
A few days later I was rowing a friend down the same stretch of river. We had sighted a few fish rising under trees, so I was keeping the boat close to the trees so he could get the best cast possible. Right as we came under a tree, he set on what looked to be a nice 12-14 inch fish. The problem was that his set had been just barely to the outside of the boat, placing rod tip and line in a tree. Before fish or fisherman had a chance to react, the line threaded over a branch and created a pulley system. The fish was pulled from the water and up into the tree in a slow, dangling way that is difficult to describe. My mind went blank as the fish began it's ascension, apparently having difficulty processing what I was seeing. At the top of the branch the fish flipped over and fell at least 8 feet back into the water. I have no recollection of whether we landed the fish after that or it came off or whatever. We were just laughing hysterically at what we had witnessed.
Later that week I convinced my friend who was skeptical of fishing this section when the "holy water" up higher was producing double digit days in a matter of hours. The weather was overcast that day though, and usually this section of river has a few early run summer steelhead in it that will occasionally look up in these conditions. We anchored at the first run and he fished up towards the head and I fished down towards the tail. After missing a few fish, I hear a reel start screaming and look over to see a stupendous chromer come crashing out of the water followed by my buddy with a completely dumbfounded look on his face. This fish was already down to the tail of the run on a 4 weight rod, so we thought we were going to have to get in the boat and chase him. After not so gracefully forcing myself into the boat, he gets the fish stopped and in slower water. Net in hand I jump out and go down river to where he is playing the fish. With the fish in the net we both just looked at each other in amazement, hardly believing what we were seeing. My arms were covered in goosebumps. The fish was 23 inches and looked like it had traveled to the upper river from the ocean in a matter of days. "Good call" he said as we watched the fish swim away.
On what turned out to be the last day of the season for me, I was floating with my friend Ben who had just landed a beautiful cutthroat at the last good run before the takeout. We were sharing high fives and fist bumps when I felt my phone vibrate. My buddy Chris texted me saying something to the effect of I was about to lose control of my bowel functions. Chris had put in earlier that day and they had fished a different section of river. "Send me the picture" I said. What I saw was stupefying. By far, the biggest and fattest trout I had ever seen in this river. I showed Ben who just sat down in silence. I still can't describe exactly what emotion I felt then, but I realized this moment was a microcosm of the hatch this year. equal parts exciting, hilarious, maddening and unbelievable.