Etiquette on the River and the Curse of the Dark Max by Doug Stewart

The water was perfect as we were just getting ready to fish a popular area on the Deschutes River called Langtry’s Riffle. It was named after Appeals Judge Virgil Langtry.

Interestingly, I had originally met him years ago when I was 17 and had to go to court for a traffic violation. The next time I met him was on the Deschutes where we would occasionally run into each other. He was very interesting, cordial and a pleasure to talk with him.

deschutes fly fishing river fish tie tying

One morning my friend and I carefully waded into the stream just above where Langtry’s Run began. The conditions were perfect. No wind, good water and a run all to ourselves. As we started to put our waders on, a lone fisherman walked right past us without saying a word and headed for our water.

We were stunned and I said, “Hey, buddy, what do you think you’re doing! This is our water and we were here first.”

He looked at us with a slight smirk on his face and said, “Mister, ya snooze, ya loose!” Well, that created an instant confrontation, and a heated argument ended up with a variety of expletives. We held our ground, paused for a moment and then he quickly left in a huff as the odds were against him.

Later that morning, a couple of his friends approached us. They expressed regret for his blatant intrusion, and said that they set him straight about river courtesy and comradeship.

Another unpleasant encounter occurred at our camp we called “the grassy spot.” It was a fairly long run from the campsite down to the tailout. I was guiding two fellows that were just beginning to learn how to cast and fish properly. As they began to put on their waders, a young fisherman walked into our camp and said “hi” to us and proceeded to move right into our water and started casting. I was perplexed. 

I quickly yelled, “Hey Mister, you can’t fish in front of us. This is our water!” He turned around and with an innocent look on his face he said, “Well, I didn’t see anyone fishing here so I thought it was alright.” I paused for a second said, “My friend, are you new to this area?” With a humble look on his face he continued, “Sir, I’m new to this river and I just thought if no one was in the water it was alright to fish here.” I had some empathy for his actions and explained the rules to him, “Listen friend, if someone is fishing in the water and you want to fish with him, you have to ask him first before you start wading in.” 

I felt sorry for him so I suggested that he should go upriver behind us and fish downriver. He was very cooperative and thanked me for advising him about the rules. In the meantime, I got my two clients to spread out and start fishing. I was relieved that this fellow took my advice and hoped my clients would hook and land some steelhead.

However, no sooner had they started fishing, I heard a loud yell and looked upstream. Amazingly, my naïve angler was playing a nice steelhead. I was beside myself and watched him awkwardly try to control his fish, but somehow he managed to land a feisty six-pound chrome steelhead.

My clients fished hard that day, but to my chagrin, they didn’t have any luck. As we ate dinner that evening, I was a target for some light-hearted ridicule with statements such as, “Doug, we appreciate your efforts, but in all honesty, who are you guiding anyway?” I was totally distraught, but the next day I made up for my shortcomings. My two heckling clients finally landed a couple of good-sized steelhead and they heartedly admired my patience.

On another occasion, I rafted across the Deschutes River to fish what we called the Rock Garden, so named because of difficult wading. Without hesitating, I carefully slipped into the river and started casting a fly that I called the Dark Max. I knew this rocky drift well and made a 30-foot cast hoping for some action. As I let it swing down and across the rock-filled run, I quickly hooked a nice steelhead. It made a short run, jumped three times, and spit out the hook.

After several more casts, I hooked another one and the line began to melt from my spool. It was an awesome display of wild energy and the fish held me at bay until it finally yielded to the rod’s constant pressure.

As I released the chrome eight-pounder, I noticed that an angler across the river had been observing the action. Thinking more of caring properly for the fish, I quickly released it and began to cover the run again.

Wham! Within minutes I had another on, played it out, and also released it. The hole was stacked with steelhead, and after I hooked and released a few more I took a break and watched the technique of my spectator. I could see that he was a good caster and was covering the water thoroughly. I guessed that the run was either on his side or that he was just an unlucky fisherman.  

When I returned to camp, this fellow was patiently waiting for me. After a few brief introductions he got straight to the point, “Mister, I’ve been fishing all summer without much luck. Just what in the hell are you doing to hook those fish?”

I looked at his outfit, his leader, and fly and said, “Listen, my friend, you’re covering the water just right, you’ve got the right setup, your technique is fine, and your presentation is good. Just don’t give up and you’ll be successful.”

During the balance of the summer, we began to fish together, and he finally started catching fish, not because of what I said, but because of what I forgot to say: “Sometimes in fishing for steelhead you just have to get lucky!”

I later learned that my original and seemingly harmless comment haunted him, particularly when we would be discussing our experiences with others. If we met someone for the first time he would always say, “There I was, watching this guy across the river hook five steelhead in a row.

When I asked him for some good solid advice all he says is, ‘Just keep on doing what you’re doing,’ which I figured meant ‘Keep on getting skunked.’”

- written by Doug Stewart

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