Spey caster saves 3 lives in Oregon!
A great story with a happy ending from "The Oregonian"
Precision rescue casts Sandy River fisherman as hero
Posted by Bill Monroe, Special to The Oregonian May 28, 2009 21:43PM
by Bill Monroe/The Oregonian
Don Elder of Gresham used his spey-casting rod to help rescue three people from possibly drowning in the Sandy River on Sunday.
Don Elder of Gresham didn't expect to catch anything Sunday afternoon when he waded through the crowd at Oxbow Regional Park and into the Sandy River to practice his fly-casting technique.
But three people he pulled to the shoreline with a bright chartreuse and orange, salmon-strength class fly line are thankful he's getting better.
Elder, 52, saved a man, his small sister and his fiancee from the Sandy's deep and numbing snowmelt-fed water about 2 p.m. Sunday as they were swept toward rapids near Buck Creek, upriver from Oxbow's boat ramp.
Metro, which operates the park, confirmed the story Thursday but said the holiday weekend was so hectic an incident report had not been completed.
Heather Coston, a Metro spokeswoman, said a man known only as Dean and the two others apparently were swimming at the mouth of Buck Creek when they became caught in the Sandy's current.
Elder, an award-winning rivers advocate who is the director of major gifts for the Western Rivers Conservancy, said he and his wife, Michelle Kenney, spent the weekend camping near the park's boat ramp.
He went upriver in the afternoon to practicing his casting but "without much hope of catching a fish."
"I heard screaming in the middle of the river," Elder said. "It took five or 10 seconds before I realized someone was in pretty desperate trouble. But what do you do first? Out in the middle of the river was a man clutching a very small girl. Between us in the water was a young woman.
"I was wearing waders and boots, so it wasn't very practical to try to get to them. If I became part of the problem, it wouldn't help anyone. The only safe way was to bite off the fly, so I (bit off the leader), and before I realized what I was doing, I started casting to them."
Elder's first cast was to the woman between him and the man. She grabbed the line and he lowered his rod, "stripping" her in a bit -- making short tugs on the line -- as she held on and the current drew her toward the shoreline. By then, others had gathered and waded out to help her from the shallows.
After she released the line, Elder said, he ran downriver to within range of the man and little girl. They were approaching the upper end of the rapids near the boat ramp but were farther from Elder than the woman was. On his first two casts, either he missed the mark or the man didn't see the line.
On his third cast, though, Elder said, "The man seemed to realize what to do and grabbed it with his free hand."
Elder said he hung on, again stripping a little line as he worked his way downriver to where the two came to shore, still gripping the brightly colored fly line. Elder estimates it to be at least 100-pound test strength, strong enough to hold someone in the water. And he was spey-casting, a method used for steelhead and salmon that involves larger rods and reels than those used for trout.
Someone waded out and grabbed the girl, and Elder wrapped his arms around the man to help him ashore.
"He kept saying 'Thank you, thank you,' then he passed out," Elder said.
Largely ignoring a bystander who mistakenly chided him for continuing to fish through the emergency ("Everyone else knew what I was trying to do; we laughed about it later," Elder said), and still in his waders and boots, Elder ran up the riverbank a couple of hundred yards to his campsite.
Also ignoring his wife's questions about what was going on, Elder jumped in his car to race to park headquarters for more help. Cell phone coverage is limited in that part of the Sandy River canyon, about eight miles east of Gresham.
Meanwhile, rafters had floated the man downriver to the boat ramp, where Kendra Carrillo, a park ranger, arrived. He was taken to a hospital.
Metro spokeswoman Coston said the man's mother called Carrillo later in the afternoon to report all three were recovered and safely at home.
Spring drownings are common on the Sandy and Clackamas rivers, but none of the three in the water was wearing life jackets, Elder said.
Relieved at "the positive outcome," Elder doesn't know whom he saved. He was to leave this morning for a four-day float down a remote section of the John Day River.
Before leaving, though, Elder said the incident is a good reminder for the coming hot weekend weather that rivers are "always more powerful than they look."
He echoed experts who say it's especially crucial to stay out of the water in the spring -- no matter how hot it gets -- because rivers are running high with fresh snowmelt.
"I had just been standing there," Elder said, "thinking what a wonderful amenity Oxbow Park is, 1,200 acres (and another 3,000 acres upriver purchased by Western Rivers Conservancy) so close to a million people."
Be careful out there--- and yet another reason to practice your casting!