A belated trip report for the Deschutes and Grande Ronde (warning: long post)

MCHammer

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I've been sitting on this story for quite a while, wondering if it's too long and if anyone really wants to read about a trip that didn't work out. Having just read the "What's the purpose of trip reports?" thread and seeing that a number of members here like reports and photos, here's one from a trip that didn't quite go as planned. Peoples' names have been changed; the locations are accurate.


It was raining when I finally found Chuck at the wrong campground. We had agreed to meet on the Deschutes, and Chuck told me to meet him at the campground south of Maupin. This was a place we had camped before, and which I liked. Chuck wasn’t there. I had been driving for two days, from eastern Idaho. I unhooked my trailer and got it set up for the night, then went looking for Chuck. He wasn’t in the Rainbow Room, and the gang in the fly shop hadn’t seen him

I decided to drive downriver, and check the campgrounds there. It was almost dark by then, and the steady rain had gotten serious. I found his Toyota SunRader mini motorhome at a campground we had camped in before. I pulled up and knocked on the door. He looked out, and said, “Where’s your trailer?”

“It’s at the campground south of town, the one you said to meet at,” I replied.

“No, no, this is the way we’ve always done it,” he said.

“Good to see you, too,” I said. “I know what you said. You said south of town.”

“I don’t remember what I said,” he replied.

I looked inside. The roof was leaking.

“Do you want to put a tarp over your roof?” I asked.

“No. It’s only leaking in the one spot.”

That spot was right over his dinette table, which was covered with pots and bowls collecting the drips. His motorhome had always been dirty inside, but this time it seemed really bad—the ‘80s-era shag carpet was crusted with layers of food and dirt that looked like it hadn’t been cleaned up in years. All the sitting surfaces were strewn with clothes, boxes of fly tying materials and books. The stovetop hadn’t been cleaned in years. At 77 years old, Chuck lived in that SunRader full time in Northwestern Washington. We obviously couldn’t hang out in his motorhome to eat and visit. After bickering over who would move, I gave in and went to hook up my trailer.

For a couple of days, I fished while Chuck sat in his camp chair smoking cheroots and drinking lite beer, watching me fish. I think he fished about ½ hour in those two days. During breaks and at night, I heard Chuck’s story of getting lost twice on his way to the Deschutes from Bellingham. The first time, it got dark before he could find a campground, somewhere near Ellensburg. The next day, he missed a turnoff and kept going until he was in Bend. “I didn’t even know I was in Bend until the motel clerk told me, and I used to live there,” he said. He also had an electrical fire under the hood of his Toyota somewhere along the way.

I wasn’t catching any steelhead, which isn’t unusual. Sometimes you have to put in the time until the magic happens. The third evening, Chuck said “I’m tired of this. Let’s go up to the Grande Ronde.”

“There aren’t going to be any more steelhead there than there are here,” I said. If anything, there would be more steelhead on the Deschutes in October because they only have two dams in their way. The Grande Ronde was several more dams up in the Columbia River watershed. On the other hand, the Grande Ronde was more or less in the direction of home for me, and I agreed to go.

Chuck said he wanted to follow me, even though he had made this trip before and I hadn’t. I did have maps, which Chuck did not. I could also use Google Maps on my phone, which was inconceivable to Chuck. Before we started out, he made sure to tell me that at the River Road that follows the Grande Ronde, he wanted get in front because he wanted to pick the campsite. He apparently forgot that we had camped together there once before.

Google Maps told me we could get to the Grande Ronde in about 5 hours. I always add time to those estimates when I’m towing my trailer, so I figured it might take 6 hours. I didn’t figure on Chuck’s motorhome being seriously underpowered—it could barely make 55 MPH on the flats. It took 7 hours to get to Clarkston, about 40 miles from the Grande Ronde; we got there just before dark.

We stopped at an Albertson’s for groceries. We both loaded up the same cart, but Chip never offered to pay for any of it.

Next we stopped at Wal-Mart, so I could get a Washington fishing license. I got out of my truck and walked to Chuck’s driver side door.

“You have bad habits,” he said from the driver’s seat.

“What are you talking about?”

“There are lots of parking spaces closer than this.”

I like to park some distance from a store when I’m towing my trailer. It’s easier to find a spot that I can fit into and get out of. I also needed the walk after driving 7 hours.

“Do you have to go in?” I asked.

“No.”

I left him there and went in, fuming. It took a while, and when I came out, and suggested we eat something before the last leg. No, no, got to get going. So, off we went. I ate a bag of corn chips, washed down with an O’Doul’s, while I drove.

The road to the Grande Ronde from Clarkston finishes with a long, steep, switchback-riddled grade, called Rattlesnake Grade. I went 25 mph or less most of the way.

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Rattlesnake Grade above the Grande Ronde

By the time we got to the river turnoff, it was completely dark. I pulled over, and Chuck got in front. As soon as he got out front, Chuck began swerving all over the road. He almost went off a couple of times before he did go off onto a steep right-side shoulder, over-corrected, and flipped his motorhome onto its side. It slid on the asphalt twenty or thirty feet before stopping in the middle of the road.

I stopped behind the wreck and got out. Chuck’s propane tank was in the road leaking propane; I shut it off right away. Chuck was inside and couldn’t get out of his seatbelt.

“Get me out of here,” he yelled through the windshield.
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Chuck's wrecked camper

I got up on the side of the motorhome and tried the passenger door. It was locked. I climbed back to the camper door and opened it. I saw a complete jumble, with no apparent way to climb back out. Chuck eventually got out of his seatbelt and got the passenger door unlocked, and I got him out and on the ground. He wasn’t hurt, but the motorhome was not drivable. At least he wrecked on the side of the road away from the river. There were several places where he could have ended up in the river.

It was a Friday night. The motorhome was on the flatbed tow truck, and nothing could be done to repair it until Monday. I now had a roommate whose clothes reeked of the cheroots he smoked, and who didn’t have a pillow or enough blankets. The dinette in my trailer converts to a spare bed, but the kitchen, dinette and my bed are basically in one room. We tried to make the best of it, and I went fishing Saturday and Sunday. I had spare rods and reels, but Chuck’s waders were in the motorhome. There would be no Spey casting for him.
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The Grande Ronde River in October

On Monday morning, we hooked up my trailer and went to the towing yard in Clarkston. A front wheel on the motorhome had a big dent in the rim; we took the wheel across town and got a used replacement wheel. After Chuck’s tire was mounted on the wheel, we went back to the tow yard and put it on the motorhome. Now we could see that the steering was damaged, too. The right wheel pointed out at a sharp angle while the left one pointed straight ahead. The tow guy called around and found a repair shop that could work on it, and Chuck drove it there and left it. Later, we checked in and the mechanic said it would be done the next day, after the part came. That was some good news. We went to a state park about 6 miles out of town that the mechanic recommended, and set up camp there.

The next day, Chuck wanted to show me another place to fish on the Grande Ronde. I wanted to see it, so we made the 30 mile drive along the Snake River to the mouth of the Grande Ronde. I made sandwiches for both of us, and brought some other food and my afternoon treat and pick-me-up--a canned coffee drink. We stopped for gas on the way, and there was a convenience store, but Chuck didn’t get out of the truck or say anything.

After going too far up the Grande Ronde road looking for a place Chuck was trying to find, we doubled back and stopped at a public access area that was above an obvious Steelhead run. I ate lunch while waiting my turn to fish the run, and when my turn came, I fished for an hour. When I came back to the truck, Chuck said, “I drank your Starbucks.”
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The confluence of the Grande Ronde and the Snake

I really couldn’t conceive of anyone doing that without asking, and so I assumed he was kidding and didn’t look in the cooler. It was about 1:00 in the afternoon, with a one hour drive back to town.

“Don’t you think we should head back and get your camper?” I said.

“No, we don’t have to get there that early,” he replied. “I want to show you another place to fish.”

There was no cell phone service, so we couldn’t call the shop to find out the status of the camper or when the owner would close up shop. So, we stopped at another place, and while I was getting ready, I looked for my coffee drink. The son of a bitch had drunk it after all!

Up to then, I had paid for all the groceries, wine, and beer since we left the Deschutes. I’d done all the cooking and dishwashing. I had driven Chuck all over Clarkston numerous times. Maybe because I had done all that without complaining, he thought it would be OK to drink my afternoon coffee—I’m an admitted coffee addict—without asking.

“What the ****?” I yelled. “What the hell made you think it was OK to drink that without asking?”

“I was going to say something back at camp, but I thought you might be keeping them for yourself,” he said.

“That made it OK? You could have bought one when we stopped for gas, or asked for one back at camp! You asshole!” I was so mad I couldn’t see straight.

I keep an emergency kit in my truck that includes a backpacking stove, a little teapot, some granola bars and ramen noodles and, like any addict, a secret stash of instant coffee. I almost always have water. Still fuming, I got all that stuff out and made coffee. I started to drink it while it was too hot, burning my tongue. I put all the coffee making and fishing stuff away, and started back to town, drinking the rest of the coffee while I drove. By the time we got to the repair shop it was 4:30, and the owner had left for the day.

I spent another night with Chuck while being extremely pissed off at him, which is saying something because I was fairly pissed off with him from the beginning of the trip. I was also pissed at myself for agreeing to leave the Deschutes and drive to the Grande Ronde.

The next morning, Wednesday, he offered to buy me breakfast to thank me for helping him out. I accepted, and we went to a cafe in town for breakfast. Then we got some fluids to replace what had leaked out of his camper while it was on its side, and went and got the camper.

“It’s going to need a front end alignment,” the mechanic said. “I can get it close, but I don’t have the equipment to get it fine-tuned.”

Chuck paid, and as we left he said, “I’m not getting an alignment.”

Chuck drove to the state park while I followed him, and he parked behind me in the campsite. He worked on cleaning stuff out of the way so he could at least move around inside and sleep in it. The cabinet that held the stove was ripped away from the wall, and the contents of the porta-potti were splashed all over the walls. The front fiberglass and Plexiglas of the motorhome were broken and/or missing. Chuck filled several trash bags with debris and hauled them to the dumpster. I helped him cut a piece of a blue tarp he bought at the hardware store, and we taped the tarp over the openings in front.

That night after dinner, Chuck asked to look at my maps. There were several ways he could go.

“One time I went north from Clarkston to get home, but I don’t remember going over that big bridge.” He was referring to a bridge over the Snake River that led to an industrial area. We had driven across it the day before, looking for a place to buy propane. My map showed that road following the Snake River to the northwest for some distance, then turning north. It was not a major highway, but it did connect to one farther north that he could take. I put my finger on it and traced it to the junction.

“You could go this way, but you’ll have to watch for the junctions,” I said.

“That can’t be the right way,” he said.

“The only other way you can go north first is to go through Lewiston first,” I said, tracing that route on the map.

“I’m not going through Lewiston,” he said.

“Well, then you’re going to get lost,” I replied. “We should go to town and get you a proper map.”

“I don’t need a map,” he said. This coming from the guy who got lost twice relying on his “fishing map” on his way to the Deschutes, a trip he had made at least half a dozen times before.

I ended up writing on my yellow pad the route numbers and each junction where Chuck had to make a choice. I thought it was a poor substitute for a map.

Chuck slept in his camper that night. Finally, on Thursday morning, we made a test drive while I followed him, and he decided to head home. I went forty miles east to Orofino, on the Clearwater. I set up camp at Pink House, where I first met Chuck four years earlier.

Something Chuck said when we first met came back to me. He had been on the Deschutes, he said, and was on his way to the Grande Ronde.

“I just came here for groceries,” he had said. I took him at his word.

But now, I wondered: did he drive through both Clarkston and Lewiston without finding a grocery store? Having done that, did he just keep going, 40 miles out of his way, to Orofino, where a grocery store was on the main drag? I’ll never know.

I do know that the coffee incident soured our friendship permanently. I haven’t called Chuck since that last day in Clarkston, and he hasn’t called me except to let me know he got home. I didn't catch a steelhead on that trip, either.
 

Ard

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Oh Yeah Baby!

This is the one I've been waiting to see Mike. I'm so excited to finally get some images to go along with the sordid tale that I'm posting before even reading. For those who may be wondering, Mike and I are chums outside of the forum although separated by a few thousand miles we do get to fish together provided Wildfires or pandemics don't interfere. In the past I've read a truncated version via e-mail and phone but now I'm headed back to the top of page for all the gory details ;)
 

Meuniere

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For a minute there, Ard, I thought you were suggesting that Mike's pal "Chuck" was a code-name for someone named Ard...

Just kidding. That sounds absolutely godawful. I've dealt with similar, and don't speak or have any contact with those kinds of folks anymore. Good on you for having the patience of a saint, or several of them.
 
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Ard

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Now that's a trip report Mike!

The part about the contents of the waste tank being unleashed inside Chucks ride was I believe, the highlight. I promise that this fall I will not wreak or cause a wreak and will get you a six pack of those Starbucks Coffee drinks, you are a saint. The e-mail version was not that well done, this has it all.
 

RunNGun

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You definitely are more patient than I am. Chuck sounds like quite the piece of work. I know people who are like that to a lot lesser degree and I severely limit my exposure to them. One thing though, guys like that really make you appreciate a good hunting/fishing buddy!
 

flytie09

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This is the single greatest trip report I've ever read in my life. Good old Chuck. Sounds like something out of National Lampoon Vacation.
 

MCHammer

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I'm gratified at the response here. This is probably the fifth or sixth version of this story that I've written. It took me a while to edit it down to this length. The first version was about 4,000 words and as Ard said, the version I emailed him wasn't that good.
Thanks guys!
 

flytie09

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I would have told Chuck to meet me at the Deschutes and fished the Clearwater. Or hollered... "Look Chuck...there's Sasquatch!" and left a trail of dust like no other. The things we do for a fish. This story is worthy of the back page of Swing the Fly magazine. :ROFLMAO:
 
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Ard

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I would have told Chuck to meet me at the Deschutes and fished the Clearwater. Or hollered... "Look Chuck...there's Sasquatch!" and left a trail of dust like no other. The things we do for a fish. This story is worthy of the back page of Swing the Fly magazine. :ROFLMAO:
Oh this is definitely MC Hammer's best work ever since his intro post. The first person narrative is just great!!

I knew you'd find it.
 

sasquatch7

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This really hit home as crap like this happened between me and my old fishing partner and we are no longer friends . I'd write more but I dont even want to think of him again .

On a positive note , that IGA in Orofino has the best damned fried chicken I have ever eaten !
 

Redrock

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As a follow up, I have many friends who swing flies for steelhead. Almost all come back from trips and describe hours, days of casting without a fish or maybe a tug or two. It seems they take some perverse pleasure in fishing in the shittiest of conditions, traversing slimy boulder strewn runs on the off chance they may hook a fish. Sounds like my kind of fishing!

But seriously, I have a hard time imagining the concentration required to grind day after day. I did that when I was racing big distances. 15-20 mile training runs were more about mental endurance than physical. I asked a friend why he did it. His response was you have to love to cast.

I’m scared to go down the steelhead rabbit hole. I might never return, and if I did I might end up like Chuck — living in a broken down RV, surviving off of beanie weanies, and drooling on my fly vice in the evenings.
 

dillon

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As a follow up, I have many friends who swing flies for steelhead. Almost all come back from trips and describe hours, days of casting without a fish or maybe a tug or two. It seems they take some perverse pleasure in fishing in the shittiest of conditions, traversing slimy boulder strewn runs on the off chance they may hook a fish. Sounds like my kind of fishing!

But seriously, I have a hard time imagining the concentration required to grind day after day. I did that when I was racing big distances. 15-20 mile training runs were more about mental endurance than physical. I asked a friend why he did it. His response was you have to love to cast.

I’m scared to go down the steelhead rabbit hole. I might never return, and if I did I might end up like Chuck — living in a broken down RV, surviving off of beanie weanies, and drooling on my fly vice in the evenings.
OMG, someone made a report on my home water. LOL, ask me if I care.

Redrock, I have steelhead fishing figured out. When I was younger, about thirty years ago, steelhead fishing was pretty good on the Deschutes. I’d get to a good run before daylight, start fishing as soon as I could see and stop when the sun hit the water. Then I’d take a break and fish again in the evening as soon as the sun started slipping over the canyon walls. It seems like I remember having some action in almost every session. However, nowadays it’s pretty much how you describe.

Sometimes, I feel like giving it up, but it appears to be in my blood. However, I have modified my approach. About a dozen years ago I purchased a share of a cabin on the river. It’s very nice and I get it for a week every six weeks. My wife likes it there and we enjoy are time together on the river. She enjoys early morning walks and a break from city life. We have dinner and cocktails on the deck every night and enjoy watching the nighthawk soar above the water as the sun goes down.

As far as steelhead fishing goes my routine is as follows. I get up in the morning when I feel like it. Usually my aching back doesn’t feel like chasing after steelhead. But, after a couple cups of coffee, I don the waders, put the Spey rod in the roof rack and head for the access road. I have mental notes of every bucket I’ve hooked a fish and know other places that hold fish too. Within a few minutes I come across an open run pull over, walk to the head of the run and commence with the cast, swing, step down process. It’s actually a very pleasant experience. I enjoy the casting and being at one with the river in solitude. Nobody ever fishes a run where someone else is fishing, unless it’s a over a half mile long and broken into sections. When the sun hits the water it’s back to the cabin for breakfast and whatever My wife feels like doing...

I usually don’t fish in the evening because of the above mentioned activities. However, as The season wanes into November, my wife might not feel like going and I invite friends over for a little steelhead comradery. When I first had the house on the river, the steelhead runs were still pretty good and I’d hook several throughout the season. But in the last few years it’s been pretty tough. I’ve actually only hooked one steelhead in each of the last two seasons and those were on day long guided trips. Now, perhaps if I worked at it a little harder, I’d have more success, but it doesn’t seem worth it and I lack the energy. If it wasn’t for the cabin I’d probably just do the guided trip once a year and call it good.

Honestly, I don’t know why people travel very far to fish for Steelhead, it’s really not very good on any river on the west side of the states, as far as I know. I did have a trip planned to the Skeena country last summer, but of course it got canceled. Honestly, I don’t know why anyone travels very far to fish my home river near the town where my cabin is anymore. Unless, they are old retired guys like Chuck and Mchammer that have RVs and don’t have anything else to do, like me...

Hope to see you in Montana this summer...
 
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flytie09

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MC.... did Chuck have reduced capacity from Alzheimer’s or dementia? If so..... that is a rather sad footnote.
 

MCHammer

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MC.... did Chuck have reduced capacity from Alzheimer’s or dementia? If so..... that is a rather sad footnote.
I honestly don't know. Except for the getting lost, he seemed fine, if a little more cantankerous than previous years. He was still fun to be around until after the wreck, but that's understandable I suppose.
 

darkshadow

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Had a buddy that I no longer talk to because of recurrent incidents like this.

His MO was to say, "Hey, let's jump on the 1/2 day boat from Long Beach," and we'd get to the landing, and while I was paying for my seat, he'd ask me to borrow the $25 since he had no money.

One time, we took a 3 day trip to a town up north to fish and had no money to split the room costs.
 
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