Fishing Steelhead and Finding Friendship on the Rogue River

Although the way we experience life is distinctly our own, sharing adventures, lessons learned and creating our stories takes community. Jeff Shapiro’s new post is all about the humility awarded by rare opportunities provided by the grace of others. The chance to join a group on the mighty Rogue River to fish for Steelhead provided more than just fish to feed his family - he also found new friendships and community.

 

Fishing on the Rogue River

Photography: Jeffrey Shapiro

Over the years, some of my most memorable moments in the mountains have been when I was alone. What comes to mind is the early mornings started with one-hundred percent self-motivated efforts to get into my truck before light to drive myself up and into the quiet, dark parking lots of the Bitterroot mountains to begin a long hike to a lofty, clifftop perch. Sounds simple enough but, the moment I put on my pack in those early hours, “alone was always emphasized”. 

Restless sleep from concerns of mortality wiped away by the crisp, morning air, I would progress higher through the rock bands. Being alone is special because there's no one to complain to, no one to inspire decisions either way. To reach a small diving board of rock, judge the conditions, both environmental and within, and then dawn my wingsuit, BASE rig and with no outside influence guiding my decision to jump; it all somehow made the subsequent flight that much more special. 

Memories of those BASE jumps always seem to emphasize the moment I'd land safe. The sounds of the mountains were louder, the colors brighter, the feeling of humility and acknowledgment that I was a part of nature and not in control of it made the hike out like a celebration of life; the thimble berries along the way that much sweeter. Alone can bring so much growth.

Conversely, I'd be lying if I said that community wasn't also incredibly important to me. Being exposed to different perspectives, sharing incredible moments and seeing your friends achieving their goals and dreams has added more to life than I can describe. Accountability during a conversation causes me to think before I speak, ask more questions and try to experience each moment from somewhere other than the filters of my own ego. 

When I've been lucky enough to do something intense and memorable, for whatever reason, usually what I remember after the fact is different from what actually happened. I think it's a human trait to lose some detail because the emotional response ends up being more the point than the details. For that reason, it's been hard for me to share an experience and more to the point, what it taught me, in a story. It's nearly impossible to accurately convey how an experience affected me, how it changed me as a person to someone who wasn't there. But, when I've been lucky enough to share such an experience, what happened transcends explanation and my partner on the adventure understands implicitly. After a hard climbing route, a wild BASE jump, after catching a wave or landing from an intense flight in the paraglider, the entire feeling can be conveyed between partners through a nod and a smile.

When my family and I moved to Oregon, we were lucky to have been introduced to an amazing community of people. Fortunately for us, one of my best friends had been established here for years and quickly enabled an entry for us into his fold. We found this unique circle to be saturated with interesting, smart and seasoned travelers; people who have a high tolerance for ideas, differences, adventure and raw life. When I started to share more time than just surf sessions with Louie and Meira, I had a feeling that many adventures were in our future.

Fast forward to last weekend. During a conversation about growing food and permaculture, Meira mentioned to me that she, Louie, and their 9 month old daughter, Jasper were going to make a trip to fish for Steelhead. She gave a quick glance at Lou and in a moment of silent agreement, both graciously asked if I was keen to come along. They had been offered spots in a friend's boat who is an experienced fishing guide, and thought there might be room for one more. Later that night while at a music event with my family, a long haired dude with a big beard and the biggest smile imaginable came up to me in the crowd and shouted over the guitar, “I hear you're going to be fishing with us?” The look in his eye was inviting and I could tell in no less than one second that this guy was going to be a friend.

When I glanced over to Lou, who was holding Jasper and clearly enjoying the music, his smile told me that he had secured my spot in the boat. Steve (bearded dude) and his son Kameron guide the Rogue more than 260 days a year and know “their” stretch of river like the backyard it's been. Feeling lucky that along with the privilege of sharing time with a bunch of new friends, I'd get to have the opportunity to do something I've wanted to do my whole life. I immediately said “If it's cool with you? Absolutely!” Getting to fly fish for massive steelhead on the beautiful and world-famous Rogue River is about as epic an offer as I could imagine.

 

Fly fishing on the Rogue River

Photography: Jeffrey Shapiro

Because I'd only fished for Rainbows and Brown trout on Montana's rivers and streams, the gear I had was a little light. Mostly versed in throwing dry flies for fish feeding on late evening hatches, throwing a triple nymph rig from a ten-foot for an eight-weight rig took some getting used to. During that first day on the Rogue, Steve schooled me on how to manipulate the underwater bugs by using stack mends and the river's current to control the line tension. It was immediately obvious that Steve and Kam knew every square inch of that stretch of water and sure enough, when all things came together just right, the rod would load up and soon, a massive steelhead was jumping like a marlin, flashing it's telltale silver. It was hard to not laugh out loud when one would end up in the net, beautiful and easy to respect.

Only the “hatchery” fish were potential keepers. Natives, discernible by their intact adipose fin, were gently thanked and placed back in the river. Over those two days, lifelong memories were made and a few fish were taken to help feed our families. I couldn't help, after each day's float, to look around and take in the sky, the reflections on the water and of course, the good energy found in new friends. For me, adventures like this one, surrounded by nature and the power of environments like rivers, oceans, the sky or the mountains, makes me feel small and keeps me centered in my place; grounded. It only made sense when I arrived home to celebrate the fresh fish by cooking a meal over an open fire in the open air.

It may sound cheesy but, showing respect for food I've found in nature seems to happen best in nature and not in ovens. There's just something about cooking over an open fire and sharing the warmth of the flames with sizzling food that adds an extra emphasis on satisfaction? Maybe, it's also that most days I get to cook fish over a fire, I'm pretty hungry as well! 

 

Grilling fish on portable campfire grill

Photography: Jeffrey Shapiro

So once again, out came the Wolf and Grizzly Grill and while the lick of the flames cooked the fish to perfection, I felt grateful. Grateful for good food, for good people, and for a good life. Oh, and good fishing wasn't too bad either.


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