Metolius River Basin
Metolius River Basin

“The heart of the basin is the Metolius River, a federally designated Wild and Scenic River and internationally renowned fly fishing stream. Its cold, free-flowing waters begin as a bubbling spring on the mossy hillside of Black Butte. Flowing north under a tall, fragile canopy of old growth ponderosa pine, larch, fir, and cedar, the river provides a unique habitat for redband trout, endangered bull trout, kokenee, and – soon – returning salmon The basin and the animal and forest life it supports are special to all who visit.”



I have to remark about a few things here: the above words are skillfully crafted to describe a place you have never been to, but to draw upon images, words, phrases that may elicit an image because of prior experiences or trips that may help paint the picture. May I say, skillfully crafted or not, I have never in my many years of fly fishing encountered a river as beautiful as the Metolius River. Bubbling forth in ice cold merriment, it is beyond compare. Seriously…that beautiful.

In the early 80’s, I was irresponsible…more than now…and did something that was in time semi-discovered with interesting consequences. I wanted to fly fish the river my way…alone. I saw a faint access road with a cable blocking entry. An old rusty, low slung, thick cable that appeared to have not been touched since man forged steel (that was a good turn of phrase..right?) I wanted just a look? I decided  to drive around the obstruction…and barged forth with family in tow. Solitude already everywhere. immediately became more pronounced as I intruded into ‘private property’.

Metolius River Headwaters (Spring Fed)
Metolius River Headwaters (Spring Fed)

It was cold and the afternoon light was fading. Really fly fishing was less on the radar than stolen privacy and a place to put four kids in sleeping bags after a quick meal. I feel bad about even writing this…but there is a point to this confession. We came upon a old cabin…and out buildings. I went to the cabin and tried the door…unlocked…I entered (I know, I know)…into a sizable cabin maybe 15′ by 30′. Musty smelling, but with several cots and a table and two chairs. How quickly, without legitimate strife, we/I made ourselves at home. No one around…no one likely to be around, as it was obvious no one had been for sometime. 

We slept that night in the cabin on bare, musty mattresses and on the floor. A lantern on the table, sleeping bags spread out and to bed we went, after a quick meal. Attention was made to adhere to no trace-evidence camping. It was an amazing place. Through the night the mice could be heard scurrying or scratching about. Mustiness filled the air…but we slept so well. 

The next morning, filled with a chill air, I perused the interior via the early light. On the walls were some dozen tracings. Now listen and picture this….pictures or drawings of a trout..wih notations: a rainbow trout, 21 inches, a Coachman, by (I can’t remember the names). Over and over, there were similar drawings of large trout caught, all on the fly, by boys and girls, men and women? on the Metolius River in the 1950’s!!  The pictures stop in the 60’s. Children grown, traditions lost or ignored…you know how it is. Somehow, here though, I knew this was a special place…yes, my selfish side was over riding the legalities and the ethical…but, I was not oblivious to the feeling it was beyond special. 

I went outside and caught one large, fat Rainbow Trout after another on a swung wet or sunk nymphs. I recall a Black & Yellow Montana Stone catching numerous trout (would any of you even consider fishing a fat, chenille bodied fly these days?) The Montana Stone, Stove Pipe (green caddis chenille/mallard pattern) and Lead wing/Peacock Wet caught many fish in the drift in front of that private cabin. I fished the Metolius R. many times after that and never had a day like that, on a river that is not easily forthcoming of its fish…especially since they stopped the stocking programs. 

It was karma. Afterwards, I did a probably careless thing….I traced the owner and called Erskine Wood, an attorney…too old to talk, I talked to Jr……another attorney. I asked, without over burdening him with the unnecessary clutter of an admission…could I perhaps have permission to visit the property on the Metolius R. with the understanding I would be a most attentive steward. It was not only ‘no’ but ‘hell no’. Apparently, years had evolved of trespassers ruining the site to such a degree the family didn’t bother locking the door anymore because of broken windows… siding  or shingles had been ripped from the cabin to build fires…by cross country skiers was the assumption and evidence. The tone was impatient, authoritative and devoid of any approachability…so I could not ask about the pictures on the walls…the tracings of proud catches some thirty to forty years ago..

Mr. Erskine Wood Jr. did suggest something though that expanded my world, my understanding of stewardship. He suggested I visit the land directly across the river…land owned by the Nature Conservancy….Nature Conservancy? I came to understand the buying up of land to protect it. It was a good discovery and I had even more reverence for the Wood Property as I gazed upon it across the river. I so hope the Wood family still owns that land and that some where within the family, those pictures-drawings are saved and revered. I believe the Wood family has been and continues to be a strong force to preserve the Metolius R. basin and their memories. (Ellen Wood)

The thought of any land be zoned or approved for development is not comfortable with me. But, there are cabins near Camp Sherman that I have stayed at, and enjoyed. But, how far should that development big…private cabins down stream every hundred yards? A resort? Affluence, effluence, seepage, infrastructure, run off, traffic, on and on. Nope, the river is pristine…It is my Pebble Mine. These are the struggles. Not Climate Change BS (don’t get me started). These habitat changes and County Commissioners that provide good ol’ boy permits, etc. Economic development and land use rights are the key at least in Oregon.  The growth of Sisters to Redmond to Bend to LaPine will tilt the Earth for Central Oregon.  Oregon FF Blog is right on this one! (OFFB often sets forth intelligent data on habitat issues in the West, particularly in Oregon)     (      Ellen Wood Responds)  (fascinating history)

“C.E.S. Wood was a writer, poet, soldier, corporate lawyer, and a lover of books. He was a founder of Portland’s Public Library and the Portland Art Museum. A self-proclaimed anarchist, he was a regular contributor to radical journals of the day.”  (Good thing I did not run into GGrandpa). (Special genetics…it was a karma laden site) 






Metolius River (Above the Gorge)
Metolius River (Above the Gorge)    January 14, 2009