It was the image of a garden of Eden that helped drive the Oregon Trail migration, and the harvest of this bounty that supported early settlers who arrived with little else but their dreams to sustain them. Even though Oregon's long rainy season had to be endured, it was a baptism into a new world fed by sparkling streams and rivers, tracing downward from misty mountain peaks, gathering force in effervescent pools, to tumble towards the sea. Born of this cold, clear water were fish in endless numbers, salmon and steelhead, cutthroat and rainbow trout. The rivers were whipped into a froth with the upstream migrations of salmon, in an era before dams and clear-cutting quickly changed countless millennia of nature's design..
On Lincoln County's Salmon River in the 1920's, it was customary to wade into the river and grab armloads of Chinook salmon and toss them up on the bank, to be hauled away by the wagonload to be salted and smoked..
The Nestucca River used to have huge runs of Chinook in the 35 to 50 pound range. You were guaranteed at least two or three good-sized fish every day. A family could bring in 600 pounds of salmon in a season. Such was the robustness of Oregon's fisheries. When the vine-maple leaves turned brilliant red, salmon fishing was at its best. At Celilo Falls on the Columbia, Wasco Indians traditionally netted and gaffed salmon from wooden platforms. The area was flooded by the Dalles Dam in 1953, raising the water level by 110 feet. Runs of Smelt on the Sandy and Clackamas Rivers were eagerly anticipated, with a carnival-like atmosphere prevailing as the river banks crowded with fishermen dipping long-handled nets. People would drop whatever they were doing when they heard the Smelt were running, licenses weren't required. Debts were paid off in the middle of the night with 100 pound bags of Smelt which were left on your doorstep. Today's salmon and steelhead runs are a remnant of a phenomenon that is still poorly understood, but decades of fishing restrictions have not returned populations to normal levels. Catch and release fly-fishing is best suited to our slowly recovering native genetics.
Fly-fishing hasn't been the same since Norman Maclean's book "A River Runs Through It" was published, in which fly-fishing attains religious significance. When it became a movie, throngs descended on the water like a bug hatch, hungry to make the perfect presentation they had seen up on the silver screen. Now the well-dressed fly-caster is a standard backdrop on TV, though the line handling in these commercials is a hideous thrashing of the water, an unspeakable crime in Maclean's setting of the Big Blackfoot River in Montana. As parents, we need to be good role models for our children, and exemplary fly-casting is part of it.
In the timing of the line hand with the rod hand, the hemispheres of the brain may seem uncooperative. To throw a good flat loop of line, the rod tip should travel through a limited range. Load up the force in the base of the rod and let it do all the work as it straightens. The line hand then need only hold and release; the magic is in the precise timing of the backcast. Fishing in the backcountry develops a good side cast, with quick and tight line handling that will place a fly underneath overhanging trees. For brushy banks, the roll cast is sufficient if the approach is made with reasonable stealth. One may yearn for simpler days, but these are merely obstacles placed before you as a test. In the philosophy of Native Americans, game is deeply respected. The concept of a cutthrout trout taking anything less than your best fly presentation is just bad kharma. The occasional bad cast can be labeled as "shadowcasting" to impress onlookers.
Why do we learn to fly-fish? In the words of John F. Kennedy, "We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard". Throw that perfect cast to that waiting trout, and know in your heart it is what makes America great.