This is a fishing story that demands two parts. The Upper Columbia River flows south out of Canada about 6 miles north of Northport, WA. Just so happens I’ve got a great friend that has a lodge perched on the banks of this mammoth of a water system just down river from town. A couple years back, myself and a woodsmith buddy of mine spent about 2 months living in a 1973 5th wheel putting in all the natural edge juniper trim on top of the pine tongue and groove we had previously installed. With a 25 foot vaulted ceiling and about 18 windows facing the river, it was a carpentry feat that we thoroughly enjoyed and it turned out pretty amazing. In return for our blood, sweat, and tears (we never cried), Jack has allowed us the rights to the lodge when we feel the need to get away and wrestle with the Redband Rainbows that call this place home.
On this adventure I very selectively recruited a very good friend of mine Troy, a longtime fly fishing guide all over the state of Washington and now a rep for Raging River Sales out of North Bend, WA. We needed one more angler that could also row a drift boat, and luckily she was even closer to the river than we were. I called my friend Lacey and asked her if she wanted to go to the UC and shwack on some big redbands, her reply of course was, “Well yeah!” She is the type that if her job permits it, she goes fishing. As of yesterday, she is living outside of Valdez, AK as a fly fishing guide through a new lodge that just so happens to have this handy little helicopter that drops her and her client wherever their hearts desire.
We got gear all settled in the lodge and headed up the east side of the river that was flowing at a mere 101,000 cfs on April 7th. We put in at a wooded beach called Black Sands, as I watched the very low profile Clackacraft Headhunter Skiff roll off the trailer, I realized this is boat is not designed for water like this. I know when the first boil came up from the depths of maybe 40+ feet we all thought the same thing, this is going to be quite the ride. Shortly after that drifting past a rock outcropping we got a glimpse of what else this incredibly deep and turbulent river could do. Out of nowhere, a whirlpool formed 6 feet off the side of the boat that could easily grab a craft this size and flush er down! “Dude, watch it!” as Troy grabbed the sticks and hauled away from it, 20ft across and a drop of 4 feet in the center of the suck whole. This is something you don’t toy with. This moment was a reality check for the three of us. With the river almost a ¼ mile wide, if the boat were to go wrongside up, we really wouldn’t make it to the bank before waders filled up and/or turbulence got the better of us. Even if the gods were on our side, the water temp would take effect within a few minutes and hypothermia would be knocking at our door. With this realization the pucker factor was in full effect the whole time we were on the water. I said to my fishy friends, “Hey, at least we would die doing what we love, right?”
To be continued...