A Dory on the River

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She fitted out and ready for the water.
She fitted out and ready for the water.

It’s a perfect Oregon afternoon.

By that, I mean it’s in the mid-seventies, and the sun is shining and the trees have that look about them. That look they get just before they start to change their colors.

It’s imperceptible, just the lightest downgrade from summer’s dark green but not quite as verdant as spring. If you look carefully, you can watch summer’s slow demise every day.

It’s not fall yet, but the dog days are over. The perfect in-between.

My brother texts and says he has some things to finish around the farm, but that we can hit the river at 1:30.

I run around frantically looking through storage for my bass gear, before remembering that it was twenty years ago that I put together a nice bait caster with a 6 foot super stiff rod that could lift smallies and largemouth from the river like a crane.

My cases full of crank baits and pork frogs and salt worms are long gone, victims of our many moves to colder states with no warm-water fishing.

I picked up a few spinner baits and some salt worms as well as some jigs that mimic baby bass and had some new line put on my old fishing reels. Green, to match the river that catches the runoff from the verdant valley we call home.

I dusted off the old bags, unused since we lived in Montana, where many rivers run through it, and where one is never farther than a good double haul from a riffle full of trout. Or at least that’s the way some writer or another has described it.

My brother rolled the old girl out of the shop into the full sunlight, where her green and white hull seemed to reflected Oregon in the bright sunlight, a visage of trees and water reflected on a white horizon.

She is 44-years old, just a few years older than I am and a few more older than my brother is. But we identify with her like she’s one of us. She has brass portholes in her cabin, and she recently went through a midlife makeover that will hopefully get her through another 40 years of running the surf at her home port of Pacific City.

She’s not the 1971 Cape Kiwanda Dory she came into this shop as. Sure, the structure remains the same, but she was given an incense cedar bent transom cap rail with red meranti inlays, Honduran mahogany deck railing and a meranti chine cap, not to mention a fresh paint scheme.

To say she’s beautiful is an understatement. She’s rebuilt, and yet 40-years of use is still evident in her soul and her personality. Her quirks and flaws have not gone away, they’re just waiting to be discovered by a new captain and crew.

My brother is dying to try her out to work out the kinks and flaws before he puts her back into the salt water she is used to, so we haul her across the Buena Vista ferry to a boat launch that will put us in some prime smallmouth real estate as well as a fairly nice stretch of river to run her full throttle to try to assess her speed and efficiency.

When we drop her into the water, which is only her second dip in a marine environment in the last nine months, she’s like a horse that wants to run. I hold her in the current while my brother parks the truck and trailer.

Loaded up and ready to go.
Loaded up and ready to go.

She bends at the wind a little, with her tall sides and cabin.

The river men watch, wondering what a little ocean dory is doing in the Willamette River. Or, maybe they just know already.

She drifts over the shallow rocks, and I strain to keep her still, so she doesn’t attempt to scrape the new paint off her hull.

When my brother returns, we turn her upriver and work the engine a little, which seems to idle too low.

She warms up slowly on a warm but not unpleasant Labor Day, and I hop over her Mahogany railing and grab the left side of the cabin as my brother steers us out of the shallow into the middle of the wide river.

He points her nose upstream and slowly increases her speed.

She seems to like it.

She doesn’t buck but flies across the smooth waters. It has to feel so different from the choppy surf at Pacific City.

We travel with her to where the Santiam River meets the Willamette River, to an area called Luckiamute Landing, a Gallery Forest that looks and feels like Oregon might have hundreds of years ago.

Majestic old-growth Cottonwoods as well as Big-leaf Maples and Oregon Ash dominate the landscape, while a bald eagle soars overhead to tussle with some turkey vultures in the distance.

We park on the western bank just downriver from where the Luckiamute joins the Willamette and start tossing spinners into the shadows near where logs lie submerged in the murky water.

For a while, there is nothing, just reeling and freeing the rats nests that invariably appear when you put new line on a reel.

We admire the new wooden lines the dory and cast quietly, letting the eddy carry us downriver before turning us back upstream again.

First fish aboard the new dory.
First fish aboard the new dory.

A quick tug on the line indicates the river is not devoid of life, and then a nice strike for my brother, which he reels in carefully, while telling me to grab my phone to document the very first catch aboard the newly restored boat.

He lips the smallmouth, I shoot a picture, and back into the water she goes.

This goes on for a while as the sun creates longer shadows on the water for us to cast into.

I give up on the big spinner baits and settle for the same Silver Fox my brother is using.

Two nice strikes and four turns in the eddy later, I hook a decent-sized smallmouth on my ultra-light gear. The rod bends tightly, as the fish comes reluctantly to the boat.

If this is any indication, the fish just keep getting bigger.
If this is any indication, the fish just keep getting bigger.

I grab her, try to lip her and promptly lose her to the floorboards of the dory. My brother laughs and tells me I’m out of practice.

I am.

When I finally lip her, he holds the camera close and makes her look like a whopper. I put her back into the water facing upstream to get the water going through her gills, and she promptly tail-flips her way off my fingers and back into the shadows to try for something more filling than a boat ride and photo with humans.

We sip beer in the sunshine and cast lazily for a while longer, because I forgot to get earthworms.

But my brother is anxious to dial in the electronics and to test her speed flat out on the river.

So we pack up everything, and I hold on as we race down and back on the river, imagining what it might be like to launch her into the waves at Cape Kiwanda someday soon. She holds steady at around 26-miles-per-hour, and we talk about taking her camping up in the San Jauns next summer.

Getting ready to run her all out.
Getting ready to run her all out.

Water floods her tail at one point, because of a makeshift attachment to hold the fish-finder, so we stop to undo it and test her out, but we can no longer tell how deep we are, so we drift back downstream toward the Buena Vista ferry and take her out of the river two fish richer than she was before today.

Someone said the worst day fishing is better than the best day at work. And while there is truth to that, fishing is only part of it. It’s getting out on the water into nature with your mind and your body and every part of you. It’s an old boat with a new take on life and a couple of brothers in the same boat, thinking about the same things.

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