Hiking up the trail along the east fork of the Lostine River into the Eagle Cap wilderness in the Wallowas is one of the most perfect fly fishing pools imaginable. Enough off the trail that you might miss it, the pool comes at the base of a short rocky drop in the river. After the drop, the water flows quietly in a 20-yard-long by 10-yard-wide pool that’s no more than four feet deep at most. Since the river bottom here is sandy, wading barefoot is easy. There’s also no fear of snagging on a backcast as the trees are well set back from the pool’s edges.
The only reason I made a recent trip into the Wallowas was to fish this pool and to bask in the joy of wading deep in cold water and casting to eager Brook Trout. Note that the pool’s brookies aren’t huge but are ready to take traditional dry fly patterns, like an Adams, Royal Coachman, elk hair caddis and humpy floated on the surface, or pheasant tail and bead head nymphs.
Arriving at the pool after a two-and-a-half-mile uphill hike, I took my boots off and rigged up my four-piece backpacking rod. Reel on, I reached into my pack for my fly box and found it missing. Despair ensued. I’d forgotten to pack the box.
Depressed, I reluctantly set up the trail to my final destination at Mirror Lake, deciding to take a positive attitude and beg flies from anyone I met along the trail. A dozen people were met over the next stretch of trail through the long alpine meadow leading up river, but there wasn’t a flyfisher among them.
At the end of the meadow, as the trail makes a sharp turn, crosses the river, and starts a more than two-mile climb to Mirror Lake, I spotted a man and his dog resting in the shade.
“Are you a flyfisherman," I queried?
“I am,” he replied.
“I’ve got a problem. I left my fly box at home and just need a couple of flies so I can fish for the next three days. Can I buy some from you? "
“Not to worry, “he said, “I’ll gladly give you some.”
And he did—five dries and two nymphs with the disclaimer that, “They all cost me less than a dollar at garage sales.”
The donor introduced himself as Todd Long from Oregon City. His golden retriever was introduced as Lucy.
We decided to hike together and during the next hour and a half I came to know that Long is a graphic artist who works at Nike and takes two weeks off each year to backpack the Wallowas, fishing and taking photographs.
Not just photographs, but images made with his 4 x 5 field camera that he lugs along with the negatives.
When we stop for lunch near Mirror Lake, he pulls the camera out and it brings up memories of classic image making in the pre-digital era.
At Mirror Lake, Long and I separated. Once camp was set up, I again rigged up my fly rod and reel and to my delight the garage sales flies worked. In fact they seemed to attract local Brookies better than the flies I’d used on my last trip here.
The second day camping at the lake, I ran into Long and we spent four hours fishing together. A day later, I was fishing the outflow of the lake where the east fork of the Lostine starts and Lucy trotted over to help me cast. Soon her master was there to join in the fun.
After another day of wandering around angling, I started out at 5:30 am from Mirror Lake hoping that on my way back to the trailhead I’d get to the fishing pool just as the sun hit its waters. I arrived there about 9:00 just as the first rays dappled across the water’s surface.
I set up, tied on some new tippet and put on an elk hair caddis purchased at a garage sale. Barefoot, I waded up to well above my knees and made a few false casts before sending a fly to the base off the pour-over at the head of the pool. A decent-sized male Brookie in full spawning colors flashed to the surface and took the fly.
An hour later and a dozen fish landed, I started back down the trail happily reaching the trailhead and my truck shortly after noon. I crawled up into the truck’s bed to rest.
Then like an apparition, Long appeared. It turned out his car had been parked right next to my truck and he was heading out to, “fill my need for bacon and eggs after two weeks on the trail.”
From the trunk of his car he pulled out a box of images mounted on canvas and gave me two-one of Mirror Lake at dusk and one of the East Lostine coursing down the long valley on its way to THE fishing pool.
Once home, I sent him a box of flies bought at full retail. They probably won’t work as well as those garage sale marvels.
Photo taken by Bob Woodward.