“Hey there, are you that Jay guy?”
I had already drifted fifty yards past the couple fishing Christmas Tree Hole on the Sixes River, so the question he hurled at me came as a surprise.
The Sixes River drains the southern Oregon coast range, tumbles downhill through
parcels of private lands managed for forestry and agriculture, then spills across a tidal plain barely two or three miles from the Pacific. The Christmas Tree Hole lies below a sharp right-hand corner and marks the border between mostly private lands to a public-lands wildlife refugee extending along the south bank, all the way to the ocean.
It was a little past mid-afternoon when I rounded the corner, and I was a little disappointed to see a man and woman casting spinners into the pool I’d expected to fish. This is a close-friends-only pool, so I drifted past with a wave and a hello. I had already drifted fifty yards past the pair, so the question the man hurled at me came as a surprise.
This all transpired on a balmy November afternoon; rose-tinted clouds piled high to the west, and the not-so-distant roar of surf carried upriver on a stout breeze. The wader-clad pair were knee-deep in the Sixes River, twenty-feet apart; spinning rods hung at their sides.
I could see the man gesturing at me, but the possibility of anything but shouted conversation was waning by the second while my drift continued, so I rowed ashore and walked upstream to meet them. We shifted our weight from one foot to the other on flattened, golf-ball-sized stones as we began our conversation. Extending my right hand in greeting, I said “Yes. I’m Jay, do I know you?”
Their story spilled out so fast I could barely follow. Speaking in turns, I learned that they were long-time fans of my tying videos, followed my blog, and were both hoping to catch a chinook salmon on a fly. I gestured at their spinning rods, raised my left eyebrow, and spread my hands wide. “Really?”
My keen powers of observation gave us all a good laugh and set our heads nodding up and down.
How about I loan you a fly-outfit that you can fish tomorrow,” I asked? “You’d do that,” the man asked?” “Yep, near as I can see, you’ll never catch a chinook on a fly if you’re only fishing that spinner.”
With the day growing shorter and one more pool I wanted to fish, I handed over all the gear they’d need, swung one leg into my boat, and pushed-off downriver. To put a nice point on the story, the lady caught her first fly-rod chinook the next morning.
“I’ve found that I’m recognized by people just about everywhere I fish- in fly shops around Oregon and Washington, and even while dining at a few cafes on the Oregon coast.”
Since that day, I’ve found that I’m recognized by people just about everywhere I fish, in fly shops around Oregon and Washington, and even while dining at a few cafes on the Oregon coast. These chance meetings are always different, always the same. “Are you that Jay guy?” The phrase is as predictable as my answer, worked out after chance-meetings too numerous to count. “Uh-huh,” I reply. “Do I know you?”
The next part of these conversations always varies a little in precise detail, but usually goes something like this. “No, but I read your blog, watch your videos. I love it, man, love it all. The cats, the anguish, the flies, everything. All of a sudden, I’m engaged with people who may be teenagers or older than my 71 years.
“I can’t predict who will flag me down. Some are fly tyers. Some are fly anglers who haven’t yet begun to tie. Some are gear anglers who have never tied a fly or swung a fly rod.”
I was fishing for Chinook, in a tidewater reach of a Tillamook Bay tributary. This is an urban river; after nearly six decades fishing here, I’ve come to appreciate the stinging scent of cow manure as part of my homewater’s local charm. This was a spectacularly dark, windless afternoon; an unforgiving drizzle penetrated every possible opening in my rain gear: up the sleeves, down the chest, and puddled in pockets. With left hand on the tiller, my right still holding my fly rod at the ready, I slowed as I approached an anchored Smoker Craft, not wanting to interrupt the man’s fishing.
Clad in green Helly Hansen raingear, he was seated on the stern seat, hunched-over against the drizzle, watching a banana-sized bobber intently. His demeanor was dour, best as I could tell, entirely consistent with what I’ve learned to expect from another salmon angler. Generally, they are hoping to avoid sharing a favorite pool with me, or with anyone, and especially a fly guy. I put on an exaggerated smile, as I always do, waved, and said hello in passing. I was about to add a few RPMs and skedaddle to the next fishing hole when I heard him call out. “Are you that Jay guy?” Cutting my motor and lowering anchor, I replied. “Yeah. I am. Do I know you?”
“No, you don’t know me but I know you. My name is Bob, and I watched you tie a Clouser on YouTube last night. I recognized your voice when you said hello. I’m thinking about trying that myself: fly tying and fly fishing, that is. I’ve been fishing here all my life, and I’m amazed that these Chinook actually eat such little flies.”
Most of my iconic friends in the fly fishing community have carefully built their brand as professional fly tyer, guide, tackle rep., lodge owner, international travel host, photographer, author, and other high-profile ventures. Meanwhile, I’ve been “flying” under the radar, with no intention of building a brand or a business.
“Every encounter leaves me a little surprised, thankful, and eager to answer the inevitable succession of questions that follow. ”
I don’t have an Instagram account, barely use Facebook, don’t count likes, and never encourage followers. After sixty years as an angler-fly tyer, forty years as a fish biologist, and a little over a decade posting amateur-grade fly tying videos on the OregonFlyFishingBlog.com, I seem to have acquired a small, wonderfully kind, and gracious following of anglers and fly tyers.
Every encounter leaves me a little surprised, thankful, and eager to answer the inevitable succession of questions that follow.
Todd called recently, and asked if I would like to share a few fly photos with his readers. I jumped at the opportunity. “But Todd,” I pleaded, “I don’t have any “show” flies to photograph, and I’ve haven’t had a decent camera for two years. I paused.
“Hold on now,” said. “I ‘ve got my working fly boxes, stuffed in corners of tackle bags. I’ll call my friend Garren Wood, and ask if he can help out.” “Sounds great Jay, ” Todd said. I think Todd was hanging up when I heard him whisper, “Oh, I forgot to tell you, how about a caption for each fly?”
Here you go. Todd.
Here’s what you need to know about Jay. Freelance writer who can’t spell. Self-published author. Amateur fly tyer, videographer, photographer, artist, and storyteller. Retired fish biologist. Passionate about wild fish, family, cats and dogs. Jay hopes to meet you somewhere on the Oregon coast one of these days.