October 7th, 2002

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories . . .

The Clackamas
By Mark McKenzie, Tigard, Oregon

Once again, my wife and I found ourselves with some time alone. Our daughter had gone up to Tacoma, Washington, with her grandmother to pick up my wife's nephew. They'd be gone all day. The weather was great, and we wanted to try new water. We'd settled on heading up Highway 224, following the Clackamas River up to Faraday and North Fork Lakes. They're by no means secluded, and truth be known, you really need a boat to fish them. Both lakes are managed by Portland General Electric. The former lake gets stocked with 'surplus' steelhead trucked around the dam by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. I've been told it holds (or held) some nice browns and brookies, in addition to bows and cutts. We saw nothing on this day. In fact, we didn't even fish these lakes, as the bank access was very limited, and there were bobber fishermen already in the only spots.

We headed up the highway, and wound up fishing for a while on the Clackamas River, between the two lakes. The water was very clear, and very beautiful. The climb down from the roadway was kind of scary at one point (on the initial hike down, without gear, I could hardly get back up, as the hillside wanted to slide under my feet and hands,) but it was fine about halfway down. We used a different trail back up. Nicky started out with her trusty spin rod. I strung up the 4 wt. I tied on a three-fly setup, with a nice juicy looking black bead-head wooly bugger at the end of the main tippet, then a bead head zug bug below it, and a non-descript red wet fly below that. Back casts were hard, but I managed them, and was even able to make a roll cast with the setup. I'd cast, let the flies swing tight to the bank, then do it over. This went on fruitless for half an hour. Nicky hadn't even had a hit on her 'lucky' pink spinner.

We drove on up stream, we spotted some more likely looking places. Rounding a bend, saw a canoe upside down! I turned around at the next opportunity, as we couldn't see if anyone was injured or not. There were a couple people standing on the hillside, but they didn't seem to know anymore than we did. We both figured it might be a good idea to tell someone about it, so I punched the gas and we headed for the Estacada Fire Dept. They sent a truck up. A Clackamas County deputy was also dispatched. The deputies got there after the canoe had been righted and the occupants were continuing downstream. They caught up with them as the gentlemen floated past us downstream, as we were fishing a heavy run. I'd waded up along the bank, and out into the middle of the slower water above the run. There was a small hatch of mayflies going on, but not a trout to be seen anywhere. They also didn't want dries, nymphs, or a bright red wet fly I tossed at 'em. Nicky was practicing her roll casts with the 3 wt, and an EHC tied on. No hits for her this place, but she was introduced to drift presentations.

Again, we decided to look for some better action. Back to the car, and headed upstream again. We found a beautiful wide, slow stretch about 10 miles up the highway. What awaited us at the bottom of the trail sent chills up our spines.

For the last 7 or 8 months, this area has been dealing with two high-profile missing persons cases, where two young girls disappeared. It's been in the national news, and profiled on Americas Most Wanted. Also, the reports lately of little kids being kidnapped has had us a little on edge as parents.

At the bottom of the trail from the pullout to the river, were the remains of a large mammal. What looked to be rib bones were scattered about, as were some leg bones. This spooked us. We couldn't find anything particularly distinguishing (skull, pelvic bones) to tell what these bones belonged to. I sent Nicky back up to the car to get my maglite. I carefully looked under a large log which we'd found bone fragments under, to see if I could find anything more distinguishing. Nothing. I wasn't about to tramp around in the thick vegetation, as I didn't want to damage any evidence if this was in fact a crime scene. We both started thinking "what if?" and decided to head back to town to call the State Police, to have a Fish and Game trooper come out to better identify the bones. (We figured the Fish and Game troopers would be easily able to tell us if what we found were deer, elk, or human bones.) Found out that the Contour handles tight corners at very high speeds very well. On the stretch of highway right above North Fork Res. we lucked into a Clackamas County Sheriff deputy, and an Oregon State Police trooper already headed to another call in that direction. I flagged them down, and we told them of our find. They said they'd be up to investigate as soon as they cleared the call they were headed to. We headed back up there, to show them exactly where the bones lay.

When we got back up there, there were some other fly fishers there, but they hadn't disturbed the area (they'd hiked down to the water at the bridge at the head of the pullout.) Not knowing how long it would be until the police arrived, I did the only things I could think of doing: moved the car up to block off the trail leading down to the bones, then I strung up the 3 wt and hiked down a different trail, and fished until they got there.

I had tied on a small marabou creation of mine, which can be fished dry, wet, nymph, or as a small streamer. The fish seemed eager! I got a lot of strikes, but only managed to land a couple small trout before the officers arrived.

When they did, I waded back in, and my wife and I pointed out the area with the bones. The deputies and trooper gave the area a quick search, and examining the bones, determined that (much to our relief) they were likely those of an illegally killed deer. Someone hadn't hidden their illegal hunt very well. The officers thanked us for our concern, and we thanked them for putting our minds at ease. My wife and I couldn't help but wonder if these might be the remains of someone's child, or if they were from a dead animal. We were both hoping for the latter, but it was only a couple days before that search teams had been searching an area downstream around McIver Park for the missing girls.

Feeling relieved, my wife and I felt better about fishing. This time, I was using the 4 wt with another of the marabou flies, and my wife was fishing the 3 wt. I waded out into one of the little pockets of water, and was having a ball trying to hook some of the small trout rising to the fly. Nicky wasn't happy staying on the bank. She wanted to come out and fish by me.

Lesson One: Wading into the river. I had come prepared for wading. I had dug out the Hodgeman's neoprenes I've had a few years, and the felt soled boots. My "frog suit" as we like to call it. My wife hasn't yet acquired her own frog suit. (she'll definitely have one under the Christmas tree if we don't get them before then!) She was wearing cargo pants and a tank top, with hiking boots. A quick verbal lesson in wading, along with some coaching, and she was standing right next to me in a few minutes. The water was cold, I could feel it thru the waders, but she handled it amazingly well. It felt good for both of us to be in the water. I traded rods with her, so she could try out the longer 4 wt. I moved upstream about 30 feet from her. I wanted to stay close to her, in case something happened. She wanted me close for the same reason.

Lesson Two: Fishing in waist deep water. It's a little easier for me to fish in water 3 feet deep than it is for my wife. I'm 6'4", the water comes up to my butt. She's only 5'6" so it comes up over her navel. With minimal coaching, she was roll casting 25 feet. All was going well for her, until she brought the line in, and had the leader close. I'd warned her about letting the leader get too close to her when she was casting. She said "ok honey" and kept fishing. I made another cast, then all of a sudden she was screaming for me.

Lesson Three: Catching oneself. It seems that while making a roll cast, the leader was right next to her, and she managed to embed the point of a #18 dry fly into the front of her neck. She panicked, and kept calling me over. I was trying to calm her, without busting out laughing, looking at my wife, with a length of monofilament and fly line hanging from her neck. Securing my own rod, I began wading to her assistance. Halfway there she had the fly out on her own, and was starting to get upset with the little blot of blood on her neck. I told her she'd laugh about it in a couple hours. She started giggling then when I told her what she looked like with the line hanging from her. She was a little frustrated, and was ready to call it a day. I tried talking her into fishing some more, but when a lady has her mind set, you can't change it.

Lesson Four: Getting back to shore. This proved more difficult than getting out to where we were. It wasn't hard for me, as I had felts on, and knew how to wade safely. For my wife, it was another adventure. She wanted to go over the smaller rocks upstream, but it wasn't very safe. (Unstable rocks, very slick, and faster current over them) so we had to go the slightly deeper, slower route (also there were good firm gravel spots below the larger boulders) Carefully coaching her along, we made it safely back to shore without either of us falling on our bums. It got hard for her to wade when we were about 15 feet from the bank, as she was now in knee deep water, soaking wet, with a slight breeze blowing. Her legs were very cold, and started tightening up. I helped her to the bank, and then along the trail back up to the car. Once up there, she changed into sweat pants and shirt, and sat with the heaters on. It didn't take long to dry her feet out and start getting her legs warmed up again.

On the drive home, we reflected on the day, and how odd it had been, and how it fit perfectly in with all our other outings. She got skunked, but she had fun, and tells me she loved wade fishing, despite being cold when she got out. She's looking forward to getting her own neoprene waders. I'm looking forward to our next adventure; who knows what's in store for us. ~ Mark McKenzie

Publisher's Note: The two missing girls bodies have been found and the killer arrested.


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