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In remembrance

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In remembrance
  SadA mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, on Oct. 1, left nine people dead and nine more injured. One of the victims was the teacher in the classroom where the shootings took place: Lawrence Levine, 67, was an assistant professor of English, and a well-known and passionate fly-fishing guide on the North Umpqua River.
According to many news reports he was an unpublished author, but his essay ďHats: A salute to fly-fishing head gearĒ was published in the March 2010 issue of FLY FISHERMAN. As a tribute to Larry, here is that essay, with original watercolor paintings by his friend and fellow fly fisher, Dave Hall.
. . .


A salute to fly-fishing head gear

Dave Hall illustration from the March 2010 issue of FLY FISHERMAN

The river is high, eighteen inches below the top of the bridge abutment. The color is khaki green with snowmelt cloudiness. At Mill Run itís too cloudy to spot fish. I fish anyway and catch cold hands.

Iím wearing a black beret (boina, in Spanish) I bought at the Gaucho Festival in JunŪn de los Andes, Argentina. Itís the first time Iíve worn the wool beret while fishing.

To many anglers, hats are the most individual type of fishing gear. Hats make statements about the people whose heads they crown. Statements like, I fished here, and there; Iím proud to use such-and-such a rod or reel; I sunburn easy; Iím a conservationist, traditionalist, whitewater cowboy, a Ducks supporter, a baseball fan; and, Iím so dead serious I need a long-brim hat. Even a plain hat trying not to make a statement makes a statement. And going hatless, although rare, is a big, minimalist statement.

There are hats that catch fish and there are hats that donít; thatís to say, there are lucky hats and there are hats that need to be worn elsewhere. You have to give them a trial period, see how they do. On this river, you have to give them a fair trial, a month maybe, because there are days when, under perfect conditions, catching a steelhead seems impossible.

In 15 years of guiding on this river Iíve never had a hatless client. Iíve taken high-level corporate executives who showed up with hats that made them look like Jed Clampett. They must want to be mistaken for one of the more eccentric localsócertainly an idealized version of oneóexcept that if a local had that kind of money, he wouldíve bought himself a new hat.

A client showed up onceóa doctor, nice, intelligent guyĖwearing a baseball cap that read ďMaster Steelheader.Ē Wide-eyed, I asked him where he got it. He said heíd taken a steelheading course and at the end theyíd given each participant a hat. It speaks of some Wizard of Oz logic where you can give the Cowardly Lion a medal and, all of the sudden, heís got ďC-C-Courage.Ē Might work in Oz, didnít on the North Fork.

In this neck of the woods, with 30 miles of fly-only water, a lot of hats have flies stuck in them. My friend, Dave Hall, has a deteriorating visor that holds enough flies to fish for five years.

One afternoon, when the fishing was as slow as refrigerated molasses, I was in the Blue Heron fly shop with five other steelheaders and Joe Howell behind the counter. No one had caught a fish that morning, and these were some good, veteran fishermen.

A suburban drove upĖwe all knew the rigóand a guy who worked this and other southern Oregon rivers got out wearing his waders. None of us had seen him all season. He came in the store wearing a baseball cap advertising his guide service; a bit tacky, I thought, but I like the guy. He was funny.

Joe asked him how heíd done and the guide said,ĒI hooked eight upriver.Ē

We all looked at each other complicit in the knowledge that this was utter bullshit. Some of these good fisherman hadnít seen eight steelhead all season, and it was the first week in September. And of all the abominable fishing, the absolute worst was upriver.

Iím a quiet guy, but, for whatever reason, I said, ďBoy, you know itís a bad season when olí (name withheld) canít even tell a credible lie.Ē To his credit, even the liar laughed.

The first steelhead I ever caught on the North Fork was nearly twenty-five years ago. I came from downstate, where I live, to visit Dave Hall on the river. I arrived in the afternoon and found Frank Krebs already there, and the three of us walked across the highway to fish the Tavern Pool.

Since I was an absolute novice, I fished the long run first. Iíd had exactly one casting lesson in my life and it lasted about one minute. Call it beginnerís luck, but on the way down the run I hooked a fish.

Frank and Dave waded in to help me land it because that year in the Tavern Pool, there was nowhere to beach a fish.

As I was concentrating on fighting the steelhead, out of the corner of my eye I saw Frank step off a grassy hump and disappear underwater. Only his straw cowboy hat floated on the surface.

When he popped back up, spewing water and a string of expletives, Dave placed the hat back on Frankís head and said, ďNice of you to drop in.Ē

I landed the fish, a beautiful native six-pound buck, and released it. It was my first North Fork fish. It should dominate my memory, but I canít forget that straw cowboy hat floating on the water.

So, Iíve got this gaucho boina on and, catching-wise, itís zero for one, but for some reason, Iím really liking it. Iíve never had a beret before, but Iíve seen enough to know that there are different ways of wearing them. Low on the forehead. High on the forehead. Straight back. Straight up, or angled jauntily to one side or the other. I wear it high on the forehead and straight back, like Che Guevara. It fits snugly, itís warm, and I like the way it makes my head feel.

I drive downriver and pull into the big turnout at Boundary, where thereís still a patch of sunlight. I get out and lean against the warm hood of the car and eat a half a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. Standing in the sun overlooking the river, I think there has never been a more delicious moment. And Iím wearing a beret. Way cool, right?

Hands thawed, I get back to fishing. I fish through the upper part of Fox Creek, then I keep heading downriver because itís starting to get late. My last pool of the day is at Baker Park. I walk down from the turnout and see that thereís too much water to fish Montyís Run, but the tailout looks good.

Thereís an old Yiddish song, at least I learned it in Yiddish, which goes:ĒSunday is nothing, Monday nothing, Tuesday and Wednesday nothing, Thursday and Friday a whole lot of nothing, even on the Sabbath . . . nothing.Ē

Iím starting to think that song is the mantra of steelheaders. I start with a weighted fly, and for my second pass I choose a colorful, unweighted John Matthews fly. Logic might dictate that I should use I heavier fly, but why should steelhead react to human logic?

Case in point, I hook a screaming ten-pound hen that jumps all over the pool and, as Iím beaching her, slips the hook and releases herself. Perfect. This beret is telling me that it is the right hat for the right time, and definitely a keeper.

. . .

Larry Levine was a steel-head guide on the North Umpqua, a writer, and an avid mushroom hunter.

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(This post was edited by Dryrod on Oct 11, 2015, 3:44 PM)
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Re: [Dryrod] In remembrance In reply to
I take my hat off in a moment of silence. God bless the legend.

Bass are toys. Gills and Trout are food.
There is a fine line between fishing and standing on the shore looking like an Idiot
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