DUFUR — Anyone who played football has lasting memories from it. Some may have lasting injuries, too, but I was fortunate.
The sport is more than just a sport; it’s a brotherhood, and regardless of the level at which you strapped on pads, it holds some sort of emotional weight for every has-been and never-was.
After graduating, I remained involved with my program as an assistant coach who ran statistics. I played at the Class 1A level, which is eight-man football in Oregon.
Though there are more teams in Class 1A than any other division by far, these teams are far-flung, and you can find yourself traveling up to six hours for a league game in parts of the state.
For this reason, our team always looked forward to the Dufur Classic, a series of eight-man football games held in Dufur, Oregon where some of the best teams in the state could meet for pre-season exhibition games to flex on other leagues and build inertia.
The small town got up for the event, and it was a pleasant way to spend a late summer weekend.
By the numbers
My purview was mostly with statistics, so I really had no responsibilities outside of game time.
On the drive up, we’d look for red fox bounding through crop rows as we left the gorge corridor and made our way south.
Not every game was worth watching, so when we arrived, I found myself wandering.
It only took an hour or so to see the entire town, and in doing so, I noticed a small stream flowing through the heart of vintage Americana.
Fifteenmile Creek, a small tributary to the mainstem Columbia that flows into Oregon’s largest river just below Cushing Falls, was calling to me.
I always travel with fishing gear, so I double-checked the regulations to confirm my suspicions that it was open during that time of year (it’s open May 22 through Oct. 31) and found the nearest park. Fishing is restricted to artificial flies and lures, entirely catch and release, because there’s no point keeping the small, wild fish you’ll find here.
I parked at the Friends of Dufur Park and began fishing with a small Blue Fox spinner, my go-to lure once the treble hook has been replaced with a single hook to reduce mortality.
Wet wading a stream in the summertime is about as good as it gets. Any fish you happen to catch are a bonus.
The native Columbia redband trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss gairdnerii, that populated the stream were plentiful, aggressive and beautiful.
I jumped right into the shallow water, and as I wet-waded up and down, I appreciated the uniqueness of it all. I was fishing right in town, catching fish at a rate of about 20 per hour, and though I was surrounded by civilization, I was alone.
The babbling brook drowned out the cars and din of humanity, and I was fishing there in a time capsule, isolated in a bubble of nature that was relatively unchanged for more than a hundred years.
In the reverie of the moment, it was easy to lose sight of just how good the fishing was.
In a small stream, time of day isn’t significant, so as long as the water is clear enough for fish to see your bug or fish or crawfish imitation, they’ll smack it with gusto.
Unfortunately, I quickly lost my Blue Fox and had to resort to a Panther Martin. I love these lures, but they don’t allow you to swap out the treble hooks, so they aren’t my favorite.
As I pitched undercut banks, riffles, pools and current seams with my spinner and a small Rapala, the fish cooperated, reaffirming why wild native redband trout are my favorite species to target. They’re beautiful, aggressive and hard-fighting for their size — all character traits in stark contrast to the forgettable hatchery rainbow trout so many are familiar with.
Fish ranged from the tiny, 5-inch fish with eyes bigger than their stomachs to chunky fish between 12 and 14 inches long that hit my Rapala the second I twitched it in the water column.
The stream was healthy and supported several willing fish every few feet. Wild, native trout fishing this good is hard to come by this close to Portland. It was truly a treasure.
My outing the first afternoon yielded 34 fish in about two hours. Day two brought 31 to hand. I released every one carefully, taking time to appreciate the surroundings slightly reminiscent of the Powder River in Baker City but far more productive.
Fifteenmile Creek is a gem in the Gorge, and if you haven’t fished it, you should certainly consider making a trip later this summer. You may even be able to catch a football game or two.
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