BEND — Predators typically range much wider than the prey species they hunt. While a deer might live out its entire life within a few square miles, the cougar it fears likely covers an area 50 or 100 times that size.
Anglers, even catch and release anglers, are predators.
Fortunately for some of the less-talented predators, grocery stores exist.
The predator in me came to the painful realization that I’d never really expanded my home range beyond the Upper Klamath Basin and a handful of waters in Jackson and Lake counties.
Sure, I traveled a lot to fish, but most of my trips took me across the state or even across the country or world. And sure, I’d found success locally, but what was I missing out on?
There were species within 100 miles I’d never caught, waters within an hour’s drive I’d never fished and memories within an album’s play length I’d never made.
I promised myself that would change.
Oregon might be the greatest state. After traveling to most U.S. states, it remains my favorite. For the last 10 to 20 years, this near-utopia has borne two great crosses: it’s on fire every summer, and people from other, less desirable states have heard how great Oregon is and have begun moving here in unwashed hordes.
Though restrictions on logging have created one problem, our own self-pride in this state have created the other. As much as I’d love to see Oregon impose nonresident taxes on out-of-state renters and prospective buyers to discourage the unwelcome exodus, I doubt that will happen.
So here we are, watching property values skyrocket, highways become clogged with the congealing fat of influx and having nothing to show for the increase in population.
Bend has arguably been hit the hardest by this mass inter-state immigration.
A city with so much promise has become increasingly expensive, commute times have doubled and tripled and it has begun to lose the unique flavor as it becomes a mixing zone for the culture clash of Portland and California.
Still, it has nearby waters not yet ruined by the masses.
One such water is the Upper Deschutes River, home to the 9-pound, 6-ounce state record brook trout.
When I detoured here on my way home from visiting my brother in Corvallis this summer, I saw the polluted spill of overpopulation already tainting this river.
Each of the three primary access points on the Upper Deschutes were so choked with people, I didn’t even get out of the car. The bridge just upstream of Crane Prairie Reservoir had more than a dozen vehicles parked nearby with a small army of flyfishermen on pontoon boats, kayaks and on foot combat fishing the stretch above and below the crossing.
The second spot had half a dozen anglers.
The third access point is little more than a gravel pull-out on the side of the pavement with room for maybe half a dozen cars but more than that many parked there.
Eventually, I decided to just park on the shoulder in a spot equidistant from the two nearest prominent access points and hoof it.
It proved to be the right decision, as I quickly landed my first brookie. The fish wasn’t massive, but it and most of the others I’d land that night were respectable brookies, all 9- to 14-inches in length.
They were eating everything: Rapalas, spoons, spinners, jigs.
My painted trophy hit a Rapala, jerked erratically downstream. It assaulted the wooden fish after darting out from under a logjam. At 15 inches and 1.25 pounds, it wasn’t monstrous, but it was a very nice brook trout.
I landed seven brookies and five redbands and released them all back into the crystalline alpine waters, slightly more educated.
Remember how I said there were species I had not caught within 100 miles of Klamath? Well, that day I caught one of them.
A silver flash I assumed was a nice rainbow struck my Rapala but didn’t get hooked. This scene played out several times before I wondered if a spinner might have a better chance at hooking the fish.
As the metallic blade seemingly propelled the lure forward, a silver flash told me I was on.
Just before I brought the fish to net, I was pleasantly surprised to see my first mountain whitefish, a salmonid native to the Deschutes and other rivers across the West that has been extirpated from much of its native range because it is viewed as less desirable than other game fish.
It bore the same dimensions as the largest brookie: 15 inches and 1.25 pounds, and I marveled at its unique biology before letting it go: the small mouth that looked surprisingly nose-like, the large platinum scales and the penetrating yellow eye.
I lost two more whitefish that day, both pushing 20 inches.
Mosquitoes and the long walk back to the car finally prompted me to go before darkness blanketed the foreign landscape, and I wound up writing a story with a much darker tone.
The “quish-quish” sound of my waders was muffled by the thick forest as I walked by to my car — a triumphant predator with newly expanded hunting grounds.