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Thank goodness even the worst day fishing is something to look forward to, and something to write about

LON AUSTIN - The author with a small rainbow that he caught on a Roostertail lure in Crooked River.

It was cold, really cold.

With hours cut back at work, I decided to try to do a little bit of recreation. With many recreational sites shut down due to the governor's executive orders concerning COVID-19, that left limited options.

So I headed south on Crooked River, looking for an open piece of water.

As is often the case in springtime in Central Oregon, the weather looked much nicer than it really was.

The sun was shining through a hole in the clouds, making the scenery beautiful.

But that beauty belied the actual weather. To the south were ominous clouds that looked like a major storm was developing. On top of that, the wind was gusting as was previously stated. It was cold.

Still, the worst day fishing is still a lot better than being cooped up inside, so I put on my chest waders, tied a fly to my fly line and headed down to the river.

In the interest of full disclosure, I might be the worst fly fisherman in history.

I just don't get it. No matter how hard I try, casting continues to be a mystery to me.

To be honest, my preferred method of fishing is to drift bait on a barbless hook with ultralight tackle.

The technique is effective, but more importantly, it is cost effective.

I can catch worms at night in my back yard, so zero cost there. Hooks are still relatively inexpensive, and a single split shot doesn't cost much either.

On the other hand, fishing with flies or lures can get expensive, especially if you start losing your lures to the always present rocks in Crooked River.

However, in the past few years, bait fishing in Crooked River has been eliminated, so that option is off the table.

So anyway, I tied a nymph to the end of my line and waded into the river.

My first attempt at a cast resulted in catching a bush behind me.

On the second attempt, I avoided the bush, but snagged the back of my fishing vest.

With the wind blowing at gale force, I seemed unable to case into the wind.

Using my limited fly fishing problem-solving skills, I decided that I could just strip line out and let it drift downstream.

Shockingly on my first attempt, I felt a strike and a short time later I landed a nice fat whitefish.

Bolstered by the apparent success, I repeated the technique, to no avail.

An hour later, still no strikes. Whenever the wind died down, I attempted to cast, when the wind blew I just stripped line and let it drift downstream. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Well, that's not quite true. I hooked a bush behind me again. I hooked my fishing vest twice more, and I'm sure there were a couple of other things I hooked as well. Just no fish.

Then, it started to snow.

Now, I'm no fair weather fisherman, so I sucked it up and continued to fish. However, as the wind blew harder, I decided that it was time to give up on fly fishing and attempt to fish with a lure.

So, I headed to my car and switched my fly pole for my ultralight and headed back down to the water.

I put a small Roostertail on the end of my line, orange with black spots and brown hair by the hook.

The first cast I felt a tug on my line and pulled in a small rainbow.

Another hour went by and not another strike. I lost the Roostertail and two other lures before I finally gave up.

By then, my hands were so cold that I couldn't get the last lure I used off of my swivel. It is still hooked to my line in the back of my SUV.

The good news is I wasn't skunked. The bad news is I still am one terrible fly fisherman.

Still, Crooked River is always beautiful, and the river appears to be holding larger fish than it has the past couple of years.

That brings me to a couple of important points.

Much of the state's recreation sites are currenlty locked down.

There are no open campgrounds, all state parks are closed. The BLM and Forest Service have shut down all developed sites, and it seems that more sites are being locked down each day.

That makes it critical that people behave responsibly in the few remaining open locations.

Crooked River has recently seen increased fishing pressure. With more and more people crowding into less and less space that is beginning to creat problems.

If you go, please behave responsibly. Make sure that you follow social distancing guidelines so that more recreation sites are not locked down.

And, with increased pressure on the fisheries, please use good catch and release policies.

In spite of the photo on the front of the sports section, you should not pull fish out of the water.

I thought it was important to get a photo proving I had caught something, but it's really hard on the fish, and I shouldn't have done it.

Please pick up your trash, and clean up after yourself. There are no restrooms currently open, and the BLM has closed all their campgrounds. That fewer spots to access the river and it also leaves no place to put trash, so please pack it out with you. Let's keep Crooked River the special place it is.

Although I didn't catch much, I'm still glad I went fishing.

At least the trip gave me something to write about. That's a good thing. With the virus closing down virtually everything there just isn't much in the way of sports news to cover.

I guess that's it.

It's with great sadness that I say, that's really it. In the face of the COVID-19 econoimic crisis, the newspaper business is struggling. Struggling to the point that our corporation laid off or reassigned every sports reporter late last week.

So, by the time you read this, I'm unemployed.

Hopefully it won't be for long. The plan is to bring people back once Oregon is once again open for business. Just so everybody understands, there are no hard feelings. Things are tough, and businesses have to make hard decisions in order to stay viable in tough times.

I understand that, and appreciate the difficult decisions that were made.

A lot of good sports reporters are currently out of work. It isn't just me. And some of them have it a lot worse than I do. I was about to retire anyway, so this isn't a financial hardship.

It's sad that sports are gone. It's sad that we have to write about COVID-19 even on the sports pages. But that's just life. Things go on. We will eventually recover, and things will go back to normal.

I have loved this job, and am going to miss the coaches, athletes, parents and sports fans that I have encountered over my nearly 13 years covering sports for the Central Oregonian.

This wasn't the way that I wanted to go out.

I had hoped to report on the Cowboy basketball team placing fourth at the state tournament. I guess we will never know if that could have happened.

I had hoped to be able to report on at least one state championship this spring. I had hoped for a lot of other things.

Instead, this could be the last sports page the Central Oregonian prints for some time to come.

I want to thank each and every one of you for your support of Crook County athletics and the encouragement and compliments that so many of you have shared with me.

I have loved the job.

Watching students at their best. Watching the successes and failures and watching athletes mature and turn into men and women who are solid citizens and productive members of society has been a pleasure and an honor.

I wouldn't change a thing about it, even if I could.

Crook County is a special place. The people are special. The surrounding countryside is special, and I will leave with nothing but fond memories.

If you live in Mitchell and read this, that includes you. Some of my most fun stories to write have come from the occasional trips to Mitchell and Spray.

I started my coaching career in a small school, and I have enjoyed the occasional visits to cover your schools as well.

Should things open back up, and this goodbye turn out to be premature, then we will do this all over again at a later date.

However, this could be it, so thanks for the great ride.

One last thing, retirement doesn't mean that you won't see me at sports events. I may not be there quite as often, but I will still be at games when I'm in town. I love sports, and just becasue I'm not reporting doesn't mean I'm not going to be there. On top of that, I have already agreed to continue to take photos and maybe even write a story or two, and possibly regular columns, in my retirement. So, I'll still be around.

And, I'm sure there will be more fishing, hiking, camping, travel, and who knows what other kinds of stories to tell.

Stay well, stay safe, and stay strong. Let's keep Crook County the great place to live and work that it has always been.

Lon Austin is the sports editor for the Central Oregonian. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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