Fly fishing conversations with a New York real estate developer

In 1972, a guide tries to help a pompous client hook a steelhead.

 

Michael Baughman is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. He writes in Oregon and cautions that any resemblance in this piece to modern-day politicians is purely coincidental.


In the summer of 1972, my wife, Hilde, and I worked at a North Umpqua River fishing lodge in Oregon that was owned by close friends. The lodge attracted guests from across the country to fly-fish for seagoing rainbow trout called steelhead that ranged from five to 15 pounds. The North Umpqua is such a challenging stream that it’s often called the graduate school of steelhead fly-fishing, and one of my jobs was to take guests out and do what I could to help them hook and land a fish.

Now, 45 years later, though I never caught his name, or wanted to, I have vivid memories of one of the guests I dealt with. He was a real estate developer from New York City with reddish-blond hair and a bland face with a single distinctive characteristic: a protruding mouth that resembled that of a fish, which made it look as though he could have picked objects off a tabletop using only his lips.

The developer wasn’t impressed with the lodge. In the dining room at lunchtime when we made our fishing plans, he showed me a photo of the opulent interior of his Manhattan home. That evening, as we left the lodge in my car, he began bragging about huge fish he had caught in other places.

“All I need here’s one big steelhead, on a picture. I got pictures of damn near everything I ever killed. And, believe me, I’m a good fisherman. Very good! You’ll see. Very very good!”

When I tried to explain some of the basics of fishing the North Umpqua, he cut me off: “If I toss a fly in the river I don’t see why a steelhead won’t eat my damn fly as fast as anybody else’s, right? It’s mostly luck, right? Well I’m lucky! Smart, too! Hey! That blonde who helps serve meals is a gorgeous broad!”

“Yes, she is,” I agreed.

“You made a move on her yet?”

“She’s my wife.”

“You might be lucky I’m leaving tomorrow. Got to get back to work on my deals, big deals. Believe me, you are lucky. Very, very lucky.”

Two fly fishermen on the North Umpqua River in Oregon.
Jeffrey McEnroe/U.S. Department of Interior

I changed the subject by asking if he’d ever fished for steelhead before. 

“Once. Tried that Klamath River right down south in California. The thing I couldn’t understand was, the place we fished was 200 miles from the ocean, and my guide tells me there aren’t any dams from where we were all the way to the ocean. What the hell’s that all about? All that good water going to waste! Yeah, and talk about waste! Look around here! How come there’s nothing anywhere? Develop! That’s exactly what I do in New York. Ever been to New York? Manhattan, I mean.”

“I worked in Macy’s shoe department once.” “In Manhattan?” “Yes.” “What’d you do at Macy’s?” “I was in the stock room.”

“And look at you now, stuck out here in the boondocks. Should’ve got an education maybe, huh?” At the time I was an assistant professor at Southern Oregon University, but I kept it to myself. 

The first spot we tried was a relatively easy one, where an angler could stand high on a streamside boulder with a clear back-cast, and the steelhead, if any happened to be holding in the pool, would be about 10 feet out and 30 feet downstream. I helped the developer up onto the boulder – he nearly fell twice — and gave him directions. “See the underwater rock?” I pointed. 

“Yeah, yeah.” “Just try to bring your fly across right behind the rock.”

As a fly-angler, on a scale of 1 to 10, the developer was a minus 2 or 3. I drove him from pool to pool until dark without a result. Given his skill level, and if he was as lucky as he claimed to be, it would likely have taken him a month or more of hard fishing to hook a steelhead. He cursed the river, and me, all the way back to the lodge.

The last time I saw him was the following morning. Hilde and I watched from a kitchen window while he had his picture taken, posing with a 10-pound steelhead that another guest had caught and stored in the cooler. After his photo shoot, the developer drove away alone in an expensive car, while the gorgeous broad and I went back to work.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • NATURE EDUCATION DIRECTOR
    Our mission is to inspire a life-long connection to nature and community through creative exploration of the outdoors. We are seeking an educational leader who...
  • DEVELOPMENT AND MARKETING DIRECTOR
    The Development and Marketing Director is a senior position responsible for the execution of all development and marketing strategies to raise funds and increase public...
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Coordinates all Wyoming Wildlife Federation philanthropic activities. Tasks include identification, recruitment, and retention of donors, organizing fundraising events, and assisting with grant writing.
  • REALTOR NEEDS A REMOTE ASSISTANT
    This is a business assistant position, The working hours are flexible and you can chose to work from anywhere of your choice, the pay is...
  • CORPORATE & GRANTS PARTNER MANAGER
    Forever Our Rivers Foundation Corporate Partnerships Manager February 2020 www.ForeverOurRivers.org Forever Our Rivers Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was formed in late 2016 with the mission...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Central Oregon LandWatch is seeking an Executive Director to advance our mission and oversee the development of the organization. Job Description: The Executive Director oversees...
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • MEDIA DIRECTOR
    Love working with the media? Shine a spotlight on passionate, bold activists fighting for wild lands, endangered species, wild rivers and protecting the climate.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY - NEVADA
    The Center for Biological Diversity is seeking an attorney to expand our litigation portfolio in Nevada. Come join our hard-hitting team as we fight for...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Montana Wildlife Federation seeks an energetic leader to advance our mission, sustain our operations, and grow our grassroots power. For a full position description,...
  • HISTORIC COMMERCIAL OPPORTUNITY IN DOWNTOWN NOGALES
    Nogales. 3 active lower spaces and upper floor with lots of potential. 520-245-9000 [email protected]
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • DIRECTOR, TEXAS WATER PROGRAMS
    The National Wildlife Federation seeks a Director to lead our water-related policy and program work in Texas, with a primary focus on NWF's signature Texas...
  • SPLIT CREEK RANCH
    Spectacular country home on 48 acres with Wallowa River running through it! 541-398-1148 www.RubyPeakRealty.com
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...
  • NEW MEXICO GILA NATIONAL FOREST HORSE RANCH
    43 acres in the Gila National Forest. Horse facility, custom home. Year-round outdoor living. REDUCED to $999,000, 575-536-3109.
  • EVERLAND MOUNTAIN RETREAT
    Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...
  • COPPER CANYON MEXICO CAMPING & BACKPACKING
    Camping, hiking, backpacking, R2R2R, Tarahumara Easter, Mushroom Festival, www.coppercanyontrails.org.