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"Lord Love A Driftboat"
By: Dennis Dobson

The timeless, rhythmic slap of oars on water, the happy gurgling glug of the river as it dances beneath and around a slowly moving hull, capricious yet controlled; the boat slicing the current like a blunt knife in hot oil only to have the river seal itself again as if the boat had never been. The early morning chant of river birds and the quiet conversations, muffled by fog, mist or rain, of anglers rigging rods in the false-dawn glow of another early morning. Lord, I love a driftboat.

The Object Of My Affections - The driftboat in the background, the same one I've had for nearly sixteen years, is still my favorite fishing platform. Here Dennis, right, and Jay Anderson show off a chrome-bright Trask River winter steelhead. At least it isn't raining or blowing a 30-knot wind.

Watching each day, and being an integral part of, the season's change from winter's cold and wet to summer's heat and back again. Watching as the leaves turn first green then russet then drop silently to carpet the river bank or float silently downstream to who knows where. Playing my necessary and timeless role in the subtle shift from season to season, salmon to steelhead to trout, as the calendar notches up yet another year on the river. Yet another year in the life of an angler. Lord, I love a driftboat.

Shivering and nearly hypothermic, huddled quaking inside my aluminum cocoon in a drenching December rain or scorched, almost parboiled, by a sweltering August sun. Fighting a thirty-knot wind so cold water freezes in the rod's guides and they must be thawed by hand before the next cast. Bailing yet another two inches of rain out of the boat as one more shower, brief but biblically determined, passes overhead. The sheer joy of a perfect, postcard picture day in June whether the fish are biting or not. Lord, I love a driftboat.

Cradled in the rower's seat, as if cupped by a friendly familiar hand, the oars merely an extension of my arms, my will, myself. Knowing, without thinking, which run to take; which line through a treacherous stretch of water will bring me safely to its end. The concrete thump of an unseen rock smashing loudly, alarmingly, suddenly against the hull reminding me that next time I might want to think about the run before drifting it. Lord, I love a driftboat.

Lord, I Love A Driftboat - One of those rare days when Dennis, right, gets to play a fish. John Pedroza watches as Dennis plays a spring chinook on the Nestucca River. Although chilly, this is also one of those rare April days with sunshine instead of rain.

Knowing that today's conversations with a new and unknown crew are simply an extension of yesterday's and a harbinger of tomorrow's; that jokes told by one angler are echoed by another on some far and distant river in a language I'll never learn. Watching as my passengers, whether novice or pro, hunch their backs and quiver, like anxious bird dogs on point, waiting for a rod to kiss the river; proof-positive that yet another fish has taken the bait. Lord, I love a driftboat.

Realizing each morning that I still get just as excited when a fish hits as I did the first time a salmon or a steelhead ever graced my line. Relearning each and every day that while it is a gift each time I hook a brooding, brightly chromed fish, helping someone else do it is a blessing, a benediction, a prayer to the cosmos answered in brilliant flashes of silver, dusky pink and mottled blue/black. Lord, I love a driftboat.

So many firsts' and so many lasts'. That shining, special moment when six year-old Christopher lasered his 1000-watt smile at the camera as he and his dad - hard to tell who was prouder - posed with his first steelhead. Nearly ten years later and Chris and his dad are still fishing with me. Chris's enthusiasm and love for this glistening time we share still shine, undiluted by time or familiarity, with each new trip, with each fish hooked. And Butch from Ohio, who was 94-years young and had sworn his entire life that someday he would see the Pacific Ocean and "ketch maseff a sammin". Butch, who died less than a year later surrounded, his grandson declares to all who will listen, by photos of that once in a lifetime "sammin" fishing trip. Lord, I love a driftboat.

So many lasts' and so many firsts'. The last fish of the day jumping, shimmering in clear air and yet clearer water while the unrestrained whoops and hollers, like a pack of demented jackals, of excited anglers chase it downstream back towards the ocean that nourished it. The first bite by any fish on any morning. That crystalline shock that awakens both angler and fish, that breathes one more layer of life into an entire reach of river, as angler and angled discover their fates are forever intertwined, however briefly. Lord, I love a driftboat.

The uneasy chagrin of both guide and angler as yet one more in a seemingly endless succession of fish spits the hook free, escaping for now at least, back to the river that leads it towards home. The knowing, satisfied smile, a gentle hand on the shoulder as finally everything goes right. When perfection, that rarest of commodities, is achieved and a heaving, gasping, thoroughly spent monster of a fish finally comes to the net. The prideful suffusion of face and heart as two successful anglers, pro and client, share the reward, so heartily worked for, of mutual respect. Respect for each other and for the eons-old fish that brought them to this time, this place and this memory. Lord, I love a driftboat.

And, finally, the fish. What a sweet, lyrical and captivating cycle of life it is that assures each generation of anglers there will be fish to catch. That assures each generation of fish there will be anglers to elude, to outwit or out-muscle and to occasionally fall prey to. What eloquent magic it is that sees each pair of returning salmon, steelhead or searun cutthroat trout through the combat maze of life so they may return to the same stretch of water they were born in solely to repeat the process yet one more time. In what every angler hopes will be an endless cycle of birth and death, regeneration for all time. Lord, I love a driftboat.

I have it on good authority that God fishes. If so, you can be assured it is from a driftboat.

Dennis Dobson
Oregon Outdoors

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