TU 678 conservation officer Karl Mueller and I meet up with BHA chairman and TU field coordinator Mike Beagle on the South Steens loop, after a caffeine-fueled, six hour drive from Eugene, OR. We spot a herd of wild mustangs — take some photos — then meet Laura Dowlan from the Burns District BLM, and head into the wilderness.
We opt to drive to the edge of the roadless area on account of extreme fire danger — we don’t want to get stranded, hiking out through six miles of burning juniper. The rutted trail to the edge of the wilderness boundary is a boulder-strewn, bowel-scrambling mess, testing the limits of even Karl’s oversized pickup. We then hike our gear a quarter mile down to a campsite on the Blitzen River.
Immediately after making camp, Mike, Karl and I head down the Blitzen River, in search of native redband rainbow trout. The river meanders through a small meadow valley (it’s the best place I’ve ever camped). We’re near the spring and snow-melt fed headwaters — the river is only inches deep in places, a few feet across, but it drops down into fishy pockets and undercut grassy banks.
The three of us leapfrog each other down the river, hitting likely spots along the way. From the camp site to the confluence of Ankle Creek (about a mile), we easily catch 50 trout between us — most of which were in the six inch range, but many closer to ten inches and two in the 14-inch range.
I catch all of my fish on a yellow, rubber leg stimulator, which looks a lot like a hopper — there are millions of them in the grass along the river and they make a sound like a rattlesnake (I never got used to it).
Speaking of rattlesnakes, the long slog back to camp in the dark is nerve-wracking. We forgot the headlamps and have to navigate back to camp by the light of the moon. Beer and bullshit ensues. We sleep, dreaming of barbed wire and redbands.