Road Trip Guide - Page 38 - Water and wine continued (2)

Road Trip Guide
- Page 38
Water and wine continued (2)
about to start a two-hour drive before dawn with a near stranger, it may be because he’ll soon be doing something that, as a busy winemaker and new dad, he increasingly has less time to do: fly-fish. This is, as I learn on our way, among the enthusiasms he’d picked up from his dad, who founded the family winery three decades ago.

At the valley’s southern tip, we meet Steve at Hayden Bridge and hop aboard his McKenzie River dory. From here we’ll float about 8 miles down the river to Armitage Park.

When not teaching science to middle- schoolers, Steve volunteers as a river steward, helping to safeguard native wild fish in a river in neighboring Washington state. It’s a combo that makes him particularly good at explaining complex ecology to middle-agers like me, too.

As he sets our little craft on a path downstream, he joins Jesse in giving me a quickie tutorial on fly-fishing from a drift boat, including tips on casting. Because you and your fly line are generally traveling at the same speed, they explain, your fly often has ample time to pass by — and entice — any number of potentially hungry fish.

Taking note of a few brownish mayflies ascending from the river’s surface, Steve ties a Prince Nymph and a March Brown Soft Hackle fly, about a foot apart, to the end of my line. Matching your lure as closely as possible to what’s hatching is key to enticing finicky trout to bite, he says. Or, as he puts it, “If you’re eating french fries and there’s one green french fry, you won’t eat that one. Same with picking a fly for feeding fish. Don’t be the green french fry.”

I’m so lost in reverie about the river’s beauty that I nearly miss the tug at the end of my line. After a short fight, I gently cradle a handsome cutthroat trout. And a wild one, Steve and Jesse say, as evidenced by its vibrant colors and sharply defined fins. Hatchery-born fish, they explain, can also be spotted by the absence of the little adipose fin near their tail that’s typically removed for easier identification.

Though the McKenzie River is stocked with hatchery trout upriver, this stretch is home to mostly native-born, wild cousins.

By the time I’ve said goodbye to my released fish, Steve and Jesse are landing, and releasing, the first of a handful of pretty wild rainbow and cutthroat trout.

This being Willamette Valley, our streamside lunch of grilled flank steak and onions with salad is accompanied by bottles of pinot noir and chardonnay from Jesse’s vineyards.

“This sure beats the PB&J sandwiches I was planning to bring,” Steve says with a laugh.

Back at Stoller that night, Gail, Ewan and I swap stories about our day. Theirs was fun-filled, too, spent mostly in nearby McMinnville, where they visited record and bookstores, and ate lunch at historic Hotel Oregon’s rooftop bar.

Next morning, wending our way up a gravel road, I wonder if I’ve goofed the directions until we suddenly see the sign for hilltop Lange Estate Winery. After greeting