“I Was There” – Free The Snake River

IMG_8610How many times in your life have you had that feeling? That feeling of sight-fishing on a size 20 dry with 14 feet of 6x to a 20 inch trout and it takes it. That feeling of being in tune with your line, rod, and fly then feeling it being taken by a steelhead while swinging through a run. That feeling of amazement when you share these experiences with your friends and your family, and the strengthening of those bonds. This weekend, not a fish was caught – many were seen and still that feeling fills me because “I Was There”.

I was there on October 3, 2015 when hundreds of people in hundreds of various watercraft descended upon the Snake River via the Wawawai Landing near the Lower Granite Dam. I was there to witness something powerful, something strong, something with heart and soul. I was there watching kids, parents, grandparents, farmers, neighbors, businesses, fishermen/women, outdoor enthusiasts, and nonprofits all take part in a flotilla to make a statement on removing the lower 4 dams on the Snake River system. This is a system that has many threats to it – but lack of passionate users and advocates is not one. The age of the issues facing this system are as varied in age as the group here to speak about it.

IMG_8513While driving to this area I noticed how dense the ranching and farming was for about as far as the eye could see. The Trout Bus was running smoothly. Her transmission being rebuilt a short time ago, a fresh load of stickers and swag to give away to people (thanks to H&H Outfitters and BlackStrap, Inc.), and purring like a kitten – the engine turned 80,000 miles on the odometer just 25 miles from Colfax, Washington. When I stopped to snap this picture and let Dannyboy out for a stretch, the sky gave me a glimpse of the beauty of the region. A gust of wind blows me down the road to the Wawawai County Park where I was greeted by a campground full of like minded people. The Trout Bus creeped into a spot and settled in for the evening.

It was dark, and the campground was busy with people enjoying the night out. Laughter and sharing stories echoed throughout and the winds blew the mix of these through a night sky with clouds and stars mixed in the canopy of branches above us. Occasionally  the call for another beer being heard, my next sip of Basil Hayden’s driving me to slumber, and the wandering of dogs and people passed long into the night. Coffee was already being made as I turned in for the evening after unpacking the pontoon boat and making sure it was holding air.

IMG_8587Rising in the morning I reflected again on the known issues for this system and why we were here.

My attention to the people and places they came from was coming into focus as I noticed plates from Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and even California pulling in and unloading their preferred method of travel on the water.

Drift boats sat in the shallows. Jet boats throttled out into the water for a spin. The hum of air pumps plugged into cigarette lighters abounds. The occasional grunt can be heard from unloading canoes and kayaks. Inflatable Orca’s start appearing randomly. There’s a person running around with a salmon costume on. A cameraman pulls apart and sets up his equipment for the day. A drone operator gets her testing and calibration flights in. The event organizers and volunteers get people packed into the parking area and through the paperwork as quickly as possible. There’s plenty of free coffee, snacks and even fixins for PB&J’s out on tables while parents outfit their children in safety equipment.

IMG_8543The air is cool and crisp, the wind is light and variable, and the waters are teeming with fish. I decided to pack the gear with me “just in case”. I see fish rising off the jetty and notice smaller fish holding in some of the banks close to the event. Out in the middle I see the occasional roll of substantially larger fish and wonder about the secrets the depths could hold for an angler. What could I be learning from this entire experience and how angling and advocating are so very similar in nature. Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance. I would fall short by not bringing a bigger and faster vehicle to be part of this flotilla, but nevertheless, I Was There.

We floated. We hooted and hollered “Free The Snake” as a group and occasionally just for fun while moving down river. Laughter and an amazing sense of camaraderie rebounded off the amazing scenery throughout the Snake River this day. Smiles shared while taking photos of passersby. Children taking perhaps their first ever float are smiling and waving to lifetime lovers of the river. A giant inflatable Salmon is being manned by a crew on a downstream migration to what many consider another deadbeat dam.

I decide to break away from the group to scout and observe from a higher vantage point I had discussed earlier with the film crew responsible for DamNation. Although I don’t have the camera and lens to capture the experience, the hike up the side of the wall and sit with Dannyboy once he’s done investigating the local cattle who are calling this area for feed. The sight of so many people unified in movement and idea flowing down river was amazing. Those moving pictures only made it into my head and I am sorry to say they can only be described.

IMG_8611The value of doing things like this may be lost to some of those reading this and why I am drawn to doing it. The conversations can feel as electric as watching that 20 inch trout take your fly. Change relies on choice. The choice to listen and the choice to act drive people who come together for events which advocate for fisheries like this.  There is a belief that each of us chooses to support this issue and that creates that spark which drives our reach forward into our communities. That is what I learned this weekend.

What I want to end with is amazing thing I noticed from one of the Facebook “Shares” that happened. I had to translate it online to get the gist, so if you can do better – please comment at the bottom:

Spændende initiativ fra vandløbsvennerne på den anden side af den store dam. Deres vandløb er ganske vist lidt større end vores, men problemerne er nøjagtig de samme.
– Måske vi skal følge i de nordamerikanske fodspor og en dag søsætte alt, vi har af sejlbart, på Tange Sø?

Exciting initiative from vandløbsvennerne on the other side of the big pond. Their streams is admittedly a little larger than ours, but the problems are exactly the same.
– maybe we must follow in the North American footprints and a day launch everything we have of navigable on cumbersome lake?

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