It’s been 30 years since Joe Howell opened the Blue Heron Fly Shop on the banks of Oregon’s legendary North Umpqua. And sad as it is to admit for a native Oregonian, I just fished it for the very first time.
After a night sharing the bed with Trask in Motel 6 in Roseburg, I woke up, fished hard, and caught nothing. Yet it was one of the most enjoyable days I’ve ever had on a river. Because now I understand. I understand why the North Umpqua has the mystique it has. You feel like you’ve entered Middle Earth, and I expected Bilbo Baggins to come waltzing out of the woods at any moment.
I did see one small winter steelhead, his bright red stripe glowing up at me through the low, clear water. I slowly backed up and tried to swing one to him, but he just looked up at me with a look that said: “C’mon, buddy. Get real.”
By early afternoon I wandered into Joe’s shop, having heard about it for years and knowing it to be an institution. Classic steelhead flies sat beneath a glass display case. I picked up a copy of Deke Meyer’s Advanced Fly Fishing for Steelhead, and found Joe’s name sprinkled throughout the text.
Joe was friendly, helpful and genuine. But the best part came when somebody walked in and asked him if he had any egg patterns.
“Nope.” said Joe.
“Why, they don’t work here?” asked the would-be customer.
“No,” answered Joe. “They DO work here. A little too well. Which is why I don’t sell ’em.”
What’s not to love about that?
Tom Bie is the founder, editor, and publisher of The Drake. He started the magazine in 1998 as an annual newsprint publication based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He then moved it to Steamboat, Colorado (1999), Boulder, Colorado (2001), and San Clemente, California (2004), as he took jobs as managing editor at Paddler, Senior Editor at Skiing, and Editor-in-Chief at Powder, respectively. Tom and The Drake are now both based in Denver, Colorado, where The Drake is finally all grows up(Swingers, 1996) to a quarterly magazine.