The Norm Wood Special
America’s Favorite Flys
By Rob Carter
Matthew A. Mendes
Sacred Waters, from a Native Guides Perspective
(For Norman Wood)
The Norm Wood Special
During the early stages of my career as a fly fishing guide, I had the privilege to meet a unique individual. Accompanied by my grandfather, I was introduced to a man named Norm. My grandfather was an Indian guide on the Deschutes river for years. I have to give him credit for taking me fishing at a young age and exposing me to my overwhelming addiction to fly fish.
Norm lived with his darling wife in Gresham. He was a fly tier and my grandfather purchased dozens of flies from him over the years. When we arrived to Norm’s home the first thing I remember seeing was a jet boat parked in the driveway that read “Stormin Normin”.
Norm came outside and greeted us. Norm was a stout pop belly, 87 year old man with suspenders. We shook hands then quickly went inside his house and met his lovely wife. From there we went into the kitchen. Wasting no time we all took a healthy pull (“Indian Drink”) of scotch from his whisky flask then proceeded down stairs to “The Den”.
As we stepped down the stairs, a giant room opened up and i can remember being blown away by what we just walked into.This was Norm’s man cave, the place where it all happens. I remember the interior being lined from floor to ceiling with taxidermy. Several different game birds, I’m talking massive salmon and trout species and a respectable amount of big game animals. At the focal point of this incredible room was a beautiful mantel and fire place with intricate hand crafted oak gun cabinets on each side. Framed black and white fishing photos and old polaroids covered the mantels surface.
This was all built by and harvested by Norm throughout his life. It was at this point i realized i was in the home of a outdoors legend. In the corner of the room was a large area where he would tie his flies. There it was, we immediately made our way towards his beautifully detailed mahogany bench. He was well organized and had all the components in front of us. We sat down at the Renzetti and in his deep raspy voice, he said to me, “Watch closely because I'm only going to show you this once”. He then continued to spin the thread up towards the eye of the hook. We were witnessing him put together, The Original, Norm Wood Special.
He had it all laid out; from the combination of dyes he used, to the barred ginger saddle hackles, the proper colored threads, the size 8 hooks, the yarn he spun his bodies with, and of coarse the calf tails. He had spent the morning dying calf tails his famous tangerine color in his backyard on the propane stove top. He had written down the entire process for us. Norms arthritis had gotten so bad, hands became so shaky he had come to the conclusion that it was time to put down the bobbin for good. Not wanting his tradition to die out, he wanted nothing more than to find someone passionate enough to carry on his original creation along side his son Scott. I was honored to take on the responsibility and carry over his traditional pattern on the Indian side of the Deschutes river. I had the privilege of tying a dozen stonefly’s during that session and have tied several hundred since that memorable day. Without a doubt, the burning passion i have for the Norm Wood Special has a heavy hold on me as a trout fisherman. If you fish the stonefly hatch any where in the country chances are you have fished some variation of the Norm Wood. This is absolutely one of Americas Favorite Fly's.
Spin The Handle
Coffee is percolating and its time to punch the clock for another heart pumping day of fly fishing for aggressive rainbows on big dryflys.
Waking up to another arid spring morning, the breath taking aroma of fresh sage
and rabbit brush fills the air right after an early season rainfall in the Mutton Mountains. The long mountain grasses and camas have a bright, vibrant, green and purple color that create rolling waves as the early season wind blows. Before long, the cheat grass hills will be burnt off to a dull tan by the intense desert sun. The meadow larks are singing their beautiful song and the swallows are chasing mayflies on the water and from juniper tree to juniper tree. The Deschutes River carves its way through the absolutely stunning Whitehorse Canyon from the banks of the reservation in all its beauty. The river flows with impressive power and force cutting through steep and rocky basalt cliffs and brittle layers of sandstone formations. From our sacred ancestral fishing grounds at the confluence of the Warmsprings River, above, the Osprey are raising hell with the only bald eagle in the sky with a decent size reside in its grasp. Perched up above the clear water and willows lies a massive sized osprey nest with three little white heads peering over crying out for their next regurgitated piece of meat. The sound of the redwing black birds, amongst the beautiful white flowers of the blooming mach orange and the light pink colored pettles of wild rose bushes are all around me. As i find myself mesmerized once again by a truly spiritual experience, i cant help but chuckle to the fact that after guiding for this many years, this place will never lose my interest. The pure love and passion i have for the Deschutes runs deep in my soul. This is what i inspire all my guests to experience during a day on the water with me and my 16’ drift boat, named after my daughter, “The Serenity Rose”. Stonefly season is upon us and the banks are littered with salmon flies on the gorgeous Warm Springs Indian Reservation.
After a cool, fairly slow morning fishing dry flies. We continue slowly drifting down river in search of potential targets looking up. We have been sight fishing for rising rainbows all morning with little success. We are due for some top water action.
You get the sense that the heat of the high desert afternoon sun is starting to get things moving. Mother nature incubates all gods creations along the river bank. Stone flies and salmon flies release their tight clutch from the saw grass and tree limbs. They vibrate above the soothing sound of the rippling water then begin to deposit there clusters of eggs along the rock garden. Hypnotic buzzing from the Cicadas gets progressively louder as the sun beats us down. Down stream, the mergansers and Canadian geese flush across the rivers surface from a pool at the bottom of a very attractive tail out. You can hear them honking as they take flight far in the distance. Along the bank there is a patch of reeds with protruding invasive thistle. Not moving a muscle a blue heron stands stoic as we intrude on the last bit of shade along a very promising tree line. A short distance below the rivers confluence we have entered, “The Octagon”.
This hole consists of a small somewhat hidden back eddy, where the side channel of the Warmsprings river spills over a gravel bar into a deep wallow of alder trees. There is a 30 yard stretch of cut bank beneath the over hanging limbs. A beautiful thick foam lined riffle flows at a steady pace. The picture perfect seam rides along this entire tree line until it picks up and drops off to whitewater at the bottom.
I make a slow and stealthy approach putting my oarsman skills to the test. I hop out over the gunnel and release the anchor rope. I walk her down stream a bit dragging anchor until she quietly bottoms out on the gravel bar. We have the down stream approach now, from the outside casting back into the bank. The over laping branches hanging a foot off the water creates cover for the fat resides shooting out like arrows from the undercut and protection of the healthy root system. This is the perfect trout habitat with plenty of feed and clean cold water running off the Warmsprings. The hogs are stacked up like cord wood. Breaking the surface, a fragrant mist off the river carries up stream in the afternoon breeze.
These fat rainbows are picking off stone flies inside and out as the water seems to boil with annihilation . The big bugs are being inhaled by several 16 inch redsides. As the flies dip down to deposit they become glued to the surface of the frothy foam and the feeding frenzy ensues . Multiple red stripes striking the surface, locking on with deadly precision singling out an individual natural like sharks on a chum bucket, the destruction continues.
This water is unmolested and hasn't been touched in months. I wade slowly keeping my shadow low on the water, anxiously preparing to break the seal. Reaching into the boat i grab the bamboo and immediately snip off the obnoxious foam stimulator we used that morning in the heavy water up stream. Digging into my waders I find my dryly box and go straight for the gnarliest looking Norm I can find. After clearing the head cement filled eye, I run my fluorocarbon through and quickly twist tight an improved clinch knot. I snip off the tag end, coat it with gink and then shake it dry with desiccant. Taking my sharp nippers i run them along the ginger hackle and trim it flat for perfect buoyancy. Double coated and dressed for the dance, I crimp the barb then hand the rod off.
Knee deep in the cold clear water, I stand beside a beautiful tight loop and a few relaxed false casts. With a gentle drop shot and a immediate up stream mend, the textbook presentation of the tangerine calf tail begins its short ride on the inside seam of the dense bubbles. As time seemed to come to a dramatic pause, from the depths of the gravel bottomed pool, a dark silhouette slowly erupted with a volcanic explosion! Completely missing the initial offering, the chunky rainbow dive bombed the fly like a kingfisher down on its prey. With a heavy set, the surgical hook shank dug its way deep into the trouts jaws. The loud scream from the click and pawl and the fish’s several acrobatic cartwheels peaked our adrenaline levels.
Pulling heavy against the current the great trout soon became sluggish. Reaching down into the river I was able to tail this beast without any assistance from a net. Showing its glorious, dark spawning colors, this redside was an honest 23 inch 4lb dandy. After a brief moment of admiration, we quickly revived her and released her in all of her glory back into the system. A loud war hoop came from the drift boat as my grandfather sat proudly. I had a very special client behind the rod this day. I will never forget this trip and this very memorable moment. “Stormin Norman” turned 90 years old today. This would be his final float and the last fish he would ever land.
Road To Ka-Nee-Ta
On the 12 mile long and bumpy dirt road of Charlie Canyon, we start our winding journey from the take out at Whiskey Dick. The Native American safari of sorts has just begun. The sun drops dramatically above the blinding snow covered cascade mountains and the sky is on fire with an intense molten glow. The incredible deep reds and oranges shadowed by the reflection from the clouds is magical. The red clay sits below the gnarly rim rock and groups of pine trees nestle at the tops of the Muttons. There are beds of geodes and thunder eggs littered beneath the top soil. If you look closely under the volcanic rim, along the several drainages there are deep cave entrances. Inside there are caverns and evidence that large animals have hunkered down her recently. There are pictographs on the walls that indicate the significance of these historical sights. The carbon data taken from portions of the caves ceiling goes back hundreds of years. Our ancestors were here long before the reservation was conceived during the treaty days of 1855. The Wasco and Sahaptin people migrate here during the spring from the Columbia River to hunt and gather into the late summer. Wickiup's and root diggers in regalia, lined the beautiful country side for miles during these sacred times.
The suspense of a possible wild animal sightings keeps us on the edge of our seats as we drive slow through the incredible grove of healthy oak trees. The oak grove that runs along Skookum Creek holds some of the largest game I have seen on the reservation. (Deer, Black bear, Turkeys, Elk, Cats, Coyotes, Grey Squirrels, Rattlesnakes etc.) As a child I would sit in this grove and enjoy the great horned owls while waiting for my grandfather to come off the water from fishing trips.
In the middle of the dusty road are 2 black bear cubs. The sow is off to the right. She immediately hears us and darts, rumbling up the fence line and is soon out of sight. The two cubs nervously shimmy up an old oak tree. Looking down at us, we take a moment to admire their natural beauty then continue on our way so they can regroup with their mother. These are our peoples ancestral hunting grounds. It is a remarkably healthy environment and is one of the most sacred and historical places i can think of on our tribal lands.
Above the beautiful creek bottom amongst the several draws and rolling hills, feeding in the high desert grasses the abundant bands of wild horses mesmerize us on the wide open range. The sheer brute strength and healthy muscular tone of these amazing creatures is astounding. The pure beauty of the patterns on the paints and the unique spots covering the appaloosas are incredible. You immediately notice the uniqueness of their multicolored bluish and white eyes.
Carrying low, the rounded bellies of the mares indicate another generation of life. The young colts don't get to far from their mothers and the studs are stomping and bucking up as the loud bouncing of the drift boat trailer grabs their attention. Amongst all the racket you can hear there cries echo up the canyon like a majestic elk herd during the rut. With there tails dragging across the ground and there manes blowing violently with the crisp mountain breeze, this is a breath taking sight to be seen. Truly a horses paradise, free range grazing on hundreds of thousands of acres. They all seem to be getting there fill of the nutritious spring feed before it burns off to a dried up baron landscape. Soon the night hawks are playing chicken in the headlights, bolting away at the last moment with the red reflection in there eyes. As they swoop across the hood with a high pitch screech, the air forces its way through there feathers and makes an eerie hum. This is the final sign that this eventful day chasing rainbows is coming to a close. The moon is full, the trout will feed late into the night sipping blue wings in the foam lines and revolving currents of the Whisky Dick back eddy. At this point you have truly felt the revolution.
Nixcht Puxtwai Atwai Norm
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