Whitewater On the North Oregon Coast

What do retired teachers do for fun and enjoyment after three decades in the classroom?

A couple of weeks ago, my wife, Linda, and I went steelhead fishing with my son Chris O’Donnell, owner of River Runner Outfitters, and his fiancee on a north coast river. In fact, we went through a spot on a different river, but similar to what you’ll see in this short video (that’s Chris on the oars…his passenger is doing the filming). It’s only 27 seconds. Look for the boat — a dark spot — in the upper left quadrant of the frame. (It’s a 17′ McKenzie River drift boat, especially designed — evolved actually — for running rivers without power.)

Christopher and Cairn caught a steelhead apiece the day we all went. Linda and I will have to try again. (We release the wild ones. Hatchery fish, identified by a clipped adipose fin, are kept for the barbecue.)

Fishing In the Trees

For my friends who fly fish and those who would like to learn: Scott Richmond, author of Fishing Oregon’s Deschutes River, recently had this to say about a recent fishing trip with my son — and owner-operator of River Runner Outfitters on the Deschutes River in Oregon — Chris O’Donnell

Read about it and listen to the entertaining and enlightening audio that goes with Scott’s report. Makes me wish I was there!

North Oregon Coast Steelhead

Fly fishing for winter and spring steelhead in the heart of the Pacific Northwest.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

This is the two-minute video I wanted to feature a few days ago. Watch Chris wield a 12.5 foot two-handed (Spey) fly rod, and listen to his comments (along with some cool music), in pursuit of Oregon’s premiere freshwater game fish. Naturally, all the wild ones are released.

Recovering from Family Vacation

Early Morning on the Williamson River

Early Morning on the Williamson River

I’ve been home now for a couple of days after two weeks of outdoor fun with my wife Linda, and son Chris. Activities included biking, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, tennis, and, of course, four full days of fly fishing for the blue-ribbon pride of the Williamson, redband trout. We had a total blast! (And Linda learned from Chris how to cast a trout fly rod.)

As a bonus, when we returned to Maupin, Chris took Linda and me out on the Lower Deschutes to spey cast for summer steelhead. Linda got her first lesson in fly fishing with a two-handed, 12’7″ fly rod, and she loved it.

Even using 50-weight sun block, I got the deepest red-brown tan I’ve ever had. It was a very hot week, but fortunately, the humidity is relatively low in that part of the country.

I’ll probably have more to say on the adventures, but for now, I really wanted to say “hi!” to all you wonderful educators who are either back for the new year, or are about to jump aboard.

Have a terrific year, y’all! 🙂

What’s the Dif?

Chris O'Donnell Rows Whitehorse

This is Chris downstream of OS Rock. He knows where it is. BTW, you face downstream on moving water so you can see where you’re going.

I’m on an adventure rif. Can’t help it. I just need to spell out the difference between rafting and drift boating on the Lower Deschutes River.

That pointy rock just over Chris’s left shoulder is, yes it is, known as “‘Oh, Shit!’ Rock” (We’re still on Whitehorse Rapids, okay?). That rock is hard to see at river level, and almost invisible in high water. You just hafta know where it is.

Here it is: rafters seek whitewater itself — for screams, drenchings, and laughter. It’s fun, fun, fun. The interaction between the raft, the rower, the passengers, and the whitewater is the essence of the trip. But it doesn’t mean you can be careless. The skills required are reading the water and first-class rowing skills. Or you can just choose an easy float and get a tan, along with a few beers. 😉

The drift boat is a vehicle to get from one fishing spot to another, from one camp site to another. The whole point here is to arrive safely at a destination, and not get wet, or dumped in the river. The skill level here is a few notches above what will get you by in rafting.

Canoeing requires much more placid water — lakes are my favorite for this sport. Lakes where the wind isn’t blowing, where lightning isn’t striking, and thunder isn’t slamming my eardrums (did that once on Lake George, in upstate New York, back in 1961).

Kayaking — and I have no experience here — accommodates a greater level of risk because you can maneuver and roll. But I won’t comment more, cuz, like I said, I have no expertise. In fact, my wife, Linda, had more experience with a kayak than I do. (I lose a few more pounds, I’ll try it for myself!)

Let’s Talk About Adventure

Chris O'Donnell Runs White Horse Rapids (Class IV), Lower Deschutes River, Oregon

This is a photo of Chris O’Donnell running Whitehorse rapids (Class IV) on the Lower Deschutes River in central Oregon.

It’s been a while since the last time out, and I really need to reconnect with the thin desert air, the cool rushing water, the fat, feisty fish, and my wife and son, in an environment that transports me to the closest thing to Nirvana that I can know on Earth.

For you outdoor (especially fly fishing) enthusiasts, I’ve placed a video at the end of this post that features an experienced river runner familiarizing another oarsman with the boulder-strewn Whitehorse Rapids of the Lower Deschutes.

To orient yourself, refer to still picture above — the waves just behind Chris are the first ones the rower sets up for in the video. Those waves are created by water flow over two (or more) big rocks called “The Knuckles.” An oarsman “splits,” i.e., goes between, The Knuckles to set up for the proper “line” through the rest of the gauntlet.

Imagine that you are rowing the 17′ Willie aluminum guide boat. Will you make it through safely?

If an oarsman doesn’t get the line right, Whitehorse becomes a Class V instead of a Class IV. See if you can correlate the view from river level with the still photo. It’s a challenge! And check these definitions from American Whitewater


Fast moving with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions, easily avoided. Low risk. Easy self-rescue.


Straightforward rapids; wide, clear channels evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering. Rocks and medium waves easily avoided by trained paddlers. Swimmers seldom injured.


Rapids with moderate, irregular waves that can swamp open canoes. Strong eddies and currents. Complex maneuvers and good control required in tight passages and around ledges. Large waves or strainers easily avoided. Scouting advisable for inexperienced parties. Self-rescue usually easy; group assistance may be required. Injuries while swimming are rare.


Powerful, turbulent and predictable rapids; large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages. Fast, reliable eddy turns and precise boat handling needed to initiate maneuvers, scout rapids or rest. Rapids may require “must” moves above dangerous hazards. Strong Eskimo roll highly recommended. Scouting necessary first time. Self-rescue difficult; skilled group assistance often needed. Moderate to high risk of injury to swimmers.


Extremely long, obstructed or violent rapids with exposure to added risk Possible large, unavoidable waves and holes or steep, congested chutes. Eddies may be small, turbulent, difficult to reach or non-existent. Reliable Eskimo roll, proper equipment, extensive experience, high level of fitness and practiced rescue skills essential for survival. Scouting recommended but may be difficult. Swims are dangerous. Difficult rescue for experts.

CLASS VI: Extreme & Exploratory

These runs have almost never been attempted and often exemplify the extremes of difficulty, unpredictability and danger. The consequences of errors are very severe and rescue may be impossible. For teams of experts only, at favorable water levels, after close personal inspection and taking all precautions.

Chris took me through this half-mile stretch last year on a three day fishing trip. We floated and fished the roadless area for 25+ miles, and camped along the river at night. It was a phenomenal trip. Caught a lot of fish and had a lot of fun. For more fishing adventure photos, check his web site.

Happy Birthday America!

Just finished Patriots: The Men Who Started the American Revolution by A.J. Langguth. It’s a history of the American Revolution written by a journalist. Patriots reads like a novel, and Langguth provides insights into people and events that you won’t find in text books. It’s right up there on my list of favorites with Flexner’s one volume biography of George Washington, Washington: The Indispensable Man.

For cranky readers, let me remind you of something from Sir Winston Churchill:

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

My sis, the city councilor, had her annual parade party at her house on Main Street, and we’re doing a block barbecue party in my neighborhood in a couple of hours.

Happy 4th of July, folks. Let it sink in. 🙂

I’m also declaring my digital independence today — I’m declaring my independence to blog without regard to local social pressures, and at the same time reaffirming my intention to remain ethical, truthful, and transparent.

Scott McLeod has called for leadership affirmation of the value of digital power, and here’s a link to his blog and his post on the power of connectivity in education.

And here’s a final link to The Science Goddess’s post supporting Scott’s call.