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The Blackest Of Canyons

June 11, 2021

The following is an excerpt from the novella The Blackest of Canyons ©2013 by author and fly fisherman Allen E. Rizzi:

As the years moved steadily ahead in Eugene, my wife and I fished the entire realm of her waters. Fall would find us at Indian Creek or on the Siuslaw fishing for big salmon and the rest of the seasons would increasingly see us at Black Canyon, the lovely spot that we had discovered shortly after arriving in Eugene. Black Canyon was fast becoming our favorite spot, our refuge in a fast-paced world that had indeed reached even Eugene, Oregon. The waters near Black Canyon are located directly above Lookout Point Reservoir and in the spring, the lake backs-up into Black Canyon’s upper reaches. Before the reservoir was constructed in the mid-1960s, salmon used to run all the way through Black Canyon and into the tiny tributaries in the western slope of the Cascades. In the fall, the lake recedes and the big fish are generally found farther down the stream in the narrows of the canyon. In between these two extremes, Black Canyon remains fishable every day of the year. The water above this moveable lake boundary is open to all year angling with barbless flies and lures. Black Canyon is essentially divided into three fishing stretches. First there is the head of the canyon, near the head of the campground, where two smaller channels of this powerful river come together and flow alongside the campground and past the boat ramp. This stretch drops into a deep hole after the joining of the channels. It is fished with weighted nymphs in the winter and spring and with dry flies in the summer and fall. Fall caddis flies, numbers 14 to 12, are always good insurance here. The second stretch, with running water found only in the fall, lies between the boat ramp and a second boat ramp used when the lake is full. This is mainly pocket water in the fall with many strong currents. Big fall nymphs and caddis flies do the trick as well as a special of mine called the Black Canyon Nymph: a weighted number 8 nymph tied completely of peacock herl and clipped short. The final stretch of water, again found only in the fall when the lake is low, is directly below the second boat ramp following a curve in the river. This piece of the river looks bland from a distance but is very productive when fished correctly. The wind blows here in September and October and you need to know how to keep a lot of line in the air to be successful here. All three areas are measurably different and present the angler with a full range of fishing conditions requiring a full range of techniques and talents. I have fished all of these sections and I have landed large, beautiful trout in all three. There is also an occasional Dolly Varden to be had.

The Author At Black Canyon ©2002 Rachel Rizzi

In 1992, my parents moved to Eugene from Gold Beach chiefly for reasons of health. Eugene has two large, modern hospitals and Gold Beach is too remote for any fancy medical care or procedures. My father had developed several problems with his heart. I first noticed those problems when we were fishing together one afternoon two years earlier at a place on the lower Rogue called Snagpatch. After only a half hour of moderate wading, my father suddenly made for shore and sat down exhausted. He didn’t say much but I knew he was having difficulties with his heart. I remembered feeling sad and framing the experience in shaded borders made from Oregon’s moody Rogue River sky. I recalled, for instance, a night several years before when we had walked out of the Rogue River Canyon together on a steep path that my father had cleared by hand. As he made his way up the path and toward the car, I was struggling, huffing and puffing to keep up. I recalled the name of this place, Cole Riffle. The riffle and that narrow, steep path are still there. I also recalled that my father and I had fished a good many rivers together, in Oregon and elsewhere and he almost always had lead the way, unaffected by age or time. And I puzzled at the fact that I had never seen my father sit down while fishing. Mostly, though I was afraid for what was to come.

Gene Rizzi Double Hauling At Snagpatch, Lower Rogue River 1984

After my parents’ arrival in Eugene, I soon found that the roles of parent and child were slowly but steadily reversing themselves. I had heard about this process, but of course, I had no practical experience in the matter. As I attempted to help my parents with their confrontations of age and ill health, I found that I was also to be my father’s fishing guide for the waters around Eugene. Although this man had fished hundreds of rivers and streams all over the world in his nearly eighty years, he was now to rely upon my expertise in the waters of Western Oregon. Since he was a steelhead fisherman from the South Coast, I took on the responsibilities of introducing him to the salmon and steelhead fisheries of Lake Creek, Indian Creek and the Siuslaw. He enjoyed these waters and was successful but I could tell he was missing something and that he had the same instincts that I had. And so one late spring day, I said, “Let me show you a place that I love. I think you will love it too.” And so off we went to Black Canyon for the first of many days there together.

When we arrived, he strung-up his 10 foot Scott. I lurched forward to offer my advice on the choice of a lighter rod, but caught myself in midlurch and refrained from becoming the teacher too quickly. After all, this was the man who instructed me in the choice of rods at the age of four. I never did make that piece of advice known to him, although I still believe a 10-foot for a 7 Scott is absolutely the wrong rod for Black Canyon. We fished together that first day and I admired the long fluent casts that my father still made. I was never to be the fine master of the eloquent cast that he was. Instead, I became a technician of trout, learning about their weaknesses to make up for my own. I learned the art of reading the water and all of the other earthly elements in an effort to force my advantage upon my prey. On balance though, we were in the end both fine fishermen. In the shadows that invade Black Canyon in the early evening, in the same shadows that gave the spot its name, my father and I finally passed in opposite directions on life’s path. After a day of fine fishing, he relinquished the position of master, although just a bit and I assumed the position of instructor, again just a bit. These things take time and we both knew that. When we got home that night, I dropped my father off at his house as I had driven my car. “So, what did you think?”  I queried. “Nice place. I’d like to go there again.”

We did go there again and again, many times. On what was our third or fourth trip, I picked-up my father at his house for the drive to Black Canyon. My mother was in the kitchen and she had the usual questions, practiced in being a fisherman’s wife for almost five decades. “Where are you going and what time will you be home?” My father always looked for ways to improve on the English language and add some extra meaning to his conversations. “We are going to the Blackest of Canyons and we will be home after dark!” This was his stark reply. For all of the years after that, my wife and I have referred to our favorite small piece of this planet as The Blackest of Canyons.

Fly Fishing…. Family…. Fidelity. Read The Blackest of Canyons in its entirety. The book is available at Amazon.com in both digital and audio formats.

Featured image: Allen E. Rizzi with Steelhead on the Smith River 1996 (Photo by Jerry Edin)

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Read author Allen E. Rizzi’s latest books available at Amazon.com

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6 Comments
  1. I do not fish, so I do not understand all of the terminology. I did help my parents as they aged and developed health issues. With that, I can totally relate. 💞

    Liked by 1 person

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