As little kids, Pop would wake us up early, throw layer upon layer of hand-me-down gear on us, and take us to the water or to the woods.
In the midst of those early morning wake-ups, my six brothers and I would beg him to let us sleep, “Come on Pop, it’s freezing outside; let's skip,” to which he would say “Nope – you’ll love it. Get up. We’re going.” Of course he was always right; we never ever regretted those times out there – just Pop and his sons.
So when Greg Hatten, a world renowned fisherman and wood boatman (and founder of WoodenBoat Adventures), invited us to fish the Mackenzie River in western Oregon, we didn’t think twice.
As we’ve gotten older, some things have stayed the same – Pop still wakes us up to get out there and we always compete against each other for who got the biggest or the most fish, but at least one thing has changed – we all finally have our own gear. Growing up in a family of ten, it was like there was one big closet and rotating bodies in and out. Anything that was yours usually got taken by someone else within a month never to be worn by you again. That got old quick - especially as our love of clothes really blossomed.
But now as (kind-of) adults and operators of an apparel company, we have our own clothes. And this Oregon trip was the perfect opportunity to test them out. So we called Pop and said let’s go to Oregon.
St. Louis to Eugene is no joke. But after a full day of travel, we knew it was worth it. The first night, Greg had us set up in a campsite tucked away in the Willamette National Forest. We were surrounded by old growth Douglas Fir and towering Hemlock Trees that leaned over the river like old men. It reminded us of a scene from Jurassic Park.
We smoked cigars, had a few whiskeys, ate fresh salmon, and hung out by the fire. That night we slept like rocks in our canopy tents with a real life sleep app, the Mackenzie River, 5 feet away providing the soundtrack.
The next morning, we ate camp eggs and bacon, hopped in Greg’s classic FJ cruiser, and headed to the river.
Seeing the boats on the water for the first time was really something. These wooden boats are like works of art. Handcrafted by Greg himself, these Mackenzie style watercrafts take about 1,000 hours to build. Everything about them is custom and purposeful. The blend of style and function was particularly attractive to us as we pursue the same combination in our clothes. Can you get down the river in a metal boat? Sure. But after riding in a wooden boat, you'll never want to.
We rode the rapids and fished all day. We were looking for mostly rainbow trout, and caught a bunch. Like always, my brother and dad immediately established a competition and the trash-talking started between the two boats. It was a blue bird day and the temperature was in the low 60s. It was the perfect time to wear our new Lincoln Vest. The two chest pockets made access to my phone easy, which made documenting the great day (I didn’t catch too many on day one…) a lot easier.
The next day we went after steelhead. They have a reputation for being hard to find and harder to catch, but if you’re lucky enough to get one, you’ll never fish for anything else. We got lucky with the weather. It was a cold day with an overcast sky, and there was a heavy fog for much of the morning – ideal weather conditions for this sort or fishing.
Like I mentioned earlier, I didn’t do too well day one while Lan and my dad were pulling trout out of the cold water every other cast. So on day 2, I wanted a steelhead - badly.
We fished into the late afternoon, but had no bites. I had basically given up hope. We were getting close to the end of the trip and still no steelhead.
Then I got lucky.
No one probably cares about the details, so I’ll keep it short. After a 40 minute fight with this beast, I finally got him to the net. At 34 inches and 14 pounds, he was a really nice fish. Though we competed the whole time, my dad and brother took as much pride in catching him as I did. Taking pictures with them in the middle of one of the most beautiful rivers in America with a big fish was the most perfect way to end this unforgettable trip.
My one regret was not having my other 5 brothers with us. But there’s always next year. We just need a few more wooden boats, and they need their own gear – I’m not sharing mine.
Special thanks to Garrett King, @shortstache, who photographed the entire trip. Check out the full video he captured over the course of the trip.
Also, special thanks to Greg Hatten for guiding the trip and helping us catch the big one.