I spent an enjoyable morning/afternoon talking to George Palmer and his lovely partner in life, ‘Patty’. George told me stories about Montana Fly fishing on the Thompson R., Rock Creek, Clarks Fork, in the 40’s and 50’s. George was the benefactor of a kindly doctor in Missoula, Montana, who staked him, at 6 years of age, to a metal, telescoping rod, reel and line plus flies from Bob Ward Sporting Goods. Years later George used to hike up the Deschutes R. from the mouth in the early Fall and use the Joe’s Hopper for Summer Steelhead. A good afternoon would yield up to three hookups, but they often were not landed. Even years ago, he would chop a fly line in half and fish a shorter head to avoid drag as he swung the fly across the currents.
George recounted several harrowing experiences working for the U.S. Forest Service (Timber Lake, Oregon) in the 60’s and being stranded with a work crew up by the Bull of the Woods (Cascades) on October 12, 1962. The Columbus Day Storm tore through the NW with epic ferocity that day and stranded his work crew with only a vehicle for shelter as miles of trees about them were snapped to the ground. Other crews spent untold effort, after the storm passed, to cut through miles of trees to clear a path to rescue the work crew. Their safety was uncertain. In the end, their fellow Forest Service mates found them tired but safe.
Then there was the Christmas Day Flood of 1964, when George, his young family and many other families, stationed at the Timber Lake facility, were cut off from the outside world as the Clackamas River and its tribs wiped out roads, bridges and stranded the families for almost a month.
Also, interesting were George’s accounts of his father. A rodeo performer who traveled the West with other rodeo hands. They survived the hard times by often pooling their winnings so all could afford to travel by rail and eat. The father had learned to ride horse bareback and with no bridle from the native americans in Montana. George’s dad was one of the few rodeo hands that could ride bare back and sans the bridle. In later years, George would attend the Pendleton Roundup and sit with old rodeo hands. They all met to reminisce over the old days and would regale George with the exploits of his dad. Often these were very interesting stories his dad had not passed on.
It was a nice visit with a man, who does not get to wet a line much anymore but you can tell he misses it very much. I am sure, due to the din of noise in the restaurant I missed details and such, but I did not miss out on the memorable experiences of a man that fished the fabled waters way back when and was exposed to the remnants of the wilder West before the developments. Thank you George. Let’s do that again soon.