I love the fall. It’s easily my favorite season of the year. Baseball playoffs, college football in swing and back home, the salmon and steelhead return to create the best fly fishing season of the year. The leaves change, that crispness finally returns after a long, hot summer. There’s simply nothing like it. Some of the best days of my life have taken place during the fall.
One such day took place a few years back, during my fourth year of college at Oregon State University. Sever rolled into my driveway way too early, around 4:30am. I’d made my coffee and packed my lunch after only three hours of sleep having worked swing shift the night before. I grabbed my backpack, my rod and headed out the door, trying not to make too much noise as I left.
I hopped in Sever’s truck and he was all business, ready to hit the river. We had a destination in mind that had been good to us before and our hopes for summer steelhead were high. It was late September, some rain had fallen and the temps had dropped. We expected cloud cover in the morning and the conditions were ideal.
“Morning,” Sever said, not looking half as tired as I was.
“Morning. You ready for this?” I replied, knowing the answer full and well before I said it.
“You bet. Pour me some of that coffee,” Sever said, clearly ready to get this show on the road. I filled his mug, filled mine and we headed out of Corvallis to the west, toward the mighty Pacific.
We wound our way through a few small towns, then turned off the map of the known world, traversing back country roads and connecting to rural highways that people living even thirty miles away had never heard of. For us, we knew the route like the backs of our hands.
Hailing from Southeast Alaska, these were the kinds of roads Sever had grown up driving. I’d done my share, too, searching for trout streams to bushwack through while going to high school in the Willamette Valley. The roads were pitch black with no light other than that supplied from the Dodge. Deer, elk and black bear were always on our minds as there was bound be something to walk across the road in front of us at this hour. We saw two does scamper off the highway but otherwise avoided issue. After passing just a handful of cars, we finally hit the end of the pavement and began the winding drive up the river road.
There was just enough light to see the river in the bottom of the canyon. The flows were up from the weeks previous after a few freshets of early fall rain in the preceding days. We hit river mile six, parked the truck, slipped on our waders, laced up the boots, grabbed our rods and packs and found the trail down to the water in the early morning light.
There was fog on the water as we stepped into the first run. No fish, we moved up the next spot. I gave Sever the first pass through the water and he hooked up quickly, landing a six-pound steelhead. We released it, not wanting to carry the fish with us all day long, and headed up stream.
We flip-flopped runs, catching steelhead in several of them, marching our way upstream. To our surprise, Sever and I had the river almost entirely to ourselves. We passed a group of anglers early on and had the rest of the water upstream to simply enjoy. We each kept a couple of fish after one of the most successful days of fishing he or I had ever experienced.
Then came one of the worst parts of the trip, the Death March. With not much river access, Sever and I had to hike several miles of river bed back to the access point from which we’d entered. The benefit of this was that we weren’t fishing and could simply enjoy the painful march on tired legs and sore knees. We saw bald eagles, a few river otters and a lone beaver making her way back to the family den. The season had clearly changed as the leaves were starting fall en masse. While my body screamed at me, it was as enjoyable of a pain as I can recall.
We had such a blast that we forgot to eat our lunches but scarfed our sandwiches and granola bars on the way home. He and I raced back with something else on the agenda: Beaver football. Saturdays in a college town are the best time to be young and alive and there was no way we were going to miss it.
There was a tailgater going hard in my front yard when we pulled back into town. I hopped out, sweaty, dirty and carrying two large, dead fish. I grabbed a cold one out the fridge and my filet knife, then proceeded to gut and filet 15 pounds of fresh fish in front of our guests.
The guys thought it was cool, the girls thought it was gross, but I did my work, put the fish in the fridge, hopped in the shower, then put on my game day outfit just in time to make the 10-minute walk to Reser Stadium. The Beavers thrashed the Arizona Wildcats, then things went a little fuzzy as they tended to do on Saturday nights in college. By the time my head hit the pillow, I’d been up for 22-plus hours, but they were some of the best hours of my life.
One of the best parts of drinking beer is it can be transformative. Drinking a fall ale takes me back to those days and those memories.
I had a beer last night that did just that.
Brewery Ommegang's Scythe and Sickle
(Biere de Garde)
- Appearance: a caramel orange with some nice, thick foam (4)
- Scent: some cider notes, spice, pear and other fall scents (3.5)
- Taste: a bit sweet on the front, turns to spicy tartness of apple midway through before finishing with a lingering touch of caramel (3.5)
- Mouthfeel: medium bodied, fizzes on the palate and finishes nice and dry with some hoppy bitterness mixed in (4)
- Overall: this is a difficult beer to place when thinking of the standard beer categories/varietals. It’s enjoyable and oozes autumn with every sip. It’s a nice departure for the norm and fits the season exquisitely (4)
I’ve written here before about the role beer plays in enhancing our lives for those of us who choose to drink consciously. Beer can be special and meaningful if we want it to be. My college days are behind me, but I’ll never forget days like I had that September, and I treasure every chance I get to reconnect with them. If I can reconnect with them over an excellent beer, well, even better.