"We just can't seem to win." That was Betty's comment on how hot it was as we drove down Interstate-84 on the way to the John Day Arm, and a reference to the fact that rain ruined the last two fishing trips we had taken.
We were headed to LePage Park, the campground at the John Day Recreation Area.
It had probably been in the neighborhood of 25 years since I had been there trying for bass, and when Betty had told me earlier in the week that she had asked for Sunday off, we had looked through our Oregon Road and Recreation Atlas. I spotted the park and recalled these trips and suggested a trip down to try our luck.
Being the week before Labor Day we thought we would possibly beat the last rush of summer and have the campground to ourselves. Of course, not having been there in so long I had no idea how popular a place the recreation site had become.
We had left around noon on Sunday and on the way had detoured through Umatilla with the thought of maybe staying there instead, but decided to continue on to the John Day River. Arriving around 4 p.m. we were somewhat surprised that the campground was completely full except for four places, one which was a pull through that afforded a perfect view of the river. We quickly registered for that campsite and threw up the tent trailer.
With a lot of activity on the river we wondered if it would be worth the time to try a couple of casts. We decided to give it a shot, so I rigged our poles with crappie jigs - Betty's was yellow one and mine white - and placed a piece of night crawler on the tip of each hook.
We cast out a few times as we watched boats return from up river fishing and pleasure trips and take turns pulling out at the boat ramp.
After a hour or so with no results we went for a walk up through the campground to the south end and walked a trail along the side of the hill above the river a short distance. When we returned to camp we had a dinner of cheeseburgers and chips and decided to get up early and try our luck again.
At 5:15 we were making coffee and watching the smolt start to jump as the moonlight gave way to the early light of dawn. By 5:40 our lines were in the water and the smolt were now feeding at a pace so furious that it seemed there must have been a million of them. At 6:20 the sun burned down the walls of the canyon and hit the campground and the river went dead. We gave up at 6:40 and proceeded to make breakfast without a single bit of interest from the fish as to what we had to offer.
We packed and started the trip home.
Because it was early we decided to turn off at Philippi Canyon and take backroads around to Arlington. In between the top of Philippi and where it runs into Blalock Canyon we were treated to a sight that is becoming more common in that area.
The first herd of antelope was around 150 yards off the road. We stopped and counted 17 head, but I had a feeling there were more because the ones we could see looked as though they were standing at the head of a draw.
The second herd was 50 yards or so closer and there was a beautiful buck leading them toward the road. Although they were nervous because they had fawns, instead of bolting they just milled around and watched as we went by, slowly affording a close up view of a trophy-caliber buck before continuing home.