PENDLETON — Angling for early season stream trout and hunting spring mushrooms are two activities I look forward to.
As for trout, area streams ran high and turbid on opening day, so I left my fly rod in the closet and headed for Weston Mountain to follow up rumors of abundant morels at 4,000-foot elevation. A diligent survey of several promising areas left my canvas bag empty.
One week later, I joined friends on another mushroom hunting trip to conifer-lined ridge tops in the Touchet River watershed. Due to concern over “social distance” we traveled in separate vehicles. They brought their spouses along. A sack of donuts and blues on satellite radio kept me company. Although a mob crowd of mushroom hunters had pilfered our favorite hunting grounds, we managed to harvest a dozen morels of which I contributed a paltry total of two.
Some folks say that fishing is an excuse to visit places where fish live. They profess their reward is in the setting. You could say the same for mushroom hunting. A springtime walk in the woods is a special experience. This year’s searches led to an encounter with a majestic pileated woodpecker that jack-hammered grubs from a rotten log, a rare woodland orchid, and a newborn fawn who struggled to stand while its protective mom stomped her front feet to distract me.
I pride myself on how to read the water for trout. Rarely am I surprised when one rises to my fly. However, after searching forested ground for hours, transcendental best describes the feeling when I find a morel. A second find validates the experience and provides additional insight on soil type, companion plants, and surrounding terrain. Put half a dozen morels in my sack and the mind races to a fine meal of sautéed shrooms paired with a T-bone steak grilled medium-rare over wood coals.
Two weeks go by. Tossing jigs for smallmouth bass in backwaters of the Columbia River and rebuilding our flood-damaged cabin on the Umatilla River consumes my spare time. Meanwhile, mushroom season is waning faster than the full moon. I start my last-chance day near Tollgate on a favorite east-face slope having an overstory of old growth fir fringed by huckleberry bushes. Snow remains in the shadows, but open ground explodes with the yellow bloom of balsamroot and lupine. Hunting ground where I have been successful in the past is like a dose of Ritalin to my attention deficit disorder. I focus on subtle patterns of the surrounding landscape, bend at the waist, and slow my pace. Hunting solo also suits me. With no competition I find time to move low-growing vegetation aside. There’s also no guilt felt over not calling a friend over when I find a mushroom. It’s all about me. Not surprisingly, I feel the same when I fish for stream trout. It’s a rare day when I feel lonely on the water.
My self-esteem is quickly elevated after finding several single morels, what I call “bachelors.” A few pairs and one trio bring the morning’s total to a dozen large black and blonde morels. Three large corals, branched stalks covered with black soil and needle duff, are a bonus. When bird song stills, I drive down Summit Road to a dry southwest-face slope where my canvas bag swells with 17 large morels that recently emerged from a vein of dark damp soil.
Site number three is steeper and heavily shaded with dark soil that holds latent pockets of snowmelt. A quick survey leads to three morels. Dark storm clouds build overhead, but leave time to visit one last patch. This elk hunter campsite once yielded a gallon bag of corals past their prime. When I asked a naïve companion if he wanted me to to cull worm-riddled tissue from his share, he said, “Put it all together.” I didn’t ask how that turned out. Fifteen minutes of searching tells me the patch is empty and I hit the road for home. Blues on satellite radio and a bursting sack of mushrooms keep me company.
Now that gathering spring mushrooms is out of my system, it’s time to focus on fishing. Rumor is the same floodwaters that ravaged our family cabin wiped out aquatic insect populations, leaving Blue Mountain stream trout hungry and eager to rise to a well-placed Royal Coachman. This rumor I intend to capitalize on.