Measured in terms of people killed, the last year of World War II (1945) is regarded as the worst year in human history. On April 27, the day Italian partisans captured Mussolini, Gordon Vance caught two in the morning on flies and three in the evening on salmon eggs. The day after the U.S. dropped fire bombs on Tokyo, Gordon Vance dropped salmon eggs in Johnston Lake and caught six small ones. On August 9, the day a plutonium bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Gordon Vance was on Walterville Canal with a fly rod.
If you don't keep a flyfishing journal, maybe you should. It's a great way to remember good days on the water and figure out how to have more of them. But it can also be a link to the past when a son or daughter finds the journal years later. Think about Gordon Vance. Remember him? No? Well, his family does. When he was a little boy, his mother would give him a pail of water and a stick with a line and a bent pin. "He would sit in the kitchen for hours, waiting for a bite." I spoke to Janice (Vance) McCargar after I received a package in the mail; she had found her father's fishing and hunting journals, kept in a three-ring binder, written in longhand.
Gordon Vance began to keep track of his fishing trips in 1931. Picture a barefoot boy in a tiny kitchen in Missouri in the 19-teens. Picture him a bit bigger in dry-as-a-bone Arizona. "When my dad's family moved again to the McKenzie River in 1926, he thought he had died and gone to heaven." Gordon Vance was 16 when he moved to Oregon.
On May 15, 1932, he writes of fishing Walterville Canal and Cogswell Creek. He caught five on a blue quill body grey hackle and, that evening, on the McKenzie, caught eight "in a hurry on a yellow body deer hair fly."
Twenty-two years old in '32, Vance recorded 15 entries, on Leaburg Lake, the canal, Cogswell Creek, Horse Creek and the McKenzie. In 1933, he fished 20 times and would have fished more, but in September, according to his notes, he picked up a Winchester Model 54 and spent a good deal of time in the woods.
"It was the fashion in those days to keep a journal," Janice said. People took the time to record thoughts and observations. Journaling helped the young man develop his craft on the water and in the woods.
It was fun to think of the determination it took to drive to Diamond Lake, Miller Lake, Odell and Crescent in those days. Easy jaunts now, they were all-day rumbles along narrow timbered tracks in the 1940’s and '50s. In 1956, Vance fished Diamond Lake and wrote, "Don, Marion and I gave the Kamloops of the reborn lake an end of the season try. We caught 22 from 15 inches to 18 inches." He added, "A monofilament line is a must. Fish had been eating algae and tasted terrible." Monofilament: we take it for granted now, but it was the latest in fishing technology in the 1950s.
Some things haven't changed. On September 17, 1980, Vance fished Miller Lake. "Thirteen washboard miles from Chemult and up to 5,600 feet, the 550-acre lake is a beauty and if I had taken a fly rod could have been fun." A mayfly hatch was on and Vance had brought the wrong tackle. He ended the day with two small kokanee. In 1990, the year he turned 80, Vance started with a March outing to Triangle Lake and recorded 27 trips on Cottage Grove Reservoir, Hills Creek Reservoir, Odell Lake, Cougar Reservoir, Green Peter, the Siuslaw and on his home waters, the McKenzie and Walterville Canal.
My friend, the noted outdoor writer Scott Haugen, makes his home in Walterville. He remembers Gordon Vance. And he remembers good days fishing the Walterville Canal.
"There used to be really nice cutthroat in it," Haugen said. "When I was in high school, lots of jack salmon used to run up one section. I caught steelhead out of it too."
It was interesting to look at my journals next to Vance's. I started my first notebook in 1980. I was in my teens and lived in southwest Washington and later in western Oregon; he would have been in his 70’s when our paths crisscrossed each other's, fishing the North Umpqua and Central Oregon lakes. We have planted our waders on the same rocks and caught trout, steelhead, and salmon in the same holes.
Vance recorded his last entry November 30, 2000, after a day on Foster Reservoir.
"Well, I ran out of luck at Foster or ran out of fishing knowledge." He did catch one salmon, but figured he could have caught more. "Should have had a fly rod or tried smaller spoons or something!"
Vance passed away a month later, at the age of 90, on Christmas Day, leaving a lifetime of outdoor experience in his wake and a journal for his family to remember him by.