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MailTribune.com
  • That bottom dweller was this big

  • Dr. Lance T. Boyle swears on a case of Deschutes Pale Ale that this story is as true as the tale of the 25-pound Rogue River steelhead he caught on a fly tied only with belly-button lint from a drive-through coffee barista.
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  • Dr. Lance T. Boyle swears on a case of Deschutes Pale Ale that this story is as true as the tale of the 25-pound Rogue River steelhead he caught on a fly tied only with belly-button lint from a drive-through coffee barista.
    "The only difference is witnesses," Boyle says by telephone from his proctology office in San Francisco. "I don't have any witnesses this time. But if I'm lying, I'll get 'I Heart Obamacare' tattooed on my left butt-cheek. That's how honest you know I am about this.
    "Besides, I'm not smart enough to make this up."
    At least that part is true.
    But that's how Lance Boyle, the fly-fishing proctologist, seems to find a way to make his peculiar splash in the Southern Oregon angling world every time March gives way to April.
    Remember, this doctor schedules his most delicate surgeries at his satellite clinic in Coos Bay because "I do my best work where the sun never shines."
    He's the same guy who has launched his bass boat called "Buns of Fun" in the upper Rogue at TouVelle State Park to fish at the Sewer Hole, only to swamp it in the treated effluent on a trip that he declares "smelled too much like work."
    And he's fishing today on the upper Rogue's "Holy Water" fly-fishing section to catch a sturgeon on a fly, as he did here the same day last year.
    "On a dry fly, to be precise," he says.
    The story dates back 25 years to when Boyle and I shared a few classes in journalism school before he got run out of the program for his inability to grasp basic punctuation.
    "The professor said I used colons and semicolons so much I ought to be a butt-doctor, so here I am," he writes on his Facebook bio.
    And, naturally, he's a fly-fisher, and part of a cadre of former friends who continue to invite themselves on my fishing excursions throughout Southern Oregon.
    I find him at my doorstep last March 31, asking where I would be taking him fishing that next morning. With the Rogue muddy from a recent storm and me on deadline, I send him to the one place I knew there would be fishable water that day.
    The Holy Water is a short stretch of the upper Rogue between the migration barrier at the Cole Rivers Fish Hatchery and the base of Lost Creek dam.
    It's set aside for catch-and-release fishing only with flies, is stocked somewhat regularly with rainbow trout and always sports clean water because its source is Lost Creek Lake.
    Boyle considers it a "classic" tail-water fishery, a term referring to river stretches immediately below dams.
    So the next day, Boyle parks his Ford Probe in the Holy Water parking lot and heads to the water with his float tube, fins and waders.
    His mission is to fish for rainbows rising in the calm, deep water beneath the dam's spillway.
    Boyle ties a size 14 blue-winged olive onto his 3-pound tippet and fins into the center of the pool.
    Instead of trout dimpling the surface, Boyle says he's alarmed to see an enormous creature stirring just beneath the surface.
    "It's this monster sturgeon swimming upside down," Boyle says. "I could see his white belly and his big, vacuum mouth right on the surface, swimming the backstroke and sucking on blue-winged olives."
    Boyle insists he knows what a sturgeon looks like and that he's always had a fondness for prehistoric, mud-sucking, bottom dwellers.
    "It's a fish I can relate to," he says.
    The Rogue has sturgeon in some of the deeper canyons as high upstream as the Wild and Scenic Section of the Rogue in Curry County. But the Holy Water?
    The only fathomable reason is that this particular fish was once a juvenile that got trapped there during the building of Lost Creek dam and the hatchery in the 1970s.
    It has lived out its days in the deep spillway pool. But without the mud shrimp and other staples of a sturgeon diet, it had adapted by focusing on the pool's bulging insect population for food.
    But surface-feeding? Upside-down?
    "I think he was dyslexic," Boyle says.
    So Boyle flicks out his blue-winged olive and waits. The fish skulls toward it, then Hoover's in Boyle's fly.
    "I set the hook, and there we go," he says.
    The sturgeon begins to swim in circles beneath the emergency spillway, spinning Boyle around in his float tube in dizzying fashion.
    "Man, it was like riding the Tea Cups at the county fair," Boyle says.
    He gets so dizzy that Boyle loses all sense of time. But, he says, he remembers hearing the whistle blast from the dam.
    That blast is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' warning that they are about to release extra water captured during the storm.
    As water spews down the spillway, the heavy flush pushes Boyle, his float tube and the sturgeon toward the rocky shore.
    When his eyes stop spinning, he looks over in astonishment.
    "There was the sturgeon," Boyle says, "laying upside down in a shallow pool set off from the cove by rocks, and my fly still on his lower lip. He couldn't get away.
    "I got him."
    Boyle says he slips his landing net over the sturgeon's nose — "just to make it official that I netted a sturgeon in my float tube" — and measures it.
    It was 10 feet, 2 inches long. More than twice the maximum legal limit.
    "I've taken out a few intestinal tracts that long, but I've never taken a fish that long," he says.
    Boyle might make his money on rectums, but he's not going to act like one.
    He pulls back the rocks, unhooks the fly sets his sturgeon free.
    No pictures, no witnesses. But it's the best solution for the fish.
    Boyle watches as the first sturgeon ever caught in the Holy Water on a dry fly swims away, along with a toast from one bottom-dweller to another.
    "Of course I released him," Boyle says. "Professional courtesy."
    Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.
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