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CASTING FOR SHADOWS

Frank Moore bounds out of a parked truck, jogging in his waders along the highway's thin shoulder toward a break in the brush that frames Rattlesnake Pool below. He cups his hands around the edges of his sunglasses, squeezing out the sunlight in hopes of discovering one of the North Umpqua River's magnificent shadows.

Through eight feet of emerald water, Moore studies the rock ledges and boulders for the dark outlines of the wild steelhead he has known intimately here for more than 60 years.

"Sometimes you can see them plain as day, their shiny sides or their green tops," Moore says, pointing the tip of his fly rod into a collage of submerged colors. "A lot of the time, though, all you see are shadows."

With that, Moore turns his back on Rattlesnake Pool and heads toward the truck, ready to scan for shadows in other pools that make up the North Umpqua's storied Fly Water.

"I didn't see shadows where they should be, even with my tired, old eyes," he says. "If you don't see one, forget it. Go to the next place."

For fly-casters around the globe, there's no more fabled place to spend a fall day steelhead fishing than the North Umpqua. And at 85, Moore remains its most famous fishing patriarch, its most battle-hardened defender and its most intimate partner in the dance that brings these shadows to life.

Moore still fishes the North Umpqua each fall the way he did when he first bushwhacked through thin trails in 1946, 15 years after Zane Grey introduced pools such as Rattlesnake to readers worldwide. Like Grey before him, Moore still uses dry line and long leaders to swing streamer flies atop or just below the surface of pools.

And he still talks to the shadows, coaxing them to come up and play.

"That's one thing I love to do, get them to come up and take the fly," Moore says. "That never gets old."

And neither does Moore.

He still lays out 100-plus-foot casts with more power and precision than men a third his age. He jumps freely from rock to rock like a kid playing in puddles, and tromps through sternum-deep glides with an abandon that could get his insurance policy canceled.

It's all for the chance to hook that prize — a wild steelhead born from the North Umpqua's gravels like those from 20 generations of fish he's caught and released over the decades.

"Every time I catch a steelhead, I say, 'I bet I caught your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandma,'" Moore says with a laugh.

Not only has Moore touched generations of North Umpqua fish, his fingerprints are all over the river's fly-fishing history.

After the 1957 opening of the new North Umpqua Highway from Roseburg to the town of Steamboat, Moore and his wife, Jeanne, opened the Steamboat Inn. They sold the inn in 1975, and Moore worked a stint for the National Park Service in Alaska before returning as a fishing guide. But he always kept his eye on his home stream, battling old logging practices that muddied the river's legendary color and opposing the building of Soda Springs Dam, which harnesses the river's snowmelt for electricity.

He's been a staunch protector of the river's 31-mile Fly Water from Rock Creek — the uppermost point where hatchery-bred steelhead are released and captured — upstream to Soda Springs Dam.

He still lives along the Fly Water in a log cabin he built. Visitors from across the world seek him out. Those who stay for dinner sign the original Steamboat Inn guest book.

The luckiest join Moore in taking advantage of the unusually clear stream to "sight fish," or cast for steelhead seen from the roadway.

He hopscotches from pool to pool, parking at narrow turnouts. Standing on ledges or guardrails, he scans the water for his beloved shadows before shimmying down steep paths to hot spots such as Split Rock Pool or the legendary series of pools near Steamboat called The Camp Water.

"It's small enough to be personal, yet large enough to be a challenge," Moore says.

The greatest challenge is getting the fly over the steelhead. Brushy banks often preclude back-casting, and there are few rocks where anglers can scramble up and re-create those poetic casting scenes from "A River Runs Through It."

Effective casts here often are water-thrashing roll casts that Moore repeats with perfection. In between, he charges through the water between boulders, his wading staff broken down and never leaving his belt.

"I still like to get out and press myself a little bit," he says.

Though cataracts make the steelhead shadows a bit fuzzier and decades of casting have numbed his right thumb, Moore is hard-pressed for excuses to hang up his rod.

The North Umpqua and its wild steelhead are too pure a lure to resist.

"It's not just about the fishing," he says. "This stream has so much character. This is a special time of year, and there's no better place to spend it."

Fly-caster Frank Moore casts toward the shadowy figure of a wild steelhead in a North Umpqua pool, where he coaxes these shadows tolife as they rise to his fly.