Still Casting at 100
McKENZIE BRIDGE — The lady is a left-handed fly-fisher and much, much more.
The first female member of the Flyfisher's Club of Oregon, Dixie Monkhouse is also a world traveler, an adventurous nature lover with an appetite for life, a charming and witty conversationalist and an active volunteer.
Oh, we should mention Mrs. Monkhouse is also a centenarian.
That's right, the grand dame of the McKenzie River observed her 100th birthday Sept. 7 — less than a week after one of her regular outings in the bow of guide Don Wouda's driftboat, casting dry flies at McKenzie redside trout.
And no placid stretches of water for Mrs. Monkhouse, who keeps an exercise bike but no rocking chair on the porch of the tiny, two-room riverside cabin that has served as her summer home for more than half a century.
She prefers the frothy, fast-moving upper McKenzie between Olallie and Paradise, where anglers must accurately fling dry flies into small pockets of water likely to hold fish.
"She's no slouch; she knows how to read water," said Wouda, who's been taking Mrs. Monkhouse fishing for about 40 years.
And don't think for a minute that a day on the water is just a boat ride for Mrs. Monkhouse.
"She's good — and she's always dry-fly fishing, nothing else," said Wouda, who still vividly remembers the day five years ago when his 95-year-old client caught 17.5- and 18-inch rainbow trout within a span of 20 minutes.
"I thought to myself at the time that there's probably not another woman in the world who has done that — and not many men," said Wouda.
Dixie herself considers her best day on the water to be the one in which she boated seven fish over 14 inches while fishing with Wouda near the Fish Ladder, the only class IV rapid on the McKenzie.
Mrs. Monkhouse has been using the same tackle since 1959 — a 2 ¾-ounce fiberglass rod and Hardy reel purchased at Abercrombie & Fitch in New York City.
"I've caught steelhead on this, which is really fun," she said, proudly showing a visitor a rod so limber one could feel a butterfly land on its tip.
She acknowledges that her guides don't think the mini fly-rod, which lacks backbone enough to force a big fish to the net, is all that much fun.
"That rod drives you nuts," Wouda said.
In any event, Mrs. Monkhouse clearly has angling credentials worthy of any fly-fishing club. In December 2004, the Portland-based Flyfisher's Club of Oregon broke tradition by making her its first woman member. The vote was unanimous.
"When Dixie is not fishing, she plays golf at Tokatee and hit a hole in one when she was 90," one of her nephews, Garrett Scales, wrote in the letter of nomination. "She knows every bird and wildflower in the Cascades and his hiked most of the trails. To say she is a nature lover is an understatement."
Mrs. Monkhouse fell in love with the McKenzie in the early 1950s, when she and her husband first vacationed in the area with her parents. In 1955 they purchased 400 feet of frontage on the McKenzie for $7,500. It came with the structure that they named "The Monkabin."
She was already an avid angler.
"My dad introduced me to fishing when I was a girl," Mrs. Monkhouse said during a recent interview on her porch, from which she often waves at whitewater rafters passing just a long cast away.
"We used to go on the upper Klamath and fish ... and of course, when we started coming here, we fished for steelhead. ... They used to stock it (with steelhead), but then they found it did the trout harm and they don't stock it anymore."
Dixie was born Sept. 7, 1909 in San Francisco. Her only brother, four years older, was in his crib when the Earthquake of 1906 hit. She grew up hearing stories of the family having to camp out in Golden Gate Park after the quake.
She didn't meet and marry Reginald "Reg" Monkhouse, "the one love in my life," until she was about 40 years old.
By that time she had worked as a secretary at Stanford Medical School and at the Presidio army base during World War II.
"In my day, that's what you did if you were a woman, secretarial work," she said.
After the war, she decided that since she enjoyed travel so much, she should get into the travel industry. "So I went down to Thomas Cook & Son in San Francisco and got a job there."
She and Monkhouse were married in 1950 and traveled, fished and played golf together until his death.
"My husband and I traveled a lot, so I continued to travel," Mrs. Monkhouse said. In addition to almost-annual trips to Paris, "I went to Australia and New Zealand. Then I started taking barge trips (in Europe). I took a safari. I've been to Alaska twice ... I love Alaska."
On one trip to the 49th state, "by the time I got back here I'd been on 20 flights," most of them on small bush planes.
Mrs. Monkhouse loves flying in small planes and several times has commuted between her winter home in the San Francisco area and the McKenzie in a single-engine plane flown by a nephew who works as an airline pilot.
She has returned to the McKenzie every year since 1955. And while she doesn't fish as much as she once did, she's been out "four or five times this year, and plan to go several more."
When not fishing, Mrs. Monkhouse reads, volunteers at the Blue River Library, keeps in touch with friends around the world via her laptop computer, and watches a little television. Her favorite program is Oregon Field Guide. "I love it. I'm sorry there isn't some way to see it when I'm back in California because I miss it," she said.
Asked the obligatory question about what she attributes her longevity to, Mrs. Monkhouse replied:
"Well, besides good luck and good genes, I think lots of sleep and a good breakfast."
Her morning menu that day: "I had some orange juice and cranberry juice and a nice big bowl of grits with a beaten egg and some sausage in it ... and two cups of coffee."
Oh, don't forget that exercise bike on the porch.
"I get on it sometimes, yes," she said. "It's good exercise. I try to exercise because that's important."
The Monkhouses had no children, but her brother's four sons and one daughter had 15 children among them. Now she claims "an extended family of 40 or 45." Two of her nephews and their wives were scheduled to be in the area Monday for a birthday dinner. The rest of the family plans on celebrating with her after she returns to California in October.
Meanwhile, back on the river, Mrs. Monkhouse doesn't look anywhere near ready to hang up her lightweight fly rod, even if she needs more help now than she once did.
"My guides want to spoil me," she said. "They put the rod together and put the fly on, too."
Her favorite fly?
"Any dry fly that catches fish."
The lady centenarian really is a fly-fisher.