Searching for Big Marsh Creek

Big views and a Big Marsh, but no Big Marsh Creek

Everyone has stories about the times we are living in, from frustrating to heartbreaking, and no one is immune from the pain in the ass that is 2020. I want to be one of those people that believes we simply need a change in the calendar and everything will return to happier times, because otherwise how do we find equilibrium? Will things start to seem a little more normal in 2021?

Feeling beat down by a lack of satisfaction, resolution, or forward progress in the various ills and challenges that face us, RK and I have been seeking out small streams and wild trout. Sometimes it takes a few tries, but we have found some incredible places to fish close to home. The criteria for us: no (or very, very few) people, dog friendly, walkable shore and water, wild fish. Bonus points for views, bigger fish, deeper pools, and wildflowers. 

If you google Big Marsh Creek, you will find pictures of a tempting little stream in Central Oregon that promises high quality trout fishing. As a designated Wild and Scenic River, it is not unknown, and you can find descriptions and directions. While the descriptions enticed, the directions somehow failed us. A trailhead was indicated on the map but despite the assurance that the atlas was “field checked for accuracy!”, in Oregon, especially, we suspect this is not really true. 

Forest roads are sometimes labeled with numbers in the atlas, sometimes not. Sometimes the roads are signed in real life, mostly not. And on the rare occasion, they align. It takes some magical thinking to route find in some of the remote places of Central Oregon. In our search for Big Marsh Creek, there were some missed turns, 18-point u-turns, and some rugged roads, but we did manage to locate the trailhead. Except… while it provided a large area in the forest to park, it lacked all other typical features of a trailhead, including any kind of signage. Or a trail. 

Big Marsh Creek cuts through Big Marsh, which is a really big, high elevation marsh. The grass was waist high, golden yellow, and stretched far across the valley. We put together our fly rods and made our way through the grass. 

Lily ponds in Big Marsh, Oregon
Mack was stoked to find the lily ponds.

As is typical with a marsh, there were mosquitoes and biting flies. I suppose they would have been worse in a wetter season, but they were plentiful and hungry. The ground was lumpy and riddled with channels, mostly dry, but hidden by tufts of drying grass. We walked towards a greener belt of plants, and found some ponds filled with stagnant water and water lilies. Mack was pleased and took a quick swim. The grass went on and on. The blue gps dot on my phone showed us well past the creek, but RK and Mack walked farther out into the sea of yellow grass. I had a new camera with me and set it up on a log pile to take a few photos. 

Pinhole photo of Big Marsh lily pond
Pinhole photo of the lily pond at Big Marsh.

Years ago, I knew a woman who used to ask people, “What’s your backup plan?” I’ve never really had a plan, let alone a backup plan, but it occurred to me that photography was salvaging the day. Big Marsh is a beautiful place, but wandering around miles of dry grass and murky ponds didn’t scratch the fly fishing itch. (Though it did, in fact, make me itch from dozens of bug bites.) Had it dried up for the season? How could that beautiful creek just disappear?

These days, most of us can’t move through the world in the way that we are accustomed. Whether day drinking, drawing, or fixing up an old trailer, people are finding their backup plan, something accomplishable when life is maddening. And it might be wise to have a backup plan to the backup plan, to keep from falling into despair.

Big Marsh Creek really exists.
RK found Big Marsh Creek!

We looked again at the maps and planned another route, another day. RK found Big Marsh Creek one day while I was working. It was a little low, he said, but would make for good fishing in late spring or early summer. I’ll get there in 2021. Unless, of course, I have to default to some backup plan.

Laurel Hunter

Laurel Hunter

Central Oregon, USA