A casting with a fly rod changed the life of Chip O’Brien


Chip O’Brien’s dad hadn’t been around long enough to leave his son a legacy, just a fishing rod that sparked a passion that lasted a lifetime.

“My natural father died when I was only 2 years old, and he was a fly fisherman,” the Catholic High School teacher Regis said. “I was too young to remember him when he died. And really the only thing I had of him, he had a bamboo fly-fishing rod that followed us wherever we went.”

His mother remarried, and when O’Brien was 10, the family settled on an 80-acre property with a 40-acre lake near West Bend, Wis.

“And so one day, out of sheer boredom, I found this fly rod and dusted it off. And there was an old red and white balsa wood bass popper (lure) still attached to the petrified leader” , O’Brien said, then laughed.

“I took it to the lake behind the house and flipped it over there, and a hungry bass impaled itself on it.”

It was impossible to tell which one was hooked more, the suicidal bass or O’Brien.

Always an avid reader, he yearned to know more.

“That was 1964…there were no fly fishing magazines until 1969. So the only three magazines were Field & Stream, Sports Afield and Outdoor Life,” he said . “And so I subscribed to all three. I was only 10 and became a certified fanatic.

“I sent for a Herter catalog for my first fly tying vise, which was pewter. And I used to hunt down our cat and my mother’s sewing boxes for fly tying supplies, and I did pretty well.”

Since then, fishing has been the driving force in O’Brien’s life as a guide, writer, photographer, author and educator who incorporates fishing stories – including some of his own – into his literature and art classes. writing.

As an adult, O’Brien traveled throughout Midwest and Southern California, working in corporate sales, mostly for moving and storage companies, married and then divorced. Through it all, his love of fishing was a fire that could not be weathered.

“The worst time of my life was my 8 1/2 years in Los Angeles in sales because, you know, even then all I wanted to do was fish,” he said. “And it was a long drive through the Sierras. But I got to know the Sierras pretty well.”

He read an article in Fly Fisherman magazine about Fall River, a legendary fly water from Northern California.

“So I took a vacation there and decided to find a way to live there surrounded by great angling opportunities,” O’Brien said, adding of his return to Los Angeles, “I literally woke up one morning and said ‘I can’. I don’t do that anymore. I just want to go fishing.”

“So I found a small moving and storage company in northern California that was looking for another seller and I did.”

It lasted about the first six months of what turned into nearly two decades at Redding.

“And then I started doing a variety of things, mostly guiding and fishing, that sort of thing,” O’Brien said. “I worked as a teacher. I was minister of youth for a time, regional director of California Trout, a large regional conservation organization.”

And he started writing about fishing.

His first magazine article was in the early 1990’s on the McCloud River for Fly Fishing Magazine. They asked him to do several more articles, then offered him a long-term position as a California/Nevada fly fishing columnist. It lasted several years.

“And then I started branching out,” O’Brien said. “It was around this time that California Fly Fishing magazine was just getting started, and Northwest Fly Fishing magazine was just getting started.”

He’s laughing.

“I’ve since stopped counting. I’ve certainly had over 500 articles published in those magazines, including Fly Fisherman magazine,” O’Brien said.

Chip O'Brien took this photo for an article about Kelly Creek in Idaho, one of thousands of photos and over 500 articles the Silverton teacher/writer/photographer has written for angling magazines fly.

His journalism degree made writing feel natural, and he also enjoyed his time as a teacher, especially having free summers to fish and collect photos and stories for his magazine articles.

O’Brien and his wife, Marlee LeDai, moved to Oregon a decade ago so he could continue teaching full-time.

It was during his first job here as a substitute at Hillcrest, the juvenile correctional facility, that he convinced school officials to let him teach fly fishing as well as reading and writing.

This image of a lone fisherman on the American river is one of thousands that Chip O'Brien took for fly fishing magazines.  O'Brien has stopped counting, but his tally is well over 500 for various publications.

“Between some really good publications, a lot of them on fly fishing, I had students on lawn fly casting,” O’Brien said. “And it was quite a success.”

It’s a combination he kept when he started teaching nine years ago at Regis Catholic High School in Stayton.

“I even sneaked it into my English curriculum.” said O’Brien. “I’m really passionate about teaching writing, so in my classes we talk a lot about writing. And part of that process is learning how to appropriately critique a text, examine its strengths and weaknesses. .

“Whenever I have an article that comes out, I always bring it up and pass it around and say ‘okay guys, be brutal, what do you think? “You know, if I do that to their writing, it just seems like they can do that to mine. And sometimes things happen to teenagers that never happen to an adult. And sometimes they’re right.

It’s been half a century and a long, long way since this bored 10-year-old picked up his late father’s fly rod at a lake in Wisconsin.

“It was almost, I don’t know, call it an accident,” O’Brien said, then hesitated. “Or maybe it was providence.”

Chip O’Brien

Confession time: The nickname is for “chip off the old block,” he said. His first name is Francis Jerome O’Brien III.

Homepage: Silverton.

Occupation: Teacher, fly fishing author, writer, photographer.

Spouse: Marlee LeDai

Favorite Oregon Waters: Owyhee and McKenzie Rivers, Mann Lake and the Keno section of the Upper Klamath River.

Favorite fish: West slope cutthroat trout because it prefers dry flies. “For beauty, give me a speckled trout in spawning colors.” And brown trout. “I love their selectivity, like on the Owyhee, you’re fishing size 22 flies for those huge browns, and everything has to be perfect.”

Quoteable: “I have to admit there were times in my life when I thought I wanted to go fishing, and make it happen and I realized I just needed to be somewhere beautiful, you know Sit on a rock and think, or maybe you have a book in the car And I don’t fish.

“It doesn’t usually happen often, but it’s happened a few times. So I also need to be in beautiful places.”

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