By Dean Finnerty
I met Frank Moore fifteen years ago. I had a booth at the Roseburg, Oregon Sportsmen Show to promote my guide business. At the time, my two older sons were 8 and 6 years old and they were learning to fly fish and tie their own flies. In front of our booth was an indoor fly casting pond and we watched this older gentleman casting the most beautiful fly line I had ever seen. Graceful, powerful loops would launch out across the eighty foot casting pond. Show-goers watched in awe at his casting abilities waiting for a turn to have a one-on-one lesson in casting.
At one point I told my boys that if they really wanted to learn how to cast a fly, they needed to watch and learn from this amazing man. I had no idea who he was, but he looked vaguely familiar to me. When a lull in the crowd around him subsided, I approached him. I told him that my son’s and I had been admiring his casting abilities that afternoon as I pointed towards my boys still tying flies in our booth. As a guide and lifelong fly fishermen I had seen many good, even a few really great fly casters, but not one of them could cast like he could. A big grin grew on the man’s face as his right hand stuck out to shake mine. His vice-grip like handshake surprised me a bit as he thanked me and introduced himself to me, “I’m Frank, Frank Moore.”
Over the course of the next few hours Frank spent a great deal of time at my booth. We talked about fishing, faith, family, friendship and more fishing. Frank cajoled my sons and encouraged them with their fly tying efforts.
The seeds of one of my greatest lifelong friendships had been sown.
Before closing time, Frank came back by my booth and asked me if I would be interested in spending some time together on the North Umpqua fly fishing for winter steelhead. I told him that I would love an opportunity to spend time on my favorite river with one of my childhood hero’s. He took one of my cards and said he’d give me a call.
Later that night when the boys and I returned home from the show, I told my wife about my day with none other than Frank Moore trying to impress upon her the magic that had been my afternoon. I was gathering up an armload of books and magazines I had laying around my fly tying bench with pictures and stories of Frank when my home phone began to ring.
“Ten o’clock at night, who’d be calling this late?” she asked.
When I reached the phone and saw on the caller ID “F Moore.” I answered the phone trying to contain my excitement, but failed miserably. Frank simply said he wanted to call and tell me how much he enjoyed meeting the boys and me at the show and wanted to make plans to fish with me the following week if I was available.
I remember turning off the highway and heading up Frank’s gravel driveway a little earlier than I was supposed to but, I couldn’t help myself. I was so nervous and excited, I still couldn’t believe it. When I pulled up and parked in front of his log cabin home, it strangely felt like I arrived at my own home. Calm, peaceful… like returning home after a long journey feeling. Frank greeted me on his front porch with a big bear hug and ushered me inside to meet his “bride” Jeannie. Jeannie was at the kitchen table and immediately got up and after we were introduced to each other by Frank, she began preparing fried egg sandwiches for Frank and I on her antique wood burning stove. We visited a bit over cups of coffee and Jeannie slid a well- worn, brown book towards me and asked me to sign their visitors register. Frank and Jeannie had used this book during the time that they owed the infamous Steamboat Inn.
After entering the date, my name and a brief note of my visit, I had a chance to look back through the pages. It was unbelievable, not just the sheer number of guests, but who some of those guests were. I’d call out a name and date and Frank and Jeannie would share a nice memory, point to a photograph or refer to an artifact in another room. After breakfast Frank and I climbed into our waders and loaded our fishing gear into Frank’s little tan, Volkswagen diesel Rabbit “fishing car” and headed down to the river.
As we traveled along the North Umpqua, Frank pointed out different pools and shared the names of each with me. A lot of the pools descriptions included the location within the pool where the fish generally held and where one could expect the grab. Some pools were named after people including one after his much beloved wife, “Jeannie’s Pool.” This began my education of the North Umpqua and its many mysteries learned by Frank over 50 years of guiding and fly fishing for its steelhead.
Frank considered the “camp water” section below Mott Bridge to contain some of the best, most productive winter steelhead fly water on the whole river. We arrived in the deserted parking lot and scrambled down the trail. Moments later we arrived at “sawtooth” and Frank guided me out to the end of the short reef that is this pools’ casting station and namesake. I covered the water the best I could with my single-handed fly rod. In those days we didn’t fish spey rods. It was single-handed rods with 30-foot shooting heads in the winter and full-floating lines in the summer.
Later that morning Frank taught me how to fish the “Station” pool (one of the most famous, sought after pools on the river). Normal winter flows run too deep and swift to allow anglers to reach the mid-stream ledge-rock island that you cast from in the “Station.” This day the flows were low for winter and Frank felt we could make the dangerous wade. As we started out across the icy cold winter flows, Frank stuck out his left hand wanting to hold hands as we crossed the swift current. Dangerous wading with a buddy is a lot safer than going it alone.
At the time, Frank was in his mid-70’s and seemed in pretty good shape. I was in my mid-30’s, strong and in good shape. I didn’t mind helping the ‘ol guy out to casting station in the middle of the cold North Umpqua River in January. However, sticking out his left hand meant that he wanted me on his downstream side. That’s the side you want the weaker wader to be when the current is crushing down on you from your right (upstream side). A few steps into the wade, he proved to be right when I nearly went down. His rock-solid arm and grip are the only things that kept me dry.
Frank taught me how to cast. I had been a fly fisherman for more than two decades when I met Frank, but he was the first person I ever saw cast a full 90 feet of fly line, plus ten feet of backing and a 10 foot leader. My casting skills would allow consistent 70 foot casts, not a hundred and ten feet.
In those early days, Frank would always insist on following me down the run. I’d beat the water hard with my 70 foot casts; Frank would follow me with his precise, laser beam presentations and routinely find willing winter steelhead to eat his muddler.
When Frank fishes in the winter he almost always fish’s his sparsely tied muddler. If he isn’t fishing his muddler, he fish’s a green butt skunk. In the summer it’s pretty much the same program. Damp or skated muddlers or a skunk. That’s it.
For many winters, the boys and I would give Frank a fly box full of steelhead flies that each of us would tie up. We filled the boxes with mostly Skunks and Muddlers in a variety of sizes. One winter, my son Ryan added eight or ten “Frank’s ugly muddlers” to the Christmas fly box. Frank preferred his muddlers tied a pretty specific way with a very sparse, spun deer hair head. He also didn’t want them trimmed up all pretty like store-bought muddlers. Ryan was seven years old when he tied this batch of muddlers. Seven-year-old fingers tie perfect “Franks ugly muddlers.” And Frank loved this bunch. By mid-January that winter Frank retired one of Ryan’s flies after landing his seventh winter steelhead with it. Seven fish on a fly tied by a seven-year-old boy. The last time I looked, that tattered and beat up muddler was still laying on Franks messy fly tying bench. Ryan is 19 years old now and is way more interested in girls than tying muddlers, but those flies he tied are a very fond memory Frank and I share.
Over the years my whole family came to know and love Frank and Jeannie. My parents, my wife and all the boys’ lives have been so enriched by the Moore’s. His friendship, warmth, generosity and guidance has been life changing for me and I’ll be forever grateful.
For years my eldest son had his heart set on buying Frank’s old Willys pick-up truck. Kyle was nine years old when he first saw the old truck parked up at Frank and Jeannie’s and fell in love with it. He pestered Frank about buying it every time he saw him. Just before Kyle left for boot camp he told Frank that he was headed for Fort Knox, Kentucky. Frank gave Kyle a complete rundown of what to expect at the base as that was where Frank attended boot camp during WWII.
Just after Kyle returned home from the Army, Frank mentioned to me that he was thinking about allowing Kyle to finally buy the old truck. I didn’t say anything to Kyle about Frank’s comment. I figured if Frank was going to sell it to Kyle, he could tell him himself. Later that year, just before Christmas, Frank called to speak with Kyle and I. Frank said that he decided he wanted Kyle to have the truck. He didn’t want a dime for it. He simply wanted Kyle to have it, to get it fixed up and running again.
Kyle cried. I cried. Frank cried.
A few days later with a rented U-Haul flatbed trailer towed behind my Suburban, Kyle and I went up to Frank and Jeannie’s and loaded the old truck up. Jeannie came out to say goodbye to the truck. She asked Kyle to give it a new coat of paint as she had promised the truck a long time ago that it would get new paint job. Frank and Jeannie watched as we pulled that old truck out of its parking spot and headed down the hill. Kyle worked hard and got it running again. This was how the truck was the last time Frank drove it, well with the exception of a few more rust spots and wasp nest. Kyle climbed in and sat down on the shag carpet covered seat and went for a spin.
We’re still in the process of restoring the truck and when completed, we’ll take folks out on the North Umpqua and down on the south coast fly fishing for fall chinook in it.
Frank Moore’s legacy for many will be his lifelong contributions to fly fishing and conservation. He has received countless awards and citations for his efforts at protecting the North Umpqua. For others it will be his great love for family and friends. For some, he will always be remembered as one of this nation’s greatest hero’s for his service during World War II.
But for me, it’s his love of people and his selfless role-modeling for hundreds, maybe even thousands of young men and women. He makes everyone he meets feel special and loved. Frank teaches everyone how to be loving and respectful. He and Jeannie’s deep love for one another are inspirational and legendary. Frank’s never embarrassed to tell people he loves them and how much they mean to him. He’s not ever embarrassed to show his emotions. Frank’s tough as leather and hard as nails, just ask anyone whose shook his hand or found themselves in one of his hugs. He still wades deeper and casts farther than anyone I know. Being around him just makes you want to be a better person, just to try and measure up. It’s nothing he’s doing to you, it’s simply just being around him and Jeannie makes you want to be more like them. Happy, content, honorable, respected, knowledgeable…….they are great people and role models for many.
I have been very blessed to have Frank and Jeannie as my friends. I still have to enter my name in the guest book when I arrive and that book still have a lot of blank pages left……blank pages to commemorate future days on the water fishing, anniversaries, birthdays and just days were we sit for a spell and talk.