The passing of a friend,photographer,and a fly fisherman

November 30, 2010 at 5:36 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments

This past week a good friend of mine passed away due to lung cancer. His name was Rich Schaaff. I only knew Rich for about ten months. I met Rich through Facebook. I’m not sure where but one of his photos was posted somewhere and  I commented on it, then sent him a message asking if it was from the cover of a book.  He replied back you have a good eye but it isn’t the cover. It was a picture of the Trask River here in Oregon. I asked Rich where he lived and found out he was only a half hour from my house. We ended up going fishing one morning on the East Fork of the Lewis River in Washington. I knew from the start I had met a die hard fly fisherman. I also found out he was from the east coast like me and had moved here to get away from the insane pace on the east coast. Rich showed what kind of guy he was pretty much right off the bat.  He had been shooting photos while we were fishing and I didn’t even know.  So about a week later he called me, said he had something for me. It was a framed picture of me in black and white casting in the rain. I was taken back and so I tied him up a couple flies. Rich liked to talk fly fishing and he liked things that were what we call old school or from the history of fly fishing which made us connect pretty well cause I love all things fly fishing and was brought up on fiberglass fly rods.  He introduced me the the http://www.thefiberglassmanifesto.blogspot.com/ which is a cool web site run by Cameron Mortenson and it is about all things unique in fly fishing. We kept in touch and then one day Rich posted a pic of a fly from a guy named Rocky Maley  and told me to check them out.  Well needless to say Rockie’s flys are second to none.  Something was coming together but I had no clue what was it was. Soon after our meeting Rich and I went fishing again and I met another crazy steelhead guy named Brett Bates who is an interesting character and who seems to have a knack for finding steelhead wherever he goes.  All at the same time I got to meet Rocky at the Ashland fly tyers show with Rich.  This was a meeting of the minds so to speak of the young and the older who all had the same love of one thing and that was Fly fishing .

Rich and I were talking one night at his house and we both had this thing about trout fishing . I’m from the east coast and so was Rich and we had been around some of the same areas at one time or another and we both liked to talk about trout. Rich liked Robert Traver author of Trout Madness and Anatomy of a Fisherman. I like Bergman and the one thing I noticed about Rich was that every time I mentioned brown trout his eyes would light up. I had heard high tale of a secret place in the west that held large browns and asked Rich if he was interested in going. Well it was on right then and there.  He was like hell yeah and three weeks later we were in the car on the way there  where we met Steve Vance and Rockey Maley. (This is Rocky’s website:   http://www.steelheadjunkies.com/)

Now for me this was a strange deal because I usually fish alone and try to avoid crowds. Rich was the kind of guy who liked to bring people together. I have been on a few fishing trips with other people and needless to say they never seem to turn out well. Broken down cars, trailers, boats with little motors, crazy druken people fighting  -you name it! So I have always been a bit apprehensive about going on trips with a lot of people. You add one bad attitude in the mix and everything falls to pieces.

Well here is this guy Rich who if you had met him was just like this is going to be great, we are going to have the best time of our lives! So we drive for hours and I mean hours to get to the River X . When we get there it is a different world all together. Rich and I were speechless at first then it was “will you look at this!”  Well we fished  the first day and Rich and I didnt  catch a thing. Rocky and Steve on the other hand were catching fish. Eventually we end up calling it a day. Rich was the guy who would say tomorrow is our day man! He just had a positive attitude.

Rich was after pictures of fish on this trip and I was determined to get them for him. We went to another section of river and we ran into something I was not prepared for. I was working up river casting to a spot were I had seen a snout pop out of the water. When not more then three feet in front of me a Brown trout larger then my inseam rose in front of me.

This is the thing trout fisherman dream of.  I had never seen a brown this large before in the wild. I almost pissed my waders I was so nervous. It was like when you have had a dream and it is right in front of you. I was in the dream though and it was real! I cast to the fish which was up stream from me and on my second cast he went for my small nymph but missed it. Steve and Rich had gone down stream and all of a sudden I heard the car take off. I was in the middle of the river shaking in my boots knowing they hadn’t seen this action. I slowly backed out of the river, got to the bank and went after them in the car. Lucky they stopped because they were looking for me. When I caught up to them all I could get out of my mouth was ” big fish .”  Well they came back with me and I told them not to come up on the river fast cause I didn’t want them to spook the fish. Rich snuck  through the brush with his camera.  He was right above the fish and watching me cast to the fish. This is what he shot:

Rich caught the fish chasing my fly  pictures don’t show the size of the fish due to the water. The thing is Rich caught the images. I never hooked that fish and after the last shot he went deep into the pool. We came back the next day and the fish was there but real spooky. I tried for him again but gave up and went to another pool where I got lucky and landed a good 30 ” brown. Rich decided he wanted to take a shot at the pool with the big fish. Rich was very determined. We were all saying to use an emerger due to the fact it was early in the year. Rich had on a madam x fly in grey probably like a size 16 and he was determined to hook one on a dry.  He worked the pool from a lot of different angles and I sat at the head of the pool and watched. I caught another small brown in a stretch above Rich and he stopped to photograph it. Then he went back to casting . We all wanted Rich to catch a fish at this point. Rich kept working the seam where the fish had dropped into and we thought it was holding in. It had to be a half hour after I caught the smaller brown when all of a sudden the beast rose from the depth and grabbed Rich’s fly. The battle was on and it was serious. This fish took Rich down stream and he fought it. I got down below him with the net but this fish was having none of it and went back up into the pool. Rich hung on and followed the fish it then went down stream agian and held there for a bit. I tried to sneak in and land the fish but it saw me and went back up stream. This happened two more times! The last time the fish decided to descend to the depths and hold. I could see its tail and it sat there and then with three hard pumps it swished and then the leader snapped! I was in awe and heart broken at the same time. We just sat there for a bit.

It was amazing to see how good Rich was as a fisherman as well as a photographer. His photos are amazing to say the least and his heart was always in the right place. He was willing to show you how he took pictures and always have kind words. Rich and I talked about that fish a bunch of times and swore we were going back to get him! Often as friends do we get into tifts with one another and to me the true sign of a friend is when you can admit to one another you were both wrong and to move on. Rich and I had and argument over something pretty small looking back at it now and I made a point of making sure we settled it ’cause I didn’t want to fight with my friend. So he suggested we get together and go fish. We did and settled the situation and I’m glad we did. It shows the true sign of being real humans and real men when you can forgive and forget. Rich looked at me and said this has been a stressful week and it had been the same for me. It was good to clear the air. So we got in his truck and went to the Lake X (Rich would strike me down if I told you the name of this place). It was a great drive and when we got there I was amazed at the beauty of the lake and the landscape around it. If you look at Rich’s landscape photos there are tons of pictures of the lake. He loved it there! (http://www.eastforkfly.com/) Well for the longest time Rich kept talking about the hex hatch on this lake. I’d never seen a hex hatch being from the east coast. The way these guys make it sound out here the(http://www.troutnut.com/fullsize/picture-im_regspec/2367 ) Hexigena are the size of bats flying and dang if they aren’t! No wonder the trout get so big.  Ah hello Mr. Trout what will you be having tonight? A hex big mac thank you!

The thing about the hatch is that it doesnt really take off unless it is warm and we were in a high mountain lake so you really have to time it just right and hope it gets warm enough. It was slow going at first and I had brought my new fiberglass rod to test it out and see how it cast. It is only a 4wt rod so it is pretty light and it makes it a bit more difficult to make longer cast on the lake in a boat. I was there to mess with it and make Rich happy. Rich loved the lake and would talk about it all the time and we would all kind of yeah yeah him about it cause he would always talk about the lake. Well it was slow at first and nothing was biting except every once in awhile you see a splash here or there. I would see these funny things in the water, something that looked like a nymph skin but wasn’t sure. Until Rich pointed out that they were Hex shucks. They look like somebody shredded the skin off your finger they are that big! Then one flew by- “what was that Rich a helicopter?” It was starting to nearly get dusk when the first fish hit! BAM Oh dam it is taking out line. “Rich this is a nice fish ,” Rich was all excited,yelling “hang on to it, let me get my camera out.”  Well I fought the fish and landed it. Rich was like a little kid in the back of the boat he was so happy I caught a trout on his lake. The fish didn’t care one way or the other and wriggled out of my hands and started flopping around in the boat. We were laughing our asses off in the boat trying to get the fish and get it back in the water. Well we kept fishing and Rich caught a nice fish. Then I hooked into a pig of a rainbow and the fight was on! Rich was so happy he just kept looking at me on the ride home going “I told you didn’t I!”  It was a great little trip and I am so glad Rich showed me the lake he loved so much. I’m happy he showed me because we had a great time and that is what Rich was all about! Having a great time! 

That was the last time I saw Rich.  He quit his job about a week or two later and had decided to pursue photography full time. He and his wife bought a camper for his truck and he was excited to use it. He told me he was going to Yellowstone with his wife Julie. They went away for about two weeks and when Rich returned he told me a story about not feeling well on the trip. About a month after that he called me and told me he had lung cancer.

I have been writing this for about three weeks now, it hasn’t been easy. I know his whole family is heart broken and miss him dearly. I can only say I think I was blessed to have met him. He gave me another view on life. I’m sad that he is gone, but not sad for having known him. I hope to be more like Rich as I get older with a smile on my face and living happily in the end no matter what. Rich was a comedian even when I last talked to him he was joking with me. We go through life with a lot of complaints or at least I hear them often from people, including myself. Times are real tough these days. I certainly can attest to that. Though I’m waking up every day and thankful to be here today!  I wanted to post this in remembrance of a friend, but also so you will think about yourself today. If you are going through life unhappy you need to stop and look at yourself and ask why you are unhappy. You could have a million reasons but trust me it could get worse. You only live once,which is a serious statement if you stop and think about it. I for one will try to keep my friends laugh in my head and his good cheer in my heart.

Rich left this world with something for you to look at so please got to his website. If you are having a bad day just look at one of his photos and let it take you to another place. What Rich saw was the beauty in the world that God created. As we fly fisherman like to call it our church. The church is so big and it is everywhere. Rich just like to capture it for a second to give you a life time of enjoyment. Each moment of each day has something special in it even if your working in a muddy field or working in an office somewhere. You merely need to look for the positive even in the darkest hours.

I will miss my friend but be able to always take him with me. So get out there and make your Reel scream cause you only  live once.

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12 Comments »

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  1. What a great read about an obviously remarkable photographer, fly fisherman, husband and man. I wish I had the opportunity to go fishing with him. We talked about it a couple times online but never made it happen. One of these days… SOON I would like to get together and get a chance to partake in the magic he left on you and the rest of the scandalous brothers.

  2. Mike- great story written straight from the heart. You and Rich obviously packed a lot more than 10 months into your friendship and you’ll have those good memories forever. Thanks for sharing your story about Rich- he was a great guy. I wish I’d had the opportunity to fish with him.

  3. I like how more and more stories are out about Rich. His personality and photography surely touched so many of us.
    Just as you got it here:
    “I’m sad that he is gone, but not sad for having known him.”

  4. I couldn’t wait to read it. It is never how many friends you have, it is surely if one friend means a lot…We have exchanged few times and I know how much Rich meant to you. Reading your story allowed me to be almost with you and him and this is precious.
    When I feel disconnect, I just go and visit his website and my heart is feeling better.
    Thank you for your love for this man.

  5. Wonderful tribute to a wonderful guy

  6. Mike,
    You told it so well! Loved hearing it from your perspective!! Excellent.
    He valued your friendship as much as you did his, I can tell you that.

  7. Peace ! I fucking miss Rick’s posts on FB…. great story !

    • Le mouching , rich liked your Blog ,I remeber him mentioning it a few times ,I think rich is going to be missed for a long time

  8. Rich was a class act. He will be missed by all.

    M

  9. Thank you so much Mike for sharing yours and Rich’s friendship with us he is a truly amazing friend.
    Rich and I were childhood friends he could make the worst situation into something so positive,his humor was a God given gift. Thank you Rich for leaving us with http://www.eastforkfly.com.

  10. Never met the man but through your story & his widows I feal he’ll be sorely missed people like Rich are becomming harder to find the kind of person who sees the good in all things & grabs live by the horns, & finds fun at every corner, tight lines & keep the fur & feathers fly’n.

  11. Never knew, Rich, but I always loved seeing his pictures everywhere. Great tribute.


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