On the FishingClub.com Bulletin Board, we know her as Muskygirl, the “Official NAFC Fishy Godmother.” By any name, Cheri Lovell is an amazing woman with whom I’ve been lucky to share a week on the water.
It began in October 2006, during her ongoing battle with cancer, when North American Fisherman published a story on Cheri and her efforts to organize kids fishing events for Big Brothers Big Sisters (“Thanks For Being There,” October/November 2006).
I was impressed by her willingness to put aside her medical issues to introduce “her kids” to fishing. I thought she deserved something for all of her selfless work.
About that time, the Bulletin Board was buzzing about the “Tie.” If you’re not familiar with it, the Tie is a traveling trophy of sorts. A member gets it for a given month, catches a fish, takes a picture with their catch (while wearing the Tie), posts the photo on the Bulletin Board, and then passes it on.
Someone needed to take it in January of ’07—prime time for steelhead here in Oregon—so I signed up. Cheri had it for December, but doubted she’d be able to catch a fish, because she doesn’t ice fish and lakes around her Wisconsin home are usually frozen by then.
That’s when it hit me to ask if she wanted to come to Oregon to fish. She said she’d love to go, but couldn’t afford it. I asked again, this time under the condition that we’d somehow take care of the expenses. She said yes, not knowing how something like that would be possible.
I immediately got on the Bulletin Board, asking if anyone had frequent flyer miles they could donate to Cheri. Nobody did, but members soon started sending money instead—$5 dollars here, $25 there—the checks started coming. Amazingly, we soon pooled enough cash to buy a plane ticket.
As the trip date approached, Bulletin Board friends also secretly sent me gifts Cheri could use on her trip—a custom steelhead rod, a reel, baits, floats and more. She would need a place to stay, so I made arrangements at a marina and I talked my brother into letting Cheri borrow his motor home. Everything was set.
The Perfect Storm
Then it happened: the weekend before the trip, the storm of storms slashed the Oregon coast. Winds reportedly exceeded 130 mph and rainfall caused massive flooding on the rivers Cheri and I were counting on fishing. Towns were cut off by floodwater, fallen trees and mud slides closed all of the highways to the coast, and power went out everywhere. We almost canceled the trip, but it would have been impossible to reschedule, so we decided to go forward—somehow.
Cheri arrived at the airport with tears in her eyes. She had never been on a plane; never left Wisconsin, never seen the ocean, and had never met me.
On the two-and-a-half-hour, detourridden trip between the airport and marina, I looked at every river we passed, desperately trying to figure out where I could take Cheri fishing. The rain had stopped, and some of the smaller rivers are usually quick to drop and clear after a flood, so there was hope—just not much.
We soon pulled into the marina, where Cheri took in her first glimpse of the Pacific, then began settling into her new home. There was still no power or running water because of the storm, but she took it all in stride.
As she was unpacking, she came across a few packages on the bed—her gifts from the folks on the Bulletin Board. Her eyes welled with grateful tears.
After setting up the new custom rod-and-reel, along with the other gear, we took a drive to look for fishable water. More problems surfaced, though, as I learned chemotherapy had damaged the nerves in her feet, preventing her from walking down steep trails. That meant we’d need to find relatively flat access points, which are pretty hard to come by in coastal Oregon.
The next day, we found a boat launch on the Necanicum River that Cheri could get down to pretty easily. There’s a nice hole there and we actually got a line wet. No fish had any part of our offerings, but she got a look at a big Chinook roll nearby, so that was at least some action.
Afterward, we checked out my home river, the Nestucca. It was still very high and muddy like all the others, but with a milky green tint to the brown, which gave us hope that we’d be able to launch the boat in a couple days.
The next day, with just two days left, we still had no fish, no prospects. Cheri and I resorted to the Nehalem Fish Hatchery. They have a disabled angler platform there, which Cheri refused to fish from, but we managed to access a spot just downriver from it. Still no fish.
We kept crisscrossing the rivers hoping we’d find one that was fishable, eventually stopping at the Yachats, a smaller river I’d never fished. We found a boat launch with a couple good holes, and I’ll be dipped, Cheri hooked a fish, a decent-size rainbow. She was beaming— she’d never caught a trout.
On our last day we decided to launch the boat come Hell or high water. But the decision wasn’t too hard, as another boat was putting in as we reached the ramp. We shared a spot with the other boat for awhile then moved down, working a hole at the mouth of Beaver Creek for steelhead. Nothing.
We slid down to the next hole and started working. Soon a big king leaped several feet into the air, coming down with a heavy splash and repeating the showy dance another five or six times. Unfortunately, it wasn’t hooked on either of our lines.
We were so distracted that we almost didn’t notice when Cheri’s float started going down. She set the hook—was it a fish or the bottom?
A split second later, a nice steelhead launched from the water. The fish soon surrendered and Cheri eased it alongside us. Its adipose fin was clipped (meaning it was a hatchery fish), so into the boat it came! Cheri had her steelhead!
Her big smile was priceless. She pulled out the Tie that started it all and we snapped a couple of pictures. It was the only fish of the day, but it was all we could have asked for at the eleventh hour under the worst of conditions.
In the morning, Cheri caught her plane home, where she was to be greeted by another regimen of treatments. I said goodbye to my friend, who’d I’d only just met. And although the trip wasn’t what either of us had hoped in terms of fishing success, we parted with great and precious memories of our time on the water.
Life Member Cheri Lovell’s battle with cancer continues, but she still makes time to fish and share her experiences with fellow NAFC members on the online forum.
The author, who goes by JustDave on the website, and Cheri are hoping to arrange a return trip to Oregon.