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Book Review: A Temporary Refuge: Fourteen Seasons with Wild Summer Steelhead by Lee Spencer1

I truly enjoyed Lee Spencer’s chronology of the months and years he has spent as guardian over one of the most critical holding pools for wild summer steelhead in the Umpqua basin. Having had the pleasure of hearing Lee’s observations first-hand while visiting the pool, his book brought sweet memories and connection with a river that is part of my soul. Lee takes you through the months of May through November and through the fourteen years of changes during those months when he meticulously documented the goings on around him from his perch above the Big Bend pool. Accompanied by his dear companion, Sis, Lee delights you with descriptions of the changing flora along with fauna that swoop over, dive in, and swim through the “refuge pool” This pool provides a healing sanctuary for steelhead before the fall freshets beckon them back to their natal waters.

Lee explains that steelhead jump “virtually purely for the purpose of raising their eyes above the surface so that they can see something clearly-a color or a movement or a shape or the source of a scent or sound-that has been detected initially from beneath the surface.“ He goes on to explain interesting rising behavior and the optics of how the world above the surface is observed from below.

Over the years, Lee may have observed more wild steelhead behaviors than anyone. His theories (and deductions are fascinating. The final chapter, his heartfelt tribute to Sis, was difficult to read. Sis was his constant companion at the perch, through the woods, and on the river during long days and nights on the pool when human presence was absent. During one particularly adventurous fishing expedition with Lee, Sis scampered on happily as we bushwacked and climbed over logs down a frighteningly steep descent to a “secret run.” She reveled in the forests of the North Umpqua. In the book, Lee speaks as if Sis shared his thoughts and conclusions from his observations. I hope that his latest canine companion, Maggie, gives him the same fulfillment.


Lisa Hansen 1Spencer L. A temporary refuge: Fourteen seasons with wild summer steelhead. Patagonia Works, 2017.

P.S. The North Umpqua Foundation has been instrumental in supporting Lee Spencer’s work to protect the wild steelhead for the past 19 years.

Flyfishers Club of Oregon - Literary Angler

photo credit - Karl Konecny

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