Winter at Mott Bridge on the North Umpqua River Photo: Marcus Mattioli

Frank Moore Eulogy

By PJ Tronquet

An email from Dale prepared me for what was coming. The next evening, a text from Frankie and a call from Becky confirmed that Frank had died. People my age are dying all the time but Frank died a few days short of 99, and there was a sense that such a long and full life should be mostly celebrated rather than grieved excessively. Not trusting that sentiment, I walked the beach early the next day, as nice a winter morning as you can hope for. The high tide had been falling for two hours and the sun lit up the snowy plovers resting at the base of the dunes. This early in the morning there were few people, as I had planned. No tears in public, I say. On my return from the Yaquina River jetty, I met an older couple. They greeted me with smiles, we agreed the northeast wind was colder than expected, and then I continued my walk at the edge of the surf, searching for agates and solace. When I turned to look, they were standing where I left them. Both waved, as did I.

Why, Cathy asked, would you spend so much money to fish with an old man? My fishing partner had told me about Frank Moore, described as a man whose biceps bulged his white t-shirt, and a North Umpqua River fly fishing legend. At the very least, I reasoned, we might become better steelhead fly fishers. The trip, which was auctioned at a conservation group fundraiser, included a half-day fishing and an overnight stay with Frank and Jeanne in their log home above the North Umpqua. Cathy and I figure this first visit had to be the summer or fall of 1999.

And so we joined a very long list of the friends and admirers of Frank and Jeanne Moore, who graciously welcomed new visitors, no special credentials needed. Frank would take calls from Senators and Congressmen, but he would also welcome your fishing dog on the living room sofa, if you were brazen enough to ignore common etiquette. I did not learn how to become a better North Umpqua fly fisher but I learned to become more humble. Frank did not want his students to think too highly of themselves. He would let us fish through a run first, trying to make our best casts, with our best flies. Then he would fish the same water, using a scraggly muddler minnow fly, cast to the far bank where the steelhead held, and of course you know the story from there. A steelhead would jump out of the water; I would look upstream where Frank held a bent rod, trying unsuccessfully to conceal a grin. Fishing proficiency was one thing, but when it came to advocacy for the river and the healthy ecosystems that wild steelhead need to survive, I wanted to know how Frank mixed his brew of personality, stubbornness, and passion.

Though we never talked much about it, I think the relationship prospered because we were both veterans of foreign wars, his World War II survivors welcomed home as heroes (though Frank would never call himself a hero), Vietnam veterans not welcomed home at all. Our birthdays were two days apart, for which he received a birthday call but not a singing one.

How many people have the opportunity to call a D-Day vet and thank him for his service, no matter that we had not talked for months? Cathy and I attended the ceremony where he and another WW II vet were awarded the French Legion of Merit d’Honneur. When the ceremony In Roseburg was winding down, I walked up to the podium and saluted Frank. He grinned down at me and said officers don’t know how to salute: The alpha dog asserting his status. But by now I could take it and give back in return, though a certain amount of respect was required.

I’m sure we had many disagreements about fishing regulations, but I remember getting on his wrong side only once. He wanted the upper river above Marsters Bridge closed because folks from the east side of the mountains were fishing over spawning steelhead. Better to educate the boneheads, I argued. How, he asked. Whatever it takes, I said. The river stayed open, but I would like to have that one back.

Tom McCall appointed Frank and Dan Callaghan to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, where they served from 1971 to 1974. Though we rarely discussed politics, Frank remembered keenly the time he was undercut by a fellow commissioner who had agreed to vote with Frank on a regulation that Frank had championed, and then switched his vote at the last moment. You could disagree with Frank but you had to be a man of your word. He did not forget.

Frank remained the alpha dog to the end and he could be competitive and loving at the same time. He told me about a discussion with a certain standup congressman, and their boys-will-be-boys discussion of their high school wrestling prowess. Who knows what really happened, but the words I remember from Frank was that if they wrestled then or now, “I could take him.” Son Frankie called him the strongest man he ever knew, and if you saw him cutting wood, or carrying some iron carcass from his old Jeep, or wading the winter river out to Station with Rajeff, the river above their belts, you believed it. Steve Rajeff was the only angler that Frank allowed to fish upstream of him, breaking the current so Frank could fish more safely, but Steve is a burly guy and Frank was 90 years old. Wisdom apparently had begun to hold its own against a slippage of confidence.

Wildfire came for Frank and Jeanne. The first was the Williams Creek fire in July 2009, which burned nearly to their front door. The Chief Mountain Hot Shots were sent – a firefighting crew from the Blackfeet Nation. Frank bonded with the crew, and they him. The Hot Shots fought the fire and Frank bulldozed the firebreaks. I believe this collaboration touched his spirituality more than he expected, and of course he expressed his gratitude and love as only Frank can do, and the Hot Shots responded with a ceremony that promised to protect his home from future fires. That protection held until the Archie Creek fire in October 2020, which burned Frank and Jeanne’s home to the ground. Only Frank’s WW II dog tags were recovered.

There are so many Frank and Jeanne stories and so many in the North Umpqua community much more qualified to write about Frank and Jeanne than I. These are men and women of stature and accomplishment, as devoted to The River as Frank. Many are older now, not elderly, not less passionate. But the time has come to recruit a new cohort, to ask for help. This is why Frank made himself so accessible, to inspire, to attract younger men and women who love wild steelhead and the rivers where they procreate, who are determined to bulldoze the firebreaks.

I find a pool where I can fish the North Umpqua alone. I step into the water as evening descends. I make a short cast. Twenty feet below me a steelhead leaps into the air. This is not unusual. The fish wants to know who I am. There is a blush of red on the cheeks. The fish disappears into the river. I make another cast and imagine a conversation among the steelhead in the pool.

First steelhead, speaking to the other steelhead in the pool, not having seen the angler: No worries, that Angler is not Frank Moore.

Second steelhead: But it was one of Frank’s scraggly old muddlers that just swam over me.

First steelhead: If the guy in the water is swimming the fly like Frank, maybe we are in trouble. Frank had a way of passing it on. But there were many students and only one Frank Moore.

I let the muddler swing into the bank before I pickup and cast again. The cast falls to the water acceptably. I lift the line and place it on the surface so the muddler will fish the prime holding water perfectly. At least, this is what I believe. Then I begin to bump the muddler, using the index finger of my line hand to impart a seductive twitch, just Like Frank.

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