YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

A 70-Year Love Affair

Boston Red Sox great Bobby Doerr is still fishing the Rogue River after all these years.

October 15, 2006|From the Associated Press

ILLAHE, Ore. — Bobby Doerr eases the bow of his boat onto a rock to steady it in the river, then plays the silvery jack salmon into an eddy, where he gently guides it into a net.

At 88, the Hall of Fame Red Sox second baseman is still a master at his second-favorite sport, fishing the Rogue River for salmon and steelhead with a fly.

It's a love affair that started 70 years ago, when he was a kid from Los Angeles playing for the AAA San Diego Padres. The river led him to his wife, a country girl from Oregon, and gave him home-field advantage in a debate with teammate Ted Williams over how best to hit a baseball.

"The trainer of the ballclub, Les Cook, had been coming up on the Rogue River for years," recalled Doerr, leisurely casting a fly into a riffle within sight of his rustic cabin while running a 65-horsepower outboard to keep the 21-foot boat steady in the current.

"Every day after batting practice in San Diego I would go into the training room and talk to Les Cook because he had all these pictures on the wall of fishing and hunting. Some way or another growing up in Los Angeles I felt I always had a little country in me."

Cook invited Doerr to come to Rogue River country with him, and Doerr jumped at the chance. He even bought a bamboo fly rod on a road trip to Sacramento to take with him.

"There was no roads in here at the time," Doerr said. "We had to get a boat at Gold Beach and take the boat up the river to Agness. In Agness, we put our stuff in a little pickup truck and hauled it up to Illahe, which was eight miles above Agness.

"It was like turning a clock back 100 years. There was no lights here. Wood cook stoves. Kerosene lamps. Outdoor toilets. Big wash tubs we took our baths in. I still thought I was in heaven."

Illahe was a backwoods community where folks rode out the Great Depression by scratching a little gold out of the creeks and a little food out of the bottomlands. A boat brought the mail. A pack train brought in groceries. The Cooks stayed at a homestead near The Ford, where the river was shallow enough to ride a horse across. Doerr stayed in a little cabin nearby.

That first winter, Doerr met Monica Roseman Terpin, the teacher in the one-room schoolhouse, at a dance at the Civilian Conservation Corps camp. He lost her three years ago following a stroke.

"One Saturday night we didn't go down to the CCC camp," said Doerr. "The neighbors across the river invited us to go to a card party and a little dance. The neighbor rowed us across the river. 'Chapel in the Moonlight' was a famous number at that time. They had a little phonograph. We danced to that."

On the way home, the night was so cold that the boat seat was iced over, and Monica took off her coat so he could sit on it.

"I thought, 'Boy oh boy', that was the greatest thing to ever happen," Doerr said. "I think that was the time when I fell in love with Monica. That was the winter of '36. In 1938, we got married."

Doerr was called up to the Red Sox the next spring, two years ahead of Williams, who had been with him on the minor-league Padres. Except for the 1945 season, which he spent in the Navy, Doerr returned from Boston every winter to a 160-acre homestead he bought in Illahe for $2,250.

In 1951, a bad back forced Doerr to retire from baseball, and the next year he moved his family to Junction City, his wife's hometown, so their son, Don, could go to middle school. They kept the place in Illahe.

In his 14 seasons with the Red Sox, Doerr batted .288, had 2,042 hits, 223 home runs, 1,247 RBIs, and was named an All-Star nine times. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986 and the Red Sox retired his No. 1 jersey in 1988. His teams only got past the Yankees to the World Series once, in 1946, losing to the St. Louis Cardinals.

"In the last week of the season the Yankees were always ahead eight or 10 games and I just couldn't wait to get back home" to Illahe, Doerr said.

In 1960, Doerr sold the old homestead and built a cabin on a hill overlooking the Brewery Hole, named by the late ballplayer Lefty O'Doul for the white foam floating in the eddy. It's the hole where Doerr caught his first steelhead in 1936 and where he still catches most of his fish.

There are no trophy cases in this cabin, which is heated with wood Doerr splits himself, and the windows sometimes are smeared by the paws of a black bear. A commemorative Hall of Fame bat is slung in a gun rack next to a couple of rifles, a pile of mail asking for autographs is on the kitchen table, a blanket depicting Fenway Park is draped over the couch.

"The Baseball Encyclopedia" sits in a bookcase next to "McClane's Standard Fishing Encyclopedia." The one thing Doerr said he would make sure to save in case of fire is a framed set of flies tied by his father.

Los Angeles Times Articles