Drones Battle Over the Deschutes

By Scott Richmond

"Let's see if there are any steelhead out there," my friend Travis said. He'd just parked his driftboat at the head of a good run on the Deschutes, not far from Macks Canyon.

"Sounds good to me," I said. "Shall I take the lower half while you work the upper? Should take us two hours to work through the run."

Travis shook his head. "Hang on. I want to know where the fish are before we start." He opened a plastic case and took out a strange device. "It's a quadcopter," he said. "A miniature helicopter with four blades. Very stable and maneuverable."

"Wha . . . "

Travis held up a hand to interrupt me. "Watch," he said. "And be amazed." He attached a gimbal to the underside of the quadcopter, then fixed a Go Pro video camera to it. He placed the quadcopter on the foredeck of the driftboat and turned on the remote control unit. Some LED lights flashed, then glowed a steady green. The copter lifted off and flew fifty feet above our heads, then Travis skillfully piloted it over the steelhead run.

"Oh," I said. "You're going to shoot videos of the run, then look at them when we get home tonight. Pretty slick! We might be able to see where . . . "

Again, Travis held up a hand to stop me. He reached into his duffle and pulled out an iPad. "There's a bluetooth link to the camera," he said. "I can see everything." He turned the iPad so I could see it.

"Wow!" I said. "I can see the whole run! Rocks, troughs, the works!. It's an eagle's eye view." I peered closely. "There's a fish just in front of that rock!"

Travis nodded knowingly. "Yep. You start fishing. I'll watch the screen and tell you if the steelhead moves to your fly. With this baby," he said pointing at the quadcopter, "we can find willing fish in minutes instead of taking two hours to blind-cast through the run."

I was beginning to feel uneasy, however. Somehow this seemed to take all the fun out of fishing. When you eliminate the uncertainty, you eliminate the magic. I had no time to voice my doubts, however, because Travis suddenly went white. "What's wrong?" I asked.

"It's Black Ops Bart," he said.

"Who? Where?"

Travis pointed up. A second quadcopter was moving quickly toward Travis's. This second 'copter was just like his but was painted black. It stopped and hovered near Travis's. I could see the camera on its underbelly. The camera swiveled until it pointed at our boat. An electronic voice said, "Beat it, Travis! This is my run now!"

"Like hell," Travis hissed through clenched teeth. He wiggled the remote control's joystick and his quadcopter dipped lower, then moved to the left. But the black 'copter followed it closely. No matter what action Travis took, the black 'copter matched it.

"I warned you!" came the voice from the black 'copter. I looked upstream and saw another driftboat coming around the corner. Like the second quadcopter, it was solid black. One man rowed; another stood, holding a remote control unit just like Travis's. I saw the man press a button. The black 'copter swayed briefly, then I saw a pencil-sized object flying through the air; a small jet of flame emitted from its backend.

"No!" Travis said. "No!" He moved the joystick wildly, but the tiny missile tracked his quadcopter's every move. Suddenly his 'copter exploded, and little shards of flaming plastic fell into the river.

"Don't do it!" I said. "Don't do it to the fish and the river!" I was shaking with emotion.

A distant voice said, "Wake up! Wake up, Scott! You're having a bad dream!"

I opened my eyes and saw my bedroom, dimly lit in the half-light of early morning. "What?"

"You were having a bad dream," my wife, Barbara, said. "You were moaning and saying, 'Don't do it! Don't do it!' So I woke you up. I hope that was okay. "

The dream was still vivid, and I related it to her.

"Well," she said. "Thank God people can't do things like that yet."

"Yeah," I said. "Thank God for that."

There was no point in going back to sleep, so I put on a bathrobe and shuffled to my computer. I was checking out a few things on Westfly when a Google Ad caught my eye; they come up randomly on Westfly, and I have little control over them. "Amazing New Quadcopter Teams with Go Pro Camera!" the ad proclaimed. "Bluetooth connection to iPad."

I clicked on the ad and watched a few promotional videos. A queasy feeling settled in my stomach. A little more googling around made me feel even worse. Everything in my dream seemed possible--today.

"Honey," I called down the hall. "I don't think I'm going fishing anymore. Where are my golf clubs?"

Scott Richmond is Westfly's creator and Executive Director. He is the author of eight books on Oregon fly fishing, including Fishing Oregon's Deschutes River (second edition).