YAKIMA, Wash. -- Even though he grew up in Yakima and lives in a house overlooking the Yakima River, it’s the Deschutes River that Randy Rice considers home.
No other place holds as many special memories for Rice, thanks to his father Dick’s fishing expedition business, R’s Outdoors, which Rice took ownership of in 1992. Rice’s wife and four children have all played a part in creating a unique experience for clients, many of whom end up feeling like part of the family after making the trips an annual event.
“I was exposed to it from my dad and from other mentors,” Rice said, noting he learned a lot from longtime guide and his father’s best friend, Skip Zapffe. “That kind of hooked me, for lack of a better term, into this game of fly-fishing and from that point on, the rest is history.”
Vacations growing up generally meant exploring various rivers throughout the Northwest, and he began working as a baggage boatman at the age of 15. Rice led kayaking trips as a teenager and honed his craft as a fly-fishing guide for trout on several other rivers, including the Yakima, the Grand Ronde, the Rogue and the Klickitat.
Eventually he returned to working mostly on the Deschutes, where longtime clients like Andy Martinkus marvel at Rice’s ability to find fish in any situation. The West Valley graduate who turned 50 last week attributes most of that skill to experience after so many summers spent on the river’s lower 100 miles.
“He’s been on that river for nearly his whole life,” said Martinkus, the chief operating officer of Western Materials in Yakima. “So if something’s not going according to plan it does not take him long to adjust his playbook to make it work. He just knows.”
He spends about six days a week on the Deschutes for 21/2 months from June to August, guiding many first-time anglers as well as those who have been taking trips with Rs Outdoors for decades. Some clients carry on the tradition established by their fathers, who joined Zapffe and Dick Rice every year on the river.
Although Rice considers it a second job, he recognized the need for full-time employment between each summer and went to college for a degree in biology and special education. Over the last 25 years as a teacher at Wilson Middle School, he’s learned many of the characteristics necessary to teach those wanting to fly-fish also applied to middle school biology students.
“Every one of them’s different and being able to cater to that difference is what makes somebody a good teacher,” Rice said. “If they can cater to that difference and fill those gaps and those needs where they need to be filled and then move on from there, the next step, it’s no different in fly-fishing than it is with teaching metamorphosis or some piece of biology.”
He’s also spent the last seven years as the coach of the Selah Claybusters, a shooting team formerly associated with Selah High School. All four of his children competed on the team, which practices once a week — twice in the weeks leading up to the state championship — and competes in four events each year.
Rice also spends a lot of time hunting and appreciates that his various outdoors activities require plenty of understanding and support from his family, especially Karen, his wife of 26 years. She works full-time as a physical therapist and still manages to handle accounting as well as some customer communications for Rs Outdoors, not to mention the time-consuming task of caring for four children largely by herself over the summer.
“Some of the customers say you’re the luckiest guy, you fish for a living,” Rice said. “What they don’t realize is the sacrifice of an outfitter. I’ve missed out on a lot of stuff that my kids have done in the summer.”
Daughters Megan and Alli prepared meals for the all-inclusive three-day trips until they left for college, and Lauren continues that family tradition as she prepares for sixth grade at Selah Middle School. Rice’s son, Jon, will be a sophomore at Selah High this fall and began working as a baggage boatmen last summer.
He works with one of Rice’s nephews and enjoys the time spent out on the river for a labor-intensive job that features going ahead to set up camp and cooking dinner so it’s ready when the three or four guides and six to nine customers arrive. Rice said some customers have already asked Jon if he’ll be guiding trips on the Yakima River soon.
“It’s fun,” Jon said. “No one else does it in my school so it’s not really something you can relate to with other people, but I’m probably making more money than anybody else at my school.”
Two weeks ago Martinkis caught perhaps more trout than he’s seen in almost 20 years on his annual trip with Rice on the Deschutes. The reasons Martinkis keeps going back go far beyond just good fishing, highlighted by an atmosphere where everyone feels like family.
That environment became even more special to Rice about five years ago, when he needed neck surgery for two disk replacements in his surgical spine. He credits Karen for finding the right medical treatment to help him overcome fears of never being healthy enough to guide again, and just six months after the operation, he felt close to 100 percent.
It’s hard for Rice to imagine a summer without 14 to 16 three-day trout trips, typically along 35 miles of the Deschutes from near Madras north to Maupin. Many of the details, including every meal, remain exactly the same each time, but every expedition yields its own irreplaceable moments.
“Some of my best memories are people’s first nice fish, and then I’ve got tons of memories of having my family out there,” Rice said. “Having my dad and my son out there at the same time, and my brother — it doesn’t get any better than that.”