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Oregon bus driver from a refugee family shares his love of the state's many rivers

Vu Tran comes from a family of Vietnamese refugees. Now he finds his home fishing along Oregon's many streams and rivers.

BEAVERTON, Ore. — Many of us head to the Oregon wilderness to escape into nature and enjoy the peace and solitude of the outdoors. Recently, we joined a refugee from war who loves to explore Oregon rivers with a rod and reel for the chance to discover big fish in new home waters. 

On any given weekday, up to 50 youngsters will step aboard Vu Tran’s #9002 bus for the ride to their school. Bus driver Tran calls his Route 160 a dream job with the Beaverton School District — and he calls himself “a teacher aboard a rolling classroom.”

“Good morning, friends! How are you guys? No pushing, no shoving, all to the back, please!” said the veteran bus driver, who greets each of the youngsters – many by name.

He added that it is the best work he’s ever had because it gives back to his community.

“Bus drivers are a gateway to their success! We are sometimes the first adult they see and the last adult they see," Tran said. "So, what we say to them can set the tone for their day or how we end their day at home with mom and dad.”

“Setting the tone” is important to a man whose own childhood was filled with uncertainty.

Vu is part of a refugee family who fled their homeland of Vietnam and landed in Oregon in 1979.

“We had to escape communism during the war. We were bounced around everywhere during the war; several different countries including Laos and Thailand," he recalled. "My mom’s family lost the family business … the communists took over everything.”

Vu credits his mom and dad for keeping everything together for the large family. Each parent worked several jobs at once to find and build their American dream.

Tran found something else along the way: a passion for Oregon’s outdoors, especially new home waters and the secrets the water holds. He was bitten by the fishing bug as a kid thanks to an uncle. That uncle took the youngster trout fishing at Lost Lake near Spruce Run Campground in the Oregon Coast Range.

Tran caught his first 12-inch rainbow trout at Lost Lake and soon discovered that bigger fish also live in his new home waters. He began to explore rivers like the Wilson and Trask that are home waters to big steelhead and salmon.

“They (steelhead) are called the fish of a thousand casts,” said Tran. “I found out early in my fishing career that it takes a lot of time and energy to get a steelhead to bite. It’s a lot of work.”

His persistence led to angling success and eventually an obsession. Tran admitted he is now addicted to steelhead fishing. Today, after more than 20 years of adrenalin-charged experiences with the ocean-going rainbow trout, he has the pictures to prove it too.

“How can you not smile when you’re out here fishing?" Tran said. "You drive down Highway 6 and there’s five different rivers you can fish. I can go down Highway 26 and there’s four more different rivers. We have so many choices! You can’t put a price on that.”

Nor can you put a price on Tran’s earned reputation as one of the region’s finest anglers and respected teachers.

Vu Tran speaks about fishing every chance he gets, and his enthusiastic lectures find few empty seats. He recently spoke to an eager crowd at the monthly meeting of the Tualatin Chapter of NW Steelheaders.

“I’d like to ask you guys, why do you fish? Love being outdoors?" He addressed the roomful of anglers. “Yes, that’s me too. I love being outdoors – it’s about seeing the colors, being in God’s country, that’s what it’s about for me.”

“When I first came to America, people helped our family through everything, getting on our feet, finding our first apartment and so much more," he continued. "For me, giving back to the community, helping out people, seeing people smile. I really enjoy that!  You can’t put a price on helping someone and seeing them smile; especially when it comes to fishing.”

Tran’s journey hasn’t been easy; there have been many twists and turns along his trail to reach new home waters, but he insists that one thing is certain:

“A lot of people sacrificed their lives to try and bring freedom to the Vietnamese community and the refugees. I don’t want to let them down; those men and women who sacrificed for my roots. I was given an opportunity to live the American dream and I’m going to seize it and make sure that I make everyone proud.”

Be sure to watch the weekly half hour program of Grant’s Getaways. The show airs each Saturday and Sunday at 4pm on KGW.

For something different, you can follow my Oregon adventures via the Grant’s Getaways Podcast. Each segment is a story-telling session where I relate behind the scenes stories from four decades of travel and television reporting.

You can also learn more about many of my favorite Oregon travels and adventures in the Grant’s Getaways book series, including:

The book collection offers hundreds of outdoor activities across Oregon and promises to engage a kid of any age.

You can reach me: Gmcomie@kgw.com

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