April2010

Spring Break, or rather Spring is Broken

WeatherForecast

I’d made plans a couple months earlier to get my son, Schpanky (The kid who never listens), out fishing with me during his Spring break. The boy started driving recently, and with a license comes ample opportunity to partake of a wide variety of endeavors – most of which do not involve the old man.  He has long since gotten past that age where kids still think their dad’s are cool, but we have a good relationship and he’ll still humor me by going fishing with me from time to time. My plan is to not let him stray too far from the fly rod as he enters the next phase of his life, in hopes that when he comes back to his senses as a young adult he’ll actually embrace the fly angling obsession fully of his own accord. That should guarantee that I’ll always have someone to row the drift boat I plan to buy once I’ve paid for his and his sister’s college educations.

To insure that my son wouldn’t have to put up with me correcting his casting strokes or telling him what to do in general, I booked the trip with Derek Young of Emerging Rivers Guide Services. Derek is a great teacher and a fun guy – I knew Schpanky would have a great time fishing under Derek’s tutelage while I quietly occupied the rear of the boat. As the date grew nearer, visions of mild sunny days danced in my head:  El Niño had done a stellar job of keeping our weather warmer and drier than normal throughout the winter and into early Spring.  Surely April 8th would reward us with a beautiful day on which to engage in some quality father-son bonding. Who knows – fishing should even be pretty good by then, too.

Jump ahead to the start of Spring break: the weather began on a sour note and grew more unsavory as the week droned on. It was colder than it should have been, and rain and wind incessantly beat down upon Western Washington. Snow accumulated in the mountains, making up for a relative lack of the white stuff earlier in the winter. While I acknowledged that this would be good for rivers come summer, selfishly I was pissed off. Early in the week the meteorologists were telling me that Thursday looked to be the worst day of the week, and of course Thursday was the day we had our fishing trip scheduled. Knowing that meteorologists are notorious for being 80% right 20% of the time, I felt confident that Thursday wouldn’t be as bad as they predicted. On Wednesday night I checked the weather forecast online.  Then I watched all 3 local TV networks, hoping to find one that would tell me what I wanted to hear. No matter the source, Thursday’s forecast didn’t bode well for shirt sleeves and dry fly fishing. Our destination was the town of Cle Elum, which lies on the eastern slopes of the Cascade range. The daytime high was predicted to be 38 degrees. A Winter Storm Warning was issued for the mountains, with 1-2 feet of snow expected and the snow level dropping to below 1000 feet by the end of the day. A High Wind Warning was posted for the east slopes of the Cascades, with winds of 35-45 mph and gusts above 50. Cle Elum lies smack dab in the heart of the east slope of the Cascades. Apparently, for once, the meteorologists were right. Damn them. I was in denial as I dutifully loaded our gear into the truck under the cloak of Wednesday night’s darkness.

The idea was to enjoy a day of fishing with my son. He’s fished enough to know that there’s more to fishing than catching fish, but the thought of sitting all day in a drift boat as a cold rain tests the limits of even the best foul weather gear, with a wind so fierce that casting becomes nearly impossible, pretty much left little opportunity for what I would call “fun”. And so like any real man would do, I called Derek and cancelled our plans.  And like any real man would also do, I’m passing the buck and blaming the meteorologists.

Note to Schpanky:

I’m sorry that Mother Nature was such a bitch and forced the cancellation of our trip – we’ll get it rescheduled as soon as possible. If there was even a remote chance that you still thought I had an ounce of cool left in me, I realize that’s surely gone now. While I hope you don’t regard me with contempt, I wouldn’t blame you if you lumped me into the same category as Ryan Seacrest wearing a kitty cat t-shirt.

I love you,

Dad

RyanSeacrest

Wrestling the Narcoleptic Goose, Part I

(Unlike yesterday’s April Fools fishtale, today’s offering is absolutely honest and truthful. Only names have been changed to protect the innocent)

Each Memorial Day weekend Marck leads the charge to fish the Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park. The list of participants changes somewhat from year to year, but no matter who is in attendance the event always begins with the 4 A.M. departure from Marck’s house on Friday. This means that I have to get up at 3 AM in order to make coffee and drive the 25 miles upstream from my home. Not surprisingly there’s little traffic at that God-forsaken time of day, and I feel bad for anyone else on the road that’s not headed to Montana for some fishing. The annual jaunt from the North Bend, WA to West Yellowstone, MT (a distance of 575 miles or 925.18 Kilometers) is not something one typically looks forward to: it is simply a means to an end. The drive had been far less than enjoyable two years prior as four of us were shoe-horned uncomfortably into my Jeep Cherokee, which lacked both cruise control and ample leg room for anyone other than myself. The next year I missed out on the trip because my daughter’s 4×400 relay team was competing in the state track meet, so Marck made the drive alone and had one of his best fishing days ever. So on this year it felt good to be heading back to Yellowstone: the Jeep was left behind and The Soccer Mom Express pulled out of Marck’s driveway right on schedule with Nash behind the wheel, Marck riding shotgun, and myself and Stan (not his real name) in the second row of seats. While Nash’s wife’s mini van might not be the vehicle a fisherman prefers to be seen in passing through Idaho and Montana, I have to admit that it was like traveling in first class, complete with beverage and snack service and movies on DVD. We made our typical stops in Coeur d’Alene, ID for gas and breakfast (which resulted in more gas), and then at the Rock Creek Lodge in Clinton, MT for a bathroom break and a Testicle Festival t-shirt. During the course of the long road trip we took turns behind the wheel, which allowed us to kill two birds with one stone: First, it offered everyone an opportunity to grab a nap; secondly it ensured that no one would be denied the pleasure of being seen driving a mini van through Idaho and Montana. I’m being sarcastic of course – but truth be told after the first hour I stopped hiding my face whenever we were passed by a 4×4 diesel pickup.

Not the actual van we were seen in.Yeah, that's right.

Even though the drive was as pleasant as this drive can possibly be, one tends to be a bit road weary after 12 hours in a car (okay, a mini van). A good night’s sleep would still be important because the next day would be a long one, spent walking several miles of river and fishing hard. Opening day of the fishing season on the Firehole can be epic so one wants to bring their A game, knowing that the water will be worked hard and a lot of it will be covered in a vain attempt to keep up with Marck’s catch rate. As we pulled into the parking lot of the Ho-Hum Motel in West Yellowstone straws were drawn to determine who would bunk with Stan. You see, there’s the little matter of Stan’s reputation as “one who snores” which mandates the annual drawing. I had successfully dodged that bullet on a previous trip, so I had no firsthand experience in dealing with his reputed snoring. However, one cannot tempt fate forever, and I was left holding the short straw this time. Not to worry, I was also reassured that Stan’s snoring used to be a lot worse before the surgery to repair whatever it was that was causing the snoring to have been so notorious.

To insure that which follows does not appear as an attack on his character, let me make it clear that Stan is the type of guy you know you’re going to like the first time you meet him. He’s unpretentious, easy-going, speaks his mind and has a great sense of humor. However, if you happen to draw the short straw a good portion of that appeal goes quickly by the wayside once the lights go out.

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Stan and Nash celebrate our arrival at the Ho Hum.

It should be noted that I am not one to fall asleep right away. My brain is just wired such that when I assume the horizontal position I begin to process typically useless information. While I may not be sound asleep, as long as it’s dark and quiet I’m still relaxing and recharging.  While this is my way, it is not Stan’s way. When Stan’s head hit the pillow that first night, his eyes immediately rolled back in his head, his jaw dropped open, and he was asleep. Not sort-of-asleep as in that magical happy place when you’re just slipping out of consciousness, but OUT as if having just been dropped to the canvas by a thundering blow to the chin and then placed into a rear naked choke. For a few glorious minutes all was quiet on the West Yellowstone Front. And then the storm began brewing.

Slow at first, and not snoring per se – just heavy breathing. After about 31 seconds of this the pace increased and simultaneous inhalation through both the nose and mouth commenced. With such a large volume of air being sucked through both orifices, things started to rattle inside Stan’s sinuses like the shutters on a house during a gale. As the force  of the storm increased, it sounded like something was going to tear loose at any minute and I lay there in shear amazement at what was happening in the bed 4 feet away. At this point I wasn’t yet annoyed – afterall we were only a couple of minutes into it. I was, rather, quite simply impressed. Then it subsided and became quiet again.  That wasn’t so bad, and I naively assumed I could probably fall asleep before another storm system rolled in. However, the next front blew in with unthinkable ferocity and apparently carried with it a flock of geese that landed on Stan’s bed and began a terrible ruckus; fighting, squawking and honking their honkers. It amazed me that Stan could sleep through the violence, so I did what any friend would do when their buddy is under attack: I threw a pillow at him. This didn’t wake him up, but it did seem to silence the geese. Temporarily.

geese

Within 10 minutes they were at it again, and in an act of self preservation I put the remaining pillow over my face and attempted to suffocate myself. I tried not to struggle, but the survival instinct kicked in and I tossed and turned and became hopelessly twisted in the bedsheets. Exhausted, at some point very late that night I managed to lose consciousness and catch a couple hours’ of oxygen-deprived shut-eye. I was just entering that period of deep REM sleep when the alarm went off at 5 AM and rudely jolted me back to conscious reality. Stan was bright-eyed and ready for the day: “Mornin’ Sunshine– how’d ya sleep?” he asked. I was feeling a little less than chipper as I sat on the edge of the bed trying to pry my eyes open so I could survey the damage. I suffer from a mild allergy to goose down, which causes me to get all congested and puffy in the face, and so I squinted through bloodshot eyes, fully expecting to find feathers and goose droppings–maybe even a carcass or two. To my surprise there was no sign of the carnage I had witnessed just a few short hours before. We dressed in warm clothes (there was a fresh skiff of snow on the ground), loaded our fishing gear into the Soccer Mom Express and headed to breakfast. Marck, Nash, Stan and I sat down to a hearty meal at a cafe known as the Three Bears. It seemed a cruel bit of irony that this place would be named after the fairytale in which Goldilocks sleeps peacefully through the night, and I couldn’t help but think that the place should have been called The Mother Goose Cafe. Three of the four of us were apparently well-rested and eager to chat about the day ahead, and somehow I managed to keep my eyes open between visits from our waitress, who saw my desperate need for a steady supply of coffee. Marck noticed that I wasn’t my normal chipper self, and in a tone that suggested great concern for my well being he asked, “What the hell happened to you?” I couldn’t give him an accurate answer because I myself wasn’t sure what had taken place in our motel room during the night. All I knew was that we had two full days of fishing the Firehole ahead of us, and I had one more night of fending off geese. I was looking forward to the fishing.

Tune in next week for Part II: Will the Unaccomplished Angler catch some quality shut-eye, and maybe a fish…?

Ode to April

I recently returned from a trip to British Columbia where I spent two weeks fishing the Skeena system. I hit every river on my BC bucket list, and can now die a happy man.  For those not in the know, the Skeena River is the second largest river in BC, and has a list of tributaries that read like a Fantasy Wish List: The Kispiox, Bulkley, Morice, Copper (yes the Copper River – the mere mention of which causes people to drive out of their way and spend ridiculous sums of money when the infamous King salmon from this river hit the Pike Place Market each year). If you’re not familiar with the area, the Skeena system is an all star lineup. Beautiful country, too.

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The chance to take a trip like this could be considered the pinnacle of one’s fishing career, and catching a monster steelhead from this river system might well be the ultimate feather in one’s lucky fishing cap. But for a guy like me it was just another few days on just another river, or two, or four: no big deal. I opted to forgo a professional guide, instead saving my pennies for daily filet mignon and 12 year old Scotch and the finest of Cuban cigars, which I enjoyed from the comforts of my brand new Earthroamer XV-LT, which I purchased specifically for this trip. Paid cash, too, since my royalties from book sales are astronomical ever since making Oprah’s Book Club and the New York Times’ Bestseller list. The Earthroamer is capable of going almost anywhere, and its offroad capabilities came in handy because I hit some weather on the drive north.

Earthroamer

As one might imagine, this vehicle garners a good bit of attention, and I had many curious folks ask to come aboard for a looksee.  While enjoying a beautiful early evening along the banks of the Kispiox, a rig pulled up and a very attractive young lady wearing an Olive the Woolly Bugger t-shirt and Goretex waders emerged from behind the wheel. I assumed she was stopping to eye the river and perhaps do a bit of fishing, but she actually stopped for the sole purpose of asking about the Earthroamer. Now I’m no dirty old man and this young lady was young enough to be my daughter (and Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler is reading this), so I didn’t invite her to stay for long.  But since she was already geared up, we decided to fish the run right below camp together. She was struggling a bit, so I gave her some casting and presentation instruction, which resulted in her hooking up with this cute little 17 lb hen.  Moments later I humbly landed one of my nicer fish on the Kispiox (a 40.75 lb buck).  Before she left, the young lady angler and I exchanged autographs, and I’ll be honest:  April Vokey looks even more beautiful in person than she does on the internet.  As she drove off I patted the fender of the Earthroamer and thought to myself, “Owning this thing is better than walking a puppy in a park on a summer day.” I’m sure I’ll have to sell it now that Mrs. UA has read this.

april_vokey_steelieAprilFools

I won’t bore you with the details of the fishing, but suffice it to say it was stellar. Actually, it was gluttonous. I quite honestly got sick of catching steelhead: 12 fish days were common, though on one day in particular I lost count after 23. By the end of the trip my hands were heavily calloused and I’d just about worn the cork off my Sage Z-Axis 7136. And speaking of the rod, the best thing of all on this trip was that my Spey casting was flawless – it was as if I was magically transformed into a gifted caster of masterful status. One morning another angler watched me from afar and snapped this photo of me in action. When I’d caught every fish out of that run and was making my way back to camp for a break, he waved me down and showed me the photo, which he later emailed to me.  “Don’t I recognize you from somewhere?  You’re Mike Kinney, aren’t you?”  I chuckled and replied, “No, but I get that a lot.”

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Tightlines to all – I hope you’re enjoying this first day of April.