July2010

A not fishing vacation.

Recently I, or rather we (my family) embarked on a family vacation that had absolutely nothing to do with fishing. Last year we also took a family vacation but somehow a couple of rods and reels made it into the roof pod for that trip. What was even more strange was that my son and I stole an afternoon to wet a line on the Fall River in Central Oregon. Not so this year. Yes, we were destined for a lake, but not a lake that’s fly fishing friendly, per se. So this year the fly rods were left safely at home – I didn’t want the temptation to interfere with good, clean family fun.  Read my lips: no fishing.  Not even the thought of it.  Well, OK, the thoughts can’t be turned off, but without a single piece of tackle along for the trip there would be no temptation to go fishing and I would instead turn my attention toward my family. Without the distraction of fishing or anything fishing related.

We left home and drove east on Hwy 2 over Stevens Pass, following the course of Skykomish River, with it’s run of summer steelhead, to its headwaters in the Cascade mountains.  As we crested the summit and descended the eastern slopes, our course paralleled the Wenatchee River, with it’s run of salmon and summer steelhead.  Paying no mind, we set the nose of the Unaccomplished Family Truckster north on Hwy 97, following the mighty Columbia River. I barely glanced at the river and certainly gave no thought to the impressive numbers of returning Sockeye Salmon and steelhead that were making their way upriver over the many dams.  I was focused on other things, and in the similar fashion of many fathers on vacation I like to point out interesting landmarks and explain mysterious rock formations.

As we passed one particular area the children in the back seat (ages 16, 18 and 20) took a break from their iPods and iPhones and marveled with great wonder at the vibrant red rocks alongside the road.  Breaking into my best Chevy Chase-as-Clark Griswald imitation, I explained that it was iron content in the basalt which gave it the red coloring to the rock. Immediately we noted the same red coloring spread across the highway like spilled paint, and Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler quickly pointed out that it was “flame retardant” from the recent wildfire in Swakane Canyon. The fire had been on the news recently and had luckily been extinguished.  Not one to be outdone, I reminded her that the politically correct term was for the flame extinguishing chemical was “fire discouragement”.  Ha!  How do you like me now Mrs. Smarty Pants? We rode in awkward silence for another 45 minutes before arriving at Lake Chelan.

The lake itself is a 50-mile long, deep and crystal clear mountainous beauty that does have Lake Trout for those willing to dredge, but as I said it would not be my destination with fly fishing in mind. The third deepest lake in the United States, Chelan is nearly 1500 ft at its deepest, and last I checked my sinking line was only 100 feet long, with another 70 yards of backing. Even if I could reach the bottom with a type VI full sinker, at a sink rate of six inches per second it would take 3000 seconds to do so, and who has that kind of time to spare?  Especially on a family vacation where there would be no fishing. If so inclined, as was Josh Mills recently, one can also take a boat and head north on a quest to find Cutthroat in some of the tributaries, but in order to do so you’d have to be on a fishing vacation, which I was not. We were there for a few days of sun and relaxation as a family.  No fishing.

We checked into our Lake Chelan Shores rental condo that was decorated in a manner that screamed “19-eighty something”. It was clean and plenty nice: the owners simply hadn’t put a nickel into updating anything save for the 48 inch flatscreen TV on the wall.  Priorities, I guess.  As we stowed our gear I was quick to notice a rather large bug resting on the track of the sliding glass door leading to the small deck.  It was large (the bug, not the deck), and quite alive.  Grabbing it gingerly by the upright wings, I studied it carefully, declared it to be a handsome example of a Hexagonia Mayfly, and set if free outside. I barely even made a mental note that it was a prized piece of trout food.  On this particular vacation it was just another bug as far as I was concerned.

As we stocked the cupboards with dried food and filled the fridge with beverages and perishables, I noted that in the otherwise disjointed décor of the unit, a peculiar decorative tile hung in the kitchen.  The image was clearly some sort of trout – perhaps intended to be a brown trout, although the artist had taken great liberties with color so it was more of a blue trout.  Without any other fish-related décor, I was dumfounded as to the presence of this particular example.  Perhaps the owner was a fisherman – perhaps a trout fisherman? I quickly put the notion out of my head and got back to the business of vacationing with my family.

We headed to the pool for an hour of sunning, and since I’m too restless to sit in the sun with nothing else to do I brought with me the book my kids had given to me for Father’s Day. It was my goal for the week to completely read Backcast (by Lou Ureneck) because at home I rarely take time to read. On my nightstand at home I have a backlog of books (all fly fishing related) I keep intending to get to.  My problem is that I’m a bad reader.  To be clear, I’m actually good at reading, but I become fully engrossed in a good book and therefore my social skills take a beating.  Backcast was a great book, by the way, and I fear that I wasn’t completely engaged in our family vacation during the several hours per day I spent reading.  But I was there in body if not in mind, which is more than had it been a fishing vacation. Just as there is more to fishing than catching fish, there’s much more to Backcast than just fly fishing.

The next day we ventured to a different pool that was much closer to the lake.  I’m not a pool guy, much preferring to swim in a natural body of water.  However, I didn’t want to alienate Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler so I accompanied her to the pool to spend some quality time together, sharing some rare but meaningful conversation. I also had my book, so in retrospect I may not have been the most engaging conversationalist. After a good solid hour of reading chatting I decided to cool off in the pool.  As I slipped into the water I noticed a spent bug floating on the surface of the chlorinated pond.  What should it be other than another Hex! I scooped the waterlogged Mayfly from the waters hoping to revive it, to no avail.  I hate to see a good piece of trout food go to waste like that but there were no trout in the pool, brown trout or otherwise.  I momentarily considered carrying the spent bug to the lake to offer it up to a fish, but thought better of it.  I did, however, venture down to the lake for a very refreshing dip in the crystal clear blue waters.  The children were frolicking in the swimming area so I spent a little quality time with them before returning to my book poolside wife.  It felt good to be relaxing without anything to do. Time was on my side and I could choose to do whatever or as little as I wanted.  The only thing I couldn’t do was go fishing.

The next day Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler’s sister and husband joined us for dinner at a fancy winery and vineyard just outside the town of Chelan.  Tsillan Cellars is perched on a hillside looking north with an expansive view of the lake and the mountains to the west. For those who don’t speak the language of the Native Americans from this region, Tsillan is the native spelling of Chelan, which I think means “family destination” though I could be wrong (actually it means “deep water”). Tisllan Cellars offers quite a beautiful setting and the manicured grounds are surrounded by rows of grape vines on 3 sides. We sampled some wines as we waited for our table to be readied for our meal.  I’m not much of a wine guy, preferring low grade beer over grape juice. Having said that I do enjoy a an occasional glass of red (no particular variety – just red will do).

The dinner menu provided by Sorrento’s Ristorante was inviting, but something caught my eye: The “Atlantic King Salmon”.  The vein in my forehead began to pulsate as I announced to my dinner companions that there was no such thing: it was either Atlantic or King Salmon, but it could not be both.  My sister-in-law declared that whatever it was, she was ordering it.  When the waiter came to take our orders I inquired as to the salmon entrée.  “I don’t mean to be a wise guy,” I stated up front, “but can you tell me if the salmon is Atlantic or King? Because it cannot be both.”  The waiter was clearly not prepared for such an inquiry, so Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler stepped in and apologized. “You’ll have to excuse my husband – he’s a fisherman.”  I wanted to chime in and add, “Actually I’m an Unaccomplished Angler on a non-fishing vacation,” but the words would not come out.  The waiter stammered as he explained that the fish was probably Atlantic because that’s all they buy.  Outrageous!  Here we were within a short distance of a river teeming with record numbers of Pacific Salmon and all they offered was Atlantic Salmon?! Farm raised, no doubt.  I opted to not break into a tirade about that and instead simply ordered the Prime Bone-In Ribeye, medium rare.  It was excellent, and by the time dinner had concluded the vein in my forehead pulsed at a normal rate.

After dinner we strolled around the grounds, admiring the elaborate waterfall and circular stream that contained several fish.  Not trout, although the artificially oxygenated water would likely have provided a nice habitat for some stocked rainbows. I grabbed my waterproof Olympus Stylus 1030 SW camera and snapped a few photos of the Koi. No doubt the other guests who were watching me wondered what the strange man was doing on his hands and knees with one arm submerged in the fake stream.  For a moment I forgot where I was and fancied myself on a mountain stream in the Idaho Bitterroots (where I was this same time the last two years before), fishing for stupid Westslope Cutthroat trouts. I came to my senses and remembered I was on a family vacation, far from any fishing destination.

The remainder of the vacation was relatively without fishing-related incident, although on our second to last morning one of the children proclaimed that a vehicle had been defaced in the parking lot, and accused me of being the culprit.  I went out to investigate, and to my surprise and delight, a red Jeep Grand Cherokee bearing University of Washington plates and a dusty back window had been tagged by a dust artist.  Scribed with a finger on the rear window were the words, “Go Cougars!!”  You see, in the state of Washington there is a long-standing rivalry between the good salt-of-the-Earth folk who root for the Washington State University Cougars and the polar opposite people who root for the University of Washington Huskies.  I smiled when I saw the dust graffiti, but what really caught my eye, and thus the accusation that I was behind the defacing act, was the stick figure of an angler casting a long looping line with a dry fly attached to the opposite end.  Eager to strike the fly was a rather large trout: clearly a rainbow by the lateral stripes down its flanks. Knowing that I am an artist, a WSU card-carrying Alum and a fly angling person, any jury would have convicted me and sentenced me to a life of wine drinking and no fishing.  It took all the pleading I could muster to convince my family that I was not responsible.  Word to whomever was responsible: You deserve a pat on the back.  You’re my kind of person, and I hope you enjoyed a nice  vacation. A family vacation that did not have a single thing to do with fishing.

Fly Fishing is a stickery business.

It’s been said that the type of car one drives says a lot about that person. That may be true to some degree, but the stickers that one adheres to their car say even more about that person.  Many people put stickers/decals on their cars to show an allegiance to a cause, or dedication to a brand or product, or simply to make a statement (which sometimes they ought not do – just sayin’). As a micro sampling of society, fly angling folks seem to be even more prone to the practice of decorating with decals than any other group of peoples, except maybe surfers.  But I digress. Even with fly fishing folks it’s a generalization that all are sticker-hoarders because clearly not all who angle with a fly slather their vehicles with adhesive-backed messages.  However, many do and that is the focus of my report.

I’ve had a few stickers on my vehicles over the years, but until recently I kept the habit in check.  The downward spiral started innocently enough when I purchased a 2003 Toyota Tacoma that came complete with a Leer canopy on the back. That rear canopy window was prime real estate just waiting for development, and the vast empty expanse of glass taunted me. Being desciplined, I started slowly and tastefully with a lone Sage sticker applied top center. When my buddy Marck went and applied a much larger Sage sticker to his Toyota Forerunner, I got competitive and devised a plan: my mission became that of, “Marck ‘s may be bigger, but I’ll have more.” And so began my quest for domination. I like to rep the local fly fly shop, so on went an All About The Fly decal. Next I decided I should fly the colors of the Coastal Conservation Association and the Euro-style STLHD sticker from Moldy Chum to profess my fondness for the anadromous fishes.  That trifecta provided a nice clean look: simple, balanced.  Being a graphic designer I like order, and design principals call for odd-numbered groupings (such as 3 and 5). Three was good, so 5 would be better, right?  Simple algebra, so a couple more were applied. Then came the annual  trip to Montana and Yellowstone Park which resulted in a couple more stickers from the Stonefly Inn & Outfitters and Blue Ribbon Flies. I paused to take stock of what was happening on the canopy glass and reassured myself that it wasn’t too bad. So I added a couple more.

Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler took notice and commented on the growing collection. “I see you got some new stickers,” she said in a tone that was clearly one of judgment being passed more than a simple observation being made. I shrugged it off as jealousy and went about sifting through the stash of stickers I had collected over time but never applied. I extracted a few strategic samples and placed them in an orderly arrangement flanking the perimeter of the window glass. I told myself that as long as I maintained an order I wasn’t out of control. Soon after that I got my hands on an Airflo sticker that didn’t fit neatly into the existing arrangement so I put it where I could and acknowledged that it marked the beginning of chaos. Mrs. UA now just rolls her eyes each time she notices a new sticker.

But I am not completely alone in this strange obsession, and misery loves company. Today I’ll take a look at a few folks – some of whom I know in person, others whom I know virtually in the interweb sorta way – all of whom are passionate about fly fishing and have something to say about the stickers on their vehicles. Disclaimer: It is the responsibility of the press to report the news, not impart opinion or edit facts to suit the personal needs of the reporter. To that end I have not edited any of the information, nor do I necessarily agree or disagree with what has been stated by others. Edward R. Murrow would be proud, for journalistic integrity is not dead.

Mike Nutto: Scandalous Fly Fishing Brothers blog

“I only have companies I think are good on my truck. There is a ton of garbage out so I wont support them. I wouldn’t even support them if they asked me to be sponsored by them! So it is like that when it comes to stuff on my truck. I try a lot of stuff out and if it fails me once I’ll take the sticker off my truck, I have a Ross Reel sticker on my computer. I hate my Ross Reel so much and I hate that the sticker is on my computer now so I’m slowly covering it up!”

A fly fishing sticker on a computer is cool. However, a computer sticker on a fly fishing vehicle is not. I love my Apple G5, but I’m not putting an Apple sticker on my truck. I’m not one to judge, but I will say that I’ve got several Ross Reels and I’ve not had any issues. In fact, I like ’em all. Making a product that can stand up to the rigorous demands of every hardcore fisherman is a tall order. Speaking of tall, our next featured fisherman is Josh Mills.

Josh Mills: Chucking Line and Chasing Tail

“I have to keep it somewhat classy in the advertising field… so I keep my logo’s to three:

1.  The Silver Bow–my buddy’s fly shop in town, and a really cool logo if I must say
2.  Moldy Chum’s steelhead logo…cause it’s all I want to fish for
3.  The original Moldy Chum fly…cause I dig it and it looks classy. I also added the license plate holder.  My wife says that if I add more, a line will have been crossed – the invisible one that separates normal from nutty.”  [Josh also sent along a photo of the sticker collection belonging to his father, Old Man River, who reportedly out-fishes Josh every time they go out.]

Classy?  What’s that? Cross that line, Josh.  Throw caution to the wind and publicly jump into the waters of nuttiness –the water’s fine!

Which raises an interesting point: When is too much of a good thing a bad thing? As far as I am concerned, never. Unless the mass of stickers becomes so dense that the driver can no longer see out the rear window of their rig.  One way to avoid that is to apply the stickers to the side windows, like Cameron Mortenson has done.

Cameron Mortenson: The Fiberglass Manifesto and Fishy Kid

“At last count I have almost fifty decals on the vehicle which represent TFM and Fishy Kid sponsors, friends, or just companies that I think are doing a good thing.  The badged-out Element has been a great conversation starter and a way to spread the word about Fishy Kid and TFM.”

Roger that, Cameron. Your rig certainly would be worthy of inquisition – great job with Fishy Kid and thanks for the photos.

Speaking of photos, the next offering was provided by Rich Schaff, who takes some amazing photos, and not just of his stickered truck.

Rich Schaff: East Fork Fly Photography

“You guessed right I’m a ’DECAL FREAK’…figured it safer than getting actual tattoos and earrings at my age. Guess they are a mid-life crisis sorta thing anyways… Guess we just want to
stay as immature as long as possible…Hope that’s a good thing.”

Yeah, Rich, I’d say it’s a good thing. And your immaturity makes me feel better about myself. I like the rationale that stickers are perhaps a safer choice than tats or piercings.

You won’t find body art anywhere on our next guest, even though my buddy Large Albacore is big enough that he could host a full size tattoo of the Space Needle on his back if he were so inclined.

Large Albacore:

“The STLHD, Airflo, and spey sticker are all about my love of fishing for steelhead w/ the two handed rod.  The other stickers, UA/Ross Reels/Winston rods are all my attempt to promote quality fishin’ stuff in my small way.  Overall, they communicate that a large part of my life/identity is tied up in fly fishing.  Kind of sick when I think about it.”

I’m not sure how the UA sticker qualifies for “quality fishin’ stuff” status, but thanks for flyin’ the colors. As for it being kind of sick, I would have to disagree. It seems a rather healthy indulgence if you ask me.

And for some like Derek Young, the indulgence isn’t just a personal thing, it’s professional advertising.

Derek Young: Emerging Rivers Guide Services and Fly Fish the Yakima

“To me, my stickers represent a few things. I’m proud to be the only Orvis Endorsed Guide here in WA, and I fly those flags proudly. I also think conservation is important, so I support TU and CleanAngling.org. But, and it’s reflected in my blog, my stickers (I think, anyways) signal my inclusion in the fly fishing culture that I am proud of, and it’s a personal signature of who I am.”

Just when you thought that fly fishing culture was reserved for just fishermen, our next featured angler is girl and an outdoors person through and through. You might even call her an outdooress…

Rebecca Garlock: The Outdooress

“I just got a the new FishCruiser a couple of weeks ago =) About the stickers. I’ve only put one on so far. I recently bought a new Waterworks-Lamson reel and it came with a sticker, so the timing gets credit for the first sticker placement. I plan on slapping a few more on the rig since I figure if I’m going to have an official FishCruiser, I might as well make it look the part. Now I just need to buy more crap so I can get more stickers. An angler can always find a legit excuse for buying new gear right? I should mention I’m also taking sticker placement applications, so if you want the official Unaccomplished Angler sticker on the FishCruiser you can submit the proper paperwork for review.”

Done. Anyone else who wants to apply for representation should contact Rebecca for the paperwork. I can vouch that it’s an easier application process than applying for a building permit.

In sticking with our female contingency, next up is a woman who can outcast most anybody – man or woman – with a Spey rod. I observed Mia Sheppard casting at the Jimmy Green Memorial Fly Fishing Expo and it made me realize I’m not a real Spey caster, no matter how long my rod.

Mia Sheppard: Little Creek Outfitters and Metalheads blog

“Our cars are pretty stickerless currently. Our old guide truck use to be covered in stickers.” But her husband’s ammo can is certainly worthy of mention.

Unfortunately no photos were available of the old guide truck. I hope you get those cars stickered up, Mia– the ammo can shouldn’t have all the fun.

Interesting that the subject of ammunition has come up, because Pat Konsoke applied one of his stickers to deter break-ins.

Pat Konoske: Fishing for Words

Zero Limit (http://www.catchrelease.com/) – While I do subscribe to catch and release, the hope is that advertisement of this principle will allow my car to go unmolested on waters away from home and guarded by fanatical fly fishermen.

Diablo Valley Fly Fishermen logo (http://www.diablovalleyflyfish.org/) – Carefully placed in acknowledge of my turning away from the dark side. This is the club through which I attended an all-day fly fishing class, and for which I now serve as secretary and webmaster. (I never did learn to keep my head down.)

California Department of Fish & Game Warden Stamp (http://www.dfg.ca.gov/wardenstamp/) – The first California Game Warden stamp, from which the $5 cost supposedly goes into a special fund supporting game wardens. True or not, it warms my heart that in some small way I may be helping protect our resources. I figure in a few years, among the outdoor sports crowds, it’ll be like the now common “KMA” license plate frames of today. (KMA refers to the prefix of FCC callsigns for many law enforcement agencies.)

That’s my story…”

Nicely stated, Pat- what are you, a writer or something? I see and appreciate your reason for the Zero Limit sticker. Allow me to suggest a firearm sticker not in lieu of but in addition to your Zero Limit sticker for discouraging break-ins. Nothing scares a tweaker faster than an “Insured by Smith & Wesson” sticker.

I wouldn’t wish a break-in upon anyone, but if you were to be granted a welcome entry into the trailer of Rocky Maley, you would be in for a treat. I’ve only seen photos of the inside, and it’s awesome. The outside is like a billboard on wheels.

Rocky Maley: Fly Tier extraordinaire

“I bought it to tie in. It would be a lot cheaper than an addition to the house. And it’s easier than tent camping on fishing trips. I put the stickers on to add character to it.”

Not only cheaper, Rocky, but a whole lot cooler than an addition to the house, too because you can take your tying room with you on the road.

And if that road takes you in the vicinity of Ashton, Idaho, make sure you look up our next guest, Marc “Rowdy” Crapo.

Marc Crapo: Fly Wallets and No Sports Allowed

“I’ve held off for many years when it comes to putting decals on my rig. I hate to advertise for anyone unless they are legit and badass, a sponsor, and or (of course) me.”

Rowdy, you’ve got high, if not impossible standards! Guess those high standards are why your fly wallets kick so much butt.

Anyway, there you have it – a few perspectives from folks who are stuck on fly fishing and fly fishing’s stuck on them (or at least their cars). Fly fishing is more than just a sport, it’s a culture. It consumes and defines many who venture into it, and we fly the flags of our obsession proudly.

It’s no coincidence that this hot topic is being discussed elsewhere as we speak.  Take a click over to  Fishing for Words AND Fly Fish the Yakima for more on this matter of the fascination with fly fishing stickers.

PS– if you have some vacancy on your fishing rig, drift boat or tricycle, please consider adding an Olive the Woolly Bugger sticker. All proceeds go to support Casting 4 A Cure to help find a cure for Rett Syndrome and support those families dealing with this terrible disease. They’re available over at Myflies.com.

The Unaccomplished Wiggler?

I wasn’t aware until recently that I’m famous.  I doubt you’ll guess why, because I myself was quite surprised. No, it’s not because I’m a professional athlete (that would be Kurt Warner, or even Curt Edward Warner).  Nor is it because I’m a business tycoon – those who know me know that I am not of the Werner fame behind Werner Ladders, Werner Paddles , or even Werner Enterprises. I do own a Werner ladder, however, and I have always enjoyed the fact that I never had to put my name on it because it was already prominently displayed there. Once when I was in line to purchase a lift ticket at Stevens Pass the nice lady in the ticket booth asked if I was the Werner behind the paddles.  My reply obviously disappointed her because she wasn’t nearly so pleasant after learning that I was just a non-paddling commoner. As for Werner Enterprises, I’ve always admired their trucks but don’t even have so much as a commercial driver’s license, let alone a controlling vote on their board of directors.

If you guessed that my fame comes from being a best-selling author of fly fishing books you’d be wrong again because I haven’t quite yet reached that status (although I did have my ten minutes of fame a couple of years ago). But like the river temperatures in summer, you’re getting warmer because I am famous for something having to do with fishing: it would seem I’m famous for a line of fishing bait.  That’s right, Werner’s Wigglers.

My non-fishing friend “Big Fritter” was recently on a week-long bike ride up into Canada. No, he’s not a middle-aged over achiever so instead of pedals and 15 gears, his bike has a V-twin engine and a Harley Davidson badge on the gas tank (and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t wear neon spandex while he rides, either). After a less than welcoming stay (due to weather) north of the border, he and his biker gang cut a swath of terror as they rode south through Glacier National Park and into Northern Idaho, striking fear into innocent families on summer vacations. As Fritter and his band of rogue compadres rumbled through the vicinity of Sandpoint, Idaho, they stopped for some reason unbeknownst to me – perhaps to guzzle beer, beat up the locals and steal their women. Probably it was just to buy some gas and use the restroom.  Whatever the case may have been, Fritter snapped a photo of  simple sign in the window of a convenience store – photo that would forever change my life.

Like all kids I spent a fair amount of time dangling worms under a bobber, and even though I caught my fair share of fish I never really enjoyed that method of fish deception all that much. Even armed with the knowledge that fish would rather take a chunk of fleshy bait over a synthetic insect imitation any day, fly fishing captured my heart and soul and to this day defines who I am. Not being a bait angler suits me just fine. I mean, who besides porn seekers would read a blog titled “The Unccomplished Worm Dangler”? No porn here, other than the very occasional fish porn.

I find it highly ironic that the slogan for Werner’s Wigglers is: “Try ‘Em You’ll Like’m, The Fish Do”. In my last three outings, I’ve been skunked (and only one of those trips was for steelhead, in which case one expects to not catch fish). Clearly the fish don’t much care for me and it would appear that I am not worthy of the Wiggler name. Perhaps I should invent a really fishy looking pattern that’s a cross between a San Juan Worm and a Woolly Bugger, tied on an articulated hook, and call it the Werner Wiggler!  Nah, I don’t want to be famous for copyright infringement either.

Regardless of my fishing prowess or lack thereof, here I am – famous (if even mistakenly so) for night crawlers and red tiger worms, cured bait such as Prongs and Coontails, frozen bait (sardines, smelt and herring) and even meal worms and maggots.  Yes, maggots. Had I known all this before, the character in my books might have been Maggie the Maggot instead of Olive the Woolly Bugger. Hey now– there’s idea for another book (by Kirk Werner)!

In the meantime I wonder if I can get a pro form deal on some Werner’s Wigglers?

It’s so hot the fish are carping.

I’m taking the week off from posting my weekly blog entry.  It’s not for a lack of material, mind you – I always have a couple bits of backup drivel ready to go just in case I develop a case of blogger’s block.  No, my decision to forgo this week’s offering is weather related.

After 3 months of broken Spring weather that saw a total of 5 days of sun in April, May and June, and temperatures that were 5-10 degrees below average with more rain that we needed, we Pacific Northwesterners have finally climbed out of our rut.  The 4th of July was cloudy and cool and ended on a sour, rainy note.  As is so often the case, summer seemed to finally arrive on July 5th, and after that it was official: we were headed toward a “heat wave” of sorts. The hottest day of the week is supposed to be Thursday July 8th, when the Seattle area should see temperatures in the MID NINETIES!!!

While that may not sound hot to those of you currently sweltering in other parts of the country, please realize that we here in the Puget Sound region are admittedly weather wimps.  We bitch when the temperature gets below freezing, and we bellyache when it gets above 85. But it’s not really our fault – we’re simply victims of environmental circumstance. One reason for our complaining is simply the physical inability to tolerate it. We’ve become acclimated to fairly mild weather here; everything seems to be in moderation so when that happy medium is violated things go horribly awry (one such manifestation of this weather-induced chaos is that we seem to lose all common sense and the ability to drive our vehicles).

Another reason for our inability to tolerate more-or-less-than-average weather can be blamed on the local television stations. The newscasters turn any unusual weather into front page news, and we the people simply have no choice but to follow suit. The result is that people talk of nothing but weather, and most often it takes the form of complaining.

It’s actually quite amusing the way the local network affiliates assign pet names for our weather events around here.  Snow storms become something much more daunting when named “Winter Blast” or “Artic Freeze”.  Wind storms, while they may not warrant first names like those given to Hurricanes, take on a certain persona when labeled ” The Hanukkah Eve Wind Storm of 2006″ or the “Inauguration Day Storm” (1993). Similarly, an unusually spell of warm weather, even if only 2-3 days in duration (like this one), begs to be named.  The local Fox affiliate (Q13) actually had a reader contest to name this latest “heat wave” (which they admit does not actually constitute an actual heat wave).  People submitted names, the powers that be voted, and it has been declared “Quick Fry in July”. I admit, it’s kinda catchy although I would have preferred simply “The July Fry” which was conceived of by a friend of a friend on Facebook. I would have submitted “Seattle Sizzler” but there’s more to the Northwest than just Seattle (although it sure seems as though Seattle controls politics around here). But I digress.

So yes, it’s going to get a little warm for our pale gray, moss-covered maritime hides. But you won’t find me complaining. Au contraire, I actually look forward to extreme weather events because it’s more interesting than the bland weather we have most of the time.  When our barometer either plunges or skyrockets, we can rest assured that we are in for some of the finest news-based entertainment available.  And some of that entertainment comes in the form of Jim Forman, reporter for the local NBC affiliate, KING 5.  “Danger Jim” as he is affectionately known in some circles, is the go-to guy when every other reporter is cowering under their desk in the newsroom. It would appear that Mr. Forman is the last bastion of bravery – the one reporter whom the news director can count on in a weather crisis. You’ll find Danger Jim in the eye of the hurricane, directly in the path of an avalanche, standing toe-to-toe with a PMSing Mother Nature as she gets her rage on. I always feel a little better knowing that Danger Jim is on duty, and with the mercury headed north, I can rest easy knowing he’ll be on location (probably at an asphalt plant wearing a black sweater and asbestos trousers) risking his own safety for that of others. I just hope he’s got his Smartshield sunscreen. Be safe, Jim.

In all seriousness (because I realize severe weather can be detrimental to one’s health and well being), I hope all 7 of my loyal readers are staying relatively comfortable in this sweltering onslaught of summer. I’ve decided that the best way for me to endure the hottest day of the year thus far is to go fishing. The Yakima River showed her cold shoulder last time, so I hope she’s warmed up a little.  It could reach 100 degrees in the Yakima Canyon tomorrow, but that’s OK – it’s a dry heat.

So there you have it – my blog this week is giving way to the heat. I just wouldn’t be fair of me to expect any of you to sit in front of your heat-generating computer monitors reading things you can certainly do without.  In fact, I recommend you power-down your laptops and desktops completely. With all the fans and AC units working overtime to keep the peace we don’t want to have to contend with a power brown out, although it would be fun to see what name the news stations would assign to that.

A Tribute to Muddy Waters

Cold Weather Blues

A couple of months ago while my kids were on Spring Break, my son and I were scheduled to spend a day bonding with fly rods in our hands.  I’d made arrangements for Schpanky and I to float the Yakima River with Derek Young of Emering Rivers Guide Services, and we’d been looking forward to Spring Break and the fishing trip for quite some time. To make a long story short, Spring was broken. Mother Nature showed her dark side and the trip was called off the night before due to winter-like weather. Come Hell or high water, I was determined to get the lad out on the water sooner or later, so we rescheduled for a later time when school was out and summer weather would prevail. So we waited for two months and endured a very cold, wet Spring in the process. For those who like to dwell on the negative, the Seattle area enjoyed 0 days of sunshine in April 2010, 2 days of sunshine during of May 2010, and up until the 21st of the month, only 1 day of sunshine for June 2010. The new date for our trip was June 22nd, and when the day finally arrived it looked as though Mother Nature would finally smile upon us. We needed some sun and some good fishing, and because the high summer flows had not yet begun, the promise of good conditions and maybe some Salmonflies had us jonesin’ to go.  At least me, that is.

I’s Be Troubled

The night before our trip, Schpanky had gone to bed early and ended up logging 14 hours of shut-eye.  While it’s not uncommon for a 16 year-old to spend a good majority of their time unconscious, the early retreat signaled that something beyond growing bones and overactive hormones was amiss.  When I awakened him on the morning of our trip his bedroom smelled of death. Fortunately that was just the odor from the pile of dirty cloths lying on the floor. His vital signs were strong, though it was clear that he was not feeling well. This was troubling, but there would be no canceling the trip again. Like any good parent I doped him up with some Tylenol Cold, vitamins and a couple shots of Dry Fly whiskey. OK, not really – it was just one shot (Note to Schpanky’s mom, AKA Mrs. UA: I’m kidding). The boy was moving at a snail’s pace as we loaded up the truck with our gear. No time for breakfast, he grabbed a couple pieces of toast and a slice of bacon to eat as we drove to meet Derek. One piece of toast slowly found it’s way to his digestive system, while the other slice of toast and the bacon sat untouched on the dashboard of the truck, getting cold.  Not one to waste a perfectly good piece of toast and bacon, I quickly consumed them both.

So Glad, Baby

Jumping ahead to the town of Cle Elum, we stopped at Owen’s Meats for a few sticks of the best pepperoni in the known world before driving to the Bristol launch east of town. We’d be doing a 5 mile float that would take us all day toward the town of Thorp. The weather forecasters appeared to have finally gotten it right, and blue skies and no wind greeted us as we received our pre-launch safety instructions from Derek prior to launching his new raft, The Green Drake (A Maravia raft outfitted for fly fishing by StreamTech Boats of Boise, Idaho).  I assumed my duties as Rear Admiral, giving up the hot seat in the bow to the lad who was feeling not-so-hot. Whether it was the good weather or the drugs finally kicking in, Schpanky seemed a bit more chipper as we set off downstream in quest of trout. The water temperature was right about 56 degrees, and there was a fair amount of debris in the water, but clarity was 3-4 feet. The previous day Derek had floated with a couple of clients and encountered strong winds, but ample trout-based opportunities. The wind was not a factor on this day, so we anticipated a glorious day in all regards. I’ve rarely been more excited to start a day on the water than I was on this day.

You Gonna Need My Help

Derek is a great teacher, which is why I had wanted to get the lad out on the water with him. Schpanky has fished with me since he was about 11 years old, and he had learned decent fundamental skills and caught a few fish.  But I wanted him to advance his skills and catch more fish. Thus enter Derek. Throughout the day he worked with Schpanky in a calm but enthusiastic manner, giving him pointers on his casting and talking about insects, river dynamics and fish behavior. And giving him more pointers on his casting. We’d been throwing dries all day, but Derek strung up a third rod and schooled the boy on nymph fishing and roll casting.  I soaked up the sun and remarked that if I’d been the one doing all the same talking and correcting, fisticuffs would have broken out between Father and Son and only one of us would have made it home alive.  And Mrs. UA would never have forgiven her little boy for having dispatched of me somewhere in the Upper Yakima Canyon.

Tough Times

The lad remained uncharacteristically quiet for most of the morning, and had I not known he was feeling poorly I would have accused him of acting like a brooding teenager who was simply showing his displeasure at the lack of catching. As mid-day approached we found ourselves fishless. It’s not that either of us lost any fish, we simply had no hookups.  But we were never without hope, and to his credit, Schpanky kept at it. A guide on the oars of a passing boat commented about the rising water and said that the river had come up over 250 cfs in the past three hours.  Come to think of it, the water had gotten dirty and visibility was greatly reduced over what it was when we had put in. Derek declared that it was time to pull out the “Trout Candy” to hopefully entice the fish to look up and take an offering that was too good to deny.  I was confident that no trout in its right mind could ignore these patterns that resembled something out of a Dr. Seuss book (sort of a cross between a stimulator and a circus clown). But all the Trout Candy succeeded in doing was to make the fishermen hungry so we opted to pull over to enjoy lunch on the same gravel bar where Derek had eaten lunch 24 hours earlier.  A lot had changed since the day before, and there was much less gravel bar visible now.  While the fish may have been fasting, Derek fed us well with homemade Turkey sandwiches that weighed at least 2 lbs each.  Always the teacher, he showed me how to open a bag of Oreos using the easy open pull tab instead of using my teeth to tear open the packaging. What will they think of next?!

You Can’t Lose What You Ain’t Never Had

There are always frustrations when fly fishing, particularly for those with limited experience.  Not that anyone was keeping track, but Schpanky lost 8 flies during the course of the day. Fortunately these were flies that Derek had supplied and not me, because I would have deducted the cost from his allowance.  Since he doesn’t get an allowance, I’d have simply charged him for the flies. He’s got a job at the Carnation Golf Course so he could afford it if need be. I wish I could say that the flies were broken off by fish, but such was not the case. The good thing about that is that the lad never lost a fish.  The bad thing is that he never got a chance to lose a fish.  Me neither for that matter.

Blow Wind, Blow

The calm start to the day gave way to the four letter word:  W#nd.  It’s well nigh impossible to avoid the w#nd completely this time of year, but there’s always hope that the air will be still. The fact of the matter is that fly fishing and w#nd go together like oil and water: they don’t mix well. However, they also go hand-in-hand, so to become a fly angling person one has to learn to deal with the w#nd.  Schpanky got plenty of opportunity to do that, which led to the increase in lost flies and frustration.  Catching just one fish would have done away with all the other worries of the day.

Muddy Water Shuffle

As if Mother Nature’s decision to unleash the w#nd wasn’t enough, another entity added a big dose of salt to the wound: as the day wore on the river continued to rise slowly and visibility was rapidly lost. This is not the recipe for good catching, and while we saw a couple fish rise, they did so only once and not to our flies. The high water put them down and sealed their lips. Mother Nature started exhaling heavily on us and the w#nd grew frustrating at times. After piling up his fly and leader into an impressive wind-aided bird’s nest, I saw Schpanky’s cheeks puff up and then deflate as the telltale sign of frustration reared its ugly head.  Things appeared dire, but we were never completely without hope. Derek’s is a master at sensing the plummeting mood of his companions and steering them away from the dark abyss of self pity, so he cheered us on as we continued to pound the banks with big salmonfly patterns and smaller caddis and PMD imitations, all to no avail. Even my Lucky Fishing Hat wasn’t enough to save us from a double skunking.

(I Feel Like) Going Home

We tucked our collective tails between our legs and terminated our float: time of death shortly past 7 PM. I always hate the end of a day spent fishing, but I could see it in the lad’s eyes: the second dose of Tylenol had worn off, and all he wanted to do was get home and hit the sack. Derek and I weren’t quite so content to drive home without a rational explanation for our defeat, so we performed a final water clarity test and determined that the visibility had been reduced to 4 inches at best. Driving home we noted that the Cle Elum River, which dumps into the Yakima River west of the town of Cle Elum was the muddy water culprit. Apparently the Army Corps of Engineers failed to check with us first before deciding to discharge water from the Lake Cle Elum reservoir prior to our trip.  Derek’s enthusiasm was seemingly boundless, however, and he pointed out that we’d simply have to do it again.

Come Back, Baby

That we shall.