I’m not competitive, really. At least not with anyone but myself and even then I set the bar disturbingly low. I also fully admit that I’m not some pedigreed, hot-shot fly angler with impressive skills and even more impressive track record. The title of my blog is, after all, not “The Awesome Angler”. I also have thick skin and am the first to laugh at myself – a defense mechanism learned early in life as a small, frail child growing up on the mean streets of suburbia.
All that being said, it was still a little tough to swallow the fact that I got out-fished by my wife on what happened to be her very first time fishing. Ever. Prior to this trip she had spent 45 minutes in the back yard waving a stick in the air. The practice session went fine, and she was able to recognize when she did something wrong, even if she was unable to correct the flaw. My biggest concern at the conclusion of Lawn Casting 101 was that she was no closer to determining whether she would be a left- or right-handed caster than she had been before we started. I wasn’t sure if this was a manifestation of impressive ambidextrous ability or an inability to decide. This and other areas of concern were discussed in a previous entry.
As Mrs. UA and I drove the Fish Taco east over the Cascades, at least one thing was clear: The weather was going to be much better where we were headed than it was from where we were coming. Western Washington was suffering the typical “Summer Ream Job” as was so eloquently described by my friend, Scott Miller. Miller is a deep thinking man: a solver of problems and a philosopher. He’s also an incredible photographer (seriously – check out his work here). He’d recently been visiting his hometown of Spokane and was returning to his current home in the Arizona desert when he snapped this aerial photo (above) depicting the clear line drawn in the clouds along the crest of the Cascade mountains. As is evident in the photo, the west side of the state is often blanketed by a layer of “marine air” (AKA clouds) while everything east of the Cascades enjoys more typical summer fare (sun, warm temps). It’s pretty obvious that Washington is split down the middle (or rather down a division of approximately 1/3 going to the west and 2/3 to the east). The west side is home to depressing weather and Democrats, while the east has much better weather and Republicans. These are, of course, generalizations and I don’t want to get into a meteorological/political debate here. Let’s just say the state of Washington should be divided into two separate states, and I should move east.
But I digress. It was arranged that we’d be meeting up with Derek Young of Emerging Rivers Guide Services at the fruit stand in Thorp prior to driving to our launch point. As we drew nearer our rendezvous, in addition to abundant sun and warmer temps, another common occurrence on the east side of the Cascades was showing itself: wind- that four letter word that sends shivers of despair into the hearts of fly anglers everywhere. Now the w#nd is not the fault of central and eastern Washington, but rather an unfortunate bi-product that we can also blame on the west side. With the low pressure in place over the coast and inland Puget Sound region, the eastern slopes of the Cascades often suffer from forceful moving air. For reasons obvious to those who angle with a fly, the one thing I had hoped to not encounter on Mrs. UA’s first outing was the w#nd. Sooner or later in her fly fishing career she would have to learn to deal with it, but I wanted to protect her from the perils as long as possible. It appeared she would be facing baptism by fire and I pitied the poor lass before we ever set foot on the boat.
At around 12:30 pm we dropped The Green Drake into the clear waters of the Yakima River at a location known as Bristol, and prepared to float approximately 6 miles to the Thorp takeout. Looking spiffy in her brand new Emerging Rivers Guide Services hat, Mrs. UA listened intently as Derek administered his safety instructions on what to do should we encounter any trouble on the river. Being the Safety Commissioner at her place of work, emphasis on safety is of paramount importance to my wife. She was clearly more concerned with how to save herself than how to save me should I be the one to end up in the river. This made me a little suspicious about the life insurance policy she’d recently taken out on me, though I convinced myself that I was just being paranoid. Right?
As we began our drift, Derek asked Mrs. UA what her expectations were for the day, what she hoped to accomplish by the end of the float, etc. I believe her reply was something akin to this: “I just want to out-fish him.” (meaning me, of course) And I believe Derek’s reply was something akin to this: “Don’t you want to set the bar a little higher?” I made a mental note of this and calculated Derek’s tip accordingly.
Derek is a great teaching guide, which is precisely why I wanted to take Mrs. UA out with him on her first trip. This trip was a 21st anniversary gift of sorts, and I knew that if I wanted to see our 22nd I had better involve someone other than myself in the instruction department. I knew that if I opened my mouth to offer any advice, I’d be invited to “talk to the hand”. So I opened a beer and kicked back without a line on the water as Derek coached Mrs. UA on her casting and explained presentation and drift. As she laid out her first cast, which was more of a “flop the fly on the water a few feet from the boat”, she listened as Derek described how real insects drift in the current seams, and the goal was to imitate that with a drag-free drift. Suddenly she had a fish on before she had been instructed on what to do if she had a fish on. To be honest nobody expected her to catch a fish so soon, or at all for that matter. I had prepared her for a skunking with all of my stories about long days spent on the Yakima River without catching a single fish. She got an “on the job” lesson in how to manage the fly line and when to use the reel and when to strip line. This first fish was no more than 2.5 inches long, so her drag was not put to the test. But she was thrilled with her first fish and I was thrilled that my wife had learned to strip.
Throughout the day she caught more and relatively larger fish. The truly big fish weren’t playing nicely on this particular outing, but in all honesty it’s likely a good thing that she didn’t hook up with an 18 incher. With her neophyte skills it may not have resulted favorably, and it would have really pissed me off. She did manage to land a couple fish in the 8-9 inch range (though Derek’s glove made them appear larger than they really were). She also missed the hook set on several others, but suffice it to say that she saw enough action to keep herself amused. In fact she was downright giddy each time she hooked up with a fish, and while at first I was happy for her, after a while it got sort of annoying.
When her casting arm grew tired, she simply switched hands. The wind was present nearly all day, but it really didn’t cause many problems for her because, again, she could simply switch hands based on which way the wind was blowing. Not once did she lose a fly or bury one in the back of my head. A couple very minor wind tangles occurred, but at the end of the day there were no wind knots evident in her leader (I made sure to check, hoping to point them out to her). Yes, I caught a few fish myself, including the largest cutthroat of the day – a whopping 10 incher that didn’t really impress Mrs. UA very much. But hey – the net made the fish look smaller than it actually was.
With predictions of an epic hopper invasion across the West this summer, it should have been prime hopper time on the Yak and I’d told the missus that we’d be tossing large foam flies tight toward the banks all day. I’m full of empty promises and gross over-exaggerations, so it came as no surprise to my wife that we saw one hopper all day and didn’t fish a single hopper pattern. The hot ticket all day long was a golden stone dry fly. Later in the day I switched to a couple of different caddis patterns, but neither yielded the success of the stone. We did a little nymphing but didn’t spend much time at it and all the fish were caught on the surface. The trout tally for the day (although no one was keeping track) was Mrs. UA: 6 (with another 6 or so missed); and the Unaccomplished Angler: 5. All were beautiful little Westslope Cutthroats. Mrs. UA now calls her new hat her “lucky fishing hat”. Pretty cocky, I’d say. I reminded her that it’s just a stupid hat and not to assign any wild superstitious powers to it. Lucky fishing hat – I’m just so sure.
On the drive home she sent a text message to our daughter to proclaim her angling accomplishments. My daughter’s reply was something akin to, “You caught more fish than Dad? Wow, Dad must really suck! : ) LOL”
No snakes, spiders, or grotesque swarms of insects were encountered, much to her delight. She did get a little fish slime on her hand and agreed that it wasn’t too bad. When I asked her if she really, honestly enjoyed herself or whether she was just faking it, her reply spoke to the true essence of fishing: “Sitting in a boat, floating down a river on a beautiful day, drinking a beer and catching some fish? What’s not to like about that?” She gets it – there really is more to fishing than catching fish.
She made it pretty clear that she would not become a winter steelhead fishing person any time soon, but would enjoy being a fair weather angler. To that end I was instructed not to jump to any wild conclusions or go running out to buy her a bunch of gear and I promised not to do anything stupid. I wonder how she’d feel about a drift boat?
I know, I know – talk to the hand.
As I had hoped in a previous post, I managed to survive and successfully return from a recent salmon fishing excursion to the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. And because I lived I am here to tell about it.That may be either a good thing or an horrible waste of your time depending on whether you enjoy this or not.
I had certain expectations going into the trip and will say that nearly all were handily exceeded. Having only been to Vancouver Island once before on a family trip to Butchart Gardens in Victoria when I was a kid, I was actually looking forward to this fishing trip even more than the first visit to the island. Not that an 11 year-old kid doesn’t love touring a giant flower garden with out-of-town relatives, but it’s hard to top a fishing trip. My buddy Fritz has been to Nootka Sound several times before, and he filled me with visions of geographical beauty and fishing awe. To that end I was not disappointed. He also provided me with intel that suggested I may have an opportunity to use my fly rod. So with that in mind I went armed with Coho poppers and baitfish patterns courtesy of my friend Leland Miyawaki. Leland had given me some tips on how to present the flies, and I looked forward to executing the knowledge imparted upon me. Wax on, wax off. I would do my best to make Miyawaki-san proud.
A border crossing, chili dogs, and a not-so-rustic motel.
My Toyota Tacoma (AKA the Fish Taco) was commandeered for the trip so I stopped by Fritz’s house at 8 AM before we picked up his father on our way north. The back seat of the Taco was a bit tight, but apparently not too terribly uncomfortable as “Senior” quickly nodded off for one last stateside nap. Less than two hours later we arrived at the border crossing for some “Duty Free” bottled beverages and a couple cases of Kokanee.
Our first navigational snafu occurred immediately thereafter as we mistakenly got in the Nexus line for frequent crossers. In our defense, the line also appeared to be labeled “duty free” which we assumed meant us. This error in judgment meant we had to pull over under the humorless watch of Canadian security guards and go inside the customs office to pass inspection. Luckily it didn’t involve a body cavity search, and by committing this innocent infraction I think we actually made the crossing faster than if we’d stayed in the proper lane. A half hour later we were in line for the ferry to Nanaimo. With plenty of time to kill, Senior opted to take his first Canadian nap in the back seat while Fritz and I grabbed some chili dogs to ensure that the next leg of our journey would be pleasant for everyone concerned except Senior. Hey – you snooze, you lose, eh? The Canadian chili dogs worked more quickly than their American counterparts to which I am accustomed and I quickly became worried that I would be considered flammable cargo, which is strictly prohibited on ferries.
After an uneventful ferry crossing under thick clouds that afforded no view of our surroundings, we docked at Nanaimo and drove the next leg of our journey to the town of Campbell River. Along the way the clouds lifted and we finally saw the sun and blue skies that one expects to see in August. As we entered Campbell River we gassed up the Fish Taco and checked into our room for the night at The Rustic Motel. To me the term “rustic” conjures up images of a poorly chinked log cabin with rough hewn plank floors and a leaky roof. Based on my preconceptions The Rustic was certainly not what I would consider rustic, and after having stayed at the Ho Hum Motel in West Yellowstone, The Rustic was actually fairly posh.
The salmon were pink; my hat was orange.
Although I’d gone through a mental checklist of everything I could possibly need for the trip, it wasn’t until we were on the road that I realized I’d forgotten a hat. Now, I wear a hat nearly every day so why on this day I left home without one is still a mystery to me. I was able to remedy this as we stopped by the River Sportsman Outdoor Store, which has an impressive selection of hunting and fishing gear, and hats. My new hat for the week would be one that Fritz assured me didn’t look “gay”. After the tags had been removed he commented that the hat looked “a little gay”. I assumed he meant happy and cheerful, and I’ll admit that the orange was uplifting and a nice change from my normally selection of drab-colored hats.
The Pink Salmon were running and the Campbell River itself was abuzz with fishermen. Down south in the States the Pinks aren’t running this year, but just as they bring out the crowds down here, so do they draw hoards of anglers on Vancouver Island. I watched from a bridge as several fish were caught and lost by an equal number of gear and fly fishermen. I contemplated grabbing my 8 wt. and trying my hand at some Canadian Pinks, but two things kept me from doing so: First, an 8 wt. would have been silly overkill; secondly, I didn’t have a fishing license. I didn’t want to risk an infraction so soon after entering the country (and we’d pushed our luck at the border already so I was sure I was on their radar). Instead I returned to our room at the Rustic for happy hour before heading out to grab a bite to eat.
After dinner we stopped by The Tyee Club to watch as hopeful members rowed back and forth in the offshore channel trolling for a potential Chinook salmon that would earn them one of several nice prizes, one of which was a Sage SP gear rod. It’s a neat club with a long-standing tradition dating back to 1926. The club caretaker was quite the character and made the visit worthwhile, even though no fish were caught while we watched.
Breakfast and a kindred spirit.
The next morning we were up and ready for breakfast before the final driving leg of the trip. As we pulled into the parking lot at the Ideal Café I took particular notice of the Jeep Wrangler next to us. Badged with a large decal that read “Single Spey Fly Fishing Adventures” I immediately felt at ease knowing that somewhere inside there lurked a fly fisherman.
After we were seated at our table, Senior pondered aloud, “I wonder who the fly fisherman is?” Seated behind me at a table with his young son was Ken Moreau, the fly fisherman in question and owner of Single Spey Fly Fishing Adventures which is located just a short distance from the famous Roderick Haig Brown heritage property on the banks of the Campbell River. As fly anglers are prone to do, we struck up a conversation. I told him of our destination on Nootka Sound and how I hoped to employ the fly rod on some surface silvers, and Ken gave me a quick rundown on the river fishing on the Island. It sounds like they’ve got quite a fishery up there, and one day I’d like to go back with my Spey rod and swing for some steelhead. I feel as though I’m ahead of the game already as I now have a fly fishing guide to hook up with when I go. Never one to overlook an opportunity to make a potential future fan of Olive the Woolly Bugger, I gave Ken a card. When I returned home from the trip I was delighted to have received an email from him. Nice guy. Certainly an accomplished angler. I hope his son gets hooked on Olive
Next we drove up the island to a place aptly named Cougar Creek. If there was a town there I didn’t see it. Nor did I see a cougar, but there had been recent sightings. From what I could tell there’s only a log landing facility where timber companies bring their harvest and a seasonal settlement for campers who bring their boats to do one thing: fish.
We left the Fish Taco parked there and waited to be picked up on the dock by Fritz’s brother “Roberto” (he may be Mexican – there is some family debate). Roberto had been up there fishing for several days already, and the reports were favorable. As Roberto idled to the dock I was relieved to see that the boat wasn’t named the “SS Minnow” and that we weren’t destined for a “three hour tour.” Once aboard the 26’ Seaswirl Striper named “The Field Office” we made the short run to the small bay where our floating accommodations awaited us.
Nootka Sound Sports Fishing Charters & Accommodations is a very comfortable floating lodge moored in a protected cove that looks directly out into Nootka Sound. While proprietors Elaine and Vaughan Michaud have been running their charter business since 1975, the accommodations weren’t always so refined. In fact, to hear it told the original “lodge” was a bit rustic. I’ll never know, as the original structure at this location on Three Bay Cove was replaced with the current accommodations about 5 years ago.
It’s a very private lodge than can sleep several guests comfortably, though it was only the four of us for all but our last night. We were spoiled by Elaine’s stellar culinary skills, starting each morning at 5 AM with coffee, homemade scones and porridge to get us on our way. We packed with us our sandwiches for lunch and typically fished until mid afternoon, returning to the lodge for a break and a game of cribbage if one were so inclined to let Vaughan impart his dominance accordingly. We enjoyed some incredible dinner fare that included the likes of fresh-caught halibut and lingcod fish & chips, babyback ribs, Alberta steaks and more mouth-watering side dishes than one could shake a gaff hook at.
After dinner we would head back out for the evening bite and fish until dark – usually 8:30 or 9 pm. Following a friendly card game I usually turned in by 10:30 pm, and except for the first night I slept very well. Had I remembered to install my ear plugs the first night I’d have slept well every night. I had received fair warning that Fritz could saw logs, and I found that to be the case the first night. After that the earplugs were effective in drowning out all noises, including my own loud breathing that was confirmed by Fritz. In his defense I will say that Fritz is not in the same league as my buddy Stan the Goosemaster.
During the week we were treated like members of the family. And speaking of family, Elaine’s daughter Michelle was there for a visit. Michelle and her husband Ian Jensen operate a fishing charter outfit on remote Quatsino Sound, which is on the northern tip of Vancouver Island: Gold and Fish Adventures. Michelle’s daughter Sabrina was our dock hand for the week, making sure that imperfect docking maneuvers didn’t result in catastrophes. It should be noted that Vaughan offers full-service fishing from his own boat but my fishing compadres supplied their own vessel for our trip.
A fly rod sits idle.
Our first afternoon of fishing proved a bit slow on the catching side of things, but that evening I drew first blood by landing an 18 lb King. While that put a skip in my step, I also soon realized that my hopes of catching a silver on either a surface popper or a baitfish pattern fished near a kelp bed was not likely going to materialize. The Silvers run later in August and we were in the thick of the Kings. We would end up catching a few Silvers but the opportunity to employ the 8 wt didn’t happen. Although I dreaded having to return home and shamefully profess to Leland that I had failed him, I was able to live with the idea of fishing with anchovies behind flashers. Perhaps Leland will find it within his heart to forgive me after I present him with a nice fillet of Chinook and some smoked Coho.
This method seemed to get it done and by the last day I completely forgot that I was, at heart, a fly angler. I had been transformed into an unshaven, sea-legged, treble-hooking, bait-fishing, down-rigging, fish-killing machine. The closest thing to fly fishing that I encountered was the surprise sighting of a lone caddisfly which had stowed a ride inside the cabin of the boat on our first night. Nobody else on board found anywhere near as much amusement in this as I did. I think they dismissed me as some sort of curious fool taking photos of a bug, and they were right.
Chumming for Salmon
On our second morning Roberto checked the weather and decided that it would be a good day to fish “The Highway” (named for a particular area where the migrating fish pass through en masse). The Highway is located outside of the protected waters of Nootka Sound on the open ocean, and on this day the ocean was allegedly calm. What constitutes “calm” for a salty old sea dog doesn’t necessarily equate to the same thing for an Unaccomplished Angler more accustomed to fishing rivers for trout and steelhead. A wise man would have chosen to sleep in on this day, and Senior proved to be that wise man. A beautiful sunrise indicated that the day would be stellar, and our spirits soared over the prospects of getting into some bright ocean fish. As we made our run several miles from the mouth of Nootka Sound into the open sea, the marine fog obscured the sun. The swells grew to about 4.5 feet and The Field Office, while entirely up to the task and very sea worthy, bounced up and down on the waves like a toy boat (say that 5 times fast).
The wind was calm, however, so all we had to contend with were the ocean swells, which are almost always present in some form or another. As long as we were moving things were fine, but eventually we would have to stop or slow to a troll. God forbid we should have to bend down to re-bait a hook, but bend down to re-bait a hook we did. And that’s when Fritz started to turn green. Mind you I’ve rested my chest on the gunwhales of a boat and blown chow on the ocean before, so I know full well that it’s no laughing matter. To that end I only laughed silently as Fritz heaved his breakfast, then the previous night’s dinner and eventually every meal ingested prior to that. His involuntary gutteral groans signaled that his ribs were cracking and muscles in his stomach and lower back were tearing. I honestly believe Roberto derived some sadistic pleasure out of seeing his little brother hurling his guts over the side of the boat. Older brothers are that way – I have one of my own so I speak from experience.
As I said, I would not allow myself to laugh at Fritz’s misfortune, so the only logical thing to do was to join him in a bit of sympathy puking. Misery loves company, and soon we were both miserable. But in between chumming for fish we actually caught fish. Quite a few in fact, in a short period of time that seemed to last forever. After a couple of hours and ever-weakening physical conditions, Captain Roberto finally decided that we’d had, and caught, enough. Being the only crew member on board worth his salt, I think Roberto was getting tired of having to steer the boat, bait the hooks and land the fish while Fritz and I grew more and more incapable of much other than simply remaining upright. The decision to return to port was a relief, and running with the waves was much smoother. By the time we arrived back at the lodge some color had returned to our faces and we were feeling much better. “Much better” is, however, another relative term and it wasn’t until several hours later that I felt nearly 100%. Barfing is hard on the body, and my throat felt like raw hamburger for the rest of the day. But my abs had never felt to toned so I suppose it was worth it. Oh, the sacrifices we fishermen make to feed our families…
Some sideshow attractions.
*On our way back from our open ocean experience we saw a gray whale and calf in the sound. With my telephoto lens trained on the pair they put on a good show for us.
*I’d heard that it was common for bears to visit the shoreline close to our lodge. I was prepared for disappointment, which was not the case. In fact, right after we arrived initially at the lodge a momma bear and her two young cubs were there to greet us. Throughout the week they arrived at certain times, while another single bear came at other intervals. A three-man slingshot propelled fish heads from the deck of the lodge to the shoreline where the greedy freeloaders appreciative recipients munched down on the delicacies before going back into the woods to forage for other less flavorful foodstuffs. Admittedly I took way more photos of the bears than was required to document the events. After I got home and uploaded all the photos to my computer I gave pause to ask myself, “What was I thinking?”I suppose if I ever do a documentary on the fishhead eating bears of Nootka Sound, the 100 or so photos may come in handy.
*While changing his bait on one occasion Fritz got his hand stung by the tentacles of a poisonous jellyfish. It wasn’t too bad, and I offered to urinate on his hand to neutralize the toxins. I’m not sure if he knew that urine isn’t really effective in reducing the pain or if he just didn’t want me peeing on his hand. At any rate, Fritz passed on the offer and the sting didn’t prove to be too troublesome.
Bounty of the Sea.
We fished for 2-1/2 days and for just a couple hours on our last morning. Had we stayed longer we may have encountered our best harvest of the trip as the final morning proved to be the highest fish-per-hour ratio. We went 2 for 3, with Fritz and I each catching one last King, and one fish coming unbuttoned before we could land it (apparently the Long Distance Release is not completely foreign when salmon fishing with double treble hooks).
We successfully landed a total of 17 fish including 9 Kings that ran from 12 to 18 lbs, and 8 Coho that were mostly in the range of 11 lbs with one tipping the scales at 15 lbs. Not to worry, we left plenty of fish in the sea for propagating the species. I don’t know what all this converts to under the metric system, or even how many meters we traveled to get there and back. I can tell you we took 142 lbs of salmon to St. Jean’s Cannery and Smokehouse in Campbell River to be filleted and smoked, and it was 725 driving miles round trip. The trip was worth every click of the odometer and every day was enjoyable time spent with good friends, old and new. There’s a lot of leisure time involved with trolling for salmon, and the conversation was always engaging. Given our seafaring ways, we discussed many important nautical matters such as the presence of Atlantic Salmon fish farms in the Canadian waters and the age old debate of “Mary Ann or Ginger”. It was agreed that the fish farms are bad, and Mary Ann is the clear winner.
No trip taken by the Unaccomplished Angler would be complete without a few glitches, and to that end we did not disappoint. The 3:15 pm ferry from Nanaimo back to the mainland was sold out, so Fritz and I had to wait for a 5:45 boat. Senior rode back with Roberto, who had made prior reservations so they made the earlier sailing. Via cell phone Fritz learned that Roberto had somehow managed to get in the wrong line at the border and the trailer carrying the Field Office was too wide to allow passage. This caused a bit of a traffic ordeal and it took, allegedly, 15 minutes to clear traffic so they could back up and get in the right lane.
When we finally got on the ferry, the Fish Taco with roof pod was too high for the upper car deck, so traffic was halted as we pulled a U-turn on the deck and had to drive back and get on a lower deck. The stupid Americans in the white Toyota Tacoma smiled and waved apologetically to the slightly annoyed Canadian drivers waiting to board the ferry. In our defense it was the fault of the ticket booth employee who put us in the wrong line. After that it was clear sailing to the border where we passed through customs without incident. Clearly relishing the vision of his older brother stuck in the customs line with the boat in tow, Fritz asked two different border patrol agents if they happened to have seen the big boat that got stuck a few hours earlier. Unfortunately none were able to recall the spectacle.
Because of the late ferry sailing we were well behind all rush-hour traffic on I-5 heading south toward Seattle. However, the delay put us in the thick of construction delays and it was midnight before I rolled into the garage at home, smelling of fish and speaking with a Canadian accent. What is it about me and fishing and traffic?
Teaching one’s wife or significant other to cast a fly line is something no doubt many a husband angler has decided to do. After all, if we anglers love the game so much why not share our passion with those we love, right? I’m not sure what the statistics are, but I hope fly fishing together has forged the bond of matrimony rather than led its demise. Relationships are complex though, and while I’m certainly no expert on teaching anyone to cast a fly line, I am even less qualified to give martial advice. After nearly 21 years of marriage to the same person, I’m still learning that I know very little.
A good article to read before deciding to teach your spouse to can be found over at Midcurrent where “Dr. Phil” Monahan offers some sage advice for those wading into the potentially perilous waters. It’s worth the read, so click here for the article.
For years I’ve pondered what it might be like to go fishing with my wife but it never got beyond the pondering stage because she never expressed an interest in learning. And honestly I never made the effort to push the issue. If I can gently transform her into even just an occasional angler, it may save me the pain of having to go on cruise ship vacations or take up lawn bowling or shuffleboard as we grow old. I doubt she’ll ever become a hardcore fly fishing frauleine, and that is not my intent. My hope is that she’ll enjoy it enough to let me get a drift boat occasionally join me during the nice summer months on gentle rivers like the Yakima. Afterall, she grew up in the town of Yakima and was a regular participant in the Yakima River “rubber hatch” that comes off each summer. Ask her about the time she and a friend had to hitch-hike in their bikinis to their car after a day of floating the Lower Canyon in their Walmart rafts – back before there was such a thing as Walmart.
A few months ago I decided to be proactive about this whole matter and booked a float trip with Derek Young of Emerging Rivers Guide Services. Our Anniversary is August 12th, and being the hopeless romantic that I am I was hard pressed to think of a better way Mrs. UA and I could spend our anniversary than fly fishing together on the Yakima River (we were married in nearby Yakima, afterall). But forging ahead into this delicate proposition of fishing with Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler is much like intentionally going steelhead fishing equipped with a 3 wt rod, a dragless reel and 6X tippet: it’s probably not the smartest thing to do. To use another metaphor I must exercise the same caution as if wading on the slippery, slime covered rocks of summer while wearing cowboy boots. Again, not something one should probably do. I face somewhat daunting odds, and honestly the chips are stacked against me ever turning her into a hardcore angler. The reasons are many:
First, she hates bugs. I have to admit, this is perhaps the biggest obstacle. She absolutely abhors insects in a manner that strikes me as being completely irrational. To her, however, the fear is very real and I must try to honor that fear while at the same time attempting to diminish it. At the top of her fear factor list are spiders. Even though technically spiders are not insects, they do fall under the general classification of “bugs” by her definition. Luckily spiders are fairly uncommon when fly fishing. I showed her a photo in a magazine of a 3-inch salmonfly perched atop an angler’s hat. I casually inquired as to if seeing something like this in person would be a deal breaker. Turns out it would be. I assured her that we will not be seeing any salmon flies on our inaugural trip. Honestly I am not sure how she feels about grasshoppers, which we will be seeing. I’m inclined to believe hope that hoppers may be an easy bug to not be afraid of, and I’m also hoping that won’t cause a problem since we’ll be fishing the peak hopper season. She assured me that as long as nothing is present in grotesque overabundance she should be fine. I didn’t point out to her that hoppers are supposed to be thick this year all across the West. What I am a little apprehensive about is her ability to withstand the possibility of a sitting calmly amidst an evening caddis hatch. A panic reaction could result in a rod being being dropped overboard (I may have to put a tether on her gear). But caddis are benign little fliers. I’d go so far as to say they are the least “disgusting” of all bugs, and are even “cute”. Right? Please chime in with your support and agreement here, folks. Please.
Another thing she has an aversion to is the texture of slime, and trout are slimy. True that. But she may never have to get over that fear because in all likelihood she’ll be lucky if she gets the chance to even touch a fish. Odds are, if she sets the hook on a fish, she’ll experience a Long Distance Release before getting the fish anywhere near her hands. And if she does land a fish, there’s no reason she has to even touch it because that can be delegated as part of a guide’s duty. Or I’ll convince her that fish slime is a natural hand moisturizer. Personally I think the beauty of catching a wild rainbow or cutthroat trout will thrill her to the point where she’ll forget that it’s a slimy thing altogether. Yeah, riiiight.
Safety is a another big factor. She has done a remarkable job of keeping our children alive through their childhoods. We’ve encountered broken arms, cuts and scrapes and even a mild concussion, but nothing too serious. That relatively good safety record can be attributed to the fact that Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler has been somewhat of a worry wart, though to her credit she hasn’t been a Helicopter Mom prone to excessive coddling. Aside from being concerned for the welfare of her offspring, she’s also a bit cautious herself, and not one to run with scissors or color outside the lines. In fact, she was the obvious choice when the company she works for appointed her Safety Commissioner this past year (a proud moment). I just hope that she can relax and enjoy a day on the river without being fearful of falling overboard. But even if she does, she’ll probably be wearing an orange life jacket – you know the kind with the big collar?
Waders may present another problem when it comes to her fully embracing the fly fishing thing. While she is not a slave to fashion, she is at least an indentured servant. Let’s be honest here: not many women don’t care how they look. And let’s face it – waders are not the most flattering of apparel and make even the narrowest of hips appear wider than they actually are. I think we can avoid this altogether, at least on our initial outing because we’ll be fishing from a drift boat in August. It would be silly to wear anything other than shorts when it’s 90+ degrees out. We won’t have to worry about waders until I take her steelheading in January, and it gives me a good idea for a Christmas present.
Indecision plagues Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler from time to time. She is above average when it comes to coordination and athletic ability, but the only difficulty she may have when learning to cast is determining which hand to use. You see, she’s most right-handed but is nearly ambidextrous. And sometimes she forgets which hand she should throw a ball with. I’m serious. It’s actually quite an impressive ability, but because of the way her brain is wired she can be indecisive. Will she naturally take to casting with the right, but also feeling inclined toward a right hand retrieve? (Marck does it this way, and it’s really annoying when I’ve had the occasion to use his rod).
Many women like to shop. I did not say all women like to shop because I know there are those who do not. Thankfully I would not classify Mrs. UA as a hardcore shopper but she can, when she wants, flip through a wide variety of retail goods trying to decide if she likes this or that. She’s been known on occasion to go shopping and return home with something she purchased, only then to determine that she doesn’t like it. I’m a little apprehensive about what will happen when she opens a fly box, as she may have a hard time shopping for the right fly. Furthermore, the aforementioned indecision factor may serve to complicate this whole matter.
Patience is not a virtue. Not of hers, but rather of mine. I am admittedly not the most patient person when it comes to sharing my infinite wisdom with my wife. Be it computer navigation and keyboard shortcuts, how to change the oil in a car, or how to cut-up a whole fryer chicken, I readily admit that I could learn to be less impatient. While I accept my share of the blame, I would be remiss if I didn’t also state that Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler doesn’t exactly “empty her cup” when it comes to accepting certain helpful instruction from me. Luckily, I’m placing her squarely in Derek’s hands when we go fishing. I’ll let him work with her while I sit quietly in the back of the boat, biting my tongue and trying to keep the laughter under my breath my mouth shut.
Snakes. Let’s not go there, as her fear of snakes may be even worse than her fear of spiders. Luckily if she’s in a drift boat and remains there, no snake will cross her path. I won’t even mention to her that snake-eye guides were used in the construction of the rod in her hand.
Hummingbirds. It’s true, Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler hates hummingbirds and I am not referring the the brand of depth finders. Actually, I think she thinks hummingbirds hate her because they often seem to seek her out and hover above her head. I’ve assured her that the innocent little critters are merely curious and mean her no harm, and I don’t think she has to worry about hummingbirds while we’re fishing, Just for good measure I’ll suggest she not wear a red hat.
While it may require some time, nurturing and a few pitfalls, it will be worth the effort to turn Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler into a fly fishing enthusiast, or at least a willing participant in an occasional fly fishing excursion. We’ve often discussed the need for a common interest once our kids leave the nest (which really isn’t that far into the future). She has suggested tennis and golf. I’ve suggested a compromise: fly fishing.
Wish us both luck.
Assuming I return from this trip, this should be considered Part I. In a couple weeks I’ll cover the results of the trip. The contrast between what really played out as compared to this speculation will be interesting.
Nootka Sound, British Columbia. I’d never even heard of the place until my old college buddy “Fritz” called me up a few months ago and invited me to join him on a salmon fishing excursion to this location. To be honest, I’m not much of a salmon fisherman. I’d done some salmon fishing off the coast of Washington near Tokeland (which is nowhere near Weed, California for those wondering). That was back when I was in high school and college, but recent years have seen me fly fishing for trout and steelhead, with an occasional bass outing tossed in for good measure. The first thing Fritz asked me was if I wanted to catch and keep some fish rather than just “petting them”. Of course I recognized this as a good-natured jab aimed at the gentile practice of catch and release angling. I assured him that I am not the least bit opposed to keeping fish so long as the fishery is sustainable. I rather enjoyed some grilled and smoked hatchery steelhead last fall, as a matter of fact. Fish petting – I’m just so sure. See the photo below? That’s me with more hair (and less of it gray), and blood on my hands. Bring it, Fritz- the sleeves are rolled up and the petting gloves are off.
Anyway, Nootka Sound is northwest of Victoria, British Columbia on the west side of Vancouver Island. It is approximately (70 km) north of Tofino, if that means anything. It means nothing to me so I checked the conversion: it’s 45 miles north of Tofino. I’d heard of Tofino before, but have never been to that neck of the Canadian woods. Nootka Sound is actually a generalization, as our precise destination is Tlupana Inlet, location of Nootka Sound Sports Fishing Charters and Accommodations. We’ll be staying in a floating lodge that is reportedly just a few feet off the shoreline, and Fritz says it’s not uncommon for bears to wander down to the water’s edge and feast on fish heads. If all goes as hoped, the bears will stay on the shore and not swim over to the lodge. I expect some amusing photo opportunities.
Fritz, his brother and his dad have been visiting Nootka sound for the last 14 years to so, and have it pretty well dialed in. They take their own boat up to keep the costs of the trip down, which means I get to go for the cost of lodging. I may even chip in a little for boat fuel and beer. A vacation on the cheap suits me fine because I am, well, cheap. I was remiss in thinking that the vacation would be even cheaper due to the exchange rate being in our favor, but the current fact of the matter is that US and Canadian dollars are nearly equal in value at this time. I guess that’s good for the Canadians, bad for us. Or rather, bad for the Chinese, because they pretty much own us, don’t they? Sorry, I won’t go there.
To be very clear this is not a fly fishing excursion. Gear will be the go-to means of catching fish destined for the cooler. Downriggers, bait, gaff hooks and the whole nine yards. We may hit some Kings, though we may miss that run. Moreso we’ll be getting into Silvers, or Coho. Not Silvers OR Coho, but rather Silvers, also known as Coho. Not one to completely sell out to the dark side, I did a little research on how I might be able to make use of my fly rod on these fish. Talking to Leland Miyawaki, a wise sage of all things saltwater and the fly fishing manager at the Bellevue Orvis shop, I was told that I needed some top water flies – some poppers. Leland is famous for his beach poppers, so when he spoke, I was all ears. The shop was sold out of poppers, but being the gracious guy that he is, Leland tied me up a couple of Polar Bears and told me how to fish them. I was instructed to wait until one of the others on board had a fish hooked, then cast the popper near the scene of the crime. Apparently Coho are prone to following a hooked fish to the surface, be it out of curiosity or to swim alongside and taunt the hooked fish: “What a hoser – I can’t believe you actually fell for that ridiculous looking imitation!”
Anyway, this overconfident taunter is my quarry, and if I interpret things correctly, I’ll sorta be poaching off the other fishermen. I should lay out a cast, slapping the popper on the surface, give it a good tug to create some commotion and get noticed. Then I have been instructed to execute a couple of bonefish strips, leaving a gentle wake behind the fly. If all goes as Leland says, I’ll hook up with a Coho and have a little fun.
I’ve also got some baitfish patterns to try fishing beneath the surface. If I can find some kelp beds, Leland assures me that I’ll crush the Coho. The fish will not be leader shy, so I’m taking along some tapered 2X leaders in 10lb test, as well as some straight 12 lb mono. If those don’t hold I’ll just cut a length of whatever parachute chord is strung up on the gear reels. As with everything else in life, this sounds more easily said than done. I really don’t know how large the fish will be, so I’m taking what I have (a Sage XP 8 wt) and hoping it’s up to the task. In the event that the 8 wt is not up to the task, at least Sage has a great warranty. It won’t break my heart if a fish breaks the rod, because afterall it’s just a meat stick for nymphing steelhead when swinging with my Spey rod doesn’t produce backup rod for steelheading. Even if things don’t go as planned, it sounds like an awful lot of fun, in some very remote country, on a boat with some great people and an ample supply of Kokanee, Molson, Labatt’s and Moosehead, eh? I just have to remember my passport. The last time I crossed the border into Canada I didn’t need or have one. Of course that was also back when I had more hair, and less of it was gray.