The insufferable Mrs. Accomplished Angler
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.