September2010

Fighting small fish with my big brother

The brothers Unaccomplished circa 1972

It wasn’t a constant aggravation, but I was often tormented by my big brother when we were growing up. Hal drew great pleasure from using his superior intellect to set me into many a blind childhood rage. He would patiently taunt me in small doses until I couldn’t stand it any more and would come uncorked. Looking back I was like a volatile puppet and I played into his hands perfectly. Our last scuffle was probably 25 years ago and ended in a draw when our mutual good friend (and boss at the time) MiHu decided he better jump between us and put an end to it before someone really got hurt.  That, and the fact that we were fighting while on the company clock wasn’t something he could allow to continue. It should be noted that MiHu enjoyed egging us on from time to time as well, and clearly enjoyed refereeing many bouts. Even once I became physically up to the task I was never able to defeat Hal – there was always that psychological big brother barrier that kept me in check. Since then we’ve matured considerably and brawling is no longer a part of our relationship. That’s a good thing because one or both of us would likely throw our backs out before the first takedown was ever scored. Always the referee, MiHu still likes to jump between us.

The brothers Unaccomplished and MiHu (center), July 2010

So evolved has our relationship become that we seldom disagree,  openly at least. Yes, we’re different people but we share a mutual respect for each other (at least I do). Fortunately fly fishing is something we both find agreeable. Hal doesn’t fish as often as he should, instead leaving the obsessive compulsion to his younger brother.  Once a year, and sometimes more, we’ll set out together on a bonding mission to chase some trouts. Usually we head up to the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River and chase small cutthroat trouts. We can usually expect to catch a few small but feisty fish, and sometimes we catch more than a few. Recently Hal suggested that we were overdue for a jaunt to the Middle Fork so we set aside a day to make our annual pilgrimage. In the meantime I had received some intel from a secret source about some hidden water worth checking out. There are three forks to the Snoqualmie River, and I’ve fished both the South and Middle Forks. The third fork, which shall go unnamed, is one that I hadn’t yet fished.  It’s more remote and requires a bit further of a drive to get there, but according to the report I’d received it was worth the extra effort.  I scribbled directions that I hoped would be accurate and informed Hal of our new destination. He was game for seeking out the new fork in the river.

Snoqualmie Falls

We met at Snoqualmie Falls where Hal loaded his gear into the back of the Fish Taco. It was assumed that I would drive and I was OK with that. Something about taking a Toyota Prius on the dusty, pothole-riddled logging roads to go fishing wouldn’t have seemed quite right anyhow. I arrived a few minutes early and decided to take a quick look at the falls from the observation deck.  Snoqualmie Falls is an impressive sight no matter the time of year, but the inch of rain that had fallen two days earlier made for a much higher than normal volume of water that cascaded over the 270 foot drop. I hoped that the water where we were heading wasn’t running high. I really didn’t know what we’d encounter.

One of the things that has always set us apart is that Hal is a contemplative man of infinite patience. He thinks long and hard on something before making a decision and once he sets himself on a task he has been known to stay on that task all day. I, on the other hand, give quick thought to something then act quickly.  And since patience is not one of my virtues I move from one task to another relatively quickly. These personality traits follow us to the river, where Hal can stand in the same spot for what seems like forever, working the same water with the attention to detail of a micro surgeon. It drives me crazy sometimes. I’ll fish my way downstream, working through several runs and maybe catching a fish or two. Once I’ve covered the water and walked the distance back upstream, there he’ll be – in the same spot. Even if there are no fish rising to his fly, he rarely moves. And if he does, it is with all the velocity of a slug. I think he does this just to get a rise out of me, but it’s not something worth coming to blows over. To each their own. But sometimes—oh, never mind. Moving along…

Mt. Si

It was one of those perfect late summer days as we drove deep into the woods. The sky was a certain shade of blue that revealed a definite hint of fall the air. Days like this are to be savored because soon they will be gone and we’ll face 9 months of gray. The directions I’d received were pretty much on the mark, although the mileage estimates were slightly off (in our favor, however) and one critical left-hand turn was omitted. Still, we found our destination, and also found ourselves completely alone. We hadn’t seen another vehicle for many miles and there would be no fighting for the best water, at least not with other anglers. I quickly geared up, selected a fly and was ready to make an assault on the first section of river. But first I had to wait for the plodding methodical older brother.  In his defense he is 14 months older than I am and so donning his waders and bending down to lace his boots doesn’t come quite as easily to him. Once dressed he set himself to the task of selecting a fly. As he rubbed his chin and pondered several patterns I pointed to something big and bushy and said, “There- that one.”  Soon we were on our way.

A thorough and contemplative man.

It didn’t take us 5 minutes before we got into fish. The valley is steep and narrow, so sunlight rarely shines directly overhead on this stretch of the river.  Given the lateness of the season and that fact that it was 4 pm, the shadows were long and plentiful, and the little cutts were not shy about rising to dry flies. In typical fashion Hal situated himself along some nice looking water while I moved downstream, casting and stepping.  Soon I’d covered all the water I wanted, caught a couple 4-6 inch fish, and headed back upstream toward my brother, who with his reptilian-like metabolism hadn’t moved. His methodical patience had produced a 10 inch fish, however. That’s what we were hoping for – something bigger than the typical 6 inch fish that we usually encounter on the South and Middle Forks.  Nice fish, and damn him for being so patient!

Whenever one goes fishing it’s important to remember to look up from the water on occasion to take in the surroundings.  Out in this neck of the woods we couldn’t help but be distracted by the beauty. It felt like fishing in a rain forest, and in fact the ground was still damp from the rains that had fallen two days earlier.  The river had risen with the rain, but it was dropping and in perfect shape. The air was comfortably warm and damp smelling. The water was clear as vodka and cold, which made us glad that we weren’t wet-wading. We’re both on the scrawny side so it doesn’t take much to make us uncomfortably cold.

The day repeated itself in similar fashion as we moved downstream throughout the afternoon. After fishing a run and catching enough fish to keep it more than a little amusing, I would move down to explore some new water.  If it looked good, I would wave to Hal to move on down. We’d fish the new section, catch more fish, and repeat.  The river was small and never too deep to easily wade across.  Plenty of structure created ample fishy water, and if it looked like it should hold a trout it held a trout, and often several. As the river wound it’s way through the cool shaded forest it changed personalities often and offered every type of water imaginable, from broad shallows, to deep cut banks, pocket water, runs and riffles. And every place held fish.  Many of the native cutthroat were annoyingly small, but one had to admire their gumption. With a short growing season and lack of overly-abundant insects, these little fish are eager to take a shot at a properly presented fly.  Sometimes the presentation didn’t even have to be very proper, which boded well for the Brothers Unaccomplished. When the river would plunge through a steep section, we drove down to the bottom of the grade and walked a short distance to more fishable water.

Hal’s 10 inch hog was the trophy of the day, but we’re I’m not competitive and there were plenty of 8 inch fish to keep us busy. To steal a great comment from a poster over at Skate the Fly (operated by fellow fish bloggerman Dylan Rose) “When it’s beauty that belongs there, size doesn’t matter.” Truer words were never spoken and these small native fish are as beautiful as they come. With their level of spunk I can only imagine what it would be like to hook up with a 12+ incher, which are rumored to lurk in the waters.  I imagine it would be a better fight than those I’ve had with my big brother, Hal.

The Brothers Unaccomplished, Sept 2010

Get hooked on Olive and help Casting 4 a Cure

Every week I do my best to offer a bit of literary drivel that I hope all 5 of my loyal followers find at least mildly amusing and enjoyable. The point of the Unaccomplished Angler blog is to give me an outlet for writing about my fly fishing adventures and misadventures. You see, writing and fly fishing are two of the many things I love to not get paid to do. Aside from this blog,  the marriage of my writing and fly fishing is what led me to create the series of children’s fly fishing books featuring Olive the Little Woolly bugger. I hope by now you’re familiar with the books, however I don’t want to use this forum to cram them down your throats employ hard sell tactics (that’s what my other blog is for).

That being said I would like to point out something of great importance at this time. Back on April 1st 2010 I posted an April Fools Day entry and in my clearly fictional fish story I had a little fun mentioning April Vokey of Flygal Ventures.  It was just a lark, but fortunately for me it led to some correspondence with April, who as it turns out is a really nice, really great person to know.

April recently returned from Victor, Idaho where she participated in the Casting 4 A Cure fly fishing event on August 27-29. Because of our mutual support for this tremendous group of people doing great work to raise money for the International Rett Syndrome Foundation, I recently reached out to April to ask for her help: I sent her a Facebook message and asked if she might consider posting a note on her wall about the stickers I’m selling to raise money for Casting 4 a Cure. The stickers are available online through Myflies.com thanks to another great person, Sharon Butterfield. But it doesn’t stop there. One of April’s friends, K.C. Lund, stepped up to offer a pair of free Optic Nerve sunglasses (a $100 value) to the person who places the largest order of stickers by October 4th.  K.C. is a fly fisherman and former professional snowboarder now working as a steel fabricator and is the BC/Alta rep for Optic Nerve in Canada. This generous act has left me humbled – thanks, K.C.!  If you would like to reach K.C. to inquire about Optic Nerve sunglasses you can do so by sending email to E.kc.opticnerve (at) telus.net

As far as selling the stickers goes, let me lay it out for you here:  The stickers sell for $3.00 each and none of it makes its way into my pockets.  Of that $3.00, half goes to cover my cost to have the stickers printed and for postage. The remaining $1.50 gets sent directly to Bill Farnum, the Executive Director of Casting 4 a Cure.  The stickers are very high quality and would look great on your drift boat, fish mobile, or tricycle.  I’ll be blatant now and ask that you please consider buying an Olive sticker and supporting Casting 4 a Cure.  Thanks again to my internet friends April and Sharon for your help to bring the Olive stickers to the the masses. And thank you all for reading the Unaccomplished Angler.

Click on the sticker graphic below to order yours.

I love the power of the internet.

What Happened to the Hoppers?

I first caught wind of it in early spring and the news spread quickly throughout the fly fishing networks about a Western states grasshopper invasion predicted to be of Biblical proportions. Several news sources posted articles of the impending doom, and it appeared that my home state of Washington was not safe from the perils facing other states from the Dakotas through Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Oregon. Do a search for “grasshopper invasion 2010” and you’ll be amazed at the hype predictions.

Hoppers can be devastating to crops and native grasslands, and farmers throughout the west were grimacing. At the same time anglers were grinning ear to ear. I certainly wish no ill upon the good folk who work the land, but hopper fishing in the mid to late summer is always a grand time on rivers such as the Yakima. Floating the canyon under abundant sun and hot temperatures, tossing large bushy imitations that look somewhat like a grasshopper tight to the banks is something I look forward to every year. The fish are seeking protected shelter from the high summer flows so they don’t really want to move more than an inch or so to eat. Casts must therefore be right on the bank. Not six inches out from the bank, but literally on the bank.  If you can bounce the fly off a blade of grass or twig of some shrubbery and have it flop gently into the water within an inch of the bank, chances are an opportunistic trout will grab the offering as it falls on their nose.  If the hook snags some vegetation and holds, the angler need not necessarily fret because heavy tippets are needed to turn over the big flies. 3X doesn’t snap as easily as 5X and it’s not uncommon to get your fly back after snagging it. I think that’s what I like best about hopper fishing.

As daunting as the predictions were, the hopper invasion evaded me on two consecutive outings on the Yakima this summer during what should have been prime hopper time. On one outing we saw a lone grasshopper. On the next trip we saw not a one. Fishing hopper patterns did not prove overly effective either, so apparently the fish weren’t looking for that particular foodstuff.  Maybe they new that it was all just hype. The first hopper-free outing was written up previously here.  The next outing is what you are reading right now.

Try as we might neither Jimmy nor I could find a third person willing to share time on the oars come fishing with us, so we headed east on I-90 toward Ellensburg. Friday traffic was fairly heavy as West-siders fled the gloomy gray weather for more summer-like conditions on the East side. Luckily they were all in a hurry to leave the lousy weather in the rear view mirror and traffic moved along at a good clip. That is, until the sudden presence of a police vehicle in the slow lane caused everyone in the fast lane to overreact and apply their brakes. Police vehicles always make people nervous, even when those people aren’t violating any laws. As we inched our way past the police car I could have sworn I saw Barney Fife behind the wheel, though I may have just been having flashbacks to 1956. We were headed to Mayberry or Ellensburg? Weird.

Without further incident we made it to Ellensburg and grabbed a sandwich at Subway before proceeding into the lower Yakima Canyon to procure a shuttle at Red’s Fly Shop. We launched Jimmy’s Hyde at Big Horn and began our afternoon float that would take us 16 miles to the take out at Roza. The great flip flop of the Yakima was happening early this year and the high summer flows were already dropping. Lowering water means feeding fish, and we were stoked to hit the river. The plan was to pound the banks with big bugs all day and once the sun dropped behind the canyon walls we’d be on some slow water for when the fish switched from hoarking hoppers to sipping small caddis.  The last 3 miles of our float were perfect for that- long stretches of flat water lined by grass and shrubbery.

The hoppers were, again, curiously absent.  The w#nd, however, was not. It blew in our faces and at our backs, but w#nd is something one just learns to deal with, and except for a few gusts that blew our hats off and rattled our fly boxes, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been (like the day before when it was blowing 40 mph). I fished a golden stone dry for most of the day before switching to something smaller and tan-colored later on, while Jimmy fished mostly a variation of tan foam ant.  He did try a Chernobyl hopper for a spell, but it yielded no results. This actually surprised me because often times if an angler thinks outside the box and shows the fish something radically different from what they’re used to seeing, the results can be favorable.  Not so this time. As far as fishing goes, it was still a great day.  Low pressure over the West side of the mountains had cooled things off in central and eastern Washington, and the temps were comfortably in the mid 70’s – very cool for this time of year but very tolerable, especially when on the oars. And since it was just the two of us we each saw plenty of time in the rower’s seat, mostly trying to keep the boat from being blown into the bank.

The last remnants of the Great Summer Rubber Hatch of the Yakima revealed itself in a number of scantily-clad young people in inflatable toys, milking the river for all its worth. They were admittedly under-dressed for the coolish weather but alcohol seems to dull the senses and they all appeared to be having their own brand of fun. In another few days the river would drop to levels where exposed rocks would put an end to the Rubber Hatch for good.

Other than the few flotillas of frolickers the river wasn’t very busy. We leap-frogged with 4 other boats all day but there was plenty of room in all the good water to drop anchor and ply the likely haunts with our dry fly offerings.  We saw a couple anglers fishing with strike indicators but we refused on this day to fish anything but a dry. We stumbled upon Sir Lancelot and Marck and their cargo of guest anglers as they were pulled over seeking a place to grab some lunch. As we approached I shouted a friendly greeting as friends often do when they see a comrade on the water:  “Ahoy! Catch any whitefish lately?” I asked.  Marck’s reply was brief, as he’s a man as short on words as I am on height: “Nope, how about you?”  Before I could say “We’re not fishing for whitefish, sir – we are gentleman dry fly anglers and we are fishing exclusively for trout,” my rod tip bent slightly and I reeled in a small Squawfish Northern Pikeminnow. Marck pointed out what I already knew: there is a bounty on the heads of any Northern Pikeminnow over 9 inches, and my fish would have fetched a reward of $4 had I caught it on the Columbia River. But there’s no official bounty on these fish in the Yakima River so I released it back into the waters to devour more juvenile salomonids.

Catching was actually better than what I typically encounter on the Yakima, which isn’t saying a lot. Jimmy landed a half dozen fish in the 8-10 inch range and nearly landed a 15 inch trout that showed all the gumption of a spawned-out, half-rotten salmon.  It was really quite a surprise at how little resistance this otherwise healthy looking fish offered, and the fact that Jimmy didn’t actually bring it to the net speaks only to the fact that he is as unaccomplished as the other fisherman in the boat.  Yours truly landed a handful of rather unimpressive fish in the similar size range of 8-10 inches.

The action turned up a notch during our last 45 minutes on the water as I hooked 3 fish and landed two of them.  A strong fighting ~15 inch fish took line from my reel and jumped a couple of times before breaking off my 5X (at least my knots held).  I’d liked to have landed that fish for sure, but it was fun just to feel a solid tug on the end of the line after many previous trips without that privilege. We saw very few rising fish all day, and many of those hooked were done so several feet off the banks.  The only fish we encountered that were hunkered tight to the banks were 2-4 inch troutlets.  This came as no surprise given the dropping flows – the larger fish were moving into feeding lanes out from the banks as they do every year at this time. So everything was as it should have been.

Except for the hoppers.  Where were the hoppers?