Swingin’ the Chubby Cousin.
The text message from Derek Young indicated that the upper Yakima was fishing well, and suggested that perhaps we should pay a visit. “Fishing well.” I’ve heard that before. Derek guides for a living so he’s on the river a lot. He fishes it with great frequency so the recollection of a slow day can easily be lost amidst the hustle and bustle of productive fishing days. I fish it much less often – certainly not often enough for the rare, exceptional days to shroud out the other kinds of days. In other words, I get my arse handed to me by the Yakima more often than not. And so I hesitated to commit to Derek’s invitation. As much as I enjoy fishing with him, to be honest I was starting to have steelhead on the brain this time of year. When I reminded myself that a day of steelheading would be a guaranteed skunking, I opted to float the Yakima instead.
Yet another weather system was parked over Western Washington, causing moderate to heavy precipitation to fall from the skies all the way over Snoqualmie pass and even a few miles to the East of the summit. I hoped that the gloomy weather wouldn’t translate into a dark cloud of despair. As I crested the summit I passed a semi bearing the name WERNER, and thought to myself, “Could this be a good omen? Could this be MY day?” I put the silly notion out of my head and proceeded East.
The sky lightened and the rain tapered off just before I pulled into the town of Cle Elum where I met Derek at 11:00 AM. We dropped the Green Drake into the low, clear waters and floated perhaps 5 minutes before pulling over to work both sides of an island. Rocks were teeming with small green caddis larvae, so a size 16 olive Caddis (standard Elk Hair variety) was selected for initial duty. Good choice. Armed with my 4 wt. Sage Z-Axis (yes, I will shamelessly throw the brand out there in hopes that Sage will see it and choose to sponsor my blog), the fish played nicely from the get-go. I landed a small handful of 10 inch rainbows in the first half hour before pinching myself to see if I was dreaming. Except for when I visit the Firehole River in Yellowstone each year, it’s never this easy for me. I didn’t question my good fortune, however, and continued drifting the olive-colored magic through trouty looking water. At one point I was hooked up and playing a fish as another jumped within 6 feet of the action. I’ll admit that as the frenzy continued I could be heard carrying on a conversation with myself that went something like this: “With angling skills to make all others envious, you sir, are a fish-catching machine!” It doesn’t take much for me to become dilusional. For those of you who regularly catch many and impressive fish, this may not sound like anything extraordinary. Fish a mile in my wading boots and you’ll come to appreciate my glee in the moment.
We continued downstream under partly cloudy skies and mild temperatures. Clouds threatened rain, but none fell and for a short time I felt overdressed in my waders and long-sleeved shirt. When a hatch of Blue Winged Olives came off for a bit, there was no point in switching patterns because the olive caddis was still drawing numerous strikes. The action did taper off after a while though, proving that nothing good lasts forever. When the fish seemed less willing (though not entirely unwilling, mind you) to take surface offerings, we fished below. Derek grabbed his nymph rod and ran his bobber through fishy slots. I wanted to avoid nymphing, per se, so I decided to try something a little different. Reaching into my fly box, I grabbed a pattern that I usually only fish when in Yellowstone each Spring: a small soft hackle bead head nymph by the name of the Chubby Cousin.
When we fish the Firehole, we forego dead drifting double nymph rigs and bobbers, and instead cast downstream at a quarter angle and swing the small bugs through the current. Strikes usually come when the fly begins to settle into the seam where the faster water meets the slower holding water. It’s like swinging streamers for steelhead only on a miniature scale. I enjoy this type of nymph fishing but had never employed the tactics on the Yakima. Why not? Well, to be honest I just never seem to think of it at the time. This time I thought of it and I’m glad I did. There was plenty of good swinging water and the fish took a liking to the Chubby Cousin. With it’s swept-back hackles and rubber legs, there’s plenty of movement in the water. A few 10 inch rainbows were fond enough of the soft hackle to commit with solid takes at mid swing. Many more came unbuttoned during the course of regretting that they’d fallen for the Chubby. It was rare to not get at least a bump for every couple swings of the fly.
Rain began to fall intermittently in the late afternoon, but it dampened neither our spirits nor the enthusiastic appetite of the fish. Switching to an October Caddis proved to be a reasonably wise decision, but it wasn’t as effective as had been the olive Caddis, so I tied on another of those. The only downside to fishing the small dry was that it invoked many a strike from tiny troutlets. For a while the number of greedy little gamers grew aggravating but eventually the fry left me alone and I was able to hook and land a beautifully colored 12 inch rainbow. At that point I offered to row so Derek could fish as we drifted. I enjoy time on the oars, and to be honest I had wanted to try my hand at the helm of the Green Drake since fishing out of it earlier in the year.
The Green Drake is a 13 foot Maravia raft custom outfitted for fly fishing by Stream Tech Boats out of Boise. It’s nice to fish out of and as I found, a pleasure to row. I’ve rowed a drift boat many times but I’d never been on the oars of a raft before. I instantly liked the high perch of the rower’s seat which offers even a wee feller such as myself a commanding view of the river ahead. I was easily able to see approaching rocks before bouncing off of them, as opposed to banging and scraping as I’ve done in The Hornet a hard boat is prone to do. The hard inflatable floor is nice for standing on as one leans into the casting brace, and that same floor creates very little drag, making the boat very responsive and easy to hold against the current. For the first time I started to think that if I were to one day acquire a boat of my own I would have to give such a raft some serious consideration. I could see one of these boats providing a great deal of enjoyment and opportunity to spend quality time together on the water for Mrs. UA and myself. If it weren’t for those damn college tuition payments that we’ve only just begun to make…
While I rowed and Derek fished we marveled at what a tremendous day it had been in all regards. As the sun grew low in the sky it provided for some dramatic scenery, casting a glow upon the trees and causing them to stand out vibrantly against an ominous looking sky. Fall was definitely here: salmon were spawning in their redds and the trout were eating like there was no tomorrow. It was one of those days where if the water looked like it should hold a fish, it nearly always held a fish. It’s so rare that I have a day like this that for a fleeting moment I almost forgot the multiple sub-par days I’d had on the Yakima during the preceding months. I’m not one to openly declare that the Fish Gods owe me anything, but every itchy dog has his day and I was long overdue to be scratched. It’s not just the scratching catching that made the day great, but the opportunities that presented themselves: There were several fish landed, many more hooked and released prematurely, and countless strikes. It was those strikes that made the day particularly rewarding because it showed just how many fish were in the system and eager to take a swipe at the fly. The largest fish caught were no more than 12 inchers, but I was a happy angler. In fact, so good was my mood that I even let Derek pose for a photo with my nicest fish of the day.
We were just minutes from the termination point of our float and about to pack it in save for a particularly fishy piece of water that begged for one more cast. “I’m gonna run my little Chubby through that sweet spot one last time,” I announced. Derek looked at me and very matter-of-factly said, “Fly fishing is the one activity where you can say that and not get in trouble.” I had a couple tugs but didn’t set the hook fast enough. It didn’t matter – my day was compleat.
As we neared our take-out, the unmistakable odor of skunk filled the air. We laughed at the irony of that. It was too late for a skunking. Way too late. But it did remind me that had I not gone fishing with Derek I would have probably gone steelheading.