Early October. Last year at about the same time I fished a section of the Yakima that I’d never fished before, above the town of Cle Elum. It’s a much different river up there compared to the more familiar waters downstream where I usually fish. The river was low and very wadable, and reports were that salmon were in the system laying eggs. The trout were following the salmon. And the fishermen were following the trout – at least Marck and I were. It was a beautiful afternoon until the wind started blowing so hard that casting became nearly impossible. As if the wind wasn’t bad enough it was very late in the day and I was facing a horrible skunk. It did not look good, and in fact vultures were even circling overhead (you can just make them out in the photo below). Desperately I worked my way downstream, trying everything in the fly box before finally managing to scratch out a 10 inch rainbow on an October Caddis. Just as the last light was fading, I glanced up to see Marck walking toward me with a shit-eating grin on his face. As I was plying 1/4 mile of water for one small fish Marck had stayed in one spot for 2 hours, using the same tattered fly, without moving an inch. When you’re catching fish on every other cast, why would you move? I made a note to myself never to fish with Marck again.
So yes, last year was a rough day on this stretch of the Yakima for the Unaccomplished Angler. But this was a new year and it was with rekindled faith that I decided to go back and redeem myself. In addition to Marck, whom I had long since forgiven for being a better angler than myself, Jimmy and my son Schpanky also joined in the fun. Except for the lack of wind, which was quite welcome, conditions were very similar to a year earlier: a beautiful warm, fall day with pesky mosquitoes gnawing at us as we geared up and hiked a mile or so to our starting point.
The river was low and clear, flanked by brilliantly-colored foliage and the smell of fall. Or rather, the smell of hundreds of rotting salmon. Not all were dead yet, but most had completed their journey and lay peacefully still in the shallows, giving nutrients back to the stream that had given them birth. It’s not sad to witness all these dead fish, rather it’s a joyous triumph to see that they had completed their life cycles and made the journey home. Still, it tugs at the heart strings when one sees two lovers lying next to one another in a last, dying embrace.
Fishing was quite good right off the bat, at least for one of us. Jimmy immediately waded into a run that continued to give up modest sized fish with nearly every cast. What he failed to do was move on after catching a whole bunch of them so that someone else might have a turn at it. Had he glanced at the riverbank he would have seen a man-child looking on with yearning in his eyes, drool hanging from his lower lip and a twitch in his casting hand; waiting patiently, hoping for a chance to catch just one fish from the productive run. It was not to be.
The boy, Marck and I moved on downstream to less productive waters. Egg-laying October Caddis bounced along the water’s surface, but no fish were rising. It was still early in the afternoon with few shadows on the water so we opted instead to swing soft hackles and Chubby Cousins, largely to no avail. We worked a couple runs that gave up tiny troutlets, but fish of any notable size were very scarce — scarce, but not completely absent. At one point I did manage to land a strong fighting 12″ fish that gave my 4wt a good run for it’s money. Schpanky gleefully ran to my side to snap a photo of the fish, his face beaming with admiration for his old man.
The water temperature had measured 62 degrees upon our arrival. That’s not too warm, but it was warmer than we’d have preferred. When the cooler weather of fall hits and lowers the water temps into the 50’s, the fish start thinking ahead to winter and begin gorging themselves. The fish hadn’t yet adopted this line of anticipatory thinking, and catching remained slow. I tried my best to make this day all about the boy. After a severe skunking earlier in the summer, he needed a good day of catching more than I did. It’s been a long time since the Yakima yielded a bountiful day, or even a single decent fish for Schpanky, so on this day I gave him first shot when we approached new water, hoping he’d hook up with a good fish. I almost felt bad when, after he had worked through a nice piece of fishy looking water, I came in behind him and picked his pocket hooked into a solid fish. Much to his delight I lost that fish but immediately thereafter landed another nice 12 inch fish. I could see the look of despair spreading across his face, but he remained a good sport and showed his adoration for his old man by holding up a single finger. It was gratifying to know that I was still #1 in his book. I think it was his index finger, though now that I ruminate over it I may have been mistaken. Oh well, blame it on aging eyes.
We kept fishing and I continued to be the positive-thinking role model that every teenager loathes, especially when they’re not catching fish. Comments about how good his casting looked were apparently unheard. Repeated reminders that “It’s called fishing, son – not catching!” were met with contemptuous sideways glares. The increased silence grew deafening. As the afternoon wore on I continued with my attempts to lift the lad’s spirits by reminding him that even Marck wasn’t catching any fish (which I took great pleasure in, by the way). Schpanky’s body language indicated that he was defeated and no longer interested in trying to salvage any chances of catching a fish over 3 inches. Concerned that perhaps his mood was being affected by low blood-sugar, I offered him a shot from the whiskey flask snack bar and a hug. He gladly accepted the former. We moved on. He had to keep fishing because we were still a ways from our termination point, but his heart wasn’t in it. Apparently he had hit the wall.
A constant companion throughout the day was the stench of rotting salmon. Redds were flagged throughout the river so we were careful to give them a wide berth, but the carcasses were harder to avoid. At one point a particularly nice looking specimen was encountered and, in trying to keep the mood light, I suggested to Schpanky that he hold it up for a hero shot. He passed. Probably a good thing because his mother would not have been amused to see her little boy holding a moldy salmon in his bare hands.
We fished on. We swung flies through fishy looking slots and when the shadows were fully upon the river we switched to dries. Nothing seemed to work– not even a small woolly bugger stripped behind a rock the size of a Smart Car could produce a bump. At one point I looked upriver and saw a large fish jump a half dozen times within 30 feet of Schpanky’s location. I was momentarily sure that he had hooked an elusive Yakima unicorn steelhead and his mood would be salvaged! It turned out to be a Coho with a bug up it’s butt, putting on one last display of gumption before it expired like the scores of its brethren. Unfortunately it was not in any way attached to the boys line.
We called the time of death at around 6:30PM and hiked back to the truck. As we broke down our rods and stripped off our waders, we once again fed the mosquitoes and marveled at what a beautiful day it had been on the water. While the catching had been much less than what we had anticipated, it was a great day of fishing. For me it was a rewarding afternoon spent with my son, forging an already solid bond on the river. I’m not sure that he felt the same way, but someday when he’s a grown man he’ll look back on days like this day and fondly recall not the quantity of the fish caught, but the quality of the time spent fishing with his old man. I hope that then I’m still #1 in his book.
This could be a gear review, because I’ve had the pleasure of fishing out of one of these boats before and they’re sweet. I also had a chance to row one recently and that made me like them even more. Well, as it turns out the owner of the company, Link Jackson, is letting his personal demo boat and trailer go to make room for a new model destined soon for his garage. Ah, hell, rather me regurgitating, here’s what he has to say:
“Today is the day…..I must make room for the new Salmonfly prototype in the garage while I am testing it. My personal Green Drake boat with 1 summer season of use goes up for sale today. The basic package (same as new package) including a brand new frame is going for $5,000 and my cargo trailer will go for $1500. P…hoto above. The boat is in great shape and the trailer is in good to great shape (I recently installed aluminum plating on all surfaces that road gravel hits to avoid having to touch up paint). First offer buys it.”
That’s right– throw him an offer! I really, really wish I was in a position to buy this boat. If I was, I’d have already called, texted, emailed, Facebooked and sent a carrier pigeon to reserve it. And I’d already be on my way to Boise to pick it up. Here’s a photo of the actual boat. Some lucky guy or gal is going to be tickled to get this thing.
You might ask, “Hey, Unaccomplished Angler – why are listing this on your blog? What’s in it for you?” Actually, a case of Bud. So if you buy the raft, tell Link I sent ya. Then take me fishing in your new boat. I’ll buy you a beer.
Stream Tech Boats
2930 W. Taft Street
Boise, ID 83703
When I was a kid I liked comic book superheros, and my favorite was always Spiderman. I could easily identify with his alter ego – an unpopular, skinny kid by the name of Peter Parker. But once he donned the crime fighting tights I marveled at Spiderman’s ability to shoot his webbing between buildings and catch bad guys, very much in the same way that a skilled fly angler can fire a tight cast between overhanging branches and catch hiding fish. I’ve always wanted to be able to do both. Hey, a guy can dream can’t he?
Sea run cutthroat (SRC), or coastal cutthroat trout, are common to these parts (Western Warshington). When I was a comic book-reading kid I trolled for them along the beaches of Hood Canal, and later in life I’ve fished for them in the lazy stretches of the Snoqualmie River. I’ve known all along that SRC like the slow moving “frog water” and lie near structure so that they can ambush prey. I’ve also known for many years that there is a special fly tied just for these fish: the Reversed Spider. But knowing these things, and even possessing the fly with alleged super powers hasn’t brought me any good luck. The few times that I’ve gone after them have resulted favorably for the fish and left me feeling more like an unpopular skinny kid than a superhero. Recently, however, my SRC fortunes improved a little bit.
Brian Paige, who is a real life fishing superhero, recently invited me to join him for a steelhead float on the Wenatchee River. Unfortunately rains had caused the Wenatchee to rise and it was decided that we’d save ourselves the gas money and fish closer to home on the Skykomish River. As for what finned quarry we would be pursuing, Brian said, “Bring a 4 wt, an 8 wt and your Spey rod.” Apparently we’d be chasing SRC, Coho salmon, and steelhead. The prospects of that trifecta sounded rather enticing to me, so I grabbed my Sage Z-Axis 4 wt and Spey, and my Sage XP 8wt. I am admittedly a Sage whore Poster Boy, as I also have a few other Sage rods besides the ones employed for duty on this day.
I met Brian at the Sultan launch and we were joined by none other than the mysterious man who goes by the moniker, “Flybill”. There were enough rods in Brian’s boat to outfit a fly shop as we headed downriver under cloudy skies that threatened drizzle. There was even a spinning rod with the cork still in shrink wrap. I’m still not sure what that rod was doing there – all I know is that it didn’t belong to either Brian or myself. It had rained most of the night before and unfortunately the Skykomish was slightly on the rise. As we all know, fishing a river that’s rising isn’t what one would prefer to do, but to date I’ve not tapped into the superpowers needed to alter nature’s course. The weather forecast had indicated that the day would be clearing so we weren’t expecting much if any rain and hopefully the rising river wouldn’t become unfishable.
We immediately began casting toward the slow water for cutts. Brian guides for a living and fishes when he’s not guiding, so he’s on the river a lot. In between time on the water he works at All About The Fly, so fly fishing pretty much consumes his life. Brian starts fishing for sea run cutts in July, and had caught over 100 fish this past summer, even with a 5 week hiatus to do some guiding in Alaska. Bottom line: he knows how to fish for these SRC. Since I don’t, I was all ears when he described the tactics needed to trick these trout.
I watched as he demonstrated a technique developed by none other than the Reverend Mike Kinney , a northwest fly fishing legend who just so happened to create the Reversed Spider. With the rod tip close to the water, a quick flip of the wrist lifts and drops of the rod tip, followed immediately by a strip of the line. This gives the Reversed Spider the undulating action that drives these fish crazy and lures them into its web of deceit, and it didn’t take long for the fish to start hitting the fly tied to the ends of Brian’s line. It’s a fast-paced, visual type of fishing with rapid casts, frantic stripping and split second hook sets as these silver-sided fish rocket from their hiding places to hit the flies. It took me a while to get the proper technique dialed in, but finally I had a fish on! I was about to declare myself a bonafied Web Slinger, but when I finally landed a fish it wasn’t the species we sought: instead of a cutthroat, I had done a stellar job of fooling an 8 inch steelhead parr. Brian seemed hold my antics in contempt as if I was some sort of child molester, but I assured him I wasn’t trying to catch baby steelhead. Once again I felt like a skinny, unpopular kid.
Eventually I did manage to land a SRC, and my lifetime of being skunked at this game was over. The fish wasn’t impressive in size, but nobody had landed anything over 10 inches so I was holding my own in size if not numbers. Over the course of the day the rain that wasn’t supposed to fall, fell – sometimes hard, though it didn’t last long. I caught another couple small cutties, but it wasn’t enough to make me feel like Spiderman. We covered a lot of fishy looking water, and whenever Brian cast to a spot, he nearly always hooked a fish. At one point while I sat and watched, Brian went 5 fish for 7 casts. I had chances on what would have been the nicest 3 fish of the day – fish of about 12 inches, but I couldn’t seal the deal and ended up striking out. If I’d just landed one of those fish I could have worn the red and blue tights of the friendly neighborhood Web Head. It was probably best for all on board that I didn’t.
We saw a few Coho jumping throughout the day, but we never rigged up our rods for these tight-lipped fish that were in the river not to feed but to breed. And then die. I’ve never actually fished for silvers in the rivers, but I’ve heard that catching them on a fly is not impossible, just difficult. We decided not to waste our time to instead keep fishing for SRC, and occasionally pulled the boat over to the shore when good swinging water offered a chance to do a little Spey casting for unicorns steelhead. Not surprisingly, none of these anadromous rainbow trout were caught although Flybill had a good bump. Or so he said. I’ll take his word for it. I have no reason to doubt Flybill. Afterall, he’s a fisherman and fishermen never stretch the truth.
By the end of the day the rain that wasn’t supposed to fall finally stopped for good. I didn’t count the number of SRC landed, although Brian was into double digits and Flybill was well ahead of me. The fatigue in my casting arm confirmed that the total number of rapid fire casts I made was near 1000, which is the number of casts it usually takes to catch a steelhead. In that regard I’d done pretty well, as I’d caught at least a half dozen steelhead parr during the course of the day. Oh well, Peter Parker suffered many hardships before earning his Spiderman tights.