Ever since last week’s Drivel, I’m sure that y’all have been sitting on the edges of your seats…chompin’ at the bit…waiting with baited breath…to find out if I will have a fishing partner in my future years. Well, I’m happy to say that chances are good that I will, and his name is Schpanky The Crusher of Steelhead. And while the mission was accomplished, it was not without certain unaccomplishments- the stuff that keeps you, all 8 readers, coming back.
After a road trip that included 3 hours of driving and a 90 minute wait for the Edmonds-Kingston ferry, we rolled into Forks just after the sun had set. I had expected that all the hooplah over the Twilight movies would be all but non-existent. I envisioned Forks as a hard working, blue collar town with a proud heritage of logging and fishing: a town that was perhaps a bit embarrassed by the recent Twilight movies. But as we drove through town it was readily apparent that Twilight is a big deal in Forks. Well, that, and fishing. We checked in to the Pacific Inn Motel and the lobby was equally divided into Twilight paraphernalia and fishing information: strange bedfellows for sure, but who can fault the local folks trying to capitalize on the Twilight cult by making a few bucks off a movie that wasn’t even filmed in Forks? The accommodations were clean and simple, and since we’d be there for less than 12 hours, it suited us just fine. After checking in we walked the town in search of some dinner. After filling our bellies I set about the task of organizing gear for the morning. I selected the sink tips to be used on the Spey rods, inspected knots, placed new leader on the single handed 8 weight reel, and made sure I had the right clothes set out for the morning. It’s much easier to think the night before rather than at 0 dark thirty in the morning, and I wanted to make sure no details were overlooked and that nothing was left behind.
The alarm went off at 5:30, and at 5:40 I finally saw signs of life in the boy. Teenagers are fond of sleeping in whenever possible. Sleeping in was not an option on this day, as we were slated to meet Joe Willauer at the Forks Coffee Shop between 6 and 6:15. I wanted to be there at 6:00 to mainline as much coffee as possible. We waited and waited, and Joe finally arrived at about 6:17. I made a notation on my Guide Tip Criteria Checklist and docked a few bucks for his late arrival. After we horked down a hearty breakfast, we grabbed our lunches to go and loaded most of our essential gear into Joe’s new truck. I complimented him on the new rig and asked if the back window leaked like his old truck (I’d been fortunate to be wearing my rain jacket the last time I was in the back seat of Joe’s old truck). “No,” replied Joe. “And this one doesn’t smell like wet dog and ass. It’s kind of a bummer.” It was going to be a good day.
As we drove the half hour to our launch point on the Hoh River, we marveled at the lack of rain falling from the sky. Joe had been out with clients the day before when the temperature had hovered around 39 degrees with a mix of rain and snow. We passed a herd of Roosevelt elk along the way that also seemed to be enjoying a respite from the previous day’s miserable weather.
With the raft unloaded we wadered-up and began to transfer our gear into the boat. Joe had an extra 8 wt single handed rod and
asked me nicely instructed me to string up my 8 wt rod. Not one to argue, I instructed Schpanky to grab the 8 wt rod while I went for the reel. In my heightened state of supreme nocturnal organization the night before, I’d managed to make sure that everything we needed was with us. Except for the 8 wt reel. Unless I was going to do a little Tenkara fishing for steelhead, I was going to need a reel for my rod.
But wait, it gets better: I’d also forgotten the two reels for our Spey rods. I’m fairly certain they were in my truck, parked back at the coffee shop. Fortunately Joe had two complete Spey outfits on board, and after a bit of finesse and sweet-talking he managed to locate a nearby 8 wt reel that only involved a 15 minute delay while he drove to meet his buddy Aaron O’Leary who had the extra reel (I never got to thank you, Aaron–so, thank you). My stupidity had just re-earned Joe the percentage of the tip he had lost for being late for breakfast. The good in all of this is that our delay allowed us to watch an angler land a big fish just a few feet from us. The matter of the forgotten reels was just a minor glitch and by 8 AM we were on the water and things were looking up, including the weather: the skies were gray, but rain was giving us a wide berth. While we anticipated plenty of precipitation, it wasn’t breaking our hearts to be dry for the time being.
As be began our descent we soaked in the beauty of the Hoh River valley and surrounding rain forest. I’ve been on a lot of rivers and they all have their own unique beauty, but there was something special about this place. Maybe it was the knowledge that in these waters ran some of the most amazing fish: wild, bright OP steelhead that were only perhaps a day or two out of the ocean. We were in the midst of the best, last remaining good steelhead fishing for wild fish in the Lower 48. It was hard to not be excited about the prospects of the day, but catching is never a guarantee.
We had roughly 12 river miles to cover, and with expectations high that we would be busy landing fish all day, each mile was met with new enthusiasm. Unfortunately each new mile resulted in no fish, and as mid day approached, I detected a certain lack of enthusiasm on the part of Schpanky. I think part of his plummeting mood came from the fact that he was shocked and offended by the colorful language pouring from Joe’s mouth. Early in the day I had requested that Joe keep his language clean because my son isn’t used to hearing cuss words. Joe was informed that his tip would be docked $5 for every F-bomb dropped, and by 10 AM he was nearing a zero balance. We had stopped and worked a run with
our Joe’s Spey rods but were unable to swing up any fish, so nymphing on-the-go was the order of the day. The 5 whitefish we landed were of little consolation to the boy who appeared dejected by one hookup with a steelhead that busted him off after a brief fight. A sizable fish also quickly dispatched of yours truly, but my advantage over the boy is that, as a seasoned angler who is accustomed to unaccomplishments, I was able to laugh it off. That, and my blood sugar doesn’t plummet as does the boy’s. I can eat once in the morning and then not need food all day. The boy requires constant filter feeding. As I saw it, his nutritional needs were not my concern – I had fish to catch, damnit darnit.
Joe is a great guide, and to his credit he worked hard, tirelessly replaced the countless flies that
I Schpanky lost and cheered us on—providing hope with each new bend in the river. I’d almost even go so far as to suggest that Joe is a beacon of positive reinforcement. But even that was not enough to keep the boy from plummeting into an emotional tailspin, and by lunchtime he was also getting cold. Fortunately the clouds parted and allowed the sun to warm us a bit, and Top Ramen served with a stick was a nice touch that did a lot to improve the outlook on life. I reminded Schpanky that no matter whether we caught any fish today, he’d already surpassed his old man in height. That seemed to boost his mood a bit more. To keep him from getting too cocky I also reminded that I can still kick his arse when it comes to fishing and otherwise. Then he brought up the matter of the reels I’d left in the truck and I grew sullen and withdrew from the duel. Well played, young lad. Well played.
We departed our lunch spot with hope and energy rekindled. As we dropped into “the Canyon” the rain that had been threatening all day finally descended upon us and gave us a taste of what the OP can dish out. Fortunately the rain, while heavy, lasted less than an hour. As we emerged from the Canyon the rain tapered off and the clouds of despair lifted, both literally and figuratively. Shortly thereafter the boy hooked up with and landed a beautiful chrome hen that weighed in the range of 11 to 13 lbs. It may have been 12 or possibly 14 lbs, but Joe’s policy for the day was to refer to fish in odd-numbered increments. The fish could have been 5 or 7 lbs for all that mattered—I just wanted the boy to land a steelhead on this trip, and that goal had been met. Now, the Schpanky is not one to wear his emotions on his sleeve, but even he couldn’t hide his excitement. There would be no hugs or celebratory dancing of the jig, but fist bumps were exchanged all around (very manly sort of stuff). Joe had been operating under an incredible amount of pressure all day, and I could see the tension leaving his body as breathed a sigh of relief. I thought I smelled something waft from within his waders too, but I could be wrong.
With his head held just a bit higher and perhaps a couple
more hairs on his chest, the boy angled on with a new found hope, while I continued to snag every possible hunk of structure in the river. With the old man out of commission every 10 minutes or so, the boy did took every possible advantage of the power play. Eventually it paid off as he hooked up with another fish around 6pm. When the hook was set, the response was instantly, “It’s just a small one.” As the boy nonchalantly stripped in slack line, he simultaneously muttered something about a “double rainbow”. I’m reasonably certain that the collective response from Joe and I was, “WTF?” and then suddenly the rod bent sharply and the “little fish” began taking line and heading west, toward the ocean, which was only about 10 miles away. Keeping his wits about him, Schpanky succeeded in landing his second fish of the day: a super bright buck of about 9 lbs.
As the boy fought the fish and Joe stood by with the net, it became readily apparent that the random comment wasn’t so random: just like the dude in the infamous YouTube video says, there was a full on double rainbow all across the sky. What does it mean?
It means that the boy met the Hoh and lost his innocence. He became an accomplished steelhead angler and kicked his old man’s arse. It means that Joe earned his full tip.
Hopefully it also means that I won’t ever forget the reels again. Thanks Joe, for holding up your end of the bargain (don’t spend that $15 all in one place). Save us a couple days in your schedule for a year from now. Who knows, maybe I can catch a fish next time…
It all started as a friendly joke, I think. Or maybe I lost a bet, I’m not sure. At any rate, a poorly-drawn, not-to-scale cardboard rendition of the Unaccomplished Angler first made it’s appearance a few weeks ago over at Rebecca Garlock’s Outdooress blog. I found it to be mildy amusing and wrote about it here. Like any cheezy, ill-conceived fad, I assumed it would die out and my cardboard alter ego would end up in the trash bin.
Apparently I’ve been recycled.
I’m not sure what’s in store for me, but I am now in a small town somewhere in Michigan where Jason Tucker over at the Fontinalis Rising blog has me holed up in a “guest” room all day long while he’s off at work. I don’t know what constitutes hospitality in other parts of the country, but out here in the Pacific Northwest one does not invite someone to go fishing, only to get them all jacked up on caffeine before leaving them locked inside the house all day. I want to go fishing, or at least spend a day seeing the sights.
Stay tuned for who knows what. Bloggers are an odd bunch.
By the time you read this we’ll be on the road headed toward the northwestern most tip of the Lower 48. “We” consists of yours truly and my wee lad, Schpanky, and the road we’ll be on is the one that leads to Forks, WA. We go not in quest of vampires, but to seek out the majestic wild steelhead of the Olympic Peninsula (the OP). Like the one pictured above, caught recently by
Josh Mills Old Man River, of Chucking Line and Chasing Tail fame.
For an unaccomplished steelhead fisherman, this trip to the Mecca of lower 48 steelhead fishing is both exciting and daunting at the same time. First, let’s examine the excitement factor: You see, being a lifelong resident of the state of Warshington, I’ve never been to Forks. I’ve been close, but never actually to the town of Forks, and I’ve never fished for steelhead on the OP. Schpanky has never been steelhead fishing, per se, period. The boy is now 17, and as with most kids that age he’s rather busy. In fact, so busy is he during the prime months of winter steelhead fishing that there is hardly a weekend available from November through February to go out and chase the great anadromous rainbow trouts of winter. Being on the high school wrestling team means weekend tournaments begin right about the time the fish start moving into the rivers, and the season concludes about the time the Washington Dept. of Fish & Wildlife decides to shut down the local rivers. So I booked us this trip months ago, knowing that we had one opportunity to get out and fish the waters of the Promised Land before the rivers close in April.
I didn’t have much of a winter steelhead season My winter steelhead season was a complete bust this year. La Niña (The Bitch) brought with her incessant rains that swelled our local rivers multiple times during the months of December and January. When I did have a day available to go fishing, the rivers were not in good shape. Around here, rivers closed before February began, so the result was zero fish hooked. So yeah, we’re kinda excited about this trip. At least I am.
Now on to the daunting aspect of this trip: pressure and unpredictability. The OP rivers are rain forest rivers, and not just by some stretch of the imagination: it’s an actual rain forest. It rains a LOT out there. Like upwards of 120 inches per year. Seattle is known for it’s rain, but the Jet City actually only gets about 52 inches of measurable precipitation annually. Do the math: The OP gets more than twice the rain that Seattle does. Don’t quote me on it, but I believe Forks and the surrounding OP may be the wettest location in the Lower 48, with only Yukatat, AK and Hilo, HA being wetter places in the non-contiguous United States. In other words, we’re taking our Gortex. That same precipitation that grows massive, moss-cloaked cedar trees also causes OP rivers to blow out quickly, and within the past week the Hoh River, which typically fishes well around 2500 CFS, spiked to nearly 10,000 CFS. I know many folks who canceled long-standing trips to fish out there last week. I felt bad for them, and felt relieved that our trip was not scheduled for one week earlier. When you book a trip to fish for steelhead in the wettest location in the lower 48 during late winter, you close your eyes and roll the dice. Knock on wood, things are looking favorable for us at the time of this writing. If the rain
holds off remains moderate, the rivers should be able to handle it. It is imperative that we encounter prime conditions. We HAVE to catch a fish. At least one. There is great pressure to do so. The forecast calls for showers and light rain. Not rain, but showers and light rain. We can work with that, I hope. Fingers remain crossed–there’s a lot riding on this trip.
You see, Schpanky has followed me on many trout fishing excursions over the years, and while he has caught some fish, we’ve encountered way too many “less than stellar” days on the water. I’ve always reminded him that there’s more to fishing than catching fish (which is always met with a blank stare). I impart upon him the vast wisdom that an angler has to get on the water as much as possible in order to maximize their chances of having that one great day—of catching that one great fish. Well, it hasn’t worked out that well for the lad. In fact, a year ago I planned a Yakima River trip during his Spring Break that was canceled due to broken Spring weather. By the time we were able to reschedule the trip it didn’t live up to
expectations anticipations. In fact, it didn’t even come close: the boy was sick, the river was rising and a weather system was moving in. With increased atmospheric pressure, the fishing shut down and neither of us touched a fish all day. Too many days like that will sour a young, occasional angler.
If I can hold out the slightest glimmer of hope that the boy will maintain even a slight interest in fly fishing with his old man in future years, that hope lies on the success of this trip. We’ll be fishing with my buddy Joe Willauer, who guides for Jeff Brazda during the late winter/early spring months on the OP, before returning home Montana for a summer of guiding the heralded waters around Twin Bridges.
And so, with Spey rods (and one meat stick) stowed along with our rain gear, Schpanky and The Unaccomplished Angler are about to meet the rivers of the OP. It is my hope that Schpanky hooks into a 35 inch, dime bright slab still dripping with Pacific Ocean salt…and that the fish runs downstream like a locomotive, dragging the lad behind as he sprints over the river rocks like a spazz, chortling like a schoolgirl (or maybe that’ll just be me in pursuit).
Joe, are you reading this? There’s a lot riding on this trip (including guide gratuities). Please see that the boy hooks into some wild OP chrome. I don’t care so much if I do, but the boy MUST catch a fish. The future depends on it.
Do you ever have those days when you go fishing and it seems as though nothing you do makes any difference in the outcome—that no amount of effort put forth is going to change the fact that on this particular day you are simply not going to catch a fish? Days like this can make you feel so ineffective that you may as well be nothing more than a cardboard standup: a single dimensional likeness of yourself that lacks any ability to do more than just be present. I recently had such a trip that made me feel like this. Truth be told I felt like dead weight being carted around all day.
It all started on a recent journey to chase some steelhead on the South Fork of the Clearwater River in Idaho. You may recall that a couple of months earlier I fished the main stem of the Clearwater with a group of old college buddies. On that day, we used spinning gear and either synthetic or real eggs or some combination of the two. That felt fairly dynamic to me as I branched out beyond the fly fishing barriers I had erected over time. But this most recent trip was a fly fishing trip, and on this trip I felt like anything but a dynamic angler.
How I got there is a curious and somewhat hazy recollection. Normally I would drive south and east across the state of Washington, entering into Idaho just before the town of Lewiston, then proceeding up the Clearwater from there. However, such was not quite the case this time. I really have no vivid memory of the drive itself, other than being crammed face down onto the dashboard of a pickup truck under the cloak of darkness in the wee hours of the morning, emerging only when we had arrived at our destination.
When it was light enough to make out the faces of my compadres, I didn’t recognize a single one of them. They consisted of a couple ladies and one guy, none of whom I’d met before in person though I had shared some correspondence via the internet with the two female anglers: Rebecca, of the Outdooress blog and Co-Dictator of the Outdoor Blogger Network; and Emily, of the River Damsel blog. I didn’t then and still don’t know who the dude was. All I know is that he had a video camera in front of his face for a good part of the day and I was never able to get a good enough look at him to even tell you what he looked like. It didn’t really matter who my fishing companions were. I was “Just Happy to be Here,” or so I was told.
We fished the South Fork of the Clearwater near Grangeville for a few hours, but it was running a bit high which made fly presentation somewhat challenging. I felt particularly inept on this day. Rebecca, who is known for her affinity for all things whitefish, did not disappoint in that regard. I must have said something to piss her off because she literally grabbed that little Rocky Mountain Bonefish and rubbed it in my face. There wasn’t anything I could do about it – I felt rather helpless, and for the remainder of the day I smelled like whitefish (which may smell worse than a skunk). After this demoralizing escapade we cut our losses and sought out some skinnier water on the Little Salmon. This diminutive river was more my size, and although I still couldn’t muster a cast to save my life, before too long Rebecca hooked up with a respectable steelhead. When she set the hook it was as if I became a second class citizen. I was literally cast aside and knocked to the ground where I lay amongst the cold, wet rocks on the river bank. From there I managed to witness her land what turned out to be a decent fish. A little dark, and it wasn’t as big as the steelhead I like to catch, but at least it was a steelhead. Not bad for a girl, I suppose.
At the end of the day I felt bent, bruised, tattered and a little soggy. I hadn’t managed to catch a fish, and quite frankly I felt like I’d done little more than be dragged around by my fishing companions like some sort of inanimate object. But I was “Just Happy to be Here” so I didn’t worry too much about my feelings of inadequacy or lack of dynamic presence. Back at the truck I was once again tossed onto the dash like a piece of cardboard for the ride home (at least the defroster dried me out and warmed me up). I must have nodded off because the drive home was a blur, and when I awoke the next morning it was as if I’d spent a fitful night dreaming strange dreams. I felt not unlike Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz (or at least a cardboard version of her): I’d been on a very strange journey, or in this case, a very strange fishing trip.
After posting the decision to rebrand the Unaccomplished Angler with a new logo, scores of a couple people indicated that they wanted a piece of me—in the form of stickers, that is.
As you know if you’ve been reading the UA blog for a while, I do like me some fly fishing stickers and even wrote
extensively long windedly about it HERE. Mrs. UA doesn’t share my enthusiasm for stickers, and thinks my ever-expanding obsession selection goes a bit too far. Well, that’s her opinion and she’s entitled to it. Doesn’t mean I agree, and I don’t. The problem with stickers is that once you start, where do you stop? I’ve been as of yet unable to determine that but I suppose when I can no longer see out the rear window of the canopy on the Fish Taco, I’ll have to make the decision to stop. Or start slathering the side windows. Likely the latter. For now, I have more room, and one of the vacant spots was recently taken up by yes, the all new…
Unaccomplished Angler stickers!
Perhaps some of you were lucky enough to receive stickers of the old UA logo, which were produced in very limited numbers and never made available for public consumption on a widespread basis. Well, like the old logo, the limited offering of stickers is also a thing of the past.
I ordered a very modest supply of 50 stickers to start. I’d be surprised if 5 people wanted stickers, let alone 50. But if by chance they’re deemed popular and fly off the shelves faster than Skwala dry flies in March, I’ll place another order. The stickers themselves are high quality vinyl, 3 inches round. You can get yours for $3.50 which includes postage. All proceeds from the sale of Unaccomplished Angler stickers go straight into my pocket- no charitable work or contributions to a good cause. You’ll just be helping fund my fishing habit. Might be enough to pay for gas, one way, on my next ill-fated trip to the Yakima River. See that tab at the top of the page? The one that says “Stickers- Get some!“? Click it. It’ll take you to the ordering page.
On another note, if you do want to feel good about your purchase, I’ve also got a very limited quantity of Olive the Woolly Bugger stickers left. They’re $3.00 each and all proceeds of these 4 inch oval stickers goes directly to Casting 4 A Cure. You can purchase Olive stickers over at MyFlies.com.
So, what do ya say- do you want a piece of me?