July2011

Help Olive the Woolly Bugger get to Hollywood

I’m reposting this for…um, a friend. Why?  Because they asked.

From the Olive the Woolly Bugger blog comes a plea for help. Click HERE to see how you can assist:

Pass it along, please.

A pleasant day with Sage Chick

You just know it’s going to be a pleasant day when one of your fishing compadres is an engaging young lady who shows up with a 12 pack of PBR and is a self-proclaimed “Master of the 6-incher”.

Marck and I had met The Sage Chick a year earlier when she was sent as a dignitary from the company that makes what I claim to be the finest production rods available to man. Admittedly that may be a subjective statement, but I make no secret about it: I do love me my Sage rods and the affection I have for my 4 wt Z-Axis may be borderline inappropriate.

After waiting for a very difficult Spring to make way for Summer (sort of), we finally managed to schedule a day when the Sage Chick could join Marck and I for another day on the Yakima River aboard the Hornet. Very early into the float it was mutually agreed that the best way to describe our recent outing was “pleasant”. How so? Well, let’s look at what a normal trip on the Yakima River in mid-July can almost always guarantee:

  • High summer flows around 4000 CFS. This means runnin’ and gunnin’ (frantically chucking big dries at the bank as the current whisks you downstream and anchoring should be strongly discouraged).
  • Pounding the banks with hopper patterns (see above). This can result in losing a fair great number of flies to the brush.
  • Scorching temperatures in the 90’s (and often into triple digits).
  • Howling winds that can shut down casting as they blow upstream and then downstream within a span of less than 15 seconds.
  • A River full of other anglers.
  • An overabundance of rubber hatchers (recreational floaters, which can be good and bad, if you know what I mean).

The aforementioned is typical, but in a year when the weather has been anything but normal, atmospheric-related oddities have come to the Yakima River as well. Flows in the Naches River, a downstream tributary of the Yakima, have been unseasonably high this year due to volumnous snowpack. Coupled with cooler than normal weather, the agricultural demands of the Yakima valley are such that the Naches is providing ample water for crops that aren’t growing like they should be. Therefore, the Army Corps of Engineers is not releasing the usual amounts of water from reservoirs that feed the upper Yakima River (the need for irrigation is what drives the summer flows on the Yakima). Without that need, the river was running much lower on our trip. That changed things from the typical summer game.

Some things about this day that made it different (and pleasant):

  • Flows were running about 2800 CFS (this makes back-rowing and anchoring possible).
  • Structure was visible and seams/feeding lanes were defined. Because of this, fish were not tight to the banks (not as many flies were lost as would normally be the case)
  • The temperature hovered around 70༠ F (nobody got sunburnt, heat-exhausted, or dehydrated)
  • Winds, while not altogether non-existent, were not nearly as troublesome as they can be.
  • We saw only 3 other boats with fishermen.
  • The rubber hatch was nearly nonexistent, save for a few brave souls who were clearly under-dressed for the cool day. One group even pulled up on a gravel bar and built a fire in the middle of the afternoon to warm up. Now that is some weird, wild stuff. Mid July?!?

Sage Chick took up position at the front of the boat and from there put on a catching clinic, demonstrating how to set the hook with all the delicate tact of a ranch hand roping cattle. She landed more fish than either Marck or myself, but she also pulled the fly completely out of the mouths of several sipping trouts. The bigger fish of the day were not hitting flies hard, and a gentle touch was needed for hook sets on those fish: a gentle touch that eluded the Alaskan native and former college athlete.

I had requested that Sage Chick try to get her hands on a 5 wt Sage “The One” rod for the trip, hoping to test cast one of these new sticks. Unfortunately she wasn’t able to commandeer one (apparently they’re popular with the staff at Sage and seem to be “in use” most of the time). That didn’t prevent her from bringing another yet-to-be introduced rod from Bainbridge Island: The Redington Torrent. This was a prototype version of a fast action rod that looked, from my vantage point in the back of the boat, to be smooth casting and capable of laying out a lot of line. Sage Redington Chick was double hauling to her heart’s content and refused to pass the Torrent around the boat for others to fondle. Who could blame her?  The rod was working for her and she was catching (and kissing) fish left and right.

First fish of the day goes to Sage Chick!

She was clearly having a good old time, and her enthusiasm was infectious.  It was like being at the same card table when there’s a high roller winning big.

Another fish for Sage Chick–you go, girl!

After a while, however, it started to get a little old.

Hey, look! Another fish for Sage Chick! Pass the PBR, please.

Fortunately there were times when she had to replace her fly. With her line safely out of the water it afforded Marck and I the advantage of a power play, which sometimes we capitalized on.

Big hands make the fish look relatively small.

 

The small net makes my fish look relatively big.

I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but in retrospect I’m sure the reason Sage Chick was out-catching us was because of two things: First, she sweet-talked to the trouts, encouraging them to take her fly in a non-threatening voice; Secondly, she kissed every one of them goodbye before releasing them. I wonder, had she landed a whitefish, would she have kissed it as well? What about a sucker?

All teasing of the Sage Chick aside, fish were cooperating nearly all day.  We fished hoppers above Lightning Bugs and the fish seemed to prefer the dropper. This was a revelation not so much that they wouldn’t take dries, but that they wanted smaller fare than a hopper pattern. Things (and fish) were looking up after we switched to PMDs and caddis dries. The majority of the fish were smallish, with a few in the 12 inch range. But there were plenty of bigger fish sipping an abundance of bugs throughout the afternoon to keep us engaged (and a bit frustrouted). Getting them to take the fly was the challenge, and Sage Chick would have landed the big fish of the day (a 15-16 incher) had she simply let the fish get a good grip before setting the hook.

We anchored up whenever we approached good looking water, worked seams, caught a bunch of fish and generally had a grand old time. A herd of Bighorn sheep revealed themselves fairly low on one of the cliffs above us. It’s always a treat to see the sheep, whereas deer are just so…common.

Bighorn sheeps.

 

This photo says it all: pleasant.

Our float concluded at the Squaw Creek Lmuma take-out around 7 pm. Normally in mid July this would be the pleasant time of the evening as the sun dropped behind the canyon walls. On this otherwise pleasant day, fleece would have been welcomed had we continued downstream.

Team Hornet

We pointed the Fish Taco west and headed toward home, but not before a detour in Roslyn for a bite to eat at The Brick (the oldest and longest running saloon in the state if I am not mistaken). With bellies full we proceeded westbound, hoping to avoid a 3 hour traffic snarl as we had encountered the year before. On this day of seasonal oddities, we were able to maintain the speed limit the entire way, and as we sped toward the summit at Snoqualmie Pass, the more the weather deteriorated until we were driving through drizzle that fell from low clouds. The weather would continue to be far inferior than it had been on the Yakima River on this day. It may not have felt like summer, but it was at the very least a pleasant fall day if the weather and water levels were any indication.

Go West (begrungingly), man.

 

The Unaccomplished Outlaw Angler

I recently discovered a blog kept by a Fish Cop—you know, a Game Warden. It’s pretty cool to think that under that neatly-pressed uniform, shiny badge and gruff, authoritative exterior, not only is a game agent an actual person, but that they keep a blog, too.  A pretty entertaining blog if you don’t mind my saying so. Check it out, but not until after you read this entry, please.

Discovery of A Fish Cop Out of Water caused me to reflect on my encounters with game agents in the past, and I thought that I might air my grievances get a load of guilt off my chest. You see, I’ve never publicly written of my run-ins with the law until now. I’ve spoken in close circles of my jaded past, but there’s something very liberating about putting it in print on the world wide internets. It’s like the ultimate confessional.

As a hunter and angler I can tell you that the chances of encountering a game agent aren’t nearly as likely as one might think. At least not around these parts. Certainly the chances are far fewer than running into (hopefuly not literally) a police officer. After all, there always seems to be a traffic cop lurking in the shadows whenever one executes a rolling “California Stop” at an intersection, or when one fails to signal when changing lanes. Or when jay-walking late at night in downtown Seattle with your wife before she was your wife, and actually before you ever started dating her. No shortage of blue light specials then, by golly.

Conversely one seldom sees a trooper when, say,  a semi-tractor towing a massive load of hay tailgates you when you’re already going 75 in a 70 and there’s a 30 knot side-wind blowing in central Washington, and when you pull over to let the the impatient trucker go by, the semi blows past scattering pieces of its load all over the interstate causing a safety issue.

And where is the cop to be found when the local “Blue Truck Lady From Hell” who consistently drives 20 mph no matter that the speed limit is 45-50 and there are 127 angry, impatient commuters stacked up behind her, all hoping to pass the person in front of them as they try in desperate vain to break free of their single lane confines? She’s a local legend.

Don’t get me wrong—I do not have any ill-feelings toward law enforcement. In fact, I have friends who are municipal cops, state troopers and even one who is DEA agent. It just seems that whenever one wishes there were cops around, they’re off sampling pastries. And in the rare, off-chance that an otherwise law-abiding citizen commits an unintentional error, there’s a copper just waiting to write ticket.

Click it- you know you want to.

In my experience, there are never any game agents around when you need them to bust a bunch of whiskey-guzzling sky-busters who have clearly shot more than their limit of ducks. Certainly there’s never an agent until you least expect it (they’re a stealthy lot and seem to materialize out of nowhere). From what I know, it is not a perceived  lack of agents—the fact of the matter is that there are scant few to cover the relatively large areas for which they are tasked with patrolling. During 25 years of hunting waterfowl, upland birds and big game, I have had encounters with game agents on 3 occasions: twice while duck hunting and once while pheasant hunting.

Only one of those encounters resulted in a citation because I had not yet recorded a pheasant harvest on my punch card. The reason was simple: I didn’t have a pen in my hunting vest and planned to record my harvest back at the truck. Well, the game agent obviously didn’t realize that I was an Eagle Scout and a person of high integrity. He had no way of knowing that as a rule I always use non-toxic shot when required to do so and have never pulled the plug on my shotgun. Nor did the agent know that I never shoot more than my limit (I’m an unaccomplished shot so that’s never even been a temptation). And so he wrote me up for a fine, which I got reduced by pleading my case in court  (conveniently I was hunting locally so the courthouse was less than ten miles from my home). I often think that I wouldn’t have been cited for this infraction had it not been for another blemish on my record that occurred a bunch of years earlier while not fishing on the Grand Ronde River in Southeastern Washington.

My college buddy Jawn, with whom I went gear fishing with last January, decided to get married a bunch of years ago, and for his bachelor party he assembled a questionable group of guys for a weekend of festivities. Jawn’s a good old boy at heart who grew up fishing and hunting around his hometown of Clarkston, WA so it seemed fitting that we should do something outdoorsy for his bachelor party rather than, say, going to Vegas. So we put together a rag-tag flotilla of drift boats and rafts, and headed into the Blue Mountains destined for our launch point on the Grand Ronde River. It was a beautiful summer day from what I can recall (it was a long time ago). We had a small amount of beer with us, and one member of the expedition had with him his fly rod. It was not me. You see, back in those days I was wandering aimlessly in an empty space of time somewhere between when I fly fished as a kid and when I became completely obsessed with it as a mature middle-aged adult. I was not fishing on this trip. Repeat: I was not fishing.

As we headed downstream (no great details can be provided and there were no photos taken that I am aware of), we stopped at a long gravel bar on the river right. We beached the boats and got out to drink a beer, throw rocks, and cool our toes in the river. Floyd the Fly Angler strung up his rod and headed upstream to do a little casting. Like a stray dog looking for a handout, I followed behind and watched as he laid out a series of gentle casts, mended his line and fished the run. As he did so, I fondly recalled the times spent doing the same thing as a kid. Memories came flooding back. Good memories.

“Wanna give it a go?” offered Floyd.

“Sure, why not,”  I replied.

It wasn’t long before the rod felt natural in my hand and after a few casts that I perceived to be far better than they likely were, I handed the rod back to Floyd.  “Thanks,” I said, “I really should get back into fly fishing one of these days.” I believe Floyd’s answer was something along the lines of, “Yeah, you should. Then we can go wet a line sometime.” It was a lot of years before I made good on my intention and I haven’t seen Floyd since, but I digress—that has no bearing on this story.

Shortly thereafter we got back in the boats and resumed our downstream migration. As we rounded a bend in the river, someone called out, “Who’s that? Jawn, do you know him?”  Standing atop a bluff on the opposite side of the river was an officer of the law, watching our flotilla through field glasses.

“Yeah, I know him, ” Jawn replied.

The game agent waved us over and each of the boats obeyed by paddling across the current to the far bank. The agent scrambled down the embankment, his one hand cautiously hovering above his holster, the other reaching for a tablet of paper in his chest pocket.  As he approached there were no exchanges of pleasantries, just a stern order to for each of us fishing to produce fishing licenses. Since only one of the group was fishing, I neither said nor did anything.  When the agent’s gaze stopped at me and he demanded to see my license, I replied (in all honesty), “I don’t have a license. I’m not fishing.”

“What do you call what it was that you were just doing?” asked Mr. Game Agent, a dry hint of sarcasm in his tone. The sunlight glinted off his badge and momentarily blinded me.

Squinting, I said (again honestly), “Oh, I was just making a couple of casts. I wasn’t really fishing.” Little did I know at the time how prophetic those words would be many years later: Just casting. Not fishing.

Mr. Game Agent would have none of that, and wrote me up for a hefty fine. I have no doubt he knew that if I were to show up in court I could probably have gotten the fine reduced, but given that the Asotin County courthouse was a 6 hour drive from my home and would have meant a day’s lost wages and a bunch of money in gas, he wagered safely that I would not appear to contest the ticket.

Ever since then whenever I go casting, I take my fishing license. And even though there are no fish in most of the rivers I frequent, I pinch the barbs on my flies when required to do so. I refuse to chance it.

My name is the Unaccomplished Angler, and yes–I’ve been cited for not fishing, illegally. It feels good to finally get this off my chest.

OK, now you are free to go check out A Fish Cop Out of Water. Tell the warden I sent you—maybe they’ll send me a get out of jail free card for the referral.