Bird’s nests and furled leaders
I’ve bitched plenty about our Pacific Northwest summer weather (or lack thereof) this
summer season. No need to beat a dead horse, although one more kick in the ribs won’t hurt. With that said, I’m putting on my steel-toed boots. Let’s begin.
August 11, 2011. It was cloudy and cool with a daytime high headed towards a sweltering 70 degrees in Western WA. Not raining or even drizzly–just not summer weather, thanks to the phenomenon known as the Western Washington Ream Job. To illustrate, I’ve included an action photo sequence. Below, from left to right: I-90 eastbound, 15 miles west of Snoqualmie Pass; I-90 eastbound, 5 miles west of Snoqualmie Pass; I-90 eastbound, 1 mile west of Snoqualmie Pass; I-90 eastbound, 1 mile east of Snoqualmie Pass.
The bottom line is that once we got east of the Cascade crest, it was blue skies and summer weather. ‘We’ consisted of Jimmy and myself. We hadn’t fished together since the annual trip to Yellowstone, and usually we get out at least a couple of times during July. That didn’t happen this Julyuary but finally the time was right. Per usual when fishing the lower canyon, we stopped in at Red’s Fly Shop to arrange for a shuttle and pick up a couple flies (which I didn’t really need, but always buy just to help them pay the bills). Word from behind the counter was that dry fly fishing had been tough recently so we would fish with a hopper and a dropper (Lightning Bug, to be exact).
From our launch site at Big Horn, we had 15.5 river miles to cover with a current running about 4mph. Calculations suggested that if we milked it and delayed whenever possible, back-rowing to slow our pace by one-half, we should be at the Roza take out around 9 pm. This would give us time on the water for the evening caddis hatch as darkness set in. And so off we went under warm, blues skies, a mild breeze and a river devoid of other anglers.
The first surprise of the day came when Jimmy unveiled his newest fishing hat made for him by one of his 4 daughters. It was
a beautiful thing something to behold, decorated with nick-knacks from their recent family vacation to Florida.
After the initial shock wore off I eventually forgot that he was wearing the distracting headwear, and I honestly believe Jimmy forgot it was up there too. That is, until a wind-aided cast wrapped his leader around the bird’s nest that resulted in, well, a bird’s nest. After that the hat was replaced with something a bit more practical.
The other (pleasant) surprise of the day came in the form the the furled leader I was using for the first time. My buddy Derek Young, Washington’s only Orvis Endorsed Fly Fishing Guide (and the 2011 Orvis Endorsed Guide of the Year), had raved about the leaders he had recently gotten from Cutthroat Leader Company, and gave me a couple to try. I had, up until Derek’s act of suspicious generosity, resisted the temptation to try furled leaders because I’m cheap. And I had doubts that they would perform significantly better than traditional tapered mono.
While the cost is higher than a standard tapered leader, given the expected life of the furled leaders the price is actually quite attractive, and is about the same as the cost of a 3 pack of traditional trout leaders. But the performance was really impressive with the 76″ Dry Fly furled leader, and even delivered the hopper/dropper combination quite well. Once I removed the dropper later in the day, the furled leader really shone. I’m sold on Cutthroat leaders, thank you very much, Derek. As much as I detest a tandem nymph rig, I am looking forward to trying the Nymphing Leaders the next time the situation calls for it.
It wasn’t long before we got into fish, and throughout the day we had fairly decent action (none of the extended, back-to-back lulls so common to the Yakima River). I fished first while Jimmy rowed, then we switched. This repeated itself throughout the day, and we each caught enough fish to keep it interesting. All the fish were taken on the top fly, so after a couple of hours we ditched the droppers. This also simplified things when tossing flies tight to the bank, which is where all but a couple fish were. With temps in the mid 80’s it was comfortable for us but too warm for much insect activity. A well-placed hopper or golden stone dry would produce strikes, and plenty of strikes came from 10-12 inch fish throughout the day. Jimmy had a couple nice fish slam his fly, but given reflexes akin to a reptile on a January day, he missed a couple hook sets and then lost one very nice fish (most likely a steelhead…). I managed 6-8 smaller fish, but the 15 incher (what I call “A Yakima 18”) was the best fish I’ve pulled from this river in at least 2 years. It felt good, but I know I’m in for another 2 year drought so the accomplishment was bittersweet.
Strangely, this was the second time in as many visits to the Yakima that the boat I was in has had fairly steady catch action: a trip from a month ago was just about as productive. I’m sure as hell not suggesting that I’ve developed a case of Yakima Mojo or anything like that. I’m just not quite used to catching fish on the Yakima.
As we swapped positions and emptied the cooler as the day wore on, we watched the position of the sun and by means of dead reckoning that would have made Lewis and Clark proud, we paused where we could to let the sun drop behind the canyon walls, anticipating that the onset of evening would bring out the caddis flies. And the rising trout. It’s that last hour before the sun drops behind the steep canyon walls that the Yakima Canyon is at it’s finest aesthetic glory.
As day gave way to evening, we enjoyed a beautiful purple sunset followed by what was destined to become a full moon, although the moon was slower to rise than the trout. Had the moon been directly overhead we’d have been able to see quite well. As it was, darkness fell quickly upon the river and at 9pm we were still a couple of miles from our take out, floating in nearly complete darkeness. There were bugs in the air, which I knew because they flew into my nose and mouth. Trout did rise, because we could hear them doing so. But each cast was a shot in the dark, and any hooksets, had there been any, would have been instinctual (in other words, missed). I had tied on my last size 16 caddis with the aid of reading glasses, and barely managed that feat. Had I snapped off that last fly, it would have been game over. Lights out. And by 9:30 when we pulled the boat from the water, it was.
We returned home to the cloudy side of the mountains just before midnight. Jimmy dropped me off at the local Safeway parking lot where I had left The Fish Taco that morning. As Jimmy drove off into the night it suddenly dawned on me that the next day was the 22nd anniversary of the wedding between Mrs. UA and myself. Luckily Safeway was still open, so I paid a quick visit for a bouquet of flowers and an anniversary card. As it turns out, Mrs. UA got me the same card. I guess we deserve each other.