Breaking in the Rough Rider
It’s inevitable that every new boat has its maiden voyage, and my new StreamTech Salmonfly was allowed out to play for the first time recently—almost exactly two months to the day since I picked it up. Since bringing her home, every time I’ve gone to the garage to get beer the Olive temptress has taunted me. Two months. No man should have to endure that sort of abuse. No boat should spend that amount of time high and dry.
And so it was on the last day of February that Marck and Morris and I headed over the snow-covered Snoqualmie Pass to the Yakima River. We hoped to encounter some hungry trouts that were coming out of their catatonic winter states to feed on the first big bugs of the year: skwalas. Admittedly it was a bit early to hope for much of a hatch, but for me, anyway, the day was less about fishing and all about rowing the new boat. I would not be disappointed.
The first order of business was the make good on a promise I made to Mrs. UA: that I would in fact wear a PFD (personal flotation device) on the water. Few, if any, wear life jackets, particularly on this lazy stretch of river. I’ve never done so. And while some may tease and taunt me for doing so now, mark my words—I am not going to go down in a river without a fight! To increase the likelihood that I would wear the PFD with any regularity, I chose a good vest that fits comfortably. The NRS Chinook fits the bill nicely. Now, where were we?
Oh, right—the Lower Yakima Canyon. Mile Marker 20 to Red’s. The river was low and cold, perhaps just nudging above 40 degrees (F). The day was mild with temps in the mid 40’s and overcast skies, unlike the beautiful day in the making that we left behind on what is usually the we
st side. There would be no w#nd until later in the day. As we set out on our float, I familiarized myself with the boat and we all settled in for the first time. As expected, the Rough Rider rowed like a dream. I knew she would—this wasn’t my first time on the oars of a StreamTech boat as my buddy Derek Young has owned these boats for the past 4 or so years. It’s his fault.
Throughout the day, Morris, who was seated behind me in the Rear Admiral position, offered to give me a chance to fish. “Let me know if you want me to oar,” he begged repeatedly. Now, it wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to fish—I simply wanted to spend the day rowing. That, and you never turn your boat over to a guy that wants to “oar” it. Sorry, Morris—next time. With me bogarting the sticks, all Marck and Morris had to do was catch fish. About the time we entered the second half of the day, two things happened: First, the w#nd began to blow; secondly, we began to accept the fact that the fish were not eating. Both these revelations seemed to have a negative affect on Morris. Over my shoulder I would occasionally hear the gentle whimper as he dealt with wind-aided tangles that required the patience and dexterity of a neuro surgeon. Unless one were the guy oaring the boat, it didn’t look like a day that would be worth writing home about.
Double nymph rigs dead-drifted hopelessly through what appeared to be very fishy water. Certainly there had to be at least one fish willing to play? As we approached the bridge at Umtanum, Marck’s rod finally quivered under the force of what would turn out to be a 13″ Westslope cutthroat trout. Everyone knows that Westslope cutts are stupid fish that will eat nearly any fly presented to them, and that’s exactly why I like them. They’re native to the Yakima river, but what was unusual about this fish is where on the river it was caught. The Lower Yakima Canyon is generally home to rainbow trouts, while the upper canyon around Cle Elum is where one goes to find cutthroats. So landing this fish was seen as a trophy of sorts. It was nice to get the skunk off the new boat, and I was relieved that on her virgin float the Rough Rider got some slime on her rails.
Marck’s first fish was not the last fish that would be caught. Morris was finally rewarded just a few minutes later, below the bridge at Umtanum, with a dandy of a rainbow that would be recorded as a Yakima 16 (meaning it was probably a 15″ fish at best). This fish had great significance to Morris as it was the first fish caught on his brand new Sage Method rod. Both the new boat and the new rod now had some mojo. During the next few miles before our take-out, Marck would add 2 more fish to the tally: a small whitefish, and a larger whitefish. The debate then became whose fish was the big catch of the day—Marck’s whitie or Morris’ rainbow. I’m fairly confident that we never reached a consensus on that. I’ll admit that I was quite surprised to see Marck catch any fish given his choice in hats for the day.
No first trip with a new boat is without incident, and mine came at one point during the day when we stopped to get out of the boat to
pee fish a nice run along a sweeping bend in the river. I expertly brought the Rough Rider into the shallows and dropped anchor. We exited the vessel and made our way down stream a few dozen yards to work a well-defined seam where light and dark water met just a few feet off the bank. I was at the top of the run while Marck dropped in below me and Morris angled out the bottom of the run. I saw a fish rise twice in the seam but was unable to entice a strike. The w#nd quickly created a knot in my leader, and I soon found myself with my head buried in a mess of tangled tippet, oblivious to the world around me. As I contemplated with great wonder at how the two flies and indicator could have become so horribly intertwined, I heard the unmistakable sound of water lapping against a rubber hull. I glanced up, expecting to see another boat floating by. What I saw was my own boat floating downstream at a good clip. Wind-aided and just outside the seam where the current was fast, my first reaction was to soil my waders. After doing so I jumped into action. The boat was fast approaching, and based on my observations I was probably going to have to swim for it because the Rough Rider was riding on the edge of the dark water. Dark water signals an increased depth. I had no idea how deep, but I was not going to let the boat make the remainder of the float without us on board. Fortunately the river gods were smiling on me (or laughing, more likely) and I was able to reach the boat before the water got above chest level. Disaster narrowly averted. I’ve included a technical schematic to illustrate the drama here for you:
Rookie mistake: leaving the boat unattended, on a windy day, without leaving enough anchor line out. That won’t happen again, I assure you.
Despite my brush with disaster, the day was otherwise an exception first day with the boat. It maneuvered skinny water and boulder gardens without fearing a single rock. Slime and grime were applied appropriately so that the boat no longer looks like something off the showroom floor. Morris got the cork of his new rod dirty, and I got to employ the use of my second-hand, $10 net. And Marck caught a cutthroat where he shouldn’t have, all the while wearing a UA hat. To top it off we ate for the first time at the Canyon River Lodge at Red’s. The food was excellent. Come summer time, taking out at Red’s will mean food and cold beer is just a short walk up the steps.
I plan to use the Rough Rider a lot this year. I may even let Morris oar. Except that would mean I’d have to fish. I like rowing.