If you’re not from the Seattle area, the above photo may mean nothing to you. If you lived here then, you likely remember. Here’s the backstory on that sign: Will the last person leaving Seattle turn out the lights.
Maybe you didn’t even know about the Open Fly Podcast, or maybe you didn’t care. Either way, this is to let you know that our final show was posted in February.
When we recorded Episode 31 we had no idea it would be our last. Yes, we knew some changes were coming, since Derek had already uprooted his family and moved east of the mountains to be closer to his home waters on the Yakima River. But we didn’t realize that the physical studios of the Open Fly Podcast would be placed on the real estate market shortly thereafter. You see, Evan is also leaving town. That leaves only me, the official Third Chair of the Open Fly podcast, who remains here in the Snoqualmie Valley. I’m like the resident trout that never ventures far and chooses to live out his life in the local river, whereas Derek and Evan are like salmon, who were here for a while and then spawned and died. OK, maybe that’s not quite the appropriate analogy. Maybe they’re like steelhead, who were here for a while, spawned, and then left to venture back out to sea again. Whatever. I’m still here.
They are not.
I feel so alone.
We had a good run, had us some fun and along the way we met some great folks and talked about some worthy conservation issues. Maybe we even brought some issues to your attention, which means we did our small part for the betterment of fisheries all around the country and even into Canada (sorry for the Canadian jokes, Canada).
While there will be no new shows (unless one day we can schedule a reunion tour) the shows we did record will last as long as Evan keeps paying the web hosting bills. So go on back through the archives, pour yourself a soothing International Coffee, and listen to what’s there. Chances are the issues we discussed are still relevant: The Open Fly Podcast
I’ll be doing the same, and crying into my bowl of soup as I do. Rest assured it’ll be chunky soup—something that requires a fork.
After sitting out last year’s trip to chase
unicorns steelhead in Forks with the Albacore clan (brothers Large and Junior Albacore, and their Pappy), I looked forward to joining them this year, if for no other reason than to enjoy their fine company.
Winter steelhead fishing is a dicey proposition in the very wet, very upper left-most corner of the continental United States. Forks, WA is located near the Hoh Rain Forest which is in the Olympic National Park. It’s called a rain forest for good reason: it rains a lot—like, 150 inches per year (that’s 12 FEET or rain). During the winter steelhead season it can be very challenging to plan a trip that doesn’t coincide with coastal rivers being blown out due to copious amounts of precipitation. The times I’ve gone in the past I’ve gotten pretty lucky—not to have avoided rain altogether, mind you, or even to have caught a fish–but to have at least encountered fishable rivers. When headed to this part of the country, to fish for steelhead this time of year, all one can do is hope that the heavy rains will be less heavy. Forge ahead with cautious hope. If the weather cooperates, that’s a victory. If a fish is caught, that’s a huge bonus. If a fish is caught while swinging a fly on a Spey rod, well, you best go buy yourself a lottery ticket.
The winter of 2015-16 has been very wet in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle proper (actually one of the drier locations in the region) has had “the wettest rainy period on record” according to local news sources. Officially, the rainy season is from October 1st through March 31st. As of March 13th, Seattle, which has an annual average rainfall of 36.15 inches, has racked up nearly 42 inches of rain (the average rainfall for that period is 25.97 inches). Rivers have been blown out on many occasions, and I’m not referring to just the rivers of the Olympic Peninsula. The local Snoqualmie River, which runs through the down in which I live, has flooded 5 times this winter, and winter isn’t technically over yet. But I digress, back to Forks. With an average annual rainfall of 99.5 inches, Forks is way wetter than the Seattle area. And remember, this has been a record wet year.
We knew a storm front was coming in late on Wednesday, the day of our departure. It was going to be wet but we held out hope. Ironically I bought a couple bottles of Olympic Rain Natural Spring Water for the drive. I probably shouldn’t have. It wasn’t raining when we boarded our ferry crossing. By the time we docked on the other side 30 minutes later we could no longer say that it wasn’t raining. 2-12 hours later, when we arrived at our destination (The Forks Motel), the bottled Olympic Rain was gone, but the rain was coming down in buckets. And the wind was starting to blow pretty good, or pretty bad, depending on how one chooses to see it. We hunkered down for the evening, passing the time by enjoying a beverage or several and watching Big 12 Basketball. Well, at least
some of us the others enjoyed the basketball part of the equation.
We had planned to fish with guides on Thursday. When we awoke the next morning a quick call confirmed we had already feared: there would be no fishing that day. It had rained 2 inches overnight and the rivers were all blown to smithereens. It was a rather dreary morning in Forks.
It continued to rain steadily for most of the day, but at least the rain was also accompanied by a strong wind. And fortunately there was more basketball to watch. All day. A basketball game may only last an hour or so, but there were multiple games to be watched. It was one of the longest days of my life. During one brief reprieve from the basketball and rain, Large Albacore and I took a stroll around the block and contemplated engaging in some tourist activities. But even those businesses were closed. Soon the rain resumed so we made a hasty retreat back to basketball central.
The day did improve, however, and by afternoon a double rainbow emerged, giving us a small glimmer of hope that tomorrow would bring better things–that we’d be fishing. I also hoped that if we weren’t fishing the next day, at least basketball wouldn’t be on television the next day. One can always hope, right?
The next day, Friday, we had planned to fish by ourselves. We did bring two boats with us, after all, so it would be nice to use them. Upon waking that moring we checked flows and it was determined that floating would not be an option. While the rivers were coming down, they were still way high, and the boats would remain on their trailers. To ward off cabin fever we hopped into Large Albacore’s truck and drive around looking at rivers, much to our disappointment. Everything was gray, from the sky to the rivers and everything in between. One might go so far as to say that there were as many as 50 shades of gray but I won’t go there. We decided to drive into the Olympic National Park and check out the upper Hoh, hoping that the farther upriver we went, the better conditions might be. We did not find much to give us hope, although we did wader-up and ply the gray waters of one run for about an hour and a half. Despite a solid 3-4 inches of visibility, fishing was an act of futility as there was just too much water. After losing my second fly to unseen rocks I was done. Large and Junior Albacore had no better success than me, although I believe they kept all their flies. Papa Albacore was the only one smart enough not to have donned his waders and strung up a rod. With age comes wisdom.
Lest one should think things were miserably without hope, there were many good things about the day: the rain fell only lightly, the wind was fairly nonexistent, and there was more basketball to watch back at our motel room. We checked flows (again) and remained desperately hopeful that we would be able to get our boats on the water the next day. An unexpected call from the guide both surprised and delighted us: they had moved some trips around (meaning they had cancellations) and could accommodate us on Saturday, if we were so inclined. We were. And so we slumbered that night, dreaming of low rivers and plentiful wild steelhead.
We awoke the next morning hoping for the best, and while the best may not have been what we encountered, we noted that it didn’t look like it had rained all that much overnight. We checked the flows (one final time), and ate breakfast. When we met with the guides they were honest in their assessment: we could certainly fish, but it didn’t look very promising. We mulled it over for a few minutes and even went so far as to drive down the road to take a first hand look at the Sol Duc River. It was then that we opted to cut our losses and called fishing time of death at 7:20 AM. I honestly felt bad, and not for ourselves but for the guides. It had been a rough year—no doubt cancellations had been all too common. Top Ramen would continue to be their meals of choice for some time to come.
Rather than spend the rest of another day watching basketball, we decided to pack up and head home a day early. Being the eternal optimist that I am—able to always see things in their brightest light—it’s actually a good thing we came home a day early. Had we stayed until the next day we’d have driven home during another, even bigger, storm; one that brought with it very strong, damaging winds. The Hood Canal floating bridge was closed for several hours, which would have added at least 3 hours to our return trip. And 2 of the 3 Albacores had to then proceed east over the Cascades, where a winter storm was dumping a foot of snow. So, at least we didn’t have to deal with all that.
I’ll leave you with a little Creedence Clearwater Revival.
For several years the UA has been pleased to offer a direct link to the latest edition Kype magazine, an online publication now under the jurisdiction of Aileen Lane, who is also the owner of MKFlies and a partner in The Old Guy’s Flies. She’s a rather busy person with a passion for all things fly fishing.
There may be an article by the UA featured in the latest issue, but don’t let that deter you. Show Aileen some love—click on over and check out the latest edition of Kype.
Look in the right sidebar. In technical-speak those images are called ‘widgets’. Click on the Kype widget. I’ve included a technical schematic below to help you navigate the confusing interface.
When first approached by one of the authors of a new book, The Confluence: Fly Fishing and Friendship in the Dartmouth College Grant, I was slightly confused. The first point of my confusion was, why would anyone select the Unaccomplished Angler to scribe a review of a book? Secondly, I wondered, what the hell is the Darmouth Grant?
I knew that Dartmouth is an ivy league college somewhere in New England, and I know what a grant is. But I was perplexed as to how one gets to go fly fishing in a grant? Likely a typo, I thought—perhaps the authors meant to title the book, “Fly Fishing and Friendship on the Dartmouth Grant”? If that were the case, how cool would it be to receive a college grant to pay for one’s fly fishing?! I wanted in on the secret, and so I agreed to review the book.
I soon learned, however, that it was I, and not the book’s title, that was in error. The Dartmouth Grant is not an allotment of funds that some group of guys received to cover their fly fishing expenses, but rather a ~27,000 acre woodland in the Northern forest region of New Hampshire. The area is actually known as the Second Grant, as there was a previous grant called the First Grant. The land was granted to Dartmouth College by the state of New Hampshire in 1807 and it has a long history of being used for timber harvest, but it’s not land to be lived on and thus the Grant has a permanent population of zero. It’s remote and rugged. A wild place. With rivers and trout. The Dartmouth website says this of the Grant, but I urge you to also read details given in the chapter of The Confluence titled, An Eddy in Time. It’s really quite an interesting subject—there’s nothing like the Grant out west that I’m aware of. We have land grant universities—in fact I attended, and graduated from, one (Go WSU COUGS!)—however that’s not quite the same thing. But I digress, let’s move on.
From way out here in my upper left corner of the continental US, the term “Ivy League” conjures up somewhat negative images of elitist preppies destined for undergrad degrees in English before pursuing masters degrees and beyond, soon thereafter rising to the top of the economic pay grade and living large. So, when faced with the prospect of reading about ivy league fly fishermen, I envisioned high-brow anglers wearing tweed and gently casting delicate dry flies on silk lines with their fine bamboo rods. You see, New England may as well be Jolly Olde England as far as I’m concerned, and don’t the British wear tweed while fishing? To be fair, I did some research into the perceived stereotypes of Ivy League schools and as it turns out, my perception was not far off the mark for Princeton and Harvard and Yale. But Dartmouth is perceived as being quite different: “Really small, isolated, outdoorsy, rural, party and drinking a lot, conservative, etc.” OK, that works for me. And so, armed with my new insight, I gladly waded into The Confluence.
The book is about seven friends with two common denominators: First, they all attended Dartmouth (a long time ago, mind you); second, they all fly fish. With an average age of 58.79 years (at the time of this writing) they’ve been around the block a time or two and have stories to tell from their experiences. Their stories reflect back on 20 years of tradition in which they’ve converged annually upon the Dartmouth Grant to do what fishing buddies do: fish. But we all know the popular cliche, “there’s more to fishing than catching fish” and that is certainly true with this group of guys who call themselves “The Boys”. Those of us lucky enough to have a group of buddies we fish with regularly know that traditions are life’s prized possessions, and for that reason alone this book will resonate with you. My own group of compadres, The Firehole Rangers, is a lot like the collective authors of this book, only the Firehole Rangers are undoubtedly a lot less intelligent (due to inferior breeding) than the Dartmouth contingent.
I soon learned that The Boys of The Confluence are guys most any of us regular Joes can identify with. They like beer (despite that as they’ve aged and mellowed they tend to drink more wine now), and they like to fish. For most of us, that’s all one needs to know. One of them prefers wet wading over his antiquated pair of leaky Red Ball waders (nothing high brow about that), while another makes mention of having used an empty Crown Royal bag to hold fishing doo-dads (who hasn’t done that?). These are guys that lead everyday lives, and once a year they head out into the woods, stay in rustic cabins that they share with mice and snakes, eat Veg-All® and engage in the sort of thing most of us reading this review engage in: fishing and good friendship, not necessarily in that order. There may be sophomoric indulgences from time to time as well, such as fishing naked (see the chapter, Standing in a River, for more on that).
Each chapter is the unique reflection on time spent fishing in the Grant and it feels as though each chapter were written by a different person. That’s because that is exactly what it is: a compilation of stories by each member of the group. It’s a rather interesting means of approaching a book , although divvying up royalties may get a little messy. I’d love to see stories written in a similar fashion about our Firehole Ranger trips, but with the exception of perhaps Morris (and maybe Nash), the Rangers are barely capable of writing their own names, let alone composing intelligible words than anyone would want to read. Granted, that’s not the case with The Boys in the book—they all write good.
The first chapter sets the stage for the annual trip, detailing how each of them arrives at the Grant from their prospective and mostly-distant homes. It’s aptly titled, Coming Together, and you begin to get a sense of who they are—and what this annual trip means to them—right from the start.
In chapter 2, titled, The Origin, the author, new to fly fishing at the time, writes of his first time fishing the Grant, during which they encountered epic hatches and numerous and cooperative trout:
“We had discovered fly fishing. It was going to be like this every time. Bugs galore, rises everywhere, catching fish, and drinking beer. With respect to the beer at least, we were pretty accurate. But in twenty-plus years, The Boys and I have yet to see another hatch anything like that first evening on the Grant.”
The rivers featured in the book are wild and free-flowing, inhabited by fully wild, native brook trout. Stocking hasn’t occurred in the Grant for decades, so this isn’t some domesticated put and take fishery (which may be a prior misperception I had of rivers in the eastern US). I fully admit my naivete when it comes to any trout fishing east of Montana so it was quite refreshing to discover that there are un-dammed rivers in the eastern part of the country that hold wild populations of brook trout. Brook trout are highly regarded as a native char in New England, whereas they’re largely considered an invasive, non-native scourge of the rivers out West. In the chapter, Of Wild Rivers and Wild Trout, the author writes words that hold true where ever one is:
“The most important thing about chasing wild trout in wild rivers is to enjoy every minute of it.”
That’s something we can all wrap our heads around.
At the end of the book we finally ‘meet’ The Boys, with photos and short bios of each contributing author. Of course, by the time you happen upon this section of the book you already feel like you know them.
The book is 190 pages with several pages dedicated to color photos and images displaying art and handiwork created by the authors.
Pick up a copy of The Confluence—I’m confident you’ll be glad you did, and I know The Boys will be glad you did. It launches, officially, on May 3rd (2016), but for those who cannot fathom to wait until then, you can sign up for a signed, pre-release edition on the website.
Also, I recommend you visit their website, which has a great deal of good information not only about the book, but about the Grant, and fly fishing in New England. Plus a lot more, including some enticing recipes that do not include Veg-All®.
I don’t tie flies.
This may come as a surprise to people who don’t know me or fish with me. A lot of people assume that if one is a fly angling person, one is automatically a fly tying person. In my case, that is not the case.
I’ve never tied a fly.
I have never sat down at a vice and even tried tying before. In fact I’ve never watched someone else tie a fly, in person, although I will admit to having watched super fast-motion videos of people tying flies.
I have no interest in tying flies.
Despite being a creative person, I really don’t feel the tug of fly tying. I can understand the satisfaction of tying, of catching a fish on a pattern of one’s own creation. I can see how some folks derive great pleasure from creating their own patterns and giving them unique names. I like creating words, and drawing pictures, but I am not drawn to tying.
I don’t have the time to tie flies.
I seem to have no trouble filling my free time with other creative endeavors. I suppose, hypothetically, I would make time to tie if I were to take up the craft. Perhaps that’s a concern: that I may be consumed by tying and would never get anything else done.
I’m fiscally too practical to tie flies.
The cost of tying materials and equipment far exceeds what I spend on perfectly fine-quality, store-bought flies.
If I were to tie flies…
I already have a pattern in mind. It would be an ant pattern with a parachute that resembles a checkered doo rag, and I would call it the “Ant Jemima”. And I would trademark the pattern and license the tying rights to the highest bidder, and retire on the royalties. And then I would have the time and the fiscal freedom to tie flies.