The annual pilgrimage approacheth

I’ve written about the Firehole Rangers’ annual pilgrimage to our namesake river so many times that there’s really little left to say, especially given the nature of the trip. It’s a trip of traditions with very few changes year to year—just the way we like it. That having been said, there are a few known changes this year.

Here is what we know will be different about the trip:

  1. For the first time in 5 years, Morris’ Soccer Mom Van will not make the trip this year because it was finally put out to pasture. No longer will the Rangers be traveling in comfortable shame.
  2. We’re fishing the Missouri on Day 1, on our way to West Yellowstone.
  3. On Day 4 we’re fishing some as-of-yet-to-be-determined river around Twin Bridges.
  4. We are not stopping to fish Shit Rock Creek on our way home. Thank gawd.

Here’s what we know will be the same about the trip:

  1. We’re staying at the Ho Hum. We anticipate the presence of cats.
  2. We will encounter hoards of tourists in Yellowstone. We still don’t consider ourselves tourists because we’re there to fish.
  3. We’re fishing the Firehole on Day 2. Water looks to be a bit high this year which may or may not affect the catch rate.
  4. We’re fishing the Madison on Day 3. It will be higher this year than in the past 2-3 years. I’ve done better than usual the last 2-3 years.
  5. The trip will be be over before we know what happened. By the time we return home we’ll already have begun looking forward to next year.

A few unknown things to ponder as we prepare for our departure:

  1. Jimmy is a man of many hats. How many will he bring this year and how many will he purchase on the trip? Bonus question: what will his new shoes look like?
  2. How many fish will Marck catch on the Firehole? More than 40 but less than 273?
  3. How many fish will Goose catch on the Madison? More or less than one but fewer than two?
  4. Will the UA catch more, or fewer, fish than Goose on the Madison?
  5. After Nash’s post-trip surgery last year to sew his bleeding nose closed, will he be able to smell the cats of the Ho Hum? The only way to find out is to assign him the task of checking us in this year.
  6. This marks Morris’ 5th year as a Rookie Ranger. Will he finally finish an entire meal and be granted veteran, Big Boy Ranger status?
  7. How many tourists will be observed doing stupid things with regard to wildlife?
  8. Will it rain, snow and shine on us within the same day while in the Park?

If you care to take a stab at answering those 8 questions, there may or may not (probably the latter) be a prize for the commenter with the most correct answers. But you have to leave a comment on the blog—NOT in an email—prior to our return from the pilgrimage. If you subscribe via email to the UA, simply click on the headline (which is a link to the website). Read it there—on the website. Click to leave a comment. It’s that easy.

And so we ride…



A 5 Year fish, so soon?

The Yakima is a finicky river that rarely gives up it’s bounty of fish over 12 inches, at least in my experiences (and those of many I know). Based on that, every 5-10 years or so I will hook into, and  sometimes land, a much nicer fish than the typical 10 inch rainbow. It happens so seldom that, when it does, I simply refer to the fish  as either a “5 Year Yakima Fish” or, if the fish is in the 20″ range, it’ll be referred to as a “10 Year Yakima Fish”, also  known as a not uncommon occurrence  on normal trout streams. Wait—that may be an unfair assessment—because not all rivers give up 16-20″ fish on a regular basis. However, most normal trout streams fish well—you know, if it looks like a trout should be right there, chances are a trout will be right there. Not so much on the Yakima. But I digress, back to the 5 Year Fish.

The last time I caught a 5 Year Fish was in September 2015. If so inclined, you can read about it HERE. The 2015 5 Year Fish wasn’t particularly yuge, but it was the biggest I’d caught in, well, 5 years on the Yakima River. I’d hooked a larger fish (a 10 Year Yakima fish) a year prior, but hadn’t sealed the deal thanks to an inferior net man (who shall remain un-named Marck). Suffice it to say, when I set out on a recent day to fish the Yakima for the first time this year, my expectations were appropriately low. They always are.

The day looked to be a rather nice one for fishing, if not necessarily for catching. In a year when the sun has seldom made its appearance, just the idea of warmth and blue skies was all I needed. If a fish or two were caught, so be it. I would be fishing with Bob, with whom I had fished the last time I had fished, which was October 2016, HERE. Bob seems to be a bit of a good luck charm, which is good enough to offset for his rather uninteresting story telling and otherwise unsavory demeanor. The only downside to the day was that we’d be fishing a rising river. But what are you gonna do when you have the day set aside and Mrs. UA mandated that I either finally get the boat out of the garage and use it, or lose it.

We chose to fish a stretch of the Yakima near Cle Elum, and we knew that we had to avoid the Teanaway River, a tributary of the Yakima that is know to spew its chocolate contents, affecting everything downstream for miles. Therefore we dropped the boat in at one of the worst launch sites on the Yakima River (South Cle Elum) and scheduled our termination point at my least favorite take-out on the Yakima River (East Cle Elum, or simply “State”). However, in between these two points lies some nice water. It’s one of my favorite stretches, actually.


This photo is for Mrs. UA, proof that the boat was actually used.

Bob was quick to land a 10 inch rainbow shortly after launching. Fish size mattered less than just getting the skunk off the boat early so that we could enjoy whatever might come our way after that. Not much did come our way after that, at least not for a few hours. The river was running at a decent clip, and while visibility wasn’t terrible, the water was pretty dirty from either runoff or a controlled release of water from an upstream dam. And the water was still quite cold, which is good and bad. Good for the health of the fish, but not necessarily conducive to abundant insect hatches. And when the water is still really cold, fish tend to be less willing to move to an artificial offering. But the sun shone and the w#nd wasn’t worth complaining about, so we had that going for us. March browns were fluttering about off and on, and despite that no fish were seen rising to them, it seemed reasonable to match the hatch with a nymph setup: A Hare’s Ear with a Pheasant Tail dropper. Bob was on the oars as I watched my pink bobber drift through a seam that looked like it should—and would— hold a fish, if only the Yakima were a normal trout stream. Surprisingly the bobber dipped. With nothing else to do, I set the hook and became instantly connected to a fish that revealed itself to be of better than average size. I criticized the fish for being less than particularly feisty, but it did a fine job of using the heavy current to its advantage and refused to give up easily. I would later apologize to the fish for the harsh criticism after noticing that it had a rather gaping wound in its belly, due to some sort of predator or another. Bob managed the net and we admired what would be an 18″ Westslope cutthroat (a Yakima 20″).  The chance to catch cutthroats is the beauty of fishing the upper Yakima, and this was a beauty of a cutthroat—my biggest to date. Lovely.


A 5 Year Yakima Fish, ahead of its time.

The problem with this fish is that I wasn’t yet due to catch it: It should have been another 2-1/2 years before a fish this size makes a poor decision and accepts the offering of the UA.  So basically, I’m screwed for the next 7-1/2 years.

Fish coddling

Let me preface this by stating that I am all for conservation-minded fishing. I pinch my barbs (unless I’m targeting hatchery fish that are intended to be removed from the gene pool and consumed). I play fish as quickly as possible so as not to stress the the fish unduly, and I do my best to #keepemwet. I’m also happy to find something else to do with my time other than fish when conditions demand it, such as when the waters are too warm, or fish counts too low.

But what about fishing with a 100% chance of not hooking a fish?

Fishing without the hope of hooking a fish is called casting practice, and I’ve done it before (most notably when the intended quarry is steelhead). And there have been a few times when I wanted to practice my Spey casting, out of season, so I tied a chunk of yarn to the end of my leader and plied the waters with zero chance of hooking and harming either the fish, myself, or anyone else.

But what about intentionally fishing a fly without a hook?  No, really. Apparently it’s a reel real thing, sort of. And while it’s not a new concept (there are articles dating back as far as 1999, according to a quick search), a recent article has brought the issue to the surface again.

A Seattle Times article by Brian J. Cantwell, Is hook-free fly-fishing the next big thing? talks about just that: fly fishing without a hope and a prayer of ever catching a fish. The article states:


“Hooking and reeling in the fish is material only if you plan on eating it, which most anglers don’t these days.

 So why not fish with hookless flies?”
Um, because it’s pointless. But I digress. The article does bring up a good point: if you’re not going to eat what you catch, why put the fish through the ordeal, only to release it?
“Turns out, it’s far from a new idea. In a 1999 New York Times piece, fly-fisher Jim Emery cogitated, “The only real challenge in trout fishing is getting the fish to rise and take your fly. The rest may be exciting and fun, but just for the angler. The fish goes through a lot of abuse and stress.””
 (First, I had to look up the meaning of “cogitated”, which means to think deeply about something; meditate or reflect.)


I disagree with the assertion that the thrill ends when the fish is hooked. I’ve lost a few lot of fish in my time on the water. Sometimes I set the hook too soon, other times too late. I’ve lost fish soon after hooking them, and some I’ve lost at the net (which can nearly always be blamed on the net man). The take, or initial hookup, is satisfying for sure, but I view the challenge as only beginning when the fish is hooked. It takes certain skill and finesse to play the fish to the net, especially when using light tippet needed to fool wary fish. And isn’t that a big part of fishing—to challenge one’s skills as an angler? You know, to seal the deal?

The article goes on to ask if, when fishing without a hook, the angler is still harassing the fish?

Well, of course they are.  Any time you interrupt the natural behavior of the fish you are harassing them. Let’s say you make a cast, with your hookless fly, to a trout that is rising to real bugs. The fish takes the time out of its day to take a swipe at your offering, quickly realizing it’s not what was expected. The fish shakes their head, spits the hookless fly, and after a period of self examination and shameful sulking, returns to feeding on real bugs. The fish has burned unnecessary calories in doing so, lost time out of their feeding schedule, and perhaps most importantly, suffered an emotional blow.

How would a hookless angler suggest dealing with the latter?  Perhaps calling out, “Sorry, fishy!” (Don’t laugh—I’m sure some anglers—many from Seattle— already do this).

If we start fishing without hooks, we are no longer fishing—we are fish coddling. Coddling (not to be confused with codling or lingcod) only serves to ensure weak-minded fish that are incapable of making it in the cruel world in which we all live (Darwin would undoubtedly agree). If you want to do the fish a favor, don’t bother using hookless flies.

Just stay home.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to do as I have always done: use barbless hooks and not catch many fish.

This should make for a good discussion so please take a couple minutes to leave your thoughts in the comments section. If you subscribe to the UA via email, don’t reply via email because nobody but me and you sees that.


March of the lion


The amicable passing of the torch—isn’t that sweet?

You know what “they” say about March—it comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.

For those that don’t grasp the meaning, it’s a metaphor. It signifies that when the month of March begins, the weather is fierce—still winter-like. When the month is over, the weather has mellowed to gentle Spring-like conditions. That makes sense given that the Spring (or Vernal) Equinox occurs during March. The first official day of Spring—yay!


The season of Baseball—the quintessential fair weather game— has begun! The first significant bug hatch on most western rivers occurs in March—the march of the skwalas! Ah, the wonderous lambing season is upon us—let us rejoice in the season of hope, knowing that the glorious days of summer are approaching!

That may be the case where you live, but not here in the Pacific Northwet. Yes, March charged in like a lion, full of wind, rain and cold (for here, anyway) temperatures. We had snow accumulations during the first week of the month. As the lion marched on, the weather remained largely the same: gray, wet and chilly. I believe we had two days where the sun won the battle against clouds and rain. And in the last week of the month the weather has remained largely unchanged. Oh, sure, it looks as though on the 31st the clouds may part, the rain may cease, and we may actually see the sun for about the 10th time since October…but look ahead one day to April first and—no joke— we’re right back to the unseasonably cold, wet, shitty weather. 60 degrees?  We haven’t seen that yet this year.


Plants are refusing to burst out with their display of Spring colors. The grass is green, and growing, but it’s having a hard time keeping up with the moss. It looks like winter outside save for a few hearty trees that are budding out, slowly.


Below are some stats about Seattle weather since October 2016, but as you read the tally, bear in mind that Seattle proper gets considerably less rain that where I live, 25 miles to the east: Seattle sees 37.49 inches per year on average; where I live sees 52 inches annually.

Seattle Weather Fun Facts courtesy of the NWS (Nasty Weather Service):

Of the 178 days that have passed since the “water year” began, Seattle has had 123 days with rain or snow, 149 with more than 70% cloud cover, and just 9 days with less than 30% cloud cover (which apparently constitutes a sunny day). Seattle set records for rainfall in October (10.05 inches). November and December were gray and miserable, but not as wet as October. January wasn’t record-wet, but it was gloomy as hell with 7.45 inches of rain. February was nearly a record month for rainfall in Seattle, with 8.85 inches (the record being 9.11 inches). Come on—we’re splitting hairs here—we should get a trophy for February. March has been the 6th wettest on record, with 6.66 inches (about 3.38 inches more than normal). February and March combined have had the most precipitation ever recorded in Seattle, with 15.56 inches. Remember, that’s in Seattle, which benefits from a bit of a rain shadow effect compared to most other parts of the Puget Sound region.


Here, the lion wins by eating the lamb.

So, whomever “they” are that say, “in like a lion, out like a lamb” can bite me. This March the weather has sucked. The lion won. February, January, December, November and October sucked, too.

They also say that you can’t change the weather, but you can bitch about it, and I feel marginally better for having done so.

Pass the vitamin D—I’m clearly deficient. I probably need to go fishing, too.


The lamb succumbed to the incessant rains of March.


Didn’t even try to not go fishing

Last year at about this same time, me and the Albacore’s ventured to Forks, WA to do a bit of steelhead fishing. We got rained out, and instead of fishing we sat on our asses and watched basketball for 3 days (shoot me now). Here’s a recount.

This year, when it came time to schedule the trip to Forks, I just couldn’t get excited about it (Mrs. UA and I had also already scheduled a trip to Nashville in April to see Schpanky, so my Big Spring Trip was spoken for). I felt a tinge of remorse for taking a pass on the Albacore trip because I do rather enjoy fishing with those boys, so I wished them well. I also figured that, in my absence, they would have a banner year. Steelhead on the swung fly. Many.

Well, I just heard from Large Albacore, and they didn’t touch a single fish. Not only that, they didn’t fish at all—the trip was a bust this year. The difference this year is that they determined it would be a rain-out before even making the trip: a pre-emptive strike, if you will. We should have made that same call last year, but as Large Albacore said this year, “I’m slow, but eventually I catch on.”

I must admit that I’m not surprised. It’s a dicey proposition to encounter favorable conditions in Forks this time of year, any year. Given that western Washington has had one of the wettest, coldest winters on record, and Forks is the wettest that the Pacific Northwet has to offer, the writing was on the wall.

So, as far as I can tell, the best way to not go fishing is to just stay home. It’s considerably cheaper than the cost of gas, ferry crossings, motel and food for 3-4 days, all to not go fishing. And by staying home I can control what’s on the television, and it’s not basketball.

Madness, I say.

Washington Weather

This has been one of those winters that beats a person down and has them thinking about moving to Arizona and taking up outdoor shuffleboard.