The Wading Kilt.

Bear with me here as I’m breaking with standard protocol for a moment. Rather than posting about a fishing misadventure of some sort, or a gear review (which I don’t do, by the way) I’m going to wander off course and talk about something that might initially seem a little out of place on this blog: Kilts.

No, I’m not of Scottish descent, though my maternal grandfather did describe himself as being “Irish, Scotch and Dutch.” My father’s side of my family is fairly well German, and so to claim any Scottish heritage would be blasphemous and wishful. But there’s a lot I like about the Scottish people:

•Their accent is the best (and particularly Robin William’s imitation of it)

•Scotch. While I’m not a huge fan of their whisky, preferring a Canadian blend, I have done some extensive taste testing of several breeds of Scotch at my brother-in-law’s house (he is Scottish, by the way), and a couple weren’t too bad. Recently I had a chance to sample some Glenlivet, and if forced I could probably become a fancier of the stuff.

•Golf. I loathe the game of golf, and if the Scots did in fact invent the game, I won’t hold it against them.The Highland Games more than make up for the shortcomings of golf anyway.

•Bagpipes.  They rock, literally – AC/DC, while from Australia, made sure of that. And Angus Young was born in Glascow.

•Lassie.  She saved Timmy countless times.

Furthermore it’s been said, and Wikipedia (the internet authority on all things everything) supports the assertion, that modern fly fishing is “normally said to have originated on the fast, rocky rivers of Scotland and England.” That’s good enough for me. Then of course there’s the matter of a certain river in the northeast of Scotland, which happens to be the second longest and the fastest flowing river in that country: The River Spey. There is no refuting where Spey casting originated. Suffice it to say there’s plenty to like about the offerings of the Scottish people. Now, add the kilt to the mix.  I’m comfortable enough in my own heterosexual skin to admit that I think they’re cool.

The traditional kilt is, as I understand it, part of a formal Scottish dress uniform. Maybe they’re also worn for casual occasions, but like I said, I don’t really know much about them other than I think they’re cool. I will, however, admit a bit of practical skepticism, as the traditional wool would seem a bit uncomfortable on hot days, and certainly there is the itch factor which cannot be dismissed. But the kilt has evolved over time, as the American made Utilikilt is a testament to.  Men are free to embrace their inner Scot by wearing a garment that would make Carhartt proud.

For those who poke fun at the kilt as being somehow feminine, I would ask you to reconsider your position.  Mel Gibson’s character in Braveheart, William Wallace – was he somehow a limp-wristed cross dresser? What about Liam Neeson’s portrayal of Scottish folk hero Rob Roy MacGregor – just another girly man in a skirt? I think not. I’ve never been one to think of a kilt as a “dress” as a few of my less secure friends on Facebook referred to them in a recent and lively “wall discussion”.  I had simply posted mention of the fact that if I were of Scottish descent I would get me a wading kilt: One made of breathable Goretex-like material, similar to our waders. My statement was met with less enthusiasm than I had imagined. In fact, I’m fairly certain that at least a couple people have dismissed me as being completely daft. Frankly I’m a little surprised at the less than warm reception of my idea. Anyone who thinks a wading kilt would look ridiculous needs to take a good long look in the mirror the next time you’re wearing your chest waders – at least the kilt wouldn’t make your butt look big, and it would be perfect for the wet wading months. A wee tad chilly for winter steelheading, perhaps, especially since nothing is supposed to be worn underneath a kilt (or so I’ve only been told). But if you’re man enough to wear a kilt you won’t be bothered by a little cold weather, and a fleece-lined model could be designed for certain applications.

And the functionality doesn’t stop there. Anglers are constantly searching for the perfect gear-carrying device, be it a vest, lumbar (fanny) pack, chest pack, lanyard (for the minimalist), shoulder sling, etc. So, why not a wading kilt? It could have waterproof zippered pockets for fly boxes and flasks of single malt, retractors for things that go on retractors, a fly patch, loops for spools of tippets, etc. And it could even boast an integrated feature found on fish fighting belts:  One of those reinforced slots for the butt of your rod when you’re playing that really hot fish. Like a big tuna.

Laugh all you want – I think I’m on to something big here. And in a year when Orvis announces their new breathable River Kilt, who’ll be laughing then, eh laddie?

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In the meantime I’ll be digging deep into the roots of my family tree to see if I can’t unearth just enough Scottish blood to warrant my wearing of a wading kilt.

Gird your loins, and stay tuned.

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It’s a rock. No—it’s a fish…Maybe.

Everyone gets hung up from time to time, whether it be one’s hopper pattern catching on a bit of riverbank shrubbery, or one’s streamer snagged on a rock or submerged log. When it happens, credit yourself with simply having put your fly aggressively where it needs to be: In the case of a hopper, tight to the bank–not 4 inches from the bank, but right there; with your streamer, in the money zone–right where the fish are holding behind the structure. Sometimes we flirt with disaster and get just a little too close. Gotta push that envelope, however, because fish are a lazy bunch (especially when they’ve been gorging on plentiful bugs) and often they won’t move more than a couple inches to take a fly. Therein explains my lack of catching – often times I’m too concerned with snapping off my fly and losing it. Sue me for being practical and fiscally conservative: I’d undoubtedly catch more fish if I were a bit more wreckless. I fault my parents for not allowing me to talk back, run with scissors, or act before thinking. Damn them.

Still, I’m no stranger to losing flies to all manner of obstacles, and when I started swinging  streamers on a sink tip with my Spey rod, IMGP0180one of the first things I learned to do was get a fly un-stuck from the many rocks I encountered. There’s an art to it that I haven’t fully mastered, but it’s safe to say that my fly un-snagging is better than my Spey casting. On a recent steelheading trip I was working a run below a tailout, swinging a streamer at the end of my Type III sink tip, and hanging up on rocks with amazing regularity.  Now before you take pity on me, let me state that I felt pretty good about this because at least my fly was getting down where it needed to be. Having covered the run with no bumps from fish, I decided it was time to run with rusty scissors, and reached for nymphing rod–the “Meat Pole”- belonging to my buddy, Large Albacore. He had recently landed a fish employing this savage device, and now it was my turn to get dirty.

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Large Albacore with a wild steelhead

Working the inside seam of the tailout, I rather quickly, and surprisingly, had a fish take the plastic bead egg dangling 18 or so inches below a brown stonefly nymph. I’d like to think that my keen angler’s eye caught the subtle dip in the strike indicator, signaling a fish on and invoking a reflex-like hook-set. However, I am honest if not talented, and admittedly the fish took the dropper so hard I didn’t have to do anything but hold on.

After a respectable fight lasting several minutes, Large Albacore stood at the ready to tail the hatchery hen after I had steered her into the shallows. She was all mine–just waiting for a stone shampoo and ultimately the smoker. I savored the moment, licking my chops and watching intently as Albacore hesitated just a split second too long, which gave the fish a chance to see his oversized hand extending toward her. With one last effort to save her genetically inferior life, she thrashed violently and gave a series of head shakes, slipping the hook and wiggling off into the current from where she’d just be pulled against her will. Albacore sat down on a rock and beat himself up over the incident. But being the forgiving type, and an eternal optimist, I simply tossed the whole messy assortment of end tackle back upstream, threw a series of stack mends into the line, and watched the indicator bob in the current (ah, fly fishing at it’s best!).

Not 5 minutes passed before I felt tension on my line. Not the good kind of tension associated with a fish, but the other kind of tension when one’s fly snags on a bit of structure. The hook was clearly anchored pretty well, and I gave a gentle tug to see if it would pop loose. Nope (and by tugging as I did, I’d probably just buried the hook deeper into whatever if was that held it). This wasn’t going to be easy, and I began attempting to roll cast some slack line toward the problem in hopes of freeing the hook from the vice-like grip of the rock or log. This was particularly challenging from my vantage point because I was precariously perched on some slippery rocks, hip deep in water that was doing it’s best to dislodge my footing. I struggled a bit more before it became clear that I was hung up pretty good, which Albacore pointed out by shouting, “I see you’re hung up pretty good!” I gave him a quick glance as if to say, “Thank you, friend, for that astute observation!” as he waded out next to me to offer some assistance (the water was only up to his shins because he is nearly twice my height). With his additional wingspan he would likely have better success throwing some slack and getting the stuck fly unstuck, and I very carefully handed him the rod, worried that he might lose his grip and release the rod into the water just as he’d done with my fish. As I delicately passed the rod to him, the line quivered and the rod tip bounced.  “There’s a fish on!” we yelled in unison, and the rod was abruptly passed back to me in a manner reminiscent of the old “Hot Potato” game.

While the fish did let me know it was on the end of my line, it was not putting up much of a fight–certainly not what one might expect from a steelhead (even a hatchery brat).  I was able to get the fish on the reel quickly and steered it directly toward shore, where Albacore was waiting again. This time he wore the furrowed brow of a man keenly focused. His grab hand quivered slightly as might a gunfighter’s preparing to draw his six-shooter. The big man was to cockd and loaded, ready to pounce on the fish…which was another hatchery hen. Exactly the same size as the one I’d nearly landed 5 minutes earlier. Same coloration. The resemblance was, in fact, uncanny.

PA180802Signs posted along access trails to the river make it clear: “There’s a mandatory retention of adipose fin-clipped hatchery origin steelhead”. As if they needed to remind us to kill hatchery fish, it would be good to take a fish home for the grill: Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler would be pleased with my  offering since 95% of the time I come home empty handed (due in part to the fact that the majority of my fishing takes me to catch & release waters, and also because I rarely catch anything). So after the fish was quickly dispatched of, I took my turn at sitting on a rock. I removed my lucky fishing hat and scratched my head, trying to make sense of the whole thing. It evaded me then, and I still have no rational idea as to what was going through the fish’s head during the entire 2 minutes that I assumed I was hung up on a rock.  I had stood there in the river waving yards of slack line–in essence trying desperately to remove the hook from it’s mouth–but it never moved during the whole ordeal. I gave that fish every opportunity to simply open it’s mouth and slip the hook–a virtual green light to freedom–and it did nothing. Maybe the fish itself was stuck–wedged between two rocks? No way–not possible. Maybe I was hung up on a rock or stick intitially, and then unstuck the hook and as it popped free it landed right in front of the fish, which casually opened it’s mouth and slurped the hook.  Not likely. Steelhead anglers acknowledge that hatchery fish don’t fight like wild fish to, but this fish was exceptional even in that regard–it was a veritable sloth. My current theory is that perhaps the fish was just too tired to move, because that theory also maintains that this fish was the same fish I had nearly landed 5 minutes prior–you know, the fish that Albacore allowed to get free?  Yeah, that fish was this fish.

That’s my story, and like a hook buried in a rock, branch, or gumption-free hatchery brat, I’m stickin’ to it.

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Hatchery Rockfish

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Dinner

Something’s bugging me.

At some point in one’s journey deep into the abyss of the of fly-fishing obsession, the angler reaches a point where they cease being a normal person. Now let me back up for a moment here and suggest that chances are the person in question was a little off center to begin with, and that may be what drove them to take up the quest for whatever it is that fly anglers are questing for: Sanity, the meaning of life, or maybe just a fish, and so on. But let’s agree that no matter how normal their inclinations before taking up the way of the fly, once they’ve crossed over the proverbial line, their outlook on life in general changes: One’s vision becomes narrowed, and everything in life begins to revolve around fly fishing. Suddenly they become fascinated with things that, when they were a normal person, never commanded much, if any, attention:  That rambling river alongside a road traveled countless times was just a flowing body of water; that weird looking boat with a curved bottom on a trailer being towed behind a vehicle on the interstate headed in the general direction of Montana was just a weird looking boat with a curved bottom (and where’s the motor, anyway?). And things that crawled or fluttered in the air were just bugs.

But that was back then. In the previous life.

Now that rambling river holds spiritual promise and beckons one to stop at the next pullout, string up the rod (that is always in the trunk), and see if perhaps the river also holds fish. Or answers. That drift boat headed to the mecca of trout fishing is something one covets and hopes to one day own, if only the purchase requisition would be approved. And things that used to crawl or fly unnoticed for the most part suddenly become things that cause excitement, or at the very least, some degree of interest.

Those things are, of course, insects. And once bitten by the fly fishing bug, insects forever lose their anonymity and insignificance and become trout food in the eyes of the angler. Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler is just as likely to grab a fly swatter and smack anything that carries the label of “bug”, and while I am certainly not opposed to crushing a pest, I can’t bring myself to do that if the bug in question is one of the noble trout food variety: Mayflies, caddisflies or stoneflies. They deserve better than to have their short lives snuffed out by an ignorant human–they deserve the privilege of sacrificing themselves to a hungry fish: To die in honor.

Obviously it makes sense that fly fishing peoples should have some degree of interest in bugs. After all, we’re doing our best to imitate those bugs with the flies we tie to the end of our tippet. Certainly one has to occasionally engage in the art of  “matching the hatch”, so it goes without saying that observing bugs is an important part of being a fly angler.  Whatever is in, on, or above the water, or crawling on the rocks or in your ears and up your nose, is natural and necessary.

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Now, before you accomplished anglers roll your eyes at me for stating the obvious, allow me to point out that there’s another type of fascination with bugs: The irrational type.

Mosquitos and grasshoppers are common. I see them all the time when the seasons allow for it, and even the layperson knows a skeeter or a hopper when they see one.  But what of the other bugs that nobody other than a fly angler or perhaps an entomologist becomes remotely familiar with?  Those are the bugs that get me all worked up. Now I don’t exactly live in Troutville, and the nearest moving water is, by way of the crow (or mayfly), a good 3/4 mile away, through dense timber, a broad valley floor and a two lane highway (filled with speeding windshields just waiting to collect low-flying insects). The lower Snoqualmie River is a lazy, meandering slough of a river near where I live, and it doesn’t hold any resident trout. Searrun cutts, steelhead and salmon move quickly through this stretch of river en route to more oxygenated waters upstream, and from my experiences the only resident fish are Squawfish (alright already– Northern Pikeminnow!). While I am probably wrong, I always figured that the bugs which trout feed on live in the same waters where trout live, and since trout don’t exactly live in the waters near my house I don’t expect to see trout bugs around these parts. And I don’t – very often. But occasionally  when there is a rare trout bug sighting, everything else can wait while I take a photo, download it to my computer, administer Photoshop adjustments to make up for poor photography skills, then send it to my favorite back alley entomology enthusiast for a positive identification. Thanks to Roger Rohrbeck for always being there with answers.

While there may be no real qualitative value for me in discovering what the bug is, I find it interesting to know that the small mayfly I discovered crawling on the side of our house in March of one year was a male dun of genus Ameletus! It’s not like I was out looking for bugs, either – I was actually engaged in something very important when I happened upon this delightful looking little specimen, so I set aside the task of cleaning my fly line and moved in for a closer look.  Or what of time I was again deeply engrossed in something of critical significance (rearranging the contents of one of my fly boxes) when I observed a much larger mayfly specimen crawling on another side of our house in May. This time it was none other than Ameletus female subimago, which became clearly identified by the forewing veinlets attaching longitudinal vein CuA to the rear margin! Both of these mayflies are commonly called Brown Duns, though they were quite different in size. If that’s not enough to make you say “WOW!” then consider the bug that landed on our window during late October. Looking up from my peanut butter and raspberry jam sandwich and the latest edition of one of the many fly fishing magazines I subscribe to, I immediately noted the swept-back wings of a caddisfly and was so overcome by intrigue that I actually pushed aside my lunch, grabbed a footstool, and went outside in a drenching rain to photograph what would later be identified as a Summer Flier Sedge, genus Limnephilus! There are (25) species present in WA, usually present at higher altitudes but apparently not always.

Male dun of genus AmeletusAmeletus female subimagoSummer Flier Sedge, genus Limnephilus

Now THAT right there is riveting stuff – and there’s more! However, sensing a certain lack of enthusiasm on the part of my readership, I’ll stop while I’m ahead, if in fact I haven’t fallen way behind already. But before I return to one of several very important tasks, I wanted to briefly address Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler: You know that “gross thing” on the bookshelf in my office? It’s the nymphal shuck of a Hesperoperla pacifica and no – I will not “get rid of it”.

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All hail the Meat Stick (but don’t tell anyone).

I am not a snob, but I am stubborn. When I go trout fishing I tend to like throwing dry flies, not because I’m some sort of snooty highbrow angler of considerable cultural refinement, but rather because of my German heritage. And it’s that Kraut stubbornness that finds me staring obvious fact straight in the face and refusing to comply. It’s a commonly known fact that fish take 99.999% of their meals under the surface. The other .001% of the time they will take a surface fly – not out of hunger, but to mess with the heads of anglers like me (seeing a fish take a swipe at my fly gives me a false sense of confidence in myself as a fisherman). It makes obvious sense to put one’s fly where fish do the majority of their shopping, and armed with this knowledge  most any angler will either adapt, or face a skunking. That’s where my stubborn nature comes into play: I know I could catch more fish if I would change my ways, but I derive great pleasure in seeing a fish rise and take the fly. Though not out of snobbery, but because chances are I will miss the hook set, fail to keep a tight line, or violate some other Cardinal Rule for fighting a fish. At least with dry fly fishing I get to see the fish before I lose it. And I believe the fish enjoy the sport of it as well.

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A moderately nasty case of the tangles. It can and does get much worse than this.

Due to the fact that I’m a very visual person, I’ve never much enjoyed fishing nymph rigs under a strike indicator. When one signs over their life to fly fishing, one of the first things they seek is to throw beautiful tight loops. Sexy loops, if you will. When chucking nymph rigs, it involves intentionally sloppy, open loop upstream casts. Instead of gentle fluidity, nymphing mandates that one aggressively throw stack mends into the line. And then you sit back and watch the indicator as it bobs downstream, all the while trying to detect a subtle change in the indicator’s “action” (a blatant oxymoron if there ever was one). This has always held the same appeal for me as watching paint dry or being a roadside flagger on a deserted highway. Nymphing is called “dead-drifting” or a reason, and frankly I prefer to feel somewhat alive when I fish. Because of that I have always held the position that no matter how effective others say nymph fishing is, there’s more to fishing than catching fish. I don’t mind stripping a streamer from time to time, particularly if it’s an olive woolly bugger, because at least one is engaged in the action of actually working the fly. But there’s something about a dead-drifting nymph dangling under a strike indicator that reminds me too much of childhood excursions spent passively sitting in a boat on a lake with an actual bobber, waiting impatiently for a trout to take the worm hanging deep below the surface. Out of sight.  Another part of the equation is that casting an indicator and two flies joined together by a length of tippet is a good recipe for a nasty case of the tangles. And I have enough trouble as it is with a single fly. At any rate, I want to make it very clear that I’m no snob. I’m merely quagmired in a status of quo – unwilling to adapt to fishing a method that catches fish. Besides, if I started catching a lot of fish, I’d have nothing to write about.

Now, nymphing for steelhead is something I’d never done before prior to a recent trip. I’ve begrudgingly fished nymphs for trout several times, but the only steelheading I’d done (admittedly not much) involved swinging streamers. And so on this trip with my college buddy, Large Albacore (not his real nickname), we were doing just that: Swinging streamers with our Spey rods on a river in north central Washington. Weeks leading up to the trip were spent salivating over widespread reports of record steelhead numbers (something like 475,000 fish) returning over the many dams on the Columbia River. These fish were headed into the many tributary rivers along the way, and unfortunately I misinterpreted this as meaning that catching would be pretty good. It’s not often that I anticipate plentiful catching when I go after fish, but this time was an exception.

Admittedly most of these returning fish were of hatchery origins, but for those of us who are unfortunate enough to call western Washington home (where the dismal numbers of steelhead returning to our Puget Sound rivers are a troubling reality) these bloated figures were more than a good enough reason to travel across the mountains to visit the welcoming anglers from the dry side of our state. A river ripe with prospective steelhead attracts angling folks in a similar way that opossums attracts vehicle tires, and while I felt a little guilty to be part of the problem, I quickly got over it. With so many fish in this river, surely none of the locals would mind if I came over and caught a few of their surplus hatchery brats. As a gift to these parched folks I brought with me some much-needed rain, arriving with my Spey rod, an assortment of colorful streamers and a tent that would prove to leak horribly. I was ready to get it on.

But back to the point about nymphing, or more specifically, fishing “dirty” as Large Albacore refers to it. It’s bad enough to be fishing with a nymph setup, but unthinkably shameful when using a plastic bead egg as a dropper “fly”. PA280780So maligned is nymphing for steelhead that a recent thread on the very popular Washington Fly Fishing online forum saw 24 pages of heated discussion about nymphing. You see, Albacore is a man of some refinement: He enjoys a fine cigar, a good glass of wine, a quality beer, and an appropriately aged single malt. As far as the single malt goes, he enjoys it as both a beverage and as a wader deodorant (a story for another time perhaps). I, on the other hand, never evolved past the cheap cigars and union-made swill we enjoyed in college (some 25 years earlier). We do share a common viewpoint of nymphing, however, and agree that swinging streamers with a Spey rod is the preferred method of steelhead angling.

You can see that I forgot to Photoshop the dirty bead from this photo.

You can see that I forgot to Photoshop the dirty bead from this photo.

I’ve been told that it is not an uncommon practice for an angler to catch a steelhead on a dirty nymph rig, only to remove the unsightly tackle from the fish’s mouth before snapping a photo.  At least I’ve heard of this taking place.

Over the course of 2 1/2 days we fished hard: Up at 5:15, on the water from sun-up until mid-day, with a quick break for a bite to eat and a cold beverage of one’s choosing. During this brief fishing reprieve I would also take the opportunity to soak up as much water from inside my tent as possible (praise be to the Sham-Wow I’d packed in my duffel bag). Then we were back at it until it was time for the evening meal and fireside chat to talk about how swinging streamers was a preferred method of fishing for steelhead. We also grumbled about how crowded the river was and bemoaned the slow fishing. Steelhead fishermen know that steelhead are the fish of 1000 casts, but it wasn’t supposed to be that way. Not on this trip.

As it turns out, according to intelligence provided to us by a state fisheries employee logging catch rates on this river, only about 25% of the returning fish had entered this particular section of the river. The other 75% were stacked-up in the closed lower section of the river, waiting, I assumed, for me to return home before heading upstream en masse. Because of this, the hookups were few and far between, and the number of fish landed even fewer. Given the number of anglers who had descended upon this river on this particular weekend (the nerve of them to do so anyway), we felt lucky just to find a spot to fish. When we were fortunate to find a roadside pullout not occupied by another vehicle, we skidded to a halt and rejoiced at our good fortune­. Every run we approached gave us new hope, even if it had just been pounded by other fishermen moments before our arrival. And each time we would start out by swinging flies with our Spey rods, working every run twice through. When that yielded no interest from fish, out would come the “Meat Pole” (Albacore’s Sage XP 896 rigged with a Thingamabobber looped above a stonefly nymph residing above a bead egg with trailing hook).  It resembled the hardware that a Icehouse-guzzling gear fisherman might be chucking from his lawn chair on the bank of the river (by the way, there’s nothing wrong with Icehouse or gear fishing). The only difference was that we were presenting our offering with a fly rod, and we weren’t sitting in a lawn chair (and the cheap beer was back at camp in my cooler).

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Albacore brandishing the Meat Stick.

Upon hearing the first declaration that it was time to “get dirty” I  balked. I was here to swing – not fish with a bobber. Being the visual angler than I am, I just couldn’t see fishing a nymph rig so I politely declined and went about swinging. At least by fishing in this manner I got ample opportunity to work on my Spey casting, which is always in need of more practice. As I threw unsightly casts that emanated from disfigured D-loops, I glanced over my shoulder and saw Albacore with a bend in the Meat Pole. I reeled in my line and dashed upstream to watch him land the fish. Albacore has never been one to speak in a manner that is anything other than direct and honest, and so he was blunt in his admission that it pissed him off to have to fish this way, because he’d never had to resort to this manner of angling on this river before. He was equally honest in stating that he would be even more pissed off if he didn’t catch a fish. With size 15 wading boots, Albacore is not a guy that you want stomping around in a foul mood.  Catching this first fish insured the safety of everyone back at camp that evening, and I breathed a long sigh of relief.

After pulling that first fish out of the same run we’d just covered diligently with our Spey rods, Albacore handed me the Meat Pole and told me to have a go at it. I looked over my shoulder to make sure nobody was watching, and within a few minutes proceeded to catch my first steelhead of the trip. And so began a pattern that persisted for the remainder of the trip: Work a run twice with our Spey rods before grabbing the Meat Pole, going dirty, and catching a fish. Did we catch a fish nymphing each run?  No–but it was the only method that produced hookups, and our Spey rods gently wept in silence from the riverbank.

Gettin' dirty.

Gettin' dirty.

Prior to this trip I had only caught one steelhead before, so simply catching another was a thrill for me. Would I rather have caught the fish on my Spey rod? Absolutely.  However, employing this dirty method of fishing I felt very fortunate to have hooked 2 fish and landed one. I would have landed two, but someone’s left-handed reflexes proved too slow for even a hatchery slug, and the fish, lying at my feet in 2 inches of water, got away before someone (who shall remain anonymous) could tail it. The established trend is that everyone I fish with out-catches me, so it should come as no surprise that Large Albacore faired better. Besides, he’s a much better fisherman than I am. Collectively, the total number of fish caught swinging with the Spey rods: 0.  Total fish caught fishing dirty: 4, or maybe 5. What I came to accept on this trip is that nymphing catches fish, even though swinging flies is still the preferred method of preserving our dignity: Swing first; fish dirty as a last resort to save face completely. And if both methods result in a skunk, fall back on the comfort of knowing that there’s more to fishing than catching fish.

By the way, I recently picked up a used Sage XP 8 weight. Now what am I going to do with that?

While I’ve got your attention, I wanted to publicly express gratitude to Bob White for some recent kind words posted in his weekly “Thursday Morning Art Review” newsletter.  Bob is a very accomplished fine artist whose work is well known in the fly fishing world. His beautiful paintings accompany the writing of John Gierach (an accomplished angler and author) in each issue of Fly Rod & Reel. Among other beautiful offerings, they have a line of “Small Fry” cards that are really nice. I picked up a couple sets this year which prompted me to actually grab a pen and write notes to people. Please take a moment to visit Bob’s website:  Whitefish Studios. Thanks for the support, Bob and Lisa!

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Dude, where’s the car?

It had been another forgettable day aboard The Hornet, fishing the Yakima with Marck. Like so many other days on Washington’s finest “blue ribbon” trout stream, it began with hope, which faded into frustration, and ended in disbelief. Actually, I may exaggerating things just a bit because at least one of us caught more than one fish that day. It was late summer, and we’d floated Big Horn to The Slab, covering several miles of grass-lined banks which we pounded with hoppers. As the sun set behind the canyon walls, the magical hour of the Caddis was suddenly upon us. We’d timed our float just right,P8230204 hitting a long stretch of perfect dry fly water just prior to our take out. With each cast of my size 16 tan elk hair Caddis toward the brush on the river bank (where it would proceed to hang up on a branch) several dozen caddisflies would be shaken free of their perch and land on the water’s surface, where the trout would methodically sip the bugs while I fought to free my hook. When I did manage to avoid the vegetation and get my fly directly upon the water, it would be met with a rather lackluster reception from the feeding fish (read: Refusal). I won’t even tell you what Marck was doing – by now you’ve probably assumed that he was getting into fish, and your assumption would not be incorrect. I caught one fish that day, for which I was grateful. I’m not one to feel entitled, and I know that just because you’re fishing that’s never a guarantee that you’ll be catching. Still, one would expect more than one fish on a blue ribbon trout stream at the peak of hopper season.P8230205

We continued this madness until it was nearly dark, and while I have both the keen eyesight and cat-like reflexes necessary for setting the hook in complete darkness, Marck was struggling. I suggested that we call it a day: We were both hungry and The Tav in Ellensburg was calling our names. Marck got on the oars and we made our way downstream to The Slab. The high summer flows on the Yakima River can call for some frantic maneuvering at the termination point of a day’s float, but The Hornet was beached without incident. The Bureau of Reclamation had given this area a major facelift a year earlier, and it’s actually quite plush now. The campground glowed with the light of many bonfires, a couple of which could be seen from outer space. Everywhere, youthful outdoor enthusiasts were frolicking and laughing, preparing s’mores and singing campfire songs. I marveled at the good, clean summertime fun as I began breaking down the rods. I took me back to the simpler days before expensive fishing gear and fancy driftboats – back to a time when all I needed for a weekend of fun was a styrofoam cooler and a sleeping bag. Ah, good times. Marck was also feeling nostalgic and he sang “Kumbaya” as he walked off toward the parking lot to retrieve his truck and trailer, which had been dropped off by the shuttle service per our instructions. We’d be sipping a cold beer and enjoying a burger within a half hour.

Ten minutes had passed before Marck returned, but there was one thing missing. Well, actually two things were missing: His truck, and the trailer. After we stood around for a few minutes in the dark scratching our heads (during which time Marck apparently scratched off all the hair on his head), we concluded that the rig was not here. We didn’t have a cell number to reach the shuttle service after hours, and besides that, cell coverage is spotty at best in this location. Fortunately there was another fisherman who’d just pulled his boat out of the water. He kindly offered to take Marck with him as he drove the Canyon Road back to Ellensburg to drop off his boat at a storage facility. The plan was that after doing so they would head back down the Canyon Road. Along the way they would engage in a reconnaissance mission, checking each of the possible launch points where the truck and trailer might have mistakenly been left. Certainly it had to be at one of the obvious points along the river. The overwhelming majority of fly fishing folks are people of solid character, and The Good Samaritan Flyfisherman appeared to have all his teeth so I figured Marck was safe getting in the truck with this guy. An hour passed without word. Having seen Deliverance many times, I feared the worst and did what any concerned fishing buddy would do:  I drank the last beer in the cooler. I walked 37 feet to the southeast, where there was a small patch of cell coverage, and sent a text message to my wife to let her know I’d be home much later than anticipated.  Struggling with the “word” mode which my kids had recently programmed on my phone to make it easier for me to be an active participant in the 21st century, I managed to get off a message that read, “canv fiinde mARcks trckk wilbee hmme laabte. LOL : )”

The backlit screen on my phone was like a magnet to the thousands of caddisflies that were now fluttering about, and I actually thought about stringing up my rod and doing a little night fishing from the bank. I didn’t get much beyond thinking about it when a set of headlights pulled into the parking area. There were no trailer lights in tow, so I knew it wasn’t Marck’s rig. It was, however, Marck and The Good Samaritan Flyfisherman. They came bearing bad news:  No sign of the rig. Our biggest concern now was that The Hornet was in the water with no means to extract it.  We knew could get a ride home by calling one of our wives. I quickly pointed out that Mrs. Marck would have to be the one to drive 2 hours to come get us. Of the two wives, she was our only hope when it came to an act of sympathy: Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler would simply laugh at such a request before hanging up the phone and returning to her previously scheduled programming: The 14th viewing of Sleepless in Seattle. Or was it You’ve Got Mail?

Before we were faced with making that unpopular phone call, The Good Samaritan Flyfisherman offered to take Marck a couple of miles down the road in the other direction – there were two more potential launch points where the rig might be parked. If that yielded goose eggs, he said we could lift The Hornet onto his truck and he’d be glad to take it to his house in Yakima until we could make plans to retrieve it. A generous offer, but the idea of getting a 16 ft driftboat loaded onto a pickup truck with an 8 foot bed sounded like an act of dumb redneck desperation and conjured up images like the ones (below) found on the interweb.

overloaded caroverloaded-car

But first things first, so once again Marck and The Good Samaritan Flyfisherman headed into the night on a continued mission to find the missing rig.

Within 10 minutes, Marck’s white truck with trailer in tow pulled into the parking lot.  They’d found it parked a couple miles down the road, right where the shuttle driver left it – at the last takeout before the Roza Dam. It was an easy mistake given that “Slab” and “Roza” both contain 4 letters.  Speaking of which, 4 letter words were what comprised Marck’s vocabulary as he climbed out of the truck (leaving the door open and consequently the dome light illuminated, by the way) and we loaded The Hornet onto the trailer. It was 10:30 PM–way too late for a burger and beer at The Tav tonight. We were just glad to put this one behind us, so we jumped in the truck and headed toward home, along with a thousand (give or take a couple hundred) caddisflies.CabbisHatch

It should be noted, in all fairness to the shuttle service, that shuttle drivers are only human, and to err is an unfortunate trait of the species. When Marck called them the next day, they apologized profusely and offered us compensatory damages in the form of a few free shuttles in the future. Can’t ask for much more than that. The worst thing was that it meant we’d have to face the Yak again.