The Hat is Lucky. Me? Not so much.


“Lucky hat.” Now there’s a term we’re all familiar with. Many of us have a hat we consider lucky, due to one fortunate thing or another that came our way while wearing that particular hat. Some folks have a particular hat they wear on game day to ensure their team wins. I met a guy who had a crusty black Stetson he wore whenever he played poker (my bet is that he was a lousy card player and couldn’t afford a new hat). When it comes to lucky fishing hats, obviously it means a particular hat has brought us prosperity in our pursuit of fish. I used to think it was a load of bunk and would grab whatever baseball style cap was my current favorite. There was no sentimental attachment as I jumped from one hat to the next without loyalty–whatever hat I wore on the water on a particular day seemed equally capable of insuring that I wouldn’t catch fish. Since those days I have changed my tune, and now whistle Stevie Ray Vaughan’s version of “Superstition” when it comes time to choose my hat (Stevie Wonder’s original version just doesn’t cut it for me).

My hat of choice is a semi wide-brimmed model described in marketing literature as the style worn by “River Guides”, although I have never seen any guide on any river wearing a hat exactly like mine, which leads me to be suspicious of the claim. While I fully acknowledge that beauty is a subjective term, in the eye of this beholder my hat is both a thing of beauty and supreme functionality. p9220741I looks like it’s been run over by a truck, rolled in the mud, used for filtering coffee, soaked in the river, rode hard and put up wet (and it just gets better with age).

Obvious aesthetics aside, it also keeps the sun and rain off my face and protects my ears from being flossed–a term coined by an angler who was obviously a dentist (it seems a likely origin since I’m sure many dentists are fly fishermen, just like most attorneys are also fly fishermen). I assert that dentists must have been the first fly anglers, because an attorney would have likely coined the term, “cross-examined by a hostile hook”. At any rate, flossing is a kinder, gentler term to describe an otherwise horrific occurrence that happens when the wind destroys an otherwise perfect forward cast, sending the fly (with it’s sharp hook) on a collision course with one’s ear. This can be either self-inflicted or caused by a dentist fishing upwind. In the event of doing this to oneself, there’s not much recourse other than feel a certain degree of humility. In the case of the latter I recommend calling an attorney and pressing charges of negligent bodily injury. Flossing can also happen when engaged in the act of Spey casting. If you have an incorrectly placed anchor, abandon the cast immediately. If you don’t, you had better hope to be wearing a full coverage lucky fishing helmet.

While I’ve never had either of my ears flossed, I have heard of it happening to others, and I’ve seen the evidence. I was, in fact, fortunate enough to have some folks allow me the use their photos (thanks to Jarrod, Josh, Matt, and Moldy Chum), which I offer here into evidence as Exhibits A , B, C and D.

(Legal disclaimer: The images you are about to see would make Van Gogh cringe– consider yourself fairly warned)

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibit B

Exhibit C

Exhibit C

Exhibit D

Exhibit D

It certainly looks painful, but I’m guessing it mainly hurts when one tries to remove the hook, especially when/if they realize they forgot to pinch the barb. Fishing with a barbless hook is required on many waters, though it is a common misconception that barbless hooks are intended to protect the fish. The reality is that these regulations are in place to protect the angler, however I’m sure the fish benefit to some degree as well. At any rate, I always pinch my barbs because if there’s one thing that scares me more than a visit to the dental chair for a root canal, it’s a visit to one of those places that administer body piercings.

Aside from keeping my ears safe from negligent anglers (dentists and attorneys alike) and wayward Spey casts (in my experience those are the only kind), the hat is also lucky in the sense that I’ve almost never had a skunking while wearing it (steelheading, doesn’t count). I’ve been skunked on the Yakima River a couple times, but that’s not the fault of the hat–I blame the lack of fish. I shudder to imagine how badly my catch record might smell if not for my lucky hat, so I am content to not mess with the status quo. As Stevie Ray sang, “Very superstitious, nothin more to say…”

Except that my lucky fishing hat also makes me look taller.

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I rest my case.

My 10 minutes of fame.

One of the best things that has happened to me as the author of a series of children’s books is that almost exactly a year ago today I had the opportunity to visit a grade school in Kansas City, MO. I was invited to give a series of presentations by Mr. Bob Dever, the PE teacher and a fly fisherman who had come to find out about my books the year before. Actually it was I who first contacted Bob after reading about a program he was teaching with grant money received as part of the Physh Ed program offered by The Future Fisherman Foundation. With this funding he had taught basic elements of spin and fly fishing as an after school activity at Gracemor Elementary. Kids who participated in the program also learned basic fly tying, and I thought my books might be something Bob would be interested in. Luckily I was right, and after sharing regular email correspondence over the months, we worked out an arrangement to have me come to his school. Airline reservations were booked and Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler began prepping me for the trip: Buying me new clothes and reminding me of proper social etiquette. For some strange reason she seemed to have little confidence in my abilities, and reminded me to say “please” and “thank you”, and not to run in the halls.

In advance of my visit, the kids had read the stories of Olive the Woolly Bugger, and some of the younger students had even gracemor4“tied” their own versions of the woolly bugger using clothes pins and feathers. The weekend prior to my arrival marked the school’s trip to Bennett Spring State Park, which gave these budding young anglers an opportunity to put their recent training to use. With all this fishing-related excitement still fresh in their minds, it’s safe to say that these kids were eager for my visit, and their enthusiasm was surpassed only by my own. I’d never done anything like this, so getting on a plane and flying halfway across the country, masquerading as some sort of hot-shot author was a big deal to me. Admittedly I was also a bit nervous, and as I sat on the plane sandwiched between two red-headed, cornfed brothers returning home to Wichita, I worried about the normal things anyone in my position would worry about: Would my PowerPoint work? What if I woke up in the morning with a case of laryngitis?  What if the kids are mean to me? I wonder what’s on the school lunch menu? Maybe pigs in a blanket–those were my favorite when I was in elementary school. And chocolate milk.

I was relieved when my plane touched down safely, and I was greeted at the security gate by Bob. I would be staying with he and his wife at their home, so I didn’t have to deal with English-challenged cab drivers, bad directions, or non-smoking hotel rooms that weren’t quite what they were advertised to be. It was a nice relief to know that all I had to do was be ready to leave for school at 7 o-clock the next morning, and after a decent night’s sleep I managed to do just that. And so began my big day.

gracemore1During the course of the day I talked to over 700 students (Kindergarten through 5th grade) about being an author and illustrator. Most of my young audience seemed more interested in the drawing aspect of my endeavors, which seems appropriate since writing is something kids are forced to do, while coloring is fun. I shared information about the adventures to be had while fly-fishing, being careful to point out that there’s more to fishing than catching fish (which was met with blank stares). I showed slides of beautiful mountain lakes and streams, broad rivers lined with magnificent fall colors, and a wide array of wildlife. These were inner-city kids and most, if any, had never seen anything like the images in my presentation. Kids that age rarely appreciate scenic photographs, no matter how stunning, and while they enjoyed seeing photos of deer, moose, beavers and bears, their eyes really lit up when I started showing slides of fish: Big and small, salmonids and rough fish, warmwater species and Arctic char. Hands shot up in the air and I was peppered with questions about the many different fish:

“Did you catch that huge fish?” Uh, no.

“How much did that fish weigh?” Don’t know. I didn’t catch that one, either.

“Do you catch lots of fish?” Next question…

But my favorite question was asked by a cute little girl who was about 7 or 8 years old: “How long have you been famous?” I smiled, looked at my watch, and replied, “About ten minutes.”

gracemor05Their curiosity and enthusiasm was infectious (as were the germs they sent me home with which resulted in the worst sinus infection I’ve ever had). Most every one of the kids seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say, and except for when the lunch bell rang I had a captive audience (and they truly were captive, because they couldn’t go anywhere). To these kids, I was something special: A real live author and seemingly accomplished fisherman that lived in a far-away place called Washington (no, not where the President lives), where there were high mountains and lots of evergreen trees and water and fish called salmon and steelhead that swim from the rivers to the ocean and back again. Luckily for me my visit was brief. Had I spent much more time with these kids they’d have figured out that I’m just a regular guy who just happens to have written a couple books about a woolly bugger named Olive. And I don’t catch many fish.



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“They’re sure beautiful!”

That’s a phrase used to describe small fish and is usually muttered in the same breath as, “There’s more to fishing than catching.” I employ the use of both quite often, and while there is some truth to each statement, it’s usually just an excuse. As pertaining to little fish, yes–any fish on the end of your line is better than nothing at all. To a point. Then after a while it just gets depressing. Well, maybe not depressing, but demoralizing. Anglers like me who have muttered those words countless times before are simply deprived in the large fish department.

If I want (and that’s the key word) to catch dinks, I’ll hit either the South or Middle Forks of the Snoqualmie. These are small fish waters, so one knows what one is getting into ahead of time. Using the universal “Fish Weight Formula” (girth x girth x length divided by 800), I’d wager that the average weight of these fish is .0675 lbs). That’s not to say that the rare 12 incher (or bigger) doesn’t lurk in these dscn1126relatively small, relatively sterile waters, but the norm is to catch 4-8 inch fish, mostly coastal cutthroats with the occasional rainbow or Westslope cuttie, and in even more rare instances a brookie. I’ve always had more plentiful catching on the Middle Fork, as it’s a bigger river, and in my experiences the fish are a bit bigger overall than on the South Fork, which is not saying much. But in either river the fish tend toward smallishness because the rivers lack sufficient biomass for prolific insect populations, and they get scoured with heavy winter floods from multiple storms each year. dscn0545The limited supply of food in these waters doesn’t allow for fish to gorge themselves into impressive proportions, but in spite of, or perhaps because of this, during the summer months these little fish are definitely game, and will attack large attractor patterns if you can place the fly near their noses. The bigger fish in the Forks are not easy to come by and are much harder to entice—they don’t get to be 12 inch hogs by being stupid. For example, two years ago I was fishing my favorite run on the Middle Fork, catching a few 6 inchers here and there, enjoying the gorgeous scenery and reminding myself that there’s more to fishing than catching big fish. Behind a rock in about 5 feet of gin clear water, I spied a monstrous fish in the 12 inch range. Water magnifies things, so I’m being honest and accounting for that when I say this fish was 12 inches (he looked much bigger). I tried everything possible to get him to engage me in a bit of gentlemanly sport, and ended up working myself into a frenzy trying to fool that fish with streamers and nymphs. But he would have none of it. My offerings didn’t spook him, rather he just looked sideways at them as if so say, “Pppffft–silly imitation made of synthetic threads and feathers…” After 45 minutes of attempting in vain to fool the fish, the reality of the situation became as clear as the water in which I was standing: There was but one fool, and it was not the fish.

This past summer my son, Schpanky (see previous post: “The Kid never listens”) and my brother Hal (could be his real name) joined me for an early evening on the Middle Fork. We rigged up and walked a short distance to my favorite run–the same run where I’d been shunned by the big fish two years earlier. Hal walked upstream to work the head of the run, careful not to get his Kindle™ wet as he fished (I’m kidding–Hal didn’t really have his Kindle with him. I just like to tease him because he’s a hardcore bookworm and gadget junkie). Schpanky took the next position in the middle of the run where the best water is, and being the good father I am, I took the leftovers at the bottom of the run. On my third cast I hooked into what would prove to be my best Middle Forker to date: A solid 12 inch coastal cutt that was more fun on my 4 wt than any fish had the right to be. One would be better off with a 2 or 3 weight rod on these waters, but using a 4 weight gives me the false sense of confidence that I am really stalking bigger fish, like the one that I had on the end of my line at this particular moment. He hit hard, and ran fast- actually taking line off my reel. With my highly developed brain and opposable thumb, I made it very clear to the trout who was at the top of the evolutionary ladder as I played him with skill and patience. p7140434As I imposed my angling will upon him, I also taunted him in a manner similar to scene in Monty Python and The Holy Grail where the French soldiers rained down insults upon King Arthur. When I brought him to hand there was something immediately familiar about the fish, and I hearkened back to that day two years ago: We were both older and wiser, and he was no bigger for reasons mentioned in the paragraph above, but it had to be the same fish. He was silvery and covered with spots, and had vibrant red slash marks under either side of his jaw. The resemblance was uncanny, and I determined that it was the same fish. Seeing this handsome trout again brought back memories, but on this day it was I who was Lord and Master.

And while you may be astonished to learn that once in a while even the Unaccomplished Angler is shown some respect by his quarry, I feel compelled to tell you the whole story: Schpanky had actually gotten his fly hung up on a snag in the river, and like any dutiful father I selflessly came to his rescue (afterall, I’d paid good money for that fly and was not about to have the boy lose it to the river). I handed him my rod, grabbed his, and waded out to free his line, grumbling the whole time about being interrupted from my quiet time on the water. When I freed the hook from the snag I laid out a short cast, mainly to straighten out the line, and walked slowly back to the bank. And that’s when the big fish took the fly. So, while yes, I had caught the fish, it’s not as if I was employing my keen angling skills–it was pure, dumb luck. No matter. I’d caught a nice fish, and nobody in the outside world needed to know the circumstances. The next day I called Marck to share the news. He lives right on the banks of the South Fork, and often goes out after dinner to entertain himself with his 3 weight. Certainly if anyone would appreciate my accomplishments it would be Marck. Upon hearing the news of my 12 inch trophy, his reply was, “I caught a 15 incher behind my house last night.”

Not to worry, as I’m sure my fish was more beautiful.

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The Kid never listens.

My son, Schpanky (his real nickname) is stubborn. Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler and I like to joke that he’s going to be either a trial attorney or a hostage negotiator, because he won’t back down from an argument. No matter what profession he chooses, I think it’s safe to say he’s going to become a better fisherman than his father. From the time he was probably 8 or 9, he showed the sort of patience needed for a lifelong pursuit of fish, and would happily spend hours at low tide with an old spinning rod, tossing a Dick Knight into the channel of the Tahuya River on Hood Canal. When the tide was high, he’d throw that same lure from our dock, hoping to catch a smallnikfish05 perch or a bullhead. He seemed undeterred by a lack of success, and kept at it until his perseverance was rewarded. As he got older, the patience and fascination with fishing remained, so when he was 11 I learned him how to cast a fly rod in the back yard. He got the hang of it quickly, displaying a natural ability to stay relaxed and let the rod load under the weight of the line. If it had only come so easily to me…

In addition to his patient determination, Schpanky also has SLD (Selective Listening Disorder). At one point his mother and I actually thought he might have a physical condition that affected his ability to hear us. However, an inspection revealed no more wax buildup in his ears than would be expected, and we concluded that his hearing is fine. It’s his listening that isn’t always keen.

During the summer of his 12th year I figured it was high time to take him on a weekend fishing trip to the Yakima River. Up to this point in his young angling career he’d only waded with me on the Forks of the Snoqualmie, which are much smaller waters than the mighty Yak. He was excited to go, and as I briefed him on what it was like to fish the Yakima from a boat, he was all ears. When the day arrived, gear (rods, reels, flies, tippet, beer and Q-tips) was packed and expectations were high as we headed east over the mountains for two days of summer hopper action with Jimmy. Jimmy is not his real name, but Jimmy is my other best friend (coincidentally, Jimmy happens to own a Hyde drift boat). dscn1024We camped at the Yakima River RV Park and planned three floats over two days. It would be a lot of fishing for a 12 year-old, but I knew Schpanky could handle it. I just hoped I could.

I recall the action being about average for the Yak, which means there were extended lulls in the action between catching small fish. Even though Schpanky was out-catching his father, he really wanted to hook into something bigger than 10 inches. That’s not to say all the fish were terribly small, as Jimmy landed a nice 13-incher and the Unaccomplished Angler landed what would have been his finest fish on that river: A 19 inch rainbow. Deftly playing it with uncharacteristic finesse, I managed to get the 19+ incher to the boat, where Schpanky manned the net. The fish had nearly inhaled the size 10 foam hopper, and though the barb was flattened, the hook was buried far back in its tongue, requiring a delicate procedure to remove the fly. This procedure lasted longer than was ideal, and with the hook finally out, we let the trout rest in the water, still confined in the net. I cautioned the kid not to allow the net to settle too low in the water lest the strong current should drag it under, and reached into my gear bag for my trusty camera. I turned back around just in time to see the majestic trout slip over the edge of the submerged net. All I could do was watch my trophy swim off into the depths. dscn1040It was a solid 20-incher that would have been commemorated in pixels and celebrated for years to come had it not been for the kid who never listens. Schpanky instantly felt bad, taking blame for the lost fish. And like any good father, I grabbed him by the ears and told him that if it weren’t for the fact that his mother would never forgive me, I’da tossed him into the river to go retrieve my 21-inch trout. Clearly my parenting skills rival only my angling skills.

We put the unfortunate incident behind us, for the most part, and resumed our downstream journey. The sun dipped behind the canyon walls and the Hour of the Caddis would soon be upon us. If there’s ever any consistency to the inconsistent nature of the Yakima River, it’s the evening Caddis action, and everyone in the boat was instructed to tie on an Elk Hair Caddis in anticipation of this great occurrence. We pounded the grass-lined banks hoping to rise a hungry fish, but the fish didn’t appreciate our offerings with the enthusiasm we’d hoped for. Jimmy and I each picked up a very modest fish or two, but with each trout that refused his fly, Schpanky grew very quiet and sullen in the back of the boat. I could sense his frustration and offered encouragement: “Quit pouting and keep at it, boy–fish that Caddis tight to the bank.” I also reminded him, “There’s more to fishing than catching”. This worldly advice was met with deafening silence, and I assumed that he simply hadn’t heard me.

dscn1042_1A short while later the quiet of the evening was shattered by the youthful and jubilant proclamation from the back of the boat, “I got one!” Indeed he had, and Schpanky’s 5 weight bent under the pressure of a feisty fish that was using the river’s current to its full advantage. It was a nice fish–a beautifully colored rainbow that had to go a solid 14 inches. Handling the net, I took great care to keep the fish from getting free (if it did I would never hear the end of it) and reached to remove the fly from the fish’s mouth. And that’s when I saw it: The size 18 mosquito dangling from the trout’s lower lip. I looked at my son and furrowed my brow. He smiled back at me as if to say, “Neener, neener, nee-ner!”

Schpanky hoisted the fish for a quick photo before releasing it back into the river. He was absolutely thrilled, but like any seasoned angler he resisted the temptation to gloat and kept his emotions in check, while I danced a celebratory jig.

After congratulating him for having caught such a nice fish, I immediately chastised him for having broken protocol: “We told you to use a Caddis–what were you thinking?”

With very calm rationale he replied, “Well, I wasn’t catching any fish with the Caddis, and I saw mosquito’s flying around, so I tied one on.”

Like I said, the kid never listens.



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PS- If you’ve got a kid, get them out fishing. And check out FishyKid, too.

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The Banana Boat.

Google (or perhaps Bing, as I’ve heard it’s pretty decent) “bananas and fishing” and you’ll find countless explanations supporting the assertion that bananas and fishing don’t mix. While I’m superstitious to a degree (with regard to hats), I don’t necessarily buy into this particular load of discriminatory bunk. I like bananas and eat one nearly every day. The potassium is supposed to be good for preventing p9230741muscle cramps, and if you’ve ever suffered a muscle cramp, you know how intensely uncomfortable they can be. When the cramp hits, you drop everything you’re doing and give full and involuntary attention to the pain. Aside from the obvious discomfort, the second worst thing about cramps is that they occur at any time they want–most often when you least expect, or want it.  Like, when rowing a drift boat. That’s just a hypothetical scenario, though, as I don’t suffer from cramps because I eat bananas.

So I came to the recent conclusion that bananas, as a particular foodstuff, have nothing to do with bad fishing (unless you don’t eat them and develop a cramp while fishing). I assert that the issue is not the bananas themselves, rather the color: Yellow. Yellow is bad. And yellow is the color of The Hornet.

The Hornet is Marck’s yellow and black Clackacraft 16LP. I’ve known Marck for years, but when he acquired The Hornet a couple years ago, he was immediately promoted to the position of “best friend”. The Hornet quickly attained an exhalted status as well, as Mrs. Marck was forced to park her expensive German SUV in the driveway to make room in the garage for the boat. This makes perfect sense to me, and I’d do the same thing if I had a drift boat and Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler had an expensive German SUV. p9250745

I’m trying to remember the first time I fished out of The Hornet. It was on the Yakima River, I know that for certain. I’m pretty sure I got skunked. But there’s more to fishing than catching, and I do recall feeling fortunate to have the opportunity to be a passenger in Marck’s new boat. Since then, I’ve fished out of The Hornet countless times. I’d be exaggerating for the sake of literary grandeur if I said I got skunked every time I set foot in The Hornet, but I’d be lying if I said I caught fish every time. What I can say with all honesty is that the last several trips on the Yakima have all been aboard Marck’s boat, and the last several trips have been frustrating, humbling excursions with skunkings and more small fish than before I was stung by The Hornet. I’m beginning to think I’m allergic.

p8230204Oddly, Marck seems to be less ill-affected by the color of his boat than I am. I’ve never fished with him when he’s been skunked, and I’m reasonably certain that he’s never actually been skunked. Now, one might point to the seemingly obvious explanation: Marck is a fishy dude (whereas I am not) . Okay, I’ll buy that. But I think there’s more to it. When I’m on the oars, Marck is catching fish. When he’s on the oars, I’m not catching fish. See where I’m going with this? Perhaps the Unaccomplished Angler is simply a superior oarsman. Yeah, riiight. At least I’ve never suffered a cramp when rowing.

Lest one should think that I resent The Hornet, let me go on record as saying that this is not the case. She’s actually quite a beauty to behold and a pleasure to row. Clackacraft boats “Fear No Rocks”, which is a good thing, because I do. Luckily The Hornet is responsive and easy to maneuver, and when I’m on the sticks, most rocks are avoided. With her bold combination of colors, we regularly get comments from other anglers–most of them questioning Marck’s NFL allegiance (we live in Seahawk country, and we’re still seething over the loss to the Steelers in Superbowl XL: Roethlisberger did not cross the goal line and the ruling on the field should have been upheld). So rest assured, the color of the boat is merely an unfortunate coincidence in that regard. Pittsburgh fan or not, she’s a stunning vessel, and I’ve yet to see another one like it. Maybe there’s a good reason for that.

I’m submitting a request to change the name of the boat to The Banana. Fear No Cramps.


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