The ink from last week’s blog entry was barely dry when I received a text message from Marck. Expecting criticism for having taken certain creative liberties in my post, I was surprised to see the words pop up on the screen of my phone: “Yak tomorrow?” Unlike me, Marck is a man of few words. Texting is a rather unpleasant endeavor for me because I have a hard time buying into the whole “textspeak” thing, with its baffling array of acronyms and abbreviations and lack of correct punctuation and proper grammar. It would have taken me 25 minutes to respond with the following text message: “Good day, Marck. I received your digital communication regarding the matter of fishing the Yakima and yes, that sounds like a rather grand idea and one that I would greatly enjoy partaking of. If you’ll allow me the courtesy to first check with Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler before I commit to joining you, I will get back to you just as soon as possible. Thank you for the invitation. I look forward to conversing with you in the very near future and hope all is well. Very sincerely, The one who is rather unaccomplished in the ways of fly fishing.” So rather than reply in kind I opted to actually call him.
Then I sent an email to Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler announcing that I was going to go fishing with Marck. The reply was not encouraging: “You have a chore list to do.” Oh, yeah, that: The honey-do list that was taped to my computer so I couldn’t ignore it. “Yeah, yeah – I’ll get to that when I can. By the way, what’s for dinner, woman?” should have been my response. With no further discussion, I called Marck once again and told him I wouldn’t be able to go. I stared at the list for a few minutes and it became painfully clear what my Saturday was going to consist of: Change lightbulbs, sweep driveway, take cardboard boxes to recycling bin, sweep out garage, clean fireplace glass, and my favorite: Clean your office. When she got home from work a short while later I was moping around the house like a dog that had been punished for taking a crap on the living room carpet that had just been shampooed. I was caught completely off guard when she asked what time I was leaving in the morning to go fishing. “Huh?!” As it turns out, I could go fishing as long as I was aware that my list had to be completed by the end of the weekend. My spirits were instantly lifted and I quickly fired off the following text message to Marck: “stillgotr oom in the hornet 2morrow i cango : ) LOL”
Per standard operating procedure I arrived at Marck’s house, refilled my coffee cup, and we headed east on I-90 with the Hornet in tow. It was just the two of us on this day – apparently Sir Lancelot (not his real name) wasn’t man enough to inform his wife that he would be going fishing and anything else could wait for another day. Several feet of snow had fallen in the hills recently, providing a good start to the winter ski season, but fortunately the road conditions over Snoqualmie Pass were bare and wet. We made good time, and it was 9 AM as we drove the Canyon Road to Red’s Fly Shop to arrange for a shuttle. Along the way we saw one lone soul wading a river that was otherwise strangely devoid of anglers. As we pulled into Red’s, which is usually teeming with optimistic fishing folks, the gravel parking area was empty. Surprisingly the boat salesman had apparently taken the day off, and only Leif was working the counter as we walked into the shop. From the reception we received one would have thought we were his long-lost best friends, who’d come to party and hand out cash prizes. He was obviously deprived of human interaction, which probably meant nobody had been in the shop for days, which meant the fishing had probably been slow, which meant staying home and chipping away at a honey do list might not have been such a bad idea. But here we were, so we arranged for the shuttle, plunked down a couple bucks for some token flies (purchased out of sympathy, as we didn’t really need any), and made our way back up the canyon to our launch point. We were going to float 4-1/2 river miles and planned to be off the water by 3:30 so Marck could be home by 5 PM for a party.
There was one drift boat with three passengers at the put-in when we arrived. Weather report: 34 degrees under sunny skies and no wind. We layered up accordingly and dropped the Hornet into the low, 41 degree waters of the Yakima river. After having been humbled the last dozen or so times on this river, I had declared today to be a day of redemption. A bold declaration for sure, everything looked just right for a great day on the water, and it should be noted that Marck had wisely opted for his old standby Red’s fishing hat. We strung up our 6 weight rods with indicators and double fly rigs: I opted for a brown Pat’s Stone with a #20 Lightning Bug dropper; Marck tied on an olive Sculpzilla followed by a Copper John. Immediately after launching we rowed across the river a short ways and anchored up on a gravel bar. A particular side channel looked fishy and we wanted to cover every piece of promising water on this day, which would very likely be our last jaunt to the Yak before spring: It was the third weekend in November, and winter could take hold at any moment. And so on this fishy-looking side channel I made my first cast, tossed a mend into the line and watched. The strike indicator dipped, but I dismissed it as the swirling current simply up to its cruel tricks of deception. However, when I lifted the tip of my rod it became readily apparent that more than the current was to blame for submerging my bobber. I was a bit too hesitant in my attempt to set the hook, and saw the fat rainbow roll below the surface and spit my fly. Good looking fish- probably 15-16 inches. Just as well – it’s not like me to have good fortune right off the bat, or at any other time for that matter. We boarded the Hornet once again and proceeded downstream.
This wasn’t the usual stretch of river we typically fish, so the change of scenery was sure to make a slow day of fishing more interesting. Navigating this section of the river was a bit more challenging as well, so whoever was on the oars at any given time had several opportunities to yell, “Hold on!” as the other braced themselves for a bumpy ride or ducked to avoid low-hanging overhead branches. However nothing really out of the ordinary took place for the first hour or so, and it didn’t appear as though the day was going to give up much fodder worth reporting. I did manage to land a couple Whitefish, but nobody with any self-respect boasts about catching these much-maligned fish.
This is something I’ve never quite understood because afterall, they’re a native species and they swim where trout swim so if a whitey puts a bend in your rod, so be it. The way I figure, it simply means you got your fly where the fish are – so what if the fish you caught wasn’t what you intended, right? I mean, heck – one occasionally hears of anglers catching a steelhead when engaged in the act of fishing for trout, and that’s an example of an unintentional by-catch, isn’t it? Wait, never mind. At any rate, my second whitey was actually a fairly large specimen and I even hooked it in the mouth, of all places.
Marck was still fishless at this point, but neither of us worried about that. There was still plenty of day left and he’s a fishy dude so it was just a matter of time before he caught on. In the meantime, I managed to hook into my second biggest trout ever on the Yak: A beautiful 18-inch rainbow that fell victim to my Lightning Bug, and gave me several minutes of sporting entertainment before finally cooperating and coming to the net. It was 2-1/2 years earlier when I caught a similar sized fish on this river, and the time between had come to be known as “The Lean Years”, with few fish being caught overall, and none of those fish being more than 12-14 inches. I’d also tasted a skunk more than a couple times during this era of famine, so catching this solid fish began the healing process.The sweet smell of redemption still lingered in the air when I landed my next fish: A feisty 14-incher that I plucked from behind a log in water that looked so good there might as well have been a sign posted that read, “There’s a fish here – Guaranteed.” Landing this second trout brought me much additional pleasure, and grinning a smug grin I happily took the oars so Marck could angle. I’m not one to be greedy or spiteful, and I really did not want Marck to go fishless on this day.
We covered a lot of great looking water in our quest for Marck’s first fish of the day. While neither of us had mentioned it, we were both keenly aware of the fact that his catch record was in dire jeopardy, and as we entered the last hour of the day there rode with us an elephant in the rear seat of the boat. At one point we anchored the Hornet on an island to work some nice looking water, and Marck walked off a ways so he could be alone with his worries. It was clear that he was troubled. As Marck grew more serious I knew better than to tease him about something like this. I rowed in silence and began to ponder the headline of my next blog entry: “Marck Tastes a Skunk!”, or “Hey Marck – How Do Ya Like Them Apples?” It would to be a tough decision, but thankfully one I would never have to make because shortly thereafter he set the hook on an adorable little 9 inch rainbow and secured his skunk-free record. After releasing the fish, Marck requested another turn on the oars to warm up his hands. By now the sun was fully behind the clouds and a wind was starting to bite at us, so I humored him: The reality was that he was emotionally spent from the ordeal, and he needed some quiet time to reflect on having escaped shame and public ridicule by the narrowest of margins. This was a man who came dangerously close to epic failure…all color had drained from his face and a cold sweat beaded upon his forehead. He regained his composure and warmed his hands on the sticks.
Checking his watch he announced that it was 4:15. “Uh…Don’t you have to be home by 5?” I asked rhetorically. Marck decided that he’d just call his wife and tell her we were on our way, and that we were about an hour away from arriving home. I tried to discourage him from lying to her, but he assured me it would be okay. And truth be told it wasn’t really an all out fib because from the time we launched we were ultimately on our way home. As Marck dialed his wife’s number, he reminded me fishermen are notorious liars. He had a point. In reality we were probably 15 minutes from our take-out and another hour and a half from home, assuming it wasn’t snowing on the pass. As Marck spoke to his wife and explained that the roads were icy and the going was slow, my indicator took a nose dive and I’m pretty sure Mrs. Marck didn’t hear me yell, “Fish on!”. Enticing the 10 inch rainbow on the Pat’s Stone topped off a much better than average day, and it was good way to end the year. Let the icy grips of winter have the Yak – I’d had my day of redemption and was heading home with the smell of fish on my hands. Now, if I could have just gotten Marck home in 20 minutes he wouldn’t have had to spend the night in the doghouse.
Note: If after reading the accounts of this day you feel that the Unaccomplished Angler is becoming an accomplished braggart, fear not – winter steelhead season lies just ahead. I am bracing myself to have my posterior handed to me accordingly.
Often times after a day of fishing the Yakima River we’ll stop at The Tav for a bite to eat before the hour-and-a-half drive home. The Tav is in the heart of historic downtown Ellensburg (WA), in an old building with brick walls and heavy timber beams that suggest it was built during a long-ago era when they built things using materials like brick and heavy timber beams. Every time I’ve been there it’s a typically eclectic crowd of patrons – pretty much what you’d expect from a college town in the midst of agricultureville: College students and locals of all varieties. And of course the folks, like us, who come from near and far to fish the Yakima. It’s easy to pick the fly anglers from the crowd of otherwise jocular patrons, not from their caps displaying some sort of embroidered fly-fishing-related logo, but rather from the wind-chapped faces that bear the heavy sorrow of yet another brutal day of having their arses handed to them by the fish. Those who fish with a fly rod come to The Tav to cry in their beer, and that beer is always cold and well-suited for chasing a Hungry Mother Burger, which is always greasy in the way that any burger worth eating is greasy. It’s just what the doctor ordered as a way to cap off another unforgettable day on the water. The service is always prompt, and when asked if we want fries with our burgers, the resounding answer is always “you bet.” However, that’s after a day of fishing. While actually engaged in the act of fishing, we’d prefer to keep fryes off the menu.
It was the third weekend of September – a magical time of year to fish the Yak. The Flip-Flop was nearly complete, meaning the high summer flows (around 4000 cfs) had been cut off, and the river in the Lower Canyon was running around 1200 cfs and still dropping. For those not in the know, the headwaters of the Yakima are actually a reservoir – Lake Keechelus. The lake fills with spring melt and water is released under the careful watch of the United States Bureau of Reclamation. During the summer months the flows are kept high to provide two things: Irrigation for the Yakima valley agricultural region, and a source of good, clean outdoor recreation for a certain segment of the public. The lower Yakima canyon of summer attracts literally busloads of recreational floaters who, after stopping at Wal-Mart in Union Gap and dropping their last $30 on beer and a cheap inflatable devices, throw caution to the wind and brave the waters of the Yakima River. Anglers often compete for precious watery real estate with those who comprise the “rubber hatch”, and while the bikini-clad rafters do provide a certain degree of entertainment and a distraction from catchless fishing, when the flows are cut off and the river drops in September it is a time for the fishermen (and women) to rejoice.
At these reduced levels, rocks are exposed (so you can actually see them right before you hit them), feeding lanes are defined (so you know where to put your fly so the fish can look at and ignore it as it drifts by), and fish are gorging themselves in anticipation of the forthcoming winter. After the summer hopper game where heavy tippets are used to pound the banks with big junk, Fall marks an entirely different game: Small flies and light tippet. As if the Yak isn’t humbling enough, the Autumn season makes for technically more challenging fishing. It’s also a time of tremendous dry fly action and a chance to hone one’s skills at delicate presentation and knot tying. If you’re over 45, bring your magnifying glasses.
The week prior to our float, the “Power Hour Fishing Reports” on the website for Red’s Fly Shop had made it very clear: Fishing had been so hot for so many days in a row, it was (to quote the source) “absurd”. The reports further suggested that early was the best time of the day due to morning haze caused by controlled burns in the valley. And so it was decided that we’d meet at Marck’s house at 7 AM to be on the water by 9. When I arrived, Marck and Nash (not his real name) had The Hornet hitched up and were ready to roll. The first thing I noticed was Marck’s new hat. He’d been covering his dome with the same Red’s cap for the past few years, so I assumed it had become his lucky fishing hat. Admittedly, he always catches fish so the hat may not be a large part of the equation, but on this day he was sporting a brand new, bright yellow Simms cap. My immediate reaction was that this new hat was the same color as a banana (if you missed it the first time, check out the blog entry titled The Banana Boat). No worries, I’d long since put those superstitions behind me.
Armed with reliable intel and an ample supply of Lightning Bugs and Copper Johns, sizes 18 and 20, we hit the water right on schedule. I was a bit put off by the prospect of having to fish nymphs, but I set my attitude aside for the most part and strung up my 6 wt, which seemed the logical choice for this day as the forecast called for moderate winds. In the lower canyon, “moderate” can mean anything that doesn’t blow your boat upstream. And frankly, I’d employed my 4wt all summer, and was jonesin’ to use the Sage XP that I’d recently acquired on the used market. I also fully expected to get into at least one respectable fish on this fine day and wanted to be properly prepared for the ensuing battle. I treated myself to a new tapered 5x leader, with 6x fluorocarbon for my dropper fly. After looping in a Thingamabobber, I grimaced at the whole contraption, which was a recipe for tangles just waiting to happen.
Not 10 minutes into our float, the first fish of the day was landed. As one would expect, Marck was on the south end of the winning rod, and though the fish was perhaps only 9 inches, it was good to get the skunk off the boat early. I congratulated Marck on his trophy and got serious about fishing. Then we entered what I call the “morning lull”, which turned into the “mid-day lull” which lasted a good long while before merging seamlessly with the “late afternoon lull”. I decided that if the fishing was going to be this slow, I’d at least fish a dry fly so I had something to watch. This turned out to be a wise decision because I quickly began rising more fish to my fly than I’ve ever seen on the Yak. I just couldn’t seal the deal. The challenge was that all of the fish rising to my fly were too small for all but a size 32 Griffith’s Gnat, which I just happened to not have with me. I attached a size 10 September Caddis (because it was not yet October), thinking that a large fly would discourage small fish (and attract larger fish).
And then it happened. Without my knowing it – I crossed over to the Zen zone: The land of Mushin (mind of no mind), where instinct takes over for conscious skill. I ceased being an angler burdened by useless technique, and simply became a living being moving through space – a living being moving through space that just happened to have a fly rod in hand. The hook set was so quick that the fish had no idea what happened, and neither did I for that matter. It was one of those all-in-one motions where the hook set became the back cast which became the release, which sent the 3 inch fish sailing overhead and it became detached somewhere behind me on the river. No need to handle that fish – such is the beauty of barbless hooks and rapid acceleration. Marck had one such encounter while fishing two nymphs under a couple of foam indicators. The resulting tangle was so bad that he had to cut the entire mess off and start all over from scratch. At least he’d recovered the hardware this time, as earlier he’d snapped off everything, which, I reminded him, amounted to the equivalent of throwing about $8 in the river. At any rate, after attaining this heightened level of no mindedness, we were able to remain in this state accute awareness for the better part of an hour. These hook set-back cast-overhead releases happened a handful of other times, with none of the fish being more than 3 inches in size. We did our best to move past these pods of aggressive preschoolers, but they were everywhere. By the time the bite turned off we’d easily caught every troutlette in the river, and had transcended even the state of no mindedness. We were, in fact, approaching a state of complete brain deadness.
We saw a few “decent” fish rising sporadically throughout the day, but no looks or takes. And “decent” took on a whole new meaning: By now our standards were so low we’d have considered an 8-inch fish quite respectable. This was familiar territory for me, but this time it hurt. It hurt bad. Now I’m not one to feel entitled, nor do I ever have high expectations when I go fishing, but this time I did – and for good reason. All the reports pointed to red hot fishing. It was a beautiful day. Even the wind had behaved itself. Add to all this the fact that the Yakima hadn’t been kind to me recently, and I felt I was owed my due. The day had all the ingredients of an epic outing, except for the fish. The look on Marck’s face revealed that even he was clearly troubled. Nash had withdrawn to the point where he simply hugged himself and rocked back and forth in the rear seat of the boat, mumbling quietly. It became clear that we had one of two choices: Either we’d laugh, or we’d cry. A quick session of rock-scissors-paper determined our fate: Laughter it was. And laugh we did – hysterically: In the manner that men driven to insanity by floating down a canyon in a boat on river boiling with fish and not a rod between them might laugh. Or worse, like men driven to insanity by floating down a canyon in a boat with plenty of rods on a river with no fish over 3 inches might laugh. The echos of our deranged howling bounced off the canyon walls, stopping deer and Bighorn Sheep in their tracks. But after a few minutes the reality of our predicament found us sullen once again. We were out of beer. Insults were hurled back and forth from bow to stern, and arguments broke out over who would get to row next. Being on the sticks was, on this day, the best seat in the boat.
Between the three of us we’d run the gamut of end tackle offerings. We fished double nymph rigs under an indicator (I did so against my will), a dropper under a hopper, a hopper with a small trailing dry. And of course we also fished single dries: September Caddis, Light Cahills, Caddis emergers, Caddis parachutes, Caddis run-of-the-mill elk hair variety, X-Y-and-Z Caddis. Figuratively we threw the fly box at them, and literally at one point I’d almost done just that before self-imposing a time-out on the oars. Right before we took out around 6:30 PM, Nash – who had been staring a skunk in the eyes – landed the biggest fish of the day: A broad-shouldered 10-inch hog that had Marck and I marveling at the beauty of the fish and awestruck by Nash’s fishing prowess. This was cause for celebration, and we were suddenly transformed once again from bitter and defeated fishermen into a boisterous boat load of high-fivin’ white guys. That fish had sealed the deal, ensuring that not a single one of us would be skunked by the Yakima on this day. We had saved collective face by the thinnest of margins. The Hornet was pulled from the water, and as we broke down our rods our moods flip-flopped once again. With disbelief at the day’s events, we headed west, passing by Ellensburg without a stop at The Tav. We wanted to avoid the temptation of crying in our beer, and even though we were hungry, the thought of more fryes was more than anyone could bear.
Anyone who has taken the time to read the Welcome page of the Unaccomplished Angler knows that I don’t do gear reviews, per se. Well, like so many fishermen are prone to do, I lied. That being said, bar none the single best gear acquisition I’ve made in recent years would have to be my Dan Bailey waders (the Monomaster being a close second). I’d purchased another brand of breathable waders less than a year before seeing these modern marvels in one of the multiple magazines I prescribe to (‘prescribe’ is not a typo), and I knew right away I had to have a pair. Now one might think it a foolish waste of money to buy an expensive pair of waders when a perfectly good and much less expensive pair of waders hangs in the garage. But before you judge me too harshly, let me remind you that behaviors regarding anything related to fly fishing do not fall under the category of “rational.” No, I did not need them. But I wanted them. That’s all the justification I required as I waxed and polished my credit card and marched confidently into All About the Fly to make the purchase.
At this point I ran into an unexpected logjam: After 42 years I was shocked to find that most men are taller than me. There were size L and XL to choose from, but they didn’t have my size (apparently they don’t keep children’s waders in stock). Luckily they could order me a pair, and within a week I had a pair of size medium Dan Bailey EZ Zip Guide Waders that fit like a loose-fitting glove. Reminiscent of a little kid with a brand new pair of Ked’s sneakers, I was so enthused that I wore them home from the shop. On the way I stopped at the local grocery store to pick up a few things for dinner, and the cashier apparently really liked my new waders too, because she kept staring at them. Who could blame her – they’re really quite something to behold. But don’t take my word for it – read what the manufacturer has this to say about the merits of the EZ-Zips:
“…a front access RIRI waterproof zipper for exceptional ease on and off, plus the convenience of the zipper for adjusting to vent air for your maximum comfort…Many fishermen roll down the upper portion of traditionally designed waders to cool off or for shallow water wading. Just zip down the zipper and your upper body will cool off.”
This all sounds quite impressive, but I bought them not for the ease of getting them on or off, or for the ability to quickly cool my upper body. No, I bought them for the matter of liquid.
Fishing is all about liquid: From the water in which we stand when wading, which is the same water that floats our boat, to the great amounts of water that falls from the sky in the form of cold rain upon the hoods of insane anglers who find themselves fishing during the winter months when sane anglers are huddled around a crackling fire reading books about summer trout fishing. But fishing is also about other liquids – the liquids that float our kidneys: The coffee we drink in the morning as we’re driving to the lake, or for those unenlightened souls who never acquired the taste for grown-up caffeine, the Coke they have with breakfast in camp before hitting the river. During the cold months we may take a break from not catching fish to sit in the cab of a truck with the engine running to thaw our toes and pour a hot cup of something from our thermos. When it’s hot, we may drink water or some variety of other bottled/canned beverages to keep ourselves properly hydrated, or to perhaps drown our sorrows when the fish repeatedly refuse our offerings.
Suffice it to say, beverages factor prominently into the lives of anglers, and what goes in, must come out. And unless you’re body is not functioning properly, sooner or later anglers must relieve themselves. If an angler is of the female gender, the act of relieving oneself is not a simple endeavor and that’s all I’m going to say about that. But if you’re a guy, the task at hand (no pun intended) can be as easy as standing up and letting things flow. However, much of the time we anglers find ourselves swathed in layers of clothing that make the simple act of relieving ourselves a bit more labor intensive. Let’s assume, for the sake of this example, that the fisherman (and it’s OK in this case to say fisherman because I’m referring of course to the men in the listening audience) is wearing the following gear/clothing: Long johns, fleece pants, a fleece jacket and a few other cumbersome layers to restrict upper body movement, waders, and a gore-tex jacket. Maybe some gloves, too. With this laundry list it’s safe to conclude that it’s a cold day. It’s probably raining or perhaps even snowing, and if it isn’t, there’s likely a cold winter breeze blowing. You’re standing thigh-deep in a frigid river, and suddenly your bladder reminds you of the 3 cups of coffee you ingested 2 hours ago. Now, barring a catheter or Adult Depends (which I have considered, mind you), you’ve got two choices: Ignore it or deal with it. If you choose to the former, that’s your decision and you must pay the consequences. But if you’re like me you must deal with the situation, so let’s assume that to be the course of action.
Now most guys don’t relieve themselves at the first hint of a full bladder–we file the urge away for as long as we can (it’s the same instinct that prevents us from stopping and asking for directions). Afterall, if you don’t maximize the amount of time that your fly is in the water, your chances of catching a fish are greatly diminished, and the odds of catching fish are stacked against you in the first place. So, by the time you admit to yourself that you must do something about the growing discomfort low in your abdomen, you realize you have a problem. Glancing over your shoulder towards shore, you become painfully aware of just how long it’s going to take before you can actually do something about it. You’re 30 feet from the river’s edge. Beyond that it’s another 15 yards of gravel bar before the privacy of some bushes. The current is strong enough that you must choose your steps carefully so as not to loose your footing: A tumble in the icy water would quickly put an end to your day of not catching fish and leave you soaked, which is exactly what you are trying to avoid by getting to shore as quickly as possible. The going is slow, but you make it to water’s edge. Your bladder is barking at you to hurry it up, so you quicken your steps over the gravel bar. You don’t dare break into a run because each step is a careful orchestration of muscle control: Using the right ones while not relaxing certain others. Finally you reach the safety of the bushes, locate a suitable branch on which to lean your fly rod, and commence to disrobe.
The first possible task at hand may be that of removing your gloves. Admittedly, gloves worn while fishing are cumbersome so let’s assume you’re not wearing any, which expedites your mission. Next, you must embark on the adventure of unzipping your rain jacket. With numb fingers (because you weren’t wearing any gloves) this sort of simple dexterity becomes considerably more difficult and the unthinkable happens: The storm flap gets caught in the teeth of the zipper. Now you’ve nearly got a crisis on your hands. To avoid me rambling on unnecessarily, let’s jump ahead to the point at which the train has been backed off the tracks: You successfully remove the jacket and drop it to the ground with careless regard for the exact location. You are now without a waterproof barrier and instantly become aware of this as the driving rain begins to soak your undergarments. The waders must now be lowered to at least waist level (preferably slightly below). Like a stonefly nymph struggling to shed it’s shuck you wriggle and writhe as you attempt to get a hold of the farmer john straps, wasting yet more precious time. Finally the waders are down, followed, hopefully of course, by the fleece pants, long johns and perhaps your favorite Spiderman boxers.This is the point at which you realize just how cold your hands are, and you give forth an audible, high-pitched gasp. The wind reveals its Arctic origins as it bites at your exposed nether regions with a ferocity that takes your breath away. The old bladder is way past panic mode when you finally relax certain muscles and let things flow. “Aaahhhhh….SH#T—!!!“ In your frenzied scramble to remove all layers of clothing, you failed to acknowledge the one Cardinal Rule that all men learn as boys: Don’t pee into the wind. You remember this an instant too late, and in an attempt to minimize the damage you pivot abruptly, sending a stream of heavily pressurized bodily fluid in a wide arch which partially misses your rain jacket that was haphazardly dropped on the ground without regard for certain logistics. With the wind now pounding your backside and the rain drenching you from above, you must wait impatiently for the flow to subside. Those three cups of coffee seem to have transformed into a 3 quarts, and by the time you’ve drained the holding tank, Mother Nature has done a pretty good job of beating the crap out of you.
Now, had you been sporting a pair of the Dan Bailey EZ Zip Guide Waders, all that would’ve been required would have been for you to unzip your jacket, (calmly, I might add because of the confidence that comes from knowing you have plenty of time), then lower the zipper on your waders and, well…you get the idea.
Cooling? Ease of ingress and egress? Riiiiight. If I were in charge of marketing for Dan Bailey I’d have named these the EZ Pee Guy Waders. I suppose there’s a reason I’m not in charge of marketing for them, or any other company.
At any rate, I give these waders two thumbs up. I’ve had them for 4 years (which means I am no longer 42) and they’ve never leaked.
But I have.
I saw a bumper sticker once that read, “If you don’t surf, don’t start.” Clearly the tone of the message was that of a territorial surf bum, verbally peeing in the sand to mark his territory because he didn’t want me to take up his sport and crowd his waves. Hang loose, dude–the thought never crossed my mind. The bumper sticker did, however, give me an idea to create a variation of my own, the intent of which is purely noble. If you are thinking of taking up the way of the Spey rod, I have several single words of advice: Stop; Don’t; Flee.
I assure you, I am not being territorial. Like every other fly angler I’ve met, I love to share my passion with others. Just ask my wife and kids–they’ll tell you I rarely talk about anything without relating it to fly fishing (they are continually impressed with just how deeply the thread of fly fishing can be woven into the fabric of daily life). So even as many good fly-fishing waters have a tendency to get a bit crowded from time to time, I think everyone should partake of this wonderful sport. At least then we’d all have something we can agree on. That is, until arguments broke out about nymphing versus swinging, 4-piece versus 2-piece rods, and felt versus rubber-soled wading boots. No matter their differing opinions, those who are bitten by the fly bug tend to also become stewards of the resource, pumping time and money into much-needed conservation organizations (please see those listed in the sidebar) and projects, so the more the merrier (just don’t low-hole me on my favorite run, please). That being said, why would I want to discourage folks from taking up the way of the two-handed rod? The answer is simple: To spare you the suffering I’ve endured, or rather, am enduring. It may be too late for me, but the lessons I’ve learned could save you a lot of financial and emotional pain.
It all started innocently enough: I was perfectly happy, or at least not horribly dissatisfied with the 8 weight single-hander I’d had for a few years. It had been used rather sparingly on a few steelhead outings, but to be honest I never really hankered to get out more than that. I was becoming convinced that I didn’t enjoy standing in a river in January during a cold, steady rain, fishing in vain for a fish that only existed in the history books. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the thing I didn’t enjoy was standing in a river in January during a cold, steady rain, repeatedly casting a heavy single-handed rod in vain for a fish that only existed in the history books. Question my manhood if you will, but the sporadic tendonitis in my shoulder can be aggravated by repetitive motion such as repeatedly casting a heavy single-handed rod. When the weather is cold and damp, as it is guaranteed to be in January where I live, it only worsens the situation. As they say, ‘ignorance is bliss’ and I was rather content during those innocent years of yore. I wasn’t catching any steelhead, nor was I much bothered by not catching steelhead. I’d heard others speak of the Spey rod, but I could not imagine why I would want to venture into a new relm until I had actually hooked into a fish on my single-hander. I buried my head in the riverbank sand and stubbornly denounced the Spey thing as a foolish frivolity. But as time and steelhead seasons passed, I heard increasingly more folks talking up the merits of casting with a two-handed rod, and I began to ponder what it would be like to take a walk on the dark side of fly-fishing.
My pondering resulted in the realization that first off, one would need another credit card designated solely for this new endeavor. While your shopping list might be more or less damaging, mine looked something like this: A Sage Z-Axis 7136-4 Spey rod (and apparently they charge by the foot, so the longer the rod, well- you get it); a Ross Momentum LT reel to hold a half mile of backing, 90 feet of Airflo Ridge .030’ running line, and an Airflo Compact Skagit head, to which is attached any number of various rate sink tips (so that one can search various depths before concluding that there are no fish anywhere in the water column); a spare spool for another half mile of backing, 90 feet of Airflo Ridge .020” running line attached to an Airflo Compact Scandi head (for fishing smaller flies during summer flows when the water is so clear that any fish in the river can see your fly approaching well in advance and make an early decision to avoid it). All said and done it wasn’t so bad, since I was able to sell my very lightly-used 8 weight single-handed setup for about 20% of what I paid for it. That just about covered the sales tax on my new spey outfit. (Note to Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler: I’m grossly over-exaggerating this for the sake of artistic drama).
The unmistakable smell of burning plastic would be your super-heated credit card in the process of a meltdown. With annual interest rates approaching 20%, well, let’s not even go there. There’s more to fly fishing with a Spey rod than catching fish – it’s also about spending a boatload of money, so the financial suffering is just the beginning. Next comes the psychological damage. Now I’ve never professed to be anything but unaccomplished when it comes to fly fishing, but my casting doesn’t totally suck. In fact, there are times when I actually think I can lay out some pretty respectable casts (until one too many double hauls is used trying to push that last few feet of line just a little too hard and it all comes horribly undone). But I digress. When I first wrapped my hands around the double cork of the two-handed rod, everything I thought I knew about fly casting became pretty much worthless information, and any perceived ability I might have had with a single-hander was quickly forgotten. While Spey casting may have it’s origins in Scotland, it was all Greek to me: The language contains daunting terms such as “Bloody L” and “Dangerous Cast”. There are odd techniques that have no place in the vocabulary of the gentleman fly angler such as the “Perry Poke” and the “Snake Roll” (not to mention the “Flying Butt”). There is the “Anchor Point”, which is apparently the point at which one’s heavy “shooting head”, laying in a heap of slack at one’s feet, becomes incapable of being cast because it weighs as much as a drift boat anchor. Then you have the “Kiss” which I believe is when a heavily weighted fly brushes your cheek at 90 miles per hour (this is closely related to the “Dangerous Cast”). My favorite is the “D-Loop” which describes the shape of the arc that the line forms behind the caster and is key in loading the rod for a successful forward stroke. In my case, “D” stands for “Deformed” or “Droopy”. Or “Dork.” The whole thing is quite foreign and intimidating.
I should also warn you that casting with a two-handed rod is a whole heck of a lot of fun. There are even get togethers where people venturing (and those who have long-since ventured) into the dark world of two-handed rods actually gather on a weekly basis to do just one thing: Practice (and I assume, commiserate). Check out All About the Fly and River Run Anglers if you’re in the greater Seattle area looking for a local support group. It’s truly a sickness. So far I have avoided these congregations out of respect for the safety of others in attendance. When I feel that I am no longer a threat to anyone other than myself, I will foray into the mix. Until then, I prefer isolation.
Certainly I have always enjoyed casting with a single-handed rod, but rarely do I do so just for practice (although it often feels that way when I’m fishing). What I’ve found with the Spey thing is that I actually enjoy casting for the sake of casting, and I’ll happily hit a stretch of water with nothing on the end of my line but a piece of yarn, running through my repertoire of fine casts. The yarn can be either a measure of safety or compliance: Safety, because without a hook it’s hard to hurt myself (see recent post titled “The hat is lucky…“); compliance, because if I’m practicing on the water out of season it would be illegal to have a hook on the end of my line. Not that I have to worry about catching fish anyway, but it would be just my luck to accidentally tie into a fish out of season while a game agent watches through his binoculars. But the bottom line is that I enjoy Spey casting. As they say, practice makes perfect, or in my case, practice will eventually reduce the level of shame.
So, heed my words of advice:
And now a question(s) intended at get some comments from you, the reader…
With regard to the way of the Spey:
Do you or don’t you?
Will you or won’t you?
Let’s hear from you.
Here’s something you won’t be able to say after reading this: “I’ve never heard of Fishy Kid.”
FishyKid.org is the brainchild of two dads who, like so many other responsible, tax-paying adults, share a common obsession: Fly fishing. While that obsession can, if left unchecked, be detrimental to a productive life, much good can come from it as well. Enter Fishy Kid, which takes aim at introducing kids to all that the great outdoors have to offer through the art of fly fishing.
In this day and age of virtual activities and video games, getting kids off the couch and outside is more important now than ever before. Too many kids (and adults for that matter) suffer from “Nature Deficit Disorder” but all hope is not lost. According to a recent study conducted by the Outdoor Foundation, fishing is listed as the Number One “Gateway Activity” to getting kids involved in other outdoor recreation. That means if you take a kid fishing, chances are high that they’ll enjoy the experience so much they’ll want to partake of other outdoor activities as well. The science is in: Unstructured outdoor play improves social skills, performance in math and sciences, and leads to a more well-rounded appreciation of not just nature, but life in general.
The guys over at Fishy Kid have done a very impressive job of lining up sponsors to donate quality fly fishing gear as prize giveaways for their ongoing coloring contests. Check out the rules– it costs you nothing and is a great way to get your little ones excited about fishing and the outdoor world.
But wait–just when you thought coloring was only for kids, think again.
November is a time for you big kids to show your long-dormant talents over at Fishy Kid. Dust off those Crayolas, test your artistic skills and enter the adult coloring contest right now. You might just win a cool stack of DVD’s such as Nervous Waters, Soulfish, Rivers of a Lost Coast, The Drift, No Sports Allowed, Once in a Blue Moon, and other gear from Mountain Khaki, Moffitt Angling, Buff Wear, and Cliff Outdoors.
Don’t let my coloring sample (below) intimidate you. I’m one of the contributing artists and therefore exempt from participating in the contest.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got crops to harvest over on Farmville.