Backcast by Lou Ureneck review

A not fishing vacation.

Recently I, or rather we (my family) embarked on a family vacation that had absolutely nothing to do with fishing. Last year we also took a family vacation but somehow a couple of rods and reels made it into the roof pod for that trip. What was even more strange was that my son and I stole an afternoon to wet a line on the Fall River in Central Oregon. Not so this year. Yes, we were destined for a lake, but not a lake that’s fly fishing friendly, per se. So this year the fly rods were left safely at home – I didn’t want the temptation to interfere with good, clean family fun.  Read my lips: no fishing.  Not even the thought of it.  Well, OK, the thoughts can’t be turned off, but without a single piece of tackle along for the trip there would be no temptation to go fishing and I would instead turn my attention toward my family. Without the distraction of fishing or anything fishing related.

We left home and drove east on Hwy 2 over Stevens Pass, following the course of Skykomish River, with it’s run of summer steelhead, to its headwaters in the Cascade mountains.  As we crested the summit and descended the eastern slopes, our course paralleled the Wenatchee River, with it’s run of salmon and summer steelhead.  Paying no mind, we set the nose of the Unaccomplished Family Truckster north on Hwy 97, following the mighty Columbia River. I barely glanced at the river and certainly gave no thought to the impressive numbers of returning Sockeye Salmon and steelhead that were making their way upriver over the many dams.  I was focused on other things, and in the similar fashion of many fathers on vacation I like to point out interesting landmarks and explain mysterious rock formations.

As we passed one particular area the children in the back seat (ages 16, 18 and 20) took a break from their iPods and iPhones and marveled with great wonder at the vibrant red rocks alongside the road.  Breaking into my best Chevy Chase-as-Clark Griswald imitation, I explained that it was iron content in the basalt which gave it the red coloring to the rock. Immediately we noted the same red coloring spread across the highway like spilled paint, and Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler quickly pointed out that it was “flame retardant” from the recent wildfire in Swakane Canyon. The fire had been on the news recently and had luckily been extinguished.  Not one to be outdone, I reminded her that the politically correct term was for the flame extinguishing chemical was “fire discouragement”.  Ha!  How do you like me now Mrs. Smarty Pants? We rode in awkward silence for another 45 minutes before arriving at Lake Chelan.

The lake itself is a 50-mile long, deep and crystal clear mountainous beauty that does have Lake Trout for those willing to dredge, but as I said it would not be my destination with fly fishing in mind. The third deepest lake in the United States, Chelan is nearly 1500 ft at its deepest, and last I checked my sinking line was only 100 feet long, with another 70 yards of backing. Even if I could reach the bottom with a type VI full sinker, at a sink rate of six inches per second it would take 3000 seconds to do so, and who has that kind of time to spare?  Especially on a family vacation where there would be no fishing. If so inclined, as was Josh Mills recently, one can also take a boat and head north on a quest to find Cutthroat in some of the tributaries, but in order to do so you’d have to be on a fishing vacation, which I was not. We were there for a few days of sun and relaxation as a family.  No fishing.

We checked into our Lake Chelan Shores rental condo that was decorated in a manner that screamed “19-eighty something”. It was clean and plenty nice: the owners simply hadn’t put a nickel into updating anything save for the 48 inch flatscreen TV on the wall.  Priorities, I guess.  As we stowed our gear I was quick to notice a rather large bug resting on the track of the sliding glass door leading to the small deck.  It was large (the bug, not the deck), and quite alive.  Grabbing it gingerly by the upright wings, I studied it carefully, declared it to be a handsome example of a Hexagonia Mayfly, and set if free outside. I barely even made a mental note that it was a prized piece of trout food.  On this particular vacation it was just another bug as far as I was concerned.

As we stocked the cupboards with dried food and filled the fridge with beverages and perishables, I noted that in the otherwise disjointed décor of the unit, a peculiar decorative tile hung in the kitchen.  The image was clearly some sort of trout – perhaps intended to be a brown trout, although the artist had taken great liberties with color so it was more of a blue trout.  Without any other fish-related décor, I was dumfounded as to the presence of this particular example.  Perhaps the owner was a fisherman – perhaps a trout fisherman? I quickly put the notion out of my head and got back to the business of vacationing with my family.

We headed to the pool for an hour of sunning, and since I’m too restless to sit in the sun with nothing else to do I brought with me the book my kids had given to me for Father’s Day. It was my goal for the week to completely read Backcast (by Lou Ureneck) because at home I rarely take time to read. On my nightstand at home I have a backlog of books (all fly fishing related) I keep intending to get to.  My problem is that I’m a bad reader.  To be clear, I’m actually good at reading, but I become fully engrossed in a good book and therefore my social skills take a beating.  Backcast was a great book, by the way, and I fear that I wasn’t completely engaged in our family vacation during the several hours per day I spent reading.  But I was there in body if not in mind, which is more than had it been a fishing vacation. Just as there is more to fishing than catching fish, there’s much more to Backcast than just fly fishing.

The next day we ventured to a different pool that was much closer to the lake.  I’m not a pool guy, much preferring to swim in a natural body of water.  However, I didn’t want to alienate Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler so I accompanied her to the pool to spend some quality time together, sharing some rare but meaningful conversation. I also had my book, so in retrospect I may not have been the most engaging conversationalist. After a good solid hour of reading chatting I decided to cool off in the pool.  As I slipped into the water I noticed a spent bug floating on the surface of the chlorinated pond.  What should it be other than another Hex! I scooped the waterlogged Mayfly from the waters hoping to revive it, to no avail.  I hate to see a good piece of trout food go to waste like that but there were no trout in the pool, brown trout or otherwise.  I momentarily considered carrying the spent bug to the lake to offer it up to a fish, but thought better of it.  I did, however, venture down to the lake for a very refreshing dip in the crystal clear blue waters.  The children were frolicking in the swimming area so I spent a little quality time with them before returning to my book poolside wife.  It felt good to be relaxing without anything to do. Time was on my side and I could choose to do whatever or as little as I wanted.  The only thing I couldn’t do was go fishing.

The next day Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler’s sister and husband joined us for dinner at a fancy winery and vineyard just outside the town of Chelan.  Tsillan Cellars is perched on a hillside looking north with an expansive view of the lake and the mountains to the west. For those who don’t speak the language of the Native Americans from this region, Tsillan is the native spelling of Chelan, which I think means “family destination” though I could be wrong (actually it means “deep water”). Tisllan Cellars offers quite a beautiful setting and the manicured grounds are surrounded by rows of grape vines on 3 sides. We sampled some wines as we waited for our table to be readied for our meal.  I’m not much of a wine guy, preferring low grade beer over grape juice. Having said that I do enjoy a an occasional glass of red (no particular variety – just red will do).

The dinner menu provided by Sorrento’s Ristorante was inviting, but something caught my eye: The “Atlantic King Salmon”.  The vein in my forehead began to pulsate as I announced to my dinner companions that there was no such thing: it was either Atlantic or King Salmon, but it could not be both.  My sister-in-law declared that whatever it was, she was ordering it.  When the waiter came to take our orders I inquired as to the salmon entrée.  “I don’t mean to be a wise guy,” I stated up front, “but can you tell me if the salmon is Atlantic or King? Because it cannot be both.”  The waiter was clearly not prepared for such an inquiry, so Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler stepped in and apologized. “You’ll have to excuse my husband – he’s a fisherman.”  I wanted to chime in and add, “Actually I’m an Unaccomplished Angler on a non-fishing vacation,” but the words would not come out.  The waiter stammered as he explained that the fish was probably Atlantic because that’s all they buy.  Outrageous!  Here we were within a short distance of a river teeming with record numbers of Pacific Salmon and all they offered was Atlantic Salmon?! Farm raised, no doubt.  I opted to not break into a tirade about that and instead simply ordered the Prime Bone-In Ribeye, medium rare.  It was excellent, and by the time dinner had concluded the vein in my forehead pulsed at a normal rate.

After dinner we strolled around the grounds, admiring the elaborate waterfall and circular stream that contained several fish.  Not trout, although the artificially oxygenated water would likely have provided a nice habitat for some stocked rainbows. I grabbed my waterproof Olympus Stylus 1030 SW camera and snapped a few photos of the Koi. No doubt the other guests who were watching me wondered what the strange man was doing on his hands and knees with one arm submerged in the fake stream.  For a moment I forgot where I was and fancied myself on a mountain stream in the Idaho Bitterroots (where I was this same time the last two years before), fishing for stupid Westslope Cutthroat trouts. I came to my senses and remembered I was on a family vacation, far from any fishing destination.

The remainder of the vacation was relatively without fishing-related incident, although on our second to last morning one of the children proclaimed that a vehicle had been defaced in the parking lot, and accused me of being the culprit.  I went out to investigate, and to my surprise and delight, a red Jeep Grand Cherokee bearing University of Washington plates and a dusty back window had been tagged by a dust artist.  Scribed with a finger on the rear window were the words, “Go Cougars!!”  You see, in the state of Washington there is a long-standing rivalry between the good salt-of-the-Earth folk who root for the Washington State University Cougars and the polar opposite people who root for the University of Washington Huskies.  I smiled when I saw the dust graffiti, but what really caught my eye, and thus the accusation that I was behind the defacing act, was the stick figure of an angler casting a long looping line with a dry fly attached to the opposite end.  Eager to strike the fly was a rather large trout: clearly a rainbow by the lateral stripes down its flanks. Knowing that I am an artist, a WSU card-carrying Alum and a fly angling person, any jury would have convicted me and sentenced me to a life of wine drinking and no fishing.  It took all the pleading I could muster to convince my family that I was not responsible.  Word to whomever was responsible: You deserve a pat on the back.  You’re my kind of person, and I hope you enjoyed a nice  vacation. A family vacation that did not have a single thing to do with fishing.