Depending on whom is queried, the Yakima River is either a diamond or a chunk of coal. Suffice it to say she has never particularly kind to me.
It wasn’t always that way, mind you. In fact she lured me in with false sense of hope several years ago the first time I fished her. On this fateful day I landed a nice 16″ rainbow in a well-known foam line just below the bridge at Umtanum. Within minutes my buddy Jimmy landed a similarly-sized bow in nearly the same spot. We both naively believed that the river would be this easy—this good to us every time. And thus began my love/hate relationship with the Yakima.
I love the Yakima. There are 20+ inch fish in the river. I was witness when my buddy Marck landed a large rainbow a couple of years ago. I was behind the camera, which is where I always am when a big fish is in the picture. As far as I am concerned, that fish of Marck’s was the stuff legends are made of. I myself caught a nice fish about 8 years ago: it wanted desperately to be 20 inches, but I think it fell short of that mark by an inch or so. Our guide on that trip, Johnny Boitano, even got excited when that fish was hooked and landed. But I’ve not come close to a Yakima fish that size since.
Most of the time I catch 10-12 inch fish. Well, that’s not entirely true—most of the time I catch nothing. A 10 inch fish on this river doesn’t excite me, although it’s certainly better than the all-too-common skunk. Not that I’m a big fish snob, mind you. Au contraire. But when there are much bigger fish in a river touted to be a blue ribbon trout stream, a 10 inch trout seems like a yellow participant’s ribbon.
I hate the Yakima. 2 weeks ago, Jimmy and Morris and I fished 15 miles of the Lower Yakima Canyon and I didn’t hook a single fish. Jimmy landed one 12 incher and Morris fared slightly better in the numbers department, catching 3 fish but nothing bigger than 10-12 inches. I’ve been skunked more times on this river than I care to remember. But I keep going back.
I can’t quit the Yakima. A week ago my brother Hal and I fished with Derek Young of Emerging Rivers Guide Services. We floated an upper section of the river from Cle Elum to Bristol. Hal won out as far as quantity, catching 3 respectable fish in the 10-12 inch range as well as a handful of disrespectful fish of considerably less length.
By late afternoon I had about given up all hope of catching a fish. The day had been tough, what with a plummeting barometer putting the fish down. Even a dropping river couldn’t turn on the bite as our streamers were ignored all morning long. After lunch we opted for some dry fly fishing and even that didn’t rise any fish for me except for a diminutive troutling that even a sculpin would have called an appetizer. From the Rear Admiral position in the back of the boat I watched a crane fly skitter across the river toward the grassy bank, just a few feet below where my fly was drifting. Suddenly a very large fish (undoubtedly 20+ inches) rolled on the crane fly. Had my synthetic imitation gotten there first I’m sure the fish would have
taken my fly balked and waited for the real deal. It’s just how things roll for me. A short while later, about the time the pity party was getting into full swing, the threat of a skunk was eliminated as I landed a nice 16 inch Westslope Cutt. Not a hog by Yakima standards, but it was the best fish I’ve landed on that river in an awful long time. Derek was relieved because he knew his tip was in jeopardy of smelling as bad as a skunk had yours truly come up empty-handed.
After the day with Derek and Hal I headed back to the Yakima 3 days later to float with the Brothers Albacore. We opted for the same float that I had fished earlier in the week, and my intent was to catch the crane fly-eating hog and hold bragging rights for years to come. The weather had been stable for 4 days in a row and the river continued to drop. There was cloud cover. It held great promise of a big fish day. Well, I can tell you that if the 10 inch rainbow taken on a dry and the 11 inch chubby Westslope cutthroat that I pulled out from under some woody debris on a streamer are big fish, then I was accomplished. Everyone caught at least a couple of smallish fish, but at the end of the day if you were to ask the Brothers Albacore their thoughts on the Yakima they’d say, “At least the beer was good.”
Depending on who you asked.