double rainbow

Out with the old, in with the new: 2011, the year in review

This will sound like an all-too-common cliché , but the older I get the faster time seems to fly by. It’s some sort of conspiracy–I’m convinced that someone has actually sped up time and/or shortened the calendar, because it seems nigh on impossible that 2011 is almost one for the archives. Whatever the case may be, the fact remains: another year has passed and another is about to begin. Because I’m a sunny optimist whose glass is always half full, I am all about looking ahead rather than dwelling in the past. That being said, let’s dwell for just a bit before we move on, shall we? Here are a few highlights (a term that is up for interpretation) from the UA in 2011.

January 

2011’s umbilical chord had barely been cut when it became clear that Charlie Sheen wouldn’t be the only one winning. Within a couple weeks of the New Year, I was declared the lucky winner in not one, but two contests. First, I won a box of Clif Bars and then a subscription to Flyfishing & Tying Journal. I shoulda quit while I was ahead, but I didn’t. On January 14th I posted what would prove to be my Magnum Opus as a blogger: Fly Fishing Needs Dirty Harry. That defining entry was the beginning of the end, and before the month was out I announced my retirement from the blog industry by declaring goodbye to the blogasphere. Because I no longer had a public fly fishing image to uphold, I promptly fled to Idaho for some steelhead fishing on the Clearwater River with a bunch of roe-fondling gear chuckers. It felt so dirty, and so right.

February

If January’s events were an indication, there should have been no February for the UA. But after some soul searching, I decided to unretire. During my three week hiatus from being an active-duty blogger, there was a lot of speculation about my whereabouts and I felt compelled to put to rest the rumors. Turns out I wasn’t quite ready for the AARP. But it was clear that nothing I ever posted again would take me close to the level of widespread acceptance that Dirty Harry afforded me. I just hoped that readers would accept me for who I was: a one-hit wonder, of sorts.

March

Befitting the month that is said to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb, I came out with both barrels blazing. The website got a total makeover thanks to the amazing help of Rebecca Garlock of the Outdoor Blogger Network and Outdooress fame, and a new logo thanks to Itchy Dog Productions (which is rather self-indulgent). If I couldn’t offer consistently good content, at least I could package the Weekly Drivel® in such a way that it looked good. Perception is everything, right? Somehow during this month, a cardboard cutout of “me” sprang up and began to slowly circumnavigate the globe, or at least the country. At the end of the month, I took my son steelhead fishing for the first time. We paid a visit to the mecca of Vampires, Forks, WA. My intent was to show the lad how it’s done. He caught two fish, the last of which was landed under a double rainbow. I came home smelling of a skunk and my angling unaccomplishments had me feeling quite sheepish as March became a thing of the past.

April

I opted not to engage in April Fools Day trickery this year, for some reason. I’m not even sure why in retrospect–perhaps because it was to be expected of me?  The year prior I had crafted an April Vokey April Fools lark, but I wouldn’t stoop so low as to do that again. Perhaps I was attempting to become not so predictable. Or, I simply had nothing to offer. I’ll admit I was beat down by the weather, which continuted to be much colder and wetter than normal. A lack of Vitamin D brought and gas pains had me in a bit of a fishing funk. The only thing of note for April was that the schedule changed for the Weekly Drivel®: no longer would I be posting on Fridays, and instead moved the weekly deadline up to Wednesday. This may have been due to the fact that internet statistics show more people read blogs on Wednesday than on Friday, or it may have been due to the fact that I wanted to spend my Thursday nights watching quality TV with Mrs. UA instead of handcuffed to my keyboard, sweating a Friday deadline. Oh, April also marked the crowning of my good buddy Derek Young as the 2011 Orvis Endorsed Guide of the Year. It’s good to have friends like Derek (I’m quite certain he cannot say the same of me). I did not get out to fish this month, which normally would be a fine month to do so at least a couple of times. April showers proved to be incessant rains.

May

In a month that normally brings good fishing and Spring flowers, May was a lousy weather month across most of the West this past year. Thanks to La Niña (the Bitch), which had a stronghold on the climate for several months, Spring sucked eggs. Bug hatches and everything else were a month behind schedule, at least. I managed to get out and fish twice: once with Derek and Jason Small (a semi-pro photographer who intended to come along to shoot photos and ended up stealing all the fishing glory); the second time as part of the annual Children’s Hospital auction float trip. Actually, I wasn’t even fishing but rather was tasked with rowing a raft for the Reverend and The Father. But no matter how frustrouting May was, it was also the month that marks the annual pilgrimage to Yellowstone. I always look forward to that trip, no matter how much or how little it changes year to year, which it does.

June

Fed up with the crappy Western Washington Spring weather, I proposed a radical solution that never gained much traction: removing the Cascade Mountains. Unlike the removal of dams, breeching the mountains may have been an idea that was ahead of its time. I posted of our Yellowstone escapades, but as part of my ongoing campaign to be not so predictable, I did so out of sequence. I thought this cutting edge approach to journalism might increase my readership from 8 to 12. The jury is still out on whether or not that worked, but by month’s end the UA was up to 10 readers. And those 10 readers were treated to a review, sort of, of John Gierach’s newest book, No Shortage of Good Days.

July

Ah, summer finally arrives to the Pacific Northwest. At least in theory. The calendar may have indicated that it was the first month of summer, but there were obstacles that prevented it from fishing like a typical July. Eventually La Niña would loosen her grip, but July was still  month of developmentally-stunted weather. That didn’t seem to bother my son too much, as he became a professional bass angler. Olive the Woolly Bugger began her quest for Hollywood in earnest with a campaign to garner support from the internet. She could still use your help (hint-hint).

August

August was a big month for the UA as he ventured via Montana to Victor Idaho to participate in the Casting 4 A Cure event. I felt very fortunate to be able to participate, and hope to do so again. What I do not hope to do again is hit another deer while driving in Montana. The first leg of the journey took us to the Bitterroot River for a day of fishing with Jay Dixon. Having never before fished “the Root”, it was a real treat.  And I outfished Marck, which was also a first, but I would certainly never boast about it. Recommend you give Jay a shout if you plan to be over that way.

September

The UA celebrated it’s second birthday this month and predicted that readers should expect some irrational behavior fitting the terrible twos. If you were Owl Jones, you didn’t have to wait long for that unsavory behavior to come your way as I announced a Boycott of his website. Fortunately Mr. Jones caved into the pressure and the boycott was soon lifted and Owl resumed his quest for world domination. An epic Crane Fly hatch this month spawned a concept that I thought would be more popular than it turned out to be. Based on the luke warm reception, apparently the world wasn’t ready to combine their love of yard maintenance and fly fishing: Lawn Trout.

October

With a run of Pink Salmon numbering in the gazillions, I sought to harvest at least a few of these fish and made an attempt at doing so. The score after two attempts?  Pink Salmon: One Gazillion; UA: Zero. The erratic toddler-like behavior predicted a month earlier manifested itself once again as I declared war on Canada. A Cease-Fire was announced within a week. Having crashed and burned in my attempt to humor the world with my antics in September, I announced my idea for another radical idea that combined fishing and another popular American past time: BASSCAR. This proved marginally more popular, but I realized I would have to go back to the drawing board if I hoped to conceive of the next big thing…something that would attract Google’s attention. As it turns out, people seeking a fly fishing blog apparently want something actually having to do with fly fishing, as my review of the Sage One got more traffic than BASSPRO and Lawn Trout combined. Go figure.

November

The eleventh month of the year is not typically a very productive fishing month for me, and this November was no exception. However, my fishing unaccomplishments are rivaled only by my elk hunting unaccomplishments. Another thing you can do when you aren’t fishing and consequently have nothing to write about with regard to fishing, is conduct interrogations interviews with people who do fish. To that end I did my first interview with a fly fishing celebrity this month, as Olive the Woolly Bugger sat down for a chat. Interviews seem to be a popular fad in the fly fishing blogasphere, as I was grilled over at Eat More Brook Trout. Continuing with the whole interview theme, I gave Chris Hunt a dose of his own medicine in the form of 20 Questions. I began to realize that I really need to do more fishing.

December

I continued to acknowledge that I needed to do more fishing, but December isn’t the month to acknowledge this because fishing tends to be in limbo this month. I had several excuses for not fishing, however. Some of them were even valid reasons. I sat inside, attempting to fend off a case of the Shacknasties, and putting my creative brain to work. The jury is still out on whether my creativity will be rewarded, but pouring energy into a series of greeting cards is better than pouring alcohol into my system or writing about pink Fish Tacos.

As we say good riddance to 2011 and look ahead to 2012, I wish my 10 loyal followers a very Happy New Year and thank you for your continued support. With 8 more months of potential antics befitting a two year-old yet to come, I make no promises that you will read anything here worthy of your time. I do however, offer apologies in advance. I just hope we’re all still here this time next year.

Double (anadromous) Rainbow

Ever since last week’s Drivel, I’m sure that y’all have been sitting on the edges of your seats…chompin’ at the bit…waiting with baited breath…to find out if I will have a fishing partner in my future years. Well, I’m happy to say that chances are good that I will, and his name is Schpanky The Crusher of Steelhead.  And while the mission was accomplished, it was not without certain unaccomplishments- the stuff that keeps you, all 8 readers, coming back.

Twilight Tours short bus

After a road trip that included 3 hours of driving and a 90 minute wait for the Edmonds-Kingston ferry, we rolled into Forks just after the sun had set. I had expected that all the hooplah over the Twilight movies would be all but non-existent. I envisioned Forks as a hard working, blue collar town with a proud heritage of logging and fishing: a town that was perhaps a bit embarrassed by the recent Twilight movies. But as we drove through town it was readily apparent that Twilight is a big deal in Forks.  Well, that, and fishing.  We checked in to the Pacific Inn Motel and the lobby was equally divided into Twilight paraphernalia and fishing information: strange bedfellows for sure, but who can fault the local folks trying to capitalize on the Twilight cult by making a few bucks off a movie that wasn’t even filmed in Forks?  The accommodations were clean and simple, and since we’d be there for less than 12 hours, it suited us just fine.  After checking in we walked the town in search of some dinner. After filling our bellies I set about the task of organizing gear for the morning. I selected the sink tips to be used on the Spey rods, inspected knots, placed new leader on the single handed 8 weight reel, and made sure I had the right clothes set out for the morning. It’s much easier to think the night before rather than at 0 dark thirty in the morning, and I wanted to make sure no details were overlooked and that nothing was left behind.

The alarm went off at 5:30, and at 5:40 I finally saw signs of life in the boy.  Teenagers are fond of sleeping in whenever possible. Sleeping in was not an option on this day, as we were slated to meet Joe Willauer at the Forks Coffee Shop between 6 and 6:15. I wanted to be there at 6:00 to mainline as much coffee as possible.  We waited and waited, and Joe finally arrived at about 6:17. I made a notation on my Guide Tip Criteria Checklist and docked a few bucks for his late arrival.  After we horked down a hearty breakfast, we grabbed our lunches to go and loaded most of our essential gear into Joe’s new truck.  I complimented him on the new rig and asked if the back window leaked like his old truck (I’d been fortunate to be wearing my rain jacket the last time I was in the back seat of Joe’s old truck).  “No,” replied Joe.  “And this one doesn’t smell like wet dog and ass. It’s kind of a bummer.”  It was going to be a good day.

As we drove the half hour to our launch point on the Hoh River, we marveled at the lack of rain falling from the sky. Joe had been out with clients the day before when the temperature had hovered around 39 degrees with a mix of rain and snow.  We passed a herd of Roosevelt elk along the way that also seemed to be enjoying a respite from the previous day’s miserable weather.

With the raft unloaded we wadered-up and began to transfer our gear into the boat. Joe had an extra 8 wt single handed rod and asked me nicely instructed me to string up my 8 wt rod.  Not one to argue, I instructed Schpanky to grab the 8 wt rod while I went for the reel.  In my heightened state of supreme nocturnal organization the night before, I’d managed to make sure that everything we needed was with us.  Except for the 8 wt reel. Unless I was going to do a little Tenkara fishing for steelhead, I was going to need a reel for my rod.

But wait, it gets better: I’d also forgotten the two reels for our Spey rods. I’m fairly certain they were in my truck, parked back at the coffee shop. Fortunately Joe had two complete Spey outfits on board, and after a bit of finesse and sweet-talking he managed to locate a nearby 8 wt reel that only involved a 15 minute delay while he drove to meet his buddy Aaron O’Leary who had the extra reel (I never got to thank you, Aaron–so, thank you). My stupidity had just re-earned Joe the percentage of the tip he had lost for being late for breakfast. The good in all of this is that our delay allowed us to watch an angler land a big fish just a few feet from us.  The matter of the forgotten reels was just a minor glitch and by 8 AM we were on the water and things were looking up, including the weather: the skies were gray, but rain was giving us a wide berth. While we anticipated plenty of precipitation, it wasn’t breaking our hearts to be dry for the time being.

As be began our descent we soaked in the beauty of the Hoh River valley and surrounding rain forest. I’ve been on a lot of rivers and they all have their own unique beauty, but there was something special about this place.  Maybe it was the knowledge that in these waters ran some of the most amazing fish: wild, bright OP steelhead that were only perhaps a day or two out of the ocean. We were in the midst of the best, last remaining good steelhead fishing for wild fish in the Lower 48. It was hard to not be excited about the prospects of the day, but catching is never a guarantee.

Youthful enthusiasm.

We had roughly 12 river miles to cover, and with expectations high that we would be busy landing fish all day, each mile was met with new enthusiasm.  Unfortunately each new mile resulted in no fish, and as mid day approached, I detected a certain lack of enthusiasm on the part of Schpanky. I think part of his plummeting mood came from the fact that he was shocked and offended by the colorful language pouring from Joe’s mouth. Early in the day I had requested that Joe keep his language clean because my son isn’t used to hearing cuss words. Joe was informed that his tip would be docked $5 for every F-bomb dropped, and by 10 AM he was nearing a zero balance. We had stopped and worked a run with our Joe’s Spey rods but were unable to swing up any fish, so nymphing on-the-go was the order of the day. The 5 whitefish we landed were of little consolation to the boy who appeared dejected by one hookup with a steelhead that busted him off after a brief fight. A sizable fish also quickly dispatched of yours truly, but my advantage over the boy is that, as a seasoned angler who is accustomed to unaccomplishments, I was able to laugh it off. That, and my blood sugar doesn’t plummet as does the boy’s. I can eat once in the morning and then not need food all day. The boy requires constant filter feeding. As I saw it, his nutritional needs were not my concern – I had fish to catch, damnit darnit.

Joe is a great guide, and to his credit he worked hard, tirelessly replaced the countless flies that I Schpanky lost and cheered us on—providing hope with each new bend in the river. I’d almost even go so far as to suggest that Joe is a beacon of positive reinforcement. But even that was not enough to keep the boy from plummeting into an emotional tailspin, and by lunchtime he was also getting cold. Fortunately the clouds parted and allowed the sun to warm us a bit, and Top Ramen served with a stick was a nice touch that did a lot to improve the outlook on life. I reminded Schpanky that no matter whether we caught any fish today, he’d already surpassed his old man in height.  That seemed to boost his mood a bit more. To keep him from getting too cocky I also reminded that I can still kick his arse when it comes to fishing and otherwise. Then he brought up the matter of the reels I’d left in the truck and I grew sullen and withdrew from the duel. Well played, young lad. Well played.

 

"Let's take an awkward shot." "OK."

We departed our lunch spot with hope and energy rekindled. As we dropped into “the Canyon” the rain that had been threatening all day finally descended upon us and gave us a taste of what the OP can dish out.  Fortunately the rain, while heavy, lasted less than an hour. As we emerged from the Canyon the rain tapered off and the clouds of despair lifted, both literally and figuratively. Shortly thereafter the boy hooked up with and landed a beautiful chrome hen that weighed in the range of 11 to 13 lbs. It may have been 12 or possibly 14 lbs, but Joe’s policy for the day was to refer to fish in odd-numbered increments. The fish could have been 5 or 7 lbs for all that mattered—I just wanted the boy to land a steelhead on this trip, and that goal had been met. Now, the Schpanky is not one to wear his emotions on his sleeve, but even he couldn’t hide his excitement. There would be no hugs or celebratory dancing of the jig, but fist bumps were exchanged all around (very manly sort of stuff). Joe had been operating under an incredible amount of pressure all day, and I could see the tension leaving his body as breathed a sigh of relief. I thought I smelled something waft from within his waders too, but I could be wrong.

With his head held just a bit higher and perhaps a couple more hairs on his chest, the boy angled on with a new found hope, while I continued to snag every possible hunk of structure in the river. With the old man out of commission every 10 minutes or so, the boy did took every possible advantage of the power play. Eventually it paid off as he hooked up with another fish around 6pm. When the hook was set, the response was instantly, “It’s just a small one.” As the boy nonchalantly stripped in slack line, he simultaneously muttered something about a “double rainbow”.  I’m reasonably certain that the collective response from Joe and I was, “WTF?” and then suddenly the rod bent sharply and the “little fish” began taking line and heading west, toward the ocean, which was only about 10 miles away.  Keeping his wits about him, Schpanky succeeded in landing his second fish of the day: a super bright buck of about 9 lbs.

As the boy fought the fish and Joe stood by with the net, it became readily apparent that the random comment wasn’t so random: just like the dude in the infamous YouTube video says, there was a full on double rainbow all across the sky. What does it mean?

It means that the boy met the Hoh and lost his innocence. He became an accomplished steelhead angler and kicked his old man’s arse. It means that Joe earned his full tip.

Hopefully it also means that I won’t ever forget the reels again. Thanks Joe, for holding up your end of the bargain (don’t spend that $15 all in one place). Save us a couple days in your schedule for a year from now. Who knows, maybe I can catch a fish next time…