My son has loved fishing since he was little. It wasn’t something I forced him to do–unlike managing personal hygiene or doing chores. Fishing just seemed to be in his blood from the get-go. When he got to be about 11, I introduced him to fly fishing. Does he love fly fishing? To answer that question indirectly, he likes to catch fish. If he caught a lot of fish when we go fly fishing, he would love it. Doesn’t happen that way most of the time, but fishing is fishing when you get past the means of fooling fish into taking some sort of artificial lure, and I’m no snob.
But this isn’t about me.
The Carefree Days of Youth
During the summer of Schpanky’s 12th year, he practically lived at the little lake that lies smack in the middle of our small town: Lake Rasmussen, or as it is more affectionately known to locals, Mud Lake. Nearly every day of that summer, the boy and a ragtag assembly of his friends would, by some means, get to the lake with their fishin’ poles and tackle boxes, and a lunch. Sometimes they would ride their bikes, other times they would play the pathetic card and talk Mrs. UA or another mom into giving them a ride. Moms are too easy on their boys. The young anglers would be there all day, coming home at the end of the day tired, dirty and hungry. And loving every minute of it. We’re not sure how Schpanky survived that summer, as eating became secondary to fishing: often upon his return from the lake, his lunch would be untouched in his backpack.
Day in and day out Schpanky would venture to “Mud” and cast to bass and catfish from the public access “beach”. Beach is perhaps an inaccurate description because it suggests swimming activities. One would not, in their right mind, take a dip in Mud Lake because it is aptly named. And it has leeches and more mosquito larvae than than a third world country. But it also has bass and catfish, and it held the attention of these boys for countless hours during this particular summer of their carefree youth.
The bass that the boys caught from the beach were not big–maybe 8 to 10 inchers that dashed from their nests in acts of defensive aggression. One afternoon I drove to the lake to pick the boy up – he’d been there all day, and because we were worried about his lack of nutrition I had been sent to fetch him home for a proper meal. As I watched him patiently toss his Sinko rubber bait repeatedly into the shallows, I suggested that perhaps the next night I would bring my float tube down and send him across the lake to the far bank, which was lined with blackberry bushes and brambles. And structure. He liked that idea. The next evening we did just that.
I stifled my amusement as he geared up for his mission: clad in neoprene waders that were 2 sizes too big for him, his feet strapped into fins that were even larger, it was all I could do to keep from chuckling out loud. I made sure his PFD was secured (I was NOT going swimming in that water if he were to slip out of the float tube) and sent him off to the other side of the lake which was only maybe 50 yards away. It didn’t take him long before he hooked into something considerably larger than the small fish he’d been catching at the beach. The challenge was landing the fish from his perch atop the float tube. I seem to recall a voice echoing across the still surface of the pond. There was a touch of concern in the tone, “Daaad, I can’t get it!” I calmly instructed him to reel the fish in as closely as possible and kick his way back toward the beach. It was quite a sight to see as the over-dressed kid in over-sized gear struggled to kick as fast as he could while dragging the fish behind him. It wasn’t a huge fish, but it was a nice bass in the 3 pound range. And he was a pretty small kid–just an amateur angler in those days.
Golf Sucks (except for ponds)
Summers since then have been less carefree. What with a summer job and all, there hasn’t been nearly the time for fishing. While he’s old enough to drive himself (thus the need for a job) and use my float tube without adult supervision, frankly he’s outgrown Mud Lake. He spends most of his time working at the Carnation Golf Course, where he’s been a Cart Rat for a couple years now. His job is to wash carts as they come in from a round of play, and essentially keep the cart barn clean and tidy. He likes golf, and he’s pretty good at it (I have no idea where that came from). Last summer Mrs. UA and I had dinner at the golf course, and Schpanky proudly gave us a tour of his office. He also showed me a pond that lies immediately behind the cart barn. He mentioned that there were some big bass in there, but he hadn’t tried fishing for them yet. The only access to the pond is via a small, rickety, floating dock that is used to hold some piping for an irrigation pump (it’s not a fishing platform). Space is tight so a fly rod is out of the question (believe me, I thought about taking some surface poppers down there and having a go at it). But I reminded him that he’s there to work–not fish. He agreed that if his fishing rod did happen to find it’s way to his office, it would be used only after he had clocked out. That was a year ago.
A couple of weeks ago I got a text message from him. He was at work. The text message included this photo of a 5-6 pounder:
“Nice fish,” I replied. “You catch that while on the clock?” Turns out he did. “Work was slow and I was caught up with the carts,” he said. Hard to fault him for that, although I certainly don’t condone spending company time on personal matters, or say, taking Post-it notes or pens from the office supply room to bring home. I’ve never done that.
Schpanky told me there were much bigger fish in the pond than this one, and that he’d momentarily hooked a hawg before it broke him off. I could sense an excitement and determination in his voice that I hadn’t detected since that summer of his 12th year. Again, I cautioned him against fishing on company time.
A week later I receive another text message from the boy. With another photo attached:
“Damn, son!” was my reply. He responded by telling me it was 8-9 pounds. Later, when I had a chance to catch up with him in person I inquired, “You get paid to catch that fish?”
Apparently work was a little slow, again. With a glimmer in his eye he said, “There are even bigger ones in there.”
It’s hard to fault a guy for getting paid to fish. I wish I did.
I’m currently accepting sponsors.
It was another of those “I’m going fishing without any hopes whatsoever of catching a fish” days. I do that quite a bit.
I live in the once-sleepy little town of Duvall, Washington, and a river runs through it. The Snoqualmie River, that is – a lazy, meandering, silt-laden slough of water with barely any visible current. Twenty or so miles upstream the river spills over Snoqualmie Falls, making its way north past the Tokul Creek fish hatchery and through the town of Fall City. There actually is some current in these upper stretches of the river, and it can hold some steelhead: mostly tight-lipped, dour hatchery brats that afford the angler a false sense of hope. Below Fall City the river snakes its way toward the town of Carnation, losing gradient along the way. The farther north the river flows the less the river actually resembles something that might hold a steelhead or two. Past Carnation and all the way to Duvall and beyond, the Snoqualmie becomes more of a frog water ditch. There are stretches of the river where I actually think the current flows backwards (it’s that slow). It’s like this until it joins the Skykomish to form the Snohomish a few miles farther North. I shouldn’t be too hard on the lazy Sloqualmie, as it does give up the occasional Squawfish (at least two in my experiences).
When the need to fish becomes overwhelming and I don’t have time for a proper day of angling, I’ll drive the 8 short miles toward Carnation where there are a couple runs that have enough current to swing a fly. It’s been reported that a steelhead has been caught in this area but it’s more mythical than anything else. However, I can be there in 15 minutes and if I time it right I can have the water to myself, which is how I prefer it. There’s a good reason I can nearly always have one of these runs to myself: accomplished anglers go where the chances of catching fish are actually somewhat favorable. So now that I’ve wasted your precious time telling you about the sub-standard steelhead fishery that I call my home waters, let’s get right to the matter of actually fishing.
The weather was cloudy and the meteorologists had predicted rain. Looking skyward that morning it didn’t take much convincing for me to grab the Goretex jacket, and I even threw on a pair of lightweight long johns under my waders. I was actually hoping for rain. Jimmy showed up at my house around 9 AM (there’s no reason to be in a hurry when you’re just headed out for some casting practice on a river that rarely gives up fish of any kind). Fifteen minutes later we were parked near the river and gearing up. I grabbed my Sage Z-Axis 7136 Spey rod and the spool containing my floating summer line, a 480 grain Airflo Compact Scandi. The river was low and clear, so I figured I’d swing a small fly just below the surface. No point in dredging for fish rocks with a sink tip. Jimmy grabbed his 5 weight rod – he has not yet succombed to the evil temptress that is the two-handed rod. This is probably best since has 4 daughters and two of them are into horses. Equine endeavors leave little time and even less money for something like the dark side of fly fishing. In fact, so innocent was Jimmy that he’d never seen anyone cast a Spey rod before, and he simply wanted to come along and see how it’s done. I cautioned him that I was not the person to observe if he wanted to see how it’s done, but given no other options my casting would have to suffice. Sorry for that, Jimmy.
We set up along the first run and began plying the water. Jimmy quickly noted the benefits of Spey casting: “It sure looks a hell of a lot more efficient at getting the line out farther.” True that, but I cringed at his words. I did not in any way want to be responsible for the financial downfall of another angler, and the beginning of the end comes when the angler acknowledges first hand the benefits of Spey casting. Jimmy, if you’re reading this, then please read THIS. Let my cautionary essay against Spey casting serve you well. Walk away while you can and say these words: If you don’t Spey, don’t start. Repeat.
It took us less than an hour to fish through to the bottom of the run and being par for the course we didn’t have so much as a bump. We did, however, bump into another Spey casting man who said he’d been up around Fall City earlier in the morning. He noted that there had been someone in every run. This wasn’t surprising for a couple of reasons: First, every steelhead fly angler in the region had been chomping at the bit to catch a fall fish. The weather had recently been warm and dry, and few fish were moving throughout the rivers. That doesn’t ease the need to fish, however, so on this first cloudy day that promised rain, every steelhead angler was out hoping to put another notch in their catch card. Secondly, up around Fall City is where the best water for not catching a steelhead can be found.
That was enough to convince me that we wouldn’t be driving to Fall City, so we headed downstream a short ways to my other favorite spot that doesn’t produce fish. As we hiked in a half mile or so we both commented on how warm it was – almost freakishly warm, and the sun was actually trying to burn through the clouds. So much for the weather forecast and the need for Goretex. Before we started casting I cautioned Jimmy that about all we could hope to catch here would be steelhead parr. It’s not that I go out to target these toddlers intentionally, but they often hit a fly being swung for their adult kin or for sea run cutthroat. There’s only a short section of the river that presents decent swinging water, below which is a large, annoying eddy followed by vast expanses of frog water. I took up residence at the head of the run and fired off my first cast. Midway through the swing, sure enough I was once again a child-molester. The 5 inch fish really had no business hitting the Large Albacore Special (black and blue marabou streamer), but those little fish have piss and vinegar coursing through their cold blooded veins and they attack anything resembling food. It’s this same overachieving spirit that will one day ensure they survive a journey to the ocean and back. Even if they are just hatchery brats, one has to admire their spunk.
After removing the fly from the parr’s face, I cast again, gave a mend and let the fly swing across the current. Suddenly there was a solid hit at the end of my line that I knew came not from a troutlet. In fine steelhead angling fashion I laid the tip of my rod toward shore to let the fish set the hook itself, then held on. The head shaking and thrashing that ensued told me this was no Squawfish, and then the fish turned toward mid-river it took line from the reel in a quick burst. However, I knew it wasn’t a real big fish. Sea run cutthroat (SRC) came to mind, though this wasn’t typical SRC water – too much current and too little structure. Small steelhead was more likely, since I was targeting steelhead after all. Whatever it was, it fought good for its size.
I played the fish to shore and was not expecting what I saw. It had the typical coloring of a rainbow; not of a steelhead fresh out of the salt. The adipose fin was in tact so that indicated it was no hatchery fish, not to mention that it was simply too small to be a West coast steelhead (maybe a Great Lakes fish? Sorry Midwest anglers, I just couldn’t resist). I determined that it was a 15″ resident rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), which is the same species of fish that would have been called a steelhead had it simply left the river for the ocean. Now some of you may be rolling your eyes and thinking, “Hey Unaccomplished Angler – catching a rainbow trout is no big deal, and a 15 inch fish isn’t that impressive. And besides, weren’t you suppose to be fishing for steelhead? What an unaccomplishment, you hack!”
There’s no need for name calling, so let’s address those inquiries. Resident rainbow trout in this river are not only not common, in fact they’re quite uncommon. I’ve heard that they are around, though fairly rare and I’ve never met anyone personally who has ever caught one. Regardless of size, it’s relative rareness made it a very interesting and unexpected catch. And it’s been a long time since I caught a trout over 15 inches in the state of Washington, so I was impressed. And given that there are fewer resident rainbows than steelhead in this river, I’d go so far as to say that this was an angling accomplishment. I just wish I could have played that fish on a 4wt rod instead of m 7 wt Spey, because no matter how game the fish was, it was terribly outgunned. As for being a hack, I’ll not contest that accusation.
The other thing I wish iss that my camera hadn’t been set on macro focus mode. You see, I had just snapped the photo of the steelhead parr from a distance of about 10 inches. When the camera is shut off, it doesn’t default back to the standard focus mode, so when Jimmy snapped the photos of my rare, resident rainbow the results were less than stellar. While I’d like to hold Jimmy at fault, I have to accept the blame for not knowing my camera. The photos were as unexpected as the fish itself, although I wasn’t the least big disappointed with the fish.
As for the rain that was hoped for and predicted? It showed up two days later and fell with such ferocity that it blew the river out.