lost fly rod in river

It could have been worse.

Last year I participated in a multi-boat flotilla as part of a Children’s Hospital benefit auction orchestrated by my friend Sir Lancelot (yes, the Sir Lancelot who provided a guest post not too long ago). Last year I was just along for the ride, and to clean the grill after lunch. This year I was along to provide all-day labor by rowing one of the boats. Last year the Yakima River was running unseasonably low and water conditions were excellent. This year that was not the case. The plan had originally been to float the river down around Ellensburg. Marck was unable to participate this year and while it would have been nice to have him along for his good-natured companionship, what we we really needed was his boat. However, as the date approached and the Yakima River became swollen with runoff, there was a change of plans: we’d be floating an upper section of the river where hard boats are not recommended. Rafts were the order of the day so the Hornet sat idle while 3 inflatable craft were launched for the trip.

The inflatable flotilla.

Bear in mind that names have been changed to protect the innocent avoid slander lawsuits. To run down the list of those in attendance, in one raft were Lancelot and two of his friends, FFred & NNick. The raft being rowed by yours truly provided downstream transportation for The Rev & The Father. The third boat was rowed by CJ Emerson (who guides for The Evening Hatch) and his two guests, Ben & Jerry. It was appropriate that Ben & Jerry be in CJ’s raft as Ben had purchased the trip at the auction and so thus deserved a real guide. Except for Lancelot’s boat, the experience level was mostly non-existent. Ben & Jerry’s fresh-out-of-the-box Cabela’s breathable waders may have still had the tags on them and the Z-Axis rod that Ben also received in the auction had not previously seen active duty. In my boat, The Rev & The Father were wearing neoprene waders they had just gotten, paired with over-sized, used tennis shoes they’d just purchased in lieu of wading boots. They were each employing a brand new Redington Crosswater rod and reel. Nobody teased The Rev for wearing pink shoes, except for Lancelot.

For first time fly anglers, it was an almost unthinkably cruel joke to tie on a Thingamabobber, a tandem nymph rig and a couple pieces of split shot and expect them to enjoy the casting experience, especially from a seated position (the rafts are not set up for fly fishing like, say, a StreamTech Boat).

StreamTech. I want one.

Chucking awkward hardware from a seated position was, however, the order of the day. In defense of my anglers, they managed to avoid too many bird’s nests and lost no more flies than I would have had I had a line in the water. My only complaint is that I had to sit on a cooler lid instead of a proper rowing seat (as offered in a StreamTech boat). I’d really appreciate it, Lancelot, if you would acquire a couple of these boats before next year’s trip.

Springtime and birds are building nests.

I’m not sure how beginner’s Ben & Jerry fared throughout the day, although occasionally I did hear the distance sound of CJ’s voice patiently yelling offering encouragement.

The day was very pleasant with mostly clear skies and warm temperatures. Certainly sunscreen and shirt sleeves weather (The Rev & The Father soon came to realize the error of their ways in selecting neoprene waders). The river was running high and deep green, but there was decent visibility. However, the fish were blind for the most part with the exception of one 8 inch rainbow that The Father hooked and played momentarily before executing a Long Distance Release. Even with the split shot, it was difficult to get the flies down to where there may have been fish holding in the heavy water. Granted, had the person rowing my raft been an actual guide, the anglers on board may have landed a whitefish and a slightly bigger rainbow, as had CJ’s boat. But you get what you pay for, and The Rev & The Father paid nothing for their trip.  Even with the most collective experience aboard, Lancelot’s boat finished that day with the unmistakable odor of skunk. That says a lot about the man on the oars.

Obstacle #1

As lousy of an oarsman and angler as Lancelot may be, he does know his way around food and grilled up a delicious meal of King salmon. Not much to complain about there. The monotony of the day was broken up by two river hazards that forced us to take evasive maneuvers. The first was a sweeper lying across the channel in a woody stretch of tricky water.  Not to worry, as roping the boats around the obstacle was no problem.

Obstacle #2

The second obstacle consisted of a very large cottonwood tree that had recently laid itself down across the entire river. Getting around this blockage required a 40 yard portage, made easy by the simple fact that we had plenty of manpower to carry each boat. A single boat with 3 people would have had their work cut out for them.

Portage made easy.

The real excitement of the day came within the last couple of hours of the trip. My boat was first through a particular stretch of water that had a brushy bank and ample structure for any fish that might have chosen to lie there (none did, by the way). From his perch in the front of the boat, The Rev sent out a respectable 20 yard cast into the waiting branches of a tree 10 yards away.  The hook on the size 8 Pat’s Stone grabbed hold firmly as the boat continued downstream. I would have attempted to row against the current to retrieve the fly, but I wasn’t man enough the high flows would have nothing to do with it. As the distance between ourselves and the snagged fly increased, so did the uneasiness on the part of The Rev.  I calmly counseled him to point the rod directly at the fly, pinch down on the fly line with his finger, and hold on. “The leader is going to snap,” I said. “It may ricochet back so turn your face away from it,” I added (as I ducked).  As the tension in the line increased and the 2X tippet strained under the load, The Rev allowed the fly line to slide between the cork and his forefinger. I detected the smell of burning flesh, and the resulting sensation was more than The Rev could tolerate.  At the exact same time he yelled, “Owch!!!” he let go of the rod. The tension of the stretched line served to slingshot the rod from his hand and Across the Water (the Crosswater aptly named by Redington) where it landed 10 feet upstream of the raft. There was no need for panic as the rod was still tethered to the tree and rescue was on the way—Lancelot’s raft was just approaching the tree and saw the line snagged. I waved to indicate we could use a little help, and pulled the boat over to a gravel bar a short ways downstream to wait. And watch. Because I was busy on the oars there were no photos to document the drama. However, I have provided this detailed illustration to illustrate the situation:

It appeared, from our distance of 80+ yards, that Lancelot’s boat was able to free the snagged fly from the branch. Then they tossed the fly into the water for us to reel in. At that point Lancelot acknowledged the great distance between us and them, and realized we were not holding the other end of the line.  They scrambled to retrieve the fly again, which luckily became snagged a second time on a branch in the water.  They succeeded in retrieving the fly a second time and pulled in several yards of fly line and eventually the rod and reel. I’m not sure if they were into the backing by the time they had the entire setup in hand, but The Rev was lucky to get the rod back.

The Rev with his rescued Redington Crosswater rod and reel.

Even though the catching was slow to non-existent, it could have been a lot worse. It could have been raining. The food could have been bad. The guests could have had a horrible time. And had there not been another boat behind us, the river would have claimed a brand new rod, reel and line. That wouldn’t have been a good way for The Rev to begin his fly fishing career.