It seems as though perhaps last week’s entry was not well-received (or at least it was largely overlooked, possibly because I broke with protocol and posted a day early). Maybe I’m just being an insecure creative type – I fully admit that I always hope that my offerings will be met with at least mild acceptance. I looked inward to find out where I may have gone astray when it dawned on me: I had reported on an unusually good day of fishing. I acknowledge that what draws my readers (all 5 of them) to my blog is hearing of my fishing misfortunes. I am wrought with guilt and remorse, for I have seen the error in having lost my way. With renewed focus I can, and hopefully will, remedy that with my most recent fishing exploit:
A week had passed since I went looking for unicorns and bigfoot and found instead a wild Skykomish steelhead. Unless I wanted to join the many other thousands of anglers headed to the Olympic Penninsula rivers, which were still open for winter steelhead fishing, I was apparently done swinging flies with my Spey rod for the season. As I saw it I could either sit inside and write letters to the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife demanding a change in their policies, sulk and wait for the weather to warm a bit and for trout fishing to turn on, or I could accept the invitation to join Marck on the Yakima. A wise man would have saved the gas money and stayed home.
After grabbing a sandwich at the Ellensburg Subway, I turned left on Umtanum Road and headed toward the launch at Irene Rinehart Riverfront Park to meet up with Marck and his neighbor Steave (not his real name). Not wanting to risk a shuttle service snafu, we had opted to take matters into our own hands and run our own shuttle – thus the fact that we had driven separate vehicles. As I tried to get my mind off steelhead, I performed a series of mental stretches in preparation for the first day of trout fishing of the year. By the time it hit me it was too late to do anything about it – the unmistakable aroma of skunk infiltrated the cab of my truck. Thick and heavy, skunk gets on you fast: in your nose and on the back of your tongue. And unlike an odor that originates inside the vehicle, you can’t just roll down the window – you have no choice but to deal with it until you’ve put sufficient distance between yourself and the source. But skunk lingers for a great distance and will test the lung capacity of even a pearl diver. Only once you’ve put a solid quarter mile between yourself and the source can you roll down the window and exhale. God forbid one should actually run over the mess with their tire (which luckily I did not). I cannot begin to imagine the suffering endured by those who have either been sprayed themselves, or had to deal with a dog that became bathed in skunk juice. Anyway, as I pulled into the launch, I had put odor behind me and thought nothing more of it. We dropped the Hornet into the river, did the shuttle thing (which took us again past the dead skunk), and were ready to shove off by 11:30. It was a mild day in early February. The winter had not been hard and there was no snow visible for many miles in any direction, including Vancouver BC where the Olympics were suffering from an equally mild winter.
Recent rains had caused the Yak to come up a few inches over the past few days, but she still ran low. And cold. Figuratively she’s nearly always a bit of an ice princess toward me, but on this day she was literally cold: The handy dandy Fishpond stream thermometer registered 39 degrees. No matter how I tried, I could not get it to budge above 40. At this point I pondered the value of the thermometer I carried with me. What good is it, really, to know that the water temperature is below the ideal mark? I suppose it serves as an excuse more than anything – a justification for slow fishing, and so it is that I continue to carry mine. I was, however, optimistic: 39 degrees is, afterall, only one degree below 40, and 40 seems to be a magical number with regard to trout feeding activity, though 42 or 44 are even better. We strung up the rods, pointed the bow of the Hornet downstream and away we went. The initial offering of the day was a brown Pat’s Stone above a bead head San Juan Worm dropper, with a Thingamabobber as icing on the cake. If you’ve read any of my drivel up to this point you know how I feel about nymphing. Steave had never fished a double nymph setup before, and as we rigged up I bitched about the whole nymphing thing, explained to him the potential for tangles that this method of fly fishing offered. Marck glared sideways at me and mumbled under his breath, “Not this again…”
The air temperature was probably in the mid 30’s, but it felt warmer than that. In addition to never having fished using a double nymph rig, Steave had never fished out of a drift boat either. But he was well prepared for a winter day on the river with neoprene chest waders and a heavy goretex hunting jacket. Clad from head to toe in camouflage, the flock of geese that flew overhead saw everyone but Steave. I must say that the camo was so effective that I myself could hardly see him standing in the bow of the boat from my standard perch at the tail end of the Hornet. Now before you go accusing me of sounding like some sort of snob for poking fun at his attire, please note that I’m no fly fishing fashionista, and being also an unaccomplished hunter I have plenty of camo gear myself. What one wears when fishing doesn’t make a bit of difference to me, and the only reason I’m even mentioning Steave’s attire is because I need filler material.
The day started slowly, without so much as a subtle take from a single trout (even the Whitefish gave us the cold shoulder). After about an hour the lack of action allowed for outside influences to distract us from our keen focus, and the air began to feel chillier. I broke out a pair of hand warmers and stuffed them in the pockets of my Simms G3 wading jacket, which being a pleasant shade of loden goes splendidly with my tan waders. My brown lucky fishing hat and boots compliment the ensemble nicely. Warming the fingers was a nice luxury and improved much-needed dexterity. Keeping the fingers functioning proved necessary throughout the day, as tying on new flies and replacing sections of tippet was a steady ritual. Steave proved to be a quick study in the art of nymphing and had no trouble in mastering the tangling/break-off skills displayed by Marck and I. Nobody could fault us for not getting our flies where the fish were (or should have been), because we were snagging every bit of structure imaginable. At one point in the afternoon after losing my second set of flies in 10 minutes, I sensed my attitude plummeting and self imposed a timeout. I took the oars so Marck could fish, and soon was having more fun than I’d had all day: being on the oars meant I was making good use of my time and actually doing something productive. As I employed my superior oarsmanship and put the Hornet into some particularly fishy looking water, I suddenly realized that there was not a line in the water. Marck and Steave were both frantically working to reattach lost flies and broken tippet. Luckily Marck was quick to get back into action and made a beautiful cast right into a current seam that immediately took his dropper fly right into the grips of a submerged log. SNAP! So much for that set of new flies that had lasted just exactly 12 seconds. I heard Steave speaking in muffled tongues and decided not to attempt any words of false encouragement. The overwhelming sense of desperation was becoming comical, almost. Marck asked if he could row again, to which I replied “No.” I wasn’t about to give up the best seat in the house.
We threw everything at the fish: Pat’s Stones in brown and green/yellow (hoping to match a Skwala, just in case there were Skwalas starting to move about in the river, which apparently they were not); San Juan Worms, Copper Johns, Lightning Bugs, Beadhead Olive Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ears (say THAT 3 times fast). Nada, zip, zero, zilch. While I didn’t keep a running tally, it would be safe to say that I lost 6 or 8 flies over the course of the day, and Marck and Steave were in the same boat. I made a mental note to myself: “When you get home, order more flies.” (which I did, by the way- from Big Y Fly Company)
It wasn’t until right before we reached the termination point of our float that it hit me: Although the day was rather lackluster, there was one noteworthy occurrence – Marck had not caught a fish! This was the first time I’d ever fished with him that he’d gone catchless, and while I won’t go so far as to suggest that it was something to celebrate, it did make an otherwise forgettable day one for the memory books. We called the time of death at 5:16 and pulled the Hornet out of the water, stowed our gear and headed toward downtown Ellensburg for a Hungry Mother Burger and a beer. The only thing between us and The Tav was the stretch of road that still lay shrouded in the heavy odor of skunk.
The ink from last week’s blog entry was barely dry when I received a text message from Marck. Expecting criticism for having taken certain creative liberties in my post, I was surprised to see the words pop up on the screen of my phone: “Yak tomorrow?” Unlike me, Marck is a man of few words. Texting is a rather unpleasant endeavor for me because I have a hard time buying into the whole “textspeak” thing, with its baffling array of acronyms and abbreviations and lack of correct punctuation and proper grammar. It would have taken me 25 minutes to respond with the following text message: “Good day, Marck. I received your digital communication regarding the matter of fishing the Yakima and yes, that sounds like a rather grand idea and one that I would greatly enjoy partaking of. If you’ll allow me the courtesy to first check with Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler before I commit to joining you, I will get back to you just as soon as possible. Thank you for the invitation. I look forward to conversing with you in the very near future and hope all is well. Very sincerely, The one who is rather unaccomplished in the ways of fly fishing.” So rather than reply in kind I opted to actually call him.
Then I sent an email to Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler announcing that I was going to go fishing with Marck. The reply was not encouraging: “You have a chore list to do.” Oh, yeah, that: The honey-do list that was taped to my computer so I couldn’t ignore it. “Yeah, yeah – I’ll get to that when I can. By the way, what’s for dinner, woman?” should have been my response. With no further discussion, I called Marck once again and told him I wouldn’t be able to go. I stared at the list for a few minutes and it became painfully clear what my Saturday was going to consist of: Change lightbulbs, sweep driveway, take cardboard boxes to recycling bin, sweep out garage, clean fireplace glass, and my favorite: Clean your office. When she got home from work a short while later I was moping around the house like a dog that had been punished for taking a crap on the living room carpet that had just been shampooed. I was caught completely off guard when she asked what time I was leaving in the morning to go fishing. “Huh?!” As it turns out, I could go fishing as long as I was aware that my list had to be completed by the end of the weekend. My spirits were instantly lifted and I quickly fired off the following text message to Marck: “stillgotr oom in the hornet 2morrow i cango : ) LOL”
Per standard operating procedure I arrived at Marck’s house, refilled my coffee cup, and we headed east on I-90 with the Hornet in tow. It was just the two of us on this day – apparently Sir Lancelot (not his real name) wasn’t man enough to inform his wife that he would be going fishing and anything else could wait for another day. Several feet of snow had fallen in the hills recently, providing a good start to the winter ski season, but fortunately the road conditions over Snoqualmie Pass were bare and wet. We made good time, and it was 9 AM as we drove the Canyon Road to Red’s Fly Shop to arrange for a shuttle. Along the way we saw one lone soul wading a river that was otherwise strangely devoid of anglers. As we pulled into Red’s, which is usually teeming with optimistic fishing folks, the gravel parking area was empty. Surprisingly the boat salesman had apparently taken the day off, and only Leif was working the counter as we walked into the shop. From the reception we received one would have thought we were his long-lost best friends, who’d come to party and hand out cash prizes. He was obviously deprived of human interaction, which probably meant nobody had been in the shop for days, which meant the fishing had probably been slow, which meant staying home and chipping away at a honey do list might not have been such a bad idea. But here we were, so we arranged for the shuttle, plunked down a couple bucks for some token flies (purchased out of sympathy, as we didn’t really need any), and made our way back up the canyon to our launch point. We were going to float 4-1/2 river miles and planned to be off the water by 3:30 so Marck could be home by 5 PM for a party.
There was one drift boat with three passengers at the put-in when we arrived. Weather report: 34 degrees under sunny skies and no wind. We layered up accordingly and dropped the Hornet into the low, 41 degree waters of the Yakima river. After having been humbled the last dozen or so times on this river, I had declared today to be a day of redemption. A bold declaration for sure, everything looked just right for a great day on the water, and it should be noted that Marck had wisely opted for his old standby Red’s fishing hat. We strung up our 6 weight rods with indicators and double fly rigs: I opted for a brown Pat’s Stone with a #20 Lightning Bug dropper; Marck tied on an olive Sculpzilla followed by a Copper John. Immediately after launching we rowed across the river a short ways and anchored up on a gravel bar. A particular side channel looked fishy and we wanted to cover every piece of promising water on this day, which would very likely be our last jaunt to the Yak before spring: It was the third weekend in November, and winter could take hold at any moment. And so on this fishy-looking side channel I made my first cast, tossed a mend into the line and watched. The strike indicator dipped, but I dismissed it as the swirling current simply up to its cruel tricks of deception. However, when I lifted the tip of my rod it became readily apparent that more than the current was to blame for submerging my bobber. I was a bit too hesitant in my attempt to set the hook, and saw the fat rainbow roll below the surface and spit my fly. Good looking fish- probably 15-16 inches. Just as well – it’s not like me to have good fortune right off the bat, or at any other time for that matter. We boarded the Hornet once again and proceeded downstream.
This wasn’t the usual stretch of river we typically fish, so the change of scenery was sure to make a slow day of fishing more interesting. Navigating this section of the river was a bit more challenging as well, so whoever was on the oars at any given time had several opportunities to yell, “Hold on!” as the other braced themselves for a bumpy ride or ducked to avoid low-hanging overhead branches. However nothing really out of the ordinary took place for the first hour or so, and it didn’t appear as though the day was going to give up much fodder worth reporting. I did manage to land a couple Whitefish, but nobody with any self-respect boasts about catching these much-maligned fish.
This is something I’ve never quite understood because afterall, they’re a native species and they swim where trout swim so if a whitey puts a bend in your rod, so be it. The way I figure, it simply means you got your fly where the fish are – so what if the fish you caught wasn’t what you intended, right? I mean, heck – one occasionally hears of anglers catching a steelhead when engaged in the act of fishing for trout, and that’s an example of an unintentional by-catch, isn’t it? Wait, never mind. At any rate, my second whitey was actually a fairly large specimen and I even hooked it in the mouth, of all places.
Marck was still fishless at this point, but neither of us worried about that. There was still plenty of day left and he’s a fishy dude so it was just a matter of time before he caught on. In the meantime, I managed to hook into my second biggest trout ever on the Yak: A beautiful 18-inch rainbow that fell victim to my Lightning Bug, and gave me several minutes of sporting entertainment before finally cooperating and coming to the net. It was 2-1/2 years earlier when I caught a similar sized fish on this river, and the time between had come to be known as “The Lean Years”, with few fish being caught overall, and none of those fish being more than 12-14 inches. I’d also tasted a skunk more than a couple times during this era of famine, so catching this solid fish began the healing process.The sweet smell of redemption still lingered in the air when I landed my next fish: A feisty 14-incher that I plucked from behind a log in water that looked so good there might as well have been a sign posted that read, “There’s a fish here – Guaranteed.” Landing this second trout brought me much additional pleasure, and grinning a smug grin I happily took the oars so Marck could angle. I’m not one to be greedy or spiteful, and I really did not want Marck to go fishless on this day.
We covered a lot of great looking water in our quest for Marck’s first fish of the day. While neither of us had mentioned it, we were both keenly aware of the fact that his catch record was in dire jeopardy, and as we entered the last hour of the day there rode with us an elephant in the rear seat of the boat. At one point we anchored the Hornet on an island to work some nice looking water, and Marck walked off a ways so he could be alone with his worries. It was clear that he was troubled. As Marck grew more serious I knew better than to tease him about something like this. I rowed in silence and began to ponder the headline of my next blog entry: “Marck Tastes a Skunk!”, or “Hey Marck – How Do Ya Like Them Apples?” It would to be a tough decision, but thankfully one I would never have to make because shortly thereafter he set the hook on an adorable little 9 inch rainbow and secured his skunk-free record. After releasing the fish, Marck requested another turn on the oars to warm up his hands. By now the sun was fully behind the clouds and a wind was starting to bite at us, so I humored him: The reality was that he was emotionally spent from the ordeal, and he needed some quiet time to reflect on having escaped shame and public ridicule by the narrowest of margins. This was a man who came dangerously close to epic failure…all color had drained from his face and a cold sweat beaded upon his forehead. He regained his composure and warmed his hands on the sticks.
Checking his watch he announced that it was 4:15. “Uh…Don’t you have to be home by 5?” I asked rhetorically. Marck decided that he’d just call his wife and tell her we were on our way, and that we were about an hour away from arriving home. I tried to discourage him from lying to her, but he assured me it would be okay. And truth be told it wasn’t really an all out fib because from the time we launched we were ultimately on our way home. As Marck dialed his wife’s number, he reminded me fishermen are notorious liars. He had a point. In reality we were probably 15 minutes from our take-out and another hour and a half from home, assuming it wasn’t snowing on the pass. As Marck spoke to his wife and explained that the roads were icy and the going was slow, my indicator took a nose dive and I’m pretty sure Mrs. Marck didn’t hear me yell, “Fish on!”. Enticing the 10 inch rainbow on the Pat’s Stone topped off a much better than average day, and it was good way to end the year. Let the icy grips of winter have the Yak – I’d had my day of redemption and was heading home with the smell of fish on my hands. Now, if I could have just gotten Marck home in 20 minutes he wouldn’t have had to spend the night in the doghouse.
Note: If after reading the accounts of this day you feel that the Unaccomplished Angler is becoming an accomplished braggart, fear not – winter steelhead season lies just ahead. I am bracing myself to have my posterior handed to me accordingly.