skykomish river steelhead
If you’re like me, you don’t have a winch on your truck and you naturally assume that most of the folks who do, don’t use them (or know how to use them, for that matter). It looks cool to have a stout front bumper with a winch mounted on it, attached to the front of a truck that’s all jacked up on Mountain Dew with multiple shocks, chrome differential covers and monster off-road tires: you know, the trucks that have a set of rubber testicles dangling from the tow hitch. These trucks are always spotlessly clean and likely never see any off-road use. There was a time when I was 18 that this might have appealed to me, but when I was that age I couldn’t have afforded the truck, let alone the thousands of dollars wasted on decorative custom add-ons. Actually, no — that sort of truck would never have appealed to me. A winch? Really? AAA is cheaper, or better yet – don’t get stuck.
Late last spring I went fishing on the Skykomish River with my friends Derek Young of Emerging Rivers Guide Services and Leland Miyawaki, fly fishing manager at Bellevue Orvis. Our intended target species was steelhead, though I for one would have been happy with anything that happened to hit a swung fly (a bull trout, or dolly varden or native char would have tickled me pink). The day started with a forgettable breakfast in Gold Bar before we arrived at our launch site at the Big Eddy. As is always the case, there’s much excitement and anticipation to get on the water, and it was my first time to be a passenger in Derek’s new Green Drake raft by StreamTech Boats, so the eagerness level was running high, like the river. The only thing that prevented us from quickly getting on the water was a truck.
A stuck truck, that is, at the bottom of the ramp. With its drift boat trailer completely submerged and it’s rear wheels sinking deeper into the wet sand with every attempt to get unstuck. It was not a good predicament for the owner and his buddy. Luckily, we arrived on the scene before the truck became buried up to its rear axle. Enter the cool winch on the front of Derek’s truck. Now, in all fairness to Derek, his truck isn’t a showy piece of ridiculosity as described above. In fact, Derek’s rig is simply a functional vehicle that serves his purposes well and is understated, if anything. It just happens to have a hefty ARB bumper up front to hold a winch, which he actually knows how to use. Without the winch, the stuck truck may have remained so for a good long while, which would have put a real damper on the fishing for the guys who belonged to the truck. We could have still gotten the Green Drake in the water and been on our way, but Derek’s winch made short work of the extraction and everyone got to fish that day. I doubt those two guys caught any fish, but after getting them unstuck karma was on our side, or so we assumed.
And thus ended the excitement for the day, so if you’re hoping to read about more hair-raising adventures and epic battles with hot summer steelhead, you may as well close your browser window right now. There weren’t even any harrowing encounters with savage white water. Not that I remember, anyway, because the Green Drake effortlessly carried us downstream in comfort and safety. No fish were encountered as we plied miles of fishy looking water with our Spey rods.
This was only Derek’s second time with a two-handed rod, so sitting back and watching him was not nearly as enjoyable as sitting back and watching Leland masterfully sling his favorite Fat Train pattern, which is a sparsely dressed fly that most closely resembles a bare hook with some hackle and seems to be anything but fat. In fact the Fat Train looks like something tied by someone who couldn’t afford the rest of the materials to tie a proper fly, but less is often more. Derek’s status as a neophyte Spey caster made me feel good about not being the most unaccomplished caster for once, but Derek is a quick study and by the end of the day I was clearly once again at the bottom of the Spey casting food chain.
After enduring a miserable, cold, wet Spring that seemed would never end, this day found us enjoying blue sky and plenty of sunshine. Being philosophical in our approach to fishing, there was much to enjoy even though the catching left a bit to be desired. Being able to enjoy a fishless day is a skill that doesn’t come easily to everyone, but skill only comes after much practice. I’m well practiced in the art of not catching fish and so highly skilled in finding ways to enjoy a day spent not catching fish. Good weather and good food are a couple ways to ensure that maximum enjoyment is achieved, and to that end we were not disappointed.
Sunning ourselves on the rocks while enjoying a traditional Japanese lunch provided by Leland was fitting reward for simply being outside on such a glorious day. Lunch included, among other things, what Leland described as “peasant sushi” which are essentially sushi without fish. Leland says it best:
“I come from a Japanese farmer family that could never afford the expensive raw fish “city sushi.” So we had vegetable “makisushi” and “agesushi.” (maki are like the futomaki you see at sushi bars, agesushi is the rice stuffed into tofu boiled in soy).”
Apparently Orvis needs to give Leland a raise so he can afford fish, or perhaps he simply felt neither Derek nor I were deserving of the city sushi. Either way, it was delicious and much better a drastic improvement from what I typically eat for lunch on the water (sparsely dressed sandwiches, stale chips, cheap beer). In keeping with the Japanese lunch theme, Leland provided sake (酒) as a beverage. I’d never before had sake, and found the rice beverage to be quite enjoyable and rather easy to drink. I cannot say that the sake helped with my casting any, but it helped me not care so much about my casting. I think that may be some form of Zen-like enlightenment, although I’m not sure. Maybe not.
By the end of the most enjoyable day I found myself grateful for the company of good friends to not catch fish with, and also contemplating the need for a Green Drake and a winch for the front of the Fish Taco. And more sake.