turkey hunting

A Tale of Turkeys, Titans and Twenty-inch Trout

Most fish outings aren’t filled with a lot of pomp and circumstance – they’re just a prearranged event, often with very little lead-time, initiated by a simple phone call or an email. But that’s not always the case, as I recently  partook of a fish outing that had rather complex origins.

It all started innocently enough some months ago at the request of my buddy Large Albacore. He’d seen a photo of a turkey I’d harvested a few years ago, and mentioned to me when (if) I shoot another one, he’d like some feathers for fly tying. Not one to take casual requests lightly, when Spring turkey season opened on April 15th this year I made sure I was on the road the day before. Another of my buddies, Jimmy, owns a vast spread of property in Eastern Washington that has a fair number of turkeys running around on it. I’ve hunted with Jimmy for several years, and three years ago I bagged a nice gobbler (the one in the photo seen by Albacore).

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The following year we were dealt a skunking, and last year I didn’t get out for turkey season, which was OK because it wasn’t much of one. But this year things worked in our favor: the weather was mild, the birds were social, and we filled our tags in the first hour of opening day. If you’ve ever turkey hunted, you know it doesn’t always, and rarely does, happen so easily. It’s a lot like fishing in that regard, and I’ve come home empty-handed enough times to consider myself an unaccomplished turkey hunter. But as I drove the 4 hours home this year I called Albacore to gloat let him know I had feathers. It would have been too easy expensive to just mail the feathers to him, so we opted instead to schedule a fish outing so I could deliver them in person. We set a date for a trip down the Yakima River and planned to float in our inflatables; he in his pontoon boat and myself in my Watermaster.

The week before our planned trip, a series of Spring storms dumped rain in the mountains, signaling the official start of the Spring runoff. The Teanaway River,  a tributary of the Yakima, is a notorious spewer of filthy, chalky water, and it lived up to it’s Native American name, which I believe translates to “Notorious spewer of filthy, chalky water”. The runoff, combined with the unfortunate coincidence of water being released from reservoirs to push the Chinook salmon smolts downstream, had caused the Yakima to rise threefold in volume, and she officially became blown-out. High water and inflatables aren’t the optimal combination: what we needed was a drift boat. Enter Marck. As you know, he is the captain of The Hornet.

Prior to this float Marck and Albacore had not met. I was eager to introduce them, knowing they would enjoy each other’s company (I have good taste in friends, although they probably cannot return the compliment). I was also eager to pose for a photo of the three of us, as the combined height of the Two Titans is 13 feet, maybe a hair more (pun intended).  And as Marck quickly added, “and you make it 14.”  Touchet, mon ami.

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We met at the South Cle Elum “launch” (loose interpretation), lowered The Hornet down the steep embankment, and assumed positions for our float.  Contrary to standard operating procedures, I was perched in the bow of the boat this time, forced to give up my coveted stern position to Albacore (something to do with keeping the bow of the boat from floating too low in the water). The day was a dandy as far as the weather was concerned, with broken clouds, plenty of sunshine to warm the air comfortably, and not a stitch of wind (nice for a change).  Water temp was 44 degrees at 11 AM as we pointed the bow of The Hornet into the current and made our way downstream. Each of us had 2 rods rigged and at the ready: one for dries and one for catching fish (although Albacore opted instead to rig a streamer rod in lieu of a dry fly). But it was our nymphing rigs that were employed from the get-go and for most of the day. Not surprisingly it was a busy day on the river, and we played hop-scotch with several boats throughout the afternoon, including a certain Clackacraft containing celebrities such as Derek Young of Emerging Rivers Guide Services and Leland Miyawaki of the Bellevue Orvis Shop. Famed local guide Johnny Boitano had his clients on fish every time we saw them. He’s good at getting his clients on fish, and in fact put me on my best Yakima trout several years earlier (apparently I should fish with him more often). By the way, Johnny and Ted Truglio are now operating their own guide business (Troutwater Guide Services).

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Surprisingly for the rest of us fishing was not red hot, and it was a while before Albacore hooked the first of 3 whitefish. He scowled with each catch, but to his credit the third was a pretty nice specimen, and I noted as much. My kudos, however, fell on deaf ears. A couple of hours into the day we pulled The Hornet onto a gravel bar so we could work the water with some diligence.  Marck fished downstream and then crossed to the opposite side. From there he was able to get his fly into some dark, slow water flanked by some daunting structure. I would have followed except for the fact that I’d have never made it across the current without being swept off my size 8 feet (I actually wear a size 9 wading boot). Albacore fished the head of the run, and I moved farther below Marck.  My fishless solitude was interrupted by  the sound of Marck’s voice above the roar of the river: “Hey!” he nodded toward the sharply bent rod in his hands, “This is a nice fish!”  Apparently so, and Albacore and I met on the gravel bar adjacent to Marck’s location to watch the drama unfold. It did appear to be a decent fish, but the current was strong and likely made the fish appear bigger and stronger than it really was. From his current locale Marck could not very well play the fish because it was too close to a logjam, so he began inching his way across the river toward us. The water was deeper and the current stronger here than where he’d crossed earlier, and each step was a precarious balancing act: it would take a lot to dislodge Marck’s footing, but the river here was up to the task of trying.  Luckily, Marck escaped disaster and was able to make it across with his dignity still in tact and the fish still bending his rod.  “I think this is going to require the net,”  he announced. Tuna and I agreed: this was a strong fish that didn’t appear to tire even after several minutes of playing tug-o-war with Marck’s 6 weight. Albacore made no move to fetch the net, which I took as a signal that it was my duty privilege. I glanced upstream to where The Hornet was secured.  It was farther than I remembered. In fact it was probably 70 yards farther than I remembered, and urgency dictated that there would be no time to stretch or trade out my wading boots for running shoes. I took off at a full sprint, trying to maintain my running form – but bouncing over large and small river rocks in my boots and waders certainly did away with that, coupled with the fact that I have no running form to begin with.

Now I’ve run high speed errands for Marck before, but this one was performed in record time. I reached The Hornet, grabbed the net and managed to return to the scene of the crime still in progress, but not before pulling a hamstring and nearly recycling the maple bar and PBR that had seemed like such a good idea a short while earlier. As I waded into the shallows with the net carefully extended toward the fish, the vein in my forehead was engorged to twice its normal size and my lungs screamed for more air than was readily available to them. I thumped my chest with one fist to reset my heart, then somehow steadied my grip on the handle of the net. The fish came close enough for us to all agree that it was a dandy: big, strong and beautiful.  It was one of those rainbows that probably should have opted for a life of anadromosity and become a steelhead, but for whatever reason decided to remain a lifelong river dweller. And apparently it was not tired, as the sight of the net caused the fish to dash instantly back to deeper water, taking line from Marck’s reel at will.  Eventually he turned the fish one final time and the net was deployed with impressive accuracy and swiftness.  The gorgeous rainbow was a lifetime fish for the Yakima, and taped out at an honest 20 inches. If anything it was a tad over 20, but certainly no less.  After the fished was digitally documented and released, fist bumps were exchanged all around. We celebrated Marck’s epic fish and I quietly celebrated the fact that I’d avoided cardiac arrest.

Marck’s declaration that “I better quit while I’m ahead”, meant he would row for the remainder of the day so Albacore and I could have an opportunity to try to catch a trout even half the size Marck’s behemoth.  And that’s about what happened: Albacore ended up catching a couple rainbows and I managed one. And they were each about half the size of Marck’s twenty incher.  To cap off the day, Marck also caught a 15 inch cutthroat.

When you’re fishing with good friends, every fish outing is a good one. But this was one of those special days on the water that would never have materialized had it not been for a photo of a turkey I shot a few years earlier. Thanks to that photo I got my turkey this year, Albacore got his feathers, and we were all tickled to witness an epic Yakima trout. Mission accomplished.

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