yakima vallyey irrigation

A pleasant day with Sage Chick

You just know it’s going to be a pleasant day when one of your fishing compadres is an engaging young lady who shows up with a 12 pack of PBR and is a self-proclaimed “Master of the 6-incher”.

Marck and I had met The Sage Chick a year earlier when she was sent as a dignitary from the company that makes what I claim to be the finest production rods available to man. Admittedly that may be a subjective statement, but I make no secret about it: I do love me my Sage rods and the affection I have for my 4 wt Z-Axis may be borderline inappropriate.

After waiting for a very difficult Spring to make way for Summer (sort of), we finally managed to schedule a day when the Sage Chick could join Marck and I for another day on the Yakima River aboard the Hornet. Very early into the float it was mutually agreed that the best way to describe our recent outing was “pleasant”. How so? Well, let’s look at what a normal trip on the Yakima River in mid-July can almost always guarantee:

  • High summer flows around 4000 CFS. This means runnin’ and gunnin’ (frantically chucking big dries at the bank as the current whisks you downstream and anchoring should be strongly discouraged).
  • Pounding the banks with hopper patterns (see above). This can result in losing a fair great number of flies to the brush.
  • Scorching temperatures in the 90’s (and often into triple digits).
  • Howling winds that can shut down casting as they blow upstream and then downstream within a span of less than 15 seconds.
  • A River full of other anglers.
  • An overabundance of rubber hatchers (recreational floaters, which can be good and bad, if you know what I mean).

The aforementioned is typical, but in a year when the weather has been anything but normal, atmospheric-related oddities have come to the Yakima River as well. Flows in the Naches River, a downstream tributary of the Yakima, have been unseasonably high this year due to volumnous snowpack. Coupled with cooler than normal weather, the agricultural demands of the Yakima valley are such that the Naches is providing ample water for crops that aren’t growing like they should be. Therefore, the Army Corps of Engineers is not releasing the usual amounts of water from reservoirs that feed the upper Yakima River (the need for irrigation is what drives the summer flows on the Yakima). Without that need, the river was running much lower on our trip. That changed things from the typical summer game.

Some things about this day that made it different (and pleasant):

  • Flows were running about 2800 CFS (this makes back-rowing and anchoring possible).
  • Structure was visible and seams/feeding lanes were defined. Because of this, fish were not tight to the banks (not as many flies were lost as would normally be the case)
  • The temperature hovered around 70༠ F (nobody got sunburnt, heat-exhausted, or dehydrated)
  • Winds, while not altogether non-existent, were not nearly as troublesome as they can be.
  • We saw only 3 other boats with fishermen.
  • The rubber hatch was nearly nonexistent, save for a few brave souls who were clearly under-dressed for the cool day. One group even pulled up on a gravel bar and built a fire in the middle of the afternoon to warm up. Now that is some weird, wild stuff. Mid July?!?

Sage Chick took up position at the front of the boat and from there put on a catching clinic, demonstrating how to set the hook with all the delicate tact of a ranch hand roping cattle. She landed more fish than either Marck or myself, but she also pulled the fly completely out of the mouths of several sipping trouts. The bigger fish of the day were not hitting flies hard, and a gentle touch was needed for hook sets on those fish: a gentle touch that eluded the Alaskan native and former college athlete.

I had requested that Sage Chick try to get her hands on a 5 wt Sage “The One” rod for the trip, hoping to test cast one of these new sticks. Unfortunately she wasn’t able to commandeer one (apparently they’re popular with the staff at Sage and seem to be “in use” most of the time). That didn’t prevent her from bringing another yet-to-be introduced rod from Bainbridge Island: The Redington Torrent. This was a prototype version of a fast action rod that looked, from my vantage point in the back of the boat, to be smooth casting and capable of laying out a lot of line. Sage Redington Chick was double hauling to her heart’s content and refused to pass the Torrent around the boat for others to fondle. Who could blame her?  The rod was working for her and she was catching (and kissing) fish left and right.

First fish of the day goes to Sage Chick!

She was clearly having a good old time, and her enthusiasm was infectious.  It was like being at the same card table when there’s a high roller winning big.

Another fish for Sage Chick–you go, girl!

After a while, however, it started to get a little old.

Hey, look! Another fish for Sage Chick! Pass the PBR, please.

Fortunately there were times when she had to replace her fly. With her line safely out of the water it afforded Marck and I the advantage of a power play, which sometimes we capitalized on.

Big hands make the fish look relatively small.

 

The small net makes my fish look relatively big.

I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but in retrospect I’m sure the reason Sage Chick was out-catching us was because of two things: First, she sweet-talked to the trouts, encouraging them to take her fly in a non-threatening voice; Secondly, she kissed every one of them goodbye before releasing them. I wonder, had she landed a whitefish, would she have kissed it as well? What about a sucker?

All teasing of the Sage Chick aside, fish were cooperating nearly all day.  We fished hoppers above Lightning Bugs and the fish seemed to prefer the dropper. This was a revelation not so much that they wouldn’t take dries, but that they wanted smaller fare than a hopper pattern. Things (and fish) were looking up after we switched to PMDs and caddis dries. The majority of the fish were smallish, with a few in the 12 inch range. But there were plenty of bigger fish sipping an abundance of bugs throughout the afternoon to keep us engaged (and a bit frustrouted). Getting them to take the fly was the challenge, and Sage Chick would have landed the big fish of the day (a 15-16 incher) had she simply let the fish get a good grip before setting the hook.

We anchored up whenever we approached good looking water, worked seams, caught a bunch of fish and generally had a grand old time. A herd of Bighorn sheep revealed themselves fairly low on one of the cliffs above us. It’s always a treat to see the sheep, whereas deer are just so…common.

Bighorn sheeps.

 

This photo says it all: pleasant.

Our float concluded at the Squaw Creek Lmuma take-out around 7 pm. Normally in mid July this would be the pleasant time of the evening as the sun dropped behind the canyon walls. On this otherwise pleasant day, fleece would have been welcomed had we continued downstream.

Team Hornet

We pointed the Fish Taco west and headed toward home, but not before a detour in Roslyn for a bite to eat at The Brick (the oldest and longest running saloon in the state if I am not mistaken). With bellies full we proceeded westbound, hoping to avoid a 3 hour traffic snarl as we had encountered the year before. On this day of seasonal oddities, we were able to maintain the speed limit the entire way, and as we sped toward the summit at Snoqualmie Pass, the more the weather deteriorated until we were driving through drizzle that fell from low clouds. The weather would continue to be far inferior than it had been on the Yakima River on this day. It may not have felt like summer, but it was at the very least a pleasant fall day if the weather and water levels were any indication.

Go West (begrungingly), man.