Backcast: The year in review
Whenever I bring up a highly interesting topic that has little interest to my daughter, she likes to respond, with a heavy dose of teenage sarcasm, “Yeah, but what does that have to do with fly fishing?” Apparently she finds mild amusement in the fact that I tend to talk about fly fishing with some degree of regularity, as if fly fishing is all there is to talk about. She has no interest in my hobby/obsession whatsoever, but I’m hoping that will change as she matures and comes to realize that fly fishing is woven into the fabric of everyday life. My year in review supports my contention that everything has something to do with fly fishing, whether directly or indirectly: You really cannot separate the two. Well, I suppose you can, but why would you want to?
January. As does every year, 2009 began with me adding another digit to my age. Soon after that came the first fishing excursion of the year which entailed a frigid float down the Yakima with Marck and Sir Lancelot. Yes, the ice flows that had choked the river just a few weeks earlier had subsided, but ice still clung to the bank in all places untouched by the sun (which is most of the lower canyon). It was really a silly time to be trout fishing – if I’m going to be that cold and not catching fish, it damn well better be because I’m standing in a steelhead river. Marck caught a real nice rainbow that just happened to be the only fish caught that day. Looking back it was a Yakima River Premonition of things to come: With the exception of one outing much later in the year, the Yakima was not kind to me in 2009. I should learn from this, and avoid the Yakima in 2010. But I won’t.
February. My daughter’s car (or, rather, the car that I allow my daughter to use) was long overdue for some new tires. Having failed the penny test by a long shot, I probably should have gotten them month’s earlier because we had over 2 feet of snow in December 2008 and her car was incapable of gaining any traction during that time. The good side of this is that the car sat safely idle in the garage instead of being stuck in a ditch somewhere because of the false sense of security good tires might have provided a young driver with no snow-driving experience. But the silver lining in all of this is that by procrastinating on the purchase, I was able to take advantage of Free Beef at Les Schwab Tire Centers (BTW, I chose the steaks and they were excellent). This year my Jeep will need new shoes. Luckily we’re having a mild winter with no snow at the time of this writing, so I should be able to hold out until Free Beef month. What does this have to do with fly fishing? Well, Les Schwab started his tire business in Prineville, Oregon in 1952. Prineville is in Central Oregon, and Central Oregon is chock full of tremendous fly fishing waters. More directly pertaining to fly fishing, I ventured out on the Skykomish for the first time with a double-handed rod in February, and the only thing I caught was a heaping portion of humble pie. I quickly learned to embrace and love the Perry Poke – perhaps the single best technique in the arsenal of a noob Spey caster because it allows one to bail out of a botched cast and still save face, maybe. Remember: If you don’t Spey, don’t start.
March. Caught my first wild steelhead on the Sauk River. It was special then, but seems even more special now because the fishing future for wild steelhead looks even more bleak than just 9 short months ago. Returns for hatchery fish to the Skagit River Basin are down this year, and there has already been an emergency closure on one trib of the Skagit. Additional fishing closures to protect wild steelhead also are likely this spring, according the the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. That means this year I probably won’t even get a chance to have a remote chance at a fish like that. We may be looking at more closures on more rivers in the future. That will mean more pressure on rivers that do have decent returns of steelhead, which could spell trouble for those rivers. Domino effect. It’s quite troubling. Something needs to be done on a much larger scale than just closing rivers to sport angling. On another note, my daughter’s birthday is March 6th, but what does that have to do with fly fishing? I could come up with something, but I ask you, the reader, to chime in, for the benefit of my daughter, and suggest pertinence…
April. Spring-like weather before the runoff meant a visit to the Yak with Jimmy and Hal. If it weren’t for this one photo, I’d have no recollection of the day at all. That means there were probably skunkings all around. But, after a long hard winter, the photo suggests a few things: One, it was a beautiful day to get out and throw some line; two, Hal (right) desperately needs a new fishing hat; three, there’s more to fishing than catching fish. Repeat that several times – “There’s more to fishing than catching fish.” You may start to actually believe it.
May. Runoff swelled rivers in the west, and I missed out on the Mother’s Day caddis hatch on the Yak again. Fortunately Memorial Day weekend brings the annual trip to Yellowstone National Park to fish the Firehole River with Marck and whoever else shows up. This past year it was just me and Marck, which resulted in a lopsided competition to see who would catch more fish: It resembled a slam dunk contest between Michael Jordan and Danny DeVito. While we don’t really compete to see who catches more fish, one can’t help but compare (a form of masochism on my part). This year, to change things up and make the long drive home more interesting, we fished the Madison River below Quake Lake. Water was high and dirty, but one of us managed to catch a lot of fish. It wasn’t me. Gave me some ideas that I thought I might someday use in a blog about fly fishing.
June. This was the second month of runoff and raging rivers. If you’re a lake fisherman, you have that to fall back on. If you’re not, you must find other ways to bide your time. One option might be to peddle books at a small town festival, and that’s just what I did. If you missed me at Duvall Days, and I’m confident that nearly all of you did, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of each of my books featuring Olive the Little Woolly Bugger. Ask for them at your local fly shop or bookstore – if they don’t stock them they should. Regardless, they can get them through their distributor. Or you can get ’em online at Amazon or many other virtual outlets. I guarantee you’ll be hooked on Olive!
July. My favorite month of the year, and this year was the second trip I made to fish the St. Joe River in Idaho. There’s no point in arguing – this is God’s country. So when the fish aren’t biting or even when they are, one should occasionally look up from the water and take it all in. You might, for a fleeting moment or two, forget that you’re there to fish. The water level was absolutely perfect and wading from run to run made for a lot of time with a fly on the water. This year Jimmy and Marck joined me, and while Jimmy and I caught enough fish to keep it interesting, Marck’s catch rate was ridiculous. I’m never taking him back there with me again. Ever. Thought some more about maybe starting a blog related to fly fishing.
August. We usually get one hot week per summer where the temps get into the 90’s. It’s a mild inconvenience that we could live with, and we always managed to survive in the years before we had a cooling system. However, this year after enduring a week of record-breaking temperatures (it reached 107 at our house), we finally decided it was time to fix our heat pump. The cooling mode had ceased to function a month or two earlier, and like everything that costs a lot of money, I ignored it for as long as possible, hoping the problem would just go away. When it didn’t fix itself, and repairing it was declared to be not a viable option, we had to spring for a new one. What does that have to do with fly fishing? Well, I could have bought a lot of fishing gear and even a nice Bonefish trip for the cost. But I’ll admit, there’s no price for happiness, and when Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler is happy, I’m happy. We also took a family vacation to Sunriver, Oregon. It was not a fishing vacation, but somehow a couple rods made their way into the luggage pod. My son, Schpanky, and I managed to steal away for an afternoon on the Fall River, which is a spring creek in central Oregon (not terribly far from the Les Schwab epicenter). If you’ve ever fished a spring creek you know that equates to a steady water temperature, which means ample bugs to support a good population of trout, which means the trout can and do get quite large. And they be quite difficult to catch. It was tough casting, and the Fall River kicked our butts and sent us home hot, dusty, mosquito-bitten and downtrodden. I did hook one 14 inch rainbow, but he busted me off before I could say, “This is a stupid river and I’m never coming back here again. Ever.” Once again I gave some more thought to maybe starting a blog related to fly fishing.
September. The highlight from this month was fishing a section of the Yakima that I’d never fished before, above the town of Cle Elum. It’s a much different river up there compared to the familiar waters of the lower canyon where I usually fish. The river was low and very wadable, and reports were that salmon were in the system laying eggs. The trout were following the salmon. And the fishermen were following the trout – at least Marck and I were. It was a beautiful afternoon until the wind started blowing so hard that casting became nearly impossible. As if the wind weren’t bad enough I was facing a horrible skunk. The Yak had yielded goose eggs for me the past two trips, and now this. It did not look good, and in fact vultures were even circling overhead (you can just make them out in the photo on the left). As it turns out, while I worked my way downstream, fishing hard, trying a wide variety of different patterns and covering lots of water before managing to scratch out a 10 inch rainbow right as the light was fading, Marck had stayed in one spot for 2 hours, using the same fly, without moving an inch. When you’re catching fish on every other cast, why would you move? Started a blog about fly fishing.
October. Ahh, Fall. The beginning of so many good things: Hunting season, for one. But, what does that have to do with fly fishing? Well, this year I skipped my annual muzzleloader elk hunt to go steelhead fishing on the Methow River with my buddy, Large Albacore (not his real nickname), and his kin. I’m a rather unaccomplished hunter, and all things compared, when faced with a choice, I decided I’d rather not catch a fish than not shoot an elk. This was my first time fishing the Methow, and I would bet the same could be said for hundreds of other anglers who all seemed to be there on the same weekend, hoping to cash in on one of the many hundreds of thousands of returning fish that found their way up the Columbia last fall. Fishing was slow, and while we caught a couple fish, it did not come easy. But then steelhead fishing is not supposed to be easy – not like fishing for Pink salmon, which were thick this year. My decision to forgo elk hunting this year turned out to be a wise decision, because I would have ended up spending the night in a vehicle with 3 other cold, wet and grumpy elk hunters who got caught in white-out conditions that prevented them from being able to see the primitive access road that led down the mountain to camp. No elk were harvested, and I am 100% confident my presence would not have changed that. Glad I went fishing instead.
November. The weather starts to really take a turn for the worse around here this time of year, and we usually see at least one big flood, often times more. Nothing substantial happened in that regard this year, so maybe the bazillions of eggs laid in the redds this fall will hatch and produce tons of fish for the future. I fished locally a couple times, hoping for a searrun cutt or maybe a steelhead, but the water was high and off-color each time. The riverbanks were riddled with the remains of what was a big year for the Pinks – I love the smell of rotting fish in the morning. I did make one last trip to the Yak that very nearly ended in Marck’s first skunking. It was the first time in a couple of years that the Yakima actually sent some love my way. The month was topped off with Thanksgiving. So, one might ask, what does that have to do with fly fishing? Well, there is always much to be thankful for: Leftover turkey, for one. Ah, turkey sandwiches: Ate one every day for a week and a half before I was ordered to throw out the remaining carcass because, like house guests who overstay their welcome, it was starting to smell like fish.
December. This was a busy month, and I didn’t have a single opportunity to get out and chase fish. However, I visited a few fly shops for book signing events, and that was a lot of fun. Thanks to Ron and Kristin Torda at All About the Fly, Leland Miyawaki at Orvis Bellevue, and Bill Drewry at Peninsula Outfitters for your generous hospitality. If I couldn’t be outside fishing, it was fun to be inside talking about fishing.
Happy New Year to all you anglers, accomplished and otherwise. May 2010 bring you many great fish and even more great memories. And to my daughter, Miss Smarty Pants: Everything has something to do with fly fishing.