Dude, where’s the car?
It had been another forgettable day aboard The Hornet, fishing the Yakima with Marck. Like so many other days on Washington’s finest “blue ribbon” trout stream, it began with hope, which faded into frustration, and ended in disbelief. Actually, I may exaggerating things just a bit because at least one of us caught more than one fish that day. It was late summer, and we’d floated Big Horn to The Slab, covering several miles of grass-lined banks which we pounded with hoppers. As the sun set behind the canyon walls, the magical hour of the Caddis was suddenly upon us. We’d timed our float just right, hitting a long stretch of perfect dry fly water just prior to our take out. With each cast of my size 16 tan elk hair Caddis toward the brush on the river bank (where it would proceed to hang up on a branch) several dozen caddisflies would be shaken free of their perch and land on the water’s surface, where the trout would methodically sip the bugs while I fought to free my hook. When I did manage to avoid the vegetation and get my fly directly upon the water, it would be met with a rather lackluster reception from the feeding fish (read: Refusal). I won’t even tell you what Marck was doing – by now you’ve probably assumed that he was getting into fish, and your assumption would not be incorrect. I caught one fish that day, for which I was grateful. I’m not one to feel entitled, and I know that just because you’re fishing that’s never a guarantee that you’ll be catching. Still, one would expect more than one fish on a blue ribbon trout stream at the peak of hopper season.
We continued this madness until it was nearly dark, and while I have both the keen eyesight and cat-like reflexes necessary for setting the hook in complete darkness, Marck was struggling. I suggested that we call it a day: We were both hungry and The Tav in Ellensburg was calling our names. Marck got on the oars and we made our way downstream to The Slab. The high summer flows on the Yakima River can call for some frantic maneuvering at the termination point of a day’s float, but The Hornet was beached without incident. The Bureau of Reclamation had given this area a major facelift a year earlier, and it’s actually quite plush now. The campground glowed with the light of many bonfires, a couple of which could be seen from outer space. Everywhere, youthful outdoor enthusiasts were frolicking and laughing, preparing s’mores and singing campfire songs. I marveled at the good, clean summertime fun as I began breaking down the rods. I took me back to the simpler days before expensive fishing gear and fancy driftboats – back to a time when all I needed for a weekend of fun was a styrofoam cooler and a sleeping bag. Ah, good times. Marck was also feeling nostalgic and he sang “Kumbaya” as he walked off toward the parking lot to retrieve his truck and trailer, which had been dropped off by the shuttle service per our instructions. We’d be sipping a cold beer and enjoying a burger within a half hour.
Ten minutes had passed before Marck returned, but there was one thing missing. Well, actually two things were missing: His truck, and the trailer. After we stood around for a few minutes in the dark scratching our heads (during which time Marck apparently scratched off all the hair on his head), we concluded that the rig was not here. We didn’t have a cell number to reach the shuttle service after hours, and besides that, cell coverage is spotty at best in this location. Fortunately there was another fisherman who’d just pulled his boat out of the water. He kindly offered to take Marck with him as he drove the Canyon Road back to Ellensburg to drop off his boat at a storage facility. The plan was that after doing so they would head back down the Canyon Road. Along the way they would engage in a reconnaissance mission, checking each of the possible launch points where the truck and trailer might have mistakenly been left. Certainly it had to be at one of the obvious points along the river. The overwhelming majority of fly fishing folks are people of solid character, and The Good Samaritan Flyfisherman appeared to have all his teeth so I figured Marck was safe getting in the truck with this guy. An hour passed without word. Having seen Deliverance many times, I feared the worst and did what any concerned fishing buddy would do: I drank the last beer in the cooler. I walked 37 feet to the southeast, where there was a small patch of cell coverage, and sent a text message to my wife to let her know I’d be home much later than anticipated. Struggling with the “word” mode which my kids had recently programmed on my phone to make it easier for me to be an active participant in the 21st century, I managed to get off a message that read, “canv fiinde mARcks trckk wilbee hmme laabte. LOL : )”
The backlit screen on my phone was like a magnet to the thousands of caddisflies that were now fluttering about, and I actually thought about stringing up my rod and doing a little night fishing from the bank. I didn’t get much beyond thinking about it when a set of headlights pulled into the parking area. There were no trailer lights in tow, so I knew it wasn’t Marck’s rig. It was, however, Marck and The Good Samaritan Flyfisherman. They came bearing bad news: No sign of the rig. Our biggest concern now was that The Hornet was in the water with no means to extract it. We knew could get a ride home by calling one of our wives. I quickly pointed out that Mrs. Marck would have to be the one to drive 2 hours to come get us. Of the two wives, she was our only hope when it came to an act of sympathy: Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler would simply laugh at such a request before hanging up the phone and returning to her previously scheduled programming: The 14th viewing of Sleepless in Seattle. Or was it You’ve Got Mail?
Before we were faced with making that unpopular phone call, The Good Samaritan Flyfisherman offered to take Marck a couple of miles down the road in the other direction – there were two more potential launch points where the rig might be parked. If that yielded goose eggs, he said we could lift The Hornet onto his truck and he’d be glad to take it to his house in Yakima until we could make plans to retrieve it. A generous offer, but the idea of getting a 16 ft driftboat loaded onto a pickup truck with an 8 foot bed sounded like an act of dumb redneck desperation and conjured up images like the ones (below) found on the interweb.
But first things first, so once again Marck and The Good Samaritan Flyfisherman headed into the night on a continued mission to find the missing rig.
Within 10 minutes, Marck’s white truck with trailer in tow pulled into the parking lot. They’d found it parked a couple miles down the road, right where the shuttle driver left it – at the last takeout before the Roza Dam. It was an easy mistake given that “Slab” and “Roza” both contain 4 letters. Speaking of which, 4 letter words were what comprised Marck’s vocabulary as he climbed out of the truck (leaving the door open and consequently the dome light illuminated, by the way) and we loaded The Hornet onto the trailer. It was 10:30 PM–way too late for a burger and beer at The Tav tonight. We were just glad to put this one behind us, so we jumped in the truck and headed toward home, along with a thousand (give or take a couple hundred) caddisflies.
It should be noted, in all fairness to the shuttle service, that shuttle drivers are only human, and to err is an unfortunate trait of the species. When Marck called them the next day, they apologized profusely and offered us compensatory damages in the form of a few free shuttles in the future. Can’t ask for much more than that. The worst thing was that it meant we’d have to face the Yak again.