The Mother of all skunks.
It seems as though perhaps last week’s entry was not well-received (or at least it was largely overlooked, possibly because I broke with protocol and posted a day early). Maybe I’m just being an insecure creative type – I fully admit that I always hope that my offerings will be met with at least mild acceptance. I looked inward to find out where I may have gone astray when it dawned on me: I had reported on an unusually good day of fishing. I acknowledge that what draws my readers (all 5 of them) to my blog is hearing of my fishing misfortunes. I am wrought with guilt and remorse, for I have seen the error in having lost my way. With renewed focus I can, and hopefully will, remedy that with my most recent fishing exploit:
A week had passed since I went looking for unicorns and bigfoot and found instead a wild Skykomish steelhead. Unless I wanted to join the many other thousands of anglers headed to the Olympic Penninsula rivers, which were still open for winter steelhead fishing, I was apparently done swinging flies with my Spey rod for the season. As I saw it I could either sit inside and write letters to the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife demanding a change in their policies, sulk and wait for the weather to warm a bit and for trout fishing to turn on, or I could accept the invitation to join Marck on the Yakima. A wise man would have saved the gas money and stayed home.
After grabbing a sandwich at the Ellensburg Subway, I turned left on Umtanum Road and headed toward the launch at Irene Rinehart Riverfront Park to meet up with Marck and his neighbor Steave (not his real name). Not wanting to risk a shuttle service snafu, we had opted to take matters into our own hands and run our own shuttle – thus the fact that we had driven separate vehicles. As I tried to get my mind off steelhead, I performed a series of mental stretches in preparation for the first day of trout fishing of the year. By the time it hit me it was too late to do anything about it – the unmistakable aroma of skunk infiltrated the cab of my truck. Thick and heavy, skunk gets on you fast: in your nose and on the back of your tongue. And unlike an odor that originates inside the vehicle, you can’t just roll down the window – you have no choice but to deal with it until you’ve put sufficient distance between yourself and the source. But skunk lingers for a great distance and will test the lung capacity of even a pearl diver. Only once you’ve put a solid quarter mile between yourself and the source can you roll down the window and exhale. God forbid one should actually run over the mess with their tire (which luckily I did not). I cannot begin to imagine the suffering endured by those who have either been sprayed themselves, or had to deal with a dog that became bathed in skunk juice. Anyway, as I pulled into the launch, I had put odor behind me and thought nothing more of it. We dropped the Hornet into the river, did the shuttle thing (which took us again past the dead skunk), and were ready to shove off by 11:30. It was a mild day in early February. The winter had not been hard and there was no snow visible for many miles in any direction, including Vancouver BC where the Olympics were suffering from an equally mild winter.
Recent rains had caused the Yak to come up a few inches over the past few days, but she still ran low. And cold. Figuratively she’s nearly always a bit of an ice princess toward me, but on this day she was literally cold: The handy dandy Fishpond stream thermometer registered 39 degrees. No matter how I tried, I could not get it to budge above 40. At this point I pondered the value of the thermometer I carried with me. What good is it, really, to know that the water temperature is below the ideal mark? I suppose it serves as an excuse more than anything – a justification for slow fishing, and so it is that I continue to carry mine. I was, however, optimistic: 39 degrees is, afterall, only one degree below 40, and 40 seems to be a magical number with regard to trout feeding activity, though 42 or 44 are even better. We strung up the rods, pointed the bow of the Hornet downstream and away we went. The initial offering of the day was a brown Pat’s Stone above a bead head San Juan Worm dropper, with a Thingamabobber as icing on the cake. If you’ve read any of my drivel up to this point you know how I feel about nymphing. Steave had never fished a double nymph setup before, and as we rigged up I bitched about the whole nymphing thing, explained to him the potential for tangles that this method of fly fishing offered. Marck glared sideways at me and mumbled under his breath, “Not this again…”
The air temperature was probably in the mid 30’s, but it felt warmer than that. In addition to never having fished using a double nymph rig, Steave had never fished out of a drift boat either. But he was well prepared for a winter day on the river with neoprene chest waders and a heavy goretex hunting jacket. Clad from head to toe in camouflage, the flock of geese that flew overhead saw everyone but Steave. I must say that the camo was so effective that I myself could hardly see him standing in the bow of the boat from my standard perch at the tail end of the Hornet. Now before you go accusing me of sounding like some sort of snob for poking fun at his attire, please note that I’m no fly fishing fashionista, and being also an unaccomplished hunter I have plenty of camo gear myself. What one wears when fishing doesn’t make a bit of difference to me, and the only reason I’m even mentioning Steave’s attire is because I need filler material.
The day started slowly, without so much as a subtle take from a single trout (even the Whitefish gave us the cold shoulder). After about an hour the lack of action allowed for outside influences to distract us from our keen focus, and the air began to feel chillier. I broke out a pair of hand warmers and stuffed them in the pockets of my Simms G3 wading jacket, which being a pleasant shade of loden goes splendidly with my tan waders. My brown lucky fishing hat and boots compliment the ensemble nicely. Warming the fingers was a nice luxury and improved much-needed dexterity. Keeping the fingers functioning proved necessary throughout the day, as tying on new flies and replacing sections of tippet was a steady ritual. Steave proved to be a quick study in the art of nymphing and had no trouble in mastering the tangling/break-off skills displayed by Marck and I. Nobody could fault us for not getting our flies where the fish were (or should have been), because we were snagging every bit of structure imaginable. At one point in the afternoon after losing my second set of flies in 10 minutes, I sensed my attitude plummeting and self imposed a timeout. I took the oars so Marck could fish, and soon was having more fun than I’d had all day: being on the oars meant I was making good use of my time and actually doing something productive. As I employed my superior oarsmanship and put the Hornet into some particularly fishy looking water, I suddenly realized that there was not a line in the water. Marck and Steave were both frantically working to reattach lost flies and broken tippet. Luckily Marck was quick to get back into action and made a beautiful cast right into a current seam that immediately took his dropper fly right into the grips of a submerged log. SNAP! So much for that set of new flies that had lasted just exactly 12 seconds. I heard Steave speaking in muffled tongues and decided not to attempt any words of false encouragement. The overwhelming sense of desperation was becoming comical, almost. Marck asked if he could row again, to which I replied “No.” I wasn’t about to give up the best seat in the house.
We threw everything at the fish: Pat’s Stones in brown and green/yellow (hoping to match a Skwala, just in case there were Skwalas starting to move about in the river, which apparently they were not); San Juan Worms, Copper Johns, Lightning Bugs, Beadhead Olive Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ears (say THAT 3 times fast). Nada, zip, zero, zilch. While I didn’t keep a running tally, it would be safe to say that I lost 6 or 8 flies over the course of the day, and Marck and Steave were in the same boat. I made a mental note to myself: “When you get home, order more flies.” (which I did, by the way- from Big Y Fly Company)
It wasn’t until right before we reached the termination point of our float that it hit me: Although the day was rather lackluster, there was one noteworthy occurrence – Marck had not caught a fish! This was the first time I’d ever fished with him that he’d gone catchless, and while I won’t go so far as to suggest that it was something to celebrate, it did make an otherwise forgettable day one for the memory books. We called the time of death at 5:16 and pulled the Hornet out of the water, stowed our gear and headed toward downtown Ellensburg for a Hungry Mother Burger and a beer. The only thing between us and The Tav was the stretch of road that still lay shrouded in the heavy odor of skunk.