First, a quick vocabulary lesson for non anglers: “backing” is the term for the high strength “string” that is the first attached to the spool of one’s fly reel. Anywhere from 100 to 200 yards of this usually Dacron-based material is typically used, and to that backing is tied the actual fly line. Think of backing as insurance in the event that the angler hooks into a big solid fish that runs long and pulls hard. Fly line is usually 90 to 100 feet long, and a strong fish in a strong current can easily strip that amount of line from the reel. Once that length of line is gone, then what? It’s an unthinkable scenario that would surely involve a broken leader and a lost fish, because when a fish makes a run often one’s only recourse is to give it more line. When that line runs out, chances are something is going to break. And so backing is affixed to the reel to give the angler additional yardage to play a big fish. On lighter setups for fish such as modest sized trout, the backing may not be necessary but it fills up the reel and helps to eliminate fly line “memory”, which can occur when the line is coiled too tightly and retains less-than-perfectly straight form when laid out on the water. Backing can be used, in this case, simply take up space on the reel, and that’s typically the reason why I use backing on my trout reels. With my keen angling skills, I certainly don’t need even the full length of fly line to play the 8 inch trout I typically catch. But to witness one’s backing emerge from the reel because of a large, hot fish should be considered a good thing, and anglers long for the occasion to proclaim, “That fish took me into my backing!” Lesson complete.
Until recently I’d never had the good fortune of seeing enough line stripped from one of my trout reels to see the backing. By “see”, I mean to have the entire fly line taken out to the point where the backing presents itself as the last bastion of safety. That all changed recently when I was fishing the Yakima River with Marck and Jimmy, out of the vessel known as The Hornet (sifting through the archives will reveal this as Marck’s Clackacraft 16 LP). We had just commenced a float that would take us from Mile Marker 20 to Squaw Creek (for the more PC inclined, this is Lmuma Creek). It was a stellar day toward the end of the 3rd week of March: skies were blue, the large yellow orb in the sky shone brightly, and water temps were headed toward the mid 40’s. The Skwala stoneflies had been showing themselves sporadically for a couple of weeks, and we anticipated a hatch later in the day. We were, however, seasoned enough to know that subsurface fishing early in the day would be the name of the game, until a specified time when the Skwalas would start coming off. At 1:30 PM, according to reports from The Evening Hatch in Ellensburg, we should start to encounter Skwalas and fish feeding on the big bugs. The day held much promise, and I strung up my 4 weight Sage Z-Axis with a dry fly combination of a Skwala pattern with a small mayfly emerger as my dropper. My 6 weight Sage XP was designated for streamer duty, and I selected a particularly delightful looking fly that resembled a small sculpin and affixed it to the end of my sink tip line. Marck would be nymphing and Jimmy would try the dry fly thing right off the bat, but I wanted to fish down in the slower deep pools and invoke the strike of a large meat eating trout. It seemed like a good game plan to cover all our bases and determine which method of angling would work most effectively. I love fishing a streamer because it involves active participation on the part of the angler, unlike nymphing which is, well, never mind…how easily I relapse into bashing the way of the nymph (call it a growing pain).
Fifteen minutes into our float I was stripping my streamer through a moderately fast/relatively slow current. Ahead of my fly I noted a large rock protruding above the water, but felt confident my fly would evade the rock, so there was no cause for alarm or evasive maneuvering. Suddenly my line went tight, and held fast. It appeared to be anchored on the rock, and as we drifted steadily onward, more and more distance was placed between the rock and reel. Darn it. As would any angler, I pointed the tip of my rod directly at the source of the stuck fly, and increased the pressure of my index finger on the fly line. When nothing happened and my finger began to overheat, I increased the drag on my reel. Surely now the leader would snap, and the worst that would happen would be that I’d lose a $2.50 fly. But when nothing broke, I applied more pressure to the line. Crap. Still no breakage – damn the heavy 2X tapered leader I’d selected, and why did my usually questionable knots have to hold now? Soon the yellow fly line played out and my backing appeared. I applied more pressure. Nothing. Shit. “Hey, uh– Marck? I said with a waivering tone to my voice, “Can you pull over and drop anchor?” I was worried now, because 40 yards of backing had fled from my spool, and I didn’t want to risk smoking the drag on my reel trying to put the breaks on a drift boat carrying 3 guys in a steady current (although had that worked it would have been worthy of a product testimonial for Ross Reels, manufacturer of the Vexsis model I had mounted on my rod). Marck steered The Hornet toward the bank and dropped anchor.
The shoreline was steep and rocky, and footing was precarious as I made my way upstream toward the rock which held my fly. I reeled in slack line as I proceeded, and that was when I realized just how much line had been removed from my reel. The highway was but a very short distance above me and as I picked my way along the rocks I hoped that a speeding vehicle wouldn’t crash through the guardrail, or toss some sort of refuse from an open window. Standing on the shoreline adjacent to the rock, I carefully surveyed the situation: the rock was about 30 feet from the bank, occupying heavy water that was 3 feet deep and moving with some degree of force. Large rocks lay strewn upon the bottom of the river, and they all bore a coating of slippery slime. It was going to require some careful wading, and the last thing I wanted was to take a swim in the cold water – that would surely put a damper on the rest of the day. As I inched my way toward the rock, I noticed a peculiar stench in the air. No, I was not smelling another skunk, but rather an odor that is similarly unpleasant. Decomposing flesh has an unmistakable odor which I recognized immediately, and with each carefully placed step toward the rock that stench grew thicker until I realized there was more to the rock than just basalt. The partially decayed carcass of a deer lay pinned against the rock, held fast by the strong current of the river. My fly was not stuck on the rock, per se, but rather it was buried under the hide of the rotting carcass that was stuck to the rock. As I stood next to the rotting corpse, hip deep in a heavy current that was making every attempt to knock me off my feet, I pause for a moment to reflect on the situation. It was so ridiculous that I smiled and laughed at the fact that this sort of thing could only happen to me. In many ways it was a perfect moment.
How the carcass got to be where it was isn’t such a hard thing to imagine. The Yakima Canyon teems with wildlife, and undoubtedly the deer was headed to the river for a drink, crossing the highway as darkness fell. A car rounding the bend very likely made high speed contact with the animal, which would have been wearing the old “deer in the headlights” expression right before the impact sent it cascading over the guardrail into the river. From there the current would have swept the deceased critter downstream until it became hung up on the rock, where my fly found it.
Thankful for having flattened the barb on the hook, I quickly removed the fly from the hide of the dead deer and made my way back toward the shoreline. Marck was watching from nearby, and although he claims to have been standing at the ready to rescue me had I required assistance, no doubt he was greatly amused by the whole thing. I made it to the shoreline without incident, and once there I inspected the hook for damage. Other than the bend of the hook having become slightly less bent during my tug-of war with the rock carcass, all seemed to be in good order. I removed a bit of flesh that had become lodged in the hook during the ordeal, as I did not want to be accused of fishing illegally with bait. Then I used my pliers to put the bend back in the hook and we were on our way downstream once again.
Had the whole rock carcass incident not taken place, the day would have yielded very little to write about. The weather was great and we all added a bit of color to the pasty skin of winter.
Winds were light and made for an enjoyable day of casting. Jimmy managed a beautiful 3 inch Chinook fry on the dry and Marck added an 8 inch rainbow to his catch record. The honor of being skunked was reserved for me, although I did have one nice trout take a shot at my dry fly late in the day. Surprisingly I missed the hook set.
We saw no fish rising all day, but kept our hopes up that with each bend in the river our fotrunes would change. At one point we anchored up in a particularly fishy section of water to enjoy the sun and some sandwiches. While we ate our lunch the fish seemed disinterested in doing the same, completely ignoring the Caddis and March Browns that were hatching all around us. It was quite an insect buffet, and why the fish never showed up for the feast remains a mystery.
We saw a total of 4 adult Skwalas all day long, and on one occasion actually observed a fish rise and miss a shot at one of the big stoneflies, proving that fish don’t just miss the take synthetic imitations. Seeing this play out in real life drama caused me to feel a little better about my angling skills.
Overall it was a stellar day spent fishing, although the catching left much to be desired, and we were dumfounded as to the lack of Skwalas hatching and fishing rising. But that’s fishing, and the scars left by a lackluster day will soon heal themselves. The scar left by a large rock on the hull of The Hornet, however, will not heal itself and some fiberglass repair is in order. Sorry, Marck– it was Jimmy’s fault.
I’m just a regular guy who enjoys fly fishing. Some people think that because I’ve written a series of kids books about fly fishing that I’m some sort of authority on the subject and actually know what I’m doing. But remember this: in my books the flies have eyes like ping-pong balls and they talk. It’s a fantasy world. In that same fantasy world I might be an accomplished angler, but in reality I am a much better writer than I am an angler (and the jury is still out as to whether or not I am a good writer). As I said, I just like to fish. So to be invited recently to join a couple of Orvis Endorsed Guides on their day off was like being a finalist in the 5th grade spelling bee: exciting, but more than a little daunting, too (not that I would know because I was never a spelling bee finalist).
Derek Young is the owner of Emerging Rivers Guide Services. He has fished all over the western half of the country, but now calls the Yakima his home waters. Sean McAfee hails from the banks of Kootenai River in northwestern Montana, and is working for Derek for a couple months this spring before returning to guide for Linehan Outfitting Company during the summer. Derek and I had been trying to schedule a day to fish together for a few weeks, and the timing was such that our trip would also be Sean’s inaugural float down the Yak – he had just ridden into town as the Skwalas were starting to emerge. For those not in the know, Skwala stoneflies are the first significant hatch of the year, and the promise of catching trout on a big dry fly can invoke moderate hysteria among anglers who have been fishing nymphs all winter long.
Apparently one of the prerequisites of being an Orvis Endorsed Guide is that you must be tall. I’m no stranger to fishing among giants, as Marck tapes out at an easy 6’4” and Large Albacore’s high water mark was an honest 6’8” in college (time may have caused that mark to recede an inch, so maybe he’s only 6’7″ now). At a towering 5’7” (on a good day), I’m shorter than pretty much everyone with whom I fish, including my son Schpanky, who passed me up this year. Anyway, on this day I found myself in the company of giants once again, and while being tall doesn’t automatically mean one is a superior angler, in this case it did. Another thing that makes them superior anglers is skill.
It was raining as I left home, raining all the way to our rendezvous point, and raining pretty much the entire way up and over Snoqualmie Pass. As so often it does, about the time we got to the east end of Lake Kecheelus (the headwaters of the mighty Yak), the precipitation began to taper off and the skies became a lighter shade of gray. The most recent weather forecast had promised “partly sunny and 50 degrees”: not bad for an early day in March. Afterall, it was still technically winter even though the Pacific Northwest had enjoyed a mild one thanks to El Niño, which causes Old Man Winter to become rather limp-wristed. As we pulled in to the town of Cle Elum the sun was poking out between clouds. Looking good. We stopped in at the hardware store so Sean could purchase his out of state license, and while he was making those arrangements, Derek and I browsed through the hunting and fishing department. Like so many small, rural hardware stores it was well stocked with everything one might need for a day spent recreating in the great out-of-doors. A particularly handsome fishing rod caught Derek’s attention, and he gave it the old wiggle test. It was a dandy, but he showed remarkable restraint by placing it back in the rack. As we walked toward the exit, Derek looked longingly over his shoulder, a cold sweat beaded upon his forehead. “C’mon, man,” I said. “Let it go.”
We drove the short distance to the put-in, and as we strung up our rods, the sun broke through the clouds and the heat wave brought with it a hatch of black winter stoneflies. While this wasn’t the hatch we were hoping for, I wiped a couple of the bugs from my face and took it as a good sign. Derek backed the trailer down the “ramp”, which was really no more than a rock-strewn section of steep embankment, we lifted the new Clackacraft 16’ FFB off the trailer into the shallow water and loaded our gear. Like an airline passenger listening intently to the flight attendant, I received the standard issue safety instructions (even on their days off, Orvis Endorsed Guides take their responsibilities very seriously) and we were on our way. Sean offered me the bow position, but I politely declined and took up residence in the back of the boat. Most covet the front perch, but I actually prefer it back there where nobody is watching me. I had designated my 4 weight rod for dry fly duty, and rigged up my 6 weight for nymphing. I was really hoping to use the 4 weight most of the day, but I’m trying to grow as an angler and slowly I am learning to embrace the art of nymphing, at least for trouts.
We stopped at our first run, anchored up, and spread out along the gravel bar. Derek worked the top of the run while I took the middle. Below us, Sean quickly got to know the Yakima by hooking up with a whitefish. He was no longer a Yakima virgin, and the skunk was off the boat early. We moved on, pounding the water with our tandem nymph rigs: I was fishing a Skwala nymph pattern with a Copper John Dropper. I think the guys in front of me were fishing Pat’s Stones with some sort of small mayfly droppers, but being in the back of the boat I was a little out of touch with what the cool kids were doing up front. The handy dandy stream thermometer read 40 degrees, so there wasn’t much hatch activity. It made sense to save the dry fly fishing for a little later in the day – perhaps when the water warmed up. If the water warmed up. I had a brief moment of fleeting enthusiasm as I set the hook on an Upper Yakima Stick. Not everyone can master this task, as was obvious because neither Derek nor Sean managed this feat during the course of our float.
Amazingly the weather forecast proved inaccurate, and the brief glimmer of hope and sunshine early in the day soon vanished as clouds thickened and the air temperature began to drop, along with beads of rain. So much for fishing in shirt sleeves and adding a little color to the pasty skin of winter. It rained off and on all afternoon, but didn’t dampen our spirits. One thing you learn from the company of true anglers is that discouragement is not part of their vocabulary. “Man, this is great looking water!” was a recurring comment from Sean. Coming from a native Montanan, where trout fishing is a destination sport for people from all over the world, it was nice that he approved of what he saw. We continued to approach each new piece of water with hope and determination, and I carefully watched my two companions, hoping to learn a thing or two, which I did. Sean hooked and landed a beautiful 13” rainbow that might as well have been a 24” trophy based on his reaction.
As we continued our downstream quest, Derek acknowledged the obvious: fishing was S-L-O-W. “I’ve never been skunked on this stretch of the river before,” he admitted, and at the next run he ensured that his record was not to be jeopardized by pulling a beautiful 15 inch cutthroat from a deep pool on a big black streamer that resembled a woolly bugger on steroids. There was much rejoicing as we gathered ’round the fish for a photo shoot. I was starting to get the picture: Guides don’t just feign excitement for the sake of their clients when the clients catch a fish, they actually get excited catching fish! Plain and simple: they love what they do. As Sean said with regard to his chosen profession, “It’s great when you can make a vice part of your living. Breakin’ even never felt so good.” Amen to that.
I had my opportunity in the limelight just a few minutes later. A couple fish were seen sipping bugs inside a foam line on the opposite bank. I was directed to get my 4 weight and see about rising one of those fish to a dry. Not one to argue, I set up in position and attempted to put the fly in the money zone. The fish weren’t sipping Skwalas (we’d only seen a couple of these adult stoneflies all day), but that’s what I had tied on so I offered the big bug to the feeding fish. After a couple of less than perfect presentations I had a fish on. With two guys who do this professionally watching from nearby, there was no pressure to seal the deal, and I soon forgot that I had an audience. It was just me, and the fish. And the two professional fishing guides standing behind me. Things were looking good, and I felt the Orvis Endorsed enthusiasm emanating from my onlookers. I was already looking ahead to the trophy photograph that would soon follow: the problem was that there would be no fish in the photo, because it managed to slip the hook before I could land it. It’s called a Long Distance Release (LDR) and is actually the highest form of conservation-minded catch and release fishing. Before parting ways I’d played it close enough to know that it would have been a beautiful trout- either a cutthroat or a rainbow. It probably would have been the biggest fish of the day, too – or maybe not. Regardless, I’d come so close to holding my own with a couple guys who do this for a living, and that would have been something to write about.
Regardless, there really is more to fishing than catching fish. On this cold, damp day I learned a few things, and I had a blast.
If you’re looking for a great day on the Yakima River, where you’ll learn a lot and very likely catch a fish or two, give Emerging Rivers Guide Services a shout. Not only does ERGS have an awesome website and logo, they’re endorsed by The Unaccomplished Angler. And Orvis.
PS- When you find yourself hungry after a day on the Yakima River, stop by The Brick Tavern in Roslyn, WA. The atmosphere is great for a game of pool and a pitcher of beer, and the food is excellent. The Jalapeno Swiss Burger is awesome.
According to Wikipedia, a “Blue Ribbon Fishery” is a designation made in the United States by government and other authorities to identify recreational fisheries of extremely high quality. Official Blue Ribbon status is generally based on a set of established criteria which typically addresses the following elements:
- Water quality and quantity: A body of water, warm or cold, flowing or flat, will be considered for Blue Ribbon status if it has sufficient water quality and quantity to sustain a viable fishery.
- Water accessibility: The water must be accessible to the public.
- Natural reproduction capacity: The body of water should possess a natural capacity to produce and maintain a sustainable recreational fishery. There must be management strategies that will consistently produce fish of significant size and/or numbers to provide a quality angling experience.
- Angling pressure: The water must be able to withstand angling pressure.
- Specific species: Selection may be based on a specific species.
When translated from the native tongue of the Yakama people, I’m reasonably sure that “Blue Ribbon Fishery” means “over-hyped, over-fished river 2 hours from Seattle.” Now don’t get me wrong – I am grateful for a river with a relatively decent population of trout so close to home, and I know folks who do pretty well on the Yakima (in fact, as you read this I am fishing with one such person and you can bet he’s out-catching me). However, as you may have extracted from previous writings, the Yakima River has never shown me much love. I fished it once with a guide, and on that day the river offered forth the biggest trout I’ve ever caught. But guides fish the water every day and develop a special and intimate relationship with the river. They know where every bit of subsurface structure is, and exactly which fish lurk there. So if you ask a guide, or someone who regularly fishes with a guide, or someone who lives close by and fishes the river a LOT, or someone who is simply a good fisherman, you’ll likely hear a different tune. But for the fish-challenged, unaccomplished angler like me, the Yakima has me singing the blues rather than proclaiming any Blue Ribbon status.
But let’s not focus on what the Yakima is lacking and instead take a look at what she does offer: For one it has wind. Count on it. Where the west-side (or, wet-side) of the Cascades has its seemingly ever-present precipitation, central Washington has its seemingly ever-moving air. Sometimes the wind is just a little annoying as your line piles up and flies off-course. Usually when it’s like this one can wait a few seconds and cast reasonably well between gusts. Other times the air moves upstream with the force equal to a gale, pushing a craft against the current. Rowing downstream and making little progress is not an altogether uncommon experience on the Yak, and pity the poor angler who finds himself on a flat stretch of water at one of these times. I’ve seen many a drift boat with their bows pointed upstream, while the oarsman pulls hard against the wind, making arduous progress, even with the current in their favor. About the only time the wind isn’t present is in the dead of winter and during the height of summer when it’s 147 degrees and you find yourself quagmired in the long, flat section of the Lower Canyon known as Frustration Flats. Suffice it to say that when planning a day to visit the Yak, I always check the weather and pick a day when the forecast calls for “light winds”. I used to argue about wind and rain with my brother-in-law, who lives in Moses Lake (where the wind also blows). My position was that the incessant rains where I live are worse than the unrelenting winds where he lives. His argument was, as you might have guessed, just the opposite. Over the years I’ve changed my tune. While I would prefer to not stand in a drenching rain while fishing, I would much rather not stand in the face of a howling wind while fishing. Rain blows, but wind blows more. But back to the merits of the Yakima River.
The Yakima is very likely better than any other trout rivers within reasonable distance of my home. I’m not sure what the accurate fish count per mile is on each section of the Yakima (or if there is even such a thing as an accurate fish count per mile) but it’s got more sub-six inch fish than any other river I’ve fished in Washington. I’ve caught more 3-4 inch fish than fish of any other size, so one thing is for certain: if even a small percentage of those trout tots make it to adulthood, there are going to be a lot of nice trout in the river some day. That provides hope, but no guarantees. Now I am not suggesting that I want a guarantee each time I fish – afterall, if it was that easy two things would happen: first, everyone would be out fishing and the rivers would be overcrowded (and at times they seem that way as it is); and secondly, anglers would lose interest because if it were that easy where would be the challenge? Challenge is what keeps us going back. It’s what keeps me going back to the Yak, where I am constantly catch-challenged.
Another huge advantage the Yakima has is that it’s a year-round fishery. So when cabin fever hits in the deep chill of January or February, one can stand knee deep in the frigid waters of the Yakima, shortline nymphing for whitefish and the occasional lethargic trout, while your guides ice-up and you lose feeling in your toes and fingers. Now, depending on the mood of Old Man Winter it might not be so unbearable to fish during the dead of winter because some years, like the one we’re currently enjoying up here in the Pacific Northwest, can be relatively mild and therefore the fishing discomfort minimal. So, yes – you can get our trout fix 12 months of the year on the Yakima. Oh, and in the dead of winter the wind rarely blows. And the fish rarely bite.
The Yakima is also a beautiful river, with entirely different personalities as she runs through the 70 some odd miles along her course. No two sections of the river are the same, but they all hold a certain beauty. While some of the upper sections will take the angler far from any road, overall the Yakima is not a remote river. It certainly has a rural flavor, but isolated she is not. Through the Lower Canyon, the river follows the highway, or vice versa. One is never far from the buzzing sound of tires on the rumble strip, which can serve to keep the angler, as well as the driver of the vehicle, from falling asleep. And there’s nothing quite like floating the Lower Canyon when the streamside railroad track comes alive with the deafening roar of the freight cars that make a daily migration. But even with the trains and steady vehicle traffic, the Lower Canyon offers up a chance to enjoy sightings of deer and Bighorn Sheep, and during the summer months when the recreational floaters comprise what is known as the “rubber hatch”, the river offers an altogether different type of wild life viewing opportunity. There’s never a shortage of astonishing sights.
My relationship with the Yakima is one of the love/hate nature. Hate may be the wrong choice of words, but there are times when the love, along with the fish, is in great shortage. You may be thinking to yourself that I am unduly critical of the Yakima, and that I beat her up unfairly in my writings. Truth be told, it is I who is on the receiving end of the beatings, so throw a little sympathy my way, won’t you? Go fish the Yakima for yourself and draw your own conclusions. Maybe I’ll see you on the river.
Map courtesy of Amato Books, from the book,
For those of you who didn’t catch my feeble attempt at being clever with my headline, it’s an admittedly weak play on my favorite Heart song from their 1976 Dreamboat Annie album. Great song, though it has absolutely nothing to do with fly fishing. Regardless, just click the play button and listen as you read – at least that way the music will be good.
Against my better judgment I found myself once again floating the lower canyon of Washington’s blue ribbon Yakima River (which really is not a blue ribbon river based on my experiences) with Marck and Erique (not his real name). It was the third week of August, which is was prime hopper time on the Yakima. The Yak flows are artificially high during summer months in order to supply the agricultural Yakima Valley with the necessary water to grow an assortment of crops in what would otherwise be a desert filled with sagebrush. As the growing season tapers to a close, the high summer flows (around 4000 cfs) are cut off and the great annual “flip flop” commences. By September the flows settle to somewhere around 1000CFS. As the flows drop, the fish know what’s happening: Winter’s a-comin’, so they’re on the lookout for food. OK, they’re always looking for food, but like bears and sorority girls, they need to increase their caloric intake ahead of winter hibernation (not that fish hibernate, but their metabolisms do shut down considerably as water temps plummet to near-freezing).
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah. And so on this trip the water level was beginning to drop significantly. I’ve heard it told that the best hopper fishing on the Yak occurs at this time of year, so I was giddy when Marck called to say we’d be fishing on this day. It would be good to spend the day with Erique as well, as he is in his own right a very accomplished angler and good all around guy, even if he made a bad choice in the college he attended.
Unfortunately, the day didn’t exactly turn into a catchfest. A couple smallish 10 inch trouts were landed, though nothing worth writing home about. One event worth writing about was the fact that Erique rose a 7 inch whitefish to a hopper. Now, before you make fun of both the fish and the fisherman, it should be noted that this was no small feat given the fact that even a much larger whitefish has disproportionately small mouth, which means that a 7 inch whitefish has a mouth so tiny that someone my age would need reading glasses just to see it. So, nice job hooking that fish on a size 10 hopper, Erique! Not surprisingly, Marck had already landed the Fish of the Day (a 13 inch bruiser), which gave him bragging rights (again). Par for the course.
Things were looking dour for me, so when I finally hooked into a solid fish that bent my 4 wt to the cork, everyone onboard got excited in much the same way that everyone cheers for the uncoordinated kid when he finally scores a point. Immediately after I set the hook, Marck (in an uncharacteristically excited manner) proclaimed, “NICE fish! That could be your best fish on this river!” (Note: To date, my best fish on the Yakima was a 19 inch rainbow I caught 3 years prior while drifting with my brother Hal and guide Johnny Biotano of Red’s Fly Shop.) At any rate, it took some time to bring this beastly fish to the net, and as it was played closer and closer to the boat, two things were missing: (A) The typical acrobatics and (B) typical coloration one might expect of a rainbow trout. Enter into evidence Exhibit W: a 17 inch whitefish. Marck was partially correct in that it was my best (white)fish to date and, unusual for me, the biggest fish of the day. Braggin rights, baby! Had the fish been a trout I’m sure I would have been an insufferable braggart the rest of the day, but being that it was a whitefish I didn’t find much satisfaction in the whole thing. The remainder of the float wasn’t much for the memory books: The hopper action we had anticipated never really amounted to much and the evening caddis hatch let us down. Blah, blah, blah. Oh well, there was still the cold beer and greasy burgers waiting for us at The Tav, and all we had to do was put an end to this forgettable float and drive the short distance to Ellensburg.
There was, however, one small matter preventing that from happening: the keys to Erique’s Suburban were not inside the gas filler door where we had instructed the shuttle driver to leave them (as they were the only set of keys). We searched every likely and unlikely location where the keys might have been incorrectly placed, but they were not to be found. Marck and I were in denial – it was almost a year to the date of our last fiasco (Dude, where’s the car?). Surely this sort of thing couldn’t happen again! After the desperate search that fell just short of removing body panels, we concluded that lightning had indeed struck for a second time. To wash down the bitter taste of the bad situation, we borrowed a couple beers from a cooler that had been unintentionally left behind at the ramp by some generous and very intoxicated rubber hatchers. We then contemplated what our next move would be.
Ted and Troy, a couple of guides who work for Red’s, were hanging around the launch, talking shop after having pulled their boats out of the water. They’d had a great day putting their clients on fish and when they asked how we’d faired, the collective reply was “Great! Fabulous! Slayed ‘em we did, by golly!” We then told them of our precarious situation and they kindly placed a call to The Boss, who in turn made a couple calls. It was discovered that the shuttle driver had safely locked the keys inside the vehicle, under the floor mat, where they were secure from anybody who might want to drive off in the car, be it some low-life car thieves, or in this case the owner of the vehicle and his two very hungry, very thirsty fishing companions. I offered a simple solution that was met with a lukewarm reception: smash the window and presto- we’re in! It was decided that Erique would make use of his roadside emergency service and call a tow truck. Seemed pretty simple and straightforward, but in actuality it was far from either. After walking 37 paces to the southeast, standing on one leg with his left arm outstretched at a 47 degree upward angle, Erique finally manage to get a cellular signal. He then spoke with an operator in Maylasia, who connected him with the dispatch center which was, I believe, in Bostwana. From there the dispatcher consulted the yellow pages and within an hour and a half we had a towtruck en route from Yakima, which was twice as far as had they sent a truck from say, Ellensburg, which was about 12 miles up the road. The important thing was that the tow truck driver was able to unlock the Suburban, and by 9:30 PM we were on our way home, way behind schedule. As we sped past Ellensburg, I pressed my nose against the window and gazed to the north: I could just make out The Tav in the distance. I was hungry and parched. If you’ve ever been struck by lightning, you know that it leaves a bad taste in your mouth that only a greasy burger and a cold beer can wash away. Oh well, maybe next time – I’ve heard that lightning never strikes three times. Knock on wood, and please pass the cheese: This Unaccomplished Angler is whining.