Month: September 2010

Swingin’ the Chubby Cousin.

The text message from Derek Young indicated that the upper Yakima was fishing well, and suggested that perhaps we should pay a visit.  “Fishing well.”  I’ve heard that before. Derek guides for a living so he’s on the river a lot. He fishes it with great frequency so the recollection of a slow day can easily be lost amidst the hustle and bustle of productive fishing days. I fish it much less often – certainly not often enough for the rare, exceptional days to shroud out the other kinds of days. In other words, I get my arse handed to me by the Yakima more often than not. And so I hesitated to commit to Derek’s invitation. As much as I enjoy fishing with him, to be honest I was starting to have steelhead on the brain this time of year. When I reminded myself that a day of steelheading would be a guaranteed skunking, I opted to float the Yakima instead.

Yet another weather system was parked over Western Washington, causing moderate to heavy precipitation to fall from the skies all the way over Snoqualmie pass and even a few miles to the East of the summit.  I hoped that the gloomy weather wouldn’t translate into a dark cloud of despair. As I crested the summit I passed a semi bearing the name WERNER, and thought to myself, “Could this be a good omen? Could this be MY day?” I put the silly notion out of my head and proceeded East.

The sky lightened and the rain tapered off just before I pulled into the town of Cle Elum where I met Derek at 11:00 AM. We dropped the Green Drake into the low, clear waters and floated perhaps 5 minutes before pulling over to work both sides of an island.  Rocks were teeming with small green caddis larvae, so a size 16 olive Caddis (standard Elk Hair variety) was selected for initial duty.  Good choice. Armed with my 4 wt. Sage Z-Axis (yes, I will shamelessly throw the brand out there in hopes that Sage will see it and choose to sponsor my blog), the fish played nicely from the get-go. I landed a small handful of 10 inch rainbows in the first half hour before pinching myself to see if I was dreaming.  Except for when I visit the Firehole River in Yellowstone each year, it’s never this easy for me. I didn’t question my good fortune, however, and continued drifting the olive-colored magic through trouty looking water. At one point I was hooked up and playing a fish as another jumped within 6 feet of the action.  I’ll admit that as the frenzy continued I could be heard carrying on a conversation with myself that went something like this: “With angling skills to make all others envious, you sir, are a fish-catching machine!”  It doesn’t take much for me to become dilusional. For those of you who regularly catch many and impressive fish, this may not sound like anything extraordinary.  Fish a mile in my wading boots and you’ll come to appreciate my glee in the moment.

We continued downstream under partly cloudy skies and mild temperatures.  Clouds threatened rain, but none fell and for a short time I felt overdressed in my waders and long-sleeved shirt.  When a hatch of Blue Winged Olives came off for a bit, there was no point in switching patterns because the olive caddis was still drawing numerous strikes. The action did taper off after a while though, proving that nothing good lasts forever. When the fish seemed less willing (though not entirely unwilling, mind you) to take surface offerings, we fished below.  Derek grabbed his nymph rod and ran his bobber through fishy slots.  I wanted to avoid nymphing, per se, so I decided to try something a little different.  Reaching into my fly box, I grabbed a pattern that I usually only fish when in Yellowstone each Spring: a small soft hackle bead head nymph by the name of the Chubby Cousin.

When we fish the Firehole, we forego dead drifting double nymph rigs and bobbers, and instead cast downstream at a quarter angle and swing the small bugs through the current. Strikes usually come when the fly begins to settle into the seam where the faster water meets the slower holding water. It’s like swinging streamers for steelhead only on a miniature scale. I enjoy this type of nymph fishing but had never employed the tactics on the Yakima.  Why not?  Well, to be honest I just never seem to think of it at the time. This time I thought of it and I’m glad I did.  There was plenty of good swinging water and the fish took a liking to the Chubby Cousin. With it’s swept-back hackles and rubber legs, there’s plenty of movement in the water.  A few 10 inch rainbows were fond enough of the soft hackle to commit with solid takes at mid swing. Many more came unbuttoned during the course of regretting that they’d fallen for the Chubby. It was rare to not get at least a bump for every couple swings of the fly.

Rain began to fall intermittently in the late afternoon, but it dampened neither our spirits nor the enthusiastic appetite of the fish.  Switching to an October Caddis proved to be a reasonably wise decision, but it wasn’t as effective as had been the olive Caddis, so I tied on another of those. The only downside to fishing the small dry was that it invoked many a strike from tiny troutlets. For a while the number of greedy little gamers grew aggravating but eventually the fry left me alone and I was able to hook and land a beautifully colored 12 inch rainbow. At that point I offered to row so Derek could fish as we drifted.  I enjoy time on the oars, and to be honest I had wanted to try my hand at the helm of the Green Drake since fishing out of it earlier in the year.

The Green Drake is a 13 foot Maravia raft custom outfitted for fly fishing by Stream Tech Boats out of Boise.  It’s nice to fish out of and as I found, a pleasure to row.  I’ve rowed a drift boat many times but I’d never been on the oars of a raft before. I instantly liked the high perch of the rower’s seat which offers even a wee feller such as myself a commanding view of the river ahead. I was easily able to see approaching rocks before bouncing off of them, as opposed to banging and scraping as I’ve done in The Hornet a hard boat is prone to do. The hard inflatable floor is nice for standing on as one leans into the casting brace, and that same floor creates very little drag, making the boat very responsive and easy to hold against the current. For the first time I started to think that if I were to one day acquire a boat of my own I would have to give such a raft some serious consideration. I could see one of these boats providing a great deal of enjoyment and opportunity to spend quality time together on the water for Mrs. UA and myself.  If it weren’t for those damn college tuition payments that we’ve only just begun to make…

While I rowed and Derek fished we marveled at what a tremendous day it had been in all regards. As the sun grew low in the sky it provided for some dramatic scenery, casting a glow upon the trees and causing them to stand out vibrantly against an ominous looking sky. Fall was definitely here: salmon were spawning in their redds and the trout were eating like there was no tomorrow. It was one of those days where if the water looked like it should hold a fish, it nearly always held a fish. It’s so rare that I have a day like this that for a fleeting moment I almost forgot the multiple sub-par days I’d had on the Yakima during the preceding months. I’m not one to openly declare that the Fish Gods owe me anything, but every itchy dog has his day and I was long overdue to be scratched.  It’s not just the scratching catching that made the day great, but the opportunities that presented themselves: There were several fish landed, many more hooked and released prematurely, and countless strikes.  It was those strikes that made the day particularly rewarding because it showed just how many fish were in the system and eager to take a swipe at the fly. The largest fish caught were no more than 12 inchers, but I was a happy angler. In fact, so good was my mood that I even let Derek pose for a photo with my nicest fish of the day.

We were just minutes from the termination point of our float and about to pack it in save for a particularly fishy piece of water that begged for one more cast.  “I’m gonna run my little Chubby through that sweet spot one last time,” I announced.  Derek looked at me and very matter-of-factly said, “Fly fishing is the one activity where you can say that and not get in trouble.”  I had a couple tugs but didn’t set the hook fast enough.  It didn’t matter – my day was compleat.

As we neared our take-out, the unmistakable odor of skunk filled the air.  We laughed at the irony of that. It was too late for a skunking. Way too late. But it did remind me that had I not gone fishing with Derek I would have probably gone steelheading.

Enter an easy contest to win free books

Sorry for the solicitation folks- I try to keep my book promotions to a very minimum here on the Unaccomplished Angler blog.  However, I find my resolve temporarily weakened.

Some of you may not even know that in addition to being a world famous, highly-paid blogger, I’m also a relatively unknown children’s fly fishing book author. If you’re interested in entering an easy contest and being placed into a drawing to win a set of autographed Olive the Woolly Bugger series of books (I’m giving away two sets), you have until midnight, September 30th to enter the contest. You stand a pretty good chance of winning as there have been only a handful of entrants so far.

All you have to do is jump over to my other blog and follow the directions.

I hope some of you will play along and enter to win.

And now I return you to your previously-scheduled programming, whatever that may be.

I shoulda known better…

Note: I’m still nursing a hangover from the One Year Anniversary Party in the back room of the Unaccomplished Angler. Thanks to all who chimed in and helped celebrate this epic accomplishment. And to those late to the party: the banjo player has long since left the building; what remains of the food has grown a green beard and the scent of stale beer emanates from a few half-empty cups. But it’s still not too late to chime in.


My fly fishing self esteem has taken a couple hits lately. First, I took my wife fly fishing with me for her first ever trip, and she out-catched me. Admittedly I have very little pride when it comes to fishing so I was able to move on and put her victory my humiliation the incident behind me. It’s what we anglers do when we face adversity: cinch up our waders and move to the next run- there’s always a fish waiting for us around the next bend, right? The next event that eroded my self worth was something intended to be nothing more than a simple bit of father-son time.

The wounds from the trip with my wife had barely healed when I decided to take my son, Schpanky (the kid who never listens), out for a couple of hours on the local waters of the Snoqualmie River.  His job at the golf course kept him busy this summer and we hadn’t had much time to fish. With school starting in a few days, I figured we better share a little time on the water while we had the opportunity. He’s gotten used to not catching fish when he joins me, so the enthusiasm level isn’t always as high as a father might hope for. But to his credit, he continues to stick with humor me. I’d been thinking that one way to make him forget all the troutless outings would be to put him on a steelhead, the fish of 1000 casts. For those in the know, the moment you hook into one of these silver bullets you forget the preceding 999 fruitless casts.  At the time of this writing the steelhead fishing is not exactly red-hot near where I live.  Yes, there are fish in the system, but what we’d been needing was some rain to start more fish into the rivers, and to make those in the rivers a little less dour.  The salmon hadn’t started running yet, and the searun cutthroat never show me the love. What we have right now is some “down time”. But I would like to get him out this fall/winter, and thought a couple hours on a Sunday evening , wetting a line and talking about steelhead tactics would be some good time spent together.

I told the boy there wasn’t much chance of catching anything, but that there’s absolutely no chance if your fly isn’t in/on the water. With that in mind I also wanted to have him try some Spey casting, which is something he hadn’t yet done.  Since falling for the Spey temptress myself I’ve found that the 999 casts between fish are quite enjoyable, and just maybe the boy might find that to be the case as well. However I was concerned that he’d find it frustrating like I did at first, and frustration has been known to get in the way of many a good father-son bonding session, particularly when it comes to fly fishing. I told him that Spey casting isn’t easy at first and that overcoming frustration is part of the learning process. My parenting skills have always been questionable so it should come as no surprise that I was looking forward to seeing the boy struggle a bit (in a sadistic way it would make me feel a little better about my own inadequatulence). He agreed to give it a shot.

We drove a few miles toward the Chinook Bend area near Carnation, geared up and walked downstream a short ways.  Along the way he mentioned that his toes were cramped in his wading boots.  Great, that means a new pair will be needed before he’s ready for winter wading. I pretended not to hear his words. The past few weeks had been rather expensive, starting with a college tuition payment, damage to a particular garage door, and a stolen set of golf clubs (with an iPod and wallet in the bag). The last thing I wanted to think about was spending money on some new wading boots for the boy, and a little fishing would be good for the sole soul. We set up along a stretch of river left that had a favorable current and plenty of room for casting.  Because I’m merely a hack Spey caster myself, I was careful to keep it very, very basic: first we started with the single-handed Sage XP and reviewed the basic roll cast so that the general concept was fresh in his mind. Then I grabbed the Sage Z-Axis 7136-4 lined with a 480 grain Airflo Compact Scandi shooting head and demonstrated the basic Single Spey. We talked about the lift, the anchor and the D loop – all elements of the roll cast he’d just done with the single-hander. I told him about keeping his grip relaxed and using the bottom hand as the power hand and to avoid punching forward with the top hand (as I was telling him these things I was also reminding myself).  I demonstrated a couple more adequate casts and then handed the rod over to him. “Wow, it’s heavy,” was all he said.  “Certainly it’s heavier than a single-hander but with two hands you can cast it all day without getting tired,” I replied. That, to me, is the beauty of Spey casting and not the ability to cast 80-100 feet. That’s also what one says when one can’t cast 80-100 feet.

The wind was light and blowing upstream so conditions were ideal for a little Spey 101. Schpanky set his stance and went through the motions of the Single Spey.  His first cast was surprisingly very smooth and relaxed – he let the rod do the work rather than tensing up and trying to power through the cast (like his old man is prone to do).  After a few more similarly decent casts, I informed him that it was time to move to the Snap Z (or something resembling one of the “snap” casts).  With my hand I drew the counter-clockwise path that the rod would take and explained that this cast was simply an alternative to the Single Spey, just a little more dynamic. “You’ll be doing 999 casts before you hook your first steelhead,” I informed him,  “So you’ll want a few different casts in your repertoire to keep things interesting”. I also cautioned of the ramifications that can come from an incorrectly placed anchor, and explained what is meant by the term, “dangerous cast”. He doesn’t always listen to the infinite wisdom I impart upon him on a regular basis, and I hoped that the thought of a grisly ear flossing would get his attention. Then I demonstrated a couple marginal casts. He wouldn’t have known a Snap Z from a Crap T, so for all intents and purposes I’d just impressed him greatly with my casting prowess. I puffed up my chest, strutted over to where he stood and handed him the rod.

“Got that?” I asked.  “Yep,” was all I got in return.  I backed away a safe distance and with a smug grin on my face thought to myself, ‘This should be interesting’.  I watched as he made a slow lift…the accelerated clockwise motion…snap…lift…pause to load the rod…forward cast…presto! His first cast looked pretty darn good.  And effortless.  My very first attempt at a Snap T/Z/C is still fresh enough in my memory that I recall very different results than what I had just witnessed from the boy.  He made a few more casts, and none were dangerous. Only a few didn’t come off as well as intended, and even then he was able to acknowledge where the problem had occurred and addressed the issue on the next cast.  Intuitively he even glanced over his shoulder to make sure his D-loop was forming properly (not something I’d told him to do). I was more than a little bit impressed and congratulated him accordingly:  “Nobody likes a show-off. You made that look pretty easy. Nice job.” The casts weren’t perfect, but he was laying out the length of the shooting head and a handful of the running line pretty well, and his casting stroke was smooth and fluid.  WAY better than I was able to do after an entire first day of instruction. He’s not one to show a lot of emotion or use an excess of words, but he did have a smile on his face when he said, “I like it.” I cringed.

We decided to move down to another spot and we talked as we walked.  The evening was cloudy and cool, with some rain in the forecast. The older I get the more I seem to talk about the weather, and I found myself telling him how the summer felt like it had come to a rather abrupt end before it ever really arrived. I noted how the hopper fishing on the Yakima River never materialized like the experts predicted, which may have been due to the weather. Just then he pointed out a grasshopper. “You mean like this one?” he said with a tone of smart assery.  It was was the second grasshopper I’d seen all summer during a year when they were supposed to be thick.  He tossed it in the river to give some lucky fish a tasty meal, but no fish rose to the offering.  A short ways further the boy pointed out a large stonefly that impressed both of us with it’s size.  “Son, that’s a golden stonefly,” I said in a scholarly tone.  “Hmmm,” he replied before tossing it in the river as well. Again, no fish rose to grab the sizable snack. I proceeded to talk about insect life cycles but stopped in mid sentence when I realized the boy had already moved on several paces ahead of me.  So much for sharing my vast entomological wisdom with him.

We came to a section of flat water below a riffle, and several riseforms appeared on the smooth surface. They were just small fish rising, but where there are small fish there are larger fish so I told the boy to wade out a few feet and swing the fly through the bottom of the riffle into the pool. I then walked upstream a ways with the Spey rod. I figured he could have the best water and then I’d come in behind him, and with my superior angling skills pick his pocket. With the single-hander the boy made a couple of false casts complete with a series of nice single hauls and shot out 30 feet of line like an old pro.  As the fly swung into the lazy current he gave it a couple strips.  Before I knew it he had landed his first steelhead: a 5 inch smolt.  Not a bad place to start. Afterall, he’s not quite ready I’m not quite ready for him to take on a real steelhead with the $pey rod just yet.

New wading boots are the least of my worries now. I should have heeded my own advice and kept the kid ignorant.

Thanks for a year of angling unaccomplishments.

On September 13, 2009 I published the very first web log entry on the Unaccomplished Angler. Being new to the whole blogashere, I didn’t know where to start. Advice from others who knew these waters was fairly simple:  “Just start posting.” And so I jumped right in without a plan or any idea what the Unaccomplished Angler would be. I vividly recall my hand quivering as I held my mouse cursor over the “publish” button. Once clicked I realized there was no going back: The Unaccomplished Angler had been launched into an uncertain future. The internet river was wide, fast and foreign. I was new on the oars, had no idea what lie just around the next bend and was adrift without a safety line or personal flotation device. Actually that’s a bit melodramatic – I could have quit at any time. However I made a promise to myself to post at least once a week for a year before deciding whether to tap out or keep fighting the good fight. I’m scrappy if nothing else, and so every week for the last 52 weeks I’ve offered up something for you all to read while enjoying a cup of coffee.  At least the coffee has been good.

Defining the Unaccomplished Angler?

When I started my blog I didn’t know what it would become. Certainly there are countless fly fishing blogs operated by folks who catch a lot of fish, take really incredible photos, post valuable gear reviews and generally share a lot of good insight.  Not so much here.  What I do like to do, however, is use a bit of humor, poke a little fun at myself (and others), employ the use of the run-on sentence and tell a story.  In order to tell a fish story, one must get out and fish.  Fortunately I had many opportunities to get out and fish this past year, and with the idea of my blog always in the back of my mind I began to approach each fishing trip in a new light:  I began to see every aspect of every day spent fishing as potential blog fodder.  I embraced the old saying, “there’s more to fishing than catching fish.”

This served to accomplish a couple of things:  First, I began to enjoy my time fishing even more because I saw each day as an opportunity to be something worth writing about. Not every day was particularly spectacular as far as the number of fish caught or the size of the fish, but began to find ways to make even the most insignificant seem noteworthy. Even a good skunking, and there have been many. Whether or not you, the reader, actually agree is up for judgment. Still, I look beneath the surface for things that made the day special, and in doing so this has made me enjoy each day fishing just a bit more. Secondly, this always-looking-for-a-story approach to fishing has made my fishing buddies nervous: They know their every action is potentially blog fodder. I hope this hasn’t cost me fishing buddies and friendships.  I value my friends, for without them I would have nothing to write about. Thanks, folks, for putting up with me.

A Cast of Characters

The friends you’ve met while reading the Unaccomplished Angler include the likes of Marck, Large Albacore, Jimmy, Stan the Goosemaster and a list of others, including my wife (Mrs. UA), my son Schpanky, and my brother Hal. The Hornet has revealed itself to be much more than simply a Clackacraft 16LP – it has become a stage for many stories. The Lucky Fishing Hat has become almost a religious symbol and while not always lucky, superstition keeps me from wearing anything else. In my writing I’ve taken you to Montana and Idaho, fishing the Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park, the Big Hole, Rock Creek, and the St. Joe. Waters closer to home have included the Snoqualmie and it’s three forks, the Skykomish and the Sauk, and the Methow. And then there’s the Yakima River. The Yakima has proven to be a nemesis that I love to fish and love to hate (it’s a dysfunctional relationship). I took you along on a salmon fishing trip to Nootka Sound where plans to use the fly rod gave way to downriggers and anchovies, and I planned to tell of my sturgeon fishing trip to Hells Canyon but just haven’t had the chance to publish that story yet. This list of destinations doesn’t exactly read like an all star lineup, but that’s not what the Unaccomplished Angler is all about.

A Loyal Fan base?

The only reason I write is to bring a little weekly entertainment for you, the people. Well, actually that’s not true.  I write for myself because I derive satisfaction out of writing for the sake of creative self indulgence.  If by chance a few people read and enjoy it, then it’s a win-win for all. I track the number of hits and visits and subscribers, but all that doesn’t mean much to me. Just because someone clicks on a page doesn’t mean they stick around to read it. 48 people have signed up to receive email notifications when new drivel is posted. Of those, there are 8 who remain “unverified”. This means you signed up to receive email notifications, but never followed through with the final confirmation email you should have received, so you are not getting email notifications when new drivel is posted. I post on Facebook when new drivel is available, but never know who actually sees my announcements.  In my blog itself I don’t usually get many comments, and when I do it’s always from the same 3-4 people.  Thanks to those who take a few moments to chime in.

I’m one of the cool kids There are other, better blogs

Gradually over the course of the last year other folks who operate other fly fishing blogs have added The Unaccomplished Angler to their blog rolls. I know of a few specifically but there are many I’m not aware of who have been generous enough to add me to their lists. Being included in other blog rolls makes me feel like I’m one of the cool kids, even though I know I’m not. Thank you to those who have accepted me – I would love to reciprocate, so send me your blog and I’ll add you to my roll call.

Technical Support

When it comes to operating a blog, there’s much more that goes on behind the scenes than just writing.  Technical savvy and knowledge of things like plugins, widgets, RSS feeds, Search Engine Optimization and a bunch of other stuff are important. Unfortunately this stuff was all Greek to me. Honestly I’ve never been interested in the techie side of my creative endeavors, preferring instead to be left to write, draw and create.  Smart people always did the other stuff for me. I learned enough about the blog thing to get started and nearly get myself in trouble.  Fortunately through the comradery of fly fishing bloggers I met The Outdooress, and she has helped me with technical matters that I never knew even existed. Special accolades and thanks to Rebecca Garlock for her guidance and patience. If you need technical help to make your blog be all that it can be, contact Rebecca. Just as you may not know when your car is in dire need of a new timing belt, you may not even know that your blog is about to implode. She’s a great blog mechanic and can take a look and let you know if you need an overhaul or just a  minor tuneup.

The River Ahead

Looking ahead to the second year, the Unaccomplished Angler has no more of a plan in place than he did a year ago.  He shall continue to fish as often as he can and when he does he will continue to look beneath the surface for something worth writing about. And if that proves evasive, he’ll make something up. Or he  may just tap out – there’s always that option.

Helloooo…is anybody out there?

If you’re reading this, please chime in and help celebrate the first anniversary of the Unaccomplished Angler. Writers can be a needy bunch, so when someone comments I helps alleviate feelings of insecurity. I’m not above begging.

I wouldn’t know a good cast if it hit me on the back of the head, but I do like Dry Fly whiskey.

It seems as though the Federal Government has always felt a need to protect the American people from themselves. Be that good or bad, it is what it is and one of the broadest examples of this in the history of our nation was Prohibition.

On December 22, 1917 Congress submitted the 18th Amendment to the Constitution which prohibited ‘the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.’ And so at midnight on January 16, 1920 began the Prohibition Era, which would last thirteen years. It seems a cruel irony that when America was in the midst of The Great Depression (1929-1939) and folks needed a stiff drink they couldn’t get one legally. Now I’m not condoning excessive drinking, but when the chips are down a person ought to be able to drown their sorrows if they so choose. Thankfully the 21st Amendment to the Constitution put an end to Prohibition in 1933.

The effects of Prohibition, however, lingered for a very long time and in fact still exist today. Many states created rules requiring the separation of the production, distribution and retail tiers to limit the potential for anti-competitive practices and to discourage the over-consumption of alcohol. Washington (the state) at least for the time being, controls the sale of liquor. That may be ending in November depending on the outcome of a statewide vote. In the 80 or so years that followed the end of Prohibition, not a single (legal) distillery operated in Washington. Then a law was passed that made it a little easier for alcohol makers to craft their wares, and in 2007 Spokane’s Dry Fly Distilling became the first licensed distillery to operate in Washington state since Prohibition.

“A good cast is like a good whiskey–it’s smooth and hits the spot.”

The above quote is by an anonymous fly fishing guide, featured on the home page of

When I first heard about Dry Fly I was intrigued. I’ve never been a huge connoisseur of hard booze, preferring instead beer – and cheap beer at that. However, as I’ve become increasingly more refined over the years I have developed a palate for certain breeds of whiskey. I’m definitely not a Scotch man. Don’t care so much for Irish whiskey. The only bourbon I’ve had is Jim Beam and I’m sure it’s not fair to judge bourbon based on that experience alone. When it comes to whiskey what I prefer are the smooth Canadian blends.  I didn’t even know at the time what type of whiskey Dry Fly was offering – I just wanted to try it: Nice logo. Unique bottle. Cool rainbow trout skin label. You know, the whole fly fishing thing. Yep, I bought into the image hook, line and split shot.

I’d purchased Dry Fly vodka a couple times and it was good – as good as vodka can be, I suppose (to me vodka is just a key ingredient in a Bloody Mary). But their whiskey always evaded me. Whenever I received an email update (yes, I signed up to be on the Dry Fly email list) about a new batch being released, it was never in the cards for me to go find it.  Being small batch stuff, it’s not available in just any liquor store and certainly not in the liquor store in my home town, or anywhere conveniently close for that matter. Then late last Spring I received an email notice that batch 4.0 had just been released and would be available in a select number of liquor stores.  I checked the list: 3 stores in Spokane, one store in Vancouver, one in Everett, one in Kennewick and 2 in Seattle.  So naturally I called my brother Hal, who lives in Seattle, and asked if either stores #46 or #86 were near to him.  Turns out both stores were relatively convenient, and so he set about to score me a bottle of Dry Fly Whiskey.  As it turns out it wasn’t as easy as all that.

On a particular Thursday in June Hal visited one store, but they hadn’t received their shipment yet and expected it on Saturday. Strike one. Hal said he’d try to go back on Saturday, which he did, but was then told it wouldn’t be available until Monday at the earliest.  Strike two. On Tuesday he called the liquor store and they still had not yet received the shipment. The next day he called again at 3pm and as luck would have it the whiskey had arrived! He hopped on the SLUT (South Lake Union Transit) and was finally able to procure a bottle.  The store clerk indicated that their allotment would likely be sold out by 5 pm.

To borrow Hal’s own words, “Wow, I earned this one.”

That he did, and I vowed to not open the bottle until we had an appropriate opportunity to enjoy it together. We recently went fishing together and I fully intended to take the bottle along for a little streamside sampling, but in the process of trying to not forget any gear needed for actual fishing (like a reel) I forgot the whiskey. Fortunately the next opportunity presented itself in just a matter of a few days. And so finally, after years of waiting, and a Herculean effort to acquire a bottle, I unwrapped the red foil from the neck of the bottle, removed the cork stopper and poured a couple of glasses, neat.  I’ll admit that up to this point I still didn’t know what sort of whiskey was about to be sipped. At that point I hopped in the internet to find out. Their website requires that you must be 21 in order to enter (I wasn’t carded, however).

It’s hard to find a description of their whiskey on, but if you click on the image of the bottles you’ll come to find that their whiskey is actually described as “Single Malt Whiskey”.  The label calls it “Washington Wheat Whiskey”.  Before the amber liquid ever touched my lips, my sinuses were  hit with fairly strong aroma that actually caused me to flinch a bit.  The actual taste that followed was remarkably smooth by comparison: not as smooth as the Canadian blended whiskey I prefer, but given that it isn’t a blend I shouldn’t have been surprised. Suffice it to say we rather enjoyed it, and I could get used to drinking it more often. However, I plan to save it for special occasions – at $50 a bottle I want it to last a good long time. So if you come to my house and ask for a whiskey, you won’t see me pulling out the Dry Fly – it’s my private reserve and I’m not sharing. Except with Hal.

Since I am an unaccomplished whiskey aficionado this review should be regarded like Tequila and taken with a grain of salt. As far as reviews go, you might want to jump over to Whiskey Creek Fly Fishing for another take on Dry Fly Whiskey.

Fighting small fish with my big brother

The brothers Unaccomplished circa 1972

It wasn’t a constant aggravation, but I was often tormented by my big brother when we were growing up. Hal drew great pleasure from using his superior intellect to set me into many a blind childhood rage. He would patiently taunt me in small doses until I couldn’t stand it any more and would come uncorked. Looking back I was like a volatile puppet and I played into his hands perfectly. Our last scuffle was probably 25 years ago and ended in a draw when our mutual good friend (and boss at the time) MiHu decided he better jump between us and put an end to it before someone really got hurt.  That, and the fact that we were fighting while on the company clock wasn’t something he could allow to continue. It should be noted that MiHu enjoyed egging us on from time to time as well, and clearly enjoyed refereeing many bouts. Even once I became physically up to the task I was never able to defeat Hal – there was always that psychological big brother barrier that kept me in check. Since then we’ve matured considerably and brawling is no longer a part of our relationship. That’s a good thing because one or both of us would likely throw our backs out before the first takedown was ever scored. Always the referee, MiHu still likes to jump between us.

The brothers Unaccomplished and MiHu (center), July 2010

So evolved has our relationship become that we seldom disagree,  openly at least. Yes, we’re different people but we share a mutual respect for each other (at least I do). Fortunately fly fishing is something we both find agreeable. Hal doesn’t fish as often as he should, instead leaving the obsessive compulsion to his younger brother.  Once a year, and sometimes more, we’ll set out together on a bonding mission to chase some trouts. Usually we head up to the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River and chase small cutthroat trouts. We can usually expect to catch a few small but feisty fish, and sometimes we catch more than a few. Recently Hal suggested that we were overdue for a jaunt to the Middle Fork so we set aside a day to make our annual pilgrimage. In the meantime I had received some intel from a secret source about some hidden water worth checking out. There are three forks to the Snoqualmie River, and I’ve fished both the South and Middle Forks. The third fork, which shall go unnamed, is one that I hadn’t yet fished.  It’s more remote and requires a bit further of a drive to get there, but according to the report I’d received it was worth the extra effort.  I scribbled directions that I hoped would be accurate and informed Hal of our new destination. He was game for seeking out the new fork in the river.

Snoqualmie Falls

We met at Snoqualmie Falls where Hal loaded his gear into the back of the Fish Taco. It was assumed that I would drive and I was OK with that. Something about taking a Toyota Prius on the dusty, pothole-riddled logging roads to go fishing wouldn’t have seemed quite right anyhow. I arrived a few minutes early and decided to take a quick look at the falls from the observation deck.  Snoqualmie Falls is an impressive sight no matter the time of year, but the inch of rain that had fallen two days earlier made for a much higher than normal volume of water that cascaded over the 270 foot drop. I hoped that the water where we were heading wasn’t running high. I really didn’t know what we’d encounter.

One of the things that has always set us apart is that Hal is a contemplative man of infinite patience. He thinks long and hard on something before making a decision and once he sets himself on a task he has been known to stay on that task all day. I, on the other hand, give quick thought to something then act quickly.  And since patience is not one of my virtues I move from one task to another relatively quickly. These personality traits follow us to the river, where Hal can stand in the same spot for what seems like forever, working the same water with the attention to detail of a micro surgeon. It drives me crazy sometimes. I’ll fish my way downstream, working through several runs and maybe catching a fish or two. Once I’ve covered the water and walked the distance back upstream, there he’ll be – in the same spot. Even if there are no fish rising to his fly, he rarely moves. And if he does, it is with all the velocity of a slug. I think he does this just to get a rise out of me, but it’s not something worth coming to blows over. To each their own. But sometimes—oh, never mind. Moving along…

Mt. Si

It was one of those perfect late summer days as we drove deep into the woods. The sky was a certain shade of blue that revealed a definite hint of fall the air. Days like this are to be savored because soon they will be gone and we’ll face 9 months of gray. The directions I’d received were pretty much on the mark, although the mileage estimates were slightly off (in our favor, however) and one critical left-hand turn was omitted. Still, we found our destination, and also found ourselves completely alone. We hadn’t seen another vehicle for many miles and there would be no fighting for the best water, at least not with other anglers. I quickly geared up, selected a fly and was ready to make an assault on the first section of river. But first I had to wait for the plodding methodical older brother.  In his defense he is 14 months older than I am and so donning his waders and bending down to lace his boots doesn’t come quite as easily to him. Once dressed he set himself to the task of selecting a fly. As he rubbed his chin and pondered several patterns I pointed to something big and bushy and said, “There- that one.”  Soon we were on our way.

A thorough and contemplative man.

It didn’t take us 5 minutes before we got into fish. The valley is steep and narrow, so sunlight rarely shines directly overhead on this stretch of the river.  Given the lateness of the season and that fact that it was 4 pm, the shadows were long and plentiful, and the little cutts were not shy about rising to dry flies. In typical fashion Hal situated himself along some nice looking water while I moved downstream, casting and stepping.  Soon I’d covered all the water I wanted, caught a couple 4-6 inch fish, and headed back upstream toward my brother, who with his reptilian-like metabolism hadn’t moved. His methodical patience had produced a 10 inch fish, however. That’s what we were hoping for – something bigger than the typical 6 inch fish that we usually encounter on the South and Middle Forks.  Nice fish, and damn him for being so patient!

Whenever one goes fishing it’s important to remember to look up from the water on occasion to take in the surroundings.  Out in this neck of the woods we couldn’t help but be distracted by the beauty. It felt like fishing in a rain forest, and in fact the ground was still damp from the rains that had fallen two days earlier.  The river had risen with the rain, but it was dropping and in perfect shape. The air was comfortably warm and damp smelling. The water was clear as vodka and cold, which made us glad that we weren’t wet-wading. We’re both on the scrawny side so it doesn’t take much to make us uncomfortably cold.

The day repeated itself in similar fashion as we moved downstream throughout the afternoon. After fishing a run and catching enough fish to keep it more than a little amusing, I would move down to explore some new water.  If it looked good, I would wave to Hal to move on down. We’d fish the new section, catch more fish, and repeat.  The river was small and never too deep to easily wade across.  Plenty of structure created ample fishy water, and if it looked like it should hold a trout it held a trout, and often several. As the river wound it’s way through the cool shaded forest it changed personalities often and offered every type of water imaginable, from broad shallows, to deep cut banks, pocket water, runs and riffles. And every place held fish.  Many of the native cutthroat were annoyingly small, but one had to admire their gumption. With a short growing season and lack of overly-abundant insects, these little fish are eager to take a shot at a properly presented fly.  Sometimes the presentation didn’t even have to be very proper, which boded well for the Brothers Unaccomplished. When the river would plunge through a steep section, we drove down to the bottom of the grade and walked a short distance to more fishable water.

Hal’s 10 inch hog was the trophy of the day, but we’re I’m not competitive and there were plenty of 8 inch fish to keep us busy. To steal a great comment from a poster over at Skate the Fly (operated by fellow fish bloggerman Dylan Rose) “When it’s beauty that belongs there, size doesn’t matter.” Truer words were never spoken and these small native fish are as beautiful as they come. With their level of spunk I can only imagine what it would be like to hook up with a 12+ incher, which are rumored to lurk in the waters.  I imagine it would be a better fight than those I’ve had with my big brother, Hal.

The Brothers Unaccomplished, Sept 2010

Get hooked on Olive and help Casting 4 a Cure

Every week I do my best to offer a bit of literary drivel that I hope all 5 of my loyal followers find at least mildly amusing and enjoyable. The point of the Unaccomplished Angler blog is to give me an outlet for writing about my fly fishing adventures and misadventures. You see, writing and fly fishing are two of the many things I love to not get paid to do. Aside from this blog,  the marriage of my writing and fly fishing is what led me to create the series of children’s fly fishing books featuring Olive the Little Woolly bugger. I hope by now you’re familiar with the books, however I don’t want to use this forum to cram them down your throats employ hard sell tactics (that’s what my other blog is for).

That being said I would like to point out something of great importance at this time. Back on April 1st 2010 I posted an April Fools Day entry and in my clearly fictional fish story I had a little fun mentioning April Vokey of Flygal Ventures.  It was just a lark, but fortunately for me it led to some correspondence with April, who as it turns out is a really nice, really great person to know.

April recently returned from Victor, Idaho where she participated in the Casting 4 A Cure fly fishing event on August 27-29. Because of our mutual support for this tremendous group of people doing great work to raise money for the International Rett Syndrome Foundation, I recently reached out to April to ask for her help: I sent her a Facebook message and asked if she might consider posting a note on her wall about the stickers I’m selling to raise money for Casting 4 a Cure. The stickers are available online through thanks to another great person, Sharon Butterfield. But it doesn’t stop there. One of April’s friends, K.C. Lund, stepped up to offer a pair of free Optic Nerve sunglasses (a $100 value) to the person who places the largest order of stickers by October 4th.  K.C. is a fly fisherman and former professional snowboarder now working as a steel fabricator and is the BC/Alta rep for Optic Nerve in Canada. This generous act has left me humbled – thanks, K.C.!  If you would like to reach K.C. to inquire about Optic Nerve sunglasses you can do so by sending email to E.kc.opticnerve (at)

As far as selling the stickers goes, let me lay it out for you here:  The stickers sell for $3.00 each and none of it makes its way into my pockets.  Of that $3.00, half goes to cover my cost to have the stickers printed and for postage. The remaining $1.50 gets sent directly to Bill Farnum, the Executive Director of Casting 4 a Cure.  The stickers are very high quality and would look great on your drift boat, fish mobile, or tricycle.  I’ll be blatant now and ask that you please consider buying an Olive sticker and supporting Casting 4 a Cure.  Thanks again to my internet friends April and Sharon for your help to bring the Olive stickers to the the masses. And thank you all for reading the Unaccomplished Angler.

Click on the sticker graphic below to order yours.

I love the power of the internet.

What Happened to the Hoppers?

I first caught wind of it in early spring and the news spread quickly throughout the fly fishing networks about a Western states grasshopper invasion predicted to be of Biblical proportions. Several news sources posted articles of the impending doom, and it appeared that my home state of Washington was not safe from the perils facing other states from the Dakotas through Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Oregon. Do a search for “grasshopper invasion 2010” and you’ll be amazed at the hype predictions.

Hoppers can be devastating to crops and native grasslands, and farmers throughout the west were grimacing. At the same time anglers were grinning ear to ear. I certainly wish no ill upon the good folk who work the land, but hopper fishing in the mid to late summer is always a grand time on rivers such as the Yakima. Floating the canyon under abundant sun and hot temperatures, tossing large bushy imitations that look somewhat like a grasshopper tight to the banks is something I look forward to every year. The fish are seeking protected shelter from the high summer flows so they don’t really want to move more than an inch or so to eat. Casts must therefore be right on the bank. Not six inches out from the bank, but literally on the bank.  If you can bounce the fly off a blade of grass or twig of some shrubbery and have it flop gently into the water within an inch of the bank, chances are an opportunistic trout will grab the offering as it falls on their nose.  If the hook snags some vegetation and holds, the angler need not necessarily fret because heavy tippets are needed to turn over the big flies. 3X doesn’t snap as easily as 5X and it’s not uncommon to get your fly back after snagging it. I think that’s what I like best about hopper fishing.

As daunting as the predictions were, the hopper invasion evaded me on two consecutive outings on the Yakima this summer during what should have been prime hopper time. On one outing we saw a lone grasshopper. On the next trip we saw not a one. Fishing hopper patterns did not prove overly effective either, so apparently the fish weren’t looking for that particular foodstuff.  Maybe they new that it was all just hype. The first hopper-free outing was written up previously here.  The next outing is what you are reading right now.

Try as we might neither Jimmy nor I could find a third person willing to share time on the oars come fishing with us, so we headed east on I-90 toward Ellensburg. Friday traffic was fairly heavy as West-siders fled the gloomy gray weather for more summer-like conditions on the East side. Luckily they were all in a hurry to leave the lousy weather in the rear view mirror and traffic moved along at a good clip. That is, until the sudden presence of a police vehicle in the slow lane caused everyone in the fast lane to overreact and apply their brakes. Police vehicles always make people nervous, even when those people aren’t violating any laws. As we inched our way past the police car I could have sworn I saw Barney Fife behind the wheel, though I may have just been having flashbacks to 1956. We were headed to Mayberry or Ellensburg? Weird.

Without further incident we made it to Ellensburg and grabbed a sandwich at Subway before proceeding into the lower Yakima Canyon to procure a shuttle at Red’s Fly Shop. We launched Jimmy’s Hyde at Big Horn and began our afternoon float that would take us 16 miles to the take out at Roza. The great flip flop of the Yakima was happening early this year and the high summer flows were already dropping. Lowering water means feeding fish, and we were stoked to hit the river. The plan was to pound the banks with big bugs all day and once the sun dropped behind the canyon walls we’d be on some slow water for when the fish switched from hoarking hoppers to sipping small caddis.  The last 3 miles of our float were perfect for that- long stretches of flat water lined by grass and shrubbery.

The hoppers were, again, curiously absent.  The w#nd, however, was not. It blew in our faces and at our backs, but w#nd is something one just learns to deal with, and except for a few gusts that blew our hats off and rattled our fly boxes, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been (like the day before when it was blowing 40 mph). I fished a golden stone dry for most of the day before switching to something smaller and tan-colored later on, while Jimmy fished mostly a variation of tan foam ant.  He did try a Chernobyl hopper for a spell, but it yielded no results. This actually surprised me because often times if an angler thinks outside the box and shows the fish something radically different from what they’re used to seeing, the results can be favorable.  Not so this time. As far as fishing goes, it was still a great day.  Low pressure over the West side of the mountains had cooled things off in central and eastern Washington, and the temps were comfortably in the mid 70’s – very cool for this time of year but very tolerable, especially when on the oars. And since it was just the two of us we each saw plenty of time in the rower’s seat, mostly trying to keep the boat from being blown into the bank.

The last remnants of the Great Summer Rubber Hatch of the Yakima revealed itself in a number of scantily-clad young people in inflatable toys, milking the river for all its worth. They were admittedly under-dressed for the coolish weather but alcohol seems to dull the senses and they all appeared to be having their own brand of fun. In another few days the river would drop to levels where exposed rocks would put an end to the Rubber Hatch for good.

Other than the few flotillas of frolickers the river wasn’t very busy. We leap-frogged with 4 other boats all day but there was plenty of room in all the good water to drop anchor and ply the likely haunts with our dry fly offerings.  We saw a couple anglers fishing with strike indicators but we refused on this day to fish anything but a dry. We stumbled upon Sir Lancelot and Marck and their cargo of guest anglers as they were pulled over seeking a place to grab some lunch. As we approached I shouted a friendly greeting as friends often do when they see a comrade on the water:  “Ahoy! Catch any whitefish lately?” I asked.  Marck’s reply was brief, as he’s a man as short on words as I am on height: “Nope, how about you?”  Before I could say “We’re not fishing for whitefish, sir – we are gentleman dry fly anglers and we are fishing exclusively for trout,” my rod tip bent slightly and I reeled in a small Squawfish Northern Pikeminnow. Marck pointed out what I already knew: there is a bounty on the heads of any Northern Pikeminnow over 9 inches, and my fish would have fetched a reward of $4 had I caught it on the Columbia River. But there’s no official bounty on these fish in the Yakima River so I released it back into the waters to devour more juvenile salomonids.

Catching was actually better than what I typically encounter on the Yakima, which isn’t saying a lot. Jimmy landed a half dozen fish in the 8-10 inch range and nearly landed a 15 inch trout that showed all the gumption of a spawned-out, half-rotten salmon.  It was really quite a surprise at how little resistance this otherwise healthy looking fish offered, and the fact that Jimmy didn’t actually bring it to the net speaks only to the fact that he is as unaccomplished as the other fisherman in the boat.  Yours truly landed a handful of rather unimpressive fish in the similar size range of 8-10 inches.

The action turned up a notch during our last 45 minutes on the water as I hooked 3 fish and landed two of them.  A strong fighting ~15 inch fish took line from my reel and jumped a couple of times before breaking off my 5X (at least my knots held).  I’d liked to have landed that fish for sure, but it was fun just to feel a solid tug on the end of the line after many previous trips without that privilege. We saw very few rising fish all day, and many of those hooked were done so several feet off the banks.  The only fish we encountered that were hunkered tight to the banks were 2-4 inch troutlets.  This came as no surprise given the dropping flows – the larger fish were moving into feeding lanes out from the banks as they do every year at this time. So everything was as it should have been.

Except for the hoppers.  Where were the hoppers?