Month: November 2010

Fan Mail

Not very often, but occasionally one of my +/-8 Unaccomplished Fans Followers will send me a photo depicting one of their angling accomplishments. While perhaps not, I’m fairly certain that they do this for the sole enjoyment of seeing me retreat further into a state of angling despair.  Whatever the case may be, recently I received an email which comes on the heels of a recent steelheadless trip to Catatonia where I may have mentioned that Great Lakes “steelhead” are not real steelhead:

Dear Unaccomplished Angler,

You suck. I know that this is not a real steelhead to those of you on the left coast because it came out of Lake Ontario via the Salmon River, but I have to say it was pretty darn exciting when we finally got this guy (35 1/4 inches…) in the net. The day started at 20 degrees but it had warmed into the 50s by the time I landed this fish @ 3:30 in the afternoon. I had 2 strikes all day. Missed the first one at 6:00 am, so it was great to have redemption later in the day…


Bob, that’s a beautiful fish–I’d be proud to have caught something so nice.  Amazingly, with it’s chrome sidewalls it looks just like something fresh out of the salt! Thanks for taking the time to write and share the photo of your nice lake run rainbow trout. By the way, the weather looks balmy. The Catatonia River is now completely iced over.

If any of my other 7 followers have a photo of a nice fish and want to gloat, please feel free to email me:

unaccomplishedangler (at) gmail (dot) com

Fly Fishing Catatonia

Catatonia. Sounds a bit like Patagonia.  You’ll find Patagonia by getting to Chile. I found Catatonia by getting chilly (sorry, that was admittedly pretty lame). I’ve never been nor will I ever likely get to South America, but as far as Catatonia, I’ve already “been there”. It is not a fly fishing destination.

Now you may be saying, “Hold on there, son – catatonia ain’t even a place!” and you would be partially correct because it’s not a location that has GPS coordinates. But it is a place where you can go. Catatonia is defined as a being in a rigid unresponsive stupor. Been there.  In worst cases it can be a form of schizophrenia characterized by a tendency to remain in a fixed stuporous state for long periods. Done that. Whether or not clinically diagnosed, I did question my sanity on a recent fishing trip with my buddy, Large Albacore.

I was awake before my alarm went off at 4 AM. As I rolled out of bed and attempted to assume a vertical position it became instantly apparent that I must have done some heavy lifting during the hours that I was asleep because I had managed to throw out my lower back (I swear to you that when I went to bed the night before I felt fine). I was able to get dressed and in a mostly upright manner made it to the breakfast table where I slammed down a hearty offering of sausage, eggs and Aleve. We loaded our gear into Albacore’s pickup truck, which had tires that were admittedly in dire need of replacing – especially with winter approaching. However, there was only a 40% chance of some snow in the forecast so my offer to drive the Fish Taco was declined. There was a light snow falling, but roads were bare and wet,  and Large Albacore, in all his 6’8″ glory, fits more easily into his full-size Chevy than he does a 2003 Toyota Tacoma. A few miles into our commute north we  found ourselves on snow-covered roads with visibility that was greatly reduced thanks to blowing snow. Fortunately the headlights of the car behind us, which insisted on following at a distance of about 15 feet, helped to create a glare which greatly aided in our ability to see the road ahead.

Why we were headed into what appeared to be a snowstorm to go fishing can be blamed on me. Thanks to scheduling conflicts I had been forced to turn down 3 different invitations to partake of steelhead outings during the fall. As a consequence I was suffering from a serious lack of fishing and found myself desperate. Albacore was generous enough to accommodate my begging and pleading, and so we found ourselves on a two lane highway in blizzard at 5:30 in the morning.

When we arrived at our destination, 4-5 inches of fresh snow covered everything and it appeared to be accumulating at an alarming rate.  Since there was a 60% chance that this wasn’t supposed to be happening, I assumed the snow would stop soon, warm up and melt. I also thought that since Albacore had been here a week prior and caught three steelhead, the fishing might be pretty productive. Put that thought on ice for now.

One of Albacore's 3 steelhead caught the previous week

By the time I got my wading boots laced and tied I was unable to move, and for a few seconds remained bent-over while my back decided whether or not I would be allowed to resume an upright position. After we had strung up our rods my fingers were painfully approaching a state of numbness. I commented on the fact that I was glad I wasn’t trying to tie on a size 22 Griffith’s Gnat because that would have required a level of dexterity that was missing. Always the voice of reason, Albacore pointed out that it wouldn’t have been an effective pattern to be fishing, either. We paused for a few minutes with hands tucked into our pockets in a vain attempt to warm our fingers before heading toward the river. I wanted nothing more than to get a move-on, but the body just wouldn’t cooperate. Not wanting to appear weak, I took a deep breath through clenched teeth and lifted one leg over the guard rail. The pain was tolerable so I gingerly rolled the other leg over. With two Spey rods and a Meat Pole rigged up we somehow managed to descend the steep trail and avoid sliding on our arses. Snow-covered large rocks made for precarious footing, and each step was carefully placed to avoid sudden jerky movements which might cause my lower back to spasm in pain. Every third step or so resulted in lower back spasms. I convinced myself that once we reached the river’s edge, where each rock would reveal itself, everything would be OK. Destination accomplished, we began fishing.  “You first,” instructed Albacore.

My first few casts were characteristically unimpressive, but functional. Then began a series of failed casts that could only be described as deplorable. My hands, by now without feeling and further hindered by the gloves that impeded line control, inadvertently allowed my running line to slip while in the motion of the forward stroke. The results were casts that piled up pathetically at a distance of about 15 feet from the end of my Spey rod. After the second or third of such occurrences I just stood as if frozen (literally and figuratively) in a state of mental and physical numbness: Catatonia. “I hate fishing with gloves!” I yelled in Albacore’s upstream direction. “I hate cold hands more than fishing with gloves!” replied the voice of reason. I summoned my inner Navy Seal, regrouped and made a mental note to not let that happen again, which of course it did. In between botched casts I was able to swing the fly through water that should have held steelhead. In fact I’m sure that it did hold steelhead, but the fish were  simply unable to move toward the fly as they hovered near the bottom in a state of suspended animation: Catatonia. I came to this conclusion after an hour of working through what is normally a very productive run.  Albacore fished through behind me and had nary a bump as well. Not even the Meat Pole was capable of producing any action.

With the air temperature in the upper 20’s and the water a balmy 38.5 degrees F, I realize these conditions didn’t define cold in the way that, say, steelhead anglers from the Great Lakes might define cold.  Those folks would surely laugh at us for complaining whining. All I can say is that at least our steelhead are really steelhead. We were dressed for the weather, and with the exception of hands and toes that had lost all circulation, for a short while I was actually quite comfortable as long as I didn’t make and sudden movements or twist the wrong way or lose my footing on a slippery river rock or cough—any of which would result in lower back spasms.  When the body starts to get cold, a little dynamic movement can do wonders to get the blood circulating. When a little dynamic movement is out of the question due to a spastic lower back, cold sets it more readily. When the body gets cold, muscles begin to tighten up. My lower back was already tight, so it just got tighter. Guides on the Spey rod were icing up every so often, requiring that the ice be chipped away with the only tool suited to the task: fingers.  It’s amazing to me that pain can be felt even when complete numbness has set in.

After a couple of hours we decided to move on to another stretch of water, which was really just an excuse to sit inside the truck and warm up a bit. As we drove to our next destination the snow kept falling and the roads became increasingly more slippery, something we were reminded of given the state of the worn tires on the Chevy. Even with 4 wheel drive we had to chose our next parking spot very carefully: the thought of having to ask one of the locals for a tow was too unsavory to imagine. Had that happened I could have at least blamed Albacore and reminded him that we could have driven the Fish Taco. And he could have kicked my ass, too. Fortunately neither occurred, and I begrudgingly climbed out of the truck at our next stop.

For the next two hours we worked our way methodically through more water that undoubtedly held scores of catatonic fish that were willing but unable to move to our swung flies. It turned out to be a good thing that I didn’t hook up with a fish because my running line was completely frozen in iced-up guides, and my reel began to freeze up as well. Efforts to chip away at the ice were futile and it got to the point where all I could do was cast the 24 feet of Compact Skagit shooting head. At one point I found myself standing knee deep in a freezing river, so cold that as my fly settled into the hang-down, my mind became frozen as I drifted into a mental void. I had no idea how long I’d stood there when I heard Albacore’s voice, “Check out the eagle!”  Flying overhead at a distance of less than 50 feet was a Bald Eagle headed south. Probably to Arizona, I thought. The idea made me smile, then laugh. Then my back went into another spasm.

While hardware malfunctions seemed to indicate that conditions were at their worst, the snow did begin to taper and I could even feel the air temperature starting to warm a bit. For those who have ever had their fingers go completely numb, you know that the warming process – before it gets better – gets worse. As my hands began to thaw, the stinging pain became acute. Fortunately my feet were still completely devoid of sensation because I like to give one source of pain my full and undivided attention. While distracted by the searing pain in my finger I took an errant step on a particularly slick rock that resulted in the mother of all lower back spasms. For a few moments I could barely manage to breath. Somehow I was able to stagger to the nearest boulder, where I sat down and hoped a brain aneurism would take me right then and there. After sitting motionless for a short while I made my way delicately upstream past Albacore, who seemed to be enjoying himself almost as much as I was. Without the need to exchange words it was mutually agreed that the time of death would be called: 10:47 AM. Rigor mortis had already set in. Welcome to Catatonia.

A very special auction for Casting 4 a Cure

Casting 4 A Cure is a tremendous organization comprised of folks who love kids and fly fishing. The passion for one benefits the love for the other as fly fishing serves as a vehicle to raise much-needed funding for the International Rett Syndrome Foundation.

Rett Syndrome is a cruel neurodevelopmental disorder which begins to show its affects in infancy or early childhood. It is seen almost exclusively in females, although it can occur rarely in boys.  The disorder severely disrupts gross and fine motor skills as well as robbing the girls of their ability to speak and communicate with the outside world.  Seizures and breathing problems can also be prevailing symptoms. It affects every aspect of a family’s life, as our girls are dependent upon us for almost everything, from helping feed them to helping them get around, bathing, and most other daily tasks that most of us take for granted.

Currently there is a very special Ebay auction taking place over the next 10 days. View the auction HERE – it includes some really great stuff. All proceeds will go directly to Casting 4 a Cure, and the auction includes the following items:

Scandalous Sticks Custom Fiberglass “Pygmy” Fly Rod
The Pygmy is a very special little fiberglass rod. It is a 5 foot 6 inch 4wt that has more personality than some people. It is not uncommon to toss a 60-foot cast with a 12 foot leader and a dry fly. Being designed for the dry fly genre it’s NEVER had a rough presentation. The Pygmy has the ability to fight BIG fish into the 30-inch range with ease. This beautiful custom-built rod is truly a one of a kind, with a custom blonde Israeli olive wood reel seat and a “Casting 4 A Cure”  label. This would be a great rod for kids to learn to cast with, but once you see it you’ll want to keep it for yourself! Price $450 Read my review of the rod HERE

Clear Creek aluminum rod tube and sock
Anodized brass screw-on cap with protected internal threads. Clear Creek tubes feature thicker .05” aluminum for super-protection and padded top prevents damage to contents. Rod sock is 60/40 poly-cotton, features flap and tie closure.  Retail $47

Redington Drift 3/4  Fly Reel
Titanium. Designed to meet the specific needs of the trout fisherman, the new Click and Pawl Drift Series is fully machined from 6061-T6 aluminum. These reels are custom anodized.  (pre-spooled with backing and line) Retail $99.95

Rio Mainstream Trout WF4F
Designed to optimize rod performance at normal casting ranges. The MainStream floating lines have a supple self-lubricating coating that remains memory-free in cold water. Retail $39.95

Fishpond Laurel Run Fly Box
In designing the Laurel Run, we challenged the notion that fly boxes must be made of plastic or metal.  Crush-resistant, molded construction; Zippered case; Colorful fishpond Jacquard accent webbing doubles as hand strap; Climbing cord loop for lanyard;High-density foam for easy identification of flies; Floats. 4 x 6 inches. Retail $25.00

Olive the Woolly Bugger books
This series of three children’s fly fishing books is signed by the author, Kirk Werner.  Includes Olive the Little Woolly Bugger, Olive and The Big Stream, and Olive Goes for a Wild Ride.  Also included is an embroidered Olive baseball style cap. Retail $38.85 ($12.95 each)

Tomorrow’s Fly Fishers DVD by Fanny Krieger
This DVD is an introduction to fly fishing for young people and beginners of all ages. It unravels the mystery of fly fishing into a simple, easy to under-stand and fun adventure. Fanny is a Federation of Fly Fishers Certified Casting Instructor. If you know the Krieger name, that says it all!  Retail $29.95

Are you man enough for a Fanny Pack?

Chuck Norris sporting a fanny pack.

One of the most common questions I come across in fly fishing discussions, besides whether to nymph with beads or swing for steelhead, is the matter of personal luggage used to carry all of one’s doo-dads when out fishing.  There are many choices, from the traditional fly vest to all manner of packs worn either on the back, the chest, slung diagonally over one shoulder, or around the waist.  It’s all a very personal matter of opinion, and yes – I’m going to give you my thoughts on my experiences with doo-dad carrying devices.

For reference, “doo-dads” may include such things as tippet spools, nippers, hemostats, fly boxes, leader wallet, floatant, dessicant, sink putty, Thingamabobbers, hook sharpening file, Monomaster, stream thermometer, camera, bug spray, sunscreen, handwarmers, TP, first aid kit, flashlight, Leatherman tool, wallet, fishing license, etc. Your list may vary, but I tend to carry a lot of crap necessary items.


Never had one so I can’t offer much there, other than that fact that I’m reminded of Dr. Evil and Mini-Me. I can see the advantages of having things right there in front of you at all times, so trying such a doo-dad carrying device is not out of the relm of possibilities. In other words, I’ll never say that I’ll never have a chest pack.


This gives me cause to harken back upon my days in the Boy Scouts, when ill-fitting and improperly-loaded backpacks were filled well past the Gross Combined Weight Bearing Capacity of both the youngsters and the packs. Given my tendency to carry as much as a device is capable of holding, it’s best that I don’t use a fly fishing backpack. I’m sure they work well for some folks, but it seems to me that if things are kept in a pack on your back, said things would be not readily accessed. However if you are hiking to a destination where you’ll need a ton of stuff I can certainly see the benefits to a backpack, especially one designed to carry rods and other fly fishing specific gear. If you use a backpack just be sure to check daily to make sure some hooligan didn’t hide a 5-pound rock in the bottom. If they did you want to find it immediately and not carry the rock around for several days before discovering it.


Ah, the old traditional fly vest (and some vests are anything but traditional). I had one for many years, and it held a lot of stuff.  And that was the problem: it held so much that I felt compelled to take everything with me (see list of doo-dads above). I had a good system for stowing all manner of things in their own pockets, so I knew exactly where everything was when I needed it.  The problem was that after a day of fishing I felt the strain of having carried what felt like the weight of the world on my shoulders.  Also, during the hot summer months I didn’t like having all that material wrapped around my upper body (although according to the photo above one needn’t necessarily wear anything under the vest). Still, there was something I liked about the carrying capacity of a vest, and I moved away from it begrudgingly.

Sage DXL Lumbar Fanny Pack


*Gasp* Just the sound of it causes uncomfortable shivers up and down my spine – so much so that I cannot even say the word. Butt after I did away with my vest I went with the Sage DXL Lumbar Fanny Pack. I liked it because when cinched snug around the waist it was like wearing a lower back support belt. The DXL Lumbar Fanny Pack has many nice features, though it is lacking a fly patch (easily remedied by adhering a velcro strip to the black plastic surface below the Sage logo). The pack is moderately sized and therefore limited what I could take with me. Lightening my load was undeniably a good thing, although I occasionally pined for a few of the items that I was forced to omit from the pack. The only thing I didn’t like about the DXL Lumbar F#nny Pack was that it was not very resistant to water. When exposed to wet conditions the pack tends to get damp, inside and out. When it happened to sit in the bottom of a drift boat on a rainy day, it would become waterlogged. And while I rarely wade deep enough for pack worn around the waist to get wet, that was also an issue on occasion. One day while fishing the Yakima River with Marck, a young lady who was part of a Rubber Hatch flotilla yelled to me, “Nice f#nny pack!” Usually I’m a fairly confident conversationalist, but this time I was left speechless in the face of the sarcastic comment. I became withdrawn because she was right: it is a f#nny pack. One would think that by the time a person gets to be my age, their self confidence would serve as a barrier to any negative outside forces. I never fully recovered from that sarcastic barb, so I kept looking for an improved option for carrying my stuff.

2009 saw a new offering to the marketplace that caught my attention:  The Sage DXL Typhoon Waist Pack. Now there’s something I could live with – a waist pack (take THAT, Miss Smarty Pants!). I read a review of the pack over at Deneki Outdoors and was intrigued. I was also initially put off by the price tag of $200 for the large model, which is the one that I was interested in. I thought perhaps if I waited long enough the good folks at Sage would send me one as a “thank you” for publicly proclaiming to be a Sage Whore Poster Boy, but that offer never materialized.  Some months later, in a moment of weakness while visiting my local fly shop (All About the Fly in Monroe, WA) I broke down under owner Ron Torda’s hard-sell pressure and bought one. The large size (the one with the large price tag).

Sage DXL Typhoon Large Waist Pack

The DXL Typhoon Large Waist Pack is in fact large (671 cubic inches), which in my assessment just means there’s more to love. And after doing some math I realized that the pack only costs 30 cents per cubic inch, so the price isn’t really as bad as I originally thought. The Typhoon Waist Pack is a waterproof/heavily water resistant combination of rubber-coated nylon and a heavy duty ripstop nylon material with one compartment that is completely submersible thanks to a dry suit-style zipper. Overall the waist pack is big enough that I can carry everything I want, including the kitchen sink. In fact this thing carries more than I ever dreamed of carrying in my old fly vest, but now the weight of the world is on my hips, where it should be.

The waterproof zipper compartment is roomy enough for carrying things that need to stay dry should one submerge oneself involuntarily while wearing the pack. This waterproof compartment is suitable for things such as a wallet, camera and perhaps blasting powder. The main storage compartment is a vast, cavernous place that’s capable of holding a few fly boxes, a case for sunglasses, a flask and even a shirt or article of clothing rolled up. There’s also room for lunch (I recommend placing the sandwich on top). Six inner divider pockets are slick for organizing all manner of small doo-dads. There is also a large velcro fly patch on the inside of the compartment. I opted instead to attach a smaller foam fly patch (not included) to the outside (just my personal preference). Waterproof (but not submersible) zippers secure the main compartment, which is then covered again by a storm flap that stays closed using a couple of magnets. Sometimes when I’ve overstuffed the pack the storm flap doesn’t want to stay covered due to the magnets not quite lining up.  That’s easily remedied by reducing the amount of stuff I take with me. Again, this is not a bad thing.

The exterior of the pack has several points where zingers and a tippet spool can be attached (get creative). As noted there is a velcro strip for a fly patch, a couple of quickly-accessed pockets for oft-needed items such as floatant, and a couple of ingenious sheaths for holding hemostats/pliers. There are also a couple of magnetic spots to keep things like nippers from flopping around. Cargo straps on the bottom of the pack will hold a rain jacket when rolled up (I’ve enjoyed this feature several times), and a small, zippered mesh pocket on the waist belt is handy for keeping things that you may need quickly and often. I keep my waterproof point-and-shoot camera there so that I can quickly extract it for shooting photos of Marck’s nice fishes.

Even when loaded up with all that its capable of carrying, the Typhoon pack is very comfortable. The waist strap is extremely well padded and when cinched tight gives that lower back support which can be nice after wading a freestone river all day if you happen to have middle-aged back. There is also a removable, padded shoulder/neck strap: I like to wear it like a sling: over one shoulder so the pack sits on my hip. That makes it easier to get at stuff and it also serves as a nice arm rest. When worn this way it does not interfere with either arm when casting.

Another comforting thing is the fact that this is not a “f#nny” pack: it is a pack that is worn around the waist. This has allowed me to enjoy my DXL Typhoon Waist Pack to the fullest – guilt free of any awkward association having to do with the buttocks region. The pack is quite masculine and rugged, so it suits me to a T.

Oh, and it also has two nifty beverage holsters so I can carry a couple bottles of Zima with me.

Fully submersible compartment for things that must stay dry at all times.

Cavernous main compartment

Outside pockets for easy access.

Plenty of padding for maximum comfort.

Sheath for hemostats (retainer strap not included- my idea)

November 20th is Children’s Day? Seriously.

I just found out that November 20th is, apparently, Children’s Day (even though the logo above says it’s the second Sunday in June). And not only that, but Children’s Day was celebrated even before Mother’s or Father’s Day, which is absurd because without mothers and fathers there would be no children. Children’s Day dates back as far as 1856 and was first celebrated in June. Since then it has it has gone through several changes in dates.  The fact that it has moved around so much may be one reason why I never heard of it.

Knowing now that there is an official Children’s Day sort of undermines my ultimate closing argument when silencing the complaints of my own kids throughout their young lives: Whenever they would whine or complain or simply state that they wished their birthdays or Christmas came more often, I would always remind them of how good they have it and how much we do for them every day, followed up of course by “when I was your age I had to walk both ways uphill, barefoot in the snow…” In other words, when dealing with my own kids it was my contention was every day was Children’s Day.  Apparently not, because Children’s Day is November 20th.

More detailed information from Children’s Day was formally celebrated throughout the world in October of 1953, when the International Union for Child Welfare in Geneva sponsored the day. Then in 1954 V.K Krishna Menon, Indian Nationalist and Politician, debated a Universal Children’s Day, which was officially recognized by the United Nations General Assembly. November 20th also marks the anniversary when the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959.

Again, this goes against another argument I’ve used for many years with my kids.  When they would get all self-righteous and uppity, declaring that our household rules were unfair and unjust, demanding that all their friends had ipods, cell phones and no midnight curfews, I would remind them that they are MY children and have no rights because this family is a dictatorship. Then I might throw in an unnecessary insult just because I could.

I never said I was a good parent – that role belongs to Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler.

Regardless of whether you knew about Children’s Day or not, it sounds like a good excuse to be nice to your kids. Afterall, they’re the ones that are going to be taking care of us when we get to that point in our lives. To celebrate maybe take them fishing, or buy them a token gift.  Might I suggest the Olive the Woolly Bugger series of children’s books?  At a mere $12.95 you can buy all three in the series for less than the cost of something else that costs more than all three books.

Happy Children’s Day.

Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight, unless your name is Marck.

Late October on the Yakima River means magnificent colors that span brilliant yellows to vibrant reds and the bluest skies you can imagine. It also means fishing small flies with light tippet for potentially some of the biggest fish of the year. This can be the most technically challenging time on the Yakima, but the rewards can be great for the angler of skill and accomplishment. And still, I wanted go.

I watched the weather report, checked flows and decided that the last Friday in October would be a good day to hit the lower Yakima Canyon. Due to some heavy rain early in the week the river had spiked, but was on the drop. The weather called for clouds and mild winds and temps in the 50’s, with ample cloud cover (which should ensure a BWO hatch).  With the prospects of rising fish it didn’t take much prodding to convince Marck to join me, and we dropped the Hornet into the clear, 58 degree waters at Mile Marker 20. It was just before noon and a chilly 45 degrees under high fog that blanketed the canyon. I was glad for the lightweight long johns I’d thrown on that morning; Mark would soon wish for more than the shorts he had on under his waders. No fish would be rising for at least an hour, if then, so we selected Lightning Bugs and WD40s to fish under indicators: small stuff in the #20 and #22 hook sizes. These are things I can barely manage to see with the naked eye, let alone thread tippet through the hook eyes.

As we geared up, I heard Marck proclaim, “Oh, gosh darnit!”  Alarmed by this outburst of disturbing profanities, I glanced to see that in his hands was the empty tube for his 6 wt Sage VT2, the intended weapon for the day.  Apparently he’d failed to place the rod back into the tube after using it last, and the rod itself sat somewhere in his garage. Luckily he had with him a backup rod, though it wasn’t perhaps the best choice for fishing nymphs with an indicator to potentially large fish.  Since he had no other choice in the matter, his 7’6″ Sage ZXL 3 weight would have to do. It’s a splendid rod that is comfortably at home presenting dry flies to smallish fish.  Chances were the fish would fit that bill, as large fish on the Yakima are the exception rather than the norm. But one never knows on the Yakima, especially in the fall when the big fish are eating ahead of the ensuing winter. I’ve fished Marck’s ZXL and it’s a sweet little stick. Mated with a Sage III Click reel, the whole thing is like a feather in the hand and makes my 4wt Sage Z-Axis feel rather like a battle axe (which is, of course, absurd and I resent the implication). It should be noted that the reel on Mark’s little rod has no drag mechanism. Part of the fun of playing modest-sized fish on a light rod is applying the brakes with the palm of one’s hand, old school.

We began our float, nymphing all the likely seams off the bank, and when those produced no bumps we’d fish tighter to the river’s edge, losing a few flies to the overhanging bushes in the process. Finally after an hour, while we were anchored up working some particularly fishy-looking water, Marck’s rod bent significantly (to the cork).  “Got a fish on, finally?” I asked. “Nice fish,” was all he said (Marck isn’t real chatty when he’s focused). While it doesn’t take more than a small fish to bend the little 3 weight ZXL, this was no small fish and Marck’s reel sang the sweet tune that a click and pawl reel sings as line is peeled at warp speed.  The wind was light to non-existent, but the unmistakable smell of burning flesh wafted toward me, and I realized Marck’s palm was getting the short end of the stick. The fish didn’t jump or display any sort of acrobatics common to rainbow trout, so I immediately concluded that he’d hooked into a big Rocky Mountain Bonefish (likely hooked it in the arse, too). However when the fish flashed nearby the vibrant colors of the rainbow did away with any notions of it being a whitefish. Then the fish pit its head down and parked itself on the bottom of the river as it showed Marck who was boss. “What size tippet do you have on?” I asked, hoping Marck would reply with something a bit stouter than he did: “6X,” he answered.  Crap. The only thing going for him was that the light 3 weight rod had a very sensitive tip, so the web-like tippet would be protected as much as possible as the battle ensued. I wondered if Marck had even bothered to put backing on the spool…

As he continued to fight the fish and grind off the remaining flesh of his palm, I set myself to the task of preparing the net.  Now, a good net isn’t going to require any preparation, but Marck’s net is not what I would consider a good one. It has a decent rubber basket, but the telescoping handle requires that two spring-loaded pins lock into place to secure the basket.  The problem is that this particular aspect of the mechanism doesn’t work very well, and I fumbled with the pins, trying to depress them so the basket would slide into place and lock securely. One of the pins got stuck. I had neither the time nor the tool on hand to fix it. I hoped the other pin would suffice. It felt like eternity had passed before I finally got it partially assembled. Luckily the delay caused by my ineptness the stupid net didn’t pose a problem because Marck was no closer to landing the fish than he had been before the net fiasco began. Each time he would get the fish closer to the boat, it would roll and dive. The little clicker screamed as line was taken at will.  And repeat. During the epic struggle my job was to stay out of the way, so I cowered in the front of the boat, staying as low as possible, with a rickety net clasped tightly in my hands, waiting to knock the fish loose from Marck’s hook . (Note to Mrs. Marck: please get him a decent net for Christmas)

Fortunately, this would not happen. After several minutes of waiting patiently for Marck to land the fish so I could step in and do the important part, I finally got the opportunity to dip the net under the fish and with impressive skill scooped the beast from the water.  At an honest 20 inches , if not more, it was better than just a “nice fish”. It was the type of fish all anglers hope for but rarely if ever experience on the Skunkima Yakima. Just then the sun broke through the fog and shone rays down upon the glistening colors of the rainbow: a magnificent specimen that bore signs of some residual cutthroat DNA, as suggested by faint remnants of throat slashes. It was textbook fall fishing on this river: big fish on tiny flies fished at the end of tiny thread-like monofilament. What the textbooks don’t suggest is targeting these big fish of fall on such a light rod. However, after witnessing the event first hand, it would be hard to criticize Marck for anything other than remembering to inspect the hook on his fly after landing the big fish (later in the day he lost a fish because the hook had been straightened by the big hawg earlier). I don’t know how many times I’ve told him to check for these sorts of things…

After this fish of a ***lifetime, nothing else caught that day mattered much, though Marck did land a nice 15 inch fish.  Yours truly managed a modest 10 inch rainbow on a dry fly during a brief BWO hatch that didn’t produce much action beyond that. If not for substandard angling skills I’d have landed a 12 incher later in the day, and I hooked into something that grabbed my soft hackle as it swung through a seam, gave a series of heavy head shakes and broke me off.  One has to wonder if that fish might have been an inch bigger than Marck’s?  Probably a steelhead. That’s the angle I’m taking.

***This was actually Mark’s second fish of a lifetime on the Yakima River this year.  He caught a similar sized beast earlier in the year, on heavier tippet and his 6 weight. You can see the result HERE.

The politics of steelhead: to nymph or swing? The debate takes a new form

If you  haven’t witnessed the debate between steelhead anglers, or at least heard of the disparity between those who nymph (with beads, no doubt!) and those who swing flies, then this is going to be either enlightening or a complete waste of your time. Suffice it to say that the debate amongst steelhead fly fishing people is akin to the age old rivalry between the gentleman dry fly angler presenting delicate size 20 Blue Winged Olives upon the surface of gin clear waters and…the others who may dead drift a San Juan Worm through turbid, high waters that should otherwise be left for another day.

To this end fly fishing can be an awful lot like politics, with the bi-partisan wrangling that goes hand-in-hand with that favorite American pastime. With the recent elections and the accompanying onslaught of dirty campaign ads still etched in our minds, the timing of this little nugget below is perfect. A tip of the hat to my friend Mumbles (not his real name) for putting this together.  Bear in mind there is some profanity, used only for the sake of cinematic authenticity. Any colorful expletives are merely indicative of the emotions that run high in real-life debates on the matter of nymphing vs. the swing.

Enjoy, or not.  If you want a refund on your 3:37, take it up with Mumbles.

Rich Schaaff: fly fisherman, photographer, friend.

There will be no regularly scheduled “Weekly Drivel” this week in honor of Rich Schaaff.

A lot of people I know think Facebook is a waste of time, though I openly admit that I enjoy it. It allows me to keep in touch with friends and family members, and is a great way to network with others involved in the world of fly fishing.  More than half of the people who are my “friends” are folks I’ve not actually met in person: people who share a common passion for fly fishing. I enjoy seeing their fish porn, reading about their adventures and fishing vicariously through them.  Let the naysayers think what they may of Facebook, my experience is that it makes the world a better place when it facilitates the introduction with people we might never otherwise have met. It may not be often that we strike up any sort of meaningful relationship with these people, but once in a while we are drawn to certain individuals and they do become our friends, even though we might not have had the chance to meet them face to face. Yet.

One such person is Rich Schaaff.  I don’t remember exactly when we became Facebook friends: it seems as though I’d known him forever. Rich was a warm, engaging, generous guy with a great sense of humor and we bantered back and forth on many topics including a mutual love of the Allman Brothers Band. And, of course, fly fishing.  Rich was a gifted photographer as well, and I always looked forward to seeing new work posted on his Facebook page. If you’ve not had the pleasure, check out his beautiful images at Eastfork Fly Photography.

A couple of months ago Rich emailed me to see if I would be interested in writing an article about him for Kype magazine. The folks at Kype were planning to feature some of Rich’s photography work and an accompanying article was needed. I was flattered, and thus began a series of phone conversations and back-and-forth emails as I gathered information. I already felt like I knew Rich, but after spending some time hearing his stories I definitely got to know him much better.

At this time I am not sure when the issue of Kype with Rich’s article will be available, but Rich will not get a chance to see the article in print as his life was cut short by a brief battle with cancer. Life is too precious to sit around and wait for ink to dry, and so I’m posting the unedited article here for everyone to read so that we may all gain a better appreciation for the man you may have been lucky enough to call “friend”.

It was just before dusk on his first trip to Montana in 1984 when Rich Schaaff found himself sprinting downstream along the banks of the Madison River. A widening grin spread across his face as he fought to keep his line tight with one hand while trying to prevent his waders from falling around his ankles with the other. Increasingly farther downstream a big rainbow continued to rip line from his reel.

The scene played out within view of Three Dollar Bridge, and Schaaff can still hear the echo of uncontrollable laughter from his fishing buddy as the trout attempted to make short work of the man on the other end of the line. That night as the two compadres reclined on the grass next to the river looking up at the stars he never knew previously existed, Schaaff acknowledged, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” When he returned to his home in Chicago Schaaff knew that there was something very special about the West. He knew that he would come back again some day.

A fly fisherman for most of his life, Rich grew up in Chicago and chased trout on small streams in Michigan and Wisconsin.  He fondly recalls the day from his childhood when he caught his first fish on a fly: it was in ankle deep water on a small spring creek, and the brown trout wasn’t much bigger than the fly it had inhaled. “I went running down the bank with that poor little fish squeezed tightly in my hand, screaming to my brother,” Schaaff recalls. He still feels a twinge of guilt that the little brown “sacrificed its own life in order to bring me such fulfillment.” In addition to fishing closer to home Rich would often make the 11 hour, non-stop drive to the White River in Arkansas with his brother, who had previously worked there as a fly fishing guide.  His brother knew the river well, and the two regularly fished for long weekends. Though the White was teeming with trout, Schaaff acknowledges that after the ’84 trip to Montana everything else paled by comparison. “It wasn’t the West that I longed for.”  His trip to Montana had apparently ruined him.

While he grew up fishing, photography was a hobby that didn’t come along until Schaaff moved to New York City in 1994. To hear Rich tell it, “God only knows why I ever moved to NYC in the first place.” As he reflects back on that period of his life, however, it becomes obvious that his years spent living in Manhattan were good for something. Mesmerized by the lifestyle and architecture that surrounded him, Schaaff purchased a Nikon camera and spent his days off  “schlepping around the streets of Manhattan shooting roll after roll of black and white film.”  The dramatic urban settings provided endless opportunities to study composition and the play of light. He didn’t realize it at the time, but the Manhattan project was preparing Rich for what lie ahead, further to the West.

Schaaff refers to his time spent in NYC as “the lost years of fly fishing”. He regrets that probably one of the biggest mistakes while living in Manhattan was not taking advantage of the great Eastern fisheries. “I think I was too busy trying to absorb and balance all the craziness of that lifestyle,” he says.  In 1999 he snapped back to his senses.

“Go West, young man.”

Such was the advice of an Indiana newspaper writer by the name of John Soule, who in 1851 wrote the words that would become a mantra for nineteenth century Americans pursuing their dreams of a new life in a new, unsettled territory. 148 years after those words were first published, Rich Schaaff answered that call to action and headed about as far West as he possible could, settling in the Pacific Northwest near Portland, Oregon.  Rich admits that he’d grown weary of wading in a mass of humanity and left New York City “to avoid seeing people talking to themselves on the streets.” He still wades, but now he does so amongst rocks and water. He still sees people talking to themselves on occasion, but the difference is that now these people are usually harmless fly anglers, blurting out a few choice words when a fish throws their hook.

The slower pace of life on the West coast suited Schaaff perfectly and allowed him to fully immerse himself in two of his passions: fly fishing and photography. Exactly when the two hit head-on isn’t clear, but one thing is:  “When they came together, I knew I was a goner.”  He also knew he was a goner when he met “a wonderful Oregonian gal named Julie” who would become his better half.

There was plenty of fishing to be done out West, and those fishing trips soon included a camera as part of the requisite tackle. “I began spending more time taking photos than actually fishing,” Schaaff says without a hint of remorse. He began to see fly fishing differently through the camera’s lens, and a good fishing trip began to be measured not in the number of fish caught, but in how many quality shots he was able to capture. “Two good shots make the trip,” he adds.

The more Rich fished, the more photos he took as he immersed himself in his passions. Soon it became clear that his photography hobby deserved an identity, and thus was born East Fork Fly Photography. In order to share his work with friends and fishing buddies, Schaaff created a website and began uploading images from his memory cards.  Upon viewing his work, it’s obvious that what Rich captures with his lens goes well beyond the average ‘fish porn’ shots. “I try to avoid the typical grip and grin,” he adds, “But I’ll go there if it’s my fish!”

During the winter months when he wasn’t standing knee deep in a steelhead river, Rich began experimenting with a light box – a portable device that provides even, diffused lighting for shooting small objects. He saw the amazing artistry in flies tied by his friend Rocky Maley and sought to capture the beauty of the flies by showcasing them with other items of fishing gear as props. His background in interior design helped when it came to staging the shots.

Due to his keen ability to capture the subtleties associated with all aspects of fly fishing, after a couple of years Schaaff’s work began to get noticed. Marshall Cutchin of invited Schaaff to be featured in the photography section of the popular fly fishing website. The talent already assembled on Midcurrent was impressive, and Schaaff was humbled by the invitation. Up to this point photography had been simply a personal endeavor.

With increased exposure came residual interest in Schaaff’s photography, and his work caught the attention of Korkers, the Portland, Oregon-based footwear manufacturer. The day after a brief phone call to see if Schaaff was interested in shooting some possible catalog work for their 2011 season (he was interested, by the way), a pair of wading boots showed up on his doorstep and Schaaff got busy with his camera. The folks at Korkers apparently liked what they saw in his proofs and hired him for the shoot. Since then Schaff has also done work for Slate Creek Fly Rod Company and Umpqua Feather Merchants. He’s come a long way since schlepping the streets of Manhattan on his days off, shooting rolls of black and white film.

As for the big rainbow on the Madison River near Three Dollar Bridge, it’s hard to get a straight answer from Rich as to how that scene finally played out.  Without photographic proof we are simply left to wonder.

Rich Schaaff lives along the banks of the east fork of the Lewis River in Washington state where he spends the winter months fishing for the elusive steelhead. He’s also been known to chase redside Rainbow trout on the Deschutes River in Oregon, and on summer evenings he waits for the “blessed hex hatch” on an undisclosed small lake not far from his home. Rich can be reached through his website,

Thank you, Rich, for the opportunity to get to know you and for your friendship. Rest in Peace.

Blood Knot magazine’s interview with April Vokey

One thing that has always amused me is the practice of selling magazines based on flashy, attractive cover photos. We’ve all fallen victim to this practice: the monster brown trout (that you’ll never catch) in a beautiful Montana river, or the acrobatic Tarpon against the backdrop of turquoise waters (that you’ll never see). All too often the best thing about the magazine is the cover, and that’s fine if that’s your cup of tea. Now I’m no magazine publisher, but if I were I would certainly probably never stoop to such low levels just to sell magazines, or attract readers.

The magazine industry is evolving or at least expanding to the world of the internet, and I’ve been reading some of the online fly fishing magazines that have grown in popularity recently. What separates the online magazines to their print cousins is that they’re free. Being free, one would think that everyone would read them, right?  Well, just as print magazines must stand out amongst their competition on the magazine rack, online magazines must also offer something unique that convinces the reader that this issue is worth your time.  Blood Knot is one of these relatively new online periodicals of the fly fishing world, and they just launched their Holiday issue which features a cover photo of April Vokey of Flygal Ventures.  Savvy move on the part of the folks at Blood Knot, because just as covers sell print magazines, an enticing cover photo increases the likelihood of folks clicking on an online magazine.  And let’s face it, April Vokey is cover material.  But before you judge the folks at Blood Knot harshly for using a pretty girl just to “sell” their magazine, read the interview. You’ll see that there’s more to April than just a pretty face: there is a real, bonafied fly angler that takes her job seriously and does a good job at promoting her business. Kudos to April.

Let the record reflect, however,  that the Unaccomplished Angler featured April Vokey well before the folks at Blood Knot. While it may have been simply an April Fools Day lark, Ms. Vokey did end up leaving a comment on my blog, so I consider that quite a journalistic accomplishment that makes me feel almost pretty cool.  Almost.

So check out the latest edition of Blood Knot. There’s lots of great content, including gift ideas for the upcoming Holiday season, an entertaining article about an ill-fated encounter with John Gierach and much more. And of course a great cover shot.