My son has loved fishing since he was little. It wasn’t something I forced him to do–unlike managing personal hygiene or doing chores. Fishing just seemed to be in his blood from the get-go. When he got to be about 11, I introduced him to fly fishing. Does he love fly fishing? To answer that question indirectly, he likes to catch fish. If he caught a lot of fish when we go fly fishing, he would love it. Doesn’t happen that way most of the time, but fishing is fishing when you get past the means of fooling fish into taking some sort of artificial lure, and I’m no snob.
But this isn’t about me.
The Carefree Days of Youth
During the summer of Schpanky’s 12th year, he practically lived at the little lake that lies smack in the middle of our small town: Lake Rasmussen, or as it is more affectionately known to locals, Mud Lake. Nearly every day of that summer, the boy and a ragtag assembly of his friends would, by some means, get to the lake with their fishin’ poles and tackle boxes, and a lunch. Sometimes they would ride their bikes, other times they would play the pathetic card and talk Mrs. UA or another mom into giving them a ride. Moms are too easy on their boys. The young anglers would be there all day, coming home at the end of the day tired, dirty and hungry. And loving every minute of it. We’re not sure how Schpanky survived that summer, as eating became secondary to fishing: often upon his return from the lake, his lunch would be untouched in his backpack.
Day in and day out Schpanky would venture to “Mud” and cast to bass and catfish from the public access “beach”. Beach is perhaps an inaccurate description because it suggests swimming activities. One would not, in their right mind, take a dip in Mud Lake because it is aptly named. And it has leeches and more mosquito larvae than than a third world country. But it also has bass and catfish, and it held the attention of these boys for countless hours during this particular summer of their carefree youth.
The bass that the boys caught from the beach were not big–maybe 8 to 10 inchers that dashed from their nests in acts of defensive aggression. One afternoon I drove to the lake to pick the boy up – he’d been there all day, and because we were worried about his lack of nutrition I had been sent to fetch him home for a proper meal. As I watched him patiently toss his Sinko rubber bait repeatedly into the shallows, I suggested that perhaps the next night I would bring my float tube down and send him across the lake to the far bank, which was lined with blackberry bushes and brambles. And structure. He liked that idea. The next evening we did just that.
I stifled my amusement as he geared up for his mission: clad in neoprene waders that were 2 sizes too big for him, his feet strapped into fins that were even larger, it was all I could do to keep from chuckling out loud. I made sure his PFD was secured (I was NOT going swimming in that water if he were to slip out of the float tube) and sent him off to the other side of the lake which was only maybe 50 yards away. It didn’t take him long before he hooked into something considerably larger than the small fish he’d been catching at the beach. The challenge was landing the fish from his perch atop the float tube. I seem to recall a voice echoing across the still surface of the pond. There was a touch of concern in the tone, “Daaad, I can’t get it!” I calmly instructed him to reel the fish in as closely as possible and kick his way back toward the beach. It was quite a sight to see as the over-dressed kid in over-sized gear struggled to kick as fast as he could while dragging the fish behind him. It wasn’t a huge fish, but it was a nice bass in the 3 pound range. And he was a pretty small kid–just an amateur angler in those days.
Golf Sucks (except for ponds)
Summers since then have been less carefree. What with a summer job and all, there hasn’t been nearly the time for fishing. While he’s old enough to drive himself (thus the need for a job) and use my float tube without adult supervision, frankly he’s outgrown Mud Lake. He spends most of his time working at the Carnation Golf Course, where he’s been a Cart Rat for a couple years now. His job is to wash carts as they come in from a round of play, and essentially keep the cart barn clean and tidy. He likes golf, and he’s pretty good at it (I have no idea where that came from). Last summer Mrs. UA and I had dinner at the golf course, and Schpanky proudly gave us a tour of his office. He also showed me a pond that lies immediately behind the cart barn. He mentioned that there were some big bass in there, but he hadn’t tried fishing for them yet. The only access to the pond is via a small, rickety, floating dock that is used to hold some piping for an irrigation pump (it’s not a fishing platform). Space is tight so a fly rod is out of the question (believe me, I thought about taking some surface poppers down there and having a go at it). But I reminded him that he’s there to work–not fish. He agreed that if his fishing rod did happen to find it’s way to his office, it would be used only after he had clocked out. That was a year ago.
A couple of weeks ago I got a text message from him. He was at work. The text message included this photo of a 5-6 pounder:
“Nice fish,” I replied. “You catch that while on the clock?” Turns out he did. “Work was slow and I was caught up with the carts,” he said. Hard to fault him for that, although I certainly don’t condone spending company time on personal matters, or say, taking Post-it notes or pens from the office supply room to bring home. I’ve never done that.
Schpanky told me there were much bigger fish in the pond than this one, and that he’d momentarily hooked a hawg before it broke him off. I could sense an excitement and determination in his voice that I hadn’t detected since that summer of his 12th year. Again, I cautioned him against fishing on company time.
A week later I receive another text message from the boy. With another photo attached:
“Damn, son!” was my reply. He responded by telling me it was 8-9 pounds. Later, when I had a chance to catch up with him in person I inquired, “You get paid to catch that fish?”
Apparently work was a little slow, again. With a glimmer in his eye he said, “There are even bigger ones in there.”
It’s hard to fault a guy for getting paid to fish. I wish I did.
I’m currently accepting sponsors.
It’s time to clear up some confusion. Recently Kevin, one of 8 faithful followers of this blog, sent me an email containing the photo below and the corresponding inquiry:
Kirk…was driving my own “fish taco” back to Texas from New Mexico, and spotted this….another business venture to supplement your fishing expenses?
Ah yes, Werner Enterprises. There were 4 branches of the family tree: the trucking Werners; the ladder making Werners; the kayak paddle making Werners and the Unaccomplished Werners. The latter Werners, not to be confused withe ladder Werners, seemed not to fair quite as well as the former three Werners. Then there are the Werners of the Werner’s Wigglers fame, but we don’t talk much about them.
Ironically, or not, I talked about this confusing matter about a year ago. Obviously Kevin missed that entry, so I’ll post a link to it HERE, just to clear up any future confusion.
By the way- nice truck Kevin. Good color, too.
If you see a white Fish Taco that looks like the one below, it’s me—not Kevin. Just wanted to clear that up.
There are many things that can interfere with a day of fishing: yard work, project deadlines, honey-do lists. These are things one can control, sort of (or at least ignore and set aside for another day). Other things, often dictated by Mother Nature, present bigger challenges. For example, heavy flows from Spring runoff force trout into hiding. Cold water can turn them into troutcicles that are either uninterested or incapable of feeding. These conditions affect the fish themselves, but high, cold water does not prevent an angler from having a go at the fish. Road blockages, however, are another matter.
I’d grown weary of sitting around waiting for summer fishing to turn on. Everywhere across the West, rivers were running much higher than they should be this time of year, and the state of WA was no exception. Spring had been almost non-existent this year as winter seemed to extend it’s ugly reach well into May and snow continued to fall in the mountains (I’ll avoid bitching about the weather for fear that Junior Albacore will come out of the shadows and leave a comment).
In recent weeks it had warmed and the melt was on. In its liquid form, snow runs down hill where it joins with other melted snow in channels called streams, or rivers. Three of these rivers converge near the town of North Bend: the South Fork, Middle Fork and North Fork of the Snoqualmie River. From here, the Snoqualmie River tumbles over Snoqualmie Falls and becomes a sub-par steelhead river for a few miles before becoming a lazy, fishless slough further downstream. The Forks, however, are small to medium sized mountain streams that run from high in the mountains, down through the foothills.
On any given year, one can expect fishing in the Forks to get productive around the first of July. The fish consist mostly of coastal Cutthroat trout, although a smattering of rainbows and even some Westslope Cutthroats can be found in some areas. They’re not large fish. Most are in the 8-10 inch range, with an occasional 12 inch bruiser being caught and mysterious secondhand reports of even larger fish are passed along though the ranks of anglers with seldom any photographic proof. No matter the size, these fish are all voracious eaters of imitation flies, as well they should be: they have a narrow window of feeding opportunities in streams that are not particularly nutrient-rich. This equates to fish that will typically rise to most any dry pattern you toss their way, although the bigger fish tend to be pickier. After all, a fish doesn’t get to be 12 inches by being stupid. Wet wading on warm days, tossing dry flies to these willing fish amidst beautiful countryside is what I define as a rather enjoyable time. It’s what I was longing for and perhaps hoping to encounter on my trip (save for the warm weather, which I knew ahead of time was not an option).
The South Fork is the most easily accessed of the Forks as it follows I-90 (or rather, vice versa) for most of its course. The Middle Fork is the bigger of the three, and while access is not difficult it does require a bit of a drive off the pavement. The North Fork is the most secluded of the three, and in many places it is not a large river by any means. I’ve only fished it once before—late last summer—and decided that it was worth the long drive for the beauty and solitude. On that trip with my brother we saw one other vehicle after leaving the pavement. Granted it was a week day in September, but I expected to see at least a few other anglers playing hookey. We did not. That solitude was what beckoned me to go back on July 3rd of this year, and without anyone willing or able to join me, I set off on a solo excursion. I anticipated the river would be running a bit high, but I needed to go fishing. No more sitting at home wondering, waiting. You know how it is.
It was a cool, off-and-on drizzly drive on the gravel road, which kept the dust down. “Lush” comes to mind as an accurate description of the countryside as I made my way past clear cuts filled with wildflowers. I was in no hurry, so I stopped several times to smell the roses (actually Foxglove). A pair of cow elk (one with a radio collar) jumped across the road in front of me. A short while later a ruffed grouse did the same thing, fluttering to a branch 15 feet up and sitting there pretending that I couldn’t see it (grouse are intelligent that way). That was the extent of the wildlife I saw, but if wolves move into this area, and there is a strong chance they may (despite what this article says), it’s going to add a whole new dimension to back country excursions. A 4 weight rod and a pair of hemostats isn’t going to offer much security when a pack of wolves eventually call this area home.
I passed a half dozen or so other vehicles along the way: some were hikers, others campers and of course some were fishing. But being the Sunday of a 3 day Holiday weekend, the area was remarkably devoid of human activity. Being a bit
antisocial reclusive, I wasn’t bothered in the least.
The trip odometer indicated 15.5 miles since I’d left the pavement behind as I turned onto a certain Forest Service road of a specific numeric designation and headed up the incline. If my memory served, I had about 3.5 miles to go before I came to a certain trailhead which would be my turning around point, although the road continues past that point for another few miles. I planned to fish down from that point as I’d done the year before, hoping to duplicate my previous experience.
At about 2.5 miles I came upon a large windfall lying across the road. Fortunately the Forest Service crews had been here before me and had removed a section of the tree so that most vehicles could pass. A Hummer probably couldn’t have made it through, but then again who would drive a Hummer way out here, off the pavement? They are, after all, one of the Top Six Stupidest Fly Fishing Cars.
Relieved to not have my progress impeded, I proceeded up Forest Service Road #XX. A short distance later it became apparent that no matter what vehicle a person were driving, forward progress stopped here.
Not to be deterred, I executed a 15-point turn and parked the Fish Taco off to the side of the road. As I did so I questioned my reasoning. Surely I could have left the truck parked in the middle of the road without presenting a problem for anyone else, but I supposed that there was a remote possibility Forest Service crews would show up at any moment to clear the trees, and if my truck were parked in a manner so as to block their passage, it would be a bad thing. I was alone, without anybody to discuss the situation with, so I did what I did. Then I geared up, applied some bug spray to keep the mosquitos and biting gnats at bay, and headed up the road. I scrambled around the fallen trees, expecting to find open road around the next bend.
Around the next several bends in the road I encountered more of the same: large trees lying across the width of the road. Some were on the ground, while others were suspended above the road. Where I was able, I walked around the fallen trees. Crews had obviously been in here with saws recently, but they’d hardly made a dent in the devastation. They had cut a convenient foot notch into one log, which made stepping over it quite easy. I paused to ponder why they hadn’t simply made two cuts and removed an entire section of the log? Probably budget cuts.
Where I couldn’t go around, I had to either go over…
Or under. Honestly it’s a lot more work to crawl under a log, and the thought of the log shifting while I was underneath it was a little unnerving.
So I opted to go over whenever possible.
Photos hardly do justice to the destruction. For 3/4 of a mile the road was littered with trees of varying sizes. Obviously a violent, condensed windstorm had blown down the mountain and hacked an angry swath through the area. Some trees were uprooted. Others were snapped off like twigs. Piles of trees lay like toothpicks across the road.
I imagined what it would have been like to be standing here when the storm was raging. I wondered if it would have been classified as a small Microburst? I’d seen the devastation of a Microburst when fishing Rock Creek in Montana a few years ago. This wasn’t nearly on that level of destruction, but it was more than just a casual windstorm that had caused this. Maybe a micro-microburst? Discuss.
But the point of all this log-hopping was to reach my destination and do a little fishing, which I did. And as expected, the river was running higher than ideal. Certainly much higher than September of the previous year. It wasn’t possible to wade to some sections that I wanted to reach, and others that I could reach didn’t hold any fish. None that wanted to play, that is. With the water registering a chilly 44 degrees, that wasn’t surprising. I gave up 2 tan elk hair caddises to the trees before switching to a yellow humpy, which I also snapped off on some brush.
Yes, things were going quite well for me. I noticed some small creme colored mayflies coming off—PMDs I concluded—and reached for a creme colored mayfly pattern. Having nothing to match the hatch, which wasn’t really a hatch as much as just a few sporadic bugs, I tied on a tan bodied Sparkle Dun and continued to see no fish rising. It was tough to get any sort of presentation in conflicting currents. I worked downstream as best I could before hoofing it back to the truck.
The road was still blocked by the fallen trees so it took me a good 30 minutes to make the reverse journey through the tangle. Once back at the truck I scarfed down an unsatisfying sandwich and drove down the road a ways, stopping at two access points to not catch any fish. At the last spot I encountered some seductive looking water that begged for a woolly bugger, which I offered. In another month after the flows drop and the water warms a few degrees, I’m sure a woolly bugger will entice a nice cutthroat from this logjam, but not on this day.
It didn’t matter that I got skunked, or that I didn’t even see a single fish. I didn’t need to catch fish, I just needed to go fishing. And I could have stayed out there all day. I’ll admit, however, it was nice to return to civilization. After 36 miles of gravel road, listening to the squeaky front shock on the Fish Taco, which chirped with every tiny bump in the pothole-riddled road, it was nice to get back to the pavement and relative silence. Oh, and you may be wondering why I didn’t cut some firewood while I was there? Well, a sign posted says you can’t.
So I didn’t. But I did bring home a chunk of contraband as a souvenir.
Fly fishing folks seem to like their dogs. Some fish with them, others write about them. Some do both. Well, I’ve not done much of either with regard to my dog, but I don’t want those oversights to suggest that he’s not worthy of mention. He is.
Eddie is my chocolate Lab. He’s 5 now, but it seems like just yesterday that we went to pick him out of the litter. At that time he was 6 weeks old, and just a little fella (if he was ever small- 15.5 lbs at 6 weeks hardly seemed little). Inasmuch as all 6 week old chocolate Labs look much the same, Eddie stood out and made our decision to choose him an easy one: he was the most laid-back of his litter mates, completely tuned into the human visitors, and he showed a particular interest when a pigeon was introduced. Birdiness is always a good sign when you plan to hunt a dog, and the breeder where we got him, Kingsland Labradors, produces very nice pups for hunting. They also make wonderful family dogs because temperament is a critical factor in the breeding. A dog that loves to hunt need not be, nor should they be, a hard-charging hyperactive nutcase. But a keen interest in birds is very important. Check.
I was out of town (fishing, of all things) when Mrs. UA and our kids went back a week or two later to pick up Eddie (at the time unnamed). The breeder marks her pups by shaving a spot on their bodies as a means of identifying them easily. Eddie, for example, was known as “Left Shoulder” because he was marked accordingly. All males and females are marked this way, so there can potentially be two pups known as “left shoulder”, although the anatomical differences usually make it very difficult to confuse two similarly marked pups.
It wasn’t until Mrs. UA et al had returned home with “Left Shoulder” that it became apparent they’d made off with the wrong one: our pup was supposed to have come equipped with male genitalia. After a quick and mutually embarrassing phone call, they met the breeder half way for the exchange. All was right in the universe, although I am sure the little female “left shoulder” was quite confused at the end of that day. I returned from my fishing trip a day later, happy to have missed out on the drama.
With the correct “left shoulder” now a part of our wolf pack, the bonding process began. First, we gave him a proper name: Edward Werner. Edward dates back to the old country where my great, great, great grandfather, Ernst Edward Werner, was Mayor of Gruibingen, Germany. His son was Paul Edward Werner. Then his son, Edward Paul Werner. My great uncle was Paul Edward Werner and my uncle was Edward Werner. My cousin is Paul Edward Werner. Edward is my middle name, and also that of my son: Schpanky Edward Werner. The decision to keep the Edward tradition alive was a no-brainer. For the record we rarely call him Edward, reserving that formality for when he’s done something bad, which isn’t often. Complete with his own name, it didn’t take long for Eddie to fit right into our family, and after a few sleep-deprived nights during which we called him Edward, he was completely at ease in his new home.
Helping to ease his transition may have been that we had a dog who resembled “mom”. Kate, our 11 year-old chocolate Lab, was the type of dog that, if not completely nurturing, was at least very, very tolerant of the new addition and his needle sharp teeth. Kate put up with Eddie’s antics in admirable fashion. She may have even liked the little guy, although her main focus in life was her ball.
We did not get Eddie to replace Kate, but rather to supplement her. While fit as a fiddle at age 11, Kate was showing the years and had already missed one hunting season because I didn’t want to put her through the pain and suffering that would surely follow a long, cold weekend in the duck blind. She’d have done the work happily, and paid for it dearly. Nor did I want to spend another hunting season without a dog, so we decided to get a pup in time for it to be ready for at least a gentle introduction to hunting the next fall. Unfortunately in August of that year, we were forced to put Kate down due to a very aggressive form of cancer. Anyone who has ever had to make this type of decision knows how gut-wrenching it is, and I cried like a baby. Having Eddie helped ease some of our pain. I’m sure there was a void in young Eddie’s life after Kate was gone, too, as he had grown quite fond of her in the 3 months since he’d come to be part of our pack. Never once did Kate tease Eddie about his overgrown ears or lankiness. She was a sweet, sweet dog and eternally youthful. She raised our kids and did a flawless job of doing so.
As we dealt with the loss of Kate, we poured our love and attention toward Eddie.
We my wife probably coddled him too much and may have been over-protective of our “baby”, the result of which was a dog who became a wimp and pees like a girl. After we had him neutered, there was no chance at ever having a dog with any pride, and Eddie continued to grow into a big, goofy teenager who was afraid of his own shadow, or at least very easily startled by it. He liked stuffed animals and wouldn’t chew them so much as he would lick them until they fell apart. I knew he wasn’t going to have any problems with being hard-mouthed, that was for sure.
But I was beginning to wonder if he’d be able to stand up to the rigors of hunting, or if he’d even like it after having become so accustomed to being babied at home. I had spent considerable time working on basic obedience and retrieving during the summer, and Eddie showed a great propensity for learning. He certainly was interested in pleasing me and his typically laid-back demeanor was replaced by a strong desire to retrieve when it was time for some work. I no longer doubted his ability to stand up to the rigors of hunting. In October I took him duck hunting for a weekend. He was 7 months old and 72 pounds, making him already seem huge compared to Kate, who had been 55 lbs soaking wet in her prime. We didn’t anticipate that Eddie would get any larger than his father, who was a very solid 80-85 pounds but not what one would call overly large for a Lab. Nor was his mother a big dog either. Eddie was all legs and feet when he retrieved his first duck. It was not what one would call a “textbook” retrieve, but he swam out and fetched up the hen mallard in his mouth and drug her back to the blind. And he appeared to rather enjoy himself. It was a proud moment for me.
That winter came quickly as the Columbia Basin of central Washington froze early and remained iced-up all winter. Needless to say we did not get out duck hunting again his first year, which seemed to be OK by Eddie. He was kept busy being coddled, eating and growing. By the time his first birthday rolled around he was well over 80lbs, but he didn’t know it. Low self esteem keeps a person (and a dog) from realizing their fullest potential. His first year did not result in a horrible record of furniture destruction or anything of that nature, although he did eat a rock that had to be surgically removed. Yes, we kept the rock—you don’t throw away something that costs $2000.00.
Later he consumed a chess set (Edward!!!). This resulted in a phone call to the vet, who did not appear to be overly alarmed. I was instructed to watch Eddie’s stools to see that he passed all the pieces, and if he didn’t, to schedule an appointment in the next day or so. The vet also added, “There’s a chess tournament in Seattle this weekend. Take him to it and see how he does.” Needless to say I did not take him to the chess tournament, but I did follow Eddie around for the next 2 days, watching closely and inspecting every pile of crap he produced until the last chess piece was confirmed. Check mate.
The next fall Eddie retrieved Schpanky’s first pheasant, and went pheasant hunting one other time with Marck and his dog, Mo. But gradually I became less passionate about hunting, choosing instead to do more steelhead fishing in the winter months. It may have been selfish of me not to hunt Eddie more, because of all the dogs I’ve had he showed the most natural potential. He even points, although he was not bred for that– it’s just some sort of recessive trait that just happens to have found its way into his DNA. It’s pretty cool to see him lock up, even if he doesn’t know what he’s pointing at.
So, what about Eddie as a fishing dog? Well, I have taken him with me a few times to walk and wade local rivers, but he has a hard time understanding why he can’t swim while I’m working through a run. Labs are notorious water lovers, and Eddie is no exception. He’s very patient and obedient, but after a while of sitting miserably on the bank, wallowing pathetically in self pity, I can’t take it any longer and the fishing becomes a stick fetching session. Hard to deny a guy something he derives so much pleasure from.
I don’t have my own drift boat, and frankly he’s too big to have in a boat unless it were customized to accommodate a 97lb dog that resembles a cross between a chocolate Lab and a chocolate Great Dane. I’m sure he’d love to go for a float, and maybe one day I’ll have my own StreamTech Salmonfly, outfitted with a rear platform for Eddie (complete with a nice soft bed and a treat dispenser). When I’m packing for a fishing trip, Eddie lets me know that he’s none too happy about being left behind. That’s when his Catholic side shows through and he lays on the guilt, giving me a certain look. You know the look–the one where they look at you but there’s no direct eye contact? Yeah, that one.
But whether or not he does much hunting or goes fishing with me, Eddie is perfectly content to be part of the family and knows his position in the hierarchy: low man on the totem pole. He has never sought to challenge his position, either. Not once has he displayed any hint of dominance over anyone or anything, not even other dogs. He is extremely low-maintenance as long as he gets breakfast at around 7am and then dinner around 3pm (although he starts letting you know it’s chow time at 2:30 sharp. It all starts with “The Look”). He loves to fetch his tennis ball although he is not completely obsessed like Kate, who I am confident would have jumped off a 50-story building after her ball. Eddie is much more rational. I doubt he’d go off anything higher than 15 stories– he’s just not that bold.
As I’ve said before, Eddie is a big wimp who just doesn’t believe in himself and lacks a lot of gumption. My first dog was a Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Gunnar. His name fit him perfectly, and he was as tough as nails. When fetching in the water he would leap as high and as far as possible from the shore or dock. He was all about doing things for himself, and in doing so Gunnar was something to behold.
Kate was just an absolute maniac when it came to fetching. She would keep going and going until either my arm wore out or her heart stopped. Her heart never stopped, and while not as athletic as Gunnar before her, she did have an enthusiastic water entry.
Eddie, not so much.
But you gotta love him, and we do. There’s a lot to love, and he makes it easy with his laid-back, dorky demeanor. There’s not much he doesn’t like, although he pretends to be stand-offish with strangers until they scratch him in the right spot. He likes most dogs, especially little ones who he must see as his equal. Those dogs that he may not like, he tolerates, and in his defense if he doesn’t like another dog there’s good reason for it. Eddie is an excellent judge of character. About the only thing he absolutely hates is coyotes. He goes after his wild cousins with an uncharacteristic ferocity that can be startling. Luckily coyotes are very fast so he’ll never catch one. If he ever did he wouldn’t know what he got himself into, and it would result in the other thing he hates: a trip to the vet.
So, there’s my bit about my dog, who sometimes fishes with me, but mostly just gives me a guilt trip when I leave to go fishing. Fortunately he has a short term memory because when I return, Eddie never holds a grudge. Nor does he judge me when I come home smelling of a skunk, and believe me he knows when I’ve been skunked. He’s got the best nose of any dog I’ve ever had.