Almost scratched: The Seven Year itch

A 20 inch trout is a nice fish, no matter where you fish. Sure, a 20 inch trout on many rivers may not be all that unusual; there are many rivers—some I’ve fished, more that I’ve not—where trouts that size abound and are caught with regularity. But on the Yakima River a 20 inch fish is all that unusual. For me the last Yakima fish approaching that size was caught on July 17, 2007 (but who’s counting). That was seven summers ago, and the fish may not have been quite 20 inches, but it was close. And over time fish tend to get even bigger, so what the heck: it was 20 inches. A lot has happened since then, but no fish have come close to that size since then. Not on the Yakima River. Not for me. And so losing a 20 inch Yakima fish is something to write about.

It was a late August day (August 22nd to be exact). As it should be this time of year in Central Washington, the sun was out. But at a comfortable 80-something degrees it wasn’t cooking the river and its inhabitants like it had been doing and most often does this time of year. The river was a bit lower than is typical for this time of year, but at 3600 CFS it was still moving a lot of water. The Yakima flows around 4000 CFS during the summer months, artificially inflated to meet the demands of irrigation in the Yakima valley. In early September the  irrigation flows are cut off and the Yakima drops at least a couple thousand CFS. This is known as the “flip flop” and when it happens, everything changes. This day would be the last of the high flows and hopper season for us.

Yakima River: misery loves company.

We (meaning those with whom I fish the Yakima) always approach the river with a healthy dose of skepticism and we set our standards quite low. We are realists, and this way we’re seldom disappointed.  As far as overall catching goes, this day proved to be better than many as Marck and Morris each caught several fish in the 8-10 inch range. There may have been one or two slightly bigger fish, and a handful of much smaller fish, but at least fish were being caught—by my two compadres, that is. Despite going through at least a dozen of Morris’ elk hair caddis patterns, Marck caught fewer fish than one would expect him to catch. It was Morris who put on a catching clinic and the only way to get him to stop was to make him row for a while. Actually we all took turns on the oars as I am learning to share the rower’s seat of my boat with others. When I rowed, both Morris and Marck caught fish. When Marck rowed, Morris caught fish.  When Morris rowed, Marck caught fish. See a pattern developing here?  Clearly I am the inferior angler superior oarsman.

It was well into the second half of our float and I hadn’t risen a single fish to my offerings yet. While Morris and Marck bantered in a lively manner it was pointed out that I’d grown a tad bit sullen in the front of the boat. It wasn’t that I wasn’t’ having fun—I was—but I was a bit troubled by the lack of activity: I’d not set the hook (effectively or otherwise) on a single fish all day. When I wasn’t rowing, and subsequently putting my anglers on fish, I’d fished hoppers and ants in both foam and naturally-tied fibers. Nada.  I decided to try what I’ll call a ‘stone hopper’ (a fly which could be considered a very loose imitation of either a stonefly or a hopper). I’m sure it has a real name, though one that escapes me. It had a tan body, rubber legs, and some hackle. Maybe some  swept-back wings. It looked pretty buggy. Maybe it would catch a fish and save me from a skunking.

We were fishing the bank on river left, just a short ways downstream of Red’s Fly Shop. As per standard procedure, the fly was cast tight to the bank. Maybe right on the bank. When the fly settled on the water the take came almost casually.  Small fish attack the offering, often chasing it and making quite a ruckus. In my unaccomplished experience, big fish don’t move to the fly when the flows are heavy. If the fly drifts over their nose, and they deem it worthy (which often they do not), they may nonchalantly roll on the fly. And that’s what happened.

Red Shed Fly Shop t-shirt

I played the fish downstream for 1/4 mile before Morris could find slow water in which to pull over and drop anchor. I kept the tip of my sharply-bent 4 weight Z-Axis up, the line tight. I gave the fish line when it wanted it and it wanted plenty. Fortunately I was connected to the fish with 3X so I didn’t have to worry too much about that. I had pinched the barb, however, so I had that to worry about. With the boat safely at anchor Marck leapt into the river with net in hand. He made his way down stream 10 yards or so and waited patiently for me to hold up my end of the bargain so that he might reciprocate.  I was able to turn the trout’s head toward shore. Marck was closer to the fish than I had been at any given time, so he got a good look. I knew it was a good fish from the moment I hooked it, and Marck confirmed. He may have blurted out that it was more than 20 inches. Had he done so I’m sure it wouldn’t have distracted me from the task at hand.  Stay calm. Focus. Breath. Keep the line tight.  Turn the fish toward Marck. Don’t screw this up. All I had to do was do everything right and the fish would be in the net. Marck is a competent net man.

Marck got even closer to the fish—never quite close enough to get the fish in the net, but close enough to be confident in his assessment that it was at least 20 inches. Probably more. It should be noted that as much as I wish I could have blamed him, Marck had nothing to do with the fish having not been landed.

Seven years is a long time. A lot can happen in that amount of time. You can bet that during the summer of 2021 I plan to be on the Yakima, throwing big bugs. Until then there will be other fish caught. Smaller fish.



  1. Oliver

    Nicely written, I feel your pain! How’d he get away?

    • Kirk Werner

      Thanks, I wish I knew!

  2. frannie

    Yeah, how did he get away?

    • Kirk Werner

      We may never know. Simply slipped the hook is what I assume.

  3. Leslie

    Is there a photo of this supposedly 20 inch fish? If not, did he really even exist?… I’m just not sure I’m ready to be a believer…

    • Kirk Werner

      You have to have faith in my integrity: the same integrity that made me pinch the barb on the hook guarantees that I speak the truth. I was a Boy Scout, for crying out loud!

  4. Howard Levett

    I feel your pain Kirk. Very similar circumstances a few years ago on the Arkansas. I blamed the guy on the oars.

    • Kirk Werner

      I wanted to do that, Howard, but I couldn’t. I wanted to blame the net man, too, but again—I could not. I only had myself to blame for pinching that damn barb.

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