Jumping the gun.

When Large Albacore rang me up and asked if I was free to fish the Yakima on President’s Day, I felt something was amiss– something didn’t feel quite right about going trout fishing. It’s February, and it has been cold: fishing isn’t usually real productive this time of year to begin with, and frankly neither Albacore nor I feel much love from this river even when it’s in prime season. But I’d fished the Yakima twice by this same time last year, so maybe I was making too much of a hunch. Besides, when a buddy whom you don’t get to see as often as you like calls you up to go fishing, you gladly answer that call. Even if a little voice inside your head is telling you that  fishing probably won’t be very good. Clarification: fishing is always good; catching not always so much. Especially on the Yakima River. For me.

The weather had been clear and cold all week. A system was set to move in from the coast during the day but the incoming weather was moving slowly, and clear skies followed me east to Ellensburg where I met up with Albacore. Because his raft was still in winter storage we would be on foot, which is not usually how I fish the Yakima. However, being a sunny optimist and one who always sees the glass as being half full, I acknowledged that the exercise would be good for the atrophied leg muscles of winter.

We stopped at our first location to explore some water that neither of us had fished on foot before. The river was running much higher than it normally does for this time of year, which was odd.  After all, there had been no precipitation in over a week, and it had been very cold so there was no meltoff.  So why the high flows?  More interestingly, the water was quite clear, and tinged an odd color of green.  Odd for this river, that is.  The water was colored the hue of typical west side rivers: steelhead green, as it were. I’d have preferred to have been fishing for steelhead in these green-tinted rivers if it weren’t for the fact that these green tinted rivers had been closed early due to low returns of wild steelhead. I didn’t then nor do I at this time understand why the Yakima was so high, yet so clear at the same time. And why it was so green is a mystery to me. Oh well, it was green. And it was high and fast.  We all know what that does to a fly that must get down deep to where the semi-comatose trouts are hiding in the dead of winter: it makes things difficult.

Albacore strung up his rod with a Pat’s Stone and a San Juan Worm dropper, fishing dirty under an indicator. I opted to start the day by swinging a size 18 bead-headed soft hackle nymph. This has been a reliable somewhat effective pattern and method of fishing for me on this river so I thought, “Why not start out the year right?” I hadn’t been on the Yakima since October: long enough ago for the self esteem wounds of the last few outings to heal over with emotional scar tissue. I was starting fresh, with a renewed sense of confidence. That confidence didn’t last long.

We fished a couple of distinctly different areas during the day: far enough apart to resemble entirely different rivers. But the vastly different waters of the same river had something in common: a lack of fish.  Neither of us had a bump. Not even so much as a tug from the tiny lips of a whitefish, which is remarkable given Albacore’s prowess at hooking those native dandies. We walked, waded, and explored. We paused for lunch on the tail gait of Albacore’s truck, providing me an opportunity to properly admire his new tires, which he readily admitted were long overdue. His truck really should have been re-shod before winter formally set in, which was made evident on our last trip into a raging snowstorm several months earlier. We bitched about the state of the economy, groused about the Pebble Mine, and agreed on what was wrong with young people today. Just to make sure that we aren’t perceived as a couple of middle-aged curmudgeons, it should be noted that we also took ample time to laugh about the simpler things in life. On more than a couple occasions we brought up the matter of the green water.

All in all the day was rather pleasant: 45 degrees under sunny skies and only a few minutes of wind that would be considered a bit annoying. The collective mood was relaxed as we reminded ourselves on several occasions that it  just felt good to get out, do a little casting and a bit of catching up. And frankly, a skunk always tastes better when shared with others. As we returned to the truck I observed a little angler who reminded me what it’s all about.

We parted ways at the end of the day, vowing to return in a month or so when things warmed up a bit, Albacore’s raft was removed from storage and the fish began actively feeding. As I drove west the sky grew ominously darker. Before I’d ascended the east slope of the Cascades I encountered snow and was reminded that winter wasn’t quite ready to free us from its grip just yet. And the Yakima wasn’t quite ready for me.

Or perhaps it was the other way around.


  1. Patrick

    What a pleasant surprise. Up early at home on a Friday…taking the day off…and there’s the weekly drivel waiting at oh-dark-thirty with a little tale of getting out on the river, casting a few flies in the sunshine while I sit here still a bit miffed that my first chance to play with the fishes this year was a snowed-in nonstarter. Thanks, Kirk. You’re killing me.

    • Kirk Werner

      Pat, if it makes you feel any better, that was the last hospitable day for some time to come. The icy grip of old man winter has reclaimed the Northwest. I shudder to think that this last outing may have been the best and only chance for a while to come…

  2. chuck

    I always get the itch to head north too early every spring! When we get a good rain and I visualize the steelhead entering the river I think I’ll get an early run fish but usually I get spanked by the reality that the steelhead runs have sucked for years! Again my hopes are dashed. If I get one or two good days it will be a miracle and it will not be in February or March. Regardless , it sure is good to be standing in the water alone where in a few weeks there will be guys standing shoulder to shoulder !

    • Kirk Werner

      The dog days of winter, and the ensuing Shacknasties will make a many venture out too soon. But as you noted, Chuck, it does feel good to just get out. When the rivers beckon, we must go forth, even if the fish are not calling to us. So, the steelhead runs suck back there, too eh?

  3. David G

    …maybe you discussed it(and I don’t really know the terrain up there). Could it have been either a lake that developed an ice dam and turned over and broke up or just a lake upstream that turned over and they let more water from a dam? Any direction you slice the pie, I think the Yakima is trying to communicate to you. …and maybe it will yield you some fish this year.

    • Kirk Werner

      I’m not sure what it’s trying to tell me, David. Maybe it’s sending a warning: stay away this year or face the consequences? I’ll go back and see what it amounts to.
      Unfortunately we’ve entered a deep freeze since last Monday, and the water is getting to the point where there may be some ice up conditions, which spells troucicles.

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