Cold Weather Blues

A couple of months ago while my kids were on Spring Break, my son and I were scheduled to spend a day bonding with fly rods in our hands.  I’d made arrangements for Schpanky and I to float the Yakima River with Derek Young of Emering Rivers Guide Services, and we’d been looking forward to Spring Break and the fishing trip for quite some time. To make a long story short, Spring was broken. Mother Nature showed her dark side and the trip was called off the night before due to winter-like weather. Come Hell or high water, I was determined to get the lad out on the water sooner or later, so we rescheduled for a later time when school was out and summer weather would prevail. So we waited for two months and endured a very cold, wet Spring in the process. For those who like to dwell on the negative, the Seattle area enjoyed 0 days of sunshine in April 2010, 2 days of sunshine during of May 2010, and up until the 21st of the month, only 1 day of sunshine for June 2010. The new date for our trip was June 22nd, and when the day finally arrived it looked as though Mother Nature would finally smile upon us. We needed some sun and some good fishing, and because the high summer flows had not yet begun, the promise of good conditions and maybe some Salmonflies had us jonesin’ to go.  At least me, that is.

I’s Be Troubled

The night before our trip, Schpanky had gone to bed early and ended up logging 14 hours of shut-eye.  While it’s not uncommon for a 16 year-old to spend a good majority of their time unconscious, the early retreat signaled that something beyond growing bones and overactive hormones was amiss.  When I awakened him on the morning of our trip his bedroom smelled of death. Fortunately that was just the odor from the pile of dirty cloths lying on the floor. His vital signs were strong, though it was clear that he was not feeling well. This was troubling, but there would be no canceling the trip again. Like any good parent I doped him up with some Tylenol Cold, vitamins and a couple shots of Dry Fly whiskey. OK, not really – it was just one shot (Note to Schpanky’s mom, AKA Mrs. UA: I’m kidding). The boy was moving at a snail’s pace as we loaded up the truck with our gear. No time for breakfast, he grabbed a couple pieces of toast and a slice of bacon to eat as we drove to meet Derek. One piece of toast slowly found it’s way to his digestive system, while the other slice of toast and the bacon sat untouched on the dashboard of the truck, getting cold.  Not one to waste a perfectly good piece of toast and bacon, I quickly consumed them both.

So Glad, Baby

Jumping ahead to the town of Cle Elum, we stopped at Owen’s Meats for a few sticks of the best pepperoni in the known world before driving to the Bristol launch east of town. We’d be doing a 5 mile float that would take us all day toward the town of Thorp. The weather forecasters appeared to have finally gotten it right, and blue skies and no wind greeted us as we received our pre-launch safety instructions from Derek prior to launching his new raft, The Green Drake (A Maravia raft outfitted for fly fishing by StreamTech Boats of Boise, Idaho).  I assumed my duties as Rear Admiral, giving up the hot seat in the bow to the lad who was feeling not-so-hot. Whether it was the good weather or the drugs finally kicking in, Schpanky seemed a bit more chipper as we set off downstream in quest of trout. The water temperature was right about 56 degrees, and there was a fair amount of debris in the water, but clarity was 3-4 feet. The previous day Derek had floated with a couple of clients and encountered strong winds, but ample trout-based opportunities. The wind was not a factor on this day, so we anticipated a glorious day in all regards. I’ve rarely been more excited to start a day on the water than I was on this day.

You Gonna Need My Help

Derek is a great teacher, which is why I had wanted to get the lad out on the water with him. Schpanky has fished with me since he was about 11 years old, and he had learned decent fundamental skills and caught a few fish.  But I wanted him to advance his skills and catch more fish. Thus enter Derek. Throughout the day he worked with Schpanky in a calm but enthusiastic manner, giving him pointers on his casting and talking about insects, river dynamics and fish behavior. And giving him more pointers on his casting. We’d been throwing dries all day, but Derek strung up a third rod and schooled the boy on nymph fishing and roll casting.  I soaked up the sun and remarked that if I’d been the one doing all the same talking and correcting, fisticuffs would have broken out between Father and Son and only one of us would have made it home alive.  And Mrs. UA would never have forgiven her little boy for having dispatched of me somewhere in the Upper Yakima Canyon.

Tough Times

The lad remained uncharacteristically quiet for most of the morning, and had I not known he was feeling poorly I would have accused him of acting like a brooding teenager who was simply showing his displeasure at the lack of catching. As mid-day approached we found ourselves fishless. It’s not that either of us lost any fish, we simply had no hookups.  But we were never without hope, and to his credit, Schpanky kept at it. A guide on the oars of a passing boat commented about the rising water and said that the river had come up over 250 cfs in the past three hours.  Come to think of it, the water had gotten dirty and visibility was greatly reduced over what it was when we had put in. Derek declared that it was time to pull out the “Trout Candy” to hopefully entice the fish to look up and take an offering that was too good to deny.  I was confident that no trout in its right mind could ignore these patterns that resembled something out of a Dr. Seuss book (sort of a cross between a stimulator and a circus clown). But all the Trout Candy succeeded in doing was to make the fishermen hungry so we opted to pull over to enjoy lunch on the same gravel bar where Derek had eaten lunch 24 hours earlier.  A lot had changed since the day before, and there was much less gravel bar visible now.  While the fish may have been fasting, Derek fed us well with homemade Turkey sandwiches that weighed at least 2 lbs each.  Always the teacher, he showed me how to open a bag of Oreos using the easy open pull tab instead of using my teeth to tear open the packaging. What will they think of next?!

You Can’t Lose What You Ain’t Never Had

There are always frustrations when fly fishing, particularly for those with limited experience.  Not that anyone was keeping track, but Schpanky lost 8 flies during the course of the day. Fortunately these were flies that Derek had supplied and not me, because I would have deducted the cost from his allowance.  Since he doesn’t get an allowance, I’d have simply charged him for the flies. He’s got a job at the Carnation Golf Course so he could afford it if need be. I wish I could say that the flies were broken off by fish, but such was not the case. The good thing about that is that the lad never lost a fish.  The bad thing is that he never got a chance to lose a fish.  Me neither for that matter.

Blow Wind, Blow

The calm start to the day gave way to the four letter word:  W#nd.  It’s well nigh impossible to avoid the w#nd completely this time of year, but there’s always hope that the air will be still. The fact of the matter is that fly fishing and w#nd go together like oil and water: they don’t mix well. However, they also go hand-in-hand, so to become a fly angling person one has to learn to deal with the w#nd.  Schpanky got plenty of opportunity to do that, which led to the increase in lost flies and frustration.  Catching just one fish would have done away with all the other worries of the day.

Muddy Water Shuffle

As if Mother Nature’s decision to unleash the w#nd wasn’t enough, another entity added a big dose of salt to the wound: as the day wore on the river continued to rise slowly and visibility was rapidly lost. This is not the recipe for good catching, and while we saw a couple fish rise, they did so only once and not to our flies. The high water put them down and sealed their lips. Mother Nature started exhaling heavily on us and the w#nd grew frustrating at times. After piling up his fly and leader into an impressive wind-aided bird’s nest, I saw Schpanky’s cheeks puff up and then deflate as the telltale sign of frustration reared its ugly head.  Things appeared dire, but we were never completely without hope. Derek’s is a master at sensing the plummeting mood of his companions and steering them away from the dark abyss of self pity, so he cheered us on as we continued to pound the banks with big salmonfly patterns and smaller caddis and PMD imitations, all to no avail. Even my Lucky Fishing Hat wasn’t enough to save us from a double skunking.

(I Feel Like) Going Home

We tucked our collective tails between our legs and terminated our float: time of death shortly past 7 PM. I always hate the end of a day spent fishing, but I could see it in the lad’s eyes: the second dose of Tylenol had worn off, and all he wanted to do was get home and hit the sack. Derek and I weren’t quite so content to drive home without a rational explanation for our defeat, so we performed a final water clarity test and determined that the visibility had been reduced to 4 inches at best. Driving home we noted that the Cle Elum River, which dumps into the Yakima River west of the town of Cle Elum was the muddy water culprit. Apparently the Army Corps of Engineers failed to check with us first before deciding to discharge water from the Lake Cle Elum reservoir prior to our trip.  Derek’s enthusiasm was seemingly boundless, however, and he pointed out that we’d simply have to do it again.

Come Back, Baby

That we shall.