While recently doing a bit of house cleaning, I stumbled on several “drafts” in the backroom of the Unaccomplished Angler: previously written but unpublished pieces of Weekly Drivel® that, for some reason, never made it past the cutting room floor. Many of the pieces I have no recollection of ever having written, but as I sifted through the collection of second rate musings it all came back to me: there was a good reason these had never been published. I’ll be posting a few of these to fill space until I have good reason for offering better content.
From October 2013:
I almost felt guilty taking day off of work to go fishing on such a nice day. For all *intensive purposes looked to be one of those days with nearly every ingredient needed for perfection:
• A beautiful—nay, gorgeous—Fall day on the Yakima River, with a high of 62 under cloudless skies and no w#nd.
• Prospects were high for good catching. Recent reports suggested that westslope cutthroats and rainbows were willing to eat October Caddis dries, and in fact just a week and a half earlier I’d enjoyed a rather decent day of said catching.
• I had good company in the form of my buddy Derek Young of Emerging Rivers Guide Services, and the older brother of the UA—a patient man by the name of Hal.
Indeed, all the ducks were in a row for a fine day of angling.
As the day progressed the only missing ingredient was fish, or at least respectable fish. Nobody ever knows what gets into the fish from one day to the next and I’m dumbfounded as to why they weren’t playing nicely (other than that’s just very often how it works out for me on the Yakima River). As you’ve heard me say before, the fish of the Yakima are a finicky lot. Weather-wise this day wasn’t all that much different from days prior, except for being perhaps a bit warmer. But it seems any change in the weather puts the Yakima trouts into an antisocial mood, even when the change is for the better. The results was that scant few fish entertained our offerings, only one making it to hand all day: an overachieving 3-inch trout tot. The only event worth writing home about came mid-afternoon…
A few Bald-Faced Hornets had been buzzing the cockpit of Derek’s boat, interested in either the cheese-fill pepperoni sticks from Owen’s Meats in Cle Elum, or the Professional Boater’s Refreshments. These black and white Apache Helicopters of the insect world are neither welcome, nor pleasant, any time of the year, and with the onset of cold Fall nights their dispositions had grown even less savory. We managed to avoid a full-on assault as Derek expertly swatted a couple away (guide skillz). Still, their mere presence puts a person on edge—especially in a boat where there’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.
Then something landed on the back of my neck and proceeded to crawl down my shirt. I braced myself, fully expecting to feel the excruciating sting of a hornet as it injected its venom between my shoulder blades. After a few moments had passed, and I found myself still alive, I relaxed—just a bit. Simply because it hadn’t decided to bore into me didn’t mean I was out of the woods yet. Convinced there was a winged devil crawling around inside my clothing, somehow I resisted the urge to panic completely. I could feel it crawling lower, but because I’d not yet been stung I confidently assumed it wasn’t a hornet after all. I wasn’t about to strip down to remove whatever it was, so I worked through the heebee-jeebeez and eventually forgot about it. I continued to not catch fish the remainder of the day.
When I got home that night and stripped down for a shower, something fell out of my pants that caught my attention: Dicosmoecus rigormorti—a fully dead October Caddis.
Poor little bastard must have suffered a horrible demise.
* “for all intensive purposes” is one of my grammatical pet-peeves. Let the record reflect that the expression is “for all intents and purposes”
It’s inevitable that every new boat has its maiden voyage, and my new StreamTech Salmonfly was allowed out to play for the first time recently—almost exactly two months to the day since I picked it up. Since bringing her home, every time I’ve gone to the garage to get beer the Olive temptress has taunted me. Two months. No man should have to endure that sort of abuse. No boat should spend that amount of time high and dry.
And so it was on the last day of February that Marck and Morris and I headed over the snow-covered Snoqualmie Pass to the Yakima River. We hoped to encounter some hungry trouts that were coming out of their catatonic winter states to feed on the first big bugs of the year: skwalas. Admittedly it was a bit early to hope for much of a hatch, but for me, anyway, the day was less about fishing and all about rowing the new boat. I would not be disappointed.
The first order of business was the make good on a promise I made to Mrs. UA: that I would in fact wear a PFD (personal flotation device) on the water. Few, if any, wear life jackets, particularly on this lazy stretch of river. I’ve never done so. And while some may tease and taunt me for doing so now, mark my words—I am not going to go down in a river without a fight! To increase the likelihood that I would wear the PFD with any regularity, I chose a good vest that fits comfortably. The NRS Chinook fits the bill nicely. Now, where were we?
Oh, right—the Lower Yakima Canyon. Mile Marker 20 to Red’s. The river was low and cold, perhaps just nudging above 40 degrees (F). The day was mild with temps in the mid 40’s and overcast skies, unlike the beautiful day in the making that we left behind on what is usually the we
st side. There would be no w#nd until later in the day. As we set out on our float, I familiarized myself with the boat and we all settled in for the first time. As expected, the Rough Rider rowed like a dream. I knew she would—this wasn’t my first time on the oars of a StreamTech boat as my buddy Derek Young has owned these boats for the past 4 or so years. It’s his fault.
Throughout the day, Morris, who was seated behind me in the Rear Admiral position, offered to give me a chance to fish. “Let me know if you want me to oar,” he begged repeatedly. Now, it wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to fish—I simply wanted to spend the day rowing. That, and you never turn your boat over to a guy that wants to “oar” it. Sorry, Morris—next time. With me bogarting the sticks, all Marck and Morris had to do was catch fish. About the time we entered the second half of the day, two things happened: First, the w#nd began to blow; secondly, we began to accept the fact that the fish were not eating. Both these revelations seemed to have a negative affect on Morris. Over my shoulder I would occasionally hear the gentle whimper as he dealt with wind-aided tangles that required the patience and dexterity of a neuro surgeon. Unless one were the guy oaring the boat, it didn’t look like a day that would be worth writing home about.
Double nymph rigs dead-drifted hopelessly through what appeared to be very fishy water. Certainly there had to be at least one fish willing to play? As we approached the bridge at Umtanum, Marck’s rod finally quivered under the force of what would turn out to be a 13″ Westslope cutthroat trout. Everyone knows that Westslope cutts are stupid fish that will eat nearly any fly presented to them, and that’s exactly why I like them. They’re native to the Yakima river, but what was unusual about this fish is where on the river it was caught. The Lower Yakima Canyon is generally home to rainbow trouts, while the upper canyon around Cle Elum is where one goes to find cutthroats. So landing this fish was seen as a trophy of sorts. It was nice to get the skunk off the new boat, and I was relieved that on her virgin float the Rough Rider got some slime on her rails.
Marck’s first fish was not the last fish that would be caught. Morris was finally rewarded just a few minutes later, below the bridge at Umtanum, with a dandy of a rainbow that would be recorded as a Yakima 16 (meaning it was probably a 15″ fish at best). This fish had great significance to Morris as it was the first fish caught on his brand new Sage Method rod. Both the new boat and the new rod now had some mojo. During the next few miles before our take-out, Marck would add 2 more fish to the tally: a small whitefish, and a larger whitefish. The debate then became whose fish was the big catch of the day—Marck’s whitie or Morris’ rainbow. I’m fairly confident that we never reached a consensus on that. I’ll admit that I was quite surprised to see Marck catch any fish given his choice in hats for the day.
No first trip with a new boat is without incident, and mine came at one point during the day when we stopped to get out of the boat to
pee fish a nice run along a sweeping bend in the river. I expertly brought the Rough Rider into the shallows and dropped anchor. We exited the vessel and made our way down stream a few dozen yards to work a well-defined seam where light and dark water met just a few feet off the bank. I was at the top of the run while Marck dropped in below me and Morris angled out the bottom of the run. I saw a fish rise twice in the seam but was unable to entice a strike. The w#nd quickly created a knot in my leader, and I soon found myself with my head buried in a mess of tangled tippet, oblivious to the world around me. As I contemplated with great wonder at how the two flies and indicator could have become so horribly intertwined, I heard the unmistakable sound of water lapping against a rubber hull. I glanced up, expecting to see another boat floating by. What I saw was my own boat floating downstream at a good clip. Wind-aided and just outside the seam where the current was fast, my first reaction was to soil my waders. After doing so I jumped into action. The boat was fast approaching, and based on my observations I was probably going to have to swim for it because the Rough Rider was riding on the edge of the dark water. Dark water signals an increased depth. I had no idea how deep, but I was not going to let the boat make the remainder of the float without us on board. Fortunately the river gods were smiling on me (or laughing, more likely) and I was able to reach the boat before the water got above chest level. Disaster narrowly averted. I’ve included a technical schematic to illustrate the drama here for you:
Rookie mistake: leaving the boat unattended, on a windy day, without leaving enough anchor line out. That won’t happen again, I assure you.
Despite my brush with disaster, the day was otherwise an exception first day with the boat. It maneuvered skinny water and boulder gardens without fearing a single rock. Slime and grime were applied appropriately so that the boat no longer looks like something off the showroom floor. Morris got the cork of his new rod dirty, and I got to employ the use of my second-hand, $10 net. And Marck caught a cutthroat where he shouldn’t have, all the while wearing a UA hat. To top it off we ate for the first time at the Canyon River Lodge at Red’s. The food was excellent. Come summer time, taking out at Red’s will mean food and cold beer is just a short walk up the steps.
I plan to use the Rough Rider a lot this year. I may even let Morris oar. Except that would mean I’d have to fish. I like rowing.
It’s a familiar sight from my typical spot in the back of a boat on a steelhead river: in the bow is my son, Schpanky, with a rod bent sharply under the weight and pull of a winter steelhead.
And that is exactly what I saw on my last fishing trip of the old year.
We planned a half-day float with my buddy, Derek Young, on a local river that, while it does contain steelhead, is not generally a very productive river for steelhead on the fly. I fish it a few times each year, swinging flies from the bank. I go there simply because it’s close to home. But I never go with the expectation of catching fish.
And in that regard I have yet to be disappointed.
This was my first time floating this section of the Snoqualmie from Plum Landing to Fall City. The weather would prove far better than expected, with the steady deluge of the previous day not on the menu for this last Friday before Christmas. In fact, later in the day the sun would make an honest appearance—something not common during what had been a particularly wet month.
Schpanky’s Redington Torrent 8 weight was rigged as the meat-getter of the day. In addition to Bloody Mary fixin’s, Derek had packed an old Fenwick glass 7 weight and would be tossing streamers. I opted to swing the old Spey rod (translation: not catch steelhead). Schpanky was not unfamiliar with the task that lie before him; he’s done this type of fishing a few times before on Olympic Peninsula rivers such as the Hoh and Bogachiel: rubber rafts, bobbers, and beads (oh, my!). The Snoqualmie is a big river. Not a lot of gradient. Lots of places for comparatively few steelhead to hide. Mostly these are hatchery fish destined for the Tokul Creek natal cement ponds.
From my perch in the back of Derek’s boat, I spied a large rock off the starboard bow of the Streamtech Salmonfly. “Put it behind that rock, boy,” I expertly instructed the lad to do. The rest is best told in pictures.
While Schpanky did a fine job of playing the fish, Derek’s expert oarsmanship ensured that we would anchor in slow water while I athletically lept from the boat and successfully landed the fish; a 7 pound, dime-bright hatchery hen that would be on the smoker in less than 48 hours. It was a great day to spend fishing out the old year, but it also marked the end of the hand-holding. Neither the best seat in the boat nor the first crack at the best water will be offered up to the boy from here on out. He’s out-caught the old man 4-1 the last 3 times we’ve chased steel.
The coddling has got to stop. Happy New Year, all.
Last year I participated in a multi-boat flotilla as part of a Children’s Hospital benefit auction orchestrated by
my friend Sir Lancelot (yes, the Sir Lancelot who provided a guest post not too long ago). Last year I was just along for the ride, and to clean the grill after lunch. This year I was along to provide all-day labor by rowing one of the boats. Last year the Yakima River was running unseasonably low and water conditions were excellent. This year that was not the case. The plan had originally been to float the river down around Ellensburg. Marck was unable to participate this year and while it would have been nice to have him along for his good-natured companionship, what we we really needed was his boat. However, as the date approached and the Yakima River became swollen with runoff, there was a change of plans: we’d be floating an upper section of the river where hard boats are not recommended. Rafts were the order of the day so the Hornet sat idle while 3 inflatable craft were launched for the trip.
Bear in mind that names have been changed to
protect the innocent avoid slander lawsuits. To run down the list of those in attendance, in one raft were Lancelot and two of his friends, FFred & NNick. The raft being rowed by yours truly provided downstream transportation for The Rev & The Father. The third boat was rowed by CJ Emerson (who guides for The Evening Hatch) and his two guests, Ben & Jerry. It was appropriate that Ben & Jerry be in CJ’s raft as Ben had purchased the trip at the auction and so thus deserved a real guide. Except for Lancelot’s boat, the experience level was mostly non-existent. Ben & Jerry’s fresh-out-of-the-box Cabela’s breathable waders may have still had the tags on them and the Z-Axis rod that Ben also received in the auction had not previously seen active duty. In my boat, The Rev & The Father were wearing neoprene waders they had just gotten, paired with over-sized, used tennis shoes they’d just purchased in lieu of wading boots. They were each employing a brand new Redington Crosswater rod and reel. Nobody teased The Rev for wearing pink shoes, except for Lancelot.
For first time fly anglers, it was an almost unthinkably cruel joke to tie on a Thingamabobber, a tandem nymph rig and a couple pieces of split shot and expect them to enjoy the casting experience, especially from a seated position (the rafts are not set up for fly fishing like, say, a StreamTech Boat).
Chucking awkward hardware from a seated position was, however, the order of the day. In defense of my anglers, they managed to avoid too many bird’s nests and lost no more flies than I would have had I had a line in the water. My only complaint is that I had to sit on a cooler lid instead of a proper rowing seat (as offered in a StreamTech boat). I’d really appreciate it, Lancelot, if you would acquire a couple of these boats before next year’s trip.
I’m not sure how beginner’s Ben & Jerry fared throughout the day, although occasionally I did hear the distance sound of CJ’s voice patiently
yelling offering encouragement.
The day was very pleasant with mostly clear skies and warm temperatures. Certainly sunscreen and shirt sleeves weather (The Rev & The Father soon came to realize the error of their ways in selecting neoprene waders). The river was running high and deep green, but there was decent visibility. However, the fish were blind for the most part with the exception of one 8 inch rainbow that The Father hooked and played momentarily before executing a Long Distance Release. Even with the split shot, it was difficult to get the flies down to where there may have been fish holding in the heavy water. Granted, had the person rowing my raft been an actual guide, the anglers on board may have landed a whitefish and a slightly bigger rainbow, as had CJ’s boat. But you get what you pay for, and The Rev & The Father paid nothing for their trip. Even with the most collective experience aboard, Lancelot’s boat finished that day with the unmistakable odor of skunk. That says a lot about the man on the oars.
As lousy of an oarsman and angler as Lancelot may be, he does know his way around food and grilled up a delicious meal of King salmon. Not much to complain about there. The monotony of the day was broken up by two river hazards that forced us to take evasive maneuvers. The first was a sweeper lying across the channel in a woody stretch of tricky water. Not to worry, as roping the boats around the obstacle was no problem.
The second obstacle consisted of a very large cottonwood tree that had recently laid itself down across the entire river. Getting around this blockage required a 40 yard portage, made easy by the simple fact that we had plenty of manpower to carry each boat. A single boat with 3 people would have had their work cut out for them.
The real excitement of the day came within the last couple of hours of the trip. My boat was first through a particular stretch of water that had a brushy bank and ample structure for any fish that might have chosen to lie there (none did, by the way). From his perch in the front of the boat, The Rev sent out a respectable 20 yard cast into the waiting branches of a tree 10 yards away. The hook on the size 8 Pat’s Stone grabbed hold firmly as the boat continued downstream. I would have attempted to row against the current to retrieve the fly, but
I wasn’t man enough the high flows would have nothing to do with it. As the distance between ourselves and the snagged fly increased, so did the uneasiness on the part of The Rev. I calmly counseled him to point the rod directly at the fly, pinch down on the fly line with his finger, and hold on. “The leader is going to snap,” I said. “It may ricochet back so turn your face away from it,” I added (as I ducked). As the tension in the line increased and the 2X tippet strained under the load, The Rev allowed the fly line to slide between the cork and his forefinger. I detected the smell of burning flesh, and the resulting sensation was more than The Rev could tolerate. At the exact same time he yelled, “Owch!!!” he let go of the rod. The tension of the stretched line served to slingshot the rod from his hand and Across the Water (the Crosswater aptly named by Redington) where it landed 10 feet upstream of the raft. There was no need for panic as the rod was still tethered to the tree and rescue was on the way—Lancelot’s raft was just approaching the tree and saw the line snagged. I waved to indicate we could use a little help, and pulled the boat over to a gravel bar a short ways downstream to wait. And watch. Because I was busy on the oars there were no photos to document the drama. However, I have provided this detailed illustration to illustrate the situation:
It appeared, from our distance of 80+ yards, that Lancelot’s boat was able to free the snagged fly from the branch. Then they tossed the fly into the water for us to reel in. At that point Lancelot acknowledged the great distance between us and them, and realized we were not holding the other end of the line. They scrambled to retrieve the fly again, which luckily became snagged a second time on a branch in the water. They succeeded in retrieving the fly a second time and pulled in several yards of fly line and eventually the rod and reel. I’m not sure if they were into the backing by the time they had the entire setup in hand, but The Rev was lucky to get the rod back.
Even though the catching was slow to non-existent, it could have been a lot worse. It could have been raining. The food could have been bad. The guests could have had a horrible time. And had there not been another boat behind us, the river would have claimed a brand new rod, reel and line. That wouldn’t have been a good way for The Rev to begin his fly fishing career.