From Red Hot to Not

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Rivers have soul. They wind, and drop and rise by nature’s clock, not by man’s. They sway, breathe, protect, give, and take. Despite our best attempts to control them, to reroute and fortify their banks where they flood, and care about their ecosystems, the soul of a river reflects the harsh reality of how temporary conditions can be. The soul of a river is beautiful, and each river carries with it our own memories and reflections. It is true, that one never steps into the same river twice, because it changes, and so does our own soul.

River guides know the souls of these rivers more intimately than most; the ability to predict its attitude based on the factors that anglers measure moving water by – cubic feet per second, temperature, clarity. We know that the souls of our rivers stir when these factors conspire to make trout feed. For blossoms to shine, for grasses to again dig deep to fuel springtime’s growth. It is springtime now, in the Pacific Northwest. The sun just broke through the clouds above my home away from the river, leaving the ground wet and my short-sleeve shirt wet after a quick run to the truck to close the windows. Change, at a speed not dependant on the time on the clock or the day on the calendar, comes painfully sometimes and touches our souls. River banks, strong and dry, quickly strain and are scrubbed by cold snow melt high in the Stuart Range above the Yakima River, in Central Washington.

 

Yakima River Rainbow
It was red hot, and then it was not.  After a mild winter, showing it’s first signs of life, Skwalas were on the menu that day – 11 am and the boat launch is a mat of adult midges. At High noon, the sun is out and it’s a beautiful day – the first fish comes to hand. The river is in prime condition, and the wild fish are hungry. Through the deep canyon walls, past the charred stumps and brush of last summer’s late fire that leaped from bank to bank – not dirty run-off yet from the blackened ground. Past leaking tributaries that are beginning to creep up as the day warms. On a hot summer day, this is the place to be; colder water with more oxygen has the fish lined up here, but not today. Today the river is beginning to change, and as we near the end of the trip, and the wind and clouds begin to fall, it feels different. The river’s soul has changed again.  A few days ago, the soul of this river lost one of it’s true champions.

Yakima River Cutthroat
This past week has been particularly hard on the guide community in the PNW, with two of it’s fine souls and champions of wild fish, passing away. Each leaving a legacy of conservation, of change – from the rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula where wild steelhead are loved and their future’s fought for, and the beaches of Puget Sound. The dry, high plains of Central Washington mark the split of the Evergreen State into two here – souls of these rivers in the Northwest are richer now with the spirit of these fine men. Their losses will be felt, seen – more than a few drams of whiskey will flow as an offering to the souls of these rivers. There will be empty chairs in the fly shops and coffee houses where rained out trips stalled to re-plan; when, where, what to expect.

The fishing report is one way to measure what’s happening on the river. When I looked at the forecast, and reflected on my experiences on this river, this was shaping up to be a fine week of dry fly fishing. A warm front approached, dark and menacing – but far enough out. And then, the soul of these rivers called out and reclaimed for good what had been shared over the last 30 years. Conditions change, and it’s expected to fall below freezing for the next few nights – slowing the melt of snow, and the rivers will drop. When I step foot in the Yakima again, I’ll think of these guides and how they shaped the future of these fisheries by caring about them in the past – and saving their souls.

Hatch or Hype?

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We’re close. Proximity perhaps accelerated by the long, dark winter. It’s been a mild one, no doubt. No lengthy power outages, no massive winter storms that crippled the Metropolis; even the higher elevations, although close to “normal” now, don’t take on the appearance of straining under the weight that fly anglers feel between the months of November and March. Well, unless you pursue Steelhead to the East or West of Puget Sound. Me? I’ve fished through the winter, on the Yakima. Had a guest from Virginia who fished in December – she got a steelheader’s experience that day – but she was there.

Another group of anglers concerned about steelhead and management policies for the Skagit River have arranged an “Occupy” event – the Skagit boasts wild fish returns that meet the predetermined goals set by WDFW yet the river remains closed, even to C&R fishing for Steelhead in some areas of the watershed. This begs the question, among many, of managing expectations in the face of supply and demand, of ownership and accountability, of what’s best for the fish and the fishery.  Keep up to date with what’s happening on the Skagit here - https://www.facebook.com/OccupySkagit?fref=ts

But we’re here to talk about trout, wild trout.

February Yakima Rainbow

On the Yakima, and across the Western US where springtime conditions have anglers anxiously planning, scheming, and arranging their gear – where is that new rod or reel and line you got for the holidays? Did you forget about an Orvis Gift Card left in the stocking by St. Nick? I’ve already been planning my guide season, with calls coming in from both near and far about summertime trips, about what to wear, what flies to use, where to stay….and then it comes to mind – we’ve got springtime fishing on the horizon, and if you’re a fan of stoneflies, caddis, mayflies, and warm, sunny days on the river – they are a short-drive away on the Yakima River.  All that’s missing is you!

There’s a degree of hype that goes into the hatch, sure. Fishing guides are just as eager to get on the water as anglers are themselves – and yes, we’re guilty of a bit of hype I suppose. But the fish are waking up, the river is coming alive, and even though there may still be snow on the ground in places and you’ll still need sunscreen, the hype is valid.

IMAG0941_BURST002

Water temperatures are slowly creeping up, driven by longer, warmer days. The sun has been kissing the cobblestone on the banks, and the bugs are drawn there to hatch – like sunbathers on the beach. Get out your bloomers, your sunglasses, and your picnic baskets – it’s time for a feast.  Guides know it, fish know it, and if you are ready to celebrate the coming of springtime, now is the time.

 

Trust Your Guide.

Some come to laugh their past away

Some come to make it just one more day

Whichever way your pleasure tends

If you plant ice you’re gonna harvest the wind.” – Hunter, Garcia

Help > Slip > Float trip…

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"Help's On The Way"

Help’s On The Way.  In the summertime, seeing a KC Sheriff on the river normally means one thing; too many recreational floaters on the verge of becoming terminal sinkers, being unprepared for the cold, fast water.  This isn’t an amusement park, and every summer people get into water that’s over their heads in both skill and depth, only to be in dire need of help.

Paradise waits, on the crest of a wave, her angels in flames.

As we approached the launch, the first Officer’s vehicle came into view – “Nice” I thought, they’re here to provide a little enforcement and advice for the booze cruise crowd, checking for life jackets, safety gear, and litter control.  Still, they were too late, and there stood two shirtless and buzz-killed guys with a shredded cheap raft, a 24 can “sport pak” of beer, with this to say – “They’re down there rescuing my girlfriend from a log jam.”

I quickly slipped the Salmonfly down the launch, knowing very well that being part of the rescue was not in the plan.  The side channel is open, and it fishes well, rejoining the main channel below, avoiding the tight corners, submerged logs, and boat-sinking swells that the unprepared slip into every summer.  It’s a blind corner, and it’s always in some state of hazard; I’ve had to portage it before, other times we anchor and fish streamers through the turquoise pools.  This day, however, the roar of a jet boat filled the air as we anchored up on river right, above the split, listening for any clues as to their progress.  The grinding sound of rocks in the intake shattered the afternoon air, and even as we sat in the shade lining our rods, it was not going to be a quick extraction.  I knew exactly where they were and how this was going down, and it’s not an easy place for a jet boat.

Finding quiet solace in the side channel, we were given a show of force by a hefty Beaver.  Two Phelpsian flips of the tail, and it was time to move on.

Did someone say
Help on the way
Well, I know
Yeah, I do
That there’s help on the way

The sound of the second jet boat coming up river signaled the alarm.  Knowing that we’d be staying overnight downstream, and the situation increasingly crowded, the anchor was pulled and we fished our way to camp, along the inside of the bend.  The train would come through later that night, about 2 am.  Under a full-moon and a screen-tent, it was loud, bright, and another reminder – things move fast and cannot be controlled so easily.

We had quiet on the river as dusk wrapped around us, other than the current slamming against the rip-rap wall on the opposite bank, the relentless mosquitos dining on our arms and legs, and the cracking of a small fire as dinner slowly came together – here, the slow approach yielded nice results.  Two jet boats with uniformed rescuers meant that no bodies were recovered, rushed downstream.  The call of “What’s for dinner” over the accelerating waves on the bank meant that the rescue was over, hopefully for the best.  I just waved back, it was just courtesy anyways.  I bet those Officers would rather not be pulling bodies from the river, but it happens.  One boat returned upriver about 20 minutes later, to their rig at the launch above.  They knew we slipped in the water while the launch was blocked, and I know that they were preventing others from being part of the rescue – but we were prepared.  I know that corner well, and that we could get through it, but respected it at 4ooo cfs.  I know what the river is capable of and it doesn’t flinch.

God help the child who rings that bell
It may have one good ring left, you can’t tell
One watch by night, one watch by day
If you get confused just listen to the music play - Hunter

The music played on, and Annie and I found a lot of willing fish on the surface the next morning, sipping caddisflies and ambushing purple hoppers under the overhanging branches.  Off the water before the terminal sinkers rallied their floating coolers, left the life jackets behind, and flooded the river with their own lyrics.  Don’t worry, Help’s On The Way.

 

 

Brokedown Mountain Palace – Scrambled or Over Easy?

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So, are you gonna eat those or what?

Continued…

A few days into a great week of fishing on the Missouri River near Craig, MT and camp was pretty much settled in.  We’re into our norms – when people get up and shake off the whiskey, PBR, and way more food that you should eat from the night before and start thinking about getting back on the water.  That means breakfast, and breakfast means a big meal so that lunch on the river can be the easy one for the day.

Planning meals for a large group, even with a base camp, can be an occupational hazard.  Luckily, this group is pretty easy about food – if it’s hot and had at least two legs, it works.  I’m a big fan of breakfast, and eggs are good binders for peppers, meat, onions, and cheese.  In fact, most breakfast’s were either left over London Broil, Venison smokies or Elk backstraps.  Throw in some pig and it’s done.  It’s a good thing we brought five dozen eggs, cause the cardboard container they are housed in can get moist in the cooler, and well….the dogs came in handy for clean up.

One of the many..

 

The fishing was outstanding.  Most days consisted of getting on the water around 11 am, and watching hordes of midges take over the surface of the river.  There were few boats, mostly we were the only anglers on the water.  Over the course of the week, we developed a nice pattern on the lower river, between Stickney and Mountain Palace.  Midges, BWO’s, and when it got slow on top, drifting a Fire Bead Czech with a Ray Charles underneath.  Now, this particular style of fishing – in the words of a local guide, can be very technical.  And it’s true – the fish were in specific spots and depths.  Sean McAfee, who guides for Linehan Outfitting Company, knows this river well and shared just enough to get the rest of us in line.  Fish the braided water over the weed beds, 8 foot leader, a split shot – well, for those who enjoy sub-surface fishing, this is what works.  I prefer to fish dry flies, and the Comparadun in size 18 worked.

 

Fishing HQ

 

Among the basic camping sites along the Missouri, this was the most appealing.  Away from Hwy 15, at the terminus of great dry fly water, and wide open.  The Fly Fishers Inn, in the background, was once the hub of activity on the MO – prior to the sleepy little town of Craig becoming a Mecca for tailwater fishing in the West.  When your home water is blown out, the MO is a sure bet.

I heard that the property is for sale – a little more juice than I have in the pitcher right now, but the location sure is sweet and it’s turn-key.  If you want to own it, maybe we can work something out….

It’s quiet on the MO at night – except for here.  This apparently is breeding central for Canadian Geese, and the males were competing for cliff-side nesting space, and for females.  And we heard about it all day and night long.

Next up…Shuttleman’s.

 

 

Brokedown Mountain Palace

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Going home, going home, by the waterside I will rest my bones.  Listen to the river sing sweet songs, to rock my soul.  - Garcia, Hunter

Springtime is more than an awakening from the long slumber of winter, when the rivers rise and the hills begin to sing with the sounds of the shift towards longer, warmer days.  I imagine that many fly anglers, ready to shed their waterproof layers and expose their ashy legs to the warming sun, go through the same shift that I do – a springtime awakening sets the stage for the year.  A few years ago, I became so busy with trying to create a life for myself and my family that I pushed the coming season aside, forgetting to live.  This is not to say that I neglected to breathe, to walk in the water, to love.  I simply felt that I was stronger than the connection between the changes in nature and my life, that they could be overcome by hard work for someone else’s benefit, all for a paycheck.  And things, material things.  Things long since discarded, given away, lost.

I returned from Craig, MT a few days ago – floating the MO river with a small group of valued friends.  It’s my annual spring trip, carefully planned for after the Orvis Rendezvous, this year held in Missoula.  Last year, I made the long trek to Casper and was awarded the 2011 Orvis Endorsed Fly Fishing Guide Of The Year.  This was a tremendous shift in my life; validation for hard work and dedication, but also a burden.  The only way to say this is to say it honestly – it’s human nature to strive to be better.  A cohort of mine at Orvis, Jody Frederick, who did a wonderful job managing the Rendezvous this year (as always Jody!) posted a quote on Facebook earlier today:

“Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” -William Faulkner

Getting out of your own way is a struggle sometimes.  And Jerry sings…“sometimes the lights are shining on me…”  It’s a timely quote as I left for the Rendezvous this year reflecting on what the last year was, who my friends are, what was important.  Most importantly, who I was and what I still wanted to do.  Fulfillment.

   As the sun went down over my home, and I traveled East towards Missoula, down roads filled with lyrics and lines, the sense of springtime enveloped me.  Towards the end of the road marking the way to the rest of the year; accelerating towards the river faster and faster, let’s get there.

Spring has come, and the river’s are rising.  Full of the debris from a long, cold winter.  As they rise, the trees pulled back to the ground from which they came become summer homes for the developing fish.  Habitat, created by the seasons.

Brokedown Mountain Palace.  To be continued.

 

 

East Meets West

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There’s a British film made in 1936, titled East Meets West in which the cast of characters play though a modern day plot line; the coveting of something you don’t have because of it’s strategic value or place.  The main character in the movie plays a powerful figure being courted by two larger, foreign powers vying for his homeland, who manages to get what he wants from both of them.  There are days, on the river, that we’re faced with the same challenges – the finicky feeding behavior of early-season fish, the weather, the transition of seasons.  When the signs of springtime are all around you, it’s easy to be lulled into a false feeling of hope.  Steelhead flies have been named after this feeling, this “Winter’s Hope.”

I had the opportunity to share my home water, the Yakima River, with Patrick Fulkrod, an Orvis Endorsed Guide from Virginia, and his friend Mark recently.  I’m the sole Orvis-Endorsed operation in Washington, so networking and fishing with other Orvis-Endorsed Guides doesn’t happen all that frequently.  There are 70 miles of special regulations, catch & release, wild fish water.

Representative of the species.

Native strains of the Westslope Cutthroat (Onchorhynchus clarkii lewisi) are more abundant in it’s upper reaches, while rainbow and other game fish species populate the water above Roza Dam, the terminus of the special regulations water.  Below Roza, the Yakima broadens and warms, offering Smallmouth Bass and other game fish.

Nice winter fish.

 

 It’s here where Patrick and I, while a continent apart in distance, are the most similar.  Our  guiding style and approach, whether it’s because of our affiliation with Orvis or because we’re just cut from the same cloth, is client-focused.  Understanding the relationship between the guide and client is paramount and makes the difference.

 We’re miles apart in terms of distance, but not in how we guide, how we fish, and the ingredients for a great day on the water.  Like a prospective client of Patrick’s, I knew what to expect ahead of time, and I learned a lot about his fishery, the issues affecting his guiding, and we shared our best practices on how to be better guides.

After Patrick returned to VA, he sent me an email along with some pictures, and had this to say about our shared day on the Yakima:

“Everyone at this point probably has Facebook. Having this said, we all know what it is to have people on a friend list whom you have never met in person. Derek was one of these guys on my Facebook list. I, like many other people have dedicated my share of minutes (maybe hours) admiring Derek’s reports and blogs. When I first found out that I would be traveling in Derek’s “neck of the woods” I immediately thought of the idea to plan a day and fish with Orvis’ 2011 Guide Of The Year.

 I brought along a friend from home, Mark.  Mark and I met Derek on the outskirts of Seattle for our trip. For our trip the weather predicted to be a bit “un-accommodating.” Having the opportunity to meet a long time Facebook friend was a delight. Derek and I are both fortunate enough to make a living doing what we like the best; and that’s fly fishing. The flow of guide jokes and gear raves were non-stop; as was the wind. The fact that our day wasn’t the most productive didn’t matter. Our day was more productive in our eyes for the simple fact that it was time on the water.”

Oh the W.

The antagonist in our day on the Yakima was the W; or outside the fly fishing community the “wind.”  I hesitate to say the whole word, for fear of encouraging the atmospheric conditions that pushes air with force up the rocky canyons and sweeping the sage-covered banks.  But, as a guide must do, we were prepared for the conditions and made the best of the day.  In the end, East and West both got what we wanted – shared time on the water in challenging conditions making us appreciate a stronger power, the W.  The wind blew from East to West, and North to South.  It blew us against the banks of the river.  But it couldn’t spoil a great day on the river.

The W wanted to get the best of us that day on the Yakima, but we turned the tables on it.  Two Orvis-Endorsed Fly Fishing Guides from opposite sides of the country, on one Western river, managed to connect with a few wild fish, on a wild, wild windy day.  Oops, I said it….

 

Fernielicous Part Deux, or The Mouse Is In The House.

Erik Hayes with a Westslope Cutthroat, caught on a mouse pattern.

One year later, and with the world a much different place, we headed North with a StreamTech Boats Green Drake in tow, for delivery to Woods Bay, MT.  Brenco finally pulled the trigger, and happily took delivery of a sweet boat with nice amenities.  Unexpectedly, we came into a demo boat from a fly shop in MT that needed a little TLC and what better way than to take it across the border and pursue big trout on dries, and aggressive pre-spawn Bull Char.  All things aligned for the good of all.

Fernie was as welcoming this year, but colder and the Elk was running lower.  Fall is already in the air, the black bear already making appearances in town, prepping for winter.  We’re told that there are more than 100 RCMP in town for a conference, so instantly the flashbacks to last year http://flyfishtheyakima.com/2010/09/08/fernielicious-with-a-twist/ didn’t feel as ominous.  Well, at least this time it would be bears, not meth heads, but where did the chocolate-covered raisins go…

 

Mousin'......

 

Day one was uneventful; a late afternoon float throwing big dry flies, a copious Fall caddis event which the YakCaddis came in handy for, Chubby’s, streamers of all sizes – it all worked.  The only reason to change flies was just to see what wouldn’t work – it’s that good of a fishery.  A few small Bulls come to hand, but nothing like what we’re expecting.  Dark came quickly, and we high tailed into town.  There were four of us, but like the Three Wise Men we were drawn to Fernie to find no rooms for the weary.  Apparently the economy in Canada is much stronger than in the US, as there were plenty of workers in town occupying every available room – but for one.  Kyle from WI makes the call and finds a kitchenette not far from where we stayed last year, and we settle in.  I’m pretty sure everyone snores, although I’m the only one called out for it – and Brenco’s dog licks himself all night.  Insert your dog jokes here, but damn son give it a rest.

 

Day two and we’re floating a different stretch this year – no improvement in launch facilities, so I’m still left to wonder where exactly the $20/day that tacked onto the “special waters” permits goes.  We’re met by several other boats, so the locals are onto something and we’re in on it too.  Big pools are accessed by football (US, not Canadian) sized runs that run shallow and are no match for the Green Drakes.  These boats pull very little water, don’t bang around like glass or wood boats, and even when portages were necessary, at 165 pounds (what’s that in Canadian?) very easy to move around.  We don’t draw the attention of many fish to start – it’s earlier in the day, colder, and overcast.  We mutter that it’s an olive day, but that would take all the fun out of throwing chunky foam dries.  So, I dig deep into the box and out comes the Mouse.  I tied the pattern above earlier this year, and have only fished it on the Yakima once.  I got a few followers, so in the face of adversity (meaning, each cast didn’t move a fish) I suggest we go rodent to get their attention.  And it worked.

Rodents.

 

Sunlight, through your tail, makes me happy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day Three is the day of the Bull.  The big fish aren’t showing themselves so it’s back down to the lower stretches of the river, and a quick stop at one of the many fly shops there in town.  Where’s the 2/0 bunnies, please?  Depth charge line, the 7wt lined up for the battle and it stood to be a good one.  We don’t leave this system without big Bulls, and it’s down to the last day.

Three Wise Men or The Four Horsemen?

Fishing with even your best friends after three days can be challenging – the bottle of whiskey is running low, the Pabst is warm, and there’s a nervousness among us.  Whose going to boat it?  The jockeying intensifies, with normal decorum taking a break as we drift down further, light fading..

We wonder if there is a curse.  While casting mouse patterns, Hayes witnesses a large cutthroat take this fly right off the line without even a ripple – staring back at me, as if to rewind time, the silence of the bank robber sends a chill down our spines – the mouse pattern that’s been so effective is now gone – I only tied one.  Hayes doesn’t give up easily, so we wait a minute on anchor – and the mouse appears.  Popping out of the water a few yards downstream, I quickly unseat us from the cobbled river bottom and the chase is on.  Recovery comes quick, and without hesistation he ties it back on.  Five minutes later, we veer left at a shallow braided fork in the river – we’ve not floated this side yet, and with Brenco and Kyle ahead of us, may have just pulled a coup.

 

We're headed left.

And then it happens again.  Only this time, a strong cutty makes a strong shake of its head, and the mouse is gone.  We watch in horror as it swims away.  Wait, did I tie another one?  There’s another mouse in the house, only this one is tied a bit differently and doesn’t sit as nicely.  Remember the tail in the first photo?  That made Mouse #1 swim so lifelike that we narrated each cast – “it’s just me, little ol’ field mouse walking down the log towards the river for a sip – oops, I’ve fallen in and need to swim away from these big fish so that I don’t get GULPED.”  Brenco and Kyle have witnessed us take two large cutts on the mouse, and can’t believe it.  Mouse #2 doesn’t have the mojo, and it becomes apparent that perhaps we are cursed – Hayes casts it into a log jam and we’re done.

Switching from oarsman to caster, I take the front seat and try a Chubby Chernobyl – it’s worked already, it’s easy to see, and at this point, hoping it’s a curse buster.  “There’s a nice undercut over there, Hayes – put me on it” I ask and make haste with casting.  Then, the curse rears itself again.  I’ve hooked a bird in the leg, and it’s making havoc with my line.  Diving and yelling like mad, it’s trying to drown itself it seems as I pull it closer towards me.  We are cursed, indeed.  It’s quick but messy, bloody work but the bird comes free, flying off into the trees.  I’ve taken the rod down, and stored it away.  We consider the events of the last 30 minutes, break for lunch, and as the wind picks up, make for the takeout.  Half of the float remains, we’ve hit a rough patch, but press on.

It’s time to change strategy and tactics – the big bulls will come with time we say, and float over gin clear water from deep pool to deep pool.  There’s less jockeying for position now, as deep holes become treasure troves that require time.  Fish it all the way, from top to bottom, they’re in there.

And then the curse is broken.  Kyle and Eric are 40 yards downstream, at the tailout of the last big pool with any promise.  I can see Kyle’s fly rod bent towards the water and he’s shouting about a bull char.  I’ve cast 60 feet to my left, behind a car-sized boulder, and let it sink.  Then a strong pull, and a flash at a big Bull.  It took three days, but within 10 seconds of each other, we’ve each hooked a fish and the work begins.

Elk River Bull Char.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to fish these great waters with great friends, and this year’s trip is a welcome change from last years.  Concerns about locals removing the air from your tires, wondering if vandals will strike again (I didn’t bring the bag of chocolate-covered raisins to appease them) go away quickly as the riches of the experience overcome the worry.  A curse that is broken.

“Blue light rain, whoa unbroken chain,
Looking for familiar faces in an empty window pane.

Listening for the secret, searching for the sound
But I could only hear the preacher and the baying of his hounds.

Willow sky, whoa, I walk and wonder why,
They say love your brother, but you will catch it when you try.”  -Robert Peterson and Phil Lesh

Sounding

I’m outside my comfort level, with unfamiliar gear that strangely enough, when asked, I step right in and work; downriggers, cut-bait, depth finders.

It’s comfortable on the water, a break from the oars in exchange for the salty air and seagulls.

I celebrate a good friends coming birthday with time on the water. Soon, we’ll be back in shallower freshwater, casting flies and far removed from the deep Sound.

The day before the previous two which weren’t as good….

I hit the upper river solo on Monday, to recon a section for the first time of the year – the high water affords access where there normally is none, bringing life to a narrow band of swift water slowly eating at the cobbled banks as it twists back towards the main channel.  There, a deep slow pool where I’ve floated over spawned out salmon, the water promising.  I make a few casts, a flash, the splash, and a gorgeous cutthroat comes to hand.

 

 

No relief at 6000 cfs….

There must be some way out of here, said the Joker to the Thief.   Maggie and I thought we’d steal the day away on the Yakima a few days ago, after providing some cross-country travelers some private casting lessons.  Seems they were driving all the way from Key West, FL to Fairbanks, AK and wanted a basic knowledge of how to fly fish once they got to Alaska…maybe this closes the circle from Wharf Rat but that’s probably a stretch…anyways.

The river was moving at 6000 cfs – and there was little of the river cobble to be seen, but for a very few places.  Tucking into the corners gave little respite from the flow, nor at the ends of the barely visible islands that normally make up the river’s edge and banks during lower flows.  But that’s where the force of the water was the most reasonable.  I suspect that underneath the Salmonfly, amid the caddisflies and golden stones in the water, that we were right on top of the fish.  Maggie spotted them, gave out a small bark…your next Emerging Rivers Guide Services protege!

Here’s the river dog all suited up and ready for her maiden voyage on the Yakima.  She did well, mostly rested and let me do all the work…it’s a dog’s life.  She’s got her Orvis dog bed on order…

We felt the river dropping underneath us, and sure enough after getting home the numbers told the story.  There will be a short period of time over the next few days in which to sneak in a float and perhaps catch the river on the drop…

 

 

Not much has changed in the lower canyon, although this stump just above the Rock Garden is certainly new.  Won’t pose a problem to most floaters, but it will provide some main channel structure.

 

 

We drove home via Hwy 10 between Ellensburg and Cle Elum, to check out the upper canyon area.  It was certainly windy but a nice sunny day.  I’m going to float this section on Saturday – in high water, the pools in this section are even better.

 

 

 

 

 

Put $5 in the can…

 

 

 

Lest you think it was a perfect day…we ran into traffic on the way home.  Two hours later, in the gray and rainy skies, we were home after a successful first river float for Maggie and me.  We didn’t fish, but the fish were there.  Middle of the river, splashy vertical rises for size 16 tan caddis and blue winged olives, dripping slowly into the water like the rain drops on the windshield.  Thanks for reading – Derek & Maggie.

The Color & The Shape

The Yakima River in Washington State is classified as “Blue Ribbon” trout water, and as such causes a love/hate relationship with those that pursue the native Westslope Cutthroat and wild Rainbow in its waters.  The 70-miles of designated special regulations water is where a lot of Washington’s trout anglers first experience the heartbreak and soothing salvation of fly fishing.  So, that’s both the blessing and the curse -  you don’t need to drive all the way to Montana or Idaho to experience great fly fishing (which I also enjoy doing), but what you won’t find on the Yakima River is what makes other well-known and heavily fished trout waters so popular.  No, you won’t find 10,000 trout per mile, or even 3000 – numbers that make you wonder how you could fish water that rich and not catch anything.  You will find between 800-1000 fish per mile, depending on which stretch you fish, and the time of the year.  It’s what I love the most about guiding, fishing, and sharing this river with friends and clients – it’s about the discovery, and if you’re the type of angler who appreciates the discovery, hard work, and getting out there to see the river for what it is, then you’ll find me right there along side you.

The color and shape of the river recently has been the biggest challenge – record snowfalls in the Cascades and several extraordinary weather events in January, March, and then again in May have changed the river.  Change is good, and that adds to the challenge – where fish used to hold, feed, and travel has changed over the last six months, so anglers have to adapt to it and think more like a fish.  High water means searching out deep, slow pools where food and fish collect.  It means inside seams, and walking speed water below the classic run, riffle, pool river structure.  It means there will be hatches and rising fish, but more so it means finding the right water and presenting your flies the right way.

The first two days of June brought improving river conditions – from “fish someplace else this week” to “okay” is how I described it on the Orvis.com report. Floating the upper river sections between S. Cle Elum and Thorp, WA are my favorite stretches of the river – braided, tree-lined, and full of character.  I know some guides who haven’t fished the upper river once over the last 10 years, and while I don’t frequent the lower stretches as much as others do, there’s a reason why – the fishing is more technical up here.  But the reward is greater – there are fewer fish, but they are bigger and more often clients are bringing nice Cutthroat to the net.

This fish was caught on a golden stonefly nymph, and representative of the color and the shape of the cutthroat in the upper river.  The fiery orange slash, the remarkable blush of the cheek, the fight.  You won’t find acrobatics in general, but you’ll know it when you hook one, as the slash is vibrant against the olive jaw.

Here, Dan caught a end of the day beauty of a rainbow on a Pat’s, drifted deep and slow in the fading light. A personal best for him and on any river a fine fish.

Between the three of us (I don’t normally fish with clients, but when demonstrating a technique, the inevitable happens!) we netted three fish, with many more bites – takes were slight, sometimes sets were missed, but we found a great sunny day.  Water temps in the upper 40′s, air was in the 60′s, and the water was clear.  Definitely improving, and these flows will likely stick around until mid-September when the flows are normally reduced for the winter.  Overall, a great day sharing the river with two new friends and clients.

Thursday the 2nd brought similar conditions – sunny and warm, but windy.  However, for Jason and Chad, their first interaction with the Yakima River.  With what we learned the day before, I set us up for a afternoon float.  On the water around 1:45, off at 7:45.  Water temps were in the upper 40′s, but the wind resulted in fewer bugs on the water and tougher fishing conditions.  Covering the basics of casting from the boat and working together (hey, stay out of my water!) we fished hard, stopping frequently to re-rig as the conditions required big flies, down deep, and close to underwater structure.  The saying goes, “if you not losing flies nymphing, you’re not doing it right.”  And while I agree with the premise, if you master the technique, you’ll not lose flies.  It’s technical fishing – frequent mending, reading the water, managing your line, adapting – if you become proficient at catching fish subsurface on the Yakima River, you’ll catch fish anywhere.  I do think of the Yakima as having a steep learning curve, but if you’ll put in the time, the rewards are great.  Three fish to the net, including a end of the day (sense a trend here?) beauty fought valiantly by Chad – into his backing, and a good 40 yards from the boat, I finally netted his fish.  He’ll come back with a 5wt next time, cause this ain’t no 3wt water up here.

Jason’s a high-school classmate of mine, and Chad’s a Coug.  Couldn’t beat the company on the water that day, with an initial introduction to the Yakima – having gone to college and fished in MT and in Alaska, Jason’s taking fishing the Yakima seriously.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And that’s all I can report on for the first two days in June – back on the river after a two-week break (nature and nurture) has been a welcome return for me.  Getting back to river speed, to rowing, to casting, to teaching, to netting, and to sharing my home river is a blessing – the color and shape, from season to season, I keep coming back.  The Yakima River demands your attention to be successful.  Don’t expect it to be easy, but expect the reward to be worth it.

Thanks for reading,

Derek

 

 

Chasing Blue Lines.

Featured

First off, apologies to my six faithful readers, who despite my absence in writing and updating this blog, keep coming back.  You must like what you see, and since you do, please know that there’s going to much, much more coming soon.  Keeping up with the pace of the world while managing a full-time guide business, being a father for two brilliant children, a husband for my wonderful wife, and now babysitter of a new puppy – well, there’s just lots of stuff to balance.  But – there’s light at the end of the tunnel.  A special thanks to Dave Carpenter, recently endorsed by Orvis in Oregon – Dave guides on the Santiam, which is literally in his backyard. He catches steelhead, trout, and salmon within sight of his kitchen and fly tying area.

What have I been up to?  Well, in a longer than I prefer winter/spring, there’s been a lot of travel.  Along the way, I picked up a nice piece of hardware from the good people at Orvis – I had to buy a new belt….

And when I returned home from a two week trip through the West, fishing MT, WY, and UT – my home water was blown due to rain and snowmelt.  What does that look like?

It looks like this.  Chocolate milk, mocha, mud – whatever you want to call  it, it ain’t clear.  But with the right fly and technique, there’s always a fish to catch.

 

 

 

 

Took the new puppy along, and she’s becoming quite the fishing dog.  Right at my feet, eating rocks, sleeping in the truck, etc.

So, as the title implies, it’s down to chasing blue lines where you can find them for some spring time fishing.  As most of the Western US has record snow packs this year, it’ll be a while.  But, I’ve heard the Kootenai fishes well at 20K, so perhaps a trip to visit Tim & Joanne at Linehan Outfitters is in order.  All the while, chasing little blue lines on the map…

Thanks for reading – there’ll be more soon.  Much more frequent than 5 months.

Derek

Fernielicious with a Twist

The conversation started last May, during a brief safety meeting on the Green River in UT – “The Elk, Dude.  You gotta fish the Elk.”  My affinity for cutthroat is well documented and discussed, therefore the recommendation.  I like fishing with people who not only can row and take care of their own knots themselves, but also appreciate the kind of experience that others want to have – so that it’s not a one-sided event.  I started thinking about Canada immediately.

The last time I was in the Great White North I was attending a show – the ZOO TV tour of U2, with Bjork and Public Enemy as the opener.  It was early November in 1991, and the results of the US Presidential election were announced during the show.  Now, being a fan small places with a lot of people beer around, it was a good spot to gauge the reaction of a mostly US audience in one of Canada’s shining gems of a city.  Oh, and I met a transvestite there too.  Overall, it was an interesting night that both ended a relationship, and furthered an interest in our close neighbor to the north.  That is, until shit got twisted on a visit to Fernie last week.  Note to reader, the transvestite had nothing to do with the end of the relationship.

In my opinion, if I’m headed to Paradise, and there are signs advising me how quickly it just is that I can get there, well maybe that paradise with such rules is a bit of a tease – but after a quick stop to see Brooks and a few new choice OC larvae patterns, I headed for Paradise – first stop, the Thompson River.

Lunch was in order – the town of Plains, MT was preparing for the Labor Day weekend, and something about this place just seemed right.  A hot dog cart, a shed, a flag, and huckleberry lemonade.  Bingo.

It became clear very quickly, that unlike my last visit to Canada, that what it looked like, it absolutely was.  Down home, road-side chow.  Buffalo.  Good trade.

Traveling with the Green Drake always draws a crowd, and this was no different.  The proprietor and another gentleman soon crowded the rigs, asking questions about the boat, my ARB tent, and where I was headed.

Paradise, via Wild Horse Plains, MT and the Thompson River.  What could be better.

Here’s the Thompson River – cold, a bit slippery, and very fishy looking.  Unfortunately, the road was closed just to the right of the frame in this shot – so, I would travel no further to get a line wet in MT on this trip.  The fish were rising in the swirling, dirty foam lines – exactly what I wanted to find.  Deep pools, jagged rocks that obviously slipped from the talus slope above into the river, creating a S-shaped labyrinth of possibilities.  I lined up with a tasty looking terrestrial, and headed down, loaded for bear – now why would there be bear, here?

Junk.  River junk.  Bait boxes, shiny, desperate lures and heavily braided wire leader, ugh.  Trash on the river.  Disappointment on the Thompson.  What a start.

I fished for a short time, slipping and sliding around – something didn’t feel right.  I was distracted, and left in a huff – a skunking, who gets skunked in MT?  I shuffled back to the truck, quickly taking off my boots and wading socks, and heard a unfamiliar “clink” on the road – a gold coin dropped out of my wading sock.  A sign?  My mind quickly jumped to Canada, and the Toonie.  Ok, that’s a positive.  Let’s get on the road.

Don’t worry, we’re getting to the good stuff.  Patience, my four readers.  You know at this point that I caught a lot of big cutties on the Elk, but you’re wondering – how did the RCMP get involved?

Here’s the quick and dirty – a few weeks prior, a group of people rolled into Fernie, BC and trashed their hotel room.  According to Cst. Kevin Johnson, of the Elk Valley Detachment, they returned on our first night at the Park Place Lodge, and proceeded to destroy the same room they had previously done the same to – leaving a note to the effect “you charged us too much for the damage last time, so we came back to make it even.”  How or why the Green Drake got involved, but to the quick – they entered the boat, vandalized it with my river knife stowed on my Stohlquist vest, tucked deep inside the dry bag.  Cutting straps, stealing personal goods with little value (some food, playing cards) but some with much value (new Orvis waders, bear spray, flies).  My buddy Eric Brenco awoke me with “Dude, have you been down to the boat already this morning?”  Looking out the open window 50 feet and two stories up from the boat, it quickly came to me – fooled again in Canada.

At this stage in the trip, I was only interested in fishing the Elk, and getting into some native, wild-strain Westslope Cutthroats.  One of the finest examples of this fish left on the continent.  The RCMP came to file the report, and take an inventory of what was missing.  I didn’t even realize all what was gone, until less than an hour later, a call comes in to the Fisheries agent floating with us that day – Jim is a guide and long-time resident of the area, and is now in charge of watching the rivers and mountains in the area.  In his words, “the fox guarding the hen house.”  Jim’s distinct Canadian dialect was like music to my ears – not Bjork, but U2, “but I still haven’t found, what I’m looking for.”  But I didn’t know what was gone, only what was possible downriver.  And I was getting anxious.  “He could bring them right down here” Jim said.  Knowing what was lost, then found, and safely in the hands of the RCMP, I deferred.  Let’s get on the river.  Our belongings would be safely with Kevin, at his home in Fernie.  Having an “in” with the Fisheries and the local law enforcement just felt good.

The Elk is an amazing river – gin clear, full of fish, cold, and beautiful.

High clouds, and no-one else on the river.  I’ve forgotten all about the events of earlier, and focused on Cutts.

Yeah, these fish have shoulders.  Big and strong, taking dries.

Eric’s Helios 8’6 5wt Tip was bent a lot during the trip.

At the end of the day, we drove back up from Elko to Fernie, and to Kevin’s home to retrieve my stolen items.  He was out in front, mowing the lawn.  A regular guy, keeping rule and taking an active role in helping out complete strangers.  I got my waders back, first aid kit, hammock, and flies.  The lunch meat and chocolate-covered raisins?  “Oh, those were gone, Eh!”

In the end, the hotel comped our room charges for the two-night stay, as the RCMP told us that it was likely an inside job – they had to get in the room somehow, and the hotel had them on video too.  All was good, and set the stage for a return trip to Fernie, BC next year to attend the court proceedings.  You bet I’ll be back to the Elk, and to Fernie.  And I’ve got a few Toonies left.

New Fiberglass smells so good…

There’s something to be said for new things – and I’m going to say just one thing about this new drift boat I picked up from the fine folks down at Clackacraft.

Trout love it.

Road Trips

I really like taking road trips – there doesn’t even have to be a reason, but most of my destinations have cold water and the promise of trout. The promise of a road trip is what you know, what you don’t know, and what you’ll experience in the process. I hesitate to even call a road trip a “process” because that puts a label on it, something that defines it. The best road trips are beyond definition, but always undertaken with at least an idea of what’s coming.

What’s your idea of a great road trip?  Where have you gone lately?  Where are you going?