fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


my summer vacation 2010 — post #4(the post that almost wasn’t)

I had expected my previous post would be the last regarding my summer trip to the rural side of the family, but I did cram in a bit more fun. So, we’ll wrap it up today.

I had certain designs for this trip and can happily report they were fulfilled.

Except for the fishing, I really didn’t put any preplanning into the other days I’d be in the Evergreen State. But there were two goals nestled in my subconscious.

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The Washington Nephews.

Top of the list was reinforcement of my Cool Uncleness. I won’t lay claim to being the first guy to publicly acknowledge a premeditated goal of becoming The Cool Uncle. And nowadays an Internet search will yield copious advice on how to become a cool uncle. I feel, however, that while one can study cool uncle strategies and tactics all day long, but it means so much less if it doesn’t bubble up from the heart.

Only the ‘phews can gauge my success, but I can honestly say that, at the very least, I’ve given them memories that shouldn’t vanish for quite a while. Just ask Nick and Nathan about the crazy snow dance.

Tuesday allowed me to fulfill the second goal: securing Encores direct from Boehms Candies in Issaquah. It’s a tradition: never return home to The Wife without Encores in hand. Not a bad deal, considering I get to enjoy some as well. I’m a bit worried, however, that this custom may soon loose some of its allure. My sister-in-law mentioned that occasional one can find Encore on sale at a local grocery store. On the other hand, there’s that extra bag of Boehms’ chocolates that enviably finds its way into the trunk, only to disappear during the next two hours or less.

Despite having resided in Issaquah for approximately nine months way back when, I never did visit the (somewhat redundant) Triple XXX Rootbeer Drive-In. It’s less than 1,100 feet away from Boehms, so I availed myself that afternoon of the opportunity to pop my Triple XXX Rootbeer cherry.

The Triple XXX root beer, like many root beers, has its own distinct flavor, but is much closer to the mainstream root beer style we all know. I opted for the Chevelle S/S 396 burger. It was good. Not drive-out-of-your-way great, but good.

There was no way I was going to tempt fate by ordering the “Famous Incredible XXX Burger.” (Check it out at the top of the menu.) A gentleman across the isle — a big, tattooed, barrel-chested guy — ordered it, asked the waiter to take a picture of him, his wife/girlfriend and the burger. He then tired to eat the whole thing. He failed. Were my 20-year-old and 22-year-old sons with me, perhaps with my nephews batting clean up, I might have tried.

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Hmmmmmm...wonder what happens if I turn the key?

That evening offered an opportunity to do the uncle thing at the National Night Out celebration in Monroe. I met up with my brother, his wife and the nephews to view the various organizations and demonstrations. There were two highlights: a water rescue and my brother showing the young ‘uns how it’s done at the U.S. Marine booth.

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What style, what grace.

It seems that the carrot works better than the stick when it comes to Mark. The Marines were offering various trinkets to folks who could complete five or so pull ups. But for Mark, it was all about the hat. I don’t recall the precise number of pull ups required to win the hat, maybe 12, but it was a count higher than most men over 40 might finish without straining something. There was a particular coolness and grace to Mark’s pull ups; the shades, a tilt of the head, and the extension of the belly as a counterbalance. He did get the hat.

My last full day started as usual with breakfast with the folks. My sister-in-law graciously volunteered to pick me up and drop me off to see a movie, the picked me up to spend more time with the nephews. Little did I know, the nephews swore off playing any video games until I could play with them. (I think that shows some dedication on their part!)

I was a bigger gamer back in the day, and still dabble now and again. However, that afternoon we were playing Super Mario, a game that arrived on the scene long after I had moved on to first-person shooters. But as with anything habitually practiced, gaming muscles seem to have a memory. Soon I was keeping pace with these half-pints and we were all having a good time. Then an opportunity arrived to ratchet up the Cool Uncle factor.

Don’t ask me the level we were playing ‘cause I don’t know; but it was difficult. After a few attempts to get through, Levi was knocked out of the game. Kaden and I were trying to climb our way up, jumping from moving stones to swinging platforms and through zombies. Kaden’s character fell to his virtual death. Four eyes were flitting back and forth between the television screen and this uncle from California. Sweat beaded on my brow. This was no time for button mashing. With a little bit of luck great deal of skill, I completed the level to an exclamation of “Awesome!” from Levi and “That’s what I’m talking about!” from Kaden. I think Kaden was even more excited when he discovered that the newly opened level was underwater, where he could swim his character while fending off fish and avoiding huge scallops.

I figure this is a memory that will stick around for a while. At least until another Cool Uncle memory comes along. A nice thing is that this coolness goes both ways. I’ve got some pretty awesome memories of time I’ve spent with nephews. (If you’ve noticed, I’ve not mentioned nieces. I don’t have any.)

The afternoon faded away. The nephew’s dad returned from work. We loaded everyone into the truck and it was off to a last dinner out with the folks and my brother’s family at one of the many fine family dining establishments in Duvall, Wash.

The Evidence
(Use “Compatibility View” in Internet Explorer if pictures overlap.)

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my summer vacation 2010 — post #3(and what I will do again)

…continued from part 2:

Sunday was only the day between the days that I’d be fishing. Saturday was set aside for salmon. Monday would be time for more gentlemanly and sporting fly fishing; dad’s first experience of fly fishing, ever, and my first visit to the Yakima River.

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Looking downstream on The Yak.

The plan called for hooking up with guide Derek Young in Snoqualmie at eleven o’clock that morning, meaning a leisurely drive from Duvall under gray skies. As with many of my guided fly fishing trips, there’s months of anticipation and correspondence, including probably too many questions from me, followed by the first face-to-face meeting.

Derek’s one of the growing number of guide/acquaintances who are forcing me to come to grips with age. Used to be I’d expect a guide to be a fellow with at least a few years on me. No so much anymore. Young(er) is fast becoming my description of the guides I’m meeting.

We climbed into Derek’s truck after quick introductions, and took off east on Highway 90 towards Ellensburg. The drive offered a good opportunity to set goals and expectations for the day, peppered by an abbreviated education of the scenery passing our windows, its geography and its history. The miles were marked by a slow transition from the wet side of the Cascade Mountains to the dry side, and overcast gave way to clear, blue skies. A quick stop was made in Ellensburg to arrange for shuttle service, and then it was off to our put-in point.

As one who typically wades into trout waters, larger rivers can be intimidating. The Yakima was no exception this day, running somewhere near 3,000 cubic feet per second. Derek placed The Green Drake, our boat for the day, in the river. Rods were rigged and safety stressed. We’d be doing a float of about five miles through the Farmlands section of the river, with a first stop shortly downstream to warm up our casting arms.

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Derek holding court.

Dad took up the seat on the bow — often referred to as the ‘hot seat’ as it’s the first part of the boat to pass fishy water — and I perched on the stern. It was warm, verging on hot, but the cool water of the river, with sort of glaciated green cast to it, offered natural air conditioning.

It was a short ride downstream before Derek pulled alongside a small island near the far bank. Derek was recommended not only a great guide for the Yakima, but as a teacher. Besides getting me on to some fish, the hope was to ‘learn’ my dad a bit about fly fishing. Throughout the day Derek would work alongside dad, offering guidance on casting, reading the water and answering questions about insects, the river, trout and darn near anything.

I wasn’t left entirely on my own. Remember, most everything I fish in California can be waded across without much trouble, but with a bit of direction and some pointers Derek sent me toward some fishy spots. Meanwhile, Derek would get dad acquainted with the tools of the trade and casting.

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Class in session: dad and Derek seeking fish.

This first stop put me in position to target the bank with an upstream cast, tossing dries under some overhanging branches and along grassy edges. Either that sixth ‘guide sense’ kicked in or upon seeing I was without much love, Derek suggested I cast towards the middle of the river, targeting a seam created by gravel bar.

Sure enough, it was fish on. These small Yakima rainbows were rising to my CDC PMD. (For non fly fishers, that’s a Pale Morning Dun tied with Cul de Canard — that’s French for duck bottom — feathers, highly waterproof feathers that sit on top of or near the preen gland of ducks and geese.) Half a dozen or so ‘bows came to hand. An occasional ten- or eleven-inch hatchery Chinook offered a pleasant surprise. I sure hope that years down the road I still feel that sense of magic that comes with fooling that first fish in unfamiliar water.

During the float to our next stop, dad was characteristically full of questions and Derek was the man with the answers. As mid-afternoon approached, we pulled up at the end of a side channel. I was told it was my turn to learn a little something. Fly fishing’s so far been a single-handed affair for me. But I wanted to swing flies, and that meant trying out an Orvis switch rod.

The fly rods familiar to most folks entail a single handle in front of the reel. Switch rods, the lighter cousin to the larger and heavier two-handed Spey rods, can be cast with one or two hands, and like Spey rods, offer additional length and casting power. Derek waded next to me to demonstrate the grip, rolls casts and Spey casts. And caught a few small trout during the demonstration. Yeah, a little humbling, this not-even-trying-yet-still-catching thing that guides do.

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Me, attempting to swing a wet fly.

Left on my own, while Derek and dad targeted the side channel, my tentative casts with the switch rod put a wet fly out and down, with the tip of the rod following the swing. The idea is to cast and swing a few times, bringing the fly into the edge of downstream riffles, then taking a step downstream to repeat the process. Casting’s not been my strong point over the years, but both my roll and Spey casts got a bit better. Good enough to hook two Yakima trout.

Though I could have stayed and swung flies for a few more hours, it was time to pull anchor and float to lunch our next stop. Upon sidling up on the rocky finger of another island, dad and I tested the waters while Derek set up the table and chair and laid out a great lunch of sandwiches, salad, fruit and the enemy of waistlines everywhere, chips. I don’t know if it’s the physical exertion of fishing (apparently dad came to realize that fly fishing is much more than tossing a line in the water and sitting back in a ratty lawn chair with a cheap beer), or simply being outdoors, but food takes on more vibrant flavors when consumed riverside.

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Lunch on the river. Doesn't get much better.

Fighting off the inclination to nap, Derek led us to another side channel he knows to hold fish. He again demonstrated the not-even-trying-yet-still-catching trick, getting a few trout to rise to casts to indicate where we should lay our flies. I was able to reach up and under the overhanging branches to bring up a fair share of rises, but the strikes seemed a bit half hearted. But, being one who tends fish with flies underwater, it was fun to elicit splashes at the surface.

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A Yakima Rainbow pull up with a nymph.

Knowing that I pride myself on adequate nymphing skills, Derek rigged up a rod with two nymphs, one a stone fly of his own modified design. After a few passes through a deep pool just downstream of our lunch spot, a few strikes indicated that fish were home and hungry. A few more passes and two fish came to hand. (Now dad knows what I mean when talking about “dredging up some big fish on nymphs.”)

The day began with the hope that good hatches would show up around sundown. They never materialized. The last mile or so involved my chucking nymphs toward the banks as we floated by. The take-out came up fast. The boat was trailered, rods disassembled and our weary bodies loaded into the truck.

I’d like to say with certainty that it was a big fish that broke off a few flies in the logjams during the last mile or so. Maybe. Maybe not. I hope to find out next time.

There will be a next time.


my summer vacation 2010 – post #2(or what we won’t do again)

…continued from part 1:

My intention was to follow up our first Alaska fishing trip with a second this year.

Intentions, however, have a tendency to be fleeting. The rising cost of airfare, family commitments, and life in general pushed aside any still-unformed plans for a triumphant return to Alaska.

Which is when the idea of trying for salmon in the waters off Washington began to germinate.

Suggestions of a multi-day stay in Westport faded away amid concerns of storms closing down fishing. In the end, the agreement was to hire a charter to chase Puget Sound king salmon.

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Why is this man smiling?

That’s how I found myself restlessly laying in bed, not really sleeping, waiting for the alarm to buzz at 3:30 a.m. If there’s anything that makes me revert to the giddiness of childhood, it’s anticipation of a day of fishing.

It’s that same anticipation that lends an almost laughable seriousness to the pace of my preparations. I was up, fed and ready in fifteen minutes. Dad was still seeking that eyelid-opening fight sip of coffee.

What happens when you're filming and people think you're taking a still photo.

Greg, dad’s neighbor, was one of three guys joining us, with my brother rounding out the six pack. Greg impresses me as someone who also takes fishing seriously. The plan was to be on the road at 4:00 a.m. Greg was backing the Tacoma Double Cab into the driveway at 3:50 a.m. Dad shoveled down some breakfast, and with coolers loaded, we hit the road long before any reasonable commuter would even roll out of bed.

I called Mark to let him know we were on the road and the drive dissolved into friendly chit chat. A second call revealed that Mark was a short distance ahead of us, and we caught up with him on the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, crossing Lake Washington. A quick stop allowed Mark to park his truck and join us; then it was north to the Shilshole Marina.

At the dock, under heavy overcast, we arrived before the charter captain as well as Rowland and his son Jessie, the last of our group. The captain and deckhand showed up a few minutes later, leaving instructions to head down the dock when our last two fishermen were on scene. Rowland and Jessie pulled up a bit later, and down the dock we went.

The water was dark and the boat not ready. Perhaps a sign, but one easily ignored in our excitement. Soon we boarded and began to motor towards Whidbey Island. Less than half an hour out, lines were in the water. During that time it also grew clearer that the captain had enlisted a friend to act as first mate — a friend who wasn’t too familiar with the captain’s usual techniques.

[Now would be a good time to lend some perspective. When Mark, dad and I fished for halibut in Alaska’s Cook Inlet, Captain Daniel and First Mate Dylan operated as the proverbial well-oiled machine. Their boat was squared away and each knew what to do and when to do it, with little wasted motion and maximization of the fishing experience. Maybe we were spoiled by this experience, but it’s the bar by which my brother and I now measure any charter boat and its crew.]

The question arose as to who would be first up, and my gracious companions agreed that as the organizer of this little adventure, it would be me. I didn’t have to wait long. The tip of port-side rod seemed to stutter, then went down. I grabbed the rod, set the hook, and it was fish on. Trolling means there can be 100-plus feet of line out, and our first look at this king was quite a distance out, but close enough to elicit ‘oh my God’ or ‘holy mackerel’ from my boat mates.

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The King Jumps

After what seemed like thirty minutes but in truth was probably closer to five, I had gained line. About thirty feet off the stern the fish slowly crested the surface, then dove. It quickly took back some line and jumped, nearly lifting its entire body out of the water, shaking its head. The plug suddenly flew towards my head. I ducked. I cursed. I wondered what I did wrong.

Humbled and shaking my head in disbelief, I slumped in a chair. A buzz of excitement lingered in the moist air, only to die away when it was discovered that the hook broke. My disbelief shifted.

Thankfully, the morning bite was on. In short order it was Mark’s turn up. The starboard rod went down and he was fishing. His fishing was cut short when the line broke. My disbelief grew.

Dad was next up. All eyes were on him to change our luck. Fish on and he was in the fight. He uttered something about the fish being gone and was admonished by the captain to keep reeling. Sure enough, like kings will do, this fish was running toward the boat. Slack was taken and line tension regained. Finally, a nice looking fish was brought onboard.

It was soon clear that the fishing this day wasn’t going gangbusters. Some boats were still without even a hook up. The rest of the morning disappeared as we continued to troll, leaving behind the bulk of the “fleet” to chase bait balls in deeper water.

Time gets lost in the gray of an overcast ocean, but within a couple of hours Rowland and Jessie were able to land fish.

No way this fish was getting away.

Big Fish of the Trip

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Rowland & His King

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Jessie & Big Fish of the Day

Jessie’s king was crowned Big Fish of the Day. Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone can be certain if Greg missed the hookset on a few fish or not.

The trip back to port always seems much longer when a boat hasn’t limited out. Did we have a good time as a group? I think the answer is yes, it was a good guys’ day out.

However… Reflecting upon our halibut experience in Alaska didn’t help Mark and me to find a way of reconciling what we’d come to call hardware failures. There won’t be a next time. We’d rather put the money towards the next trip to Alaska.

I’m already eyeing dates in 2012.

Early morning, rocking boat; just about enough put anyone dad to sleep.
Greg (at the end of the video) thinks it's pretty funny.


my summer vacation 2010 – post #1

My PNW vacation is over. Family were visited, friendships started, fish sought and some caught. In between there was beer, uncle time, time to myself, and general re-acquaintance with the place.

Thrust back into the routine, I’ll be back at work today, and have the weekend to recover, in between yard work and car washing. In the rear view mirror are great memories that began a week and a day ago.

This trip was marked with my first experience flying with fly fishing gear, including two rods and matching reels. Despite worries that TSA personnel might consider fly line a strangling risk, not once did I have to submit to questions or a strip search of any kind. I did, however, leave desiccant (a white, nondescript powder to non fly fishers) at home to avoid the whole anthrax issue.

The retired folks who raised us took time out of their busy schedule to provide transport to my lodging, which, funny enough, they also provided, and without any hint of compensation. (We’ll get back to that.) I’d love to say that Mother Nature welcomed me to Seattle with blazing sunshine, but, well, it’s Seattle: overcast and gray. I interrupted the ride home with a stop for lunch in celebration of Mom’s birthday. My brother and his family, in a surprise appearance, joined us. It was a fun family meal.

The first beer I've met that I didn't like.

That evening, thanks to wifely permission, “little brother” Mark and I headed out for a bit of a beer adventure. I’d like to say that I never met a beer I didn’t like. That’s no longer true after our experience that evening with a flight at a local bar and grill. Of seven beers, we deemed only one barely acceptable for our palates. And we’re not beer snobs. Thankfully, it was the time together that mattered more than the beer, and after moving along to another source, we found better-tasting brew. I remember later appreciating that my brother’s wife put out the air mattress, and laying down. That’s it. Sleep came fast.

Next I knew, it sounded as if cartoon characters where running around the house. Nephews Kaden and Levi were up and it was time to begin some “uncling.” I don’t claim any particular knack for this art, but there’s a certain pride that comes with one’s nephews (or nieces, but I don’t’ have any) knowing you’re the uncle. It’s even better when they remember you because of fun times. (Insert comment here about me acting their age.)

Fair is fair, so Mark and I stayed with the boys to allow their mom a bit of away time. As an uncle who grew up when the biggest video game was PONG, it was natural that I’d join the ‘phews in a game of Super Mario. With a timer set to ruin our fun at any moment, we jumped into the game as I struggled to recall how to play; all the while watching the boys go Donkey Kong all over me. Called back to reality by the buzz of the timer, we gobbled down some breakfast and assembled for a walk in the woods along the Skykomish River.

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The Nephews at the Skykomish River

If there’s any one thing that I like about the upper King County/Snohomish County area, it’s the easy access to nature, whether woods, rivers or mountains. It was a good time walking on trails in the Al Borlin Park, which parallels the Skykomish. A good place to get some fresh air, throw rocks into the river and just be outside. Also an opportunity for an uncle to show off his mad rock-skipping skills.

We closed the day with a late and long lunch at the folks’ place.

Then it was time to hit the sack early. Alarms were set for 3:30 a.m. in anticipation of Saturday’s salmon fishing. For some of us it would be fishing, hooking, but not landing; but that’s the next post, which should be number two of three.