…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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.