fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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folks might think I’m one of those guys, but I’m now old enough to not care

This is how my journey of self discovery (one of many recently) started this week:

“The new seat for my custom motorcycle seat arrived today. I’m going to test ride it tomorrow,” I told my brother, realizing that its arrival Monday sort of made it a birthday gift to myself.

“Cool. How much did that cost?” asked Mark.

“Oh, about $400…”

“You mush like your tush…”

The conversation went on with justifications about spending that kind of money, talk about long rides that have been planned for some as-yet unset date.

I’m certainly not wealthy, but with a bit of scrimping and saving in other parts of my life, I can equip myself with motorcycle (or fly fishing) gear that increases my enjoyment. Good gear is worth it: not thinking about how my butt may start to go numb is priceless.

Stuart Smalley

“I deserve good things, I am entitled to my share of happiness. I refuse to beat myself up. I am an attractive person. I am fun to be with.” Three out of four ain’t bad. Dig the sweater.

I’m tough on all my gear, but the big name waders I purchased almost five years ago only recently needed repair after hiking through brambles and blackberries, scrambling over boulders, only to be unceremoniously crumbled and thrown in the trunk until their next use or being unpacked and hopefully cleaned at home.

There’s also that one rod I use most, even when it’s not an exact match for my quarry, even when it’s a bit too long for the brush-lined banks of relatively small water. It’s the one that casts best. I don’t have to accommodate the rod, it fits me. Like that motorcycle seat, I don’t think about it, it just does its job. Also like that seat, my favorite wasn’t cheap. But it does everything that I ask of it, without me asking.

In some respects, I was a fly fishing snob in my formative fishing years, arguing that landing a 14-inch trout on my less-than-$100 rod was equivalent to a 21-inch fish on more expensive gear. Back then, I figured waving around a more expensive rod would scream “poser.” Perhaps I’m wiser now. Or, like that honey badger, I just don’t care.

Luckily, my wife’s been the most ardent support of my purchasing good stuff. I’ve just been a bit too miserly to listen. So when the bill comes, she can’t complain. She started it.


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(relatively) word-free Friday

Since pictures are worth a thousand words, and it would take many thousands to tell of the adventure and fun enjoyed last week with my brother’s family, below is a gallery of photos that tell the story than I could. The days were filled with swimming at the local lake, visiting a historic gold rush town and panning for gold, more fun — swimming, sliding, diving, building sand castles — at the lake, hiking, mini golf and a trip to Yosemite. Enjoy!

Due to loading issues, the gallery has been moved here.


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continued: two brothers’ excellent fly fishing adventure (or, part two of a two-part payoff)

Finding willing wild fish in an unexplored small creek still brings out the kid in me; there’s unfettered excitment, a little bit of a booty dance (at least inside) and everything, no matter how inconsequential, adds to the splendor of the place.

It wasn’t easy going, and there were a few scrapes along the way, but we walked off that creek I won’t name happy that we took a chance on a stranger’s advice.

The younger brother and I were a bit at loose ends two Saturdays ago. We’d previously spent Thursday fishing a Skykomish River tributary with guide Derek Young and buddy Kirk, and Friday out again with Derek on and near the Snoqualmie River. We learned a lot and caught enough trout to feel a bit more confident on waters not too far from my brother’s house.

It didn’t take long for Mark to show symptoms of the addiction. Throwing out newly learned jargon, he suggested we do some ‘bluelining’ along the U.S. Route 2 (Steven’s Pass Highway) corridor. We were out the door and on the road with little clue where we might end up.

For the first 20 minutes or so, we pondered possibilities that were soon rendered unclear in the absence of a copy of the WDFW fishing regulations. Along this stretch of road there aren’t many places to pick up a copy of the regs. Then fate stepped in.

We’d come up on a wide spot in the road and a small, rustic store stocked with an odd collection of the types of goods that only campers might buy when lacking any other choices. The store owner, a bearded guy who looked the part in jeans and a plaid shirt, told me they didn’t have any fishing regulation booklets. He tries to keep a copy in the store for reference but it always seems to sprout legs and walk off.

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A downsteam look.

It’s certain that I’m not the first to do this, but I carefully formed my response to include a mention of ‘fly fishing.’ And that, as has happened before, opened the door.

The store owner leaned a bit closer and I could swear he cast a conspiratorial glance right and left before saying, “Then I can give you the story on what’s going on ‘round here.” Mark walked up to the counter sometime during the description of a creek not too far away and a semi-concealed access point. Walking out the door, Mark and I agreed that if the payoff was as described, we’d return to buy a drink or something as a token of thanks.

After another 15 minutes of driving on a well-graded Forest Service road, we found the secondary road as described. At the end of it we purposely parked the truck out of view from the main road. Gearing up was expedited by the nearby sound of the creek, and perhaps more so by the buzzing of a large number of bees circling the flowering vegetation.

Dropping over a small berm, it was immediately apparent that moving up or down this creek would require a lot more wading. It was small creek, and it was clear that my 7-foot, 6-inch 3 wt. might be a bit too much rod for this water.

Less adventurous fisherman wouldn’t have ventured far either upstream or downstream on this creek. Unlike the water we fished the two prior days, this creek doesn’t get the flows necessary to soften the ragged edges of what is probably basalt. We scrambled over these rocks when we could, carefully climbed where able, and took more cautious routes when warranted.

We had no problem finding the fish. My biggest problem would be deciding whether or not to replace the yellow stimulator that would be battered and a shadow of itself by the end of the day. It’s a question I never really mind facing. (I never replaced it.)

The point at which we first saw the creek was a plunge pool that emptied into a wider, shallower pool interrupted by large rocks sprinkled throughout. I took the first pool while Mark edged along the bank downstream.

Within the first few casts we’d both elicited frenzied strikes. In that first pool I landed what would be the biggest cutthroat of the day, maybe close to 11 inches, a fish I believe my brother caught again near the end of our day. These trout were that hungry.

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Younger brother with one of the bigger cutties of the day.

It wasn’t what might be called ‘crazy fishing.’ The average fish was seven to eight inches, but they set themselves apart from bigger fish I’ve caught with beautiful, though darker, coloration. And each pool, seam or eddy had to be rested once the first fish had been played in that section of water; sort of ‘stick-and-move’ fly fishing. The upside was the abundance of good-looking water.

I enjoyed pointing out promising pockets to Mark just as much as I think he did finding fish where he might not have expected. Frankly, I’m still amazed every time that happens.

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Beautiful. Aggressive. Fun.

We spent more than three hours enjoying some of the most strenuous fly fishing I’ve ever experienced in my short time in the sport. More prepared fly fisherman would have loaded a day pack with lunch and fished this creek all the way to its confluence with the South Fork of the Skykomish River. Maybe next time.

This time around we enjoyed a treat alongside the highway, at the store where this all began, quietly letting the day’s events burn into our memory.

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Pat and Mark’s (and Derek and Kirk’s) excellent fly fishing adventure (or, part one of a two-part payoff)

Since day one of my fly fishing career, I’ve been a proponent of hiring a guide to get the “lay of the land,” and though unlucky enough to start fly fishing later in life, I started fly fishing when I could afford to hire a few of these professional trout bums. This however, was one of those times that hiring of a guide paid multiple dividends, even after the guiding was over.

The trip in question centered around two goals: get my brother, Mark, who’d fly fished for the first time last year, on waters local to his home in Washington state, and for a second time attempt to get a close up look at west slope cutthroat trout. To make the most of my short visit, I again turned to Derek Young (Emerging Rivers Guide Services) for help. Frankly, I don’t believe it was a coincidence that I hired Derek two years ago for a float down the Yakima River with my father and that Derek was subsequently selected as the 2011 Orvis Endorsed Fly Fishing Guide of the Year. Regardless, Derek fits my expectations of a guide: someone with strong local knowledge and unfettered enthusiasm for both the fishing and the fish; the type of person with whom one can forge a connection in a mutual passion for fly fishing.

No one would have expected in the days leading up to my flight that the Seattle area would experience record-breaking temperatures. My flight into Sea-Tac International that Wednesday morning would afford my first view of the Space Needle. By the time I was standing on the arrivals sidewalk, most the sky was blue and the sun intense enough that the fleece was tucked away.

I had planned my flight to arrive at an hour late enough that beer tasting on the way to my brother’s house would be socially acceptable. We ended up at Elysian Fields for Cuban and Reuben sandwiches (and beer) after a stop at Georgetown Brewing, then visited Black Raven Brewing before unpacking and prepping for fishing the next day. That afternoon, during the usual pre-planning conversation, Derek proposed accommodating our two goals with two half days of fishing.

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Our first look up this Skykomish Tributary.

That’s how my brother and I ended up wet wading a tributary of the Skykomish River with Derek, who had invited friend and all-around good egg Kirk Wener (the man behind the Unaccomplished Angler blog and author/illustrator of the “Olive the Woolly Bugger” books). I’d met Kirk a few years ago in asking that he sign copies of the Olive books for my nephews. Kirk had mentioned the possibility of fishing together sometime on the Snoqualmie Forks, but he’s a busy man and, for lack planning on my part, it never came to pass.

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Mark working a pool on his way downstream.
(Photo copyright © 2012 Derek Young. Used with permission.)

This Skykomish tributary is one of those rivers that immediately impresses with a feeling of remoteness, even though it’s relatively nearby as the crow flies. But we’re not crows, and the desire to get more than a few steps away from the easily accessed and more heavily fished stretches required a bit of leg work. The hike up a hillside, through rain forest and over fallen trees was an effort not made easier by a big breakfast at the Sultan Bakery, but worth the reward — an uncompromised river and view. The drive to our destination on Highway 2 was under scattered clouds, most of which dissipated as the day wore on.

After laying out a game plan, Mark, Derek and I headed upstream. We left Kirk fishing a nice pool that would produce a surprise and the biggest fish of the day (though not a trout). The walk upstream was punctuated with admiration of the beauty of this place and Derek’s insight into what we’d be fishing and where. As agreed, Derek began shadowing and educating Mark while I attempted and occasionally succeeded to get a decent drift.

If you’ve read this blog before, you’d know that my introduction to fly fishing didn’t involve much in the way of dry flies. But since there would be witnesses, I wanted to man up this trip; I’d live or die by the stimulator Derek had selected. Usually I’d like to say my casting was the result of experience and practice, but sometimes I wonder if using a rod at the higher end of the spectrum not only aids one’s casting but also infuses the user with additional confidence. Whatever the case, the Helios 2 (a disguised test rod) was sweet, and more often than not the fly landed near the designated target.

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Dry flies, baby, dry flies…

There was plenty of fishy water and fish where they might be expected. With good fly placement and a bit of luck, some of those fish — small rainbows, or perhaps steelhead progeny — were found. Those who know me might call it playing to one’s strength, but I’ve increasingly come to appreciate small wild trout. On the right rod, they offer a fight that, ounce for ounce, compares favorably to any of their larger brethren, and usually are more than obliging to forgive my poor presentation of a dry fly. The fish in this part of the Skykomish River system didn’t disappoint.

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Derek offering the assist.

It was clear from my occasional glance upstream that Mark was getting the hang of casting. I was even a bit envious of his tight loops. Despite a secret hope that my initial casting instruction had served my brother well, I had to agree with Derek’s appraisal that Mark just might be a “natural.” It was about this time I noticed, about 50 yards downstream, a peculiarly heavy bend in Kirk’s rod.

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Kirk providing photographic evidence of his ‘surprise.’
(Photo copyright © 2012 Derek Young. Used with permission.)

Mark and I fished upstream, leapfrogging each other as we fished suspect pools, riffles and seams. We each landed fish. There was no real competition between us this day, but if there was, it’s clear that Mark’s enjoyment and wonder trumped the number of fish I landed. Then again, I did manage that one really nice fish.

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That nice fish.

The adventure continues next week…


More photos:
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what we saw last week… (2012-08-08)

  • Yeah, I'm now one of *those* guys, carrying a fly rod case through the airport. #flyfishing #
  • Yes, I admit to spreading the #flyfishing addiction to my brother. We'll see if he shakes it off or embraces the disease. #
  • Three-year chase of west slope cutthroat finally successful, and then some. Great time with good friends & brother. More later. #flyfishing #
  • #Seattle summer shifted into high gear with my arrival last Thursday, temps in 90s. Leaving tomorrow, so temps will drop, rain return. #

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the excuse for no post

My brother and I were here…

A Skykomish River Tribtutary

Mid morning on a Skykomish River tribtutary, with lots of fishy water.

…fishing…

Brother fish a tributary of the Skykomish.

My brother fishing…

…with Kirk “Unaccomplished Angler” Werner and Orvis guide Derek Young, for this…

Wild Rainbow on Skykomish Tributary

Healthy wild rainbow, who was right where he should have been.