fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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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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textbook fly fishing (when the fish do everything they should)

It didn’t take long after high winds brought an early end to our adventures on Crowley Lake to decide that it was the perfect afternoon to introduce Willy to the wonderfully willing brook trout in an upper section of Rock Creek, just below the lake.

Caddis on Rock Creek.

It was late when we arrived, but nearly magic hour on this wide spot. In a voice hushed for no other reason than wonderment at the beauty of where we were, I described what to expect. Every pool, tailout, rock and bend prompted a memory of a fish that rose to a fly in the seasons before. Colors grew more vivid as I described the 13-inch wild rainbow that surprised me and my 3 wt. rod during the spring a year ago. Willy headed downstream, I went up.

Fall in the eastern Sierras is a feast for the eyes; the low sun filters through the yellow and orange leaves of the quaking aspens, the evergreens seem to take on a darker hue, and through a bleak and gray winter may be nearing, for now the sky is a brilliant blue.

It’s that time of year when small brook trout flame with spawning colors. Willy, a striped bass fisherman of note who’s landed big fish of many species, broadly smiled while cradling one of these gems in his hand; reminded of how fun and beautiful these trout can be.

The numbers of fish we landed was lost in concentration as we targeted specific fish. I’d started with a dry/dropper combination, but soon opted for only a small humpy, for no other reason than the excitement of surface grabs. I’d end up climbing, literally, upstream, targeting small whirlpools tucked between the rocks. Nearly every one gave up a fish.

This time of year just as colorful as the trees…

With the tops of the tree shadows reaching the far side of the creek, we both ventured upstream, where Willy pulled a few fish out of a plunge pool that offers a small, but textbook example of the effect of currents on the drift of a fly, with almost intimate takes from fish less than three feet away.

Thinking we’d already had too much fun, we found our way back to the road, from which Willy could get a good look at the lake. The plunge pool we’d been fishing was the outlet for the lake, and as if an illustration from any good fly fishing book, signs of rising fish dotted what was in essence the tailout for the lake. This was feeding activity that couldn’t be passed up by any fly fisherman.

The wind, accelerating down the canyon, made casting difficult, at least for me, but we both got flies out far enough and every decent presentation earned at least a strike, and a few rainbows were landed.

It has been a textbook day, and the trout did everything they were supposed to do. It’s the best way to learn.

As I figure it, I have a lot more learning to do.