Well, the weather once again is being uncooperative. We now have a hydrologic warning in effect as we are expected to get 2-4 inches of new rainfall over the weekend. What does this mean, it means the river will probably turn into a wonderful muddy high mess. Anxious anglers like myself will be stuck fishing the trout in our heads while tying at the vise. Some of you may venture forth to the Basin to fish Rocky Ford. A way to stifle the fever of chasing trout but I grew up over there and the fish of Rocky Ford no longer appease my need for trout. Its a bit too much like going to a zoo and fishing for me.
There are plenty of other trouty places to fish but I tend to keep those areas to myself. Spring creeks and private property, its all about who you know over there. Fortunately I know just about everyone after growing up there and marrying the daughter of an irrigation worker who introduced me to all the farmers and land owners. When Bass season hits you will find me over there chasing them down with a streamer and an 8WT.
I will say this about the basin. Crab Creek is not a place to shy away from. It is full of several different species of fish including three different trout species. It can be hard to access with the ranch and farmland property, but there are stretches that are open if you know how to use a map and have a full tank of fuel. Its typically a streamer gig most of the year. Chronomids…if you are into that. I fished myself out of that water living over there and not having access to the river so I don’t go back there very much. Unless I am bass fishing.
When the Yakima gets all moody and fishing comes to a halt; I tend to spend most of my time at the vise. I have been tying 12 to 24 flies a day prepping for the coming season. I tie a lot in all the standard patterns, it saves me a little money, gives me something to do, and keeps that skill fine tuned. Plus I always end up going to the fly shop and never finding exactly what I want. There is nothing worse than going into a local shop and not finding the fly you want or need. I just resort to tying my own. Ya I could buy that Pats Rubber Legs Stonefly and save myself some time but I tie. Not every angler does, for me though, the fishing trip starts at the vise.
The other thing I do is start looking at maps. Just today, I got out the good old Green Trail Maps, of which I have over 30 now, and started looking for blue lines to explore. I spent a lot of time in my early years of fishing, blue lining creeks and streams because I didn’t have a boat. That made the Yakima and lower Cle Elum un-fishable during the summer months for me. I started following the river up. I found that the farther I hiked in the better the fishing was. The Yakima above the lakes where it runs wild and a torrent, the Teanaway and all its forks, the Tanuem and its forks, the Naueum, the Cle Elum all the way up to its headwaters, and the Cooper above and below the lake, I explored them all. There are many others too but I won’t name them here. Some have no names and are just little marks on my maps and a quick entry in my journal. Trout in all of them. Some not so big, and some bigger than anyone would believe. I did it, not to become the best guide, or to be the best angler, or to chase the trout really. I did it because I wanted to see it, understand it, I needed to know what was going on up in the headwaters of the river I loved so much. Its all connected, and the fish are throughout and I wanted to know, just to know. The angler in me is constantly looking for new water and instead of traveling all over the state or the world I thought it was best to start small and start here. If in the process I get to share it with others great but I am enriched to this day because of the time I spent wading upriver.
There is one river that I visited two times last year. It is no secret that I have hiked around 1500 miles in this area over the past few years. I have been on most of the major summits here and hiked to a long list of lakes and creeks all over the area. This one river though, it has haunted my days and nights since the fall. This little known river is passed by hikers, backpackers, backcountry horsemen, and hunters every season. I have only heard of a handful of locals fishing it. I hiked along this river last fall and will be returning this summer to really get intimate with it. I took bug samples the last time I was there. A heavy presence of Caddis, but also mayfly nymphs, and some of the smaller stoneflies were all present. The reports from over a decade ago say that there was not a very large population of anything in the river. Once a hallowed stream for native Westslope and Bull Trout this area has been left basically un-fished since the early 90’s by my research. The Waptus is a very inviting river. The area I encountered is in a very well known area but very little people fish it. The few locals and backcountry horsemen that would give up any bits of information were encouraging but secrets were withheld, you can just tell sometimes. I have seen some very angler inviting things during my time on the trails in that area.
In my hiking and backpacking the river seemed to let a few secrets slip through. Maybe because I didn’t have a fly rod with me. There was the time I saw a large male bull trout lording over a pool in the upper Cle Elum last year. Or the time we spotted a pod of them where the upper rivers come together near Salmon La Sac. WDFW guys still don’t believe me but agree its totally possible. I also have caught enough rainbow, cutthroat, and brown trout out of the upper rivers and streams to make me wonder why the Waptus and a few other places are left alone.
Access is a big issue. If you can’t guide it then people don’t know about it. With the majority of the area I am concerned with being on National Forest or Alpine Lakes Wilderness Land, the chances of guiding or sharing it with others for commercial use is never going to happen. But that’s okay really. It means it will only be shared with those willing to make the trek, put in the time, and means I get solitude or friends to fish with. I do know of one outfit that can guide on some of the upper stretches outside of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness but demand is low and the good water is still off limits in my book. Again, not a bad thing. Some water just shouldn’t be anything other than for the angler or anglers to discover.
The other thing I have found is the old “keep that a secret” which I get, I just don’t always agree with. I also don’t like someone telling me that I shouldn’t fish an area because others may get the same idea. If you tell me not to fish something, I’m gonna fish it. I have hiked a lot of the trails…I mean a lot, so blue lining a river or stream through the mountains is just normal for me. Taking a 3WT and seeing what I find is always an experience. Even though you have some issues with access and landowners I have only ever had one shotgun pulled on me for trespassing; I wasn’t, but the old guy was afraid I was going after his gold claim. While I have never actually broken the law, I have met some scary land owners that didn’t take kindly to me fishing in front of their cabin. I even had a Ranger ask me what I was doing fishing a certain stretch as he said there were no fish in it. I proved him wrong with a quick look at my phone and the dozen or so trout I had caught that afternoon. Secret places are good, but without people knowing about them how can we protect them? I keep several areas to myself still but I share a lot of them as well. If an angler actually takes the time to hike into some of these areas and discover them, then they have earned my respect and the right (in my eyes) to fish them. Some of these places are not the easiest to get too and all of them make an angler feel respect and awe. Most anglers understand what that is and they cherish it, some don’t, but they aren’t the ones hiking in for a few days with a backpack, living off of freeze dried food, getting lost in the wilderness for trout.
The Waptus is one of my main areas of exploration and discovery for the season once the snows let me in. I also am looking at areas on the Peninsula and would like to go after Sea Run Cutts again. I spend a lot of the winter planning out trips and jotting down notes on areas of interest. My maps are colored with circles and notes for areas. I may never get to all of them but that is part of the fun.
I am also traveling to another state this month. My Lady and I are taking the minions to Idaho to visit family for a week and I have been reading river reports, calling shops, and looking at maps for the areas of South Central Idaho. While my family is visiting and what not I will be chasing trout on new grounds. I visited a few of the rivers in the Idaho area a few years back. The Big and Little Wood, Snake, Silver Creek, and a handful of others. Its January so I don’t have my hopes up but it beats having to look at the muddy Yak for a week. Plus a change of scenery is always nice for a while and my cabin fever is telling me I need a change. Montana is also very close and I am making a return trip to the family in the spring so a whole new set of maps and phone calls will be made.
That’s one of the things I love most about fly fishing. I can spend almost a decade learning a river and then take all that knowledge and apply it to others and learn all new things about trout, flies, and rivers. Fly Fishing is a never ending process. There is always something new to add to the arsenal. There is a reason why people get so involved in fly fishing, its just rather hard to explain to those who aren’t.