I run my fingers along the side of my driftboat. Its polyethylene roto molded hull smooth to the touch. She’s one of a kind on my homewater. The big plastic bath toy as I like to call her.
I heft my anchor into its place at the stern. I drive my trailer down the ramp and hop out, always reminding myself to punch the parking brake. I get anxious with the ratcheting sound of my winch unloading as my boat slides into the Yakima River with a thunk and a splash…she is at home now.
It’s just my boat, the river, and me today. I have been guiding several days this spring season already and I have not had enough time to chase the wild trout within the waters myself. It is time. I say goodbye to my lady as she pulls away with the trailer. I won’t have contact with another human for the next 8 hours if things go as planned. I like to fish the off days during the week as I typically get the river to myself. I put my phone on silent and block all incoming calls, I turn up the bluegrass, light a smoke, and push off away from the launch and down river.
A favorite section of water I have chosen for today. The fishing has been slow, but sometimes…its not always about catching fish. I feel the crisp spring morning on my face, the faint sight of my breath, the soft noise of the riffle I am floating through. I see a good trouty hole, one I am familiar with. A long shelf, with a deep slot along a large run. Money water. I slide into the slack water and drop the hook. The familiar sound of my chain and cylinder anchor splashing and rolling along the bottom for a few seconds before it holds brings me to my feet. I grab my Winston, rigged with a single stonefly nymph, and a tuft of yellow yarn a few feet up the leader. The worn cork feels at home in my hand. A distinct spot in the cork where my thumb rests feels as if I am being reunited with a long lost appendage. I pull the indicator line out and begin my cast. The sound of the line and fly through the air settles my soul. The river calls to me and I place my fly in the seam. The indicator dances down stream drag free and effortlessly. I cast again. The indicator pulls slightly and I lift my fly off the boulders below. I adjust my depth to keep the fly slightly higher in the water column. The increase in flows should push the fish into this area like my journals from previous seasons state. Again a drag free drift through the seam. Several more casts and I decide to move down to the middle of the shelf.
I drop the anchor again, stand, and cast. This time I adjust my depth slightly deeper, knowing this section of the shelf to hold fish during this time of year around 7 feet. My indicator goes through three times without so much as a bump. Two more casts and then the indicator sinks with a purpose. I lift and feel tension. Its slow and pulls deep…whitefish? I reel in the mostly undesired trout species letting its ghostly gray body slide back into the deeper water. I cast again. Where there are whitefish, there are other trouts. A second dip of the indicator yields a small rainbow around 12 inches. I move my cast downstream and the indicator dips with purpose again after a few casts. This particular trout head shakes and runs to the faster current leaping from the water trying to outsmart me! A rainbow, bright and beautiful, full of wild. We share a moment while the trout is in the net and I release, feeling fulfilled. I haul in my anchor and move to the bottom of the shelf. I fish the bottom of the run with no other invitations from fish, and move on down river.
The sun breaks through the clouds and the drizzly weather clears slightly. A proper PNW day. One where a good flannel will do you better than a rain jacket. I anchor on another bountiful hole and nymph two flies, a stonefly and a hare’s ear. The March Browns should be coming off soon. I work the water and come up without a single strike. I move down river to a favorite boulder garden. I see a trout rise…then another. I time my float on this particular stretch to make sure I arrive at this spot when the hatch is just unfolding. It never ceases to amaze me, watching these wild fish do what they do. Being able to witness truly wild animals in their natural habitat is something that brings me into the outdoors. The Westslope Cutthroat before me, feeding on emerging insects, hold ancient genetics that date back long before man and dams, and they are a testament to the health and pristine place in which they live. I have a special place in my heart for the Wild Westslope Cutthroat. I imagine the days when they filled the stream in vast numbers alongside the salmon, bulltrout, wild steelhead and rainbow trout that called this place home. I grab my Scott G2 and tie on a small size 14 March Brown Emerger. A klinky looking fly with a brown quill body and a white poly parachute post.
The rod casts through the air effortlessly and its slower timing compared to my Winston seems to slow time down. I cast up river to the feeding trout, congregated around several boulders and a well placed log. One drift…two drifts…three. No fish to the fly. I wait and watch. Another fish rises…a small splash and a flash of color from the larger cutthroat. I wait a bit longer. It rises again. I cast a few moments after the rise hoping to entice a strike…feeling the rhythm of the feeding fish and trying to time my drift to its internal metronome. The fly drifts over the fish and a late strike catches me off guard! The finicky trout tracked the fly and hit it late in the drift making for a wonderful take and a unexpected fight from the fish. A cutthroat does little in terms of acrobatics and showmanship, but they make up for it in sheer beauty and the bright orange cutts under the jaw that seem so misplaced in the natural world. They serve no purpose to the trout, only a natural decoration, but to the angler in me they are intoxicating. I release the fish and move on down river. I have little desire to cast the fly rod much more today, and instead enjoy the float and watch the fish rise sporadically to the brown colored mayflies.
I come around the bend and meet up with a wading angler. We pass each other with a wave and a smile. I feel no desire to talk with anyone today and enjoy the solitude as I round a point and drift out of sight. Content and full of happiness that my driftboat and I have the river to ourselves again.