Those who I have the pleasure of taking riverside to chase trout with know, my passion for wild fish, especially wild westslope cutthroat trout, runs very deep…to use the cliche’. I am at home, gliding along the currents, down the seams, through the runs, and around the back eddies of my glorious homewater the Yakima River. My oar strokes sharp and firm, my boat responsive, a sweet drift, a fish rising, the sound of a reel zinging, a smiling face, an ecstatic guide, a beautiful trout for all of us to share a moment with, and a quick and wet release…so that tomorrows’ clients have a shot at it and its offsrping.
I guide because these trout need our attention. In my experience with the outdoors the only way people will ever care about it, protect it, conserve it, is if they are able to enjoy it. It is our first and most ancient form of entertainment and enjoyment. It is our playground, this planet we take for granted is ours, we are in charge. We are responsible for it. For me I take responsibility for the Yakima River and the wild trouts within her. For others it may be mountains, trails, bears, spotted owls, wild steelhead, salmon runs, old growth forests, deserts, lakes, you name it the outdoors has something for everyone to care about and enjoy. Its how we connect with the world we live in. The real world, not the smartphones, and netflix. Not facbook, and the reality TV. We connect with nature, hell there are even studies showing time in the outdoors is healthy for us.
From seeing a bald eagle for the first time, a big horn sheep, a wild trout, or even a lonely kingfisher, there is a myriad of natural things to enjoy and be entertained with when drifting the river. Its not always about the trout. Sometimes for me I just enjoy rowing the river and moving my boat around the seams and currents, playing with the river if you will. And sometimes I find new ways to fish, new angles, things I didn’t notice or quite see before. I have had trips this season that have very little fishing involved. More discussion and education. Others that were intense days of targeting trout and bringing them to net and enjoying every completely F’ing awesome second of it. That moment with that trout…instills something in every angler…if I do my job right. It also instills something in me every time I reach my net into the river.
We are at a crossroads with our river. The drought is killing fish, and damaging the ecosystems that we hold so dearly, at a record pace. Sturgeon and Salmon are dying in the mighty Columbia, tributaries are boiling or drying up. Fish are dying…a lot more will die. The Yakima River is one of the only rivers in the west surviving the drought. The trout that we cherish and enjoy angling for, are our responsibility. We trick them with flies, we release them, we continue to invade their natural world, we owe them the coutesy of taking every effort to care for them as if they were our children. Our river is barely hanging on and our fish are on the line people. We must treat our trout with the utmost respect this season. From the 6 inch dinker to the 24 inch hogzilla. Keep these trout wet.
Is a fish worth a photo? Because that photo may be its tombstone. It may be the last time anyone ever sees that fish. Think about that this season. I am heart broken that I witnessed the death of a prime Yakima River specimen in the Lower Canyon last night. Even doing everything right the fish was over stressed before we even accidently hooked him. Watching a wild trout go belly up and knowing that I was the cause even though I did everything right in that situation was detrimental for me. In 10 years I have had now…4 bad releases on trout. One dinosaur that did not survive the fight in the company of two seasoned guides that did everything they could to revive the trout. Two to deep hooks, and one…to warm water, over angling pressure, and one last drift of the fly. It happens, its part of the gig. You learn, you educate, and you move on and become a better angler.
These wild trout are precious to us. They are precious to me, and my family. I make my living off of them. I want to continue to do that for years to come, so that one day I can float with my grandchildren down this river and net cutthroat and rainbow trout and share moments with them all. I make my living off of them so that I can continue to protect and care for them.
Without the trips I take people on and get paid for, I would be unable to continue donating what seems like every minute of my time to them. When my boat pulls into my driveway after rowing 8 hours, I come in, talk about trout with my lady and children, even my dog. I tie flies for the next round, I think about how to better dress a fly to produce more fish in the net for clients. I think about hatches, and compare them to previous years, the weather, the flows, the temps, the stress I am putting on them. Did I just float that section? Yes, so I should swtich it up. Give fish a break. All of that and more run through my mind when I get off river. Somehow in between it all I find time to be a dad and husband, play video games with my son, hang out with my toddler, and listen to my eldest tell stories and watch nerdy movies with. Plus I fish on my own…a lot. Without my clients I would be unable to attend clean ups, take samples of algae, snorkel the river to check on fish, hike into the headwaters and take water temps, remove rock dams, save dying fish, educate other anglers and guides, introduce people to new places, attend meetings about conservation, count fish, the list goes on and on….
I love every damn minute of it people. EVERY MINUTE. I love my life and the type of lifestyle being a guide graces me with. My family does too. My minions look forward to doing shuttles with me in the upper river. They ask me about my fish. They noticed I was upset about a bad trip I had yesterday and we discussed warm water, fish handling, and why these trout need our care. They are 6 and 8 years old, people. They get it. They comprehend it. They appreciate what I do for a living and undesrtand that without proper care and protection they may not be able to fish like dad in the future.
I have received a lot of heartwarming praise the past few days. I have been called a headwaters hero by people I respect and admire as anglers and people. I have fought for these trout this year and it has brought me heartache and grief, and absolute happiness. The efforts of a few can influence many, and diligence and determination win out. I have the patience of a seasoned fly angler and to date, nothing deters me when it comes to my trouts.
I applaud the individuals that are making the effort to protect and conserve this watershed. I have to praise Joe Rotter and Red’s Fly Shop for their proactive approach to these warm water drought conditions with a voluntary Hoot Owl for their guide service in the Lower Canyon. This type of action is the management we as guides and stewards for the Yakima River and her Trout can be a part of as a community of anglers. No matter if you work for an outfitter, shop, are an independent, we all can agree that protecting this watershed should always be part of our job. We are doing the right thing with our river and I encourage all anglers that visit the Yakima River to care for our trout and use good angling and fish handling techniques. Voluntarily engage in the Hoot Owl hours and do not fish the Lower Canyon after 2 pm until water temps and conditions change. Take a guide and fish with them and learn about the river and what is going on. Fish for the trout, for the love of all that is holy fish for the trout! A guide like myself, will make sure that when we fish, I am giving not only you, but also the trout, the best experience I possibly can.
I will continue to run trips on the Yakima River to chase these trout as long as conditions allow. Most floats that are scheuled will be in the early morning until the fall. We do not fish water that is 65 degrees and up in my boat. 68 or 70 may be the cutoff for others and that is within the scientific ranges to be safe. Professionally and personally, 65 is my limit.
I also ask anglers to be open to other angling ideas. Bass fishing or other species of fish on the fly can be incredibly fun and challenging. I will be offering $375.00 Guided Bass Trips for the remainder of the season. I’m pretty good at tricking some of those greasy bucket and small mouths. Carp and trout lakes too. Even some musky hanging around the basin that we could go for.
I also call on the Dept. of Agriculture, and especially the Forest Service, to begin considering opening guiding via special use permits to lakes and rivers in the National Forest Service Land for next year. To relieve pressure on our Yakima River and to bring more people to our natural places to recreate, spend money, and conserve, we need professional guides like myself, to facilitate those moments of inspiration and wonder that we all search for when we answer the call of the outdoors.
Thank you to all that have contaced me and thanked me, to those that inspire me, to every single one of my clients this season. Every one has learned about the conditions we are facing and the work we are doing as a fly fishing community here to protect our river. Thank you for taking trips with me and allowing me to continue doing what I do here. I look forward to fishing with many more this season and for many seasons after.
For the love of the trouts,