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Autumn 2017 Part 1 ( The Precursor)

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Fall Season Walk and Wade Trips

The end of August is upon us.  The Labor Day Weekend will be over soon.  And despite the wildfire currently raging only 11 miles from where I am sitting…the Autumn will take on a softer tone, a slower pace, with a briskness to each morning, and a slow cool down every evening.  Everything around me on the river points to its approach.  The caterpillars in the trees in cocoon.  The preliminary large fall caddis hatching sporadically.   The craneflies dancing and dabbing along the river’s soft edges.  The water has dropped, even with the heat and can feel the cold creeping back into the water.  My toes ache after standing in the river in the mornings.  The sun angle, even through the amber haze from the smoke, has changed, elongating the shadows, and shortening the days.  The heat of the day dissipates hastily, leaving the fringes of the day cool and calm.

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Fall Season Cutty

I love the slowness of the Autumn.  June, July, and August this season have been busy, heavy rowing, and lots of fish.  With around 100 trips already completed this season I feel pretty fortunate considering the way this season started.  The Yakima may be cold hearted some times, but she is the most consistent in the Autumn, and above all things required for good trout fishing….consistency is the key.  In my angling opinion the Yakima River is the best in the Autumn, as a guide she becomes an absolute blast…but more of a challenge.  Already the upper river trout are becoming selective, shy, and tricky to locate from day to day.  But…nature works in favor of the angler, and as the temps drop, the hatches return to normal schedules, and the trout feed in trance like rhythms…the fishing becomes…well for me its that perfect balance between utterly unforgiving and frustrating….and fucking amazing.

 

This time usually comes about around the 2nd week of September when we’ve beaten the last throws of summer.  A few things are happening as we inch closer to the end of the season.  The stonefly hatch returns a normal time…Right now the temperatures and conditions for good a decent stonefly hatch are around 4 am right now…when its dark.  And fish in the upper river are eating them.  I know this, because I’ve seen them do it.  I saw them do it this morning.  The first three fish of today’s trip, all good size, all good solid smacks at the fly, no thought, just a big ol’ eat…all three missed!   I was a little bummed before 8 am today.

 

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Summer/Shortwing Stonefly

There are Summer Stones or Shortwing Stones hatching.  And they continue to hatch into mid September in the upper river.  While the lower river stones are just about done, on a normal year the colder water and colder nights in the upper river elongate the hatch and as the temps settle the hatch shifts from 4 am to around 7 am.  This is already starting in the upper.  We’ve had some 40 degree nights.  When this happens the stoneflies hatch earlier in the evening, but the majority of the hatch shifts to the morning.  Then the shortwing males that typically hatch first show up and are all over the banks and brushy overhangs.  The females don’t arrive until the morning.  So its just a bunch of dude stoneflies hanging out in the evening getting hoovered by nocturnal feeding trout.  Right now the females are around at 4 am.  Those bigger wet shucks on the rocks when you get on water at 7 am right now.   Those are the females and you missed them by 3 hours.  But it’s dark AF so its not your fault.

But the Autumn works in favor of the angler.  The temperatures shift and the hatch follows.  The males still hatch when its evening and typically around 9-11pm if you camp on the river in early September.  The ladies show up at first light typically.  They hatch, quickly, along the rocks, where fish can’t get them.  They find a mate along the bank, do their thing, and then the males die…get eaten…and the females return to oviposit before it gets to hot and light out so the birds can’t get at them.  A big big flying around in the afternoon light gets eaten 9 times out of 10.  So the Summer or Shortwing Stones get down to business early before the temps start getting closer to freezing.  I have seen that hatch last into the week of the 20th in the upper river.   While the LC is in that weird lull of lower flows, fish moving, and no bugs yet because the water is still to warm and the summer lingers in that basalt canyon.

img_5792Fishing large dry flies as the light comes onto the river is the preferred method to trick fish in early September.  Trout will eat nymphs in the am…but come on…2 nice trout on a nymph are better than 5 on the nymph…at least for me anyway but I don’t chase numbers and I like dry fly eats better than indicator drops.  Besides…as that pink sunlight hits the edges of the river through the trees.  Long warm shadows against the cool night air clinging to the surface of the river.  A slight mist, breath just visible.  A deep inhale…as the large dry fly drifts along the seam, touching the light, presenting a dark silhouette to the trout lurking just below.  The nose breaking the surface, your breath pushing through the cold air billowing with your excitement.  The rod bends, and there is a deep, ferocious, and quite angry headshake from the wild animal who’s morning you just completely ruined.  It’s F’ing glorious people, and after 5 refusals from 5 bigger trout the past 20 minutes as the sweet spot of when big fish eat fades; it beats an orange indicator dipping in the morning…just saying.

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The Famous, “Nate’s Crane”

The afternoons are filled with cranefly eats.  Smaller fish snapping at dabbing and skating cranes as they bustle about the river’s surface gangily and clumsily, rolling across a riffle only to have a large cutthroat lunge out of the river at it and miss.  But a cranefly dry stuck in the surface attached to my fly line…ya…they don’t miss that very much.  Dead drift them through the fast water, and skate them through the soft edges and eddies…trout will be there…the more bugs you see flying around the more you should be throwing big cranefly dries.  They are already hatching and as the temps settle and cool they will only get thicker, typically peaking around the 15th-20th of September and trailing into the last week of the month.  A great hatch, thick up here, and cutthroat and cranes are what dry fly fishing is all about…its amazing…and anxiously wait for it every season…its my second favorite hatch behind March Browns.

 

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Autumn Rain and Mayfly Eats

The cooler days will bring us mayflies but they won’t be prolific until the day times highs stay under 65 and the low pressure systems return and bring us rains and cloud cover.  Then Light Cahills, Mahogany’s, and BWO’s will be on the menu in the afternoon when pods of fish get into that oh so sweet rhythm and you have to cast in time and sync up with the river, the drift, and the trout.  The juicy stuff.

But everyone knows that there is this large moth like insect that arrives in the last week of September and brings us into the month of Fishtober.   The last of the season…the home stretch…the final countdown…the end of the season.  We shall touch on Fishtober and those deliciously delectable October Caddis show up.  They are getting there.  You can grab one off the under side of the rocks and open them up and see for yourself.  If they still have a black head then they are not ready.  If they are all orange but don’t have wings formed yet, they are about 10 days to 2 weeks out.  If they have wings…you will probably see them flying around in the evenings at dusk.  As the temps get colder the hatch intensifies and settles in the later afternoon.

Last season globs of them were falling out of the trees the 3rd week of October…I know because I took the whole week off and fished every day.  I will be working this season…so don’t hesitate to get on the calendar soon…I am almost full in September and October goes fast.

Hope to see ya out here this Autumn.  Part 2 will come out after I finish the next 5 trips in a row.

 

Tamarack

 

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Mending is Killing your Dry Fly Game

So, I see a lot of anglers over the course of the season.  From experienced anglers to brand newbies.   And the Yakima is an equalizer.  It’s tough no matter your skill level.  It is why I enjoy guiding it.  During the summer months its actually the easiest to catch our Wild Yakima River Trout.  This is because the high flows of irrigation water create a unique summer tail-water that is unlike many western rivers.

The fish are pushed out from the middle of the river due to the sheer volume of water that is running down this river.  Especially in the Lower Canyon but this summer time phenomenon happens across the entire watershed.  The fish are forced to look for food and shelter along the banks of the river.  Its where the softest water is, its where the most food is, and its where they can find cover while still being able to find food and water that allows them to rest and not burn through all their energy.

It’s survival out there, and the big fish take all the good spots close to the food and the cover, and force the smaller fish into the current where they have to find structure and boulders to hide in.  That’s why the dry dropper works so well.  Every smaller fish is out there battling the current so they have to eat…constantly, so you can pick off smaller fish all day long.  Target the seams in and among the boulders and structure and nymph between 2-4 feet.  Small nymph, preferably with a tungsten bead.

But we are here to talk about dry fly fishing, and how mending is making you suck at it.

When fishing from a boat on the Yakima in the summer, the boat gets to do most of the work.  A good guide or oarsmen will set the boat around 20 to 30 feet and you can cast big fat dries tight as possible to bank to trick the largest fish.  I always throw a single big dry when I am after the big fish.  The dropper is great, but you sacrifice accuracy and the ability to get close to the bank with a dropper getting flung around behind your chubby.

A 45 degree angle is a must, especially in the faster water where there is a slipstream of softer current the forms tight to the bank where big fish and food hang out.  You would be amazed at the speed of the water in which we find these fish in the summer time.  When you cast big dries you have to be accurate, 9 times out of 10, I tell my anglers I am looking for 2 to 4 foot drifts that are within 6 inches or less of the bank.  When the fly drifts out of that 6 inch zone its time to recast.  For experienced anglers I tell them 2 inches.  If the boat is set right and the speed of the boat is right, you can get plenty of quick short drifts at every juicy trouty spot.  The problem arises…when mending starts.

Mending your dry fly is one of those things that if done right is great, but its not easy and most people lose the drift right when they need it…because they mend instead of throw a better cast.  A accurate, over the head, down to the target, at a 45 degree angle with minimal slack, will get the proper drift damn near every time…but it ain’t easy.  But when you get it…BOOM!

So, if you find yourself fishing and constantly having to mend your dry fly a couple of things are working against you.

  1. Your oarsmen or guide needs to slow the boat down.  I see it all the time, running and gunning, and missing all the fish.  There are only around 1000 fish per mile on this river, the water is 3 times the size it normally is in the summer.  These fish are spread out, and they need time to look at the fly.  So the boat needs to go slow, which means you need to row if you are on the sticks.
  2. Your angle is off.  You may think its a 45 degree but more than likely its to shallow and you are closer to casting perpendicular to the bank which is a no no when dry fly fishing here in the summer.  This is for two reasons.
    1. The first and most important is, when you cast perpendicular or straight at the bank, the slack that is there will immediately go down river in front of the fly because the water between the boat and where the fly rides next to the bank is faster than the target water. Cross currents are a bitch.  This forces you to mend immediately which is what we have to do in nymphing, and we ain’t nymphing.  Every time you mend, your fly will get pulled out of position, and if it doesn’t and you do get a good drift you are probably drifting right through the back anglers water because you should be down further in front of the boat.
    2. The second reason is if you do hook into a fish, especially a big fish, the trout will do one of two things.  Go under the boat and probably break us off, or go behind the boat and head upriver, in which case, they have all the advantage and will probably break us off.  So…get your angles down river.
  3. Your leader is too short.  I like a long leader for big dry fly fishing, and a fast action rod.  This way you can cast accurately with one shot, it lands quickly, and you can fish just the leader if you have to get in close and keep the fly line off the river completely.  I like 10 to 12 feet of leader.  3X or 4X.  Play fish fast and hard, get them in the net and back in the river.
  4. Practice.  If you wanna catch a lot of trout in the summer, you need to practice accuracy.  Being able to pick up and drop the fly on target in one shot every time will produce more fish.  Its just the way it works in the summer here.  I can usually get newbie anglers to get casting in the right zone in about 2 hours, then you get opportunity at some nice trout and learn how to play them in this heavy water, because you will lose the first few if you aren’t ready or aren’t listening.

So stop mending your dry fly casts and change your angler down river so you can get short 2-4 foot drifts within 6 inches of the bank.  Fish big bugs, think hoppers, ants, beetles, and summer stoneflies.  Fish are having to burn a lot of energy battling this heavier current and the water temps are in the upper 50’s and low 60’s so they are always hungry.  They eat in cycles but as the summer progresses they tend to get very opportunistic.  This is why big bugs work.  Typically fish will go after the most abundant food source but when the flows are jacked, you are battling for position like its a NASCAR race, and a big juicy, foamy, leggy, buggy, looking thing floats over head…you are gonna snack on it.

So there ya go.

Now I gotta go work.

 

Tamarack

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Summer Time Blurb

It is that time of the season where I am on river less than I would like to be but am forced to the fringes of the day to chase trout.  August is my least favorite month personally for fishing, but it is by far one of my favorite for guiding as long as conditions allow.

Big bugs, big eats, fast retrieves, and quick releases.  Do that 15 to 30 times, rinse repeat, 5 hours at a time, every morning and evening, for about 3-6 weeks straight if you’re lucky.  I am getting ready for 7 days on in a row starting at 5:30 am tomorrow.  Guiding in the summer is fast, fun, and high energy, and for someone like me, it is just a blast.  And it is by far the best time for new anglers to come learn to fly fish here on the Yakima.

One of the other reasons I get stoked this time of year besides the awesome guiding, is the fact that every day brings me closer to my favorite time of the year…Autumn.  The sockeye return, the river drops, the temperatures cool, the days slow down, and the trout become eager for food, and begin acting like their normal trouty selves after a heavy water summer.  It’s gonna be good.

I love guiding the summer, especially with new anglers, but the late season is also one of the most consistent times of year for good fishing here on the Yakima.  My September is already filling up quickly.  You say crane fly and cutthroat in the same sentence to the right person and they are telling you to take their money to reserve a day.

We are in the meat of August and summer time fishing.  Its hot, but it will simmer down next week.  The early morning water temps are good, but the late afternoon is starting to show us 65 degrees and above in the lower canyon sections of the river.  Upper river is high but fishing well.  Water temps are good.

I have days still open in August, hopper fishing is in full swing, stoneflies are hatching, and of course the very popular caddis is always a good bet.  Early mornings are stellar right now.  Give me a call, and we can chase some wild trout before noon and you can beat the heat of the day indoors or at the local swimming hole.

 

Next Blog, “Mending is making your presentation shit.  A lesson on proper dry fly casting from someone who watches people miss fish for a living.”  Or something like that.

 

Tamarack

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Guide Season

Its been a tough one this early season.  But all that is behind us now.  It is now the time of year where I get to work.  It’s an all day erry day time of the season…true Guide Season for me.  When there are no days off, and the days start to run together and your body moves off of any sort of normal schedule and you are just on river time.

I start telling the same stories to new clients 5 out of 7 trips, I get to make new stories with my repeat clients.  I basically have my dial set to 11 all day long and it goes down to about a 6 at night and then back up to 11.  I fish two a days, I snorkel in between, I don’t see my kids or wife much now.  My dog is always anxiously waiting for my return from the river.  I drive home during the sunsets and take off river in the alpen glow of the upper river.  The fish are hungry, healthy, and hearty this season, they are picky as ever and present a challenge every day.  I wouldn’t have the Yakima River any other way.  Those big wild trout that do show themselves, are memorable down to the last spot.

I get to really ramp up my game now that flows, water temps, weather, and food are becoming consistent here on the homewater.  I get to search for those perfect lies, where the biggest and brightest trout are hiding.  We get to test my guide flies, and my ability to get clients to cast that perfect drift and trick these persnickety wild trout.

I get to row, and I get to row my ass off.  I love rowing the upper river.  It is my f’ing jam.  I still to this day receive compliments and fat wads of $20’s for my rowing skills and ability to hold the boat in water and give anglers ample opportunity to cast flies at these wild trout.  I am starting to feel the river, she is starting to tell her secrets.  The fish are where they should be, and the cutties are in the fast water.  The big bugs are coming, the mornings and evening becoming consistent.  Trout feeding on cycles, trout holding in specific water, my beardy face calling trout to the fly and watching clients lose their minds…yes…dudes…its F’ing Guide Season.

Come join me this season…I can guarantee that it will be fun.

 

Tamarack

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Grace

Grace is defined as: Simple, Elegant or Refinement of Movement.

Grace is something that, for me, has been lost in modern fly fishing.  When every rod built today is all about speed, power, and hauling massive amounts of line in the air to target some exotic species in a foreign country, or to just make oneself look cool grace is not part of the equation.  The boys club culture that tends to form in a male dominated sport also leaves little room for grace when ego, pissing contests, and general bro-like properties run rampant during fishing adventures.  It’s hard to be graceful when you’re intoxicated…just saying.

Now…do I hoot and holla!  Do I get excited…yes…more than most people out here I would say.  But there is a time and place for that.  It’s typically before or after the fish is hooked.  Do I still curse trout that won’t eat, lose my cool, get overly excited with big trout…well ya…I’m mean there’s always gonna be that energy with me.  But I do have Grace, on days off, solo days, days with my children, and certain days with clients and friends that are looking for that more low key, less intense, more subtle kind of day on the river.

It took me years to find even a little Grace as an angler.  Grace does not just show up.  It must be learned, and it comes with experience, not only casting thousands upon thousands of times, but also experience with wary and wild trout that demand respect and perfect presentation.  After thousands of refusals because your cast and presentation were off by the most minuscule thing…only then does Grace begin to develop.  You start to learn that the fish demands it.  Simple, elegant, and perfect.  In my experience, the most respectable trout are tricked when Grace is a key element of the equation.  A trout that requires perfection…is by my trout logic…the perfect trout…no matter the size or species…if the only way to trick it with a fly is to do it perfectly, then it is the perfect trout.  It also requires an anglers ability to create that perfect moment between angler and trout, and in my experience both as an angler and a guide…Grace must be present for perfection.

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Grace was needed for this trout.
An anglers ability to change their attitude and demeanor and find Grace in the presence of these…perfect trout…will lead to more success in the encounters.  At least…that’s what I have found.  It typically takes me a little bit to get there and I have to take a few deep breaths and simmer down, I am an adrenaline junky at heart.  So when I get it in my system when the perfect trout presents itself…I lose my shit a little bit.  But these trout usually give you one or two shots to trick them.  They are perfect for a reason.  Could be the size, could be the species, for me…its the perfect moment.  Fly Fishing is filled with these amazingly perfect moments between human, nature, and wild animal.  There are these times in fly fishing when everything just syncs up…and the fish eats the fly, the angler counters, the fish yields, and the moment between angler and trout is sealed with a release back to the natural order of things.  Its my prayer, when I feel anything that is sort of spiritual if you will.  These moments that I have experienced as angler and observing anglers…are always filled with Grace.

I see Grace from anglers from time to time.  Typically in the older generation clients that I fish with.  Such as Lou, who is one of the only anglers I know that can make a Sage One 6wt. look graceful.  Or when my fishing partner Ross simmers his cast down after the first hour or two of our floats and he begins to smoothly sling casts through the air and gently land them on target.  Or when I myself can feel the rod load slowly behind me, and as I bring it forward its like my whole body clicks into place, or shifts into gear, and it’s as if the loop in the air is just an extension of my arm as I lightly place a dry fly at the top of the drift.  You can feel Grace, its that juicy part of the cast that makes ya feel good, calming, but intense.

I was witness to Grace this weekend.  I had the pleasure of with fishing with an amazing group of people for two days this weekend while putting on an F3T event to benefit our local TU Chapter.  One of those anglers is someone I look up to as an angler and teacher of fly fishing.  Molly Semenik, is an amazing angler and teacher.  I learned a lot from her during a clinic a few years back where I also had the privilege to work alongside her teaching casting to new anglers.  Her methods, her demeanor, her enthusiasm, and her attention to detail are everything you could ever want out of a teacher.  I was incredibly intimidated to work with her.  Her name was familiar to me at the time, and her reputation in the angling community was something I knew of.  Everything from her use of props to assist in teaching anglers, to how fish fight, to the ease in which she explained and demonstrated how to achieve the casts were second to none in my experience.  Her cast is precise, methodical, thought out, and elegant.  Like my mentors cast.  A cast I strive for every time cork touches my hand.  I learned so much from her during the clinic and apply many of the lessons and skills learned for both casting and teaching with my clients in my guide operation.

I had the opportunity to fish with Molly this past weekend for a few hours on the Cle Elum.  Absolutely nerve racking hanging riverside with Molly!  I couldn’t believe I was getting to fish with her.  I almost left my fly rod in the car because I didn’t want to cast in front of her.  I hung back while Molly and J. Michelle fished.  J. Michelle who also accompanied us is an absolute blast to be with both on and off the water.  I look forward to more days chasing fish and memories with J. Michelle this season.  I watched the two anglers fish and took photos as Molly threw casts in between trees and dropped them into position.  But it wasn’t until later in the afternoon that things got silly.  Many have seen the photos of the large Brown Trout that we met that afternoon, many have seen the video of the whole ordeal.  But it was the stuff before and after the event that really stuck with me…well…except when that greasy slab of buttery brown trout ate the shit out that purple chubby size 10 Molly slung over its head…ya…that is seared in my trouty brain forever.

We were sitting eating lunch chatting about the things anglers chat about.  I touched on my plans in conservation personally and the whys and hows of getting to where I was.  Some fishing stories were swapped, but then this trout kept rising off the seam, river right just up from us.  I watched it rise a handful of times aggressively while we ate.  I get this itch, like the damn thing is teasing me, this need to go and remind this fish that if its gonna show its face….around here…there’s a high chance its gonna get tricked.  We all noticed the fish at this point.  And I could sense that everyone else was starting to feel the same itch I was.  Molly had the right bug on, and I wanted her to catch a fish.  So I told her that it was her trout.

As she walked down and set up on the trout she was slow and watchful.  The trout decided to put on a show and came full out of the water on an insect and we saw its immensity and everyone lost their shit…except Molly.  She told me to calm down at least 4 times as I made my way down to the river so I could see…the guide in me getting the best of me, and a trout that size…it was gonna be good no matter what happened and I wanted a front row seat.  We discussed the position and she cast.  This is when the video cuts in.  The film starts right as she starts her second cast.

Watch the video, its sweet.  But I am going to describe it the way I saw it.

There was power, as the line lifted of the water, the back cast extended but its was effortless, and I mean effortless.  But it cut the air like a sickle, it was light but powerful.  The cast was quick, precise, simple, and elegant….it was Graceful, as graceful as the women slinging it.  A casts does not need to be flashy, it is not for the angler…it is for the fish, and watching Molly cast instilled that belief in me that much more.  It reminds the younger less experienced angler in me that a cast done perfectly once…will typically trick the fish.  The first cast tricked the fish so much it moved 5 feet down river tracking the fly before it got drag and the fish still went for it but Molly had already started her recast.  The next cast…three false casts, the delivery, Molly’s elbow lift and flick of the rod tip to mend the line, which by the way is unique to Molly.  Everyone has a thing about their cast that makes it there own.  Like a fingerprint.  Molly flicks her elbow and rod tip very aggressively but with perfect control when she mends.  It gives the cast flavor as I like to say.  You can see it in the video.  We both think the drift is off but the fish had moved out of its original position and as the fly approached the trout was already tracking it.

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Cle Elum River Brown Trout, a very, very, rare encounter.
I mean, to some it may not look like much of a cast because it’s not 60 feet, its not after a bonefish with the ocean in the backdrop.  No, its a short 30 footer maybe, with a reach and a mend across the river to the other side from a down stream angle.  Set up perfectly to the quarry.  A quintessential trout cast.  Perfect…and the trout was fooled instantly.  When Molly set the hook…the fish had no chance, everything was in sync and perfect…I mean…as perfect as it gets people!  I mean watch it…how could you not wanna be there!  The fish eats, and then she sets, insuring a perfect hook set.

Molly had all the advantage in her position.  The trout was played perfectly, it stayed downstream the entire time and every time the trout made a move, Molly made an effective counter move, the battle was just as elegant a dance an angler and trout could have.  Aside from my net dancing of course.  Molly was intense the entire time, the fish was amazing, not only in its fight and size, but because it was not a species we were expecting.  A Brown Trout, to which we all were amazed by and I won $5 from J. Michelle betting on Brown.

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Molly Semenik with an amazing Brown Trout
After releasing the trout, the cool down was pretty fun, the immediate talking and dissecting of the entire encounter…trout nerds.  With another fish rising not long after I was up, and let me tell you, having Molly and J. Michelle watch me cast to fish was totally tripping me out.  A mixture of stoke on a whole other level and intimidation like I have never felt in this sport.  But to be able to fish with them was an experience.  To be a part of catching such a memorable fish, to be able to net and introduce Molly Semenik to a rare Brown Trout here in the Yakima River Basin, and one of that size, on a dry fly, I mean….shit….what else is there?  Getting to ‘guide’ an angler and teacher you look up to as an angler, just for that one fish…that was enough…and to have her want to book a real trip with me later in the year…made my heart skip like when a big ass brown trout smacks your fly dudes.  I’ll count the days until I am able to be riverside again with such an angler.  One as Graceful as I have ever had the pleasure of fishing with.  I mean…Molly even says “Shit!” gracefully when a trout gets squirrley on her.

 

That’s what its all about people.  Those moments you share over trout.  So much can happen in those moments.  Things to learn, to enjoy, to just bare witness to.  Fly Fishing is still one of the only activities that has this strange and unique ability to connect people, rivers, and the trout that call them home.  To be able to experience these places with anglers that have Grace makes them that much more enjoyable for me.  An angler with Grace, to me, is the epitome of a trout fly angler…something I strive for in my abilities as an angler, a guide, and a teacher.  To be able to cast, play, and land trout with Grace…that is a skill I can always strive for as I chase trout.  To be able to see it and learn from it only makes me want to chase it that much more.

 

The river is in shape…Let Go Chase Some Trout!

 

Tamarack

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A Testament to A Good Angling Partner

 

A good fishing partner is something that can be monumental in an anglers life.  When I first started chasin trout I was selfish in my endeavors.  In my early years of angling I spent all my time solo.  Discovering and exploring every blue line and running water way I could find from valley to mountain peak.  I searched out the sources of my beloved rivers, hiked miles and miles, bushwhacked and cut trail to forgotten and unnamed streams and creeks.  Nothing but a box of flies, a cheap fly rod, and an insatiable hunger for all things trout and wild.

It wasn’t until I had fished myself silly and I got a little older that my solo time on rivers and with trout became a lonely adventure.  I had kids at home that were too young to chase trout with me, being very young with kids left little room for friends, especially when I spent all my free time fishing.  I recall even back then when I was in college and working the 9-5 to pay for shit that the few people I did know through angling were always too busy to keep up with my appetite for rivers and trout.  A good angling partner is not easy to find.  There is always someone ready to go fish…but just taking someone for a float or hiking into secret waters isn’t what I was looking for.  Yes I wanted another angler, with fresh eyes, different instincts, someone who matched or exceeded my own technical and physical skills to chase trout.  But damnit…I needed a friend and a person that had passion and respect for rivers that was in line with mine.

I’ve mentored anglers, fished with people and friends, but interests change, life takes people away from the river.  I’ve shown my secrets to some…only to have it bite me in the ass later.  Nothing worse than showing an angler a treasured spot that is still secret or ‘locals only’ and to find them guiding in it or talking too much about it at the local shop and causing it to lose it’s luster.  I still keep a lot of places close to the chest.  Areas that I still only visit solo…some places I haven’t seen in years over fear that they will be discovered by others and parts of me are still not ready to let them go.  Not many of those places are left for me…but a few.

My pursuit of a good angling partner came about as I began guiding more.  Meeting new people everyday, many of them lifelong angling partners, some married couples that have fished for decades, college friends that chased trout together in between classes, river side acquaintances that turned into life long trout aficionados.  I wanted that.  The chemistry angling partners have is a unique and interesting connection, as different and as varied as the people that frequent my driftboat.  It wasn’t until I had been fishing for almost 10 years that I found a fellow angler that shared in my interests, skill, and passion, for these wild aquatic animals and the places they frequent.

I shared a brief time with Casey, we fished almost everyday I wasn’t guiding.  Exploring the high reaches and rapids of the mountain rivers, floating the big water tricking trout, discovering more about each other both as anglers and people every time we ventured out.  Tying sessions at the house, dinners with the family, always talking trout and life.  That connection to the person formed over the catching and releasing of trout.  Learning about another person, where they come from, their perspective on life, where their passion is rooted, the desire to chase trout and why it is so fervent in them.  Those intricate things that tie a person to a river, and to the others that are woven into the riffles and runs are the part of angling that is lost when fly fishing is a job; and something that I was very grateful to have found with Casey.

I lost my angling partner to suicide.  A veteran, and man who suffered from intense PTSD, angling and sharing the river with me was his cure, his coping mechanism, the thing that allowed him to lose himself in the waters and disconnect him from the events in his life that brought sorrow and pain.  I miss him everyday.  I still have not visited a particular section of river in the mountains since his passing because of fear I will disrupt his memory.   Every now and then I hear his boisterous cackle of a laugh over the sound of our favorite riffle “Drake Alley” on the Upper Yakima and I catch myself looking behind me every time I float by.  Like the large wild trout that makes your heart sink when it frees itself from your fly and severs that connection, I still feel that phantom tug in my arm.  Haunting…but I feel privileged to have been introduced and spent however short amount of time with Casey riverside.  It changed me, had a profound effect on me and left me with questions, doubt, anger, sorrow, and a new sense of loneliness and longing that I had never felt before.

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I spent some time solo fishing again…wishing I was sharing these fish and places with another.  I threw myself into angling and tying throughout the off season.  The void left by losing Casey filled me with emotions and loss that I had never felt before.  A lot is shared riverside between two people.  Something that is hard to explain to those that haven’t shared a river with others.  He was my brother, uncle to my kids, someone I talked to everyday.  And not being able to share life on and off river with him was and is super shitty.  As the season after his passing approached I focused all my attention on honing my skills further as a guide and angler.  I worked constantly, spent every free minute I had wrapped up in trout and rivers.  My work doubled that season, and I was fortunate to meet a fellow angler through my work that sought me out as their angling partner.

As many who follow me on social media or have seen me on a guide’s day off recently riverside, Ross and I fish a lot together.  And while you never replace the people you lose, somehow the universe puts people in your life that just need to be there.  I must have done something good in my previous life, or have stacked up karma points, because I have been fortunate to have people in my life that share a passion for trout and rivers.  Sometimes the river presents an opportunity at another large wild trout.  Finding another angler, or having an angler find you, that rivals your passion and need to explore and seek out trout is the golden ticket.

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Being able to look at a run or riffle and pick it apart and have a counterpart do the same and arrive at completely different approaches both equally successful in their ability to trick wild trout is one thing.  But to be able to share in that often unspoken deep connection to nature, wild animals, and people is something else entirely.  Its that one thing that I think a lot of anglers who I take on trips are searching for but don’t know it.  Its something I see from time to time with life long angling partners when they reserve a day with me.  I have moved past the need to catch every fish, the want to catch the biggest fish, or the desire to be the best.  For me its about that connection to everything that is happening above and below the surface of the river.  To try and understand and decipher how its all connected and how I as an angler can be a part of it.  Ross shares that passion.  And while many of the things that pop up on social media are the weird, funny, and sometimes stupid moments that can fill a day on the river.  The days that you don’t see, the days I write about, the days that are discussed over dinner, the ones that are never even talked about…those are the ones that matter, that make up a life on the river.  For every dancing video, hoot and hollering trout encounter, every photo posted to keep butts in driftboat seats so I can pay the bills; there is a silent morning watching the river over coffee, enjoying the peace of the wild and the pleasure of another anglers company.

While its referred to as a bromance, and Ross is my Biden.  Its more than that.  A brother, a friend, a person that shares in my passion for trout and life.  A good angler requires a constant honing and fine tuning of the skills.  Being able to share in the chasing of trout with another equally but differently skilled angler is a key component of that in my mind, a fortunate byproduct of a good angling partner…because it’s not really about the trout at the end of the day is it?  Outside of angling people make connections with each other that last their lifetimes.  The connections that are made with people through shared passions are the ones that stick.  The ones that change your life, enrich it, fill it with the things that make us human.  All those intricate things that make up what it means to human.  Watching Ross and his lovely wife married in the woods, Thanksgiving dinner, my children excited to see them when they come to fish or hang out, the things that happen off river that make up the juicy parts of life and friendship.  They mimic the juicy parts of a day of fishing.  As I find myself getting older, watching my children grow, and spending more time riverside than I ever have, I chase the off river life as much as I chase the riverside one.

A testament to a good angling partner indeed.  When your entire life revolves around trout its nice to have another person knee deep in the run with you from time to time.  Not because they paid to be there, not because they want to know all your secrets, not even to learn from each other, but because damnit…fishing with them is bitchin’.  When the hatch is over, the river is quiet, and the boat is parked back in the driveway, and you still can’t pull yourself away from the conversation or the people you’re surrounded by…you know you found a good angling partner.

I hope to see ya riverside.

Tamarack.