Halfway….just about.

We are roughly 8 weeks or so into the off season.  Or the midpoint. In 8 weeks I will start to get a lot more fishy.  The boat comes back out regularly. I am riverside 4 plus days a week, plugging back in, and getting prepped for the guide season. 

This off season has been shit.  However, I will say lockdowns and quarantine have made cabin fever easy to bare. Broke as hell but honestly that’s not new being a troutbum and all. My previous blog post made it out like I was at this shit alone and I am not. I’ve have someone through it all, its private not a secret. But I have been good off river life wise, all things considered. Not seeing my kids has been the shittiest part.

I got a lot of comments and messages after that cranky blog. It was more venting the frustration and exhaustion. And instead of unload it on others who have their own trials and struggles right now….just throw it up and let the internet eat it. The biggest frustrations are work related. And there ain’t shit to be done until the new season at this point. Just stuck until the thaw.

Its the halfway point and usually I would feel this cabin fever riddled drive to be out. But 2020 sucked most of that out. I sleep. A lot. 10 to 12 hours some days. Hibernating like most other off seasons. But its quieter during the pandemic. And the exhaustion has taken its toll. And you can sleep through things that otherwise cause stress that cannot be fixed until the world gets right. So much outta my hands at this point. Sleep now work later. Or something like that.

While overlords argue about 600 bucks and cake, I just wanna make sure that I keep the internet on so I don’t have to sit with only books and flies until March. At this point the only thing that seems to fix shit is ourselves. So I get to wait until I can fix it the only way I know how…with trout and a boat. Thankfully we are in this together and there is help there. Its not all bad…its just sucks in general.

The midpoint of the offseason is usually a harder hurdle. Just not this season. I am in a hell of a hurry to get back to it in 2021. With a recovery plan in place for my business from the first trip to the last of next season. I don’t have a lot of faith in a national or even state economic recovery plan as this will be my third economic event in my life. Many of us are gonna have to get creative with making up the deficit of 2020. If trying to get relief during this shitshow is any indication….ya…its gonna be by our own bootstraps and on a community and local level. So getting the mind around what that might look like is essential moving forward.

The trout and the rowing take care of themselves at this point in my guiding. The nuts and bolts of the operation…troot and people….that shit is locked and I’ve worked very hard to get there. This pandemic changes how the business side looks. And with the surge in social media and its necessity for success in the 21st century business model driving a lot of what makes or breaks you…2021 is going to be a busy year to say the least.

So ya, I’ll sleep through a lot of the offseason. Because I can. Normally my body needs it but I think my mind needs it more this year. I’ll share time with the few people I can. I will prep for the offseason, and hold out like the rest of us. Still living day to day and week to week, still worried, but ready to move forward.

So ya, chill out. We all allowed to get mad bruh. Vent, sleep, try and see the good shit…watch Mandolarian…holy fuck! I mean we are all friggin’ stuck and its not like the headlines are making us feel any less stuck. So ya. Get ready for 2021…see if we can do a little better….(shy unenthusiastic yay, from the crowd). Fingers crossed. Let the countdown to trout begin.

Tamarack

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.

Teanaway 

 

The Sentinel

 

Mount Stuart towers in the distance. Her peak barren of the normal snowcap she wears during the start of August. North Fork Teanaway road straightens out in front of me as I drive towards one of favorite mountain peaks in the world. From her foothills the headwaters of the Teanaway river begins. It flows a torrent of whitewater through granite stones cut deep by her chilling and slicing embrace. Her sound can typically be heard throughout the entire basin if you listen intently on a quiet day in the woods. The waterfalls that seem to fall from the very sky fill the river with some of the most pristine water in the world. The animals that inhabit the Teanaway Rivershed are the epitome of Pacific Northwest Wildlife. With Black Bear, Cougar, Wolf, Wolverine, Samsquanch, Mountain Goats, with hundreds of bird species, deer, elk, skunk, hare, flying squirrel, red fox, and so many more the forest surrounding the river is teeming with life. The river holds some of the most pure species of wild trout in the western states. With Wild Rainbow, Westlope Cutthroat, Steelhead, and Bulltrout, the river system is the last bastion for many species including Wild Steelhead and Bulltrout.

 

The Source

 

As I see the headwaters of the river before me my heart is heavy. She is but a trickle coming down the granite mountainside. The pool under the waterfall is waist deep and is full of small soon to be starving trout. As I look at the dried up waterfalls that feed the upper most reaches of the North Fork of the Teanaway I am filled with fear. This river has never seen such a drought. This wild place is on the precipice.

 

Data Collection

 

I make my way further down river. Checking the water temps the entire time. I am finding normal water temps for this time of year in the upper end of the river however; the flows are a fraction of what they ought to be. When well over 100 cfs is typically coming down this small river in the summer we have less than 30 cfs. I find trout in pools, surprisingly healthy with full bellies. A perfect 10-inch cutthroat decided to say hello and I was reminded of what the term wild really means. These fish, despite the odds, are surviving. By the end of the summer there may only be a handful of breeding fish left to carry on the species. Those trout that they spawn…will be ever stronger. The trout…are doing what they do…being wild and surviving. Life does find a way. 

I make my way farther down river. The temps are warming. Feeder creeks and small tributaries such as Jungle Creek, Stafford Creek, Bean Creek, Beverly Creek, are trickles or dried up completely meaning there is no cold influx of water as the river makes its way to the valley below the mountains. I say goodbye to Mt. Stuart and the surrounding behemoths of granite that the Teanaway cuts away at with every spring and summer run off. The granite stones get a respite from her torrent this year.

 

Rock Dams

 

I stop at the famous sandstone swimming holes near 29 Pines Campground to check the water temp. I find a rock dam blocking flow and chuck rocks onto the bank. The river seems to breath a sigh of relief and I count 3 small fingerling fish make their way up river as if waiting for me to open the door. I find two more small rock dams and break them down wishing a sign about how illegal they are in ESA listed streams were present. A TU project for later. I come to the sandstone chute just past the Teanaway Outpost under the bridge. There is 10 cfs going by. I can literally see 10 milk jugs go by a second…its unfathomable. The place smells of dead fish. The water temp is 70 degrees. I find nothing…not even an aquatic insect. It is devoid of life. I leave quickly not wishing to spend any more time in the tomb.

I come to the valley filled with farmlands. Mt. Stuarts’ gaze hidden back behind the hills and trees. I feel that if the mountain were a mere 2000 feet taller and everyone could see the summit from anywhere in the valley…the state of the Teanaway would be much different. The Sentinel of the Teanaway River has been tricked and the river that it has born has suffered. The farms are still watering their fields. A recent stop on all irrigation came to the valley in an effort to save water. The few fields I see getting water must be on wells or finishing up their last orders. As I look at the river below Red Bridge Road I am appalled. Stagnant pools filled with Dart and Pike Minnow, algae, and 70 degree water. There is no flow; the riverbed is drying up in places, if the heat of summer continues I believe the lower Teanaway will dry up completely.

 

The Lower Teanaway

 

The Yakima River and Teanaway River Confluence is a stagnant pool of warming water. Typically during this time of year, the trout in the Yakima River receive a shot of cool water for thermal refuge from her sister the Teanaway. Steelhead would have spawned there this spring, as well as trout. Salmon would normally return but they will not have the chance this year. The fish that got trapped in the lower Teanaway have all but perished, those that were able to escape are in the low flow and small cool pools of the upper river farther into the mountains. As the Yakima River water temps increase the wild trout will receive no respite from the Teanaway as they normally would. The Steelhead, Rainbow, and Cutthroat that were spawned this spring are trapped in the headwaters and may not survive the summer and winter to continue the life cycle next season…if the snows come.

The Bulltrout are all but gone now. They have no refuge and have died or hopefully…pushed into the Yakima River and will return to spawn this fall. I have seen a few of those unicorns in the Yakima this season…giving me hope. Visiting the Teanaway today gave me hope. I was reminded of the resilience of nature and wild animals despite the odds and our encroachment. The drought is only one factor in the reason behind the demise of the Teanaway River. The mountains that hold her, the forest that surrounds her, the farmlands that she gives life too…all will suffer as she dries up. The entire valley feels thirsty. A strong rain for days or a wickedly blizzardly winter is needed. But our help is also needed.

If more is not done to preserve and protect the Teanaway River not only will the entire Teanaway Valley and surrounding Forest suffer, the Yakima River below will suffer. As it is a true freestone headwaters to the Yakima River, if it suffers, everything downstream suffers. Headwaters do Matter. More conservation is needed, more efficient irrigation practices, rigorous data collection on the trout required, and some intense habitat restoration is a must if we ever want to see the Teanaway River in her former glory.

 

Zi-Fi’s 1st Cutty

 

Some of my fondest memories of angling are on the Teanaway River. I found an ancient and gnarly Wild Westlope Cutthroat in a deep pool. The old trout was so gargantuan it still dwarfs some of the largest cutthroat I have caught out of the Yakima River. My eldest daughter was introduced to her first trout on the Teanaway. My youngest daughter was introduced to her first trout this year before the drought sunk in on the Teanaway. I have a memory of playing in the sandstone swimming holes one summer when I was very young, collecting cased caddis as they crawled along the rocks at my feet. I met my first Bulltrout on the Teanaway River. A story I haven’t shared with anyone to this day save for Tim Irish. That Bulltrout will haunt me for the rest of my life, especially now knowing that it’s genetics and offspring have not survived the 6 years it has been since we met.

Will I ever meet another Bulltrout in the Teanaway River? Will my grand kids meet any trout in the Teanaway River? Will the community forest that hugs the riverbanks become a desolate dried up place that no one cares about anymore? Will Wild Steelhead ever return? Will the wild trout have a place to reproduce and carry on their life cycle? The fact that I am asking myself, and others, these questions leaves me with hope. Hope that it will return, hope that it will be rescued, hope…because the Teanaway River…is a life force; born from granite mountains and winter snows, cut deep into the hard stone, life teeming within and all around her, Mount Stuart standing guard, and people enjoying all that she bares while keeping a caring eye on her.

Tamarack

Homewater and The Kid

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The river is not without the need of care from those who embrace her. Whether it be the family that swims and plays along her banks, the angler fishing from the boat, the farmer who uses her water for crops, or the hundreds of others, she always needs to be cared after.

An interesting thing happened today. I volunteered to help with my local Yakima Headwater Trout Unlimited Chapter’s River Clean Up today. We had a great turnout, more than I was expecting to be honest. A clean up in February and the wonderful rain, is not always on everyone’s awesome things to do today list. It was on mine however. I checked in at work, took the rest of the day off, and gave back to my Homewater.

The interesting part about the day was at the end, the amount of trash piled into my boat on the very small section of river we cleaned was immense. Two fellow anglers and friends, and I hit the Cle Elum River, a favorite of mine. My entire drift boat was filled with trash. Beer cans, glass bottles, discarded rafts, an old projector, tires, wrappers, needles, gas cans, oil cans, jugs, MOTHER F’ING WATER BOTTLES!

People! It’s called a bloody NALGENE! Its like 10 bucks, you fill it up with water, hell buy a bottle of water and pour it into it for all I care, just don’t put that water bottle in the river! Buy four bottles of water and you almost pay for a nalgene, get one with a purifier in it and guess what?! You can put TAP water in it and its clean and safe to drink. Or just drink tap water like a normal person….Oh, shit, sorry…I have this thing about water bottles. Don’t get me started on ones that are filled with pee.

Where was I, cough…right.

We were one of the last crews to come in and everyone was waiting to see if we got the motorcycle out of the river. We did…the bastard. I’m making a trophy out of it. But what everyone was looking at was all the trash and junk in the back of my boat, no one even noticed the motorcycle strapped until a few second later. Way too much garbage. In fact…its quite shameful. I shared the photos with a few community members when I got home.

Their faces said it all. Complete disbelief and even a little shame. Everyone who lives here knows that the Yakima River is here. It is, in fact connected to everyone here in some way. As a local I was embarrassed. Especially after I saw a good friend and mentor looking over the heaping pile with a rather distraught look on his face. When I got a good look at it after everything died down, I’m sure I had the same look on my face. We, or at least I was disappointed in myself for allowing this.

Such a great things to have all that trash, junk, and people’s general lack of decency, out of the river and stuffed into and piled around the dumpster. But such an eye opener and a reminder. A reminder that the river needs care. Something that I will be engaging in more and more, and getting more people to become a part of.

Moving on to a fishing related short that also happened today.

We were hefting this bloody motorcycle with a wheel barrow, backwards, up along the river bank, and through the trees to the truck, and there is this kid fishing in the river. When I say kid I mean kid, teenager maybe not old enough to drive, not sure doesn’t matter. Dude looked like he was a teenager and that was enough of a surprise. His dad came and picked him up from the river, which I think is awesome! Here’s why this kid is so rad.

The Kid, as he will be referred to as it is a cool title in the fly fishing world.

The Kid is there flipping his rod through the air like a freaking champion! Like a Champion! His loop is tight, his backcast is timed just right, the loop rolls forward smooth with only a slight little dent in the line, he drops a little early, but he compensates with a little half tug of a haul and lays the fly out basically perfect. If he was in my boat, that cast would catch fish all day long!

As we were walking to get the damn motorcycle, I mentioned to my fellow angler, that he was fishing the wrong water, everything about him screamed brand spanken new to fly fishing! I love it! People may get down on those just getting into this sport. I had a hell of a time at first, especially with shops. I look at new anglers and see myself, I see my kids, I see someone wanting to do something that is completely pointless, catching trout has way easier methods, for some strange reason within them they want to do it with a fly and rod. It’s called being a fly fishermen.

As we are hauling this bloody motorcycle, back past The Kid, now throwing a nymph with a huge indicator. Way too big, sorry Kid, my bad, if you are reading this, I should have given you a few of my smaller ones but I totally spaced. I called over to The Kid and asked if he wanted some advice or had a question? He seemed interested in us anyway. Yes we were critiquing you, and no we were not making fun of you. Quite the contrary. The Kid gave a yes answer.

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We finished moving the god forsaken MOTORCYCLE, and I grabbed my gear and headed back down to The Kid. I was super anxious to help him out and maybe see if he could trick a trout. He was close to some areas where we spotted some feeding. I rigged up my stuff and kinda watched him for a bit. I am sure I made him nervous. His cast needed no help. He just didn’t know where the trout were, which is totally cool, hell half the time I spend half the day trying to find them, especially in the winter. I introduced myself and shook his hand. A teenager that shakes hands! Holy Shit The Kid is awesome! I asked him a few questions, and then complemented him on his cast. He seemed pretty surprised. I began briefly explaining where the fish would be holding, pointed out the few things to look for, and gave him a few tips for his fly set up. He had a great double rig on, rubber legs and a mayfly nymph, red, small, good choice for this time of year. Shorter tippet, better weight placement, and boom, ready to go. Sometimes its just a few simple tweaks to fine tune everything in, and things will work.

I love handing out flies, its just something I do. I gave him some sqwalla nymphs, he knew what they were, YES! The Kid did some homework! Handed him some dries, a few Salmon Fly Nymphs for later in the season. He thanked me, and I gave him my phone number, told him give me a call if he ever had a question. Call means text nowadays. I gave him my website too, told him I write some stuff, people read it, might help. Ya know, throw it out there.

Went on down river to chase my own trout. We had a nice winter stone hatch during the day, saw a few fish on the surface, a few flash under, blue wings here and there, nothing major. It’s getting there though. Not seeing a lot of nymphs out just yet, but we are close.

I love meeting new people on the river. I got to meet two new anglers with the clean up and The Kid was an added bonus to my day. There is a lot of great things that can happen riverside. The Kid got to see that today. He saw a team of guys cleaning up the river, he met some fellow anglers that shared some knowledge, got some killer flies, and made a contact in the fly fishing community here. I, got to give back to the Homewater today, meet new people, and see The Kid, who could have been at home watching netflix, playing video games, or whatever they do these days, mine are still young so I don’t know yet. Instead, The Kid was casting a fly rod, like a champion, in water ankle and knee deep, in February, chasing trout. There was A Kid, that stood in the river up to his waist, near Ringer Loop, in February, casting a fly rod like a noob, chasing trout; wow…10 years ago this year, I shared my first moment with a Wild Yakima Rainbow Trout. Cheers to The Kid. He’s got a wicked cast, and a whole river to explore…its a blast dude, let me tell you…its an absolute blast.

Tamarack