What is a Trout Worth?

  

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,
Tamarack

Snow…what’s that?

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A topic that is floating around the fly fishing community here on the Yakima is Snow. Not typically something that fly anglers talk about as we just want it to leave so we can get to spring. However there has been very little snow this year. Checking the snotel sites of the high country we are looking at some of the worst numbers in the past few seasons for snow. This means a lot of things for anglers.

The river flow here is controlled by two things. Nature and man. With dams that hold water back for irrigation that helps grow the hops, grapes, wheat, pot, and of course hay and all that other great stuff, anglers are blessed with a river that can be very consistent during the prime angling season. While the issues of dams is not the topic here I support dams and also their removal. I come from a family rooted in the agriculture industry and lived a good chunk of my life in an area that feeds the majority of this country in the Columbia Basin. I see dams as one of those necessary evils in many cases but also love when we as a species can remove our impact on our environment to help let it return to its natural state.

The dams here help make this fishery what it is today. No question about it. These small dams that hold back water to create these large reserves are always in the back of mind when the season begins. With our dismal snow pack and our extended forecast looking more and more like spring, it seems that snow isn’t going to happen. This means that when we get our normal snow dumps in the late spring and early summer above 5-6000 feet, the river has the potential to be a very different lady come this season.

Water will more than likely trickle out of the dams all season long to help keep the levels up for the growing season in the lower valley. This means low flows, warmer temps, and hopefully….some wicked awesome fishing. There have been a lot of complaints about the lack of decent hatches in the past seasons. High water, bad runoff, and later in the year, low water, and high temps. This past season alone we saw temps go well above 65 degrees in the lower stretches and stay outside optimal trout habitat ranges for extended periods. I myself witnessed a massive shift in the hatches of several aquatic insects this summer and fall due to high water temps and high air temps. We also had a lot of high pressure systems fall upon us this season which also does not help the bugs.

The summer and short wing stonefly hatches this past season were amazing…from 9 to midnight. Massive hatches of stoneflies in the thousands on the upper river especially. More than I have ever seen in my 9 years on the river. Fish feeding through the night and into the dawn hours gorging themselves on these huge naturals. Of course I overnight on the river when I can and thats how I came across these observations.

I spent some time with a pair of goggles and a snorkel this year and migrations of insects for the hatch were much later during the summer in the upper stretches than any of my journal entries from previous seasons. I expect much of the same this year if the weather is hot and dry again.

While observing the trout without the use of a fly rod I found that by the time anglers got on the water even in the early mornings, the fish had already had their fill. Many days of frustrating summer fishing are not because of poor fish numbers or poor hatches. Its all do to full fish and irregular hatching times due to weather and water conditions.

When did they eat them? All night long! I remember camping riverside enjoying a smoke and a tea over a small campfire and all of the sudden there were stoneflies crawling everywhere. I was amazed, realizing that the hatch wasn’t in its full bloom until lower temps set in and the river cooled. Typically from 9 to midnight. A few reports in my journal show late hatches and night hatches but nothing like what I was seeing. Think prime caddis hatch but with stoneflies, and in the dark. I was finding them in my boat and clothing for a week after that. The hatch I witnessed for the two nights I was on the river in this instance, was epic to say the least. When I fished blind at night just to see if fish were on the surface at 11:30 pm, I was welcomed with some of the largest trout on the surface I have ever had the pleasure of releasing.

When I rose to fish around sunrise the fish were still coming up but sporadically and mostly smaller fish. Observing the fish again underwater I found fish were in rest mode digesting all the food they gorged themselves on the night before. That was how the whole summer went.

When the October Caddis came around the same thing happened. Fishing with the October in the upper stretches was by far more productive during the very early morning and late evening with the hatch happening in full force considerably later than usual. If I was able to stomach pump fish I can guarantee that they would have upchucked insane amounts of stonefly and October naturals.

What does this have to do with crummy snowpack? Well the water is going to trickle out of the reservoirs all season long. Only increasing when demand is at its peak and when shots of water are needed for salmon runs. Otherwise, it should be rather consistent albeit low, even through the summer. We may not see flows over 3800 to 4000 cfs in the lower canyon this summer. We could potentially see some of the greatest fishing conditions for the the spring and early summer season. When late July, August, and the fall come about, we could see another season like last year.

I am especially interested to see how the mayfly hatches are this year and their time frames. In the past years I have only seen an increase in the upper river of hatches, save for the mahogany dun in the fall, but I attest that to the previous described conundrum of midnight rendezvous of horny insects.

I witnessed some wonderful PMD hatches this year as well as drakes. I am hoping that if the river operates in the way the community is talking about, we will see some epic spring and early summer hatches. I am particularly excited for the March Brown but more so for the Drakes of the upper river and Cle Elum.

I fear for the late summer and fall but over the past few seasons that has been a normal worry. With the dry and high pressure we have been having and the bloody BURN BANS! (I hate burn bans but always obey them, but damnit not having the ability to have a campfire is quite irksome especially when hiking into the blue lines or overnights with the dog and the boat on the river.) The river could have a late season like last year. Which was not bad, but not stellar in my opinion. Even the salmon were funky this season due to the conditions, and we at least had some snow pack last year!

The window for snow fall is rapidly closing. We have about 14 days before, if it doesn’t happen, its not going to happen. We have 40 degree days and rain….inches of rain in the forecast for the rest of February. The models are predicting the same for March. The spring could be one of the better ones we have seen in a few seasons and I look forward to feeling the pulse of the river as I anxiously wait for the weather to change. We have Robins in the yard, no snow base, lots of rain, and days that feel more and more like March and not like a typical February. At least in my observation.

Chime in, lets talk about it, at least it gives us all something to do while we wait for fishing to pick up.

Speaking of fishing. Hit the river from Ump to Slab yesterday with a good friend and while the fishing was down right awful it was still a good day being on the river and getting a sense of where she is at. She will tell you a lot. We have warm days that bring her to life and bugs move and things happen, but we are still having days of cold and gloom that make for rather unproductive days. I fished everything, streamers, nymphs, light nymphs, and I went deep, shallow, looked all over the river for trouts. We had one nasty smelly white fish, seriously just a gross “teenage boy” smelling fish. Big but oh damn! We had one rainbow 15 inches, purple and blue, just gorgeous. She took the Yak Sandwich, or shit sandwich, as we like to call it. A rubber legs stone and a san juan worm below. Sometimes its all that works. Its a bummer but its still a trout.

The main reason for the craptastic fishing, at least my assessment, is as the river has dropped over the past week these fish went from being pushed into the banks from all the water and needing food to help with all the energy they used. We had great days of streamer and nymph fishing near the start of the drop in flows. We also had sunny warm days which kick things to life in the winter here on the river. Now we are at colder water temps, less current, and less energy used. Making trout revert into their normal winter lies and patterns. We also had a warm and sunny day previous and would have given the fish ample opportunity to feed enough to hold them over through the cold day we floated. If you listen to her the river will tell you all you need to know. Well, the river and a group of anglers talking non stop about fishing.

Join me this Saturday the 7th from 11-5 at Firemans Park in South Cle Elum near the South Cle Elum Boat Launch for our Trout Unlimited Cle Elum River Clean Up. Its gonna be soggy so bring your rain gear. We will have trash bags, maps, donuts, and spots in boats available but we will be doing a lot of walking. You can visit my facebook page or visit the link below to RSVP. We also have a BBQ after for volunteers! Help us clean up the river, catch a few fish maybe, and it gives you a chance to hang out with a bunch of anglers for the day!

TU Cle Elum River Clean Up

Tamarack

Endurance and Tea

Photo by John Hicks of Sea Run Pursuits

Photo by John Hicks of Sea Run Pursuits

Good things comes to those who endure. Thats the best way for me to have a positive outlook on the life I have. Enduring hardships, loss, but most importantly, disappointments have been a powerful factor in my outlook and way of going about life. Positivity has not always been so easy.

As I described in the previous post, I enjoy the simple things everyday as much as I can. With a day off and a quiet morning here in the apartment, I am enjoying a strong Irish Breakfast Tea, the only tea worth drinking in the morning in my opinion. Tea, like beer and coffee, should be black, strong, and filling. My youngest daughter woke up rather early jabbering to herself, after the rest of the family left for school we hung out playing and talking before she decided to zonk out on me and fall back asleep. The amount of happiness and energy a baby wakes up with in the morning is down right unfair. Little minions have never been a stress for me except during birth, and with this third kid being my final, I take every chance I get to slow down and hang out with her.

I enjoy these slow mornings, sitting in my little room under the stairs at my tying table, typing, the wispy tendrils of steam rising off my tea, the lingering smell of smoke from my pipe at rest, a rolling bluegrass tune in the background, the thoughts of trouts swimming through my head.

A long journey to be able to enjoy the simple things. Seems rather backwards really. I feel as if I was lost for too long and am finally realizing what life is supposed to feel like for the wary but young trout bum. Life seems to be more and more like the river and chasing trout than ever these days. As if I had just finished developing a relationship on the most difficult part of the river, the torrent, upstream section, hard to access, hard to land fish, but worth the journey to learn how the river and fish begin.

Now I am on the prime water. The long stretch of “good” water. That 70 mile stretch if you will. There are still hard days on this part of the river, difficult and finicky trout, troublesome weather and water, but the days of great moments and easy floating are upon me. Indeed, life seems to be more like the river and chasing trout these days. When I do find myself on the actual river, not the metaphorical one that comes out in the cliches I write, there are days I fish less and enjoy embracing the river more. Don’t get me wrong I fish…like a lot. But there are days especially when I float solo or with the dog, that I find myself parked along the bank listening to the trees sing back and forth with the wind. The river adds her talking and babbling to the chorus. I hear a slight dimple in the water upstream and see the ripple of a now less hungry fish. Another rises, and another, I see the insects hatching, I feel the pulse of the river change as the life within her bursts into the fray. But my fly rod is at rest on my shoulder, I am just watching and enjoying this moment of life the river is showing me. Enjoying the simple things, of a caddis hatch, a slight breeze, and rising trout. Life should be more like the river.

Of course the angler in me always gets the better of me. I wouldn’t be a fly fisherman if it didn’t. I false cast three times and lay my fly and line upstream at the rising trout. A decent cast, a perfect drift, an eager but wary quarry, and a connection between angler….and trout. The disappointment, and memories of loss and hardship fade away. There is only the moment, the calm simple moment. What more is there really?

Another cup of tea and a few flies tied this morning is in order. Take a moment and enjoy something simple…and think about trout.

Tamarack