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

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

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