MARCH 31, 2011
Filed under Trips @ 1:05 pm
It's my understanding that Native Americans have a saying that goes "white men build a big fire and sit far away. Indians build a small fire and sit close." There's something to that philosophy that goes beyond fires. We were a group of men whiter than the driven snow, and the fire was blazing somewhere close to Bessemer Converterdom.
Chances are some of your best fishing memories from years past revolve around campfires and friends. I have vivid memories of laughing till I fell out of a camp chair, and eating meals that could not be replicated in a five-star restaurant. Those are moments that simply transcend reality. All of us who dedicate ourselves to friends and fishing, know these fleeting encounters to be pure and true. Often enough, I remember clearly thinking if I were to die at this very moment, all things considered, it would be fair trade. This was one of those nights. A fair trade indeed.
The night's meal came courtesy of Reid Watson and his buddy, Josh Voltz. Reid has a thing for cooking in a cast iron Dutch oven, and thankfully the guy has it down to a science. He called it Yakiman Chili, and he managed to pull it off in the middle of all the chaos created by very loud music, and the noise of six other guys having a great time while acting like maniacal children riding a sugar fueled mindless rampage through camp. Had they been in the vicinity, wives and girlfriends most certainly would have left for home a very long time ago, while muttering something pathetic about the nature of men and their behavior around other men and campfires. Probably not worth going into here. (More in this series in the coming days.)
Reid Watson going over the details of the recipe for Yakiman Chili.
Bryan LaComa was in charge of cooking ribs for one or'the side dishes.
Roasted chilies were an integral part of the Yakiman Chili dish.
Briquettes were ready and the initial ingredients started to smolder.
Josh Voltz and Reid Watson mix up a batch of Yakiman for their friends.
Dueling cast iron Dutch ovens working on making
one of the best chili dishes in recent memory.
MARCH 28, 2011
Filed under Trips @ 11:10 am
The warm weather had pushed the CFS to upward of 3500 CFS. That's a lot of water for this time of year. Basically, it means drift boats and fishing tight to the bank. The fish are holding close, because that's what they do in high water. Bryan suggested using a San Juan Worm about two feet below a stonefly called a Pat's Stone. An indicator about four feet above the stone fly. Dead drifting the whole mess about six inches from the bank, which is a casting maneuver worth writing home about when the wind picks up.
We picked up some flies at Red's Fly Shop on the Yakima and immediately headed to camp and the aforementioned music, whiskey and food issues. Jim Garner brought the KFC and we ate like kings. No, that's the truth—KFC. Delicious after a couple of cocktails and a frontal lobotomy. We ate every crumb. The next morning we'd hit it hard.
The next morning was perfect. A slight mix of rain and snow. Perfect trout weather. What the heck, they gotta eat today as well, so they might as well eat a stone fly or a worm, and it might as well be ours. Needless to say, there was no one else fishing anywhere. I mentioned Bryan has a way with trout. Today was no different. For a while, every few minutes you'd hear him on the walkie-talkie yelling about someone in his boat having a fish on again. There really isn't any rocket science to this technique, but there is a huge science to understanding the whole gestalt of seasons, and flow, and trout, and mood, and opportunity and catching as opposed to fishing. He's a fishy kind of guy. That, and he understands the lifestyle and the mood of trout. You and I may have some work to do in that regard. Pretty simple. No one else hit much at all. Everyone in Bryan's boat got a boatload of fish. The biggest measured out around 20-something and the rest were smaller, but it's the fricking middle of winter and no one is supposed to be catching fish from the get go. Contrary to what most people think, it can be done. Ask Bryan. "Must be the season of the witch".
Jim Garner strikes a Yakima River rainbow on a Pat's Stone Fly, which he had
running about four feet above a pink San Juan Worm. Photo by Gary LaComa
(Left) A typical pink San Juan Worm pattern used all winter long on the Yakima. (Right) A typical
Pat's Stone, which is usually run in tandem with a San Juan Worm. Photos by Red's Fly Shop
Bill Graham hits a fabulous rainbow also on the Pat's Stone pattern.
Bryan LaComa nets a 20-inch rainbow and the celebration begins.
Bill Graham, Jim Garner and Bryan LaComa strike a timeless flyfishing pose.
A terrific Yakima winter rainbow goes home.
MARCH 25, 2011
Filed under Trips @ 10:55 am
The Yakima is a canary in the mine kind of river. I guess most rivers are these days, but the Yakima is a serious canary. It's a great trout stream, but it's just getting hit from so many different directions at the same time. Uptown lodges, mega homes, water diversions, farm fertilizer in the drainage, beer cans, campers, drunk college kids in rafts and over fishing. It's a pounding and it's not going to get any easier. Through it all, the river remains a true gem for trout fishermen who take the time to learn the ways of the river. There are way too many arrogant fly fishermen who think all they need do is stand in a river and fish jump in their waders, because of course they are God's gift to fly fishing. The Yakima will have her way with those people. But for those who take and invest their time, the river will give up some gifts and then some.
About 20 million years ago this whole area was covered in basaltic lava flows extending from the center of the state almost to the Pacific Ocean. At that time the river was a sluggish stream. A series of uplifting and warping events along the eastern slope of the developing Cascades Range increased the flow and the cutting ability of the river as it made its way through the basalt. Today, the river is a visual calendar of those events showing the basalt flows, the sedimentation and the erosive forces of nature that are exposed to fly fishermen every day. It's truly a beautiful place. Similar in many ways to the look of the Deschutes in Oregon, as well as the John Day and the classic Grande Ronde.
But to the point at hand, it was January 2011, and colder than a well-digger's ass outside. Not as cold as it could have been. We got lucky on a short break in the weather, so the snow had melted, but the brittle sting was still fresh in the air, and the visual mood of the place was best described as a lovely shade of Chechnyan Barf Gray. As it turned out, Ryan was unavoidably held up by business, but eight of us made it to camp at the BLM Lmuma Creek campsite on the Yakima River. In the middle of the winter, a pretty bleak scene, with the occasional sun break lasting maybe a few seconds. But hey, we had good food, firewood delivered by a friend in the area, music and a lot of whiskey. The mood was bright sunshine in camp. What's to worry about?
Basalt cliffs rim the landscape about halfway down the canyon. Thousands of years ago,
this entire area had been covered by lava which quickly cooled and was uplifted by the rise of
what would eventually become the Cascade Range of mountains about 50 miles to the west.
The entire length of the Yakima River Canyon is traced by a paved road
that runs between Ellensburg and Yakima, which makes for great bank fishing
in the summer. In high water, boats are the best bet.
The entire group holds up for moment to talk fish and fishing.
One person has to stay on the oars as another casts to the bank, because for all
intents and purposes, the boat is always moving when the water is this high.
Even a heavy anchor has trouble holding tight in this current.
MARCH 23, 2011
Filed under Trips @ 11:50 am
As springtime approaches, we're getting fired up to get back out on the rivers. In Washington, it's getting close to March Brown and Squala time. But as winter thinks about receding, it's worth one last look at a winter's fly-fishing trip.
Washington state's winter sucks. It rains and it's cold on the west slopes, and if you go east of the Cascade mountain range it's freezing and/or snowing or just generally the pits. Steelheaders love it, but then steelheaders aren't human. They're a subspecies of some sort. Better left to their own devices, deliriums and dementia. Winter's chill just won't let go. What can you do, but think about trout fishing, or just screw it and go fishing anyway?
Out of nowhere I got an email from a friend named Bryan LaComa, who suggested a bunch of us should go camping and winter fish the Yakima River in eastern Washington for 20 inch trout. Yeah, like that's even real this time of year. At best this is a foolish idea, and at worst it's worse. So many better things to do with your life, like...like...I figured I'd go just for the whiskey. I mean, if you simply can't wait for March Browns or Squalas in the spring, you might as well be flagrantly irresponsible in the winter, right? Some of these guys believed firmly that we'd actually catch fish. Bryan's the kind of guy who can catch fish in a bathtub full of dirty water and he was convinced. His buddy Ryan Smith, from Seattle's Avid Angler, is a guide and fly-shop owner in the area. He was sure we could do it. Me? Color me doing what I'm told, and in spite of a natural tendency toward Chicken Little, cautiously optimistic about the whole thing.
A cold gray camp at the BLM Lmuma Creek campsite. There are a number of
organized sites along the length of the Yakima River Canyon. In a camp like this,
whiskey and good food are a baseline for emotional survival.
Bryan LaComa and Bill Graham getting in the mood
and fighting off the effects of the prior night's festivities.
All eight of us managed to find the put in and get the boats in the water.
The river was running about 3500 CFS, which is high for this time of year,
so the fish would be holding tight to the bank. Photo by Gary LaComa
Winter's day on the Yakima. We got a break in the weather, so the temps
went to just above freezing and most of the snow had melted.
It's bleak outside and the sun tried, but refused to shine.
MARCH 3, 2011
Dreaming For Spring
Filed under Miscellaneous @ 2:25 pm
Shot this photo out the window of my car on the way downtown a while back, and it fits the mood perfectly. Steelheaders are the only people in a good mood these days. Guys who fly fish for steelhead seek out this stuff. They live to stand in rivers during weather that most people take out home loans to avoid. In the city, the trout mood is slushy at best. These days there’s nothing to do but hunker and remember what it was like last spring. Pitchers and catchers just showed up in Arizona a couple days ago, so it can’t be that far away can it? All we can do is imagine at this point. We’re wading through the dog days of February and dreaming of spinner falls and midges by the millions. There’s gotta be a crack in winter’s chill. Sounds like an old Leonard Cohen lyric.
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.”
We need some light in here. For instance right now.