I had convinced myself I could do it before I first discussed the idea with my two friends.
They had never fly fished, but they had been talking about wanting to try.
I thought to myself, why not rent a drift boat and float the Yakima River? They could be the clients, I would serve as their guide.
I had been on a number of trips with fishing guides before, on famed trout rivers in Montana and chasing salmon in the ocean. I had watched as the guides dealt with the changing moods of the water and their clients, and I had listened to their advice for improving our results and their stories of trips good and bad.
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How fun would it be to spend a day on the river fishing for trout? I asked my buddies.
They were in before I could finish asking.
After a flurry of e-mails, I made arrangements to rent a boat from Red’s Fly Shop on the banks of the Yakima south of Ellensburg. I sent out lists suggesting what clothes they would need and what gear they should bring, if they had it.
Given their lack of experience, I had suggested leaving the afternoon before our float trip. That way we could hit a riverside park in Ellensburg to practice casting and maybe toss a few flies in the river.
As so often happens, life got in the way, and our departure was delayed. We arrived in town well after dark – but we had stocked up on snacks and drinks during a stop in Cle Elum. So we checked into our motel, grabbed a burger and a beer at The Tav and talked fishing and life. A good start.
It was a cool morning when we arrived at the shop, but we were raring to go. We did the perfunctory pre-trip shopping for the must-have flies and some last-minute gear. After getting some suggestions from the staff, we opted to float from the Ringers launch back to the shop.
As the driver drove us to the launch, he pointed out good places to hit as we floated back downstream. It wasn’t until we reached the launch that I realized the places I was trying to memorize were viewed while traveling upstream and from above river level. I wondered if the driver could toss out some markers on his way back to the shop.
As the driver pulled away, I realized it was just me and my buddies. They stood there looking at me, their enthusiasm reflected in their smiles. Suddenly, my confidence took a hit. Did they know what they had gotten themselves into?
I knew we had to practice before making any serious attempt at catching a fish. Fortunately, there was a nice gravel island across from the launch. I hauled on the oars and got us across the river – the boat feeling like it weighed at least 10,000 pounds.
From my own experience, I knew a beginning caster needs plenty of room. I had Dave set up at the low end of the island and Bill at the top end. I walked between them, showing them my technique, making corrective suggestions as they cast and offering praise as flies flew farther into the current.
It wasn’t long before I could tell my charges wanted to try their luck. We boarded the boat, Bill pushed us into the flow and I started pulling on the oars. And pulling, and pulling, and pulling all while watching the far bank and the branches of a tree hanging over the water get closer and closer and closer.
“Uh, look out, I think we’re going under that tree,” I said in feeble warning.
The current, far more powerful than I expected, swept us through the branches. I was relieved not to have heard “snap” or “splash” – aural evidence that a rod broke, or that something or someone got swept overboard.
Later, on the drive home that night, I realized I let us go under the only tree hanging in the water – less than 100 yards from the launch.
Anyway, I had Dave in the front with Bill behind me. I got the boat positioned, made sure they were ready, went over the casting instructions one more time and let them have at it.
As we floated downstream, I realized I missed something vital while fishing with a guide before. Somehow, they had managed to hide the fact that they have eight arms, eyes in the back of their heads and necks that turn 360 degrees to accomplish all they do so effortlessly.
I found myself changing flies, watching downstream for any hints of rising fish, keeping the boat positioned the right distance from the bank, offering encouragement when casts when awry and praise when casts went where intended, watching for other boats, grabbing for the net, untangling crossed lines, avoiding mid-river obstacles, pointing out the location of fish, heaving on the anchor rope, and plucking wayward flies from jackets and a cheek. And that was in just the first 15 minutes – or so it seemed.
I wish I could report we caught lots of fish. But so much conspired against us that day. We had to contend with cold weather, a stiff upstream wind for much of the day, occasional rain, river water tinted by the dirty inflow from a drainage ditch, uncooperative fish and the lack of a real guide.
Try as I might, I couldn’t find the right fly to consistently attract the fish, even though I changed flies more than a model changes outfits at Paris fashion show.
Still, we had our moments of success. We all caught plenty of small fish, those in the 10-inch and less range. But we did have to pull out the net for a few fish willing to take our offerings.
The crowning moment – when everything came together in a confluence of skill, patience and luck – came when Bill hooked and landed a beautiful 16-inch rainbow trout.
Somehow I managed to unleash a nonstop stream of instructions and encouragement, all while holding my breath that we wouldn’t lose what looked to be a good fish by the bend in the rod.
When we had the fish in the net, I don’t know who was happier, Bill or me.
In retrospect, our plan was solid, the execution just needs some tweaking.
And, for some reason, Dave and Bill said they’re willing to go again.
Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/adventure