The 2018 Fishing season is winding down on most rivers, in Washington. Sunday marked only 10 days left on the calendar, but offered a beautiful chance to get out and practice casting, again. I loaded up the truck and headed out in the early afternoon, having fortified myself with a good lunch. The streaming sunlight was unobstructed by clouds, and the changing leaves barely fluttered in an occasional breeze, as the temps rose to just shy of 70. I had made a quick check of the river flows, while putting my boots in the truck, and found that the Naches was listed as roughly 280 cfs.
Just about right for that long stretch that I usually save for the end of the season.
The area in question is a wonderful section that runs a relatively straight 300+ yards, with the water coming into something of a canyon from the NW and heading SE. As one looks upstream, both banks rise sharply, with the left side continuing up and the right leveling off at the state highway, before resuming its climb. Sometimes it gets shady, but nothing a good pair of warm socks cannot overcome, if the waders hold.
As I arrived at the area where the river side of the road has extra room for one to pull off, I noticed a car parked and a couple out standing around. With no sign of fishing gear visible, I parked a respectful distance back, and walk towards them with a cheerful greeting. The woman continued with what appears to be putting away lunch wrappers and the guy turned toward me with a smile. I explained that I was just curious if he or they were preparing to fish, as I would find another spot if they were. He again smiled, and offered that they were just stopping to smoke a couple of cigarettes, but that he knew there were some really good troughs in the river bed in a couple of places. He pointed them out to me, and we talked about how much that river changes each year, then he wished me good fishing, before turning toward his car, to prepare to drive away.
It’s funny to me that many people make assumptions about the personality of others and use that to decide how to interact with them, rather than defaulting to just being polite and friendly with everyone they meet. When I approached, before my greeting, they guy had a fairly rough expression on his face, something of a military style vest on, and an open carry Glock holstered on his right hip with dual mag carrier on the left front of his waist. I know a good many people who would have missed the chance to talk with him, solely based on his appearance and gear, but he was truly friendly and shared some good fishing insights with a complete stranger.
As they pulled away, I donned my gear, assembled the rod, tied on a #14 Stroby, then started down stream to look for a good place to wade in…or in this case, descend to the water in something of a controlled manner. A good portion of this stretch has perhaps a 55-60° slope, covered in loose gravel, dropping off from the side of the highway. Some trees are scattered along the bank, but even more thorny underbrush is interwoven, making even the idea of an intentional slide down a planned exercise in pain management. I usually park right around the pocket water above a nice pool at 46°45’59.65″ N 120°49’59.65″ W, but have to go at least 250 yards downstream before finding a spot that is relatively safe to descend.
I made my way down, and stepped out into the water to discover that the flow was barely a foot deep in this stretch, with many availabe rocks that could provide cover and shelter from current scattered around. Almost more exhilarating than this, though, is the sudden image of all the fall foliage around me.
Once I was at the river’s level, the row of trees in full autumn color was stunning.
I shuffled gently out to the middle of the river and dropped the thermometer into the water, while making a few casts. I like to give it a good minute to settle in and equalize, which lets me also loosen up my arm a bit. The fly was landing softly, drifting easily, and easy enough to see. I thought I was in business.
Forty-four degree water changes that.
I cast a few more times, after coiling up the cord on which the thermometer hangs when checking temps, then switched to a fat #12 Parachute Adams in rusty orange. If I’m going to stick to the surface, the fish will need a good mouthful to draw them up in that cold water.
Working my way up through the choppy run, I made some really great casts, bracketing likely rocks with a series of landing flies at different angles around them. After perhaps half an hour, I resigned myself to this being more of a casting and recovery practice session than actual fishing, and even got to the point where I almost wished I had brought a better camera instead of the fly gear, as I continued to be distracted by all the natural beauty around me.
Ok…I really should more strongly emphasize the “ALMOST” of that. As much as I enjoy taking nature pictures, sharing them with my family, and posting them for all of you to see…I’m not about to give up the fishing that brings me to those places, just to carry a bigger or nicer camera. Sorry.
At the base of the pool, I paused. I have only once before hooked anything in this pool, to my recollection, but often get at least some visible interest. I stopped to make note of the different pathways the water takes into the head of the pool (a crescent of water comes cascading in from what appears to be a bedrock shelf that has larger rocks caught along its edge), the way the debris runs collide as they more through the pool, and the collected and central seam at the tail. All very nice features, and pretty well defined at this rate of water flow, so I took my time to get into a better casting position.
The third cast was met with a splash, a palm-sized side flash, but no hookup. That first one always puts a grin on my face. I honestly don’t care that it didn’t connect. It just makes me happy to see that lively fish take a serious interest.
In the following minutes, several more fish would take an interest in that fly, drifting right at the edge of the bubble line, on either side…or maybe it was just one really playful fish? I’ll never know, but it was a fun cat-and-mouse routine, with the same areas of water sometimes yielding splashes in successive attempts with no break between.
As I continued up towards the rocky “falls”; the left bank, where I had waded to in order to get by casting arm maximum open space, widened out a bit, with large protruding rocks to stand on. As I stood there, casting into the relatively still water on the near side of the central seam, a feisty Rainbow nailed the fly and immediately tried to run off with it! He tried to dance on the water, briefly, but was not big and powerful enough to truly make that work out for him. In the end, I brought a roughly 9″ rainbow to hand, slipped out the hook, and calmly watched his tail flicker away into the depths.
There is that break point on such an outing, where no matter how much you have enjoyed the scenery or the almost-takes of the overzealous little fish, you are finally given one on the hook, and you know that you have now checked that last box. After that point, there are no concerns that you do not make for yourself, and you could…if you really had to…wade out and head home, completely happy.
Or…you just keep fishing, knowing that there is now no way you can be skunked. Yeah. That’s far more likely.
I moved up to the crescent of rocks, at the head of the pool, and gently fluttered the fly onto the still water, immediately next to the near side of the main flow and almost against the larger rocks.
Again, the fly got snatched from the surface, and, again, a colorful Rainbow ends up in my hand, then back to its home!
I make my way up, stepping from protruding stone to protruding stone, and begin casting into the pockets between the larger rocks. This is the part where I feel, honestly, the most alive. Balancing between rocks, having to execute tight flickering casts into rapidly moving pockets, and then trying to keep any fish you do hook from scrubbing you off on the plentifully available rocks that are close at hand is quite a workout. I have another fish on the hook, in the first couple of pockets, then see what I hoped for in the third.
Mind you…I “see what I hoped for.” Not catch. Not hook, then lose. See.
I dropped the fly at the inflow of a bathtub sized pocket that narrows into a tight outflow, between two good-sized rocks. It rapidly drifts through the open middle, then, just as it reaches perhaps a foot from the accelerating exit flow, a trout launches out from the depths between the two rocks and swats at the fly. The side flash was longer than my hand and the splash is so powerful that it sent droplets more than a yard away! As fast as it came up, it disappeared again. Additional casts into that pool yielded nothing, but my heart was still going fast with each try. I suppose there would not be others in the same pocket, as I am certain the one I glimpsed would likely have eaten small intruders, at the first available chance. What a thrill, though, to have that brief excitement.
A few pockets farther upstream, I brought another to hand, this one at least 10″. When I brought this one close, however, I found that the fly was well back in it’s mouth, and I needed to grasp it with forceps to rotate it properly for the easiest removal. The fish tried to not cooperate, so the grasping took two tries, but then it slipped out and the fish went on its way, probably irritated at the extra delay and the indignity of having the forceps in it’s mouth. I released the fly in preparation for casting and started to clip the forceps back on the customary pocket flap of my vest…when I realized the fly was merrily heading downstream with no sign of tippet restraining it.
Perhaps I had the tippet caught on the jaws of the forceps, when I grasped the fly, or even when I tried and missed the first time. Perhaps the knot was pinned back at an odd angle, and rubbed the tipped against the side of the implement.
Or, perhaps, that particular fish was sent to me as part of a conspiracy to remove from my arsenal one of the flies that is a “go-to” for me, having trained for months in how to abrade tippet material with it’s teeth. The release of it, on top of the water and floating away in plain sight, seemed like something of a parting shot at me. It seems positive that I will never know exactly what happened…but I will look for that fish, next time, and see if the loss repeats itself.
Funny thing is, I had not realized how rarely I lose flies, these days, until then. Must be getting more cautious, I suppose. It’s an excuse to tie some more, of course!
After that, I tied on another #12 Parachute Adams (tan, instead of rusty orange), and worked my way a bit farther up, until even with the easier slope to climb out, on the right side. I caught one more, this one small but frisky, as I made my way across. On the right bank, I snipped off the fly, reeled in all my line and leader, and contentedly made my way up to the truck to head home.
My countdown timer continues to tick off the seconds, on the way to the end of this year’s fishing season. One weekend left, before that runs out. I hope I can make it back out, with water, wind, and sun all agreeing to help me make this happen. We shall see. It’s been a great season, with many vivid experiences to reminisce about after it draws to a close, but that last stretch will call to me, until the page on the calendar turns.