Photos by Ty Swenson
Ruben with the catch of the day: a healthy rainbow trout on the Yakima River, Oct. 22, 2011. PLEASE CLICK THE IMAGE ABOVE FOR MORE

Journey to the Yakima: My first crack at fly fishing in Washington

Moving to the Puget Sound from Idaho two years ago was a mixed bag for me: there was the prospect of heading to a very cool city with the woman I want to spend the rest of my days with, but also what felt like the abandonment of my natural world. The beauty of living in Idaho was never the cultural bounty, but the outdoor opportunities (it’s great to find out you have both around here, by the way).

I was going to especially miss those rivers.

I was leaving the St. Joe, Marble Creek, the North Fork of the Clearwater and Kelly’s Creek above that, which wound from the upper gut of wild Idaho into the burly navel of Montana. Those were the rivers I learned to lust after when I discovered fly fishing in 2000.

There was the rediscovery of Southeastern Idaho, returning to my hometown after paying one hell of a deal in in-state tuition (those were the days, not so many ago) at the University of Idaho in Moscow … right next door to the Cougars in Pullman.

I was leaving Henry’s Fork and the South Fork of the Snake, amazing offshoots of a river that worked away from the mighty Tetons, flowing west across the hotspot of the Snake River Plain (an area melted flat by the volcanic forces now crashing in Yellowstone’s basement) until swerving north to impose a real border between Oregon and Idaho before merging with the Clearwater in Lewiston and eventually dumping into the Columbia at Tri-Cities, joining the party bus on the way to the Pacific.

So moving to Seattle was a little sad.

I had (and still fully have) performance anxiety and a lack of equipment or knowledge to wrap my head around your Steelhead and Salmon conquests on the fly. I only had a vague concept and belief that there was good 5-weight rod trout fishing to be had once you headed to the interior.

It was lucky, then, that I ran into an old friend from Idaho whom I hadn’t spoken with in years (but I did have a vague concept and belief he was out here somewhere).

Ruben was doing well. He had a good job, a great wife and a really nice drift boat. Turns out he had also culled years of experience floating and fishing the Yakima River, and he assured me it would help fill the void.

We left a drippy morning Sound and headed over the mountains on Oct. 22 after picking up Matt, another guy very well versed in Yakima.

As I’m learning is often the case, it was beautiful on that side of the pass with t-shirt temperatures and vibrant blue sky lighting up the burnt fall leaves in contrast.

Target sells a nice variety of Halloween knickknacks around that time of year and I’m a sucker for seasonal pumpkin ale, but nothing says autumn like floating down a river.

We put in at Irene Rhinehart Riverfront Park in Ellensburg after a reconnaissance mission with the fly shop and the ceremonial forking over of cash for a shuttle service (it makes the float official), deciding on a roughly six-mile float before taking out at the Ringer boat launch – a mellow stretch that time of year, ideal for wading with the possibility of beefy, hyperactive rainbows, cutthroat and cuttbows (a hybrid of the two).

Now let me just say, before getting into the recollection of that day, that I am no stranger to getting skunked (fishalese for catching zero fish in an outing). In fact, I’m really at peace with it. It happens to me all the time.

The experience of getting out into nature’s current with a cold beer is an epic enough experience for me any day. However, I do love catching fish (and then returning them respectfully to the river).

We were fishing primarily underneath the surface - using Copper Johns, Pat’s Rubber Legs and a variety of small nymphs at the sage advice of Ruben and Matt – down where the fish do most of their feeding.

Fifteen minutes into the float we anchored up to cast at a promising pool and the water suddenly felt charged, ready to animate at any moment as my flies bounced through the riffles before dropping dead into a deep pocket. Tension on the line and adrenaline at my spine followed by a small ‘woot’ that sounded like I hadn’t experienced puberty yet: fish on.

By the time I looked up from my own battle Matt was on ‘em as well. Ruben’s rod tip was up a few minutes after that … and it went that way most of the day. After eons of rain, the sun was shining and the trout were out in droves like folks on Alki Beach under similar circumstances.

The only unfortunate moment was the complete and utter rear-end blowout of my waders about two hours into our eight hour float (please see the photo evidence in the slideshow above - just click the picture for more). It turns out my size large waders didn’t take kindly to the 15 (OK, 20) pounds of desk-job weight I had added since our last outing together.

As I leaned over the gunwale to gather another nice little rainbow from my net I heard the tell-tale rip that said, “It’s a good thing you decided to wear underwear today since you are in the front of the boat with two unsuspecting potential victims behind you. That could have been a mentally-scarring image and would have likely cancelled your chances of ever getting invited back on this boat.”

Matt had the camera handy at that moment and decided to document the wardrobe malfunction that turned my chest waders into thigh-highs.

Thankfully, it was just too good of a day to sweat my busted gear and the couple hundred dollars I’d need to conjure up for a replacement. As other fishing parties floated by I would slyly position myself to make it appear nothing was awry, but I messed my angles up on one pass and a lady commiserated with me, saying something like, “Been there.”

I won’t go into a play-by-play, but it was a truly amazing day trip and one of the best I’ve ever had fishing. We all caught enough fish to actually have to count out how many fish we caught, and we burned the entire day – from late morning to late dusk. The fish ranged from little fellas to lookers, and every single one was fun.

I expect I won’t do nearly as well the next time out – the fishing gods have a tendency to keep most of us modest – but that was one hell of an introduction to Washington trout fishing and I can’t wait to get out there again ...

... as soon as I save enough for those new waders.

We encourage our readers to comment. No registration is required. We ask that you keep your comments free of profanity and keep them civil. They are moderated and objectionable comments will be removed.