Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fishing with Terry from Yakima

As a follow up to Fishing with Bob from Texas, I present the next installment of "Fishing With": Today I went fishing with Terry from Yakima.

I rolled east after work on Friday evening, across the Sound, through Seattle and onto I-90. My destination was a campground on Canyon Road, the road that winds its way along the Yakima River through the canyon stretch between the towns of Ellensburg and Yakima. After investigating several websites, I had a good idea where the campground was and what to expect as far as the fishing was. After three weeks of pounding beaches for sea run cuttys, I was jonesing for a trout river. So the Yakima it would be.

Half way through my drive it was dark. It's always exciting to wake up in a place you've never seen, especially when there's a trout stream there. The Yakima canyon is gorgeous. A high desert setting with a good looking, good sized river running right through the middle of it. Sometime in September each year, the "flip flop" occurs, as flows in the Yak drop from ~4000 to ~1000CFS and the river is suitable for wade fishing. I was told the river hasn't been stocked since the early '80s, which is pretty cool, but the drastic change in flows makes it tough for fish to get real big. Average fish were 8 - 12". What it is.

I got to the campground around 10 pm and was very surprised to see that most of the campsites were full, taken up by RVs and small tent communities. Most sites had fires roaring with anywhere from one to a dozen people around them. I set my tent up, strung the rods up and moseyed my way over to a fire nearby with a couple older guys sitting around. I heard some fishing phrases coming from their direction earlier, so I figured I'd at least get a recent river report.

At this fire I met Jim and Terry. They had known each other only a week or so, as they both had been on extended camping trips. The site was Terry's and he had four tents set up, a half dozen camp chairs around the fire, a slew of miscellaneous river rafts in various sizes stacked up, a trailer made from an old truck bed, a generator powering a light, stoves, pots, pans, tarps, coolers and other random "camp" articles. I introduced myself and asked how the fishing has been. Terry had a lengthy report.

Terry has floated the Yakima River "over five hundred times." He was born and raised in Yakima and has hunted and fished his whole life. He does not fly fish, but fishes the Yak with a roostertail spinner which he cuts off two of the treble hooks and pinches the barb on, because "that's legal." Two days ago he caught 25, two were 20"+. He was a talker, a Mahoney type character, and full of fishing information for anyone who will listen. These types of folks are interesting. It's pretty safe to say that everything that comes out of their mouths isn't true, but exactly which parts are false or how much the truth is stretched is tough to say. So I listened. I doubt he's floated that river five hundred times, but he's definitely spent some time on it. That night Terry told me the goal of fishing is to catch as many fish as possible. He talked some shit about fly fishing. Jim defended and looked to me for support but I stayed fairly quiet, avoiding argument. It was tough to say if Terry was drunk or stoned or both, but he was a local redneck so I tried to stay neutral on any disputes between the two, angling or otherwise.

I chatted with the two for a little while and then Terry offered to take me on a float the next day in his raft. This was an intriguing offer! A float down a new river with a veteran angler. I pondered thoughts of catching three fish to his one with flies, or worse - 25 to 0 with his roostertails. I declined on the offer, saying I wanted to wade the next day but maybe Sunday. I bid the men a goodnight and retired, planning to be on the water early.

I was standing knee deep in it at 6:45 the next morning. I fished the whole day, landing a dozen or fifteen and losing several others. Sizes ranged from 3 to 15", mostly on Pat's Rubberlegs stonefly, various small baetis nymphs and one on a SJW (just for you Keith). The river was big and it was sometimes a good fifteen minute walk between water I felt inclined to fish. Long, shallow, slick water separated riffles, structure and faster water and all the fish I caught were in pretty obvious places. It was a good day on the water, but I was curious if I could've caught more, what I should've been doing, etc.





I collected some wood for my own fire that evening and sat around it, sipping a cold Kokanee while my dinner cooked. Terry appeared, his own dinner in hand. He observed my stack of hand sawed firewood, campstove and remarked, "You're pretty self-sufficient, kid. Just like me." And over a few beers and an hour or so we conversed on fishing, life, women and the like. As I said, Terry's a character, but for every couple statements or opinions that would make me shake my head, he'd offer one that I respected. Terry was once regarded as a "top snagger" for salmon and steelhead. He told me a story about how once, from a bridge twenty feet above a river, he spotted a steelhead, snagged it, fought it to its death and then hoisted it up, hand over hand to his perch. He took out his spotlight and showed me a couple owls in a tree. I showed him some flies and he said, "I can tell you know how to fish, looking at your flies. I haven't tied any in a while..." When he told me about some sort of freshwater shrimp in a lake and fish hiding under weeds, I offered that the fish might have been feeding on scuds living in the weeds. He liked this thesis and decided I was "pretty damn smart." So over the evening's fire I agreed to float the next day with Terry in his "two man raft."

We combined supplies for a big breakfast the next morning and while we ate, he showed me some fishing pictures on his digital camera. It was then that I began to have second thoughts about the day's float. His "raft" looked something like this:
It was also at this time that I began to notice the quality of Terry's gear. All his tents had holes in them, two had doors with broken zippers. He then told me how he found all his gear in dumpsters. He was very pleased with these finds. I also realized that his stacks of floating noodles and other rafts had been found abandoned along the river or in dumpsters. I wasn't too hot on the idea of spending four to five hours in a small raft with this man at this point. I had a feeling at the least a decent story would come out of it, so long as I did myself. So after discussion, and some attempts to get out of the whole thing, I agreed to do a shorter float than planned, five miles, ending at our campsite. I'd get to look at some water anyway.

So we drove upstream, pumped up his raft and were off. Shortly into the trip, Terry spied a beer can on shore. He rowed hard to make it to the shore to investigate. I thought he might be collecting cans to return for supplementary income (Terry does not work due to recently dislocated shoulder), but Terry was more interested in the contents of this can. Specifically, whether or not there were any contents. This can was empty, but Terry assured me that rafters (the Yak is a popular spot for college kids and others to float and drink) loose full beers all the time. Five minutes later we were on shore again looking at the next beer can. Then we were on shore looking at a deflated raft lodged between two trees. Then we were looking at an empty Mountain Dew bottle. By the end of the float, Terry was 1 for 27 on beer cans and the one full one he did find he promptly drank.
Terry showed me his roostertail spinner. Three hooks, all barbed. I stayed quiet. Between investigations of beer cans 4 and 5 Terry lands the first fish of the day a 12" rainbow. 'Oh shit,' I thought to myself. But Terry wasn't about competition, he was about having a good time. Despite the high frequencies of swears coming out of his mouth, he was in great spirits the whole float. I reckon he talked pretty much nonstop for most of the trip, ten of his words to one of mine.

Terry also brought a bag of Tootsie Rolls on board for our trip. "I love these!" he said as he popped the first of fifty into his mouth and then I watched as the Tootsie Roll wrapper went straight into the river. I looked wide eyed at it, then at Terry, who was preparing for his next cast while chomping down on the roll. Fifty Tootsie Rolls consumed, fifty wrappers into the drink. I stayed quiet.

A while into the float, Terry had caught three and I got my first. He was ecstatic, asking what the fish ate, where it did, etc. He congratulated me on the fish. "I knew we'd both catch fish man!" When Terry had to take a leak he rowed us over to the bank. I stayed in the boat in an attempt of not increasing the length of time in the raft. As he stepped onto shore he remarked, "Dammit! I've got to take a shit now! You got any toilet paper?" I did not. I roll casted while Terry took care of his business. A few moments later I could see Terry through my peripheral vision and realized that he had not gone into the bushes like I expected. 'He can't be,' I thought to myself and then I took a quick glance. Terry was twenty feet upstream, a few feet from the river's edge, squatting, his pants around his ankles. I looked away and stayed quiet, hoping that the drift boat we had recently passed did not come around the bend. Back in the boat and floating again, he offered me a Tootsie Roll in his hand. I declined.
Terry's stance on rowing was fairly lackadaisical. We spun three-sixties countless times, drifted through the middle prime runs, cut off drift boats, floated three feet from banks and rock walls and zig-zagged our way downstream investigating beer cans and miscellaneous trash on the river's edges. At some point we approached some good looking water and we were a good distance for me to get a good drift through it. "Get ready, I always get one in there," Terry said. A few seconds later I was tight to my biggest fish of the weekend. Terry skillfully rowed us into slack water where I played the fish and landed a gorgeous 18" male rainbow. I obliged Terry's request for a picture on his camera. I smiled as the fish swam off and Terry hollered. I suggested Terry take up guiding.

When it dawned on me that I should probably take a picture of this human, Terry was agreeable and then I noticed his sunglasses. No doubt found in a trash can or in the river, they were ladies designer shades, probably bought at a gas station for ten dollars. He wore them well. We finished the day with ten fish - Terry 6, me 4 - one rescued raft and one frisbee.

I don't think I'd float in Terry's raft again but I might sit around a campfire with him if I ran into him. My guess is he'll be camped out in the same spot for a while longer.

7 comments:

Keith said...

hahahaha. Great story Robbins. Terry looks exactly like I thought he would based on your description. Terrific post sir.

Andrew Wilkie said...

I cried laughing when Robbins told me this story yesterday on the phone....what a story

CDW said...

Great read Sir Robbins. One of the finest post to date, bar none.

Chet said...

Incredible. I just read this while sitting in the back row of class, and had a very hard time keeping a straight face. That raft reminds me of the SS Carlo Rossi that got us kicked out of the Puddle at Bates.

S. Neil Larsen said...

Excellent post. Proves that there are many notable characters such as these plying the backwaters of our nation. Reminds me of that drunk, racist commercial fisherman we found cruising the beach in his golf cart in Port St. Joe. "Watch that man... he will kill you!"

Jasper Walsh said...

Just think in 20 or 30 years kids will be posting on blogs about the Captain Keith Lanes / Andrew from Farmington or Sniper Jesse Robbins to their friends too.

Beautiful post JLR and a tip of the hat to your guide was well

Boone said...

The guys at the shop and I got a jostling belly laughter from this one, Jess!

He looks like Engler!