Monday, May 23, 2016

Jessnuts, PBs, Bugs and Thunderpussy

What do all 4 of those things have in common? Well... me. I'm happy to report that I had a pretty incredible angling adventure a couple weeks ago. It involved Jesse, my good friend, host, and guide on this epic angling weekend. It involved a couple of PBs for me ("personal bests", that is....) It involved a bug scene like something out of horror movie. And yes, the icing on the cake was the involvement of a whole lot of Thunderpussy. More on that later....

Day 1.

I attended a conference in Seattle. The conference isn't important. What happened after the conference ended is. Nursing a significant hangover I checked out of my hotel and walked down to Pike Place market. There, I bought a cup of Beacher's Mac and Cheese and a bottle of water and slowly forced down the delicious food, praying that a full stomach might cause my hangover to relent. My prayers would be answered over the next few hours, though I can't honestly say that the Mac and Cheese played any roll in my deliverance, or if it was the passage of time that was my savior. I then walked through the market scoping out the local catch, finally settling on two items that would make the crossing to Bainbridge, a 2.3 lb fillet of wild king salmon and 4 jumbo prawns from parts of the world unknown. Seafood heavy, I dragged my suitcase and bag of fish several blocks south to the Puget Sound ferry and fortuitously found myself stepping directly onto an already boarded Bainbridge Island boat. The adventure was only just beginning.

I arrived on the island, hangover slightly abated, with a bag full of fish and improving spirits. Jesse picked me up from the terminal and a proper BFC reunion commenced. We discussed life, plans, beers, work, and as always, fishing. Tonight we would camp on the beach and cast flies at sea run cutthroat trout, On Saturday, we would trailer a drift boat back to the mainland and float the Yakima river, which should be coming into solid form after high water two weeks prior. But before then, we would hit that Thunderpussy. Would we ever....

In short order we arrived at Jesse's Bainbridge Island pad. I drank a Raineer, condition improving. With my body on the mend and my spirits elevated, the excitement grew for a series of new fishing experiences. I'd never tried for sea run cutthtroat trout. And I'd never fished out of a drift boat for trout before. So a couple of firsts right there. And for sure, I'd get myself a PB. I had to. It was destiny.

Jesse indicated that we had 3 stops to make en route to our camping location. The first stop was for food and drink. The second stop was at the reservation. The third stop was at Paper and Leaf. I found Paper and Leaf to be the most impressive of the three stops. I wandered around for much longer than expected. It seemed neither Jesse nor myself knew exactly which make and model to purchase. We finally settled on and modest amount of modest strength product for a modest price. As we left the shop, the cashier checked my Massachusetts license and made sure I was aware that I couldn't smoke that in the car. I'd told her not to worry, we were going camping.

Jesse's sea run cutty spot was nothing short of spectacular. A private, gated dirt road lead down to a pristine beach. The snow capped mountains of the Olympic Peninsula provided a stellar back drop to the meandering tidal creak that emptied into Puget sound at the end of a sandy peninsula. To say it was "fishy", would be a serious understatement.
Despite my best efforts to contain myself, relax, and drink a beer that had been so courteously offered to me by my host, I found myself in a somewhat chaotic rush the throw on my waders and rig up a rod. Jesse had come fully prepared with both surface and subsurface offerings for the cutty's. He mentioned that these trout would take a gurgler off the top if their mood was right. Pretty crazy. The sun was out in full force as we walked down the beach, the high tide line covered in bleached oyster shells, some alarmingly large. A pair of bald eagles soared overhead, no doubt impressed by the rugged good looks and professional appearance of the anglers trudging down the beach below. Finally after a brief 10 minute walk, we were in position at the mouth of the salt creek. 

Jesse told me where to cast. "Send it across to the far bank and strip it in as it swings out," said the man from Far Banks. I did as instructed and I got bit on my first throw. Unfortunately I dropped this fish. But it wasn't long before I had another one on the clouser minnow, and this one I successfully brought to the bank. He wasn't a record breaker but no doubt was impressive nonetheless. 12 inches of silver saltwater trout. And a PB for me! But he would only remain a PB for the next 20 minutes. It wasn't long before I hooked another silver specimen, and this hookup was much more solid than the first. I fought the fish off the reel and he made a couple of spirited runs out into the current. When I finally had him to the beach I was pretty damn elated with what I had captured. A solid 18 inch trout, with gleaming silver sides and just enough orange under the gill to betray his identity as a cutthroat. And just as Port Steele arrived with the camera, he slipped out of my hands back into the gin clear water. Don't worry I said. I'll get another good one. But it would be a while before I got another tug. My final fish of the evening would not equal the first, but it was certainly no slouch. This one hung out long enough for a picture.
Of course Jesse would not be outdone. He proceeded to land several impressive specimens that weren't far off his own PB. It seemed the trout, while not present in great numbers, were definitely decent sized specimens. As the ebb of the tide slowed, we decided to head back to set up camp. A dinner of salmon and prawns and numerous beers awaited us and Jesse had a couple lawn chairs that would look pretty good sitting next to a fire facing the bay. For the next 4 hours, everything went just about perfectly according to plan. We ate prawns, and king salmon, and potato salad and asparagus. We drank Raineers and validated the decisions we made at Paper and Leaf. We battled with a field mouse that routinely attempted to steal our leftovers when we became too engrossed in the dancing flames of the fire. And finally we passed out hard, as men sometimes must, when they have fully and completely conquered the day. 

Day 2.

I awoke with a stir at about 730AM. It was later than I wanted to wake up, but also earlier than I wanted to wake up. No matter. It was time to hit the beach for the morning bite before returning to downtown Bainbridge. We geared up and made the walk up the beach and out towards the mouth of the creek. Because we'd woken up later than intended, the tide was a bit lower than we wanted it to be. Nonetheless, we found fish. Again the bite was not hot and heavy, but it was steady enough to keep us interested, and the fish were all of a decent class. We even saw several risers in a pronounced pool near the creek mouth, and though we could not get them to take the gurgler, we stung a few on subsurface presentations. When the tide dropped to less fishy levels, we headed back to camp.

As we made the short walk back up the beach I commented that the wind had picked up, and sure enough we arrived back at camp to find that the wind had flipped our tent and scattered its contents. Tragically, one of the tent poles had also broken. Against such steep adversity, we decided that the best response would be to cook breakfast sandwiches and drink some beers. Re-assuming our positions of comfort in Jesse's lawn chairs, we consumed thick and greasy breakfast sandwiches while watching clam diggers and oyster farmers physically toil out on the now exposed mud flats. I wonder if perhaps one or two of those dedicated laborers caught the stray scent of perfectly cooked bacon, or perhaps a hint of Paper and Leaf, as it wafted out in their direction. I wonder if any of those men looked at us siting there, saw the sun glint ever so slightly off of our 10AM cans of Raineer, and thought to themselves, "Who the fuck are those guys?" I wonder how bad they wanted to be us that morning. I bet they were quite envious.

But against the wishes of every y-chromosome in my body I knew that it was time to leave the beach and head back to town. We had a full agenda ahead of us, and that night there was a storm in the forecast. You can't have lightning without Thunderpussy, they say. It was almost time to rock and roll. We piled our contents into the back of Jesse's Tacoma and headed up the old dirt road. One PB under the belt, one hell of a night in the books.

Back in town, our tasks were straightforward. Make a quick run to the dump. Get whatever provisions we needed for the next days float. Stop in to visit Hannah at the arboretum where she works, maybe take a quick nap and shower, load up the truck and hitch up the drift boat. Then rock and roll.  Things ran off course early. On our way to the dump, Jesse temped me with an offer of a frozen yogurt in town  after the trash run. Who doesn't want a frozen yogurt? Of course we're doing that. But when we got to town, we found that the fro-yo shop didn't open for another 45 minutes. Well there's a bar across the street... Ok, lets do that first. 2 hours and a few IPAs later, we finally got those fro-yo's. They were worth waiting for.

I was slightly buzzed when we got to the arboretum. The nature preserve was pretty spectacular and it seemed like we hit it while just about everything was blooming. Hannah gave us a solid tour and Jesse and I both had the opportunity to urinate in a traditional Japanese garden bathhouse. After taking in the greenery, we returned to Jesse's home to pack for the following float. The Yeti's were loaded up and the gear stowed. The forecast for the following day was bright blue skies and temps in the mid to high 80s. We were going to be treated with some spectacular early May weather. My spirits were high.

Prior to Thunderpussy, we had a solid crew of Jesse's friends join us for pre-concert beers and fajitas. This was most certainly a solid crew of folks and it pleased me to be surrounded by such good people. Anglers as well. Many had traveled from far away to work the job of their dreams at an elite fly fishing company. I felt a little jaded for having chosen the corporate life. Oh well. Someone has to slave for the man to afford those products that they sell! Them Rio lines ain't cheap!

After dinner, it was off to see the show. Let me tell you something about Thunderpussy... It's rock and roll, but it incorporates a little something extra. See below for a hint of what I'm talking about.
Thunderpussy is an all lesbian Seattle based rock band. They do rock, and they also happen to be the good looking kind of lesbians, most of them at least. They get pretty liberal with their clothing and behavior when they're up on stage, and this makes for quite an entertaining show. Despite being exhausted from a night of tent sleep followed by an early morning and a day filled with activities, it was pretty much impossible not to get fired up when the Thunderpussy took the stage.
With the night coming to a close, there was talk of heading to a bar for a post-Thunderpussy drink, but alas Robbins and I decided to retire. The alarm would sound early, and we had plans to catch the first boat back to the mainland. Another PB awaited me two hours west, and it was rumored that there were some bugs coming off the old Yak.

Day 3.

In the car, I couldn't stop thinking about Terry. For those of you who read the blog as religiously as I do, there are a few posts that stick out. Posts that you remember and sometimes find yourself searching back through the blog archives to read again. "Fishing with Terry from Yakima" is one such post. . In this post, for those that haven't recently read it, Jesse met a fine gentleman at a campsite who, under the haze of many beers, seemed to be a worthy trout angler. Robbins agreed to float the Yak with this man on his "raft" only to find out the next day that Terry was floating the river from a glorified personal innertube more interested in searching for stream side trash than actually angling. The post was nothing short of incredible, but in a weird way, it was a little misleading. I arrived at the Yak half expecting to find a semi urban floatilla of rafters, kayakers, trout anglers and rednecks. What I found was considerably more scenic. 

The Yak meanders through a somewhat deep canyon with grassy cut banks and the occasional stream side stand of trees. There were a few drift boats working various sections but in all honesty I have seen more anglers in a one mile section of the Swift than I saw on the entire 12 miles we fished on the Yak. It was generally empty, and beautiful. I could barely picture Terry floating the river, his white legs spread wide so he could dip his feet in the cold water, Jesse cowering at the raft's far end, as Terry's keen eyes sought the next floating beer can. But I digress...

Jesse and I stopped in the local fly shop to grab a few winners and arrange transport before launching. We put in at a camp site at around 1030AM and almost immediately found ourselves in a continuous brown cloud. Good lord I thought to myself. This isn't a hatch. This is insanity. 

The quality of camera phone may not be the best, but those things along the water line near the shore, those brown clouds, are all bugs. Millions and millions of bugs.

It was the Mother's Day Caddis hatch, and the caddis were coming off the water in mind blowing swarms. This was going to be an unbelievable day. Every trout in that river had to be feeding. I couldn't believe what we were witnessing. Poseidon giveth. 

...And as so often is the case, Poseidon taketh away. In the sweltering sun, not a single trout broke the waters surface. We landed a few dinks right off the bat, but for a period of several hours we could not coerce a fish to rise. the 90 degree heat beat down on us. Jesse was back-paddling like a wild man in the heat, trying to put me on a Yakima PB, and I just wasn't delivering. Finally we found one surface feeder. He was tight to the bank and we spotted him far enough downstream for Jesse to drop the anchor upstream of him in a position where we could get a cast to him. After several refusals and fly switches, he finally rose to a black bodied caddis pattern, smaller in size, and of course I missed him. Although I never felt the fish, he must have felt me, because he refused to feed after the miss. Eventually we pulled anchor and continued down river, hot, disappointed and quite frankly somewhat confused. So many bugs and no fish. 

But if there is one quality the BFC has always possessed, it is perseverance. On our first ever BFC event in 2001, old man Wilkie decided we needed an ice luge. This undertaking was by no means insignificant. The ice was 30 inches thick and we had limited tools in our possession to liberate that massive block of frozen water. But we persevered. We destroyed a passerby's dog sled in the process, and likely ruined the suspension on an early 90s model Honda Accord, but hours later we had that ice luge in JB basement and we're drinking cheap whiskey from its carefully channeled canals. Yes, the BFC knows perseverance, and this day would be no different. At about 4 pm Robbins spotted a riser down stream. "10 feet off shore, 20 feet down." I took the cast an immediately lost track of my fly in the hordes of real caddis that dimpled the surface. When a big splash occurred I reactively set the hook, although I had no idea if the fish ate mine or one of the many other options drifting through its lane. But as luck with have it, I was on, and after several spirit runs Jesse netted a beautiful Yakima rainbow, and a new PB for me from the drift boat. 
Spirits were greatly improved and it seemed like things were starting to turn on. With the sun dropping lower on the horizon and occasionally falling below the surrounding canyon walls, we began to pattern the fish- tight to the banks and wherever there was some shade, throw a small black bodied caddis and hang on. For whatever reason, the natural tendency of the trout to remain reclusive during the height of the day trumped the urge to feed on the massive hatch of caddis that went on in earnest, but now that the sun was sinking lower, the fish were becoming active. Several more decent sized specimens found their way into my guides net, then we spotted a nice shady stretch on the far side of the river with several active feeders. Robbins dropped anchor close to bank and after several hours of paddling and guiding he finally had a chance to throw some cord. It's always bad news when the guide fishes. They put up numbers!
This spot would yield over 10 fish for us with many of them quite decent in size, as my guide displays above. We switched off, Jesse bringing one to net, then he would kick back and sip on a Raineer while I would do the same. We repeated this procedure until the rises around us subsided, mostly because I'm pretty darn sure we stung em all. 

Back on the drift, the bite continued to be hot. With Robbins rowing and me casting, we made for a fairly formidable pair. Some I landed, some I lost, but at that point it didn't really matter. We'd lost count of the number landed and were playing with house money. The light faded, I couldn't see my fly at all. Didn't matter. Robbins tied on a big ol' foam thing and they ate that. We spooked a couple blacktail deer along the shoreline. Big muthers... I thought the first one was a female elk. Right down to the exit ramp in the last bit of grey light, we caught fish. It was, to say the least, an epic day on the river with Jessnuts. 

After hauling out, we hit up The Tav in Ellensburg for a burger and beer and then crashed in a cheap hotel. I wanted to drink more back in the hotel room, to conjure up memories of our trips to the SR, when JACK packed into a Super 8 and turned that place into a BFC alumni party, but alas my body wouldn't let me. We had to be up and out at 6 AM so that I could make my flight back to Boston, back to reality.

When a trip such as this ends, there's always a bit of melancholy. I don't know when I'll get back to the Yak, or if, for that matter. And I bet when I fish it next time I won't be there during the caddis hatch. I don't know when I will get to camp on a beach and sit next to a fire and eat giant prawns and drink Raineers knowing that the first thing I'm going to do the next morning is catch wild sea run cutthroat trout. And sadly, there may be a time when I can't drop everything and go get some Thunderpussy when I feel like I need it. But until that day comes, I'll relish every minute of this....


Jesse Lance Robbins said...

The pleasure was all mine, sir.

Andy Cannon said...

Great read.

z-kornfeld said...

Looks like you guys covered all requisite bases! Also, Bartender Cathy let me know you swung by the brewery, thanks for checking it out.

Jasper Walsh said...

Fantastic words Keith.

Clark Winchell said...

A well rounded trip indeed. Fine work I say, fine work.

Morrell said...

Yak attack! Good shit boys. I was just in Seattle for my sister's graduation. Just for the weekend so couldn't make it to the brewery or Bainbridge but will be sure to next time