Yakima River Memories

June 28, 2007 at 9:43 am 6 comments

When we moved to Washington, 18 years ago from Wyoming, what I missed the most was the trout streams and rivers so abundant in the mountain west. I had grown used to a day or more a week on a steam or river within 15 minutes to an hour of our house.  There was nothing like that in Western Washington.

Then I discovered the Yakima River, exactly 3.25 hours from our house and for the next 16 years I travelled over to Ellensburg an average of 10 times a year.  The Yakima, with it’s 5-700 fish per mile did not compare to the rivers in Wyoming and Montana where there are as many as 10,000 fish per mile but there were fish and I learned to love the river even if I didn’t catch the same number or size of fish I was used to.  The Yak can be maddening at times.  Trips with lots of fish and then 2-3 trips with very few.  Fickle river.

The best time to fish the Yakima is during spring and fall.  During the summer I think of the river as a big irrigation canal for the farmers down stream.  During the spring and fall you can have flows of 750-1200 cubic feet per second (cfs) where as during the summer the flows are around 3500-5000 cfs.  That is the way it was yesterday.  When the water is up the trip goes faster just because the water is moving at a faster rate but worse than that, for the fly-fisher, is the places where trout hold during the spring and fall are not there.  The fish are against the bank but without someone to row for you or a way to anchor in the fast water it is pretty tough fishing.  That is why I can count on one hand the number of times I fished here during the summer.

As I was floating and fishing (not really catching) yesterday I started to think about people I had fished with over here.  Here is the list I came up with: Don Knox, Duane Carver, John Butler, Kennan Butler, Brad, Brandon, Bruce Selleg, Glen Keeffe, a guy named Larry who was a pastor in Tacoma, several people I met over here and floated with to help row and Linda floated with me one time.  She read a book.  I thought there would be more.  Maybe I am forgetting someone. 

Here are a few memories.

Duane Carver was the best fishing partner I ever had and since he grew up fishing the Yakima, though he was a spinner fisherman, he really knew the river.  He wanted to learn to fly-fish and he had a boat so we came over here together dozens of times and I tried to help him learn.  He was easy going (at that point in his life) and loved the river, so we had some wonderful floats together.  Duane and I made several trips to Alaska and Montana together to fish, so we had a lot of good times together.  My favorite memory of Duane is his first fish on a fly.  I know exactly where it was and how big it was.  He was so excited and it seemed all the fishless days were erased by that one fish. Duane passed away a few years ago and his family spread his ashes on the river.  I really missed him yesterday but in a way I felt he was there.  While I have enjoyed fishing the Yakima since Duane left, it isn’t the same

Kennan Butler had never fly fished before he came to the Yak with us, probably 10 years or more ago.  On his first cast with a fly he hooked a huge white fish (not the fish of choice) and was so proud of his catch and how easy fly-fishing was.  I don’t think he got another fish that day but the first had to be fun.  I wonder if he remembers it.

If you know Don Knox you know he does not do anything slowly.  I don’t know how old he is but I would guess he is in his 80’s.  He does everything with the intensity of a man who is afraid he will miss something fun, if he slows down.  Don and I borrowed George Valley’s double-ender pram to float the river and neither of us had ever floated it before. Not a good combination.   Within 100 yards of the put-in we were in trouble.  Don wanted to go down a side channel that was, as we discovered, virtually impassible and full of white water.  Don lost his rod in there and we almost lost everything else.  What a rodeo.  Don was a great fishing partner but not the greatest catcher of fish.  He didn’t seem to care. I miss him too.

Bruce Selleg had a drift boat and liked to fish so we came over several times.  He was new to fly-fishing so it was his turn to learn to fish and mine to learn to row.  I did catch the two biggest back-to-back trout I ever caught on the Yakima while with Bruce, but mostly I tried to help him learn while I learned to row.  He caught fish eventually and I learned to row, eventually.  If Bruce had not been paying attention and moved fast I would have tipped the boat over in a narrow section just above the old farm. I got the boat sideways on a rock and he climbed up the high side of the boat to get weight there so the boat would slide back down.  Otherwise we would have gone in, lost the boat and everything in it.  The words George Valley told me came back quickly that day and they have never left.  “When you see something dangerous you need to row around, point your bow at the danger and row backwards.  It works every time, if you do it.  Thanks Bruce for thinking and acting so quickly.  Thanks for some really fun trips.

Brad and I had some really good trips with a guide on the river.  Brandon came for one of them as well.  Using a guide on this river, or any river for that matter, greatly enhances the chances of catching fish.  We had great guy time, caught fish, and made memories, at least for me.  I think they remember too.  The first trip Brad and I made was one of those really hard days on the Yak.  Days that make you think you know nothing about catching fish on a fly.  I have had lots of them but Brad hadn’t and was a little frustrated that even a guide couldn’t have him in fish all day long.  The next time we went, he did.  I would love to fish with the guys more, but at this point in their lives it is pretty hard to find time.  Good memories of great times with great sons.

I have fished with a lot of people who fished hard but none harder then Glen Keeffe.  He is the most tenacious fisherman I have ever been around.  He was new to fly fishing when we started going together but he picked it up really fast and often caught more fish then me.  We had one really great day with our pontoons, standing in deep water all day, catching big fish and lots of them.  He was not afraid to get into positions I found a little too scary but he didn’t seem to mind and so he was rewarded with some good fish.  He fishes hard and fast and I had trouble keeping up. I thought I was teaching him!  I miss fishing with him, too.

They shall speak of the memory of your great goodness, and shall sing of your righteousness. (Psalm 145:7)

My days on the Yakima River are full of wonderful memories of the Father’s goodness.  Re-creation and relationships are perhaps the best gifts the Father has given to me.  It saddens me that some of the men with whom I fished I no longer have a relationship with, but I am expecting one day the Father will restore them. 

If you like to fish, ski,  paint, run, play music or whatever, invite someone along and build a friendship and a partner in the pursuit of God’s goodness.  Memories are waiting.


Entry filed under: Culture, Faith, Family, Fly-Fishing, Friendship, Northwest, Thoughts.

Thoughts that make me go “hmmm”. The River of Life.

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kenan Butler  |  July 3, 2007 at 7:23 am

    I remember that trip very well and catching that white fish was great and a bummer at the same time. It was really cool to catch something on my first trip, but I wanted it to be something better than a whitefish. I miss Mr. Carver he was a good man that is missed everyday by many people. And yes Don Knox still seizes life everyday like a drowning man grabs a life preserver. Good Post

  • 2. Royal  |  June 28, 2007 at 10:35 pm

    This post really struck a chord with me and sent a bunch of memories that I have not thought of in a long while flooding back in like the tide. I have been fishing the waters of the world for 25 years, and I have fished with many people. Some of them are still on my list of fishing partners, some of them are not, and some are fishing the great waters in Heaven. There is nothing more rewarding to me than putting a rookie on thier first fish. The excitement, exhiliration, and exuberance that they ooze is intoxicating. I remember when my wife caught her first Steelhead, Silver, Chinook, and Harvest Trout. All separate days, all just as gratifying. I hope that when God takes me that I am in the middle of battling one of his greatest creations. I also wish that one day Greg and I will actually get to go fishing together, we have talked about it, made plans, but never made it. By the way Greg, Western Washington is full of rivers that are packed with fish. You just need to know how to fish for fish that are a little larger than trout.

  • 3. Kasey  |  June 28, 2007 at 7:49 pm

    I always wanted to fish with you. My name should have been on this list. . .and maybe it will be someday.

  • 4. Mike S  |  June 28, 2007 at 7:44 pm

    we leave Saturday for one of your favorite Wyoming places. Wish you were joining us as we had planned. Hope you are not upset with me for bringing this up.
    I remember the time we took our kids over on the tongue; when Justin and I found a cow and her calf in the place we had hoped to go. The big herd we saw every day on the way over to the Tongue.
    I remember most the time we had there two years ago. Fishing makes memories.
    I even remember Dad taking us up Shell Canyon and we are catching almost nothing and we don’t know until the end of the day that he has a bunch in his creel.
    Have fun; glad you are fishing.

  • 5. BS  |  June 28, 2007 at 3:33 pm

    the best memories i have of fly-fishing are in wyoming…
    in fact, the best memories of fishing period are in wyoming.
    you remember that one little creek up in the big horns where paul and i would just dangle a worm or just a hook and would catch some crazy little brookies?
    and the the sawmill lakes where you caught that huge rainbow?
    i remember paul and i thinking you were the coolest dad in the world.
    one of things i respect most about you, dad, is the fact that you CAN fish and you are dang good at it.
    i haven’ met a better fly-fisherman [well maybe i have but i don’t remember them] than you and am greatful and thankful for ALL of our times fishing…on whatever river/lake/stream/creek we were on.
    thanks for those memories, dad!

  • 6. Doug Wright  |  June 28, 2007 at 1:22 pm

    It is nice to read a passionate text that brings similar memories. Thanks for the glance into the pond of memory.

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