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Trout Bums At Large

Trout Bums at Large is a monthly column appearing in the Yakima Herald-Republic. The column is written by Randal Sumner and Mark Littleton. We will be keeping an archive of these articles on this page.

Road Trip to Paradise May, 2001

The last of April provided some beautiful hot weather, and as the temperature went up so did the Yakima River. Spring runoff: the bane of trout bums everywhere. The Yakima turned from low, clear and perfect to brown churning soup.

The trout bums have a contingency plan for this annual event: we take a road trip to the Deschutes River in Oregon. Our day started with a healthy dose of bacon and eggs. The bacon grease surging in our veins, we loaded the gear in Mark's Suburban, Goldie and drove like the wind. The trip to Maupin is only about two and a half hours. Dropping down the hill into Maupin from The Dalles you get your first glimpse of the nasty old Deschutes boiling down the canyon. It's big, it's fast, it's deep, the color is emerald green, you instantly recall the misery and frustration of fishing here, there is some hyperventilating. I used to have the same gut response cresting the road to the North Shore of Oahu and first seeing the surf at Haleiwa, surf bums, trout bums.

After buying a fishing license at the lumberyard we cross the river and make a stop at Canyon River Fly Shop. The owners John and Karen Smeraglio are both there to chat. I like these people and I have an idea John is a fine angler. The shop's inventory is no nonsense, just the good stuff. John gives us his usual vague, dreamy fishing advice. I understand, after all he is a fly fishing guide.

Here is what I know about fly-fishing productively on the Deschutes, you will be nymphing all day. Yes there are hatches and they can be fabulous, but mostly its deep water dredging, which I personally love. Real men Nymph. Fishing from a boat is illegal so you will be wading and walking all day. The wading is tough. Huge slimy boulders, deep pockets, fast currents and really steep ledge drop off's take there toll. As for the walking it's no picnic either. The Deschutes River canyon is perfect rattlesnake habitat. Unless you're from Australia most people I know find it a tad disconcerting to stroll among the vipers, bit dicey mate. Then there is the relentless wind howling through the bottom of the canyon, which is blessing considering the blast furnace air temperatures.

Why do we bother to fish here at all? I suppose its simple; this is great trout fishery that demands your full attention, skills, and respect. When you think you know something about trout fishing take it to the Deschutes and see how you do.

With all of that said this is the time (15th of May to the 15th of June) to be down on the Deschutes to fish the salmon fly hatch. Huge dry flies fished in the late afternoons, if you catch this hatch right it can make you look for real estate in Maupin.

What Are They Doing Up There April, 2001

When people hear that I am a fisherman, they often have a misconception about what I am doing on the river. More than once Randal has said to me "You know, people think we are drinking up here". On some level I can understand why people might get the wrong idea. Although we fish a lot, we never bring home any fish. I think most people think that I am sitting on the bank of the river drinking beer while I listen for the bell attached to my fishing pole. Although I enjoy a good drink as much as anyone, I never drink when I am fishing and I never put a bell on my flyrod.

I haven't killed a trout in years. The trout bums are catch and release fishermen. Some people, especially older people, can't understand this catch and release business. Why would you go to all of that trouble to go catch fish, and then just throw them back? Those who know a little more about my fishing habit are even more horrified. " Do you mean you spent thousands of dollars on gear, spend every spare moment you can fishing, and never keep the fish? What's the point? (and by the way, ARE YOU INSANE?! )"

I don't fish to eat. I don't really like the taste of trout all that well, I prefer halibut or tuna. The wild trout in the Yakima River are too valuable to kill. These are our precious jewels. They are a lot more fun to catch than they are to eat. Wild trout, the product of eons of evolution, are perfectly adapted to their native environment. Each wild trout of any size is a remarkable survivor, literally one in a thousand. Only the strongest, toughest, smartest and luckiest survive to maturity. Predators, cold winters, and periods when there is a shortage of available food take a tremendous toll on young trout.

These trout are our partners in this game. If we started killing all we catch, there would be very few left. After a year or two, there would be almost no big fish left. There are approximately 500 fish per mile in the Yakima River. It would only take a few really good fishermen to devastate the trout fishery in this river. Since the Yakima River is a catch and release fishery above Rosa Dam, the hundreds of fishermen that fish the Yakima River can enjoy a world-class fishery indefinitely.

The March Brown hatch is just about through for the year. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Next month should be even better though. The Caddis hatches have already started and soon we will have Pale Morning Duns. There are an unusual number of Giant Stoneflies along the banks of the river this year. With water levels much lower than usual for this time of year, you will be able to access places that are normally unfishable without a boat. It is shaping up to be a great year for the trout bums.

Patterns for May: PMD Patterns - Yellow mayfly patterns in sizes 12-16. Caddis Patterns - Dark green caddis patterns in sizes 12-16. Stonefly Pattern - The largest orange stimulator you can find (these things are as big as my little finger).

Gear March, 2001

Well troutbums we fished through another winter season; this was a particularly fine one, great fun, but now that spring is here its time to get serious. This is the time of year when we need to spend money on new gear. I come from the "Trash it and get more" school of fishing gear.Troutbums look for performance and efficiency in the gear they use. Fly-fishing gear is expensive, what do we need, what's good? The catalogs are piling up next to the bed, the pressure is on. No worries, I'm here to help. What follows are some questions the Troutbums have received in the mail.

Dear Troutbum: My 54 year old husband will be retiring next month and I want to buy him a new fly fishing pole. What do you recommend? He is five foot seven and looks like a bear. Fishing Spouse

Dear Fishing Spouse: Buy him a new Loomis GL3, 9ft. 4wt., shave his back and let him run free. Troutbum

This is one fine all-purpose fishing instrument, trust me.

Dear Troutbum: I'm having difficulty deciding between a $400 trout reel and $800 titanium impregnated full disk large arbor trout reel machined to tolerances of a nuclear trigger. Puzzled in Yakima

Dear Puzzled: Wow, this is a tough one. It's good you're seeking professional help. Have you looked at the Ross Gunnison reel? It has an excellent drag system, its light and rugged. Unfortunately it is reasonably priced, but you could always buy more than one. Troutbum

Dear Troutbum : My floating line is sinking more than it's floating, I have to dress it all the time, and time is money. It drives me out of my mind. Henny

Dear Henny: What is up with that? Buy a new RIO fly line, it fishes great; but the truth is, fly line is disposable it just gets tired from use. Don't fool with it, buy a new line once in a while, after all your not married to it. . Troutbum

Its fun to get new gear. There is a lot more to say about waders, boots, vests, etc perhaps another time. The fly-fishing year is going by way to fast, it's almost April so before you spend all that money, promise yourself time on the river too use it. Troutbums can always get more gear; it's the time we can't afford to waste.

Spring fly-fishing on the Yakima River can be a lot of things, what it won't be is predictable. So be prepared for an hour hatch of bluewing's, or an afternoon of Skwala stoneflies in the sun. The water temp is rising nicely, fish some stonefly or March Brown nymphs. Pay attention to the changing weather and bug conditions.

Soft Hackles February, 2001

I tie my own flies. Store bought flies look great, almost too perfect. I think most of them are designed to sell flies, not to catch fish. They are too heavily dressed. Most commercial flies are tied overseas and the people who tie them have never seen a trout. I think the less is more theory applies to flies. My flies tend to be very sparse and rarely do they look "perfect" to humans. I am constantly inventing "new" patterns. Almost all of my new patterns are just a variation on some existing pattern using different materials or by adding or subtracting parts of existing patterns.

When I go fishing I usually take along a nymph net made of some screen door material attached to two handles. You hold this down vertically on the bottom of the river while you kick around some rocks upstream. When you pull the net up you will find a sample of the type of bugs that live in the river. In a rich river like the Yakima, there will be a lot of bugs. Those small black, brown and green slimy things are what the fish are eating, and what you are trying to imitate. You don't have to tie those perfect flies like you see at the fly shop; almost anyone can tie something that looks like the nymphs in the net. If it is messy and the right size and color, and you put it in front of a fish, the fish will probably try to eat it.

One type of fly I have become a believer in, is the soft hackle. I think that you can make almost any nymph better by adding a soft hackle to it. Soft hackle flies are an ancient invention and modern flyfishermen don't often use them. My experience with them has been very satisfactory. I use them a lot. You wont find many soft hackled flies available for sale, so you pretty much have to tie your own. I think the undulating movement of the soft hackle makes the fly look alive to the fish. A soft hackle is tied with soft webby feathers, not the stiff feathers used for dry flies. You can use any of a wide variety of feathers for soft hackles. The most common soft hackle feather is the partridge. If you can find the right size of feather for the fly you are tying, it is hard to go wrong with partridge. These feathers tend to be variegated and range from gray to brown (good bug colors).

This month we have had some unbelievably good days fishing deep with stonefly nymphs and a smaller dropper. We didn't catch lots of fish, but the ones we caught were big. Nymph fishing with stoneflies and smaller bead heads should continue to be good until the Skawala's, March Browns and Blue Winged Olives start hatching later in March and April.

Motivation January 25, 2001

I'll admit I'm in a bit of a rut; I tend to fish with the same worn out trout bums. It's comfortable. These guys are serious anglers and they tend to be very low maintenance companions.

A few months ago I got a call from my cousin Chris; could I teach him to fly fish? Sure I could show him the ropes,but why? What I mean is , Chris is a terrific golfer , he drives a new Saab and is well groomed. I looked at it as challenge, was it possible to build a trout bum from this kind of material?

We didn't get to the river until the last part of October. The Yakima River canyon is gorgeous that time of year; the water is low and clear. The water temperature is in low 50's and the trout are moving to the flies with serious intent. When I talked to Chris on the phone and as we rode out to the river he seemed to be preoccupied with learning the casting stroke. The stroke I found out is what golf seems to base on. It's your form while whacking the ball that is really important. I don't golf.

I explained to him that the rod and line manufactures whole existence is making gear that will cast well. Its true, all modern fly rods cast great, even the cheap ones. That's there purpose. The difference in rods is that some fish much better than others, we are here to fish not cast.

After climbing into our waders I put the gear together explaining the leader system I use for NYMPHING. Yes I started him NYMPHING. It may seem cruel but Chris didn't know the difference. For you non-trout bums I'll explain; nymph fishing is fishing subsurface, essentially bouncing your flies off or near the bottom of the riverbed. That is where the trout live most of the time. We started with a #6 stonefly nymph, a pheasant tail dropper and a splitshot with a huge strike indicator on nine feet of leader and a floating line. Now try casting that mess. Not exactly " A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT" kind of image. It's taken me a long time to enjoy this facet of fly-fishing. Its not for everyone, I know some pretty fine anglers that consider NYMPHING a trip to the dark side of our sport. You should also know that nymphing the deep runs does produce the big trout. The down side is that you'll lose a lot of flies and leaders to the big rocks. It's important to realize that you will be neither casting nor fishing much of the time; you will be rebuilding your gear. Relax, think of it as character building.

Chris is turning out to be a natural. He's stopped thinking about his casting. My sense is he's not thinking at all. His motivation is pure trout bum, he's just glad to be there. On the other hand in a few short trips he has hooked at least three huge trout, wait till spring and he finds out about dry fly fishing.

February fishing on the Yakima River should start to pick up a bit, although we've had great winter midge fishing, its pretty much a single dish entr´┐Że. You might want to devote some time to tying your new spring menu. Here are few suggestions; skawala stoneflies, march brown's, pale morning duns, dries,nymphs,and emergers.

Winter Fishing December 28, 2000

When I tell people I'm going flyfishing this time of year, they look at me with disbelief. It often draws comments like "you don't really go fishing when its this cold" or, "are you insane?". I never tell them that I am not insane. Its been my experience that the more emphatically you deny being crazy, the crazier you seem. It is just the opposite however. I don't go fishing in the winter because I am crazy, I do it to maintain what little sanity I have left.

My wife Katie, knows that my attitude can take a serious turn for the worse when I am stuck inside for more than a few days. She has seen "The Shining" and knows how dangerous cabin fever can be. She will start to make comments like "are you going fishing tomorrow?" or "why don't you go fishing?" Katie knows me, and my moods better than anyone. Maybe that's why she hides the axe in December.

Winter is not the most productive time to flyfish. The fishing is rarely fast and furious, but we almost always catch some fish when we go. There is more to fishing than catching big fish. It is a chance to get outside. For some reason, as much as I love to be outside, I don't go outside in the winter unless I have an excuse. Fishing is as good an excuse as any. I almost always see unexpected and interesting things while I am out on the Yakima River. Last week I saw a male bighorn sheep running full speed across the road and up into the hills. The sight of that powerfully built animal charging up the hill is burned into my memory. I think it is interesting that the most memorable thing about a fishing trip often has nothing to do with fishing, except that you only saw it because you were there to fish.

If you decide to go winter fishing, take another trout bum. The cold weather and cold water make for a dangerous combination. A friend of ours fell in twice in 30 seconds recently. His waders filled up with water and he was struggling to get back on his feet the second time. His fishing partner waded over and helped him to shore. He probably would have been okay without any help, but then again, maybe not. Wear warm clothes, and avoid cotton. Cotton is for summer. It retains moisture and keeps you cold when wet. Wool, polypro, and polyester will wick away the moisture and you will warm up much faster if you get wet.

The trout tend to feed in groups in the winter. Look for pods of rising fish in shallow slow moving water in the afternoon. We have had success lately with black midge emergers and chronomid nymphs in size 16 to 22. The takes are often imperceptible, but satisfying.

Go try winter fishing for yourself. If anyone says you are crazy for doing it, just give them your best Jack Nicholson smile.

November 30, 2000

It's winter now, the time of year that trout bums rest and heal up from the trout wars. We've trashed all of our gear, tied hundreds of flies, baked ourselves in the sun and swam for it a few times.

This is no time for man nor beast on the Yakima River. The water temperature is 40 degrees, air temperature 35. It is overcast and snowing lightly. You get the call -- midges. The Monsters of the Midgeway, size 20-24 black dry flies. Black flies on dark water in a snowfall, it is beautiful.

The trout, if they are taking midges, will be in the slack water and along the foam lines. The fish are sipping tiny bugs -- the canyon is so quiet. You can leave most of your summer gear in the garage. Rod, reel, 6x leaders and a little box of midges is all that is required. You can also leave the Gore-Tex waders behind. This is neoprene fishing. Hard-core.

In my truck I keep a bag of fishing clothes. Fuzzy pants, wool sox, a fleece scarf and Old Blackie. Actually, Old Blacky II, or Son of Old Blackie -- a gorgeous, wool V-neck army sweater made in England. This garment has seen some terrific flyfishing from Kings in Alaska to Grayling in Montana. Old Blackie has a kind of charm only wool can acquire. I like to think of it as a fat sheep hugging me ... although I don't think of it this way often.

This year, Consider adding a wool sweater to your gear. You really don't need a new rod or reel. A purchase of a wool sweater made in England of Scottish/English wool will -- unlike a new plastic rod -- add some soul to your flyfishing journey.

Several winters ago I was fishing the Yakima up at the Lone Pine stretch when it began to snow. Across the river the bighorn sheep were moving down the hillside. Those sheep looked warm and happy. Wool.

Best fishing conditions for winter midwinter Yakima River midging: clowdy, wind-free days, air temperature of 38 to 40 degrees.

Flies: Griffiths Gnats work, but the best midge pattern I've seen was originated by a local master tier by the name of Dick Sackman. You will have to see him for the recipe. After all, this is secret winter fishing.