Pacific NW Fly Fishing
June 19, 2006
by John Pietropaoli
The Pacific Northwest is held in high esteem by much of the fly fishing cognoscent for many fresh and saltwater salmonid species. Although the waters of Washington State can be prolific for both salt and freshwater fly fishers, as a non-resident, in order to fish these waters, a priority for a successful adventure relies heavily upon accurate and specific fisheries information.
The myriad waterways from Puget Sound inland to the large steelheading rivers and further to the small freestone creeks of the Cascade and Olympia mountain ranges offer world-class fly-fishing. But only to those who understand them and understand them well. For this reason, for those of us from distant locales and unfamiliar with this region, unraveling the secrets of these waters can also potentially present world-class headaches.
Enter Emerald Water Anglers. EWA is a full service guiding and outfitting operation owned and created by Dave McCoy that is custom designed for the “out-of-towner”. In addition to superlative personal knowledge of the Pacific Northwest region and its piscine inhabitants, Dave has assembled a crew of professional guides that provide a knowledge base that is likely unequaled in the region. “Flexibility is key”, says Dave. “Because our guides understand the variety of terrain, hydrology, climate shifts and species in the region, as long as the client is flexible we have a high success of getting fishermen onto fish. We can match our guests to the area or species that is best for the conditions that particular day and usually we can accommodate clients on very short notice. If climate or conditions change, so can we– assuming the angler maintains a flexible mindset.”
Did I mention that Dave’s outfit is custom designed for the non-resident angler? I recently traveled to Seattle from Maryland on business. I was hoping to arrange a guided trip for a day or two following the business meetings. I attempted to contact multiple guide services by email before my journey with limited success. To add insult to injury, an airline entanglement resulted in a lost piece of luggage. That particular piece of baggage just happened to contain my rod, vest, waders and boots. To make a very long story short, the end result was me arriving in Seattle for the business conference without any of my fly-fishing gear. I contacted one of the local fly shops with whom Dave is networked and they put me in touch with him.
When I advised Dave of my predicament, after the obligatory snickers and airline jokes, Dave assured me that this was no problem. He could provide the rod, the reel, the flies, the waders, the boots and maybe, if I was feeling a little luckier, even the fish. Furthermore, since I was hotel-bound in Seattle without a rental car, he would provide the transportation to and from the lobby of my hotel.
The afternoon that my business meeting ended, I found myself knee deep in the waters of Puget Sound watching Oncorhynchus clarki clarki —costal “sea-run” cutthroat trout actively chasing baitfish. Dave has provided all the gear. And this isn’t just any gear, this is top shelf stuff. I’m in breathable Patagonia gortex waders with a 6 weight R.L. Winston BIIx rod and a Lamson large arbor reel, floating Rio line with a shooting head and hand-tied flies by Dave himself. Wow. This package makes even me look and function passably.
The boils and rings from the slashing Cuts are far more impressive than the gear, however. With a couple quick strips on Dave’s special candlefish pattern ( a secret hybrid of sparsly tied irredescent polar bear hairs and epoxy), I’ve got the fishes attention. The fish turns, follows, wakes, boils and suddenly the line is tight to a ten inch cartwheeling mini-Trident submarine. This is visual fishing at it’s best and gives as good a squeeze as any to the fly-fishers adrenal glands. Once to the net, these animals are nothing shy of truly spectacular jewels to momentarily behold before a quick and careful release.
Day 2 of my adventure with Emerald Water Anglers is spent with master Steelhead angler Brian Paige. We are floating the upper reaches of the Skykomish River , known to most around here as simply “The Sky”. For anyone who has fished for the mighty Steelhead knows, this type of fishing is not for the faint-of-heart. “Catching wild or hatchery summer Steelhead in the vastness of these big waters takes endless persistence and patience”, says Brian. He adds that, “on average a fly angler will spend between 40 to 60 hours of casting per fish. And you have to cover a lot of water with each cast. These aren’t dainty little spring creek casts. The most successful fly-fisherman are throwing 60 to 80 feet of line per cast. You have to be efficient with your motions or you’ll be toasted in a couple of hours. Many out here are turning back to Spey-casting to lay out more line and mend more efficiently. The drift has to be just so.” I can testify that there is a new creaking and popping sensation in my right wrist and elbow after spending the day with Brian.
Again, I was picked up at my hotel lobby by Brian with Hyde drift boat in tow. We headed north out of Seattle for about an hour to the put-in point, where Brian expertly launched the craft and after reviewing a few safety instructions, we were on our way. If nothing else, this was one of the most breath-taking rivers I have ever seen. Nestled in the sheer cliffs and snow-packed peaks of the Cascade Range , the views were spellbinding and distracting from the task at hand. Enough so that Brian had to continuously, but gently urge me to pay attention to the waking drift of my strike indicator.
The morning passed relatively uneventfully as Brian deftly maneuvered the drift boat to a gravel bar for lunch. While he prepared for the meal, he positioned me at the upper end of a seam between a riffle and a slick against the near bank. The metronome like monotony of the ‘cast-mend-drift-retrieve-cast-mend-drift-retrieve’ had become so relaxing that when the large Steelhead struck and rolled on the umptieth ‘…drift…’ I think I was in a state of deep conscious sedation. Before I could recognize or register the event, the line had pulled, the fish had flashed a white and gun-metal grey roll, the rod had hooped and straightened and all as barely a half second elapsed from our 8 hour journey.
I must have looked as if I’d seen a ghost (actually as I write this, it almost seems as if I did), or maybe I uttered a grunt of some kind, because as Brian turned to look at me a moment later, he said very nonchalantly, “When you least expect it….”. “How’d you know”, I asked somewhat ashamedly. “Been there more than I care to admit”, was his only response.
Did I mention the shore lunch? This was a gourmet meal that added more than just a dash of luxury to these wild and untamed environs. Grilled steaks and potatoes, with smoked cheese and crackers that tasted better than the best steak-houses in Seattle . “Sure would have been nice to have a little surf-and-turf”, needled my mentor.
By the way, if your interested in learning to cast the mighty spey-rod, in addition to or instead of learning the ways of the Steelhead, you may want to look-up this guy. He throws a hundred feet of line as effortlessly as a Zen-master. He was even able to teach me how to throw a presentable cast without piercing either of our ears.
The afternoon passed behind us as did the majestic spikes of the Cascades. Again, his perceptiveness as sharp as his hand-tied Steelhead flies Brian must have sensed a note of melancholy in my demeanor. As he rowed us into the take-out point he offhandedly offered out-of-the-blue, “some people wait a lifetime just to roll a fish like that on a fly, you should consider yourself lucky indeed.”
I do Brian, I do.
To reach Dave or Brian use the following contact information:
Emerald Water Anglers
7710 28 th Avenue SW
Seattle , WA 98126