THE ANGLING REPORT
November 2005 Vol. 18, No. 11
“SERVING THE ANGLER WHO TRAVELS”
A MONTHLY NEWSLETTER $5
IN THIS ISSUE: DATELINE: WASHINGTON
Seattle-Based Trip Is A Real Winner
(Editor Note: Online Extra subscriber Randy McAllister was recently picked by us to take part in a free, multi-day trout/ salmon trip around Seattle , Washington , put together by Dave McCoy, head guide/owner of a company called Emerald Water Anglers, with the understanding that he would file a report afterward on how things went. Here is that report. See box on page 4 for more information on our “FREE FISHING” Program.)
Read report on The Angling Report website
When I was picked recently for a free, three-day fishing program put together by Emerald Water Anglers in Seattle , Washington , I was intrigued to say the least. Though I currently live in Kansas , I cut my teeth fly fishing in the Cascades and in the seep lakes of central Washington back in the late 70s and early 80s. I particularly enjoyed exploring the smaller rivers and creeks and fishing for the native trout that seem to cling by their pectoral fins to a precarious existence. A teaser for this trip was that it included the chance to fish a secret small mountain creek populated with native West slope cutthroats. Dave McCoy, head guide/owner of Emerald Water Anglers and I had everything all worked out for my September 12 through 14 trip. But then problems began to emerge. Seems McCoy blew out his knee playing soccer and had to have surgery just prior to my arrival. That meant alternate arrangements had to be made for several of the guide staff to rotate fishing days with me. The next problem was the weather. I learned about that when I met Mark Freda, my guide for my first day of fishing on the Snoqualmie River .
On the Saturday before my arrival, Freda hooked and landed a 35-pound king salmon on a fly from the pool we started fishing in. Unfortunately we were unable to duplicate the feat. Seems the Northwest had a very dry fall this year, and the lack of precipitation made the return to the spawning rivers for the sea-run cutthroat trout, salmon and steelhead difficult. Just a couple of days before my trip, a burst of water from rains had raised the river levels and stimulated movement of fish upstream. That meant, on my first day of fishing, that fish holding in the pools had pushed upstream, and the fish holding offshore had not had enough time to arrive as replacements. The setting, however, was magnificent. Within a few minutes of urban sprawl, Freda and I were alone on the river with the best pool to ourselves, swinging bright pink flies on a weighted leader on an eight-weight Sage. Not finding any salmon, we turned our attention to trout as the day warmed. Mayflies popped out sporadically, and we fished the runs and riffles with fair success for resident rainbow trout to eight or nine inches. Small Adams parachutes were the ticket. We also watched two deer sneak to the river’s edge for a drink. They were framed by the forest and river and backlit by the sun. Too bad neither of us was equipped with a camera. Around 1:30 pm, we made our way high up into the Cascades beyond Snoqualmie Pass. Freda exited I-90 on a Forest Service Road, and we wound around through forested areas until we came to a beautiful mountain creek. The waters were emerald and crystal clear. The creek descended through a series of large boulders that formed plunge pools with runs and pocket water in between, all holding West slope cutthroat. I borrowed a Sage 00-weight which was perfect for these, although my three-weight sufficed as well.
While I fished, Freda grilled salmon and vegetables, which was accompanied by cold beverages, appetizers and dessert. After lunch, Freda and I alternated pools, fishing our way up toward the headwaters. The creek was idyllic. It yielded its fish begrudgingly, as befits such a special place. The best flies were small Adams parachutes and small Stimulators. The old man of one stretch gave himself up – a beautiful 10-inch cutthroat in full color. We were back in Seattle by 6:30 pm due to a prior engagement on my part.
Day Two was scheduled as a wade fishing trip for sea-run cutthroats, salmon on the beaches of Puget Sound . Unfortunately, still another problem emerged. Seems my intended guide was struck by a car while riding his bicycle the day before, landing him in the hospital. Dave McCoy tried his best to arrange an alternative trip, including volunteering to accompany me in the car to the beaches on the Sound though he was only four days post-op with his knee repair, in a splint and on crutches. I have some experience with that sort of condition and deferred.
Fortunately, my first-day guide, Mark Freda, managed to get away in the afternoon and met me in West Seattle around 3 pm for a unique opportunity. He wanted to take a couple of sea kayaks to a small park and paddle around fishing to slicks and current edges for salmon. We actually pushed off about 3:30 pm and had a most delightful time paddling and fly fishing the areas around Williams Point and Brace Point. These points bracket the Vashon Ferry Terminal. Tidal shifts create current edges and seams, which cause the formation of slicks and debris lines. The herring gather here, drawing the predatory salmon. We were not blind casting to endless open water, but focusing on this “structure” and hoping to find salmon busting bait. While we were unsuccessful in locating such activity, I did have a hard pull from a salmon as I was lifting my blue-over- silver herring fly for another cast. The boil within five feet of the kayak bow was exciting. Near sunset, we beached the kayaks and fished from the shore. Where rocky beaches are found, the sea-run cutthroats tend to congregate. We fished light-colored Clouser minnows without success but were able to view a beautiful sunset over the Olympic Mountains.
That evening, I had dinner with McCoy, his staff and their significant others. We shared fishing stories, and I had the opportunity to develop a feel for the type of guides McCoy employs and their experience level. Many are well-traveled and come from other areas, with some having extensive Rocky Mountain guiding experience. McCoy formed his company, Emerald Water Anglers, in 1998 when he relocated from Colorado . Since 2000, business has blossomed. They offer trips to several rivers in Oregon , including the John Day , as well as many sites in Washington, both in salt and fresh water. All of the staff were highly personable and seemed to approach fly fishing and guiding with enthusiasm.
Day Three. Ryan Smith, my guide for the day, and I both left Seattle around 6:30 am for a trip to the Yakima River in central Washington . We met at the Avid Angler in Lake Forest Park . The former owner of this shop was the fellow who taught me to tie flies 25 years ago. The shop is the preferred one for Emerald Water Anglers, and it was enjoyable to return, even though the location was new and the shop had become more upscale. The shop has everything a visiting angler could need. Smith and I headed over Snoqualmie Pass to the eastern edge of the Cascades, where the forest begins to transition into sagebrush desert. We stopped along the way and fished a lovely stretch of the Yakima for a couple of hours. The water was perfect for wading, and the river was about 50 feet wide. The pools and riffles were simply delightful. We fished a variety of techniques and flies. I had not had much experience with high-stick nymphing without an indicator. Smith demonstrated this technique and helped me perfect the drift. We also fished the runs with small Stimulators, cone head natural bunny streamers and several nymphs. We hooked a few fish; the largest might have been 12 inches on a Stimulator. We traveled on to Ellensburg and stopped for lunch at a local cafe before heading south into the Yakima canyon. We put in at a private ramp and floated about three miles to the Lmuma access. The weather was cooperative for the most part – partly cloudy and in the 70s. Late in the day, the wind made casting a 3 weight a bit challenging. We fished a variety of dries, mostly in tandem with a Cutter’s caddis followed by an emerger or terrestrial. Fish came to both flies equally. Much of the canyon reminds me of a smaller version of the Missouri River near the Dearborn – high rocky cliffs and some rangeland with a set of railroad tracks on the west bank. We encountered some size 12 mayfly spinners in a mating flight but were unable to identify them, and none fell on the water to bring up fish. We fished to sporadic risers and likely spots with success on fish up to 15 inches with very strong, bright-silver rainbows with good athleticism. I had floated the Yakima 20 years ago and was not impressed then. I can say without reservation that the “blue-ribbon” designation the stream now carries is deserved. It is a fairly classic western trout stream with all the assorted features that accompany such waterways. We did not encounter a fishable hatch, but at the takeout a sizable spinner fall of #20 small tan mayflies was occurring in very shallow water. No fish were rising. I fished a small streamer through likely holding water at the takeout and had a strong pull. However, I did not hook up. We encountered one small problem arranging a shuttle that necessitated some creativity. However, it worked out fine in the end. We arrived back in Seattle around 9:45 pm.
My overall impression of this trip and the services offered by Emerald Water Anglers is very positive. The Northwest has suffered from low-water conditions and a freshet coupled with the fall descent just prior to my arrival made the conditions more challenging. Still, fishing is not all about catching in my opinion – though that is important at some level. As a famous writer noted, “fishing is curiosity running harmlessly amok.” My curiosity was both satisfied and piqued. I gauge my experience with guides simply – at the end of the day, is this someone that I would go fishing with as a buddy if the opportunity existed? Without question, I enjoyed fishing with the guides from Emerald Water Anglers and would definitely “just fish” if the chance arose. I sampled only a small part of the buffet of angling available to their clients. There are few places where one might hook a 35-pound king salmon in the morning and a 10-inch cutthroat from a high mountain creek in the afternoon. I have pondered the suitability of this trip for the average angler and the niche that Emerald Water Anglers occupies for readers of The Angling Report . I think it unlikely that anglers will choose Seattle as a destination trip in the same way they would choose Idaho , Montana or Alaska . However, Seattle is a spouse-friendly environment, and the variety of options offered by Emerald Water Anglers is impressive. Most of these are absolutely suited to adding on to a trip to Seattle for business, family or pleasure. Coupled with the availability of rods, reels and wading gear as provided by Emerald Water Anglers, a day of fishing in the salt or on any number of rivers and creeks is a treat.
While I personally would like to see McCoy develop the saltwater fishery access a bit more, for anglers uncomfortable or incapable of wading or using kayaks he has made arrangements with a fellow guide who has a Grady White power boat suitable for fly fishing to cover some of the same waters. I did not have time to look into the accommodations that McCoy suggested as lodging alternatives and did not need to as I stayed with friends. I am very familiar with one however, the Edgewater Inn (www. edgewaterhotel.com). It is on the waterfront in Seattle and is famous for allowing guests to fish from their rooms. The Beatles even fished from a room on a visit to Seattle once. Emerald Water Anglers has developed informal relationships with other area lodges, too, such as Salish Lodge & Spa (www.salishlodge.com ) at Snoqualmie Falls . For the visiting spouse, the Edgewater and the Inn at the Market ( www.inatthemarket.com ) near Pike Place Market offer lodging near a multitude of choices for exploration and discovery while the angling spouse spends a day afield. A day’s fishing with Emerald Water Anglers is priced according to the activity chosen but generally varies between $275 for a half-day for one or two anglers to $350 for a full day for one or two anglers. Gear can be provided as needed, and the prices include guide fees, lunch, beverages, leaders, tippets and flies. Emerald Water Anglers is the largest guide service in Seattle . The web address is: ewa.wpengine.com . Dave McCoy is available at 206-545-2197 (office) or 206-601-0132 (cell). I would be pleased to answer any questions about the experiences described. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. – Randy McAllister.