Tagging Along on the Cle Elum

The initial steps had been conquered: read fly fishing books half-way, conduct outreach to companies until they fork over some gear, organize a casting lesson, fail at initial casting lesson…I wanted to leave the city and fish, and I wasn’t ready or deserving of fish. Deep down, I like to believe that I knew this, but I can’t be sure.

In a characteristically impatient fashion, I tagged along with a group of three friends for a day of fishing on the Cle Elum river. Everyone in the group was equipped with a classic fly rod and I with my tenkara rod. Moreover, everyone in the group was equipped with experience and the humility required for the sport.

We drove out of the city early on Saturday morning, stopped by Trader Joe’s for sustenance and in Roslyn for a restroom. Upon locating a decent parking spot near the dam, where we would make our first attempts for rainbow, we hopped out of the Land Cruiser to gear up. As I pulled my Redington waders on (brand new), I was suddenly overcome with excitement to get on the river and “really fish.” Looking back, I am sure my comrades must have put up with my jitters as though I was their kid sister; not quite prepared for the excursion but there nonetheless.

We traipsed down a trail with our packs and fly rods and perched near the dam, basing our decision off of a rumor we’d heard about trout holding closer to the dam than one might expect. Having been out fishing once - and only on a lake - I was somehow highly confident in my knot-tying skills and explained to one of my friends how to tie his fly onto his line. In retrospect, my confusion over why I had lost so many flies that day would likely be remedied if I could just admit that my knot skills were very poor at the time.

As my companions took up their posts and began casting, I elongated the tenkara rod “telescope” style and prepared to practice casting. Tenkara casting is, in theory, simple - and that is a significant reason behind Yvon Chouinard’s affection for the Japanese approach to fly fishing. I recalled the videos I’d recently watched about tenkara casting: focus on making quick, twitching movements with the rod, keep the fly active, etc. No one had any luck near the dam. We moved down the river.

By now, we were all cursing the wind, which was mostly incessant for the duration of our fishing day. I took turns using the traditional fly rods in lieu of my tenkara to practice casting and was soon privy to the unique type of frustration that comes from tangled lines, unintended knots in line, and aggressive yanks on the line as it holds onto trees, bushes, rocks, and anything else for dear life. I’m told that I haven’t had my fair share of tangles yet, but the perfectionist in me was adequately discouraged that day. To top things off, I ripped my brand new pair of waders while foolishly climbing over a log.

After hours of casting against the wind, moving down the river, meeting the wind again and moving even further down the river, we found a rocky bank with lots of riffles, logs, and large rocks that looked like they could be appealing for holding fish. By now, though, I was fairly disheartened and my mind was wandering to other concerns as I watched my friends continue to cast from the bank. Don’t get me wrong: we were out of the city, relaxing on a river on a beautiful day - and this was not lost on me - but it is safe to say that my hope of doing some “real fishing” was no longer top of mind.

Slowly, the tone shifted, as I’ve seen it often can with fishing. As I was learning how to imitate a drifting insect with the help of my patient boyfriend (a win for the day in itself), we were called over by our other friend who had been quietly perched atop a large log in the distance for some time now. It was the “got one!” call - he definitely had a fish, and he sounded excited. We ran over to watch him dance with and eventually land a stunning rainbow trout - and just like that, the day was made. 

This was my first lesson on the ratio of fishing rewards and the introduction to that feeling you get when the day has been saved. I also learned that afternoon that fishing is a team sport: it was enough and more for me to be a part of the energy as that big rainbow surrendered and, even more so, when it flashed its silver back at us and swam away again. I’m no fisherwoman yet, but by now I’ve heard the cliche “you don’t need to catch any fish to have a great day fishing.” This was the day I first understood that sentiment, and more importantly, this was the day that I first took on a few servings of forced humility - a gift I needed much more than fish.