A father and son learn the art of fly-fishing, with the help of an award-winning guide on Washington's blue-ribbon trout river, the Yakima.
One fishing line sailed out cleanly over the water, dropping lightly onto the surface of the river. The other plunked into willow branches overhead. Father and son grinned at each other and continued to enjoy the day, regardless of their casting achievements.
In this timely pre-Father’s Day story, casting a fly line, it turns out, requires far different skills than pitching a baseball. Still, put a 13-year-old middle-school pitcher on a river with his 46-year-old father and chances are the young baseball star will develop the new skills far quicker than his dad.
That proved true when Alan Bauer and his son Christopher, who live near the Snoqualmie River in rural King County, decided to take up the fine art of fly-fishing this spring. The pitcher’s line hit the water. His dad’s hit the tree.
“Christopher wanted to try fly-fishing — we did some salmon fishing last year — and it looked like a great sport we could share together,” Alan Bauer said.
The elder Bauer, an outdoor photographer and author, has spent most of his adult life exploring the forests and mountains of the Pacific Northwest. Fly fishing in the region’s lakes and rivers would be a new experience for both him and his son. So they started planning.
“We figured we should take lessons since it’s something brand new (to us),” Alan said.
The Bauers gravitated toward Derek Young’s Emerging River Guide Service. Young, who lives in the Snoqualmie area, was named the nation’s Guide of the Year in 2011 by Orvis outdoors outfitters, which specializes in fly-fishing. Young guides mostly along the Yakima River and forks of the Snoqualmie River system.
The Bauers teamed up with Young early in spring, with plans to participate in a drift-boat fishing day on the Yakima River. But first they worked on casting lessons at a local park. There, Young helped them develop the basic skills needed to cast a heavy line and near-weightless fly — which is the exact opposite of “gear” fishing, where anglers cast a near-weightless line attached to a heavily-weighted lure.
“Derek was fun to work with. He is very patient with both of us and worked hard to make sure Christopher learned good casting skills without affecting his pitching skills,” Alan said. Young went so far as to seek advice from Baseball Hall of Famer and retired Seattle Mariners pitcher Goose Gossage, a lifelong fly fisherman, to help find the best arm motions for pitchers who fish.
“I love to see kids and teens getting interested in fishing,” Young said. “When they and their parents are learning together, it’s even better … Fishing is something they can spend the rest of their lives enjoying together.”
By the time the Bauer duo had developed their rudimentary casting skills, the rains stopped and the river cleared, making a float trip feasible. So they hit the water in mid-May for a day of fly-fishing on the Yakima River, Washington’s only Blue-Ribbon trout river, according to common measures of fishery health and scenic beauty.
The float started just east of Cle Elum and ended eight hours later near Thorp, Kittitas County. During the day, Young rowed his angler’s raft through prime trout water, while keeping the Bauers active in pursuit of wily cutthroat trout.
With the river running higher than normal, the fish were shy and hard to entice. Several times, the Bauers were sure they had fish “look” at their flies, only to find themselves setting an empty hook.
By midday, both Bauers were tired and ready for a break and Young pulled onto a sandbar and unloaded the boat while the Bauers relaxed in the shade.
Young prepared the lunch: steak fajitas grilled riverside, served with fresh guacamole (also made on site) and warm brownies for dessert. He recently received unofficial awards for that guacamole as it was lauded — and ravenously devoured — by his fellow guides during a cook-off at a national gathering of guides.
“That was the best meal I think I’ve had during an outdoor adventure,” Alan said.
After lunch, the boats returned to the water and the anglers switched to dry flies — imitation flies that float on the water’s surface. There were lots of caddis flies returning to the river surface to drop eggs, and the anglers hoped the wary fish would select their imitations from among the real things.
The fish proved finicky, but the Bauers continued to have fun.
“What a fantastic day. Floating on a river with my son. We had a ball. We will definitely be spending a lot of time together learning this sport,” Alan said.
Christopher, meanwhile, chuckled about his line tangling with his father’s and their progress in casting proficiency. “It’s like trying to do five different things all at once,” he said. “We would get one thing right and the other four would go wrong. But we’re getting better and it’s fun.”
The Bauers plan more father-son fishing trips soon. They’ve already visited Rattlesnake Lake near North Bend to continue their casting practice.
“This is something we can do together for years and years,” said Alan, receiving a big grin and an enthusiastic nod from his son. “I’m looking forward to more fun days like this one.”
Dan A. Nelson is a Puyallup-based freelance writer and an avid fisherman.