Cedar River Saturday August 4
It had been a few years since I moved up north of Seattle and away from this gem of a westside stream. I loved the Cedar and considered it my home water when I lived in the south end of Maple Valley, and my gear never left my truck during the season as I'd hit it after work on my commute home, and hit it hard on the weekends. I had let my lack of proximity to it deter me for far too long, up until a couple weeks prior, when I had a decent day on the Cedar. But I felt like I'd gotten back into the element of fishing this sometimes tricky stream and seized on an opportunity to not only fish it again, but to meet up with another Washington Fly Fishing forum member
that I hadn't had the chance to meet yet.
The forecast for Saturday was heat with temperatures into the 90s and nothin' but sunshine. That may not seem like much in some parts of the country, but for those of us acclimatized to the marine air of the Puget Sound area, 90s is downright hot. And, to rainbow trout acclimatized to overcast, cloud cover, and drizzle, the big fiery ball in the sky can be a terrifying thing, sending even the hungriest of Oncorhynchus mykiss fleeing deep into holes or snug under shady banks. But if there's one thing I've learned in the years since the Cedar re-opened, it is that the rainbows don't get as fat and strong as they are by staying off the feed.
Gary was released by his payroll masters at 10:30 a.m. so I was there at his house picking him up and loading up his gear promptly at 11 and we were on the water ready to fish by 1 p.m.
He had told me that he didn't have experience nymphing moving water under an indicator, and that this would be the sixth river he'd fished with a fly rod, his first outing to the Cedar. In his words, I'd be his sherpa on this outing - but I made it clear I don't carry heavy loads or die for my clients on high peaks. Nevertheless, a little pressure was there to act as a bit of a guide and get this young fella into some fish! So I made the decision to avoid some of my lower river haunts that get a lot more pressure and instead take him to some very nice water that I'd only had the opportunity to fish on a couple floats. I had a trick up my sleeve this time, as I'd found a nifty way to access the Cedar River trail in an area that is only otherwise accessible to those few individuals that mount up on mountain bikes and ride in.
The forecast was right. It was already hot when we arrived at the old railroad bridge that would be our starting point. A group of teenagers was already there jumping off the trestle into the deep hole below.
As we worked downstream the first fishy water started producing eight to nine inch rainbows for both of us immediately. The #10 Cedar CDC Stone that I had given to Gary was working its magic, and his small hares ear dropper was proving itself worthy as well. The same point fly on my rig was doing its thing and my #16 pheasant tail dropper was slaying them, putting my own pattern to shame. All the good looking runs, scallops and troughs were producing fish for us and we started leap frogging downstream. Just a few pointers and Gary was nymphing like he had been doing it forever - high sticking when he needed to, tossing mends, getting those nymphs bumping along the structured bottom all natural like - and bringing his rod to life as hungry trout would suck them in.
A bit further downstream and we encountered a big hole with a truck sized boulder smack in the middle of the head of it, with amazing seams breaking off both sides over the deep trough below. I opted for the river right side and fished it from a perch on the boulder, pretty soon getting into a nice feisty nine or ten inch rainbow that sent me skittering down to the shallow water on the high side to land him. Back up on my perch I kept working my nymphs further down the seam and hooked up on a fat thirteen inch rainbow. He sizzled a bit of line off my reel as I bounded off the rock and got my tip out to the side of it - I could only detect but not see when he came leaping from the water and taildanced across the glide - but Gary saw it from his vantage on river left. I managed to keep him from running me around the rock and brought him to my net, checked out his rich colors with Gary and watched him bolt into the current fully revived. It wasn't long before Gary picked up a nearly identically sized rainbow on his side of the pool. And, as with all the good water we fished, a handful of average sized fish around eight to ten inches.
If you're not losing flies to structure on the Cedar River, you're not fishing deep enough. We were both fishing deep enough, and both losing flies to rocks and branches. In the course of the day between the two of us we fished point flies of #10 Cedar CDC Stone, #10 Black Stonefly Nymph, #8 CDC Prince, #10 Gold-ribbed Hares Ear, and on the dropper #16 GRHE, #16 Pheasant Tail, and #18 Pheasant tail. All of them produced fish, and the river bottom and branches produced some gaps in my nymph box.
As evening was coming on the insect activity was increasing. Early on there were a smattering of PMDs here and there and a few green sallies. The PMD activity just increased gradually throught the day but never really turned into a hatch that got more than a few small fish looking up.
We had waded about a mile and half and were getting pretty beat when we reached one of my favorite runs on the river - a run that had produced some real hogs for me in the past, and had produced one very memorable pig of a rainbow that didn't quite make it to my net.
I gave my new buddy his pick of the head or tailout, and he deferred to me, so I took the tailout knowing well that in these hot conditions better fish would be in the well oxygenated head of this run. And I was glad that I did. Wasting no time he was up there slaying eight to ten inch bows like it was nothing as I looked on from the relatively dead tailout. But it was a big hoot and holler that sent me running up there with my net as a serious bend was in his rod and a really great, acrobatic trout was leaping, dancing and showing the strength of its shared lineage with Cedar River steelhead. After an excellent fight it at last allowed its head to be lifted and slid up into my net for a photo opportunity and measured fourteen and a half inches. Gary had the fish of the day and his grin was infectious.
He picked up a couple more average bows before he stepped back from the run. I worked back up to his spot and asked, "Did you manage to get your flies up under those branches?" to which he replied, "No, didn't want to risk my flies in there." I said something like, "Well I will..." and stepped out a bit and promptly sent my first couple casts right into the branches. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? Fortunately I recovered them and got my distance and angle right to get a few drifts that were as tight in the cover as possible. My nearly fishless experience on the tailout of the run turned around as I hooked into yet another gem of a fish. I was rewared with the strongest fight I'd had all day and landed an amazingly colored and spotted fourteen inch buck. I don't think they make 'em much prettier.
It was about 6:30 p.m. when we got off the water and went back up to the trail to walk the mile and a half back to our starting point. We had some tasty smoked salmon salad sandwiches that Gary had nicely brought along and made the trek back to civilization. Tired, spent, and completely satisifed all at once, we were just a couple fishermen with memories of a beautiful day, and at least a couple dozen beautiful trout a piece, swirling and tail dancing through our minds with the blur of the highway just rolling by.