Washington's Rocky Ford Creek

Washington's Rocky Ford Creek

Sometimes a large fish will be so completely cooperative that catching it almost seems like some sort of shameful accident. My first big Rocky Ford rainbow

  • By: Paul Guernsey
Sometimes a large fish will be so completely cooperative that catching it almost seems like some sort of shameful accident. My first big Rocky Ford rainbow was like that. Without moving anything but its jaw, the four- or five-pounder sitting a mere rod's length upstream of me took my size 14 nymph into its cotton-color cave of a mouth, then seemed nothing but puzzled when it found itself hooked. The fish finally began to struggle in earnest only when we were separated by nothing but leader and about six inches of line.The rule on this unusual high-desert-country spring creek in remote east-central Washington State is that you must stay on the bank, and never step into the water. I badly wanted a net; fortunately, Darrel had one, and he was standing back in the tall reeds, right behind me. "Could I borrow your net, please, Darrel?" "Is that a big fish, Paul?" he asked. He was fiddling with his camera. "Yes, it's a big fish. Would you please bring me the net?" I heard the camera whining as he snapped off a few frames. "You may be able to use these photos in the magazine," he suggested. "I'd rather have pictures of this fish. But I need the net." "Is it really a big one?" That I would have hooked such a fish seemed to strain his credulity. "Yes, a big one," I said, my voice getting a big higher. "Oh, all right." He began searching his vest for a safe place to stash the camera. A moment later the hook pulled out, and my prize spring-creek rainbow began drifting out into deeper water. Darrel came up behind me just into time to see it before it disappeared. "My, that is a big fish," he agreed. Darrel is Darrel Martin, FR&R's fly-tying editor and the author of Micropatterns and Fly-Tying Methods. We'd driven all the way up here from his home in Tacoma because he'd decided we needed a challenge. "We shouldn't expect to catch very much," He'd cautioned me several times during the long drive. "The fish here are very difficult. It usually takes me a couple of days just to figure out what's going on." To me this meant that, without Darrel's guidance, I'd never figure out what was going on. But I'd been on low-yield fishing trips before, and I set my expectations accordingly. Boy, was I surprised-and so was Darrel. It turned out that during our two days on Rocky Ford, there was very little in the way of hatching activity. Small nymphs failed to attract much attention, so we switched to Woolly Buggers and other leech patterns, which we cast out 30 or 40 feet before stripping them in as fast as week could, and we immediately began catching rainbow after rainbow. Most of these were smaller than "the one that got away," but my last trout of our first evening there was one of about the same size. This second big rainbow did such a beautiful twilight tailwalk across an entire spring-creek pool that I didn't even mind when the hook pulled out again. I'd already had as much fun as I deserved. The next day, Darrel actually got a big rainbow that he hooked in a tiny, weed-shrouded side-channel. "Well, we've been very lucky," Darrel told me as he headed back to Tacoma. "You get a day like that on Rocky Ford about once every two years." There is about a mile of year-round public fishing water on Rocky Ford, bordered at either end by a private trout hatchery. Darrel tells me the intimate little creek can get quite crowded on the weekends. In addition, the reeds and the no-wading rule combine to handicap the angler. Still, I'd go back there in a heartbeat-even if the fish wouldn't look at a leech. In fact, I'd love to see the place when it was more in character, with the usual, complex melange of mayflies, caddisflies, midges and scuds. Perhaps, after a day or two, I'd even catch something… The creek itself is quite pretty; in fact, it is like fly-fishing's answer to a Chinese garden, with a shifting array of perspectives and possibilities presenting themselves to the angler as he travels along the bank. In addition, the desert setting is unique among spring creeks I have seen; according to Darrel, the Indians used to trap wild horses against the steep ridge that rises from the creek's eastern bank. The nearest town is Ephrata, a little community that has its mind on other things besides fly-fishing. We stayed there at an inexpensive motel-one at which we had not even bothered to make reservations-and ate at several local restaurants without finding one that we thought was worth a second visit. Such are the hardships of the angling life… If you're interested in guided fishing on Rocky Ford, contact The Evening Hatch, in Ellensburg;866-482-4480, theeveninghatch.com; or the Yakima River Angler; 509-697-6327.