by Michael Carey, June 10, 2017
I had the privilege of fishing the 2017 Yale Kokanee event “The Fallen Outdoors” with my friend Robbie (first mate) and three vets, Chris, Jason, and Misty. For those of you not familiar with this awesome organization, The Fallen Outdoors matches up vets with outdoors people for fishing and hunting trips. It’s a volunteer group started by three vets in 2009 on a top of a remote outpost in Afghanistan. The organization has grown nationwide, serving all vets in all branches. President and Washington resident Eric Bakken along with SSG John Bates, and Spc Eric Finniginamm saw the original project through. Eric Finniginamm was killed in Afghanistan on their first tour in 2009.
The Mission Statement of The Fallen Outdoors from their web site:
“Our mission is to facilitate organized hunting and fishing adventures for veterans past and present from every generation and from all branches of the military. We aim to connect Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines, to create a network that will serve them locally and nationally. This network will allow veterans to help other veterans by facilitating hunting and fishing adventures throughout this great nation. These adventures will help veterans from all era’s cope with any stress and or issues they may be experiencing at the time. Not only will this help service-members and veterans get into the outdoors. It will also provide an outlet along with connecting them with like-minded individuals along with teaching them a skill and passion they can continue for a life time.”
Mark Nordahl and I had each volunteered to use our boats to take vets out for a day of fishing. We launched out of Beaver Bay campground and ran down to the main Yale boat launch to pick up our vets. The water was calm and the day was looking to be a very pleasant one with the prospects of good fishing and fellowship.
As we approached the Yale launch I was greeted with an inspiring scene- dozens of boats milling about, waiting for their turn to pick up their crews of fishermen. On shore a group of around a hundred vets waited as they got paired up with their assigned captains. We beached our boat and checked in. Meeting Chris, Jason, and Misty, we chatted and then I gave a safety check, and off we went.
I decided since there was a crowd of boats fishing across from the launch (a good spot for sure) that we would run up to the dam end of the lake. Yale reservoir is high this year from all the rain and snow we’ve received. The flats to my left as we ran down lake were totally submerged, but still a hazard with underwater stumps. I kept well to the right and then turned left into the large bay in front of the dam.
Our plan was to run six rods. Two long line leaded lines off the back, a planer board rod on either side, and two rods on downriggers. Late spring/early summer is still predominantly a top water show on Yale. We’d be concentrating most of our rods in the top 20 feet of water, and use the two downriggers to chase meter marks of fish from 30 to 60 feet deep. Fishing below 60 feet on Yale with downriggers is a dangerous choice. The lake has a lot of underwater trees that were not lumbered when the reservoir was flooded. You’ll see them on the fish finder and find out about them the hard way if you’re too deep with your downrigger. I speak from experience having lost a downrigger ball and gear a few years back. The reality is there really is no need to go deep anyway. Even later in the season you’ll catch plenty of Yale kokanee between 25 to 60 feet deep.
I will admit to being a bit nervous as we started letting out lines. I only saw one or two boats in the distance. Otherwise we were on our own. There’s a phenomenon I’m sure you’re familiar with – anglers tend to like to fish around other anglers. It must be a psychological thing. We feel like everyone else must know something or else why would they all be fishing the same spot? In many cases that’s true, but in this case, not so much. Just the same I told my crew that if we didn’t have success we’d run back to fish the other section where all the boats were congregated. In the meantime Robbie and I starting deploying gear and showing our vets how to operate the various set-ups we were using. The plan was to gradually let our guests take over as much of the fishing tasks as possible, to the extent they wanted to do so. As I explained how to put out the gear I apologized if I was coming across being bossy. Misty put my mind at ease saying “we’re military; we’re used to taking commands!” With that ice breaker we got down to the serious business of catching kokanee!
The fish started coming, slowly but surely. All the rods had action, but one rod in particular got the most fish attention. The rod set up was leaded line, three colors out, with an orange crush colored wobbler and an orange Artic Fox Trolling Fly tipped with orange corn, flavored with tuna. This set up probably accounted for half of the day’s action. Another hot set up was an tipped with one piece of orange corn, running behind a planer board with an ounce of lead dropper weight. I will say, this rig was also our most frustrating set up as we lost the first five fish it hooked. We eventually figured out the problem was every time we’d remove the dropper weight there would be a moment of slack line, no matter how careful we were. The solution was finally stumbled on – put the dropper weight closer to the lure so that we never had to remove the dropper in order to net the fish. With that slight adjustment the was catching fish!
Our numbers of fish in the boat slowly went up and Chris, Jason, and Misty began taking on more of the tasks, baiting, setting lines, netting the fish. Robbie and I faded into the background as much as possible letting out vets enjoy the day on the water catching fish. I have to say, it was a wonderful feeling to be able to share my time and boat, made possible by they and their comrades in the armed services. It was truly an honor for Robbie and me to give a small part of ourselves to them. Our veterans sacrifice so much, and sometimes the ultimate sacrifice, so that we can be free and enjoy the lifestyle and freedoms we so often take for granted.
Late morning and we began to see a few more boats coming our way. There was still plenty of open water to fish. Suddenly, the starboard planer board flag went down. The rod was bent over double and the planer board buried itself under the water! Misty jumped up and grabbed the rod, frantically reeling in line. “Please let it stay, please let it stay!” Misty repeated. Behind the planer board a healthy 6-8 pound steelhead jumped out of the water! “Wow” the anglers collectively cheered Misty on as she battled this beautiful steelhead, outmatched on a kokanee rod. Misty got the planer board to the side of the boat and just as I was unclipping the line the fish had one final frantic jump and was gone.
We were all shaking and laughing with excitement over witnessing this epic hookup. We also knew the odds of getting that fish in were against us. We were just happy to have experienced the fish for that brief battle.
Memories like this are what The Fallen Outdoors is all about. The veterans truly appreciate the opportunity to decompress and get into the out of doors.
As the fishing day came to a close we motored back to the launch and dropped off our anglers for a BBQ and gifts from event sponsors. The smiles and fellowship that Robbie and I were part of was truly humbling. I encourage you to check out The Fallen Outdoors website, or on Facebook. You don’t have to have a boat to help out this great organization. There are lots of ways you can help and give back to our amazing men and women who serve in our armed forces. I’m looking forward to next year’s event and many more to come!