Fly-fishing | Lure of the fly
Scott Rollins fly-fished for many years in the much-celebrated rivers of Montana before coming to Ellensburg eight years ago, and sometimes...
Ellensburg Daily Record
ELLENSBURG — Scott Rollins fly-fished for many years in the much-celebrated rivers of Montana before coming to Ellensburg eight years ago, and sometimes he goes back. Yet when the insurance business owner now fishes on the Upper Yakima River, he doesn't dream of Montana.
"What I've found on the Yakima River and the Cle Elum is every bit as good as Montana ever was," Rollins, 48, said recently. "Central Washington has everything just as good."
He said the enduring attraction of fly-fishing still holds him tight, and portions of the Upper Yakima River, southeast and northwest of Ellensburg, often seem to call to him.
"I love being outside, I love the serenity of the river, I love being in a boat drifting silently with no engine and trying, with my little man-made fly, to meet the trout in its own element, hoping to win the battle of wits.
"But, you know, that fish usually knows a lot more than I do about his element."
That love of fly-fishing is being shared by more men and women each year, and those in Western Washington are more often thinking about the Upper Yakima River in Kittitas County when they think about fly-fishing.
The result: local fly-fishing shops, guides and related services are doing steady, and, by some accounts, a growing business.
Although no local figures are available specifically on the total business contribution of fly-fishing, many agree the catch-and-release fly-fishery on the Yakima River, which began in 1989, has become an important part of the county's recreational economy.
Steve Joyce, partner in operating Red's Fly Shop in the Yakima River Canyon 13 miles southeast of Ellensburg, said business, overall, has definitely increased for the firm in 2007 over 2006. He said that is because of expanding opportunities for customers: guided steelhead trips on the Klickitat and Methow rivers, bass trips on the Lower Yakima and fly-fishing on the Naches River.
This also helps spread out the fishing traffic and the impact on the fishery, he said.
The good year is also because of more consistent, favorable water conditions in the Yakima River this summer and fall compared with 2006. Although fishing is year-round, the peak season runs about March through November.
"The Yakima River still gives our business its bread and butter," Joyce said. "What we're also seeing is a broadening of our customer base. We're seeing more women and younger people. We're getting a lot of parent-child trips and grandparents sometimes, too."
He said the awareness of Eastern Washington for yearly fly-fishing is growing, all helping the local economy.
"They're discovering our great weather and can't believe it's not raining here, too," Joyce said. "And they can't get over our scenery."
Based on that economic outlook, Red's Fly Shop is moving forward with plans for major improvements: construction of a lodge began recently and plans are in the works for a new fly shop, deli, cabins and other amenities of a small resort.
"The outlook for the future is very positive for fly-fishing here," Joyce said.
Jim Gallagher, of the Yakima River Fly Shop and guide service in Cle Elum, said the general level of activity for his business has gone up 25 to 30 percent this year over last year, the biggest increase since he began the service nearly five years ago. Some of his trips involve the upper part of the Upper Yakima, northwest of Ellensburg, and into the Cle Elum area. Gallagher, who also provides guide services on other regional rivers and in Montana and Alaska, said the increase has necessitated hiring more employees.
"It's steady and growing, that's for sure," Gallagher said. "It's becoming an emerging economic strength for the county."
He said his customers, 90 percent of which are from Western Washington, often stay for two days, get local motel rooms or stay in B&Bs, eat at local restaurants, buy gasoline here and purchase groceries for their fishing trips from area businesses.
"They are becoming more aware that the Yakima River is a blue-ribbon trout stream and it's only, maybe, 85 miles from Seattle, and it's available nearly year-round," Gallagher said. "It's not only guide services getting involved, it's people fishing on their own. It all adds up economically. I believe that it's a lot bigger, economically, than people know or give it credit for."
Articles in national fishing magazines, the growing popularity of the Suncadia resort and word-of-mouth are fueling interest in fly-fishing on the Yakima, he said.
"About four years ago I drove from Yakima to Ellensburg on the canyon highway and counted 36 drift boats on the river," Gallagher said.
Ron Cridlebaugh, Ellensburg Chamber of Commerce executive director, said fly-fishing is a crucial part of the area's recreational economy. He said many of the people involved in the sport have incomes that allow for somewhat frequent overnight stays, motels and meals out.
Ellensburg is a lot closer than Idaho and Montana fly-fishing streams for those living in the Interstate 5 corridor, he said.
"It's growing, economically, all the time," Cridlebaugh said about the impact of the sport.
He said the chamber has secured display and exhibitor space at the Jan. 23-27 Puyallup Sportsman's Show. He will be contacting local fly shops for promotional materials to pass out at the show.
That may please Steve Worley, owner-operator of Worley-Bugger Fly Co. in Ellensburg. He says chambers of commerce haven't done enough to market fly-fishing on the Upper Yakima and other fishing as a destination activity.
Worley said his business is also up over last year, though early spring water conditions in the river were not good for fishing. The subsequent conditions made up for that. He estimates 70 percent of his customers are from the west side.
"More people want to get out of Seattle and get away from the stressful life over there," Worley said, "and fishing over here provides that relaxation they're looking for."
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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