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Unracked: Fly Fishing the Pacific Northwest

Matt Swainbank: Events and Training Manager / Fly Fisherman

Winter steelhead, summer trout – Matt is an avid fly fisherman. And – let’s get this out of the way right now – he is not going to share his super-secret spot.

But he will share what he does at Yakima. “My role varies quite a bit. I run point and handle logistics for all of our major national trade shows, plus organize all of our retail training and consumer events. There’s a lot of awesome. A fun aspect is my role is always changing. Spring is about training. I spend a lot of time traveling – I was a Yakima Road Warrior for two years, so I know the fun and the pain. Winter I get to settle back in – a little bit – and start planning for the next season.”

Fishing the Northwest

The Right Gear

Matt’s Yakima system starts with his cargo box – one that’s just the right size. “Man, I would have to say the SkyBox 12 Carbonite is the Yakima thing that I love most. With the Outback and 70-inch bars, I can put the 12 on the side and create room to carry whatever watercraft – canoe, SUP, or a kayak in a JayLow – I need. The narrower box means I can bring fishing and camping gear, a boat, and still have room for the dog.”

Other equipment Matt relies on/loves includes – of course – “All the fly fishing gear.” But he also likes to indulge his inner biologist. “The stuff I tend to pack most often would be field guides – mushroom guide, plant guide – I like being able to be scientific and learn about the ecosystems. We even track cloud cover, water temperature, things like that, and keep a log so we know what the right conditions were. When they line up again, even years later, we know it’s time to get out there.”

SkyBox 12 Carbonite & KeelOver on RoundBars

Matt’s Tips

  1. Always get bigger crossbars than the minimum size recommended….you never know when you want to bring two boats or a bike along
  2. Practice catch and release for our future generations [and safe fish handling]
  3. Catching a fish is only a part of the fun….enjoy the scenery, sights, water, and the companions you are with
  4. The fish don’t just bite when the weather is good…dress appropriately on the bad days and get out there. Plus it means fewer people – that sometimes gives you a better chance
  5. Always take your waders, boots, and lifejacket out of your cargo box when you get home to dry out. Otherwise, fish will smell you from miles away the next time you go out!

On the Road

When Matt sneaks out of work early, he doesn’t usually go fishing – he would rather commit at least full day to that – he keeps it simple.

“There’s minimal midweek fishing, but there are lots of hikes around Portland. I think the awesome thing about being here is that any direction takes you to something new and exciting, like the desert or the ocean. For a midweek afternoon escape, I grab my best buddy and our dogs and bomb out. Weekends are about fishing, setting up a nice basecamp, and having some Rainiers.”

When pushed to disclose his favorite fishing-focused basecamp, Matt stays cagey. “I think I’ll plead the fifth on that one. Look, the variety is what makes it, any direction you go. Head towards the coast for steelhead in fall and winter, up to the mountains in summer for trout. Even right here on the Columbia and the Willamette, we can go out and fly fish for smallmouth bass.”

Memorable Moments

When asked to share an especially memorable moment, Matt mulls. “I don’t know…just fishing is awesome…”

But he knows. There is definitely The One.

“It was last winter, catching the 34-inch, wild, fresh-from-the-ocean steelhead on the fly. The one in the picture. This was the dream fish. Something that wild, that healthy – it was one of those oh-$%#! moments – whether you’re going to get that thing or it breaks you off. They call them unicorns for a reason. Or a gray ghost – you know they’re there, but they’re a ghost. The stars aligned on that one. We took a quick pic, then sent her off to do her things.”

More Unracked

Matt isn’t our only awesome employee. Checkout our entire Unracked series to see who else here at Yakima is getting outdoors, how they have their car racked out, tips and tricks, and their favorite Pacific Northwest adventure spots.


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