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Joe Yee: Seattle's Fishing Patriarch

Joe Yee: Seattle's Fishing Patriarch

Mark Yuasa | Seattle Times

Fishing author William G. Tapply once wrote: “I’ve gone fishing thousands of times in my life, and I have never once felt unlucky or poorly paid for those hours on the water.”

For more than 60 years, Joe Yee of Seattle has been living that dream by casting a cut-plug herring or a fly into just about every fishing hole one could imagine.

Yee is considered a patriarch by many in the local sportfishing community, and to celebrate his 90th birthday about 100 friends will gather Nov. 21 at the Sun Ya Restaurant in the International District, to pay tribute and exchange stories.

“I was about 21 years old when I met Joe for the first time, and back then I wasn’t into fishing and probably into other stuff I shouldn’t have been,” said longtime friend John Laws, now 54, of Edmonds.

“It was summer steelhead fishing time, and me and a friend asked if we could tag along. So Joe took us to the mouth of the Tolt River where we showed up with six-foot trout poles,” said Laws. “We stood in the water for a couple of hours and got nothing. Then we decided to go and lay down in the car.”

“Then I heard someone yelling, “John, John.” And I ran back and there was Joe tugging on an 18 pound steelhead. I was kind of hooked at this point, and then he sat down next to me and told me his golden rule."

That Yee rule was: “Just watch what is going on among the line of bank fishermen, and find out who’s catching the fish. Then walk over to see what they’re doing and using. Then when they leave you jump right in their spot, and do the same thing.”

Laws then closely observed what Yee did that day.

About 15 minutes later Laws’ puny trout rod was screaming out line, which then got tangled and the steelhead did a tail dance about 10 times before he saw it swim away.

Yee lived in Portland, Oregon during the late 1940s, and then moved to Seattle and met his wife Juanita in the summer of 1956. They eventually got married, and Joe spent time in the military and then worked for the U.S. Postal Service until he retired in 1986.

It was around the 1950s when Yee began fishing for spiny rays and steelhead in local lakes and rivers.