Monday, November 30, 2009

That One Legendary River

This summer was epic. Not only did I journey to the Northcountry for the first time, I also visited one of the more legendary steelhead rivers on the planet while driving home from work in California. The river didn't disappoint, fishing was pretty slow with only one hookup but the scenery, classic, greasy, ledge filled pools and the draw of her wild fish was more than enough to keep me dialed. That and a summer full of non-fishing travel had me literally developing a rash from not fishing enough. I camped for a couple days on the banks of her most productive, and vital tributary and really enjoyed myself. There were people around but it wasn't unbearable and most people were as awed and reverent as I was, which made them pretty easy to get along with.

I can't describe adequately in words the beauty of this stream. Its not so much the drama or grandeur of the landscape, the mountains aren't all that big in the area. The beauty comes from the chiseled columnar basalt that lines the river banks. The rock comes from a time when volcanic activity covered huge swaths of central Washington and Oregon with lava, some even made it to the pacific down the Columbia River. Over time big chunks of the dark rock have fallen into the river creating some of the sexiest boulder grease on the planet. Steelhead bums thank you prehistoric volcanoes. That and the high basalt walls and sharp angles on the river mean some portion of the river is in the shade pretty much all day. A few choice photos from this mysterious, top secret, not to be named stream.

Never Seen this photo in a Magazine

Morning on a sexy piece of water

Dryfly anyone?

I left here to go fish among the crowds in Steelhead Disneyland. After my first evening record high air temps and water over 70 F forced me to switch my plans up. That and a jet driving, toolkit of a guide decided he was gonna camp out with 10 of his sports on my favorite piece of water. I understand sharing is important but a guy has to draw the line somewhere. (more on that assclown some other time).

Saturday, November 28, 2009

5 minutes in the northcountry

Footage from the AEG crew (RIP). Some seriously dirty steelheaders in that bunch. Sadly the group disbanded and the film was hijacked by some rich, soul selling, industry prostitute. Apparently he gave the reins to a ski film maker (who only lives to get radical). barf. guess the true, epic project that this once was set to be will live in the hinterlands for ever. At least we have this trailer to salivate over.

Hardy Pfluegle

A lot of my fishing buddies fish hardy reels, so much soul in those reels, the classic looks, minimal drag, and screaming loud clicker. Unfortunately for me, I'm a poor ass grad student and while I would love to justify buying a sexy reel it would mean not eating for approximately a month. Instead, I've settled for Hardy's special edition the Pfluegle. At 42 bucks a pop they're a helluva deal and fulfill the primary job of a reel...holding line. The clicker's not quite as loud, and I wouldn't be surprised if someday a screaming hot fish caused a total bedshitting but until then I'm pretty satisfied with the performance. Plus, the classic looks beat the hell out of the overpriced, soulless, space age, disk drag reels that people seem to think they need. For the price of one of those monstrocities I could buy two pfluegers, take a 2 week trip to the Northcountry, and drink good whisky the whole time. That makes a lot of sense to me. As an added bonus the reel can wobble pretty sweetlike when a hot fish is running hard. Check some photos of the Hardy Pluegle in action.

Pfluegle and Sealice

Pflueger Medalist advisory staff

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Give Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving. Lots to be thankful for this year, family, friends, wild fish, and wild rivers. I even saw the sun today in Vancouver. Must be the first time in two weeks.

I DID NOT catch this Fish

But someone did. Holy hell thats a specimen. That adipose has to be the size of my ear

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Raining Raining Raining

Conditions have been shiet since the middle of the month and it looks like it will be damn near december before the rivers get back to really fishable. The soggy rivers of the wild coast are pretty much gonezilla, the gauge has fluctuated between vaugely fishable and 8 feet too high for 10ish days and the big river has been marginal at best. Sissy boy, brohans powder hounds have been pretty jazzed about the early winter weather, but frankly short of packing snow on for summer steelhead season I couldn't care less about the how deep the, "pow" is. Hasn't always been that way I suppose, but I haven't touched a ski mountain since I hooked my first winter steelhead on the swing. Dont really see myself getting back to it either. Living in Van people's jaws drop when you tell them you dont ski, aren't interested and have better things to do. Whatever. The last thing I want to do is pay some heinously corporate development company like Intrawest (they own whistler) 100 bucks a day to stand in lift bourgeois. Winter steelhead may be tough to come by but at least they're egalitarian and you dont gotta drop 120 clams to chase them.

I guess we have to pay weather dues at some point though. At least this isn't happening in February (yet). Before the water came there was talk of decent numbers of hatchery turds in some of the rivers. By the time the rivers drop they ought to be loaded and ready for the bonkin'.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Purple and Red GP

I started fishing this pattern with some regularity in 2007 and found that it has alot fish catching mojo. Anything with natural golden pheasant just glows in the water and the picked out dubbing body really breathes. Recently I discovered Angel Hair, a fine synthetic flash material that comes from the world of saltwater flies. When added sparingly to the tail it provides even more shimmer to an already nasty fly. This fly brought me one of my hottest fish. On the lower reaches of a legendary steelhead river just outside pugetroplois the fish took in the top of the run and was screaming line before I knew I'd hooked it. It cartwheeled once, and then the line went slack, figuring the fish was running towards me I dropped the rodtip and started reeling frantically. Just I got tension back the line came tight in midair the fish jumped just upstream of me on the otherside of the massive river. In about 3 seconds the fish had run 80 yards downstream, cartwheeled, sprinted back up river and across and flipped out of the water again. The fish was only about 8 pounds but all chrome, piss and vinegar. Its too bad runs have tanked so bad in our region, that river has produced more screaming hot fish for me than any other.

For the Dryline Winter Steelheaders

You're a whacky breed but if you fish a dryline for wintersteelhead and you're sticking to it and catching fish you have all my respect. I've hit some slumps during the course of a long winter that challenge my confidence in sinktips, you must have a will of steel to keep tossing those big ironed flies on a floating line day after day. More power to you. For those who don't know, the fly is a Winters Hope, a fly designed by Bill McMillan for dryline winter steelhead on his native Southwest Washington streams.

New Links

Just put up a bunch of new links. Some great conservation organizations, working to make sure we have wild fish forever, and some fishing fiends in the blogosphere. Also some good industry links, I can personally speak for all the businesses on the site. They're quality people, dedicated to the sport and doing things the right way.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Home Rivers

Sometimes I feel like I can't possibly spend enough time on the water to fully understand my home river. Like most steelhead bums I do my share of traveling, still there is something especially fulfilling about time spent on my home river. An intimacy with the River and its Fish that only time can produce. As Haig-Brown says in To Know a River,

"The sense of ownership grows simply from knowing the river. I know the easiest ways along the banks and the best ways down to the pools. I know where to start in at a pool, where to look for the fish in it, how and where I can wade, what point I can reach with an easy cast, what lie I can barely cover with my strongest effort. This is comfortable and pleasant and might well begin to seem monotonous sooner or later were it not something of an illusion. I have a fair idea of what to expect from the river, and usually because I fish it that way, the river gives me approximately what I expect of it. But sooner or later something always comes up to change the set of my ways. Perhaps one day, waiting for a friend to fish down a pool, I start in a little further up than usual and immediately hook a fish where I had never been able to hook one before. A little more of the river becomes mine, alive and productive to me. Or perhaps I notice in some unusual slant light of what looks to be a glide water along the edge of a rapid; I go down to it and work my fly through, and whether or not a fish comes to it, more of the river is known and mine."

and thats just it. The river is ever changing. From day to day the river rises and falls with the rain, the snow level or snow pack. Summers low, crystaline flows offer different lies, different challenges and demand a host of new tactics. In winter those soft easy boulder gardens may one day be full of fish but the following devoid with a drop in the river level. when the fish are moving, fresh to the cold winter flow they sit in the softest spot, just above the rapid where a subtle depression in the boulders creates a sense of security in the easy flow. The rivers change every year, after the 2003 flood the river filled with sand from the slides up river. The logs move, the river scours new deep channels in areas which last year held a fraction of the flow. In their dynamic nature rivers come to life. If we settle in and watch over the years we will see the heartbeat of the land, the exhale when the flood subsides and much of the sand it gone revealing those lovely green boulders and fist sized cobbles.

In travel we cannot hope to achieve such intimacy. The excitement of new water, big, wild fish in a legendary setting holds its appeals, but the home river forever calls us back. In the fall, when the steelhead are yet to arrive we can find the Bull Trout, voracious from spawning and gorging themselves on salmon eggs, flesh and any hapless whitefish that may cross their paths. Or the salmon, which so many steelhead anglers overlook. Sure fishing for pinks with 40 ass snagging Jims isn't the most fun, but a bright pink salmon with the tidal fog rolling in on the lower river is as beautiful a fish as any salmon. The coho of early october fresh, and bright with a pension for taking on the hang down, the challenge is always to fish the fly right to the bank. Then strip, strip, wait! While coho lack the power and speed of a fresh steelhead their enthuasm for leaping makes them a great sportfish in their own right.

Some spend their entire lives on the banks of their home stream, watching the floods, how the river changes, the decline of the runs.They remember how it used to be, before the big flood took all the log jams out and the huge slide smothered one of the most productive tributaries. They remember the huge logs they took out of the watershed, how it was to see when a single tree trunk was all that would fit on the back of a logging truck. And the bright little summer runs of July and August, so quick to grab a dryfly. The old lies are no longer there, nowadays most are filled in with sand and fine sediment, what remains is a shadow of its former glory. There used to be lovely 2 and 3 foot wide boulders, just off the main current where the fish could rest and feel secure next to the deep, heavy flow. Today its just a flat glide, uniform and lifeless, mostly devoid of those sweet little summer fish or the big shouldered henfish of early March. Those bright females with their impossible compact faces, pearl and purple blushed cheeds and the ghostly silver fin rays of her large, broomlike caudaul fin. all power and determination.

Things are different now, but there are still steelhead, and the river keeps changing. Somehow year after year the river is always there, the resilient lifeblood of the valley, and the fish come too. In lower numbers now than ever, but when the late February rains warm the crystaline, winter flows and the river rises, running slightly green, you'd better be on the water tomorrow. the rootwad on the bar made the river scour and the boulders can be seen now, just below the softly rocking surface where the water is up to your chest. With the water up the tailout will have gotten more depth, the rapid below more volume, more velocity, and driving through the dark morning with the rain pattering against your windshield you can imagine just how it will be, they'll be sitting down there in the bottom of the run. Where the surface flows greasy and soft they will rest and regain their strength after pushing up through the heavy water. And in the low light of the winter morning they'll be there waiting, secure, bright and aggressive. Agitated with the changing river level and anxious with the proximity to their home. its been a long journey and they're getting close now. The instincts of their riverine youth returning and their predatory ocean habits still'll never know what hit you.

Lazer Beams

T-bone launching a nasty wedge in the North Country. gotta love the rocket 15 footer on the big water.

The northcountry is something else man.Yeah, you'll work for your fish sometimes, but every last one is all chrome and all wild. Doesn't get much better than that. This sept I watched a 7-8lb fish rip 150 yards of line of 4.25" Islander in one run....and then pissed my pants

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Nates Magics

Nate Keen has got to be one of the nicest guys in the business. He recently left Avid Angler aftern managing the shop for as long as I can remember. Definitely miss having Nate in the shop when I go in, in my early stages of steelhead addiction he was always willing with a bit of sage advice or a hint at where I might find a fish. He's not one to brag but the man is just flat out fishy. Nate's Magics are one of his patterns, tied on 3/0 AJs they have an uncanny knack for eliciting massive takes from bright winter steelhead. My best fish of last year came on a purple/chartruse magic. Heres my take on the patter, thanks for the bug Nate.

Orange and Pink

Purple and Chartruse

Obese Char

What a fat fish. Wild, and well fed, Bull Trout have to be some of the coolest fish. You dont get that fat unless you know how to take big bites.Friend of the blog Thomas Buehrens caught this fish on a 6 inch long wad of white buddy covered with flashabou, the guy has spent alot of time fishing for char and has an uncanny knack for finding them.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Poaching Jims

Poachers are a fact of life on our rivers. Last weekend a buddy and I ran into some hillbilly scum that had a bull trout and cutthroat on the beach on a river with C&R regs. Probably should have just cuffed them with zip ties and dragged them to the sheriffs office, but not being the vigilante types we decided to go a little more passive aggressive and ask them if they knew the regs. One, who was quite obviously not the brightest crayon in the box essentially admitted he was poaching when he told us the regs were harvest for 2 ad clipped steelhead only. His buddy, more aloof said he had no idea what the regs were.

Regardless, as stewards of the resource its crucial that we keep an eye out for the fish. If you see someone poaching call it in, and if it doesn't involve excessive risk calmly tell the perpetrator that they are keeping fish illegally. Being loud, violent or excessively in their face probably isn't a good idea...after all, Jims tend to be about 10 times more likely to pack heat than most of the spey fishing set.

Poaching Hotline #s for our region






Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Its Raining, I'm tying

It poured yesterday and last night. The big river went over 60k and it barely fishes most places at 18k. Not that there were steelhead around anyway, but its nice to go fishing and pretend. The occasional yank from a dolly or a randy coho is enough to get me through these wet, lonesome november weeks. All the rain's got me thinking winter steelhead (usually do this time of year) so I'm tying bugs in hopes that sometime this year I may get to see them firmly lodged in the corner of a bright fishes mouth. Every year I get all excited, buy a bunch of materials and talk big about fishing spey flies. Then I loose a few, and realize I can hook just as many fish on some bunny and marabou lashed to a tube and give up. This year will be different....maybe. either way I've been tying up some bugs that a good friend, and helluva fisherman Chris DeLeone showed me. I don't think he's given them a name so I won't take his juju, I'll just call it DeLe's prawn for now.

purple and red. all around deadly

pink. hot fish love this color
(gear fishers delight)

black and blue. confidence

By the time January comes around my box will be brimming. I'll have throw out/hook salvaged most anything not entirely up to snuff and restarted. Its beginning to be a cycle in my life as a steelhead bum. Nothing like some good ole fashioned fishing angst turned 50 dollar a week material habit!

on the bright side I was up on the big river's equally badass tributary last week and its looking good. Things have changed a bit like they always do but the river has great color and was higher than I'd fished it in a few years. So long as this latest flood didn't rip it to shreds again, it promises to be a fun year of fishing. Now lets cross our fingers and toes and pray we don't get another 100 year flood before the early winter is over.....

Somewhere in the North Pacific

Somewhere in the north pacific a big, mean, three salt steelhead is headed for home. With the shortening days comes the irresistible biological fact of reproductive maturity. These fish are bound for sacred waters. In the heart of steelhead country, from the little coastal streams dripping with the maritime rains and wintry mosses to the tremendous, raw and brawling glacial rivers of the Cascade, Olympic and Coast Ranges. These oceanic fish cruise day after day, in no particular hurry. Just below the surface at times, at others making dives to depths to avoid the predators of day, or perhaps to find food themselves. These fish are the oceans perfect traveler, chrome and white, their ocean camoflauge disguises them from enemy and prey alike. Their long, muscular bodies and clear, almost ghostlike fins have traveled thousands of kilometers. All waiting for this year, when they in all their quicksilver brilliance will ascend the rivers of their birth. They're coming, and I'm....waiting.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Bull Trout, Dollies, whatever you want to call them. They're sweet fish. Alot of anglers talk bad about char, they dont fight or whatever. Bottom line though, if you target them with appropriate tackle they're pretty good sport on the fly. Since they're so aggressive the takes can be fantastic and on these cruddy, cold, early winter days when the odds of catching a steelhead are 0.0001 having a nice, chunky char give you a yank is a good feeling. Normally i've just incidentally caught them while fishing for steelhead, as it turns out you don't catch that many, or many of the big ones fishing that way. If you want to find the big boys you've got to know where to look, tie on a big, fat, nasty fly with lots of flash (approx 5 inches long), huck and strip....then hold on.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Inspired by A River Never Sleeps

Amid the land and water, surronded by the ever changing beauty of the rivers flow we can feel the pull of the inevitable seasons. We do not, indeed cannot stop this indelible fact.
The steely cold winter is where we begin our annual journey in the life of am angler. The frigid mornings, frozen boots, numb fingers and hands test our will power.

But we are steelheaders plain and simple. It is the power of these lands, and their endemic fishes that pull us back time and time again. With the faintly burning hope that this, cold, harsh january day might be the except to the rule. The day that the bright but lethargic steelhead, resting easily in the soft, boulder filled tailout may turn, and take our fly.

Against all the odds our line comes tight.
and minutes later we gently cradle our quicksilver prize, and admire the space between silver light, and the color of their faintly tinged cheek. Their deep shoulders, winters trademarked design.

Winter weakens her grip gently at first. The nights glow less frigid, the afternoon sun warms our shoulders and hair as we stand in the chilly currents. Spring is the time of the steelhead, when spawning fish can no longer delay their return and sexual maturation.

As February drifts into march, the warming spring rains gradually increase the stream temperature, and the fish respond.

March is every steelheaders favorite month, not a time of bounty but a time of chances, when the fleeting tug becomes the violent, oceanic fish leaping from the emerald green currents.

Spring is sweet, full of regenerating growth, and bright, spawning wild winter steelhead.

summer is short, but the days are long and warm and fill us with sun and easy feeling to last the year.

Summer is when the little, acrobats with an almost childlike energy and a glimmer of rose on their cheeks enter the river en masse. when the waters are warm and the fish active, responsive to a small fly, a floating line, an anglers dream.

Summer is when many of us make pilgrimages to the hallowed waters of our predecessors, waking before dawn to wade quietly into the gentle summer flow and swim our favorite fly pattern.

Amid the simmering heat of summer we can always escape the heat in the shade of a beautiful river canyon.

Fall is poignant, full of the rich, earthy sweetness of decay.

Salmon enter our rivers in huge numbers to complete their spawning and eventually die, returning their energy to the river in which they were born.

Fall days are shorter, crisp and we savor each moment as though it will be the last we ever see of the changing leaves, or the long october light,

or the small, beautifully colored steelhead which so love to take flies from the surface.

As denziens of the river our fate is sealed. Like the waterouzel, or the coho salmon the season decides our fate, our experiences are defined by witnessing these changes. As for the many who choose a life sealed away from the brutal, rawness of natures expansive beauty...we pity them. And where the moutians meet the river we keep our flies swinging, no matter the season. Our love of wild anadromous fish and their riverine homes is enough to bring us back everytime.