Thursday, December 31, 2009
Still, despite poor returns last winter was the best I've ever had. Not going to reel off a head count, but I hooked more than twice as many fish as I ever had...just imagine if there were more fish! Thats the thing about the steelhead game I suppose, the learning curve is steep. There are just so many variables. Time of year, water levels, water temps. Reading water and presenting the fly properly are probably two of the most underrated skills our there. They aren't glamorous like launching a 100 foot spey cast, or trying a gorgeous spey fly but they'll catch you alot more fish.
Summer brought record returns to the Columbia and hope for the future of that great river. The crowds were damn near unbearable at times, but when we all took a deep breath we realized that with some respect and a deep breath there were probably enough fish to go around. Still, this fall I became increasingly disenchanted with the ethical make up of some "fly anglers" and guides. The sort who hit the river with lip ripping in mind and aren't happy until they're measured their dick at least ten times in a given day. We all want fish, but sometimes its just plain greedy. I even heard about a dude fishing from a boat with egg beads who caught 30 wild fish in a single day, on a river where the fish are listed as threatened. How can you possibly justify that shit? I will never, ever, hook that many fish in a day with my chosen technique, and I certainly would be off the water long before I hit double digits. At some point it just gets ludicrous.
The fishing was good though, and there are some memorable moments from this fall. Of course there's the one that got away. A screaming hot fish around 12 lbs on a river known for 5 lb fish. Big, male and wild, it came out of the water twice , spraying water into the sunlight fall air. Haven't had my ass kicked like that in a while and it was great to see. Also, a few unlikely takes. One fish came back three times before hooking up on the follow in less than a foot of water. Another fish chased the fly, plucking twice before finally crushing me near the hangdown. All I can say is, its amazing what you learn when there are some fish around.
This year I got to fish with my dog alot, and I gotta tell you, he's become my favorite fishing partner. He shares in the excitement, loves the exploration and is honestly pretty dialed in when we're fishing. The instant the rod goes to the bank for a hookset he comes running, howling and crying like a lunatic, and when the fish jump he really goes nuts. One incident last winter really makes me laugh. We were fishing a little nameless coastal river at a spot where a small gravel island slowed stuck out about half way out in the channel. On the left side was a pool of slack water about three feet deep and on the right a small rapid with some soft water and some boulders in the tailout. I was fishing through just covering the soft stuff looking for a traveling fish when the line came tight. I was standing at the top end of the island and Max was abotu 20 feet below me near the point, chewing on a stick and generally being retarded. As soon as the fish came out of the water though he was dialed as all hell, crying like a little girl,damn near doing back flips. Of course to keep him from swimming after the fish I have to tell him NO, a nice calm voice with lots of authority and he'll just stand there shaking in the shallows watching. This fish was absolutely nuts, and it was obviously excruciating for him. Must've jumped 6 times, all withing 20 feet of where he was standing, then it ran up in the slack water, jump twice more, damn near threw itself on the beach and spit the hook. What a fish! I had to sit down for a minute after that ass whooping while he just stood there wimpering like he'd been whipped and pawning at the water, I guess labs are just naturally inclined to the hunt.
Sleeping in the back of the truck under a bridge in steelhead country is good stuff. Might not happen as much this year. Grad school, teaching, family, friends they keep us off the river and frankly they should. I still get out alot, and there's not a thing in the world that can stop me from being on the water after a March freshet brings the Big Trib up 1000 cfs and those chrome, thick shouldered fish come sliding in like the quicksilver ghosts they are. 2010 is going to be a year of balance, the year it all comes together and I realize its all about timing, commitment and getting your other shit done. Last year was great, but this year is going to be a model for the rest of my life. I'll never be a guide, wont ever work in the industry so I'm gonna have to figure out how to be a complete and utter fish bum and still have a life outside the river.
Happy New Year everybody. I'll tip my whiskey tonight to 2010 being the best year in three decades, and to those sweet wild fish that make us all tick.
Funny angle, sometimes in the heat of landing a fish solo you end up with some pretty shitty photos. other times you get some cool ones. Here's one from this fall, the biggest summer fish I've ever caught. Gorgeous, thick bodied, and all wild. She carries the next generation.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
I am writing you regarding the restriction of non-resident fishing time on the Skeena River and its storied tributaries. As an angler who has spent most of my life fishing in Washington and Oregon I understand your concerns about crowding, however if you think the Skeena is crowded…try fishing the Deschutes in September. The bottom line is we live in a crowded world where wild steelhead are an increasingly scarce and precious resource and while it may seem tempting to exclude non-resident anglers from enjoying this at their leisure in the long run it could be detrimental to the fishery.
I see it like this: BC has a vast and amazing bounty of watersheds and natural resources. Frankly, it is startling to see massive declines in steelhead populations throughout much of the southern part of the province despite low population densities. The bottom line is that BC, like much of Canada, and much of the northern latitudes of the world is sparsely populated and the economy is largely driven by resource extraction, and exploitation. A perfect example is Vancouver Island, which once supported a vast and seemingly endless bounty of salmon and steelhead. Today only a few rivers on the west coast support what can reasonably be called “healthy” salmon and steelhead runs and even those are threatened by ever expanding fish farming operations. Logging and fish farming have taken a heavy toll on fisheries on the Island, and their effects are especially profound in the Georgia Strait. Rivers like the Oyster, Salmon, Nimpkish and Tsitika once were mentioned in the same breath as the Dean, Skeena, Skagit and Clearwater. Today they are nothing, supporting maybe a few hundred fish after rapacious logging, over reliance on hatcheries and massive, disastrous fish farm development have left these watersheds ravaged by man’s insatiable industrial appetite.
Today the Skeena faces many of the same threats and more. Ludicrous fisheries targeting man made sockeye runs, coal bed methane development in the sacred headwaters and the transport of highly toxic oil and solvents to and from the Tar Sands top the long list of potential impacts. Still, the Skeena has hope. The historic diversity and abundance, while reduced remains robust, and as can be expected anglers from around the world come to ply the Skeena's storied waters every year. With all these threats looming the Skeena watershed needs as many friends as she can get. To me it seems a waste of time and energy to focus on crowding when there are so many pressing conservation challenges facing the watershed. How crowded is the Skeena really?
Moricetown Falls, first nations have been fishing there since the dawn of time
Have you tried fishing the Sol Duc, Skagit, or Hoh during peak season? Have you been to the Deschutes in September or the Lower Ronde in October? You have it good my BC friends and please, please don’t forget that we let you fish at relatively little cost on our many steelhead streams. Every year I meet a number of BC residents on the Big Mighty River, or on the Peninsula. I greet them as peers, equals, part of the fabric of our steelhead culture. We’re all chasing the same things folks, a taste of what little remains of that quicksilver brilliance, the energy that can only come from the power and tenacity of a wild steelhead.
10 lbs of pissed off Big River chrome
Last fall was my first time in this amazing region of the world, and I plan to return every year of my life, god willing. Driving 13 hours to experience the awe inspiring beauty of the northcountry is well worth it, and with every swing the chance is there for a fish of a lifetime . The Skeena and her many tributaries host some of the greatest fish on the face of the earth and like all wonderful things should be shared. Anglers from all over the world annually rejoice in the grandeur of the Skeena and her fish and most of us are happy to fight on behalf of the rivers we love. I just moved to BC to start gradschool and as a legal resident of BC I can now fish the Skeena an unlimited number of days, however I can’t say at this moment in my life whether I will be a lifetime resident of BC. The odds are I wont, my family lives in Pugetropolis and that’s where my roots are. While I love my home rivers, the Skeena provides something that they cannot. Fishing for more than just crumbs, and what is truly startling is that the Skeena could be far more productive with changes in how the sockeye fishery is managed. The more people you have lobbying on their behalf, the better off the steelhead are. The current rules as they are proposed (from what I understand) would relegate Americans and other non-resident to a set number of days per year, and would favor guides massively.
Skeena Country, nice view eh?
Since I spend most of my time living under a bridge in steelhead country eating spam, and instant potatoes I am not the guide paying type, never will be. My chosen profession as a fish bum/biologist doesn’t promise to make me a whole lot of money either so the fact is I will probably never be able to afford that upper crust, guided experience. I don’t really have the desire either. As an angler who takes my steelhead fishing very seriously, I take pride in finding water and fish on my own, learning the rivers that I visit to the best of my ability, and experiencing the fishing as the locals do, without the pampering or handholding of a lodge and guide.
There are many ways to regulate crowding without cutting us out altoghether. How about limiting the number of fish anglers are permitted to hook in a given day? What about limiting the number of days consecutive non-resident anglers can fish a given river? We’re already paying our the arse to fish your beautiful northcountry rivers during prime time, why not take that revenue and start buying out sockeye boats? During my trip the most anglers I saw in a given day was 7, that pales in comparison to my day to day fishing experience in the lower 48. Still, I understand the frustration from the anglers who love fishing the Bulkley, Kispiox and Copper during peak season. The recent angling management plan is heavily biased by guides who want the Skeena as their private playground, but lets look at this as a long run problem. The crowding can be controlled through more moderate measures, those which don’t favor only guides and an elite clientele they cater to. Certainly that has to resonate with the hard working, hard fishing types of BC. The Skeena is a treasure, and she needs all the friends she can get. I know I speak for many others when I say, we’re willing to do our part. Just give us the chance.
Reel screaming northcountry henfish. share the wealth brothers
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Anyway I was already gettin my panties in a bundle over all these carpet baggin' knobs flailing around in my favorite pools when I encountered a majestic sight. A brand new, 2000 whatever Chevrolet SUV covered in steely, naval cammo, complete with matching raft on top. Emblazoned on the side, was a 6 foot long Simms logo. Must've been the Chevy ToolKit edition or something like that. At that point I was so sick of the marketing, branding, bull$hit with our wild anadromous fisheries I couldnt stand it, packed the rig and drove straight home. no stops. Fellas, the fish are going away and you're so busy trying to sell your brand of bobber stank you're missing the point. Meanwhile there are 150 newbs from california and montana just itching to have their "steelhead dreams" satisfied. Its enough to make a man crazy.
People are entitled to recreational experiences on their terms, and as long as they carefully release their wild fish, slaughter their hatchery fish, and don't lowhole me they're probably decent human beings. but after 3 days of fishing in a crowd it can be pretty difficult to bear. not sure what the point of that story was but its just some stuff I been thinking on lately. With more and more of our rivers closing early to protect wild fish things are getting pretty bleak on what just 20 years ago were considered remote, little fished rivers.
Still, occasionally things turn out just right. That Tuesday after a nice freshet when the fish are pushing in. A few have gotten past the nets and lying comfortable in the green, boulder studded pool. The 25 minute shit fight through deadfall and the damn near verticle crawl down into the canyon water is all worth it when the fish lights you up. Nothing like a chrome wild fish when its just you, the steelhead hound and the river.
Gotta give the fellas at All About the Fly their props. With their Sunday casting clinics, endless selection of demo lines and rods they're probably responsible for getting many of us around the Puget Sound started. The shop always has a good selection of tying materials, good advice and an all around cool vibe. Normally when I go in there's already a few people there, sitting in the back shooting the shit, working on a rod or tying flies. Ron Torda, the owner is a hell of a nice guy and a few years ago when I was getting started on the path towards total steelhead ruin he and Brian Paige gave me plenty of help. Being that I live in another country now I've not gotten into the shop as much as I'd like to, but this past week I've been fishing up around there and its been nice to get in there again. Even bought a closeout SA short spey line from their sale bin for 25 clams. After cutting it back 15 feet it should be a buttery shooting head around 510 grains for my 6/7/8 CND Solstice.
Another added perk of All About the Fly is that Mike Kinney, Yoda to many Puget Sound Steelhead Jedis works the shop a few days a week and runs their casting clinic on Sunday. Mike is opinionated and ornery, but he's also a great teacher, mentor and generally an OG of skagit casting and fishing. He's collaborated with Meiser, TFO and others in the industry to really push the envelope on skagit rods and line development. You might even say I'm sort of a Kinney casting disciple indirectly. While I haven't spent more than about an hour at their casting clinic lifetime, most of what I know about casting came from my good friend Rick Witta. He's learned and perfected the trade working with Mike and others so alot of the lessons I've gotten have been second hand Kinney knowledge.
Next time you're in Monroe stop at All About the Fly. The guys are always chill, there's lots to look at/BS about and there's a tasty taco truck parked right across the street. Now if there were only some fish in the Big Empty River we'd be set.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Granted, things have gone to shit around the sound. Thirty years ago, the Puget Sound rivers were literally the premier destination in the Lower 48 for catching gigantic, chrome bright wild steelhead. 50-100 fish seasons were not uncommon on the Sky in the 70s and 80s when they instituted the C&R season, after all the jims went home the few fly fishermen had it to themselves. The year I was born, the Big River saw more than 11,000 wild fish return, this past season, 2500. So how does WDFW respond? Not by taking any action to restore populations of wild fish, not with any foresight or creative solutions. Instead its the age old, reactionary, close the river to all fishing and let the poachers have it bullshit. Steelhead culture is literally dying in Puget Sound. guys work their asses off the entire season around here for 3 fish and celebrate like its their birthday after every one. How many of us are willing to do that? Its either that or drive out to the Coast and crowd in on the last few remaining scraps of our once glorious runs of wild steelhead. Thats not how its supposed to be!
And now this, straight outta Seattles one and only daily news rag,
"Because preseason forecasts for returns to the Skagit River Basin are down this year, additional fishing closures to protect wild steelhead also are likely this spring," said Bob Leland, a state Fish and Wildlife steelhead program manager.
That may include the catch-and-release fisheries in the Skagit and Sauk.
...I know she was a hold out but shes one hell of a river. Shoot I'll come right out and say it, I love her. and now they're gonna take it away. They're spooked cause they dont know a damn thing about how many fish are coming back. Last year they predicted 7000 and got back 2500 who didn't see that coming? Once its gone, it never comes back. Just look at the Sky. Closed up shop for C&R in 2003 and hasn't opened since. At the beginning they said, "oh we'll open it up as soon as the escapements come back up." Well the status quo went right on, and where are we now? Record low escapements two years running and not a damn thing changes in how we manage those rivers. Hatchery fish in, nets at the mouth, jims pound reiter and everyones happy right? puke
We're managing the legendary S Rivers as hatchery rivers, and its not working. Every year WDFW dumps millions of salmon and steelhead smolts into them for dismal returns, meanwhile the rivers close Feb 28th once the hatchery return wraps up and they shrug their shoulders as though they haven't the foggiest why ocean survival is so low.
So they close the rivers when the wild fish are around, and frankly who gives a shite about fishing for chambers creek fish? Instead of robust runs of wild fish starting at christmas and lasting through April, we get a 4 week window in December to target hatchery fish. They blow right through all the fly fishable water on the lower river and sit right in the terminal areas where Jim and his 200 best friends stand shoulder to shoulder hucking borax cured nutsacks at them until they give up on their worthless lives and bite. Thats what we're managing for....and its not even working well. Annually ocean survival on Puget Sound hatchery steelhead is in the neighborhood 1%. That means for 400,000 fish out, we get 4000 fish back. Thats fishing welfare goddamit and I want answers.
Like why we allowed harvest until 2001 when stocks in the area were in the middle of an apparently irreversible nosedive? Two years later the Sky was closed in March, probably forever. Its as though WDFWs mentality is either harvest, or no fishing. Look at Oregon. Harvest is allowed on two or three rivers but the rest of the state stays open for C&R because people like catching and releasing wild steelhead dammit. Now the same thing is happening on the Peninsula. We continue to allow harvest on the few remaining "healthy" populations, despite the fact that the Hoh has missed its escapement goal more times in the last decade than not and most runs are shadows of their historic abundance. I'll bet 100 dollars there wasn't a SINGLE river on the westside that made its escapement goal for wild winter steelhead in 2008. If it did, the escapement goal is too low. Thats how bad things have gotten.
Its time for things to seriously change if we want a chance at ever fishing for wild steelhead again. How many of us spend hours daily day dreaming about the next useless spey rod, or overpriced Hardy reel we'll buy when our wild fish are literally disappearing from under us? Guess what fellas, when there aren't any fish left all that shit is irrelevant.
Without the wild fish there is no steelhead culture, hatchery fish just cant do it. That scene at reiter or the cascade or fortson isn't steelheading, its meat harvesting and I want nothing to do with it. Never will frankly. I dont go to the river to smell some dudes dip spit and stand in line to stand on my designated rock. I know and respect plenty of gear fishermen and frankly none of them fish in terminal areas....ever.
So this is what its come down to, time to take our rivers back. Sport fishermen have long been happy to sacrifice for the cause of wild recovery, now WDFW show me the wild recovery. Until you walk the walk I call bullshit. We can't engineer our way out of this one, no hatchery will bring them back. Wild is the Future, and dont forget it.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Who even fishes a 15' type III anymore, are we in the stone ages? Everyone knows that real steelheaders only fish T-14 right....well maybe sometimes I fish it. No one gives the classic 15' type III its props anymore but the sink tip does work. Especially this time of year when then the water can be pretty low and cold, fish will sit in some of the softest little grease pots on the river. Try swimming a 10 foot piece of T14 into the hangdown there. Some guys I know only ever use type IIIs, but lately I've found my go to tip is 10 ft of T14. It sinks nice, stays down and can be fished at a variety of depths depending on the angle of the cast and the density of the fly.
Still there is a special kind of water. Those 3 foot deep, ambling, easy runs where you only want to get down 20-24 inches anyway and anything heavier hangs up. When the water is very cold, and or very high fish will sit right along the edge of the river and fishing all the way to the hangdown in key. With a type three I just huck and let the fly swim, knowing full well it will make it all the way through without hanging up. When the water is moving that slow the fish are unlikely to be glued to the bottom anyway so getting it down a foot or two is normally just what you need. TBone got his last winterfish on a floating line right in the hangdown sauce, these early winter fish are just that lazy.
Cant exactly blame them though, god the days are short. Even pulling dawn patrol, its lucky if I make it through 5 runs in a day of fishing right now. I hate floating early in the winter cause everytime I fish hard at the start and then realize I'm out of daylight and have to paddle my ass off to make it out before dark. I know its normally a no no, but lately with time being so limited for fishing I've been higrading the runs alot more. Just fishing the real meaty bit and moving on. I figure fishing the fishiest bits of a few more places probably ups the odds a bit more than covering all the water. Its always a shame to do that of course because it doesnt allow you to learn the rest of a run and sometimes they hold surprises. Like little buckets or ledges you dont notice until you've fished it a few times and really felt how the fly swims, or structure you don't really know is there until the water drops and clears. Every year brings new challenges, the water changes, sometimes washing away old reliable pieces of water, sometimes rejuvenating those long ago left for filled in. Pulling the DP again tomorrow with a possibility of meeting up with TBone in the evening. Its been a while since we fished plus the waters come up a bit in the last day and things could be looking pretty cherry tomorrow.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Picked up the phone around 4PM yesterday, knowing full well the gist of what I was about to hear. It was T-bone on the other side, and he and Heavy D had been out a couple hours on a local stream. T-bone said, and I quote, "Let the Chromage Begin!!!" Wow...begin indeed, complete with a douchy catch phrase and a shit eating grin. All kidding aside though, its always nice to do our part removing the inferior, hatchery drones they call steelhead from our local streams. Somehow a 6 lb chambers creek fish with no dorsal fin can never stack up to a chrome fish double its size with infinitely more soul. Still, the prospect of feeling a steelheads yank after a month of highwater was enough to have The Heavy and myself back out today at a super secret spot in Pugetropolis. Over the years the spot has been pretty good to us despite the river's general tendency to be devoid of fish, so we thought we'd giver a look.
Weather was heinous, with snow over night, turning to slush, then turning to rain and a thin crust of ice at the rivers edge from a week of subfreezing temps. Still, the water was warmer than it'd been in a while so we figured any fish that were around should be snappy. Had one big yank in some ridiculously froggy water where fish will sit when they're feeling lazy. One spot up there I've never got a fish from but I've been watching it over the years and it seems to be getting fishier. With the low, cold water the structure and speed were perfect and I hooked a bright fish on the red and purple GP, sucker came unpinned after a few rolls and headshakes but at least it was a fish. Things are looking up around here or as TBone might say, "Let the Chromage Begin!!!!"
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Teenwolf has been responsible for some pretty awesome hilarity over the last year or two, including one legendary incident resulting in the coining of a now infamous phrase, the "Tennessee Toothbrush". After a tough day steelheading on a Washington River known for issuing some pretty harsh beatdowns we were settling, having a few drinks and getting ready to call it a day. Trying to stave off a certain case of mossy teeth, beer mouth, and general vileness the following morning I partook in the dentist recommended activity of brushing my teeth (gotta keep those pearly whites shiny). When I asked TW if he intended to do the same he pointed to a bottle of knob creek sitting next to his sleeping bag, "just gonna swash some of this around, that oughta do the trick." Ahhh, the old Tennessee toothbrush! Another instant classic was the time last year when Teenwolf and I both piled into my tiny achilles raft to access the lower end of the Big Trib, not the most comfortable or the safest float of my life but the other boats we saw had a good laugh. Two dudes whos combined weight is in the neighborhood of 420 (TW is easily 240 of that) lbs in one tiny raft with 3 foot paddles. Super ghey, but funny all the same.
Over here on the westcoast we're all looking forward to the return of our good hearted, degenerate friend and hoping once he's a bonified Dr of the Medicine he'll be around more permanently. Hang tough over there buddy, I know those east coast lake run rainbow trout are sissy but you're resilient.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Monday, December 7, 2009
Still a man does love that sweet smoked belly meat. the crispy skin post barbeque. When I'm camped out sometimes I'll just eat it with salt, pepper and some bar-b sauce. swear to god its the tastiest thing since tater-tots. Then sometimes we get fancy with the pan fried steelhead cakes, meltin in your mouth like damn I love heart attacks. oh boy, better check the back of the freezer, I might still have a filet or two.
Friday, December 4, 2009
This one goes out to T-bone, keep practicing your Scottish accent buddy. The trailer is pretty heady with its dramatic music, panning helicopter shots and seriously unnecessary 15 second aerialized load. Still after meeting Scott last May at the Sandy I can say with certainty he doesn't take him self as seriously as the video might lead you to believe. That said, the dude can drop serious bombs. Plus with his Scottish accent he's gotta be a good fisherman right?
That said, fishing with a partner isn't all bad, and over the years I've met and fished with some pretty cool folks. Whether I've known them for years or just met them recently, fishing buddies really are a diverse cast of characters. The different personalities, opinions (fishing, political, otherwise), and backgrounds make them all unique. Since the steelhead bug bit I've been lucky to come across some pretty cool people who were willing to help me along, and some others who were just getting started in this ridiculous pursuit. The trash talking, beer swilling, meat eating group of he man wanna be, spey casting, bums I spend most of time are a pretty interesting cast of characters. Most of them are pretty crafty fishermen, and can be downright hilarious to boot.
All that is a lead up to saying that occasionally on this here blog I'll be devoting some time to one of my fishing buddies. A way of appreciating the folks that make the life of an otherwise solitary angler more lively. You've already been introduced to a few of these mangy bastards in previous posts but this will be a little more formal like.