Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Given the god awful road conditions we'd expected to find the river abandoned, instead we found more or less normal numbers of folks out on a weekday. Apparently we aren't the only people in the Seattle area capable of steelhead induced lunacy. The weather stayed just warm enough to keep the guides from freezing which made the snow somewhat bearable, top if off with a nice big bill trout and a mystery fish that came unpinned after a couple of good headshakes and it was a well above average day. Stopped by All About the Fly on the way home to say hi to Ron and to bid farewell to the brick and mortar shop that has helped nurture both of our steelhead addictions. Sad to see that place go. Ron also showed us some new stinger wire he's discovered that wont go all limp and wiggly like firewire or powerpro. Watch out world, the stinger fly may never be the same.
Friday, December 24, 2010
According to John Shivley, the CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership, the groups currently fighting against the Pebble Mine amount to legal terrorists. This sort of rhetoric from the neoconservative, rape the environment at all costs types is unfortunate, but also not terribly surprising. Now lets lay the facts out here. Shivley and his cronies at the Pebble Partnership are proposing to drill a hole almost a half mile deep through the heart of the worlds most productive salmon ecosystem. No one in the world who doesn't stand to make a lot of money from the project actually believes that the mine and the huge lake of toxic tailings wont have a detrimental and potentially catastrophic impact on Bristol Bay salmon. Now, because groups are fighting to protect the wild salmon that have for thousands of years served as the regions ecological, economic and spiritual heart and soul, they're deemed terrorists. Excuse the coarse language but that's just bullshit. I can't wait to see those assholes kicked to the curb once and for all and sent packing back to their stockholders with nothing to show. I'm not gonna be scared out of protecting the environment by neocon douchebags touting "economic growth". Since when was the economy of Bristol Bay so broken in the first place? And its not as though British companies have a great track record for cleaning up the messes they make on US land.
Found out this week that All About the Fly will be closing their brick and mortar store in Monroe January 22nd. They will still be open for business online. It's a real bummer to loose that shop, its one of my favorites as it has a good assortment of fly tying materials and friendly service. Ron, Brian Page and Mike Kinney are all full of information and sage advice and were more than happy to point me in the right direction during the early stages of my steelhead addiction. The shop will definitely be missed for the characters, casting days on the river and ample BS. Check out their webstore at:
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
This morning I stood waste deep in the early winter dawn, transfixed at the gently rolling, jade green surface dappled with the season's incessant drizzle. Below me the whisper of a distant rapid, above the gnarled alders, barren like the ribs of the mighty river. Winter steelhead season is a time like none other, a time when each solitary step and cast offers the faint glimmer of hope. What lies beneath this molten surface, slowly gliding in its sinuous path towards the pacific? Fishless days blend together in the current until I am momentarily jarred back to attention, tug tug, wait...then nothing. Must have been a cutthroat I mumble to myself, but who will ever know?
Saturday, December 11, 2010
The state has stopped planting smolts in SOME systems without collection facilities. But the Puget Sound is still loaded with hatchery fish and in many parts of the state fish continue to be released with absolutely no prospect for collecting them. WDFW releases all these fish without ever monitoring the impact of hatcheries on wild populations or the proportion on the spawning grounds. Managers may not be paying attention but it doesn't change the fact that the number of hatchery fish that spawn in the wild each year is massive. In Willapa Bay the state manages chinook and coho stocks as integrated, doesn't mark hatchery fish and allows up to a 90% harvest, essentially guaranteeing the extirpation of wild salmon through overfishing and hatchery introgression.
In Puget Sound the state basically closed fishing to protect wild steelhead. Last year WDFW adopted a rule change that closes every river in the Puget Sound except the Skagit on February 15th meaning that they don't see wild populations being able to support incidental C&R mortality in the near future. If populations are fragile enough that they cannot sustain the limited mortality of a sport fishery, how can the impacts of hatcheries possibly be justified? Ocean survival is widely acknowledged to be limiting Puget Sound steelhead populations and yet we continue to release millions of smolts a year, swamping the limited carrying capacity of the sound with unfit hatchery fish. Managers recognize that marine survival is the limiting factor for salmon and steelhead in the sound but have largely shrugged their shoulders as if they have no control over what goes on in the marine environment. Even if the factors associated with survival in the marine environment are poorly understood, the one management tool we have at our disposal is reducing the number of steelhead and salmon released from state hatcheries. This is made necessary not only by the ecological impacts of the system, but also economic realities and the tremendous cost of failing state hatcheries. When hatchery fish are costing taxpayers 800 bucks a pop the system is broken. If the state hatchery system was a private business it would've been bankrupt ages ago, instead we've continued to subsidize fisheries to the tune of nearly 60 million dollars a year. Despite all this spending we continue to loose more and more angling opportunity every year and wild fish are further than ever from recovery. If we hope to recover listed steelhead and chinook in puget sound we need to start accounting for the full impacts of the hatchery system. Why not dramatically reduce the number of hatchery programs in Puget Sound and see if wild fish make a recovery? At this point we're basically out of other options.
Just implementing the State Wide Steelhead Management plan (SWSMp) and some of the recommendations made by the HSRG would represent a major step forward but since its adoption in early 2008 almost none of the SWSMp has been carried out. Worse yet, the year of its adoption, the Quinault tribe knowingly dumped IHN infected smolts into Lake Quinault. Then last year IHN appeared on the Quilleyute system forcing hatchery managers to destroy the entire brood year of adults. The Statewide Steelhead management plan had supposedly put an end to out of basin transfers of hatchery stock, yet in the first test of that policy WDFW opted to transfer tens of thousands of fish from the Hoko hatchery and outplanting of hatchery smolts continues in dozens of rivers around the state.
Now on the Elwha, the greatest salmon restoration project of our lifetimes, they're planning not only to mine wild eggs for broodstock, but also to continue releasing 60,000 chambers creek smolts annually, despite the fact that the river will be closed for five years to any angling. That just doesn't make any sense. At some point it just becomes hatcheries for their own sake. And can anyone actually cite an example of a system where a broodstock program has successfully increased the abundance of wild fish over the long run? A similar project on Hood Canal boosted spawner abudance during the life of the program, but last year only 42 fish returned. Despite uncertain benefits of such a captive breeding program, it has been expanded to a number of other Hood Canal tributaries. A broodstock program on the upper Kalama has been taking about 50 wild fish out of the population annually since 1999 with no appreciable increase in the abundance of wild spawners and the wild broodstock program at Snider Creek has arguably been the least successful hatchery in the state over the last 25 years. Wild fish have shown a tremendous capacity to colonize habitats and the remaining wild fish on the Elwha provide a direct link to the river's evolutionary past. They are the key to recovering the Elwha's once vast wealth of wild salmon. But we have to give them a chance.
Undoubtedly there is a role that hatcheries and selective fisheries can play in our society, but the scale and cost of the current system is not only wasteful but also environmentally destructive. As Kurt Beardslee of the Wild Fish Conservancy says, the Elwha could be a paradigm changer, a grand experiment in the ability of Wild Salmon to recover without the influence of hatcheries. I think most people would be surprised just how quickly populations of wild salmon will grow in the Elwha once the dams are removed. As the western most river in the Puget Sound the Elwha may be less hindered by probelms with early marine survival as many other rivers in the ESU. Some hatchery advocates have cited concerns about high sediment loads in the Elwha as a justification for the wild broodstock program, but think about how much of the watershed wont be affected by dam removal. Tributaries, stable spring-fed offchannel habitats and the mainstem above the dam sites will all provide large refuges for wild spawners.
Wild fish in the Elwha have endured a century of clinging to their existence in the lower 5 miles of river. Miraculously though, they're hanging on. A few hundred wild chinook return annually to the Elwha system, and a small population of steelhead will benefit greatly from healthy numbers of rainbows upstream. Trapped rainbows in the upper river continue to produce smolts every year and bull trout remain in healthy numbers above the dams. The Elwha is arguably the most pristine river in the Lower 48, now with the dams gone the fish will finally be able to use it fully. So why not one river without hatcheries?
Chasing the Scraps:
Elwha Fishing Mortatorium on the Osprey:
Yesterday, for the first time in over about a month I spent an entire day on the water. I have been itching to get out and now that the season is finally upon us I can't wait to spiral into full on steelhead induced revelry. With heavy rains blanketing the region Weds and Thursday the water was a little on the highside, but visibility was solid and the weather couldnt have been fishier. No tugs, but it felt damn good to swim a fly again, explore a little bit of new water and visit some spots from last season. The snow level was about 2000 feet and in the upper valley the mountains seem to hang right over your head. In the early winter light, the broken clouds clinging to the moutains, covered with a fresh coat of snow made for a very striking backdrop. Talked to some gear fisherman and it sounds like there are at least a couple fish around although it will be a while yet before the peak of the run comes in.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
With heavy rain falling throughout the region, life around here is starting to feel pretty darned fishy. We've had a spell of cold, low water and with warmer temps and a splash of rain things ought to pick up in a major way now. There have been reports of fish in every major river but the next few weeks will be telling with regards to how the hatchery return will shape up. This time of year can be tough, with ultra short days, unpredictable conditions and unsnappy fish, but its great to feel the drive to fish taking over again. November is always a time for recovery, relaxation and attending to nonangling related matters. Now its time to tuck in the kids, kiss the wife goodbye and buckle down for the best part of a steelheaders year. I've spent the past 3 days tying, cutting tips, prepping gear, now its time to go, should be a fun ride.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Finally got out fishing again, even if it was only a few hours. It was great to see my buddy Ryan Smith of Arch Anglers Guide Service. I've known Ryan for a while and over the past few years he's become a good buddy and a reliable fishing partner. We only had a couple of hours so we headed to a local pugetropolis stream that may have once had a few steelhead. The water was low and clear but we fished good water and it was great to be out again. The dogs had a pretty good romp too.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
There are alot of reasons to deal with climate change, but as anglers one glaring reason is, steelhead go to the ocean. The ocean is going to get alot less productive for coldwater fish like steelhead when the climate changes. Add in the fact that increased atmospheric CO2 is already acidifying our oceans and in 100 years it may not matter how far we've come in terms of the management of our wild salmon. If the ocean isn't a productive place for salmon it will all be for not.
Friday, December 3, 2010
For those who haven't followed along with this blog since summer (so probably all of you) might not be aware of the fact that I have, at times been critical of of Rio's newly released MOW tips. In my last post on the topic I suggested they were a rip off, gimmick that was a classic example of needless overmarketing in the flyfishing industry. That suggestion raised the slightly amused ire of one well known steelhead guide who was in part responsible for the inception of the MOW tip concept. What followed was a length description of the benefits of their tip system which can now be read on a number of popular spey fishing forums.
In reading these I came to the startling conclusion that Dr. Ward and I actually agree on basically every aspect of the sink tip fishing game. And that he has thought long and hard about the technical challenges presented by winter steelhead fishing and how to best address them with the equipment. He pioneered the use of shorter, heavier tips in winter steelhead fishing and I scarcely use anything but short pieces of t14 for my own winter fishing any more, mostly because I like how it turns over slug sized pieces of rabbit. So I owe you an apology, I'm certain that MOW tips are an effective tool for sinktip fishing as I've used them myself. Not the rio brand, but tips in many of the same lengths and weights as those available in the factory tip set. And for some anglers making your own sink tips probably isn't worth the time when you can just buy it prepackaged at the flyshop. Call it a stylistic difference.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
Jonesing obscenely hard this week. Its been more than a while since I've been on the water and we're right in the midst of the steelhead doldrums here in the Salish Sea. Things are about to get slightly more interestin in the next month as we should be seeing a few hatchery winters, enough at least to keep the antsiness and cabin fever at bay. My attention span has been next to zero one minute someone in the lab is talking to me, giving me very important instructions the next I'm wondering where I'd like to fish in February during the reading break. Wondering what the run just above the junction with the Big River looks like, and if the fish will be laying in the run above the bridge like last year. Hopefully winter break will provide an opportunity to get out and fish a little. Wouldn't mind making it out to the rainsoaked hinterlands but we'll see what familial responsibilities come up. In the meantime day dreaming, scouring the internet aimlessly for fish porn or scenery photos will have to do.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Winters here and a month from now we'll be in the midst of the local, nonexistent hatchery run. By christmas there should be native fish in every river in the region. Every year the crowding gets worse and worse but I've realized a few things over the last few years, one of which is I'd rather walk, and have a chance at a fish in solutide, at the end of the day its all about the peace you find, the greasy new bucket, the cedars dripping with moss and the faintest hope that maybe, after a long day walking, that beautiful wild fish lights you up and leaves you shaken. Looking forward to this winter like never before.
A few from this week:
Clear Water 1/0 Spey
Peacock and Silver.
Monday, November 22, 2010
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Talking today to Tbone about an article I saw in the Oregonian about 4 counties in WA and OR that are opposing the Columbia DEIS on the grounds that they believe the Columbia needs more hatchery fish he dropped some seriously enlightening knowledge about the state of political affairs in some of the counties in Coastal Washington and Oregon:
"jims love hatcheries...ji
"yay for america"
The funny thing is, he's right. These county commissioners, with their opposition to the DEIS are actually doing themselves a disservice. Upper River stocks are depressed in part because of huge numbers of unfit hatchery fish spawning in the wild, and until ESA listed stocks make some semblance of a recovery, down river fishing opportunities are going to continue to be very limited. It doesnt matter how many hatchery fish you dump into the Columbia as long as they're swimming along side endangered Redfish Lake Sockeye, Upper Columbia Steelhead, etc. Figure it out Jim's...it doesn't take einstein
More info from the Osprey:
Saturday, November 13, 2010
In a recent press release WDFW identified ways it will seek to alleviate its massive budget shortfall. Among the options listed was closing a number of hatcheries, reducing enforcement, and...here's the killer, closing Puget Sound tributaries for steelhead fishing. Already opportunities to fish for steelhead in Puget Sound rivers have been cut sharply. Last year all rivers closed mid-February to protect low numbers of wild steelhead, and this year the same is expected. I'm not sure how they could possibly limit steelhead fishing any further short of closing the rivers for the entire winter. It is clear that steelhead in Puget Sound are in trouble, but does anyone actually believe sport fishing is to blame? Certainly incidental CnR mortality on wild puget sound steelhead is undesirable, but any biologist at WDFW or NMFS will tell you, poor marine survival is really whats limiting Puget Sound steelhead.
The legacy of historic habitat degradation and overharvest remains, but the habitat has been slowly recovering from the rapacious logging practices of the 60s, 70s and 80s and harvest of wild steelhead hasn't been allowed any where in the sound in almost a decade. C n R opportunities continue to disappear at an alarming rate and WDFW doesn't seem inclined to do anything but close sport fishing. Hatcheries continue to dump millions of fish into the sound annually, with almost no return. Last year a state auditor's report revealed that the average puget sound blackmouth costs taxpayers 780 dollars and more hatchery fish are released in the Elwha every year than on the ENTIRE Oregon Coast. All that fisheries wellfare is what's bankrupting our state fisheries management agency and it isn't working, period. Monitoring efforts are a joke, with index reach methodology that hasnt been calibrated since the 1970s and almost no effort to enumerate parr or smolt production. WDFW doesn't put confidence intervals around their abundance estimates, but if they did it would quickly reveal the fact that they have almost no idea whats going on. The entire Skykomish system wasn't even surveyed in 2007, 2008 and 2009 because of poor visibility. Meanwhile, wild fish continue to decline and there has been no comprehensive effort to understand survival in the marine environment or to what extent hatcheries are contributing to the problems in the sound. If we hope to help steelhead recover in the sound, the first step is actually monitoring populations, if that comes at the expense of wasteful hatchery programs, so be it.
Even more disappointing is the fact that the state promised to establish Wild Salmonid Management Areas in the Statewide Steelhead Management plan, to date they have yet to take any action. Guess what, wild fish cost nothing to produce. They are a part of the natural wealth of our region, a gift from 7000 years of evolution. WDFW seems to believe that fisheries cannot exist without harvest opportunity and it is time for that paradigm to change. The future of wild fish depends on change, and given the current budget woes, now is the time to redefine the mission of our outdated fish management in Washington.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
A bright fish is headed towards home. It might say fall on the calendar but it sure felt a lot like winter today. With the clear cold weather, the North Van mountains tower over the city with their tops covered in a fresh coat of snow. We're still 3 months from the heart of steelhead season but that time will fly by. Of course that hasn't always been the case, historically good numbers of wild winter steelhead entered our rivers beginning in December. Catching a bright wild fish in November wasn't unheard of. Those fish still exist but 50 years of "segregated" hatchery programs, tributary logging and non-selective harvest have whittled their numbers down to nearly nothing. Still, somewhere in the Salish Sea is a bright, wild, winter steelhead headed home. Only one thing to do, swing your fly and wait....
Sunday, November 7, 2010
This is not a political blog, its a fish blog, but unfortunately sometimes the two overlap. Midterm elections this week were a vivid reminder of that fact, where Washington voters had the dismal choice between Patty Murray and Dino Rossi. Murray a three term Democrat has been woefully absent from the discussion over what to do about the four lower snake river dams and appears much more interested in pandering to lobbyists and ensuring her own reelection than addressing the needs of her constituents. Rossi on the other hand is a realestate barron with enough money to fund his continually failing political aspirations who happily takes handouts from the Building Industry Association of Washington, the same organization that is constantly on the wrong side when it comes to habitat protection for endangered species, the same organization that petitioned for the delisting of endangered upper columbia steelhead. You can see it wasn't a pretty choice. In the end Murray won, barely.
Hopefully the close call serves as a wakeup call that a politician is defined by their responsiveness to the people they were elected to serve, not by the photo-ops and political star power that lines up on their side. Our political system, indeed most of our institutions seems woefully removed from the citizens which fund and support their very existence. The two party system which we live in almost ensures ineffective government where the two parties are guaranteed a hegemony over political discourse and are therefore preoccupied by their election prospects and the petty disputes with their political adversaries.
Please stop the bullshit and do something.
In Oregon the situation looks a lot better. John Kitzhaber eeked out a win over his republican opponent, ensuring that Oregon will continue to lead the region with progressive efforts to restore and protect wild salmon. Kitzhaber is a well known advocate for wild salmon and serves on the board of Oregon Trout.
Only time will tell what this election will mean for our region but we can only hope it wont be more of the same from Washington's senate delegation.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
The other day at the salmon rally the chief of the Squamish first nations band addressed the crowd. Well dressed and eloquent he greeted us saying,
"hello and welcome to our territory"
I chuckled at the time, but the idea resonated with me. A nod to our predecessors on this land, whose way of life has been so easily pushed aside by the onslaught of European colonialism and western capitalist ambition.
He spoke of animals as "people" and of the sacred pact between his tribe and the salmon. Those salmon who for so many centuries gave life to the NW coastal indians. He spoke of the balance of nature and respect for that balance saying,
"for us this is not science, it is ancient wisdom, it is a way of life"
and I thought, right on.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Spent yesterday morning with a few hundred other wild fish advocates in the pissing rain, rallying with Alex Morton in hopes of sending a message to the Cohen Commission. Fish farms belong on land, period. It is absolutely ludicrous that DFO, the agency charged with sustaining BCs wild salmon resources in perpetuity has sold its soul to Norwegian Multinational Fish Farmers. Fish farms have wrought havoc on wild salmon populations by filling juvenile migration routes with parasitic sealice and disease from their million fish feedlots. In Chile, where disease destroyed the salmon farming industry the industry hit and run, leaving communities which had shifted resources and livelihoods in shambles. The same is happening in BC. The technology is in place to run profitable salmon farming operations on land, and some visionaries are already doing it. However for widespread adoption of land based farming it will take a legal mandate. The Cohen Commission hearings began this week and it is imperative that they demand full disclosure of salmon farm disease records which have until now been veiled in secrecy, hidden by DFO and salmon farming companies from the public eye.
Friday, October 22, 2010
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Just wanted to give a shout out to my labmate and buddy Brendan Connors for a couple of scientific papers he published recently that have been making noise in popular media. Brendan and his collaborators document a new mechanism by which sea lice transfer between pink salmon and their coho predators. Sea lice loading on coho appears to have had an extremely detrimental effect on productivity of coho stocks over the last 20 odd years and hopefully this will add ammunition to the tidal wave of work already coming down on the salmon feedlot industry. Get that shit out of the ocean and on dry land where it belongs. Its always nice to see when a group of scientists has spines stiff enough to do great work and stand up to government and industry pressure.
Brendan is also a serious fish bum although hopefully his work on behalf of wild fish pays off with some good fish juju. Cheers buddy.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Friday, October 1, 2010
After 5 days of shaking off the northcountry crust, working in the office and attending to non fishing responsibilities I'm going out of town again. Just a couple days this time, but the weather turned sweet just in time for the weekend. I'm headed south to meet up with the Teenwolf, back from medschool for a four day steelhead binge. I hear he'd already got a few, we'll have to see what we find. Fishing some new water to me so excitement and expectation is high, regardless of the outcome floating, drinking beer and trash talking with TW will be good. Last time I saw the big fella was in February on the Big River. Given the time of year and the robust run of fish we're having this fall the river should be pretty full of those aggressive little wild fish. This time of the year is always bittersweet, but its the best time to find a fish on the dryline. Better get it while its good.
Monday, September 27, 2010
Got back into town late on Saturday night, boy does the Northcountry Blues hit hard. I had planned to fish through Saturday but it pissed rain all day and night Friday and I woke saturday morning to find the river chocolaty and gone for at least a couple of days. Rather than doddle around I thought it best to hit the road and get to those nagging responsibilities which had been building up steadily since I left the week before. After 9 dayson the road, sleeping in the tent, fishing 13 hours straight in moist, stanky waders and eating a steady diet of cornchips, PBJ and various barbequed meat I was ready to be home. Still, city life seems strange, rushed and completely detached from the reality of the planet we live on.
If you haven't heard by now they're having a great run this year up north. Tyee test fishery counts are the second highest on record and I've heard rumors of anywhere from 18,000-30,000 fish returning above Moricetown. Thats alot of steelhead and for the 8 days I was there the fishing ranged from steady to absurd. After last years trip I wanted to spend a little more time, see a some new water, and revisit some good spots from last year. I also set a few goals for the trip, 1. catch more than half my fish on the dryline, 2. catch a fish on a waker, 3. find a rhythm in my fishing. Going in I'd heard good reports and tyee counts looked good but I was hesitant to get too hopeful. The most important thing to me was to catch a few fish, on my terms, fish well, learn the rivers I fished and try my best to forge a connection with the rivers that flow through gods country.
The first few days went more or less as expected. Found a small onesalt buck the first evening on the dryline with a purple smuddler which helped the confidence and reinforced the supremely fishy feeling I've had about that pattern for sometime. The next day I found a couple of fish, two which pluck plucked the first swing only to crush the fly. Also got a very large hen, probably equal in size to the two other largest fish I've ever caught (both on the big mighty river). The rest of the trip more or less as planned. All but two fish were on the dryline which was extremely gratifying. The funny thing is, despite the fact that fish in the northcountry are world renowned dryfly eaters, most dudes still fish tips. With water on the low clear side I think a dryline was actually fishier than tips and the fish seemed to have no ambivalence about rising a few feet in the water column to blow up my wakers.
The Northern Rivers are so special. I always feel like I'm looking into the past of our southern streams, into the primordial world when salmon and steelhead still outnumbered anglers when a moose or grizzly can stumble out of the woods at any minute. The north is a raw, young land. A place of epic views, harsh and abrupt seasons and rivers with a power rarely witnessed in the more southern latitudes. Even in mid september, the nights were well below freezing and each morning the tent was covered in a thin coat of ice where condensation from the previoius night had frozen. Accordingly, the fish are strong, determined and 100% wild something which is difficult to find following a century of industrial scale hatchery production. If last year was a primer to the unforgettable beauty of the northcountry and its fish this year was a big step towards total ruin. This year the timing was better, the fish more abundant and I fished on my terms, in no particular hurry and confident that the fish would willingly rise to the surface. There is absolutely nothing more gratifying or exciting than raising a steelhead to a waking fly, even if every time I have to fight my impulse to immediately raise the rod tip and take the fly away. All in all an unforgettable trip, 9 days fishing alone in some of the beautiful country on earth, I even found a few fish.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Monday, September 13, 2010
What makes a good guide? Well being a dirt poor, fish bumming lowlife I’ve never experienced a guided trip first hand. That said, spend enough time on your home rivers and chances are you’ll get to know at least a few guides. Every angler is looking for something different, but as an outsider looking in I would argue that a good, complete guide has to meet a couple of important criteria. First, they must be a teacher. Anyone can row a boat down a river, drive a jet sled, or stand idly while clients accrue wind knots, casting poorly into unlikely water. Second, a guide must be a good citizen of the river, that means respecting other anglers and perhaps more importantly, being an advocate for the wild fish which provide their livelihood. Finally the obvious, a good guide must be fishy. Fishiness is hard to quantify, but basically some have it and some don’t. While there are a number of good guides working the steelhead rivers of the Pacific Northwest, Ryan Smith owner of Arch Anglers Guide Service is a good friend who to me epitomizes all that a guide should be.
I first met Ryan a number of years ago when he was still working at Avid Angler. Since then we’ve shared more than a few days on the water, had some epic adventures and consumed more beers than the surgeon general would recommend. He also snapped a photo of the largest fish I’ve ever gotten, a sweet March Hen on the Big Trib a few years back that remains forever etched in my memory. As an added bonus, he also allows me and the fish hound to crash his couch when we’re chasing fish on the eastside.
Ryan has been busting his ass the last few years getting his business off the ground and from the sounds of it, it’s paying off. It’s good to see someone being rewarded for doing things the right way. He’s dedicated to conservation and to giving his clients an experience that will stay with them, whether he’s teaching a double spey or tailing the fish of a lifetime. While Ryan is a devout steelhead bum, he’s also extremely knowledgeable about fishing the beaches of Puget sound, and trouting on the Yakima. With steelhead runs tanking in Puget Sound, guides must be jack of all trades to make a living anymore.
He also stands out as the only guide to my knowledge who fishes the eastslope and doesn’t emphasize bobber fishing from the boat. The Rivers draining the eastern cascades are renowned for their free rising, acrobatic steelhead and the explosion in the number of people guiding these rivers who almost exclusively bobber fish is disheartening. While Ryan would never condemn the tactics of another angler he instead focuses on imparting to his clients the rewards of fall steelheading with a floating line, and I can tell you, they catch plenty of fish.
Check out Ryan’s website:
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
First stop was the Rattlesnake Fork where I'd previously scouted a sweet, secluded river side camp spot conveniently situated next to a couple of the fishiest runs I've seen. The first morning I'd fished through all three of the runs in camp by about 8AM and decided to take a second pass. A fish took In the very top of run just where the run went from boiling white water to smooth surfaced seam and ran immediately downstream before screaming up and across, jumping out of the water and throwing the hook. After a rusty summer it was just the affirmation I needed, steelhead still take flies. Being early yet in the season my expectations were fairly low on the Rattlesnake Fork, but it was beautiful weather and scenery and the camping by the river would have been worth it on its own. The fish was a great bonus though.
The next afternoon we drove back out to Fogtown and up the coast to Oregon to the mouth of a long storied river. Arriving near dusk there wasn't alot of time for scouting, but a quick drive out on the bar in camp revealed a reasonably fishy looking piece of water. The next morning I woke at o'dark thirty to the sound of diesel trucks rumbling down to the boatlaunch. In riverside campgrounds throughout the west an alarmclock is hardly necessary and for a light sleeper the predawn diesel truck hatch is normally more than enough. The first run proved fishy and gave up a couple of nice half pounders, which put a surprisingly nice bend in the old brown 5120-4. The thing I love about half pounders is their exuberance. They still take with a force that can only be found in fish which have traveled the ocean and without fail they leapt from the water when hooked, meaning that despite numerous encounters, few came to hand. Drove upriver a ways after the first run, hoping to fish below the mouth of the first major tributary, but I found the river crowded with jet boats filled with gear anglers chasing Chinooks. The crowds and bad manners were a major turn off, and after having one jet boating Jim drive over my line repeatedly I asked him nicely to please drive up the otherside of the river. Spent the afternoon in the sun on the beach and the next morning after fishing we packed it in and headed up the coast, then inland to the NU.
I had a chance last summer to fish the Ump for a couple of days, but since then I'd been thinking about it often. 30 miles of beautiful flyfishing only water is more than an angler could reasonably explore in a summer, let alone a few short trips so I've been trying to take it in piece by piece. The great thing is, other than the few quintessential runs near the mouth of Steamboat, the river tends to be fairly open and there is plenty of amazing water. The first day was pretty uneventful, lots of casting, no fish to the fly. The second evening, in the last run of the night I hooked a fish in a sweet looking piece of water behind a pile of fishy ass boulders and got absolutely schooled. Fish jumped twice right off then bat, then peeled off way down into the backing before running towards shore and cartwheeling within a few feet of the bank and then sprinting back up river. The fish settled down and the holyshit part of the fight was over, just when I'd caught my breath and was picking up some line, working down towards a better spot to try and land the fish it leapt on last time and threw the hook. Despite loosing the fish, I got all I could ask of it and got a huge confidence boost. The fish took a red and black smuddler, flies which I've been tying all summer in anticipation for this time of the year.
The next morning was the last fishing of the trip, and around nine, with the sun just beginning to peak around the doug firs and basalt cliffs, I stopped in at a shady little run that I fished last year and found to my liking. I started in at the top with a skunk, a fly that normally gives me major confidence, however about half way through the run I saw a fish jump out of the water near the head of the run. I'd fished over that spot just minutes before without a take. Who can say why, but starting in at the top of the run for a second pass I knotted on a purple and black smuddler, figuring the bright purple body and the movement of the wing would provide a nice comeback after the more drab, buggy skunk. a few casts into the run the fish took with an electric jolt was was immediately off to the races. Fist downstream, then up, then across, then back up, leaping directly across from me showing itself, a male about 7 pounds with just a hint of color. I reeled, then stripped line frantically, trying to keep tension on the fish and had managed to hold on when the fished jumped even closer, its body contorting in the air. Then the line was stuck...the fish had run around a rock, leapt and broken the line in midair. As I tied on my new fly I could barely thread the eye of the hook, my hands shook and my heart beat quickly, trying to catch my composure after the frantic excitement of the fish. I did eventually manage to tie on the fly, but my fish encounters were done for the trip. 0 for 3 on hook ups with three sound ass beatings, the fish won fair and square, whatelse is there to do but sit down and catch your breath?
Sunday, September 5, 2010
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Reading through Comb's classic "Steelhead Fly Fishing" for the zillionth time last night and I noticed a passage I thought I'd share. Let me first preface this by saying that while I love Trey Comb's books I've long been puzzled by their only passing mention of the threats facing wild fish. By the time Steelhead Fly Fishing was published in 1991, wild steelhead were in deep trouble throughout most of their range. While he does discuss dams at some length in the chapter on the Clearwater, Combs mostly chooses an uncontroversial tact, focusing primarily on the fishing prospects of our storied rivers, effective flies, and angling lore.
That's all well and good, but its been done. If the culture of steelhead fly fishing is to survive in the 21st centurry it will take all of our will and dedication to protect the wild fish which are the fabric of our sporting culture. I see hopeful signs, yet collectively we remain woefully slow to transcend our techno gagetry, spey casting, fly marketing, story telling and resignation to failure and enter the ring for our wild fish. So while I will always love Trey's books I look to Authors like McMillan and Roderick Haig-Brown as the godfathers of our modern sporting traditions and ethics. Both of these men have written extensively on intricacies of fly fishing for steelhead and both were decades ahead of their time in recognizing the growing list of threats facing wild steelhead. Not only did they recognize these threats but they became ardent advocates for the fish they loved.
While he has not written extensively on steelhead flyfishing, Bill Bakke has made his dedication to wild fish his life's work and Steelhead Fly Fishers all over the world owe him a debt of gratitude for it. He has been working on behalf of wild fish for 30 years and the Native Fish Society, an organization he founded in 1995 is one of the most effective and consistent advocacy groups in the Northwest. In our culture of steelhead hero worship, Bakke sometimes doesn't get all the credit he's due, he was also among the first in our region to experiment with waking flies for steelhead. His classic pattern the Dragonfly remains extremely effective and that brings me to the passage in Combs book,
Bill tied the first waking dry I ever saw. We were fishing the Wind River, and he showed me a new pattern he called a Dragon Fly. It had the spun head of a muddler, deer hair wings that stuck out from each side nearly horizontal to the water, and a deer hair tail. It floated well, but extremely low, and then came alive under tension. The wings became little paddles as the fly rocked back and forth and churned a bubbly wake through the swing. Steelhead devoured his entire supply that day. It seems like one of us was into a fish constantly. The flies were a wonder. It was years before I heard about Bombers.
Bill Bakke was ahead of his time in other ways too. Twenty-five years ago, the Kalama River already had a ten year history of stocking hatchery steelhead. The first plants were a mixture of Cowlitz and Elochoman winter steelhead. And in 1957, the Kalama received Washougal and Klickitat summer stocks, those selectively bred Skamania stocks that came to be planted everywhere, even in the Great Lakes.
The Kalama naturally had fresh steelhead every month of the year. It was famous for its springers, sexually immature summer-runs that came in as early as March, with the winter fish. The main summer-run month was July, the perfect fishing month in the Northwest. Upriver, in the area of Pigeon Springs was a short fly-fishing only section. Add to these resources the prospect of an ambitious hatchery program, and you have angling Nirvana. Send a tiny fish to sea, argued the hatchery proponents, and get back a steelhead weighing seven or eight pounds. This arrangement with Mother Nature would be a bargain at half the cost! Hatcheries were nothing less than an integral part of the American way of guaranteeing that more anglers would catch more steelhead. Punching your card out meant your annual limit of thirty steelhead had been realized. This is what your license money paid for, and a skilled angler expected his money's worth. The Good Old Boy network could tell you who was and wasn't.
Bill Bakke spoke to me in a strange reactionary tounge. He talked of catch and release, gene pools, racial diversity, and why he hated hatcheries. In his mind, they were a covenant with the Devil, the state getting off cheap for sucking the life's blood from the watershed. Whether is was dewatering, deforestation, dams, or the kind of massive erosion that turns spawning gravel into concrete didn't matter. Native steelhead were races unique to each river, ten thousand generations had seen to that. The most perfect Kalama River steelhead was a wild fish, naturally born and bred. They existed and flourished because of the pristine watershed. Dumping a weird genetic mix of hatchery steelhead into the Kalama - and a hundred other rivers as well - was rape of the native strain's genetic integrity. Bill believed that. In time, I believed it too.
Check out the Native Fish Society's Website: