Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Another Season In the Books

Winter season ended officially for me today and it came full circle nicely. Other than a few days in the hinterlands fishing time's been scarce of late. With school and other non-hermit activities keeping me preoccupied, I have been hard pressed to get a full day of fishing in. So when a weekday open in my calendar today, I knew it would be my last chance to get out before the end of April, and the unofficial (or official depending where you live) end of the winter steelhead season.

April is just so good, it hurts to see it end. This evening at 8PM I was standing knee deep in a run about a mile above tide in the Sea to Sky country, watching swallows dive on a huge spinner fall. A perfect end to a season which has gone from the short, frigid days of winter to full on spring. The fish continue to ascend the rivers, but it will be only a matter of weeks now before the last of the fresh fish pass through the lower river to the upriver spawning grounds. I got onto the river a little before noon and with the sun on the water decided to fish a classic orange GP. A lot of folks knock the classic general practitioner as a stiff, traditional fly, but something about the pattern is so fishy too me. I've gotten just enough fish on it that I can always fish it with confidence, and when the water has enough visibility and it feels right I never hesitate to tie one on.

Got a fish near the bottom of a nice long run I've fished a few times this winter. It always seemed fishy, but it was nice to finally get some confirmation. The fish was a male, chrome and thick shouldered, as bright as the first I landed this season, probably 14 pounds and sporting a pair of sealice just above the anal fin. It never ceases to amaze me that fresh wild steelhead are literally entering many of our rivers in this region for five months. Some systems, year round. This winter, like every other since I became afflicted with an interest in steelheading went by all too fast. From the barren cold of january to the leafy sweetness of this long April day, winter season has so much variety. Throughout the season the river and its surroundings change, however the constant remains the pursuit of the steelhead, native to our waters. Building throughout the season to this point when spring rains, high tides and warming rivers drive the biological necessity to spawn and deposit the next generation of fish to their natal waters. Fish are as fresh and aggressive as ever in April and I often think a dryline would be more than adequate. I spoke with a guy today on the river who was fishing a 6 foot piece of type III and from the sounds of it, it provided more than enough depth to entice fish to strike. Knowing that, I can't help but wonder why we even both fishing tips? Habit mostly I guess, plus we know it works...

Just another question that will have to wait until next year.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Last week of spring steelhead

Last week of steelhead season in the lower mainland for me. Hope to get out before the season closes down as there should be a fish or two around and water temps are pretty excellent for finding them. We've been getting rain off and on all week but between downpours its been downright pleasant outside. Sunny days this time of year dawn and dusk start to matter a little more I think, maybe i'll drag my ass out of bed early monday?..

Missing the big river bad this week...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Somewhere in a Remote Coastal Inlet

Leaving the city behind

Spent yesterday with a couple of good buddies/fellow biologists. A boat ride of under an hour took us to the head of a remote coastal inlet where a smallish river (think upper NF stilly) enters saltwater. Anadromous fish can access roughly 7 miles of this stream before they reach an impassable falls, so we weren't expecting huge numbers of steelhead, but we figured with the splash of rain over the weekend and the remote setting we might be able to find something. The ride up to the river was an experience in itself and riding north up the inlet surrounded by snowcovered ridges rising straight from the waters edge. In the early morning, the water was glass, blurring the distinction between where sky and water met. After setting out a pair of crab and prawn traps, we got started and hiked up to where the canyon starts to close in, just below where the falls block fish passage. With limited information on fish populations in this particular river, we didn't know what to expect, however an old report from the Ministry of Environment indicated that the little river once supported a respectable sport fishery for steelhead and was known for producing large bodied fish. Anticipation was great, but given the poor condition of almost every stock of steelhead in the Georgia Basin our expectations were tempered by realism.


The river was in good shape. Running about a foot above the algae line but clear, the river had risen considerably with rain over the weekend and the first nudge of spring snowmelt. Hiking upriver we stopped to admire the tranquility of the valley. Only an hours boat ride from a booming megatropolis, home to more than 1.5 million people and the little river valley was like taking a step back in time. Without a sign of human's touch other the old road we walked, a dock and a few old buildings near the mouth the roughly 5 mile walk up river to the canyon was like taking a step back in time.


We found a few good runs, but as with many floodplain rivers, there was also alot of glidy, riffle water with little promise of holding fish. One pool at the junction with a large tributary seemed particularly promising. Roughly 4 feet deep in the thalweg, a bottom of large cobble, dotted with boulders ranging from 2-3 feet in diameter the run seemed to have all the characteristics of a good piece of steelhead water. Chris was fishing a small bucktail jig under a float and when he hooked a fish, I thought we'd found a quicksilver ghost. The fish thrashed violently at the surface and put a deep bend in his rod, even after seeing the fish cartwheel I thought it might have been a small steelhead but as it got closer we realized it was a resident rainbow. With long fins, a touch of purple on the flanks and a heavy spotting pattern on the back and below the lateral line, it was probably the nicest rainbow I've ever seen in a coastal system with access to anadromy. Even more interesting, the fish appeared to be a female. Granted every population of fish will have males and females, however if there was a sizable anadromous component, we would expect the sex ratio of resident fish to be strongly skewed towards males. Resident, male "rainbows" routinely spawn with anadromous females, but under historic ocean conditions, with reasonable smolt survival, females will be predominantly anadromous. The reproductive advantages of large body size and higher fecundity are just so much more pronounced for females. So while we were glad to see such a beautiful fish, it raises some interesting questions about the life history distribution of O.mykiss in this particular river. Could it be an indication that the anadromous life history is no longer viable? Future expeditions will most certainly include snorkel gear.

Resident female?

Towards the end of the day, walking back to the river we stopped at one final spot, a pool just at the top end of tidal influence. Just above the estuary the river becomes fairly confined between cobble banks and large conifers hold the river in place creating a nice run, heavy in the head scouring down the middle and gradually softening as it slides over large, jagged boulders, characteristic of the young landscape of the region. For me fishing steelhead rivers at tide water is a treat. So many of the rivers in our region are heavily impacted by urbanization, diking, and agriculture that for the most part fishing isn't even worthwhile in the lower river. Here however, was a perfect steelhead run 100 yards from a tidal estuary and centuries away from the day to day. Near the bottom of the run the scenery opened, offering a view of the broad tidal estuary where the deep green conifers and newly budding alders gave way to spring flowers and marsh grasses. If ever there was a place to catch a steelhead this was it.

Back at the boat I asked Brendan about his experiences with that particular run. While he isn't particularly experienced fishing for steelhead he fishes the river regularly for chum and pink salmon and has found that the fish don't hold in that run but rather push through on high tide and by the time the tide ebbs, they've made their way above the tidal reach, leaving the seemingly perfect run devoid of fish. Like I said, my experience fishing tidal reaches of rivers for steelhead is almost nothing, but I couldn't help but wonder whether the steelhead would do the same? Then I remembered a chapter from Steve Raymond's book, Steelhead Country where he discusses fishing for steelhead in the tide water. It seems to me, if I remember correctly that his observation was that steelhead were much more inclined to linger in tidal reaches of the river after the tide has fallen. Can anyone confirm this observation? I'd love to hear more from the readers on your experiences and observations of fishing steelhead at tide. People catch steelhead in tide water on the Dean right?

Grandeur in a coastal fjord

The day would've been perfect if some shithead hadn't robbed us for two prawn traps and more than a $100 worth of leadline. We just missed the bastard too, the bouys were floating perfectly equidistant apart, about 100 meters up the inlet from where we'd set our traps and the tide had been ebbing almost all day, meaning that the traps had been stolen within an hour or so since the tide slacked and started flooding. Nothing like loosing 300 dollars worth of borrowed prawning gear to put a sour taste in the mouth.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Last Fresh Fish of the Season

It rained last night, but this rain was of a different sort. After a winter of frigid, chilling rain, which saturates the landscape this rain felt very distinctive. Every spring, with the trees budding out, the flowers awakened from their winter slumber, there is a noticeable shift in the smell of the air, and the feeling of the rain on the skin. This is type of rain that seems to quench the land, feeding yet more life into the vibrancy of springs new growth.

With these rains come the last trickles of late spawning wild, winter steelhead. In rivers all around the Northwest coast, bright females, laden with loose eggs will slide into their natal streams and deposit their offspring into the river of their ancestors. Among the dark males and spawned out females desperate to return to the ocean and recover their strength, these fish can be found. Close to tide, in the green, mysterious broken water lays the last bright fish of winter.

Late Season Chrome for TBone

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Guides, numbers and the ethics of chasing wild fish

Well the rumor mill is busy again. I've been pretty checked out of the online banter this winter. Too busy with having a life and trying to manage some fishing time to worry about it. Still news of a 30 fish day for a somewhat notorious fly guide have me scratching my head. In my few limited interactions with this individual he has always professed to be a true lover of wild fish, an advocate with every intention of doing right by the resource. Othertimes however, actions speak louder than our words. Hooking 30 fish in a day is unethical period, and I do not say this out of jealousy. Regardless of our chosen method of angling, the greed and blantant disregard for our personal impact on the resource that is implicit in hooking 30 fish in a single day of fishing is an abomination. Pressure has skyrocketed on the few remaining rivers in WA and if we are serious about protecting these precious fish we all need to take a hard look at our own actions.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record I will ask, when does a good day turn into a ludicrous act of egotism? Why the need to measure dicks by catching so many fish? Certainly a 3 fish day is worth celebrating? A 5 fish day the day of a lifetime. These fish are too precious not to value every single one as though it was the last of its kind, and the hypocrisy of pointing fingers at tribal gillnet fisheries while simulateously fishing under the blind illusion that more is better, bragging rights supercede all and a man is measured by the number of fish in the net is a falacy.

This soulless, pseudo flyfishing culture caters to beginning "flyfishers" who lack the knowledge about the resource to know any better, and these guides selling their "expertise" and the promise of huge numbers rake in money. Meanwhile they do nothing to protect the resource which puts money in their pocket and fuels their egos. Since when was the method which presented the least challenge the most desirable? A real guide is a teacher, a steward, a man who lives for the observation of the river and its fish. Sadly it seems that these types are too often drowned out in the chorus of self promoting, boat racers who have marketed their way into the guiding profession.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Difference is Obvious

A piece on another blog got me thinking, and how often do we compare wild v. hatchery fish on a merely aesthetic basis? Obviously there is ALOT more to it than that but the differences are often stark. Every wild fish is unique, beautiful, locally adapted, however in my experience a hatchery fish which is a decent substitute when considered on a purely aesthetic basis is fairly unusual. Of course this is entirely my opinion, and certainly reflects my natural inclination to dislike hatcheries because of their impacts on our beloved wild salmon and steelhead. Still a side by side comparison is useful in proving my point. Check out these photos.

Two Hatchery Fish

Two Wild Fish From the Same System

Now granted the composition on the photos with wild fish are obviously better, the fish are kept in the water, etc. Still, if you've caught any number of 3-4lb hatchery summer drones in the Columbia system you know far too well how much sweeter their wild counterparts are. I didnt even post any photos of Skamania summer runs here, mostly because I dont catch very many. Hatchery returns in the Puget Sound range from nothing to a shade above nothing meaning many summers I might catch one or two hatchery summers on my local rivers. Wild summer runs in Puget Sound are another story all together. There may not be a sweeter fish in the world, but they're so rare anymore they might as well be ghostly apparitions.

Bitter Sweet in the Hinterlands

The Queen of the Coastal Rivers

Back from a glorious weekend in the hinterlands. Weather was fantastic, and last weeks rainstorms had the rivers in the sweetest shape imaginable. It was great to see old friends, catch up and get one last taste of those distant rivers which inspire our imaginations. Fishing time's been pretty limited lately and I was getting worried I'd lost my drive for the season, so it felt good to fire it back up and fish hard for three days. This time of year is always a little bittersweet. Spring is that sweet transition time when the days are long, the water a little warmer, fish a little more willing. Yet the with the sweet days of milk and honey in April comes the knowledge that in only a few short weeks the winter steelhead season will be over.

Heavy D in action on a nice piece of water

Fishing was surprisingly slow considering the good conditions, I think warm water temps this year mean a higher proportion of the run has already spawned and left the system. Still there were a few fresh fish around. Fished a couple Rivers, but the bulk of my time was spent on the Rainsoaked Trib of a Trib of the Pacific and on the Queen of the Coastal Rivers. The Rivers were both in great shape, but something about the raw, glacially opaque mystery of the second has a special allure. Before this year I'd always been somewhat perplexed by that specific river. Something about the broad floodplain, and the way the runs set up means there is alot of water which is the right speed to swing but is either too shallow or nondescript to hold fish or is just full of pebbly rocks with no real structure. T-Bone got a nice chrome buck yesterday and I had one of those holy crap yanks that somehow doesn't hook up. Fish toyed with the fly for a moment, somehow I didn't take it away and a split second later it yanked so hard it took like off the reel. Sadly when I went to set the hook there was nothing there. Oh well, I guess the mystery yank is the type of thing that makes fishing interesting. After this weekend I've realized that as a self respecting steelheader there is no way I can possibly let the rest of April slip away without getting back out a couple of times.

The Rivers of the Lower Mainland will have to do with the Big River and its Equally Mighty Trib closed for the season in February. This time of year it hurts extra bad having those rivers closed, but its probably whats best for the fish. I can imagine it though, the recent rains having brought a push of bright, thick shouldered fish. Endowed with a prehistoric looking ferocity so unique to the race of fish which ascend the big trib. Here's to celebrating the fleeting nature of spring, the buddying alders, salmon berry blossoms and spawning steelhead.

Rock hopping on a sweet April afternoon

Friday, April 2, 2010

150 bucks? Maybe its time to call it

Normally I wouldn't have though twice about it, but being that I'm broke and it costs 150 bucks to buy a license + steelhead tag, I couldnt pull the trigger this afternoon. I had intended to renew my annual BC freshwater license and spend the afternoon on the Sea to Sky River but the price tag chilled my enthusiasm. Of course I do need to buy a BC license at some point this year but I suppose I'm putting it off now until my desperation grows enough to justify 150 clams. Headed out to the hinterlands next weekend to visit some friends and give the season one last hurrah so that will give me time to think about the possibility of a few days in late April here in the Lower Mainland. Still deciding if they're worth the $150 price tag. The real choker of it though is that they wont sell me a resident license. I figured since I'm here semipermanently on a student visa the BC government wouldn't feel the need to gouge me so bad. I was hoping to spend a couple of weeks in the Northcountry next fall and while I still may do it, the cost my limit my ability to do a full fledged three week/month long stank fest as I'd hoped. what a pisser.