Thursday, May 27, 2010

Thinking about Summer

Summer is so close I can taste it. Another month and a half from now and most of the great summer steelhead rivers in the region will have good numbers of bright fish. Summer steelhead are special creatures. All trout, but with power and speed from a year or more of oceanic migration. As the days get longer and the air gets sweeter I am anxious for the early july morning, when steam rises from the river into the cool summery air. Wading wet with only a floating line, tippet spool and a small box of flies offers an angler the opportunity to fish unencumbered by gear and complication. They are a flyfishermans fish to be sure and the sport is steeped in rich traditions of angling for summer steelhead.

Tonight in a binge of anxious preseason energy I tied a dozen flies, including the sweetest pair of lady carolines I've ever turned out. I don't normally tie with expensive feathers, but I've had a couple sitting around for a long time and I've been wanting to try the pattern again. Every angler has a favorite summer steelhead fly, but I tend to think they're pretty interchangeable, as long as they're buggy. Purple is good, black is better. Alec Jacksons bend out too often to make their pretty lines worthwhile so I tend to tie on good old fashioned 7999s. That said, a lady caroline is meant to be tied on a spey hook so I tied on some #3 AJs, heavy wire.

A couple of summers ago I was fishing a medium sized summer run river that drains the glacial flank of a local volcano. Fishing was slowish, which I expected since I generally have my ass handed to me on this particular river. In the last pool of the evening a heavy fish took forcefully in the hangdown ripping line from my reel. I set the hook expecting a solid hookup but to my dismay nobody was home. The fish had bent a #3 AJ on the turn. God it stings to get that type of yank and never see the animal at the other end of the line. The mystery yank that should've been a fish, guess thats one of many reasons while steelhead remain mysterious and intriguing after hundreds of days on the water .

drylines and is good

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

May Steelheading and Heading South

Nothing like sunshine and chrome summers

Spent the last couple of days exploring a couple of little summer steelhead rivers south of Seattle. It was good to get out and swing flies again, and I've got to say I'm a little sad I'll miss the annual June opener on the locals this year. While fishing this time of year is far from predictable, the fish are fresh, aggressive and generally on the move. All this comes together to make for streaky fishing with nothing going on one day and multiple hookups the next. The summer field season though will have me traveling to NorCal for the summer at the end of May meaning I will miss what has become the most productive time of the year on the local puget sound rivers. With 16 hours of daylight it can get to be a grind fishing all day, but after a fishless May I'm always ready to push myself a little, especially when there are bright fish to be had. Soon it will be dryline season properly. No more chucking lead eyes and t14 on skagit heads, for the next 5 months I wont pick up anything but a delta and I hope to be fishing the floating line most of the time. While I will miss the locals there is plenty of exploring to be done to the south and I have the rest of my life to fish and enjoy the rivers of the Puget Sound area. Take good care of them while I'm gone...

Now its off to the southern hinterlands of Klamath country. I'm looking forward to getting a little taste of the area and exploring what was arguably one of the most productive salmon ecosystems in the world before European Americans did their dam/mining/irrigation/logging/hatchery thing. I understand there are still a few fish around...we'll see what I find.

Friday, May 14, 2010

MOE Blows it on the Skeena

The BC ministry of environment recently released its recommendations for the Skeena Angling Management Plan. It appears they've more or less aligned with the interests of the guides to implement changes that will take the fishery one step closer to being closed to non-residents unable to afford the elite guide and lodge experience. As T-Bone said during a recent discussion of the changes, "this is the seventh level of Dante's inferno" that is, they're restricting the freedom of nonresident anglers to fish the hallowed waters of the Skeena system and handing it over to guides (hardly the most reputable or fair stewards of a sport fishing resource).

The most striking changes to the regulations as I see it is the implementation of resident only saturday and sundays on all classified waters within the Skeena angling zone and the adoption of resident only angling zones on some rivers or reaches of rivers. Overall its a bullshit resource grab and will be a disservice to businesses throughout the valley which rely on nonresident angling dollars and to the Skeena itself which needs all the friends it can get. The future of the Skeena system is already on shaky ground with plans in the works for huge coal bed methane extraction in the Sacred Headwaters, a massive oil pipeline from Alberta's tar sands and continued over exploitation of steelhead as bycatch in an artifically enhanced sockeye fishery all posing serious threat. Meanwhile guides spend their time and energy fighting to keep the resource to themselves, missing the point entirely that without a strong, international outcry against these threats the Skeena will be doomed.

For the time being I'm a resident of BC so it doesn't actually affect my fishing directly, but its the principal of the thing. North American angling tradition is rooted in public access for all citizens to sport fishing opportunities and this is just one step back towards the longstanding (and totally bogus) European tradition of only the privileged and aristocratic having access to anadromous fisheries. The only other option would be to go outlaw and say screw the guides and the new regulations and I know more than a few people are planning to go that route.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Photos from the Sea to Sky River

For me May is more or less a blackhole in my life as a steelheader (a bit like November). While I miss the rivers I call home during this time, its always good to take a short brake and savor the season gone by. I thought you might enjoy seeing a few photos from the last day of the season on the Sea to Sky River. The setting couldn't be more dramatic and the budding April foliage makes for some pretty shots. Check it out.

Dawn at a sweet run

boulders and alders

just above tide

up the valley to the confluence

last pass of the season

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Go Alex!

I'm not sure how many in the fly fishing world are noticing, but we owe a helluva lot to a biologist and activist named Alex Morton. A trained biologist, and passionate environmentalist, Alex has been leading the fight against open net pen fish farming in the Lower Mainland BC since the start. Over the last decade she has been involved in some of the most important research to document the environmental impacts of fish farms and associated sea lice outbreaks and while progress has been slow, change is coming. This month Alex led a protest walk all the way down Vancouver Island to raise awareness of the plight of juvenile salmon out-migrating past a gauntlet of fish farm produced disease and parasites. The walk culminated with a demonstration in Victoria attended by thousands of passionate wild salmon advocates.

As a young biologist I view this sort of environmental stance as far too rare among researchers and academics. Too many are content to receive government money in exchange for not rocking the boat. DFO and industry lobbyists are quick to categorize Alex as an advocate, prone to overstatement and lacking objectivity. Sure she is an advocate but thats what's so refreshing. The world needs more people like Alex. We are woefully short on people who are not content to sit behind a desk in a bureaucratic agency job and watch as wild fish and their ecosystems go down in flames. And, so far she's been mostly right when it comes to the impacts of sea lice. Sadly, salmon populations have almost uniformly crashed in areas with high densities of salmon farms and the peer reviewed research has mostly confirmed what Alex has been saying for a decade. Meanwhile the industry and DFO knowingly spread misinformation to protect the status quo. All I can say is GO ALEX! you're an inspiration.

Fish farming in BC is almost certainly having some impact on Puget Sound Salmon and Steelhead, although the proportion of our fish that travel out the Georgia Strait as opposed to turning left and going out Juan de Fuca is unclear. The fish farming industry is knocking on Washington's door, apparently there are 8 fish farms in Puget Sound....8 too many. There is almost certainly a fight brewing to stop the industry from expanding further and we had better be ready if we want to avoid the same fate as Georgia Strait and Broughton Archipelago stocks.

Visit Alex's website and learn more...

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Saying goodbye to an old friend

My old digital point and shoot camera took its last swim last week and while its sad to see it go, it definitely used its nine lives well. That camera was fully submerged in water on more than one occasion and always beat the odds and survived. Eventually the luck is bound to run out but for a piece of electronics it had unusual lasting power. At this point I can't even remember when I first got it although I suspect it was around 5 years ago meaning that I've had the camera throughout my entire death spiral into this addiction called steelhead angling. It was far from fancy, with only 4 mega pixels but it went some amazing places and always seemed to do justice to the light, color and beauty of a given moment. The camera was there for my first spey steelhead, spent a summer in the Hoh River Rainforest, another in Alaska. Needless to say its taken some pretty amazing photos over the last few years and it will be missed.

Here's a couple of favorites:

All this nostalgia for gear that has served me well over the years got me thinking about what else, if anything I own that has had that sort of lasting power. Certainly not any pair of waders or wading boots I've ever owned. The current pair of wading boots are only a year old but are literally disintegrating off my feet to the point that gravel can pour in the sides. So much for dropping $200 on a fancy pair of simms wading boots. If they're all gonna shit the bed within a year of purchase why not buy the cheap ones?

One product that I've always been completely satisfied with is the Airflo delta spey line I have on my 6/7/8 CND. The line is entering its fourth year of service, has fished literally hundreds of days in that time and has yet to crack, abraid or otherwise turn to a piece of crap. I've had other lines do that in 4 months. Not only is the line durable, but it's versatile, and buttery as hell. After fishing heavier tips all winter with a skagit compact, I've been fishing lighter tips and smaller flies to match the late spring conditions. Its always nice to put on the delta and launch some smooth single speys after a long winter of water anchored monotony. I love that line for light tip fishing and dryline, in fact I love it so much I just recently traded an extra skagit compact head I had sitting around for an 8/9 delta for my heavier rod. It casts just as sweet as the lighter version and should be ideal for bigger water, both dryline and sinktip fishing when conditions do not demand giant flies.

This weekend we're headed down to Amurica to pick up the sailboat and sail it back to Vancouver. Planning on dragging some flashers and hoochies behind the boat the whole way, figure odds are eventually it will run into some salmon. I know absolutely nothing about ocean salmon fishing but in talking to a friend who guides here in Vancouver it sounds like the fishing for feeder chinook has been pretty darn good of late. We'll have to see what we find.