Friday, July 30, 2010

Love Rivers? Drink more beer!

Starting August 1st and running through mid-Sept, Sierra Nevada brewing based in Chico California will be donating a portion of all sales of their well loved Pale Ale and Seasonal Beers to the Western Rivers Conservancy. Western Rivers has done some great work to buy and protect some of our regions finest watersheds, including recent purchases on the South Fork Trinity and Blue Creek, a critical thermal refuge for Klamath River Salmon and Steelhead. To top it off, their beers are damn tasty and with every refreshing, hop filled sip you'll be helping protect our beloved Rivers for future generations. Gjod save my liver.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A few classics

Filling the nonfishing void right now with alot of tying and alot of anticipation for the coming road trip home and a long trip to the northcountry. I wonder whether they'll like these....

Blue Charm


Morejohn's Pool Cleaner

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Pops Visit

Just back from a couple days on the Rattlesnake Fork. Before that the Old Man came down for a little bit to visit, and check out the progress here in the coast range of NorCal. Being a tree lover he was excited by the prospect of seeing the Redwoods. My old man is great. 0% fisherman, its surprising I ever got into this. He will fish, does occasionally, but rarely by choice. He says, "I feel bad for the fish" when explaining his lack of interest, but really it just isn't his thing. You'd never have known it growing up though. I was bitten hard by the fly fishing bug at 11 which meant that he put in 5 years of hard time playing driver before I finally got a license and headed out into the world on my own. Sadly, since then we haven't gotten out together too much. Having him down here was a great chance to show him my work as well as get him out on a steelhead river, which was a first. I sometimes think my dad missed his calling in life, he's one of the most intellectually curious, well informed people I know and having him in the field was great. He asked more questions than an excited 5th grader, ranging from food web ecology to questions about the native vegitation, which he actually knows more about than I do.

On our last day we drove North along 101, then jumped off the main highway to drive the Avenue of Giants, which definitely lives up to its moniker. We also made a brief pit stop at the Founders Grove at the confluence of the mainstem and SF Eel. There are some seriously epic trees there. Next we drove up through fog town and across the coastal mountains to the Rattlesnake Fork.

First Rays in the Canyon

Still pretty early for many fish to be around, but it was great to see the river again and do some more exploring. With water temps at the lower end well over 70 F I opted to fish the upper river near some cold, mountain fed tributaries hoping there might be a few early fish around. The drive up the canyon is pretty cool, the box canyon near the mouth of the Lower Tributary has some legit class IV water. Above, the river is slightly smaller, with the surrounding hills gradually become more arid as you move upstream.

Fishing pressure was nonexistent, probably owing to the fact that the bulk of the run is still 6 weeks from arriving, and the afternoon temperatures are over 95 degrees. Waking up at 4:50 for two or three days running really gets to be a grind, especially after fishing most of the previous day in the beating hot sun. Still, waking up early has its perks, and the first few hours of light feel so fishy this time of year. During winter, unless the pressure is absurd I'm not in too big a rush to get on the water early, but in summer its absolutely imperative. The cool morning and low, reflective light of dawn always feel so fishy. For the first time this season I skated a muddler, hitched. For some reason I have trouble seeing waking flies when they're further than about 60 feet away from me so I find myself balancing the desire to see the fly v casting the fly just out of sight to reach the holding water on the far side of the river. Often I see the fly as it lands but inevitably I loose it in the chop at the middle of the run. Sometimes, find myself wondering what the fly is fishing like as I squint towards the end of my line hoping to detect a rise in the general area where my fly is currently fishing.

Two dawn patrol mornings and not even a sniff, even threw some sink tips the second day through some pretty likely water. During the midday heat, when fishing is risking heatstroke I opted instead for a swim in a few fishy looking spots but didnt end up seeing anything. Now it might be a while before I'm back on the river. Worked 31 days straight in May and June and I've got a feeling it might be at least that many until the next time. The RattleSnake Fork will remain mostly a mystery now, buts it's some spectacularly diverse, spiritual country and I'm sure I'll be back as soon as things wrap up here. Also good to see my dad, glad he made it down.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

What a Gimmick

I thought i'd seen it all until I came across an advertisement for Rio's new MOW sink tip kits, yours for one easy payment of $150. In an effort to cash in on the angling community's inexplicable thirst for hero worship,the add name drops three well known, oft worshiped spey guides telling readers that they can have sink tips just like the "pros". Wow. Basically what they're selling is factory spliced pieces of t-11 or t-14 in various lengths ranging from 2.5 feet to 12 feet. One question, does anyone actually use 2.5 or 5 foot sinktips? I usually carry all of 3 pieces of t-14 when I'm fishing a skagit line 8ft for the greasy, slow tailout, 10 for my all purpose and 12ft for the deep heavy pieces of water. Yes the different lengths/grainweights mean that with each switch of the tip I have to make minor adjustments to my casting stroke, but its really not terribly difficult. On the Delta I prefer t11 tips, with the slightly lower density they dont overload the rod. 9 and 11 feet pieces work nicely. A little secret that Rio doesn't want you to know....making your own sinktips is VERY easy.

Instructions: Buy desired length of sink tip material. Make loop at one end with 10 lb maxima and two nailknots to secure the loop in place. Apply a light coat of aquaseal over the nailknots. enjoy.

If anyone is interested I'm willing to make you a set of three sink tips for the low low price of only $50, guaranteed to be at least as effective of any factory tips you overpaid for and with none of the pressure of trying to be as cool as Ed Ward.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Words For WDFW

WDFW has opened a comment period until July 23rd on the 2011-2017 strategic plan. In the face of massive budget cuts the department appears to be in flux. It is critical that they hear from conservation minded anglers who believe the state must prioritize the well being of wild salmon and steelhead populations. Submit comments and make your voice heard...

Here's what I told them...

I am writing you today to express my concern about the future of wild salmon and steelhead in Washington State and how I believe WDFW can better meet their responsibility to protect and restore our wild salmon over the next eight years. Throughout the state most populations of wild salmon and steelhead currently exist at less than 10% of historic abundance, and steelhead, chinook and coho are all listed under the ESA. While many factors have contributed to the sad state of our anadromous fisheries, there are many actions which WDFW could potentially take to significantly improve conditions for wild salmonids. Among my concerns are the current extent and magnitude of hatchery propagation in our state, and continued over harvest of many wild stocks including steelhead on the Olympic Peninsula, Chum and Coho in Willapa Bay, and Coho in Puget Sound.

Currently WDFW operates the largest state run hatchery system in the United States. Particularly troubling are hatchery practices in Puget Sound where the HSRG has expressed concern that hatchery releases are surpassing the carrying capacity of the ecosystem. Mounting scientific evidence suggests that the ecological impacts of hatchery fish may be at least as substantial if not greater than the genetic and evolutionary consequences. In Puget Sound, an already degraded ecosystem, dumping millions of smolts annually does not make sense, ecologically or economically. Declines in abundance of wild coho and steelhead have been attributed to low marine survival, which is almost certainly being reduced by large scale hatchery supplementation. A recent state auditor's report concluded that each fish harvested in the fishery costs nearly $800. With budgets decreasing statewide, how can the department justify this wasteful program? This is just one example of what I believe to be a systematic problem. Fifty years of blind faith in the merits of hatchery propagation and its ability to produce productive sport and commercial fisheries has led to the expansion of our state hatchery system to a level which clearly cannot be sustained. It costs too much money and it doesn't work, period.

Survival of hatchery steelhead smolts on the Skagit and other Puget Sound Rivers is commonly below 1% meaning that for 450,000 smolts fewer than 5000 adults return to the river to be caught in the sport fishery. Nearly every year state hatchery managers are forced to scramble to reach egg take goals closing fishing on even these meager hatchery returns to get the minimum number of eggs necessary to sustain these failing programs.

Healthy populations of wild steelhead support nearly four months of sport fishing, bringing huge economic benefit to local communities at absolutely no cost to the state. Conversely, hatchery fisheries end February 16th in Puget Sound lasting little more than a month and cost the state millions of dollars. Furthermore, these fisheries are often concentrate in terminal areas and fail to attract the type of angling tourism associated with healthy populations of wild steelhead. Forks Washington is a perfect example of what traveling angler's dollars can mean to a community.

I believe that the state must take three actions in order to give wild salmon and steelhead a chance of recovery. First, designate multiple Wild Salmonid Management Zones in every ESU. These refugia should be placed in watersheds which contain the most productive and intact habitat, support the greatest diversity of salmonid species and life histories and which have outstanding cultural value. Second WDFW should set hatchery releases in accordance with ecosystem carrying capacity. I believe this would mean significantly reducing the number of smolts released at most hatcheries in the state, particularly those in Puget Sound. Finally the state must stop placing harvest opportunity first and foremost. As citizens of Washington State we are the guardians of a tremendous natural wealth. Healthy populations of wild salmon and steelhead are an essential part of our regional culture, ecology and evolutionary legacy. It is our responsibility to safe guard the future of that vast natural wealth and I believe up to this point, we have largely failed. Please make wild fish the priority of WDFW moving forward. Their future depends on it.

Obviously there is alot more that could be said but I figured the longer I wrote the less impact I'd make I tried to hit the key points quickly.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fishing, Finally

After a brutal June which included exactly zero days of fishing and a lot of ball busting work in the field, I finally snuck out for a couple days fishing earlier this week. First morning I started out at the mouth of the River that is the Grand daddy of steelhead fly fishing. I'd heard stories in the past of people catching fish there this time of year, but water temperatures were around 70 in the morning so after half heartedly fishing a couple of runs I made coffee, headed back down to fog town and hung a left towards the cooler water tributary.

Got to the Rattlesnake Fork of the Poison Oak River around 12:30PM and it was already blistering hot, it gets that way in inland California this time of year, but the water temperature was cooler, below 68 so I felt a little better about my prospects and the prospects of the fish's survival should I luck into an encounter. Sure enough within my first 20 casts I hooked a fish. Must've been beginners luck. The fish took at the top of a nice run, in broken water about 3 feet deep and immediately went into the backing, slowed just long enough for me to gain some composure and then proceeded to go much deeper into my backing in a single run. Its the first time in a long time I've actually chased a fish, and since I wasn't going to have much luck pulling it up through the heavy water at the top of the run I figured I better go down and get it. I was just getting to the quiet water on the inside of the run when the fish decided to run into the shallows and start headshaking in place. Fish that are rolling around in shallow, slow water tend not to stay hooked very long and within a couple seconds the fish was unpinned. While I would've loved to see the fish, shaking the rust off and feeling the tug for the first time in two months was more than enough. Walking back to the car I thought about how easy that fish had come and wondered whether I would get another shot at a fish, fished hard for the next two days without another touch.

Thats life, and thats steelhead and the one brief encounter coupled with the beautiful water and scenery will definitely bring me back. Sorry, no photos since I left my camera's memory card in my computer.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Casting Photos

Anyone who spey casts and enjoys photography knows how difficult it is to capture the cast and do justice the the fluid beauty of a line in motion. Occasionally I've been lucky enough to snap a shot only to discover later that I caught the cast, line in flight, loop unfloding perfectly. Still, for as many hundreds of photos I take every year with my point and shoot, good casting photos are hard to come by. So when a friend offered to take some photos with his digital SLR I couldn't turn down the offer. We hit the river a little late last night meaning there weren't very many spots left with enough light for good photos. Here's what we did get though. More to come.

A cool sequence of a single spey

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Holy Steelhead!

Ok, most of you know that I adamantly oppose naming rivers, pumping numbers, or generally running ones mouth...but has anyone checked the Bonneville dam counts lately? I guess its no secret that there are steelhead in the Columbia river so I wont feel too guilty. I checked this morning and had to wipe the drool off my keyboard. The best part, the numbers of unclipped fish are huge, outnumbering hatchery fish in the counts the last few days. That means more aggressive surface oriented fish, with a passion for small flies fished in the grease as opposed to the dour, finless drones which normally fill the river every summer. The D or steelhead Disney Land as I affectionately call it is a perfect case study for this point. Hatchery fish routinely outnumber wild 5 to 1 yet the catch is consistently dominated by wild fish. Basically, wild fish crush flies with ruthless vigor, and while the hatch doggies occasionally get fed up with waiting for the pellets to arrive and capitulate, they mostly sulk and hurry back to the hatchery.

Last year on a nameless eastslope river I had an experience that really affirmed just how aggressive wild summers can be to surface flies. It was getting towards dusk and I was fishing my last run of the evening, a heavy water run with some large boulders where I figured the fish might be hiding out in the low water conditions. About 40 feet into the run the fly dangled into the seam and a fish boiled behind the fly, I waited for the weight to set the hook and it never came. As often as people talk about their strategy for getting fish to comeback I find that I only get a few opportunities to put it into practice a year, so I did what I had the most confidence in, took two steps up river and fished the fly through the lie again figuring that if the fish wanted the fly that badly on the first past it might well want another shot at it. Sure enough the fish was there, but this time it was a pluck pluck again never fully committing to the take. At this point I was shaking, muttering to my self, at the brink of steelhead induced delerium. Growing impatient I cast the fly again, and as it swung into the hang down in no more than 12 inches of water the fish took with a strong yank, instantly flipped out of the water, nearly beaching itself and threw the hook. While I didn't land it, that fish stands out as one of the most memorable of the season, a wild male with the bronze, and rose blush of a fall steelhead.

Yesterday more than 2900 wild fish passed Bonneville, more than 5300 total. Of course I'll be in California until Sept so I'll have to wait until this fall to find my own rock and take part in the glory. This boom of productivity on the Columbia coincides with La Nina conditions of 2007 and 2008 when ocean productivity and consequently survival was at levels previously undocumented. I Read yesterday that alot of climatologists believe we're shifting back into another La Nina pattern. Keep it coming ocean gods, and keep the spill coming Judge Redden.

Friday, July 9, 2010


I got this pattern from my friend Brad Smith. Brad is a SW WA native who's family has been catching native summer runs on the grease line since before I was born (and when there were still a few fish around). Last summer I was lucky enough to be introduced to Brad on his home river, the River Nunyabusiness, with fellow steelhead junky Mike "Steelie Mike" Davidchik. Being trained from an early age in the ancient jedi art of fly fishing summer steelhead in low water conditions, Brad fishes almost exclusively with a dryline and....a single handed rod. Gasp. While no one in their right mind would assert that they invented the muddler, Brads pops apparently was one of the first folks to regularly make use of a muddler with a marabou wing, a pattern which they fish often and call the smuddler. I'm not sure the exact details of the story, but at some point someone claimed the pattern as their own and sold it to the commercial tying company as an "after dinner mint". Unfortunately the factory version, with its gigantic jug head and over stuffed marabou wing with just doesn't have quite the mojo of the original.

Brads tie is tied on a long shanked, downeyed streamer hook so you'll have to forgive my bastardization, and I've taken a few liberties with the color combination since I couldn't find my purple body braid. I've been a believer ever since last summer when I saw him take a fish on the comeback which grabbed on and started running into the backing before I even realized what'd happened. Hope you guys are having a good summer in SW, thanks for the fly buddy.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Its been a while

Since I went fishing. The jonesing is starting to get severe...bordering on delerium tremens. Doesn't help watching bonneville numbers and webcam everyday, salivating over what i'm missing. The only river system worth fishing within 200 miles is still about twice a fishable volume with not end in sight. Guess we'll have to see what the next couple weeks bring for weather and flows. On the bright side I've now tied a lifetimes worth of summer steelhead flies should the opportunity to actually go fishing arise.