Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Out With Heavy

Had the pleasure of getting out fishing today with Heavy D on the local flow before he drives back to Montucky tomorrow. It was classic early winter steelheading with freezing cold water and snow pounding down all day. At the very least it made for some spectacular photography, if not perfect fishing conditions. That said, over the years I've had some pretty good fishing in snow dumps and if we know where to find fish anywhere its on the local. Driving out in the morning, traffic was its usual Western Washington in a snowstorm. Would've been humorous if it wasn't so scary, luckily among the 15 some odd vehicles that were spun out/off the road we didn't see any that looked particularly dangerous.

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

We're all Terrorists

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.

video link:

All About the Fly is Closing

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

Winter Mystery

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

Why can't there be one?

Washington State hatcheries or outplants which release more than 10,000 fish

A post on Chasing the Scraps got me thinking...why not one river without hatchery fish? There certainly aren't many in Washington.

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:

Early Winter Steelheading

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

Its About that Time

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

A Few Hours on the Water

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

House Republicans, are you serious?

So I read last week that the house republicans have decided to eliminate the special house committee on climate change. I can't believe how hard they're working to submarine any progress on the issue. Our planets climate is changing, because of human activities, PERIOD. There is no longer a debate about that fact, so for an entire political party to dismiss the largest environmental crisis of all time and dissolve the house committee tasked with addressing that issue seems more than a little foolish. Actually it seems downright idiotic. Republicans talk all the time about not saddling our future generations with debt. That rhetoric obviously only goes so far. They can't be terribly concerned with the well being of future generations if they are unwilling to even recognize the threat that CO2 emissions pose to our planet, and all human societies. Its really simple, climate change is going to happen and we can either get our shit together and deal with it now or its effects will get more and more costly every passing year, that ought to make sense to conservatives and liberals alike. Why not act now, invest in green energy and technology and be an example for the entire world? Surely independence from foreign oil is desirable. The technology is there, all it takes is the political will.

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

Dear Dr. Ward

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...Very Hard

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.