These are hallowed waters. Rivers carved by the relentless power of glaciers. Born of the rawness of continental uplift, earthquakes, vulcanism, and the force of water, gravity and erosion. Where mountains tower over like Greek Titans, guarding the river that serves as their artery, their connection to the vast productivity of the North Pacific feeding grounds.
Over the last tenthousand years, as glaciers receeded, valleys formed and rivers became stable in their sinuous channels, salmon and other species have colonized, adapted and filled every niche of these watersheds. The deep bodied, prehistoric looking summer chinooks, abundant pinks, lacustrine and riverine sockeye, hooknosed coho and ferocious, striped chum salmon all call these hallowed waters home. Returning annually or in some cases biannually to seed their next generation in the waters of their fore bearers and deposit their offspring and bodies back into the lifeblood of the river.
A fine specimen from an unsurpassed race of fish
Steelhead, however are the species which draw the most committed following of fly anglers to the banks of these mighty rivers. From the bright and cheerful steelhead who call the canyon waters home to the deep, silvery fish of February and March. Steelhead, which have for more than 80 years defined the tradition of angling for anadromous fish in these waters. This is a special race of steelhead. Large, bright, and aggressive the steelhead of the large rivers of Puget Sound are unsurpassed among the many races of winter steelhead. On rivers named for the long forgotten Native bands, pioneering anglers have in many ways defined steelhead fishing in our state on these hallowed waters. The likes of Ralph Wahl, Roderick Haig Brown, Wes Drain, Enos Bradner and many more were some of the first to fly fish for steelhead on these legendary streams.
Today however the rivers of the greater Puget Sound area, the cradles that gave birth to many of our modern steelhead traditions have fallen on hard times. Urbanization, development, forestry, agriculture, hatcheries, and harvest have all withered once mighty runs of steelhead to only a few thousand per year. As recently as the 1950s as many as 30,000 wild winter steelhead returned annually to the Skagit system, last year only 2500. This year the Skagit closed February 16th to protect our few remaining wild fish, while the other rivers of the Puget Sound area closed February 18th. These Rivers, with their magnificent wild steelhead, unsurpassed beauty and raw, hydrologic might have come to a cross roads. As anglers who devote our lives to understanding and enjoying these systems we must stand up for our beloved wild steelhead. The status quo has and will continue to fail in Puget Sound and swift action is needed to restore the once mighty steelhead to their proper place. It is time to prioritize that which has nourished our sporting traditions, and our souls as anglers: wild steelhead, wild country, home waters and wild fish. These are hallowed grounds.
Just watched a video on Alex Mortons website about the spread of drug resistant sea lice in the Nootka Sound.
This is a goddamned tragedy and I'm ashamed of the Canadian authorities for allowing this to go on unchecked. Call me a hippiedippie idealist, but I've never seen how our societies can wage such obviously harmful impacts on wild ecosystems for short term financial gain. Our worship of of short term profit, corporate growth is nauseating and all but ensures a continued erosion of our quality of life here on earth.
The manifest destiny, imperial notion of conquering nature has failed us mightily and in spreading our market economy ideals around the world we've managed to make thoughless consumers our of most of the planets human occupants. All enslaved by our fixation on economic growth and spinning the cogs of this system of commerce which we made up. Meanwhile we are raping the planets ecosystems at record breaking pace, outstripping the ability of our planet to support life as we know it, and there is literally ZERO political will to do a damn thing about it.
We literally invented money, markets, societies, etc. Meanwhile the incredible natural gifts, the legacy of millions of years of evolution, is wiped out in single foul swoops of industrial expansion. The future of wild salmon hangs in a fragile balance and is literally in our hands and too many of us are simply resigned to their decline.
Still shaking the crust off myself after fishing 9 of the last 12 days. Weather was cooperative, fishing was solid and life is good. All year I dream about these opportunities for fishing marathon, and generally they dont disappoint. That said, when you're out there, sleeping in your truck with the wet dog, waking at o'dark thirty to get first water, then fishing all day with no breaks, it can get pretty physically exhausting. At the end of these trips I'm always sore, haggard and completely glazed with the soulful satisfaction that only a long steelhead trip can provide. Besides that, things have been more than a little chaotic on the homefront lately so the trip provided some a much needed escape from the routine.
Rainsoaked hinterlands are just as I remembered them, although the conditions, and duration of the trip didnt afford me the opportunity to fish all the water I'd been looking forward to revisiting from last year. A pulse of midweek water this week definitely put the fishing down substantially, but prior to that things were all fishing pretty good. Crowds were minimal the first two days but Friday was a Zoo.
Every year, as everyother river in the state of WA closes the crowding problems in the hinterlands seem to grow. This problem is further compounded by an explosion in guide pressure, promoting and internet bragging about "lip ripping huge numbers of massive chomers". More and more I think we need to move towards widespread implementation of a nofishing from boats regulation. It has worked on many of the more crowded Oregon Rivers and frankly the pressure on some of our coastal systems is getting to the breaking point. Depending on the year it seems likely that almost every fish in those rivers is caught at least once and territorial males, which tend to hold for long periods waiting for spawning opportunities may be caught dozens of times. 10 trailers at most launches is now routine, even on a Wednesday.
Even the lonely, fly swinging hermit occasionally finds a fish. got this one out of a nice boulder garden. Even sweeter, picked it out of a gear boats pocket.
The more time I spend learning about the management and intricacies of wild fish management in Washington state, the more it becomes apparent that WDFW and some of the tribes are knowingly managing wild steelhead into extinction. WDFW, like any government agency is complex, bureaucratic and glacially slow to change its management paradigms. That's not to say the agency is all bad, indeed good local biologists, and researchers are the saving grace of the agency. Sadly the leadership of WDFW and their agenda worships at the alter of industrialized supplementation and harvest and is intent to ignore problems with wild steelhead until they are all gone. I'll bet if you asked steelheaders around Washington State fewer than 1 in 10 are satisfied with the current state of affairs. It almost goes without saying, without wild fish, our sport and passion is lost. A short season of fishing for inferior hatchery fish can never replace the opportunity afforded by robust runs of wild steelhead. Washington was once the heart of the steelhead's range, a place with an immense diversity of productive steelhead rivers, unique and locally adapted stocks and the finest steelhead fishing on the planet. Today, 3-5 rivers remain open and fished throughout the season, the rest have passed into lore.
There is no one cause of these declines and many factors including forestry practices, hydroelectric dams, overharvest and hatcheries have contributed around the state. Each river has its own set of unique circumstances and threats, however a major overarching threat to the future of wild steelhead in our state is WDFWs unwillingness to change from the status quo and the insistence of some tribes on harvesting wild steelhead into oblivion.
WDFW recently developed a wild steelhead management plan, in which it details the new, science based management of steelhead which will guide recovery of these magnificent wild fish. Unfortunately, since the plan was adopted almost none of the changes it outlines have been implemented. Cheif among the disappointments is the fact that the state has remained inactive in developing Wild Salmonid Management Zones as outlined in the recovery plan. Since the middle of the last century when industrial scale hatchery supplementation exploded it has been the norm for multiple species of hatchery origin salmonids to be released into nearly every river system in the state. These releases often occur without any means of collecting unharvested returning adults and without proper monitoring of the effects on wild populations. For more than 40 years this practice has led to decreased productivity in wild stocks of salmon and steelhead through genetic introgression, competition with hatchery smolts and a wide range of ecological effects from residualization to disease. By creating Wild Salmonid Management Zones, the department promised to protect a number of high quality river systems from the damaging effects of hatchery supplementation and the attendant harvest pressures, but has yet to take any action to do so. Now almost two years after the development of the plan, we are waiting and growing impatient.
The second problem is that WDFW continues to fold under pressure from certain tribes in allowing egregiously exploitive harvest practices to go unchecked. Particularly bad are the actions of the Quinault Tribe who have continually failed to act responsibly as co-managers, and net thousands of fish annually from declining populations on the Chehalis system, and mine wild steelhead redds to support a harvest motivated wild broodstock program on the Quinault. The tribe is also insistent that the escapement goal for the Queets wild winter steelhead stock should be just over 2000 fish despite the fact that as recently as the 1980s the Queets supported runsizes well in excess of 10,000 fish. The icing on the cake for these abominable fisheries practices was last year when the tribe knowingly released thousands of IHN infected steelhead smolts into the Quinault system, illustrating their complete lack of interest in protecting wild salmonids within their UNAs. A good state management agency would stand up to these sorts of practices and represent the interests of the citizens of the state of Washington. Instead WDFW is complicit in this abuse of our wild salmon and steelhead and the tribes actions go unchecked.
How long will it be until we have a fish management agency that is accountable to the people of Washington? How long will it be until WDFW begins to make management decisions motvated by science and facts on the ground rather than politics and wishful thinking? The agency has thusfar failed spectacularly in its charge to protect and restore wild salmon and steelhead in our state and time is ticking. It is time these issues came to the forefront of our dialogue, these issues transcend just fisherman's concerns and need much broader exposure in the mainstream media. Until the political motives for mismangement of wild salmon and steelhead are exposed fully, these practices will continue unchecked.
Got a sweet new reel in the mail today. Couldnt be more jazzed. 80$ worth of sweet, clickpawl screaming, English made metal. The Pfluegle has had the wobbles for a while now and for less than one hundred dollars I'm happy to replace it with an antique. Looking forward to the sweet sound of hot steelhead. In the meantime check out some recent photos.
Its raining outside my office right now. River are rising. Life is good. Fishing clear, low water is ok, at least its fishing, but there is something special about a river falling off a fresh spate of rain. Don't be surprised if I'm AWOL for a while, next few days should hold some interesting surprises.
Teenwolf will be visiting the Great Northwest for a few days over the weekend for "Valentines Day". Anyone who really knows the dude knows he's jonesing tough right now, the 97 emails I've gotten in the last two days "re:steelhead" speak loudly to that point. I understand though, living in NY is not clutch for the steelhead thing and while a couple days back home wont scratch the surface at least its a temporary fix. I just feel bad for his lady. I expect he'll at least spend Sunday around the roost but then again, you never know how negligent a man is capable of being until the Big Trib is falling in perfectly off some highwater. Stay strong Emily.
It will be good to have the big, hairy one back for a couple days and hopefully we'll hear that new reel sing. With the low water things have been tough, but it looks like he might just bring some weather with him from the east. Looking forward to seeing you buddy.
Seems like every year about this time there are a few days (usually sunny) when at least half of the steelhead fly anglers in the greater Pugetropolis area decide its a good idea to fish the Big River. Now I'm no lover of crowds but its hard to get irritated when everyone you run into is courteous or already an acquaintance. Thats one thing I really love about a home river is the rotating cast of characters that also call it home. Early things weren't too bad but by afternoon the river was fairly crowded meaning I had to get a little strategic about my fishing water. After a 15 minute walk into some choice h20 I found three dudes in the run. Would've been a little choked if one of them wasn't a friend from Oregon. Hell of a nice dude and a great caster/fisherman, so I was more than content to shoot the shit for a few minutes.
Weather was gorgeous and the river was up a little with a nice color. Looks like we might even get some rain this week...better not jinx it. Its one more week on the gradschool grind until a two week break for the Olympics. Should be two weeks of neck bearded, wet sleeping, spam grubbing steelhead revelry.
Just got a catalog from The Fly Shop in Redding. These knobs are at the forefront of the commercial prostitution of our anadromous fisheries. Page 25,
"New Weapons in the Indicator Revolution"
wow, I knew it was popular but I was unaware of the "Revolution" status. Is this like the teaparty revoltion? Where and how can I join in the radical newness of this technological, lipripping advance?
I'm not even sure why I get their mailings, since I've never spent a dime in their shop. Some NorCal buddies tell me their guides consistently alienate locals on the Trinity and Klamath with bad manners, competitive dick measuring attitude and an air of entitlement that could only come from working for "The Fly Shop". While I'd long turned off by their emphasis on indicator fishing from the boat two things tipped the balance for me.
1. a friend of a friend took a guide trip with this outfit and upon arriving with his two hander and excited to swing flies was told that fish on the Trinity dont take swung flies and they would be nymphing out of the boat all day.
2. A couple of years ago, riding the wave of newbie enthusiasm for Dec Hogans star power the Fly Shop decided they would come out with "Dec Hogan Edition" steelhead flies. These included second rate commercial ties of a Mahoney, and Skagit Mist. Worst of all however was a skating pattern called "Hogans Caddis". An exact copy of a McMillan caddis with no credit given to the originator.
Turns out Klamath and Trinity fish do in fact eat swung flies. Just ask Jason Hartwick, or Jeff Bright (This post does not reflect the opinions of Jason or Jeff).
We need Rain. Bad. Some mountain snow would be good too, but right now I'd take anything. Just some water to bring fish up into the rivers. Fishing was pretty good when we had some water. We're going on two weeks now since the river levels bumped up at all and things are looking pretty bony and clear out there. This is looking like a replay of last winter when we had high pressure over the NW for most of February. Made for some pretty tough fishing. If we dont get anymore water before the big river closes down for the year it will be a shame.
I might hate dworshak dam more than anything. I hate dworshak as much as I hate open cage fish farming, and arguably more than sport harvest of wild steelhead. That's saying something. Reading about it today, and it really started sinking in. In 1972, in the supposed age of reason, the industrial revolution, as modern medicine and science were advancing at record speed the Army Corp knowingly chose to extirpate the greatest race of summer steelhead in the continuous USA for fucking pennies on the dollar. Classic example of government subsidizing the senseless destruction of our natural resources. If I could go back in time I'd go George Hayduke on that construction site until they carted me off to prison goddammit.
They sold it like it was the best thing since sliced bread. We'll make a world class fishery with the hatchery production, yeah right. We'll have this beautiful lake, bogus. Shits probably full of walleye, bass and other trash from the midwest. Meanwhile that sweet little river that was once home to 30 lb summer runs with an appetite for dryflies sits under 200 feet of impounded water.
The Dalles is a whole 'nother box of rocks and is a striking reminder of the long standing policy of cultural genocide directed at Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest. In 1957 water rising behind the dam covered Celilo Falls, a place where Native American tribes from all over the region had been fishing, gathering and trading for thousands of years. The falls were holy grounds, destroryed by our country's insatiable industrial appetite and our unwillingness to consider the spiritual, and natural values that made Celilo special. We should've been celebrating Celilo, the magnificent fish annually passed through its heavy rapids, and the rich cultural traditions they supported. Instead we entombed it behind an monolithic industrial hydrodamn. If there is a real-life death star, its The Dalles, and Richard Nixon is Vader (for alot of reasons).
All that is to say, both are fucking wastes, of some of the most magnificent fish, culture and natural history in our region. I hope we've learned our lessons from that wasteful era when the Bureau of Rec The Nation, and the Army Corpse of Engineers ran amok on every wild river this side of the mississippi. Sometimes I worry though. In all likelihood we'll never see those dams removed but on the off chance we do I plan to make pilgrimage to those hallowed grounds, where I will get down on my hands and knees and beg the river gods to forgive my people for our foolishness. The next century is uncertain for wild salmon and our culture but one thing is certain, there is only one right path for both, and it doesnt involve any more dams nor the mentality that led to their justification.
In a post a few months ago I asserted, unequivocally that steelhead were the finest sport fish on the planet. As might be expected, that assertion raised some eyebrows and elicited this response from my buddy Matt Klara,
"I roll my eyes so hard that it gives me a headache. :) Of course you are completely entitled to your opinion. Just my personal opinion, but variety is the spice of the fishing life. Steelhead are great fish, but the approach to catching them, while relaxing and sexy, can get pretty damned boring. I think it all comes from the fact that they aren't actually feeding. The approach to trout and salt is completely different because the fish are feeding. You have to think at a higher level in my opinion. Sure steelhead rivers are beautiful, but so are the Rockies, Patagonia, the Bahamas, the Delta Marsh, Cape Cod, and on and on. The flats (especially pressured flats) are probably the most challenging fishing environment there is when all possible fishign skills are taken into account. Pounding out casts down and across is certainly no comparison to sight casting for fast moving, ultra spooky fish. And, because of my passion for variety, I find myself (stupidly) offended by your bold claim about steelhead. How many species of fish have you actually experienced in order to make said claim? While I admire those anglers who choose to devot their entire angling life to one species, it just isn't for me."
Granted hombre. I respect your passion for variaty (even for Carp fishing I think), and frankly I shouldnt be trying to convince other people how great steelhead are. In fact I should just shut my mouth, stay off the internet and go on fishing like a singleminded lunatic, BUT....
maybe I didnt explain myself entirely. Your criticism in part hinges on the fact that other types of fishing are far more challenging than steelheading, the presentation more exact, the fish spooky and feeding. Of course those situations demand a type of precision, knowledge of foraging habits and the ability to hang on tight when a gigantic tarpon or permit starts screaming at 15 knots. That said, I think steelheading is a lot more difficult than many believe.
Making the fly swing across the surface of the water isn't hard in and of itself. However, a good presentation in moving water, with variable depth, structure, speed, etc can be very difficult. How many dudes fish all day without presenting the fly properly and never even know it? Fishing the flats for bones you can instantly tell when you've made a poor presentation, the fish spook, turn the other way and the game is over, however given the lack of feedback in steelheading alot of it comes from feel. Understanding the depth and speed at which your fly is swinging, and the likelihood that the fly is fishing well comes from a feel for presentation which I believe can only come from countless hours on the water. that and a little bit of black magic, juju and fishwhisperness. I for one don't consider myself an expert, and the more I fish, the more this is apparent.
Another factor which your critique missed is the challenge of reading water, knowing which buckets, runs, reaches will hold fish throughout the season. Conditions are highly variable for steelheaders and the most successful angler considers the conditions carefully in their decision of where and how to fish. Again, this comes from hours and hours on the river, and is the type of intimacy that cannot be learned by traveling. Anglers who catch the most fish, have a few home rivers they know well for summer and winter. I cant say I know much about the migratory behavior of bonefish, tarpon, carp, and other species but what I do know about steelhead is that are highly migratory, ghostlike apparitions with a remarkable ability to be here one day, gone the next. As a consequence, understanding the interplay between environmental conditions, migratory behavior and all the angling variables described above is what a successful steelheader must strive for.
Steelheading is a percentage game and with only so many swings in a day, increasing the likelihood that your fly is in front of a fresh, rested fish is the only way to ensure consistent success. So Matt, you make alot of good points, and I understand the reaction to the standard issue steelhead bravado BS but, if steelheading were easy it would be called trout fishing. and that shits boring.
Then again, steelheading is crowded, boring, and there are no fish...anywhere. dont go steelheading, stay off the rivers, and go to rocky ford. Its very challenging and rewarding!