Wednesday, June 30, 2010

And I Quote

Eloquent words on the Oregonian's website in response to Seafood Watch listing Oregon Salmon as "avoid"...

"Seafood Watch's warning in this case are not supported by the scientific data...just another politically-based nonsensical warning designed to paint an entire segment of the Oregon commercial fishing industry with a broad brush. Even though most salmon landed in Oregon ports originate from the COLUMBIA RIVER SYSTEM, and not the Sacramento, we have a California-based feel-good organization spreading B.S. nice and thick. But then again, who would expect anything less from the Monterey Bay Aquarium's coterie of birkenstock-wearing, patchouli-soaked, chin-pubed libtards"

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Columbia River

With a strong Spring Chinook run already in the books, and more to come this summer and fall, a record setting Sockeye run in progress and early returns of steelhead looking extremely promising it's looking like another amazing year on the Columbia system, made more amazing by the fact that the river and its fish have continued to overcome so many insults and still gives so much. Last year's return of steelhead was the second largest on record behind 2001 and fishing was phenomenal. Unfortunately, along with large numbers of fish come larger numbers of anglers. Still, its hard to get too uptight with so many fish around.

The Columbia is a special system and sadly behind the Sacramento it is the most degraded, damned and generally hosed large, salmon bearing river system on the west coast. Yet somehow the fish hold on. Not only are they holding on, they're producing numbers unseen by modern man with a little help from ocean conditions, favorable outmigration, and increased spill mandated by the man who should be a hero to every steelhead angler worth his wading boots, Judge James Redden. The Columbia is also spectacular for its diversity. By my count more than 20 rivers between the mouth and the headwaters support decent to excellent summer steelhead fishing depending on the year, and rivers like the Kalama, D, Grande Ronde, Clearwater are as important to the history of steelhead flyfishing culture as any. Summer steelhead bring out hordes like almost no other fish, and sure many of the fish on the Columbia system are of hatchery origin. But in among the hordes and the masses of fin clipped hatchery fish swim some of the most aggressive, acrobatic and beautiful wild steelhead on the planet. So much soul in those little one salt fish that recklessly grab small, sparse flies fish in or near the surface, screaming downstream with seemingly impossible speed, cartwheeling as they desperately fight to throw the hook. Who could ask for more from a sport fish?

What makes me sad about the Columbia is to think of just how good it COULD be. The four lower Snake River dams remain in place, and are substantial obstacles to the recovery of ESA listed Sockeye, Chinook and Steelhead in the Snake system. Imagine how different rivers like the Snake, Ronde, and Clearwater would be without those four fish killing dams reducing the survival of outmigrating smolts? How productive would the Salmon, Selway, Middle Fork Clearwater be with huge slugs of wild spawning salmon every year? It boggles the mind. This year Columbia River Sockeye will break a long standing record of the largest return since the construction of Bonneville dam started modern era fish counting, and in all likelihood fewer than 2000 sockeye will return to their natal rivers in the Upper Snake system. The record since the construction of Lower Granite, set two years ago is 1200 fish, probably 1% of historic run size for the productive lakes of the Salmon and Snake River system. Most of the Sockeye entering the Columbia this year are bound for the Okanagan and Wenatchee systems, just imagine if the Snake wasn't hindered by four lower river dams...

The Columbia was once the greatest salmon bear river on earth, providing nourishment both literally and spiritually for more than a dozen tribes of native Americans. While it has been driven to a shadow of its former might by the shortsighted hydro projects, irrigation, overharvest to name a few, the fish remain resolved to continue the legacy of their forebearers, migrating a thousand miles to the rivers of Idaho, Eastern Oregon, and the Eastslope of the Cascades. With our help these fish can continue to give so much to our region, tying us together as totems of our shared culture. We the citizens of the northwest are modern day salmon people and it is imperative that we fight to protect that foundation of our culture. For one more year we can enjoy their bounty, knowing well that without action now their future remains tenuous,let this year of abundance inspire us to action on their behalf, knowing just what the Columbia River could be without the four lower Snake dams. Long live the Columbia and its mighty runs of salmon.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Airflo 6th Sense

I finally got enough spare time in the evening to get out on the river and toss the new line around a little. Much as I'd expected the line casts much like the 7/8 delta I've got for my solstice. With the old sage 5120 the it flies with almost zero effort, the key as usual being to take it easy and let the line load up. Even after a three week hiatus from any casting it took only a few minutes of tinkering to get the stroke dialed to throw the 45' head before I started working line out. I found that it casts easily to about 80 feet which is really all I will ever ask that light spey rod to do. While I favor a single spey for summer fishing the line felt sweet with a snap T as well. The combination of the ultra light rod and delta taper is pure butter, and as a bonus, the line casts extremely well overhead adding even more versatility for close in presentations etc. Thanks airflo for another sweet line.

With the fly fishing industry always focused on pushing the envelope it can be frustrating watching companies abandon great designs infavor of techno progress. I'll just come out and say it, Airflo...please don't change the delta, this may not qualify as a long term business plan, but I promise to buy one delta every three years for the rest of my life. I'm pretty sure its the sweetest line/taper possible and I could very happily fish it for 90% of my fishing. Sage, I've long since given up on you but I'm not mad at you. (although the XP/Cabelas deal was a little whack). Keep pushing the "envelope" with new designs and $750 rods. I'll stick to the used goods and the unfilled warranty card for 1/3rd the price.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Thinking about Corporate Accountability, BP and Other Environmental Catastrophes

Watching the Gulf Oil spill saga continue to unfold has been a bit like watching a car crash. Its hideously ugly, tragic and terrible, but somehow the American public can't keep its eyes off what has already become one of the greatest environmental tragedies in the history of humanity. With Americans momentarily enraged and looking for answers, all of a sudden taking a hard line on oil companies has become politically expedient, even if they've been cutting you campaign checks for your entire political career. Of course most of that outrage will dissipate once the 20 second soundbite ends and the opportunity to do something substantive for the environment arises but thats the nature of our culture where political opinion is driven by who can shout louder and the environment is too often overlooked in favor of short term political gamesmanship.

While the Gulf Oil spill undoubtedly stems from negligence and a lack preparedness at BP, its ironic that this whole thing is an accident, particularly when you consider some of the intentionally heinous things which take place all the time. Yes, this accident is of a magnitude never before seen, but there have been many negligent AND intentional actions taken in broad daylight by corporate logging, mining and oil companies over the last 50 years which have had arguably equally catastrophic effects albeit at a slightly different scale. How can the complete destruction of the Deer Creek Basin in Washington not be considered among the same type of environmental crimes? But there was no justice department inquiry then. Sadly the Forest Service was complicit in the wholesale rape of Western Washington's most storied summer steelhead stream, building the roads and making the timber sales that facilitated the thoughtless and destructive pillaging of the hallowed watershed. So many in Washington DC are eager to hand over vast tracts of public land, and resources to corporations which have absolutely no intention of dealing with the fallout of their profiteering. Meanwhile stock holders get rich and the public is left to pay the cost of cleaning up the mess. Pebble mine is a classic example, and like the deep water horizon or so many other corporate cash grabs, it is destined to end in tragedy. The politicians will act outraged to appease a momentarily transfixed constituency and then go back to their steak dinners with oil and mining company lobbyists and their "drill baby drill mantras".

What about the actions of the Bureau of "Wreck the Nation" (Reclaimation) and the Army Corp of Engineers throughout most of the 20th century? Government agencies intentionally destroyed huge swaths of free flowing river and with it the legacy of millions of years of evolution and local adaptation within populations of wild salmon and steelhead, and they did it all for pennies on the dollar in irrigation and hydroelectric returns. The damming and subsequent loss of the North Fork Clearwater and its race of B-run steelhead is as egregious as any act ever committed against the environment. The rash of dam building has subsided since government agencies in cooperation with power and utility companies have managed to dam and destroy most of the major rivers in the Lower 48 states. But the political culture which allows for the intentional destruction of public land, water and fisheries resources remains, always with the shortsighted goal of appeasing the gods of profit, lobbyists and other uncouth and unethical figures. The Dalles, Dworshak, and every dam on the Lower Snake River are perfect examples, and until some of our supposedly "environmentalist" politicians from WA grow a spine and stand up against the death sentence we've collectively given Snake Salmon they're no better than the rest of DC and its godawful political culture.

All I can say is, if Washington DC wants to be about sound bites and bullshit thats their unfortunate choice, but there is no way in hell some republican from Arkansas is going to have a damn thing to say about the fate of my home watersheds and the fish they support. At the end of the day there are only a few with attention spans long enough to make a difference and I can guarantee you that doesn't include 98% of politicians.

Friday, June 11, 2010

New Line

Haven't been fishing at all for the last couple of weeks. Early part of the field season is always hellacious with work like that I guess. Luckily evenings have been pretty quiet here in the heart of the California coastrange so I've had enough time to tie a lifetimes worth of summer steelhead flies. I also just ordered a single hand airflo 6th sense 7/8 online. For a long time I've been looking for the perfect line for my Sage 5120, and while an old 5/6 windcutter does the job it definitely isnt bringing out the best of that rod in my hands. 6th sense should be absolute butter. Its got the same taper as the delta which is my favorite line of all time. I know a lot of folks like to fish scandi lines for their summer fishing but somehow I can't get excited about fishing short shooting heads with small flies. After stripping and managing big lengths of running line all winter its the last thing I want to do when targeting summer fish. Of course some people who fish long bellys would say that a delta, with its 50-58 foot head qualifies as a shooting line, but on most summer rivers if you're shooting very far beyond that you're over casting. Besides, how many people do you know who can actually make a long line fly right most of the time? For the number of people talking about fishing them I've seen very few casters who make it look easy, so I find that a delta is the perfect compromise, plenty smooth for delicate presentations, easy to manage and cast.

Anyways, The 7/8 should be right on grain wise on that little rod. I'll let you know how it casts when it arrives.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Skamania Death...Dale Jigs

While most of us fly swinging types probably prefer to catch our summer fish on floating lines and waking flies the unavoidable fact is that pressured hatchery fish can be pretty darn dour. From July to November the first option is the floating line, but there are times when conditions or tight lipped fish demand that the fly get down in the water column. A few summers back when TBone and I were really getting serious about this steelhead business he was the butt of more than a few of my jokes for using what I called at the time "Dale Jigs". See T's buddy Dale is mostly a gear fisherman, and he loves fishing terminal areas. As a consequence he's dialed in the art of fishing to stale fish like none other, routinely taking fish on the 97th pass of the day. Dale jigs are pretty simple, and very deadly. Basically small dumbell eyes on an upeyed hook with a few clumps of marabou in various colors. While I never got into swinging jigs for summers, seeing T hook multiple fish on his "flies" left a lasting impression on me. I'll be the first to admit I'm a fly snob so this is my answer to the now legendary Dale Jig. The Spey Dale Jig, stale skamania's beware. They should also fish pretty nasty on the floater up in the Northcountry this fall.

Northcountry special. Black and Blue.

Classic Black and Red.

Pink and Purple. Nuff said.

Spawning Purple. Favorite Colors for late fall

Dale Jig Strikes

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Bonneville Web Cam

Every summer as the annual run of steelhead starts to build over Bonneville dam, one of my favorite time wasting activities is checking the live feed webcam from the dam. From now until the end of August the peak of the run will pass over Bonneville, giving fish porn enthusiasts the chance to get a glimpse at literally thousands of fish as they undertake their long migrations to the distant tributaries of the Columbia and Snake. Granted, easily 4/5ths of the fish that pass through the fish ladder there are nubby finned hatchery drones headed for the mass production facilities designed to "mitigate" the effects of the dams. However mixed among the clouds of hatchery fish are some of the most beautiful wild steelhead on earth. From 4 to easily over 20 pounds, blushed rosy on gill plates and hardened in their determination to reach their natal stream. These wild steelhead will spawn in the desert tributaries of the middle Columbia and Snake, in the dam battered rivers of the eastern cascades or in the high elevation rivers which drain the distant rockies. They are as resilient as they are aggressive towards surface flies and while many of us are still lucky enough to catch a few every year its always a wonder to see them, there in the man made fish ladder, just long enough to have their picture taken and sent across the world on the intraweb. Check it out.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

At the Mouth of a Great River

The Great Estuary, worlds best chinook nursery

We Spent the last three days driving from Vancouver to our summer field site in the coastal mountains of Northern California. Normally it takes a day and a half of hard driving to get there, but since we didn't technically have a place to stay at the field station until Monday afternoon we figured we'd do it at a leisurely pace. Needless to say, driving from the Canada border to Northern California means you will cross most of the greatest steelhead rivers in the northwest. One river though stood out in particular and I was glad we had a little time to explore and soak in the surroundings. Being that I've cut my teeth on big rivers like the Big Mighty, Big Trib and the North Fork Pugetropolis, you could say I've got an affinity for big water and this particular river is arguably the grandest of all the steelhead rivers in the Lower 48.

The Great River has seen its fair share, including some bloodiest, most controversial, and longest fought battles over water rights, fishing and native rights. Despite it all, the river continues to produce prodigious runs of fish even if they are a fraction of the its past abundance when it served as a cradle for the modern tradition of steelhead flyfishing. So it goes without saying that when we drove by we had to stop and take a look around. We headed up river, looking for a well known riffle with its own first name and ended up riverside on a gravel bar where a half dozen other rigs were parked. Jet boats ran up and down river while another sat anchored in 4 feet of water pulling spinners for spring chinook. Asking for directions we met a nice retired local named Joe, who having caught his limit on the morning tide graciously offered to give us a tour of the area. What we got was a history lesson, mixed with a sociological study of the local community and a lot of good old fashioned fishing stories.

Afterwards, with hours to kill before sun down and no where to be, we decided to check out the mouth of the river. A short walk past the site of an ancient native village put us on a long sandbar, which backed up the river into a lake like estuary on one side with the pacific on the other. The beauty, history and abundance of life combined to create a real sense of gravity. 300 yards off shore a large group of humpback whales with calves surfaced, apparently in no particular hurry to go anywhere. Pelicans and ospreys dove in after out-migrating juvenile salmon while sea lions crashed through the standing waves of the river mouth chasing adult chinook. Standing at the edge of the Pacific, where one of North America's greatest salmon rivers meets the vastness of the ocean I felt overwhelmed by the sheer power of the river and its ecosystem. Despite years of mismanagement and insult, the spirit of river Orego's remains alive, supporting an unparalleled abundance of life. Despite my normal fishy inclinations I was perfectly happy in that moment to sit in the sand and watch in awe. For now, I'll have to focus on work. But a month from now, when the first bright steelhead of summer slip into the lower river, I will most certainly be back on the banks of the Great River, giddy and energized by the life around me and the hope that I might momentarily feel the spirit of the river connected through 8lb test and 90 feet of fly line.

Oregos and the Birds, guarding the river's mouth