Reading through Comb's classic "Steelhead Fly Fishing" for the zillionth time last night and I noticed a passage I thought I'd share. Let me first preface this by saying that while I love Trey Comb's books I've long been puzzled by their only passing mention of the threats facing wild fish. By the time Steelhead Fly Fishing was published in 1991, wild steelhead were in deep trouble throughout most of their range. While he does discuss dams at some length in the chapter on the Clearwater, Combs mostly chooses an uncontroversial tact, focusing primarily on the fishing prospects of our storied rivers, effective flies, and angling lore.
That's all well and good, but its been done. If the culture of steelhead fly fishing is to survive in the 21st centurry it will take all of our will and dedication to protect the wild fish which are the fabric of our sporting culture. I see hopeful signs, yet collectively we remain woefully slow to transcend our techno gagetry, spey casting, fly marketing, story telling and resignation to failure and enter the ring for our wild fish. So while I will always love Trey's books I look to Authors like McMillan and Roderick Haig-Brown as the godfathers of our modern sporting traditions and ethics. Both of these men have written extensively on intricacies of fly fishing for steelhead and both were decades ahead of their time in recognizing the growing list of threats facing wild steelhead. Not only did they recognize these threats but they became ardent advocates for the fish they loved.
While he has not written extensively on steelhead flyfishing, Bill Bakke has made his dedication to wild fish his life's work and Steelhead Fly Fishers all over the world owe him a debt of gratitude for it. He has been working on behalf of wild fish for 30 years and the Native Fish Society, an organization he founded in 1995 is one of the most effective and consistent advocacy groups in the Northwest. In our culture of steelhead hero worship, Bakke sometimes doesn't get all the credit he's due, he was also among the first in our region to experiment with waking flies for steelhead. His classic pattern the Dragonfly remains extremely effective and that brings me to the passage in Combs book, Bill tied the first waking dry I ever saw. We were fishing the Wind River, and he showed me a new pattern he called a Dragon Fly. It had the spun head of a muddler, deer hair wings that stuck out from each side nearly horizontal to the water, and a deer hair tail. It floated well, but extremely low, and then came alive under tension. The wings became little paddles as the fly rocked back and forth and churned a bubbly wake through the swing. Steelhead devoured his entire supply that day. It seems like one of us was into a fish constantly. The flies were a wonder. It was years before I heard about Bombers.
Bill Bakke was ahead of his time in other ways too. Twenty-five years ago, the Kalama River already had a ten year history of stocking hatchery steelhead. The first plants were a mixture of Cowlitz and Elochoman winter steelhead. And in 1957, the Kalama received Washougal and Klickitat summer stocks, those selectively bred Skamania stocks that came to be planted everywhere, even in the Great Lakes.
The Kalama naturally had fresh steelhead every month of the year. It was famous for its springers, sexually immature summer-runs that came in as early as March, with the winter fish. The main summer-run month was July, the perfect fishing month in the Northwest. Upriver, in the area of Pigeon Springs was a short fly-fishing only section. Add to these resources the prospect of an ambitious hatchery program, and you have angling Nirvana. Send a tiny fish to sea, argued the hatchery proponents, and get back a steelhead weighing seven or eight pounds. This arrangement with Mother Nature would be a bargain at half the cost! Hatcheries were nothing less than an integral part of the American way of guaranteeing that more anglers would catch more steelhead. Punching your card out meant your annual limit of thirty steelhead had been realized. This is what your license money paid for, and a skilled angler expected his money's worth. The Good Old Boy network could tell you who was and wasn't.
Bill Bakke spoke to me in a strange reactionary tounge. He talked of catch and release, gene pools, racial diversity, and why he hated hatcheries. In his mind, they were a covenant with the Devil, the state getting off cheap for sucking the life's blood from the watershed. Whether is was dewatering, deforestation, dams, or the kind of massive erosion that turns spawning gravel into concrete didn't matter. Native steelhead were races unique to each river, ten thousand generations had seen to that. The most perfect Kalama River steelhead was a wild fish, naturally born and bred. They existed and flourished because of the pristine watershed. Dumping a weird genetic mix of hatchery steelhead into the Kalama - and a hundred other rivers as well - was rape of the native strain's genetic integrity. Bill believed that. In time, I believed it too.
The memory card in my camera decided to shit the bed earlier this week meaning it might be a little while before there is any new photo content on the blog. Out here in the distant and misty californee coast range the nearest electronics store is probably two hours away. On an even more crappy note, beer spilled on my laptop's keyboard earlier this week, so it might be EVEN longer before that situation is resolved. After removing the battery and drying the computer for a couple days the computer started, but all is not well in PC land and the screen display decided to slip itself upside down about 3 minutes into using the computer. I tried restarting but all I got was a loud beeping. I turned the computer off, I need some professional help.
If you read this blog regularly or spend any appreciable amount of time around me you'll probably pick up fairly quickly on my use of word "Jim". Borrowed from my good buddy Jon, Jim is basically a substitute for the word redneck, moron, etc. As anglers we're fortunate enough to visit some real outposts of Jimdom (ie Forks Washington). Spend enough time in these places and eventually something ridiculous will happen. Sure, spend enough time in a city and the same is true. But in these rural outposts of Jimery there is a special kind of ridiculousness that occasionally comes out.
As they come to me I'll be posting stories from some of my favorite Jim encounters. The first installment takes place on a popular Desert River, where morons parading as guides spend their days ferrying 5-10 anglers upriver in jet boats, dropping them off and leaving them to stand on their rock of choice for approximately 8 hours. Anyways, all that is an aside to say I was fishing a favorite spot one morning when a Jet boat loaded down with eager clients dropped off three anglers across the river from me. In the chilly September morning water temperatures hovered around 60, air temps were much cooler. Apparently the guide had not spoken to his clients about appropriate equipment prior to picking them up at the boat launch and all three were wading wet, looking very cold and irritated as the cast spinners into their bucket of choice.
Within about 20 minutes I heard a Yeehaw across the river as Jim #1 hooked a fish. After a short fight, the fish was brought to hand and released. In celebration Jim #2 said to his lucky partner...."Hell yea, only two things in the world that make your hands smell like that, and both of em's good!" All I could do was laugh, shake my head and mutter, "e'ffing Jims".