Monday, September 27, 2010

Back From the Northern Wilderness

The Long Road to Nowhere

Got back into town late on Saturday night, boy does the Northcountry Blues hit hard. I had planned to fish through Saturday but it pissed rain all day and night Friday and I woke saturday morning to find the river chocolaty and gone for at least a couple of days. Rather than doddle around I thought it best to hit the road and get to those nagging responsibilities which had been building up steadily since I left the week before. After 9 dayson the road, sleeping in the tent, fishing 13 hours straight in moist, stanky waders and eating a steady diet of cornchips, PBJ and various barbequed meat I was ready to be home. Still, city life seems strange, rushed and completely detached from the reality of the planet we live on.

Big Water

If you haven't heard by now they're having a great run this year up north. Tyee test fishery counts are the second highest on record and I've heard rumors of anywhere from 18,000-30,000 fish returning above Moricetown. Thats alot of steelhead and for the 8 days I was there the fishing ranged from steady to absurd. After last years trip I wanted to spend a little more time, see a some new water, and revisit some good spots from last year. I also set a few goals for the trip, 1. catch more than half my fish on the dryline, 2. catch a fish on a waker, 3. find a rhythm in my fishing. Going in I'd heard good reports and tyee counts looked good but I was hesitant to get too hopeful. The most important thing to me was to catch a few fish, on my terms, fish well, learn the rivers I fished and try my best to forge a connection with the rivers that flow through gods country.

Upper River Vista

Steelhead and Smuddler

The first few days went more or less as expected. Found a small onesalt buck the first evening on the dryline with a purple smuddler which helped the confidence and reinforced the supremely fishy feeling I've had about that pattern for sometime. The next day I found a couple of fish, two which pluck plucked the first swing only to crush the fly. Also got a very large hen, probably equal in size to the two other largest fish I've ever caught (both on the big mighty river). The rest of the trip more or less as planned. All but two fish were on the dryline which was extremely gratifying. The funny thing is, despite the fact that fish in the northcountry are world renowned dryfly eaters, most dudes still fish tips. With water on the low clear side I think a dryline was actually fishier than tips and the fish seemed to have no ambivalence about rising a few feet in the water column to blow up my wakers.

Afternoon light

The Northern Rivers are so special. I always feel like I'm looking into the past of our southern streams, into the primordial world when salmon and steelhead still outnumbered anglers when a moose or grizzly can stumble out of the woods at any minute. The north is a raw, young land. A place of epic views, harsh and abrupt seasons and rivers with a power rarely witnessed in the more southern latitudes. Even in mid september, the nights were well below freezing and each morning the tent was covered in a thin coat of ice where condensation from the previoius night had frozen. Accordingly, the fish are strong, determined and 100% wild something which is difficult to find following a century of industrial scale hatchery production. If last year was a primer to the unforgettable beauty of the northcountry and its fish this year was a big step towards total ruin. This year the timing was better, the fish more abundant and I fished on my terms, in no particular hurry and confident that the fish would willingly rise to the surface. There is absolutely nothing more gratifying or exciting than raising a steelhead to a waking fly, even if every time I have to fight my impulse to immediately raise the rod tip and take the fly away. All in all an unforgettable trip, 9 days fishing alone in some of the beautiful country on earth, I even found a few fish.

Big Hen

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Heading North

After a whirlwind return to Vancouver I'm leaving town again. I've been rushing to meet work obligations, pack and refill the fly boxes before taking off for a 10 day sojourn in the Northcountry. Last fall's expedition gave me a little flavor of what to expect but definitely didn't satisfy my need to immerse myself fully in the beauty of the Northcountry fall and its native steelhead. Now I'll have a little more time, runs are shaping up nicely and the timing couldn't be better. Life is good amigos, life is good.

Hoping to find a few of these

Monday, September 13, 2010

What Makes a Good Guide?

What makes a good guide? Well being a dirt poor, fish bumming lowlife I’ve never experienced a guided trip first hand. That said, spend enough time on your home rivers and chances are you’ll get to know at least a few guides. Every angler is looking for something different, but as an outsider looking in I would argue that a good, complete guide has to meet a couple of important criteria. First, they must be a teacher. Anyone can row a boat down a river, drive a jet sled, or stand idly while clients accrue wind knots, casting poorly into unlikely water. Second, a guide must be a good citizen of the river, that means respecting other anglers and perhaps more importantly, being an advocate for the wild fish which provide their livelihood. Finally the obvious, a good guide must be fishy. Fishiness is hard to quantify, but basically some have it and some don’t. While there are a number of good guides working the steelhead rivers of the Pacific Northwest, Ryan Smith owner of Arch Anglers Guide Service is a good friend who to me epitomizes all that a guide should be.

I first met Ryan a number of years ago when he was still working at Avid Angler. Since then we’ve shared more than a few days on the water, had some epic adventures and consumed more beers than the surgeon general would recommend. He also snapped a photo of the largest fish I’ve ever gotten, a sweet March Hen on the Big Trib a few years back that remains forever etched in my memory. As an added bonus, he also allows me and the fish hound to crash his couch when we’re chasing fish on the eastside.

Ryan has been busting his ass the last few years getting his business off the ground and from the sounds of it, it’s paying off. It’s good to see someone being rewarded for doing things the right way. He’s dedicated to conservation and to giving his clients an experience that will stay with them, whether he’s teaching a double spey or tailing the fish of a lifetime. While Ryan is a devout steelhead bum, he’s also extremely knowledgeable about fishing the beaches of Puget sound, and trouting on the Yakima. With steelhead runs tanking in Puget Sound, guides must be jack of all trades to make a living anymore.

He also stands out as the only guide to my knowledge who fishes the eastslope and doesn’t emphasize bobber fishing from the boat. The Rivers draining the eastern cascades are renowned for their free rising, acrobatic steelhead and the explosion in the number of people guiding these rivers who almost exclusively bobber fish is disheartening. While Ryan would never condemn the tactics of another angler he instead focuses on imparting to his clients the rewards of fall steelheading with a floating line, and I can tell you, they catch plenty of fish.

Check out Ryan’s website:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Slow Ride Home

Back from the hinterlands and finally with some motivation to write. The ladyfriend flew down to SF and we took the slow ride home, driving up the California coast and about half way up 101 into Oregon before hanging a right to the NU. Other than a couple of days at either end of the trip in Berkeley and Seattle it was 6 days of sleeping by the river, campfires and plenty of fishing. Its a bit difficult to talk the girlfriend into an all day grinder of fishing, but lucky for me she loves to sleep in and doesnt mind eating a late dinner so most days I got to fish morning and evening. This time of year fish can be hard to comeby mid-day anyway, so a siesta, swim or slow lunch was a welcome break.

A passing squal driving over from Fog Town

First stop was the Rattlesnake Fork where I'd previously scouted a sweet, secluded river side camp spot conveniently situated next to a couple of the fishiest runs I've seen. The first morning I'd fished through all three of the runs in camp by about 8AM and decided to take a second pass. A fish took In the very top of run just where the run went from boiling white water to smooth surfaced seam and ran immediately downstream before screaming up and across, jumping out of the water and throwing the hook. After a rusty summer it was just the affirmation I needed, steelhead still take flies. Being early yet in the season my expectations were fairly low on the Rattlesnake Fork, but it was beautiful weather and scenery and the camping by the river would have been worth it on its own. The fish was a great bonus though.

Camp spot

The next afternoon we drove back out to Fogtown and up the coast to Oregon to the mouth of a long storied river. Arriving near dusk there wasn't alot of time for scouting, but a quick drive out on the bar in camp revealed a reasonably fishy looking piece of water. The next morning I woke at o'dark thirty to the sound of diesel trucks rumbling down to the boatlaunch. In riverside campgrounds throughout the west an alarmclock is hardly necessary and for a light sleeper the predawn diesel truck hatch is normally more than enough. The first run proved fishy and gave up a couple of nice half pounders, which put a surprisingly nice bend in the old brown 5120-4. The thing I love about half pounders is their exuberance. They still take with a force that can only be found in fish which have traveled the ocean and without fail they leapt from the water when hooked, meaning that despite numerous encounters, few came to hand. Drove upriver a ways after the first run, hoping to fish below the mouth of the first major tributary, but I found the river crowded with jet boats filled with gear anglers chasing Chinooks. The crowds and bad manners were a major turn off, and after having one jet boating Jim drive over my line repeatedly I asked him nicely to please drive up the otherside of the river. Spent the afternoon in the sun on the beach and the next morning after fishing we packed it in and headed up the coast, then inland to the NU.

Playing in the water

Evening on the Lower River

Sometimes you've gotta smell the flowers

I had a chance last summer to fish the Ump for a couple of days, but since then I'd been thinking about it often. 30 miles of beautiful flyfishing only water is more than an angler could reasonably explore in a summer, let alone a few short trips so I've been trying to take it in piece by piece. The great thing is, other than the few quintessential runs near the mouth of Steamboat, the river tends to be fairly open and there is plenty of amazing water. The first day was pretty uneventful, lots of casting, no fish to the fly. The second evening, in the last run of the night I hooked a fish in a sweet looking piece of water behind a pile of fishy ass boulders and got absolutely schooled. Fish jumped twice right off then bat, then peeled off way down into the backing before running towards shore and cartwheeling within a few feet of the bank and then sprinting back up river. The fish settled down and the holyshit part of the fight was over, just when I'd caught my breath and was picking up some line, working down towards a better spot to try and land the fish it leapt on last time and threw the hook. Despite loosing the fish, I got all I could ask of it and got a huge confidence boost. The fish took a red and black smuddler, flies which I've been tying all summer in anticipation for this time of the year.

First time up Steamboat

The next morning was the last fishing of the trip, and around nine, with the sun just beginning to peak around the doug firs and basalt cliffs, I stopped in at a shady little run that I fished last year and found to my liking. I started in at the top with a skunk, a fly that normally gives me major confidence, however about half way through the run I saw a fish jump out of the water near the head of the run. I'd fished over that spot just minutes before without a take. Who can say why, but starting in at the top of the run for a second pass I knotted on a purple and black smuddler, figuring the bright purple body and the movement of the wing would provide a nice comeback after the more drab, buggy skunk. a few casts into the run the fish took with an electric jolt was was immediately off to the races. Fist downstream, then up, then across, then back up, leaping directly across from me showing itself, a male about 7 pounds with just a hint of color. I reeled, then stripped line frantically, trying to keep tension on the fish and had managed to hold on when the fished jumped even closer, its body contorting in the air. Then the line was stuck...the fish had run around a rock, leapt and broken the line in midair. As I tied on my new fly I could barely thread the eye of the hook, my hands shook and my heart beat quickly, trying to catch my composure after the frantic excitement of the fish. I did eventually manage to tie on the fly, but my fish encounters were done for the trip. 0 for 3 on hook ups with three sound ass beatings, the fish won fair and square, whatelse is there to do but sit down and catch your breath?

Large Man, Large Fish

Back in computer land again, building up the stamina to write a wrap up of the epic journey home. Thought you might enjoy this quick photo in the meantime. Man Bear Pig on the River Nunyabusiness with a perfect summer fish. Now he's back on the Wrong Coast, hopefully the sweetness of this fish is lingering enough to hold you over. Nice job buddy, looking forward to seeing you in October.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Back From the Hinterlands

Just recently got back to real life after a week of slow driving up the coast from California to Pugetropolis. The drive was good, weather mostly cooperative and it gave me a chance to fish a few of the more legendary steelhead rivers in the world. Headed out the door for now, more later.