I’m am transitioning to a new domain and all new updates will be to the new site.
This site will remain up for a while as I transfer all the content over to the new domain.
The new site is:
I’m am transitioning to a new domain and all new updates will be to the new site.
This site will remain up for a while as I transfer all the content over to the new domain.
The new site is:
…but of course I can’t fish. I have managed to get out a few times but helping my daughter prepare for her last big tournament as a junior wrestler, U.S.Jr Nationals in Fargo, ND, has pretty much taken priority over all non-work related activities. 6 more weeks and I get my life back as she shifts gears and becomes a college student-athlete and I lose my wrestling coach-dad status. A bittersweet proposition for sure.
In the lowland streams with some distance from the Cascade crest, the levels are dropping, the water is warming and the trout are feeding. I got out a couple times over the last two weeks and the fishing was quite good. The flows are edging into the ‘juuust right’ zone on my favorite spring spots. Weather permitting, I’ll be fishing a lot more from here on out – a multiday trip to north Idaho is coming up and the prospect of many short runs to the Olympic Peninsula for summer steelhead have me frantically tying small buggy steelhead patterns.
A likely spot…
Bamboo and wild iris.
On a nearly unrelated note… My new bamboo rod is nearing completion. I’m planning a long, detailed post including the origin of the taper and photos of the build process but here’s a teaser. The rod will be an 8′ hollowbuilt 3wt made by master craftsman, Rob Hoffhines off an innovative taper dreamed up by Tom Smithwick. I’m having a hard time with the wait for this one!
Not long now!
For the first time this season, the trout seemed to be looking up. I was solo on a favorite small stream today. Flows were still a bit high, too high for my best spots but I was thankful to be able to fish at all. The first pulse of spring snowmelt runoff has hit and most rivers are running high and brown…
The flows on this stream were slightly higher than when I visited 2 weeks ago but the fish behavior was completely different. The fish were actively feeding on the surface, or maybe just under. There was a lot of insect activity with a several type of mayflies hatching. In the morning, Blue-winged Olives were popping off consistently but that faded around midday. From there on, red-quills were hatching all afternoon with a few larger March Browns mixed in. Lots of other bugs flittering about, small stoneflies and lots of midges and flying ants. I even saw a rare Adams fly perched on a Trillium…
I’m not sure how many cutthroats were brought to hand, double digits for sure. Two fish in particular were fairly large for this stream, running about 12-14″ but of course I wasn’t able to get a photo of either. I’ve mostly decided to stop stop taking photos of fish unless I can do it while keeping them in the water or can return them very quickly. These two were while in a very precarious spot so I wasn’t able to get the camera out without stressing the fish so they’ll live in my memory and fishing log…
As usual, my hot fly was a softhackle. Not usual was the method of delivery… The winning ticket today was a #16 Starling & Green presented on a dead drift. I tied it on as a trailer to my favorite caddis imitation, my mylar bodied Elk & CDC. The high floating dry fly kept the softhackle just under the surface and enabled me to track the drift. Both of the bigger fish took the softhackle dropper while a couple small fish hit the caddis. I missed one fish that made my heart race, it was probably the biggest fish I’ve seen in that river, maybe 18″ or so. Now I know where he lives… The photo below shows one of the pretty cutthroats that took the S&G softhackle.
While sitting on a log, I heard a load crashing from across the stream. At first, I thought it was a few blacktail deer but they are usually stealthy as the move along the banks. Then I saw a bunch of black shapes moving through the brush and I was sure it was a pack of wild dogs so I started reaching for my bear spray in case they crossed the stream. I was very surprised when a family of 5(!) otters popped out of the bushes. They were much larger than I what I remembered for river otters, easily as big as a medium sized dog. Kicking myself for not having my camera out, I whistled at them to get their attention. One of them gave me a quick glance then ignored me like the other four as they started working upstream. I figured that was a good time for me to change direction and head downstream as they are probably better at fishing than me!
The weather was really nice this weekend and combined with high but reasonable flows on my favorite early season stream lead to my first real trout fishing of 2012. Steelhead are, of course, just be sea-run rainbow trout but you know what I mean…
The flows were still a little too high for my favorite pseudo-secret spot so I went to an area a little more accessible but still off the beaten path. A hike and some bushwhacking got us plenty of untouched water and a few willing trout. I missed one nice fish early in the day when I wasn’t paying attention but broke my skunk in a later run. Fishing partner, MK picked up a couple fish on the way downstream, the second was a very nice cutthroat taken from a difficult lie on a soggy red quill dry fly.
Later in the day in a glassy, spring creek-like section, I picked up a couple trout. The first was a small cutthroat that was rising across the river, taking something just below the surface, probably red quill emergers. I was fishing a softhackle with a traditional wet fly swing but cast upstream to this fish anyway. The trout immediately took the Primrose & Partridge (=confidence fly) and was landed shortly after. A bit downstream, we saw a very large rise near a rock outcrop that has produced a few nice fish in the past. A roll cast across, a big mend and slow swing yielded a jarring take from a fat 13-14″ coastal cutthroat. It was the fist ‘nice fish’ of the season, exactly one week earlier than last year and taken from nearly the same spot!
This was also my first day fishing a new reel. It is a handmade reproduction of a Hardy 1912 Perfect. The reel is made by a master machinist and artist named Chris Henshaw in England. I also have one of Chris’ large salmon reels that I use for steelhead so when this little trout reel became available, I had to snag it. A couple new bamboo trout rods should arrive in late spring and this reel should be just right for the 8′ 3wt which will probably become my ‘go to’ small stream rod. To be continued…
There is never the hardness and bitter cold of winter fishing in March, but the month has a wild competitive savagery of strength suddenly aroused from sleep. Under it, somewhere, the alevins shelter and grow. -Roderick Haig-Brown, A River Never Sleeps
March is the last month of my posts aligned to the chapters from A River Never Sleeps. It started with April of last year as a one-off but afterwards, it just seemed right to continue. With this post, the annual cycle is complete.
If I had really been focused on fishing, I should have been on the coastal rivers of the Olympic Peninsula this weekend. The flows were agreeable and the sun was shining. However, the kids’ sports kept me close to home which is really no bother at all. It’s a priviledge to be part of their development into sound, well-rounded people. In this case, it was Angus’ Jr High district wrestling tournament. He exited early but the fight he showed was inspiring. His older sister, a more accomplished wrestler was in tears as she consoled him after his loss. Relative to the scale of the event, there can’t be a tougher athletic loss than losing a wrestling match. There was a very good article in the Huffington Post by David Crisanti that describes this much better than I could: May The Best Man Win
Crisanti writes “It is impossible to put in to words how it feels to lose a high level wrestling match — you have dedicated your life to this pursuit that required so much sacrifice and hard work, and if you fall short you have nothing to show for it and no one else to blame. No money, no fame, and most unkind, no sense of accomplishment, even if you are at that point a national runner-up. In fact, all you are left with at that moment is proof that you did not prepare enough, or do enough or have enough to be the better man.“
But the same is true at the lower levels even down to the high school matches and earlier. The thoughts might not be as well formed but the feeling is the same. I’ve seen it on countless young faces over the last four years. However, the lessons that can be learned in this sport can be true character builders. I’ve seen it in my own kids as well as in the development of other young men and women. Again from the same article:
“Despite my background as an athlete I was not a big believer that sports build character. I was more on the side that sports revealed it. But with the benefit of time and experience, it is clear to me that this sport builds humility. It does so by dint of its lack of chance.
In daily life, discovering our own true acumen can be much harder to come by. Any job, any relationship, any pursuit is beset with the whims of chance and more still, the participation and subjectivity of others. There is virtually no endeavor, within sport or without, as free from external factors as a wrestling match.”
I did get a chance to visit my ‘home water’ on Sunday. It’s really too early in the season and I had no expectation of catching a trout but it was good to spend some time on a small stream enjoying the first signs of spring among the lingering snow. Next month should bring the first trout of the year and hopefully, a few final winter steelhead!
February, like January, is a fine steelhead month, in some ways the better of the two… February is likely to have splendid days of bright sun after frost, with the first faint feeling of spring in them, for the sap is rising in the maples again and the willow shoots are scarlet with it and the alders and fruit trees budded with it. -Roderick Haig-Brown, A River Never Sleeps
My only day of fishing in February was on the 27th when I was lucky enough to spend a day with Jim Kerr fishing the Hoh river on the Olympic Peninsula. For our family, the first three weeks of February equals the high school wrestling postseason run to the state championship tournament, otherwise known as the Mat Classic. Same as last year, Aika came into the state tournament undefeated and a repeat district and regional champion. Unfortunately, despite dominating the match, a single mistake and some suspect refereeing combined to hand her a very tough 1 point loss in the semi-finals. She came back to crush the next two kids and take third. I was very impressed with her classy sportsmanship after the loss and her ability to come back, focus and wrestle 100% for two more matches knowing that she had just missed one of her dreams for the last few years. Her prospective college coach (who was at the tournament) sent us a couple nice emails afterwards complimenting her composure and confirming that she’ll be a valued part of the team next year.
The fishing trip with Jim was my birthday present to myself. I can’t afford to fish with a top guide all that often but on the Olympic Peninsula, Jim is the man and I always learn so much, it’s worth the investment without a doubt. Catching big fish is just icing on a very tasty cake…
The day started clear and cold, in the upper 20′s. I had all my layers on underneath my waders so I was very comfortable but the damp felt soles of my wading boots kept freezing to the bottom of the boat! More problematic was that the line guides on the rod would pick up moisture from the line, which would then freeze and clog the guides making casting difficult. Even so, right off the bat, I hooked a very nice steelhead. I must have been “holding my mouth wrong” as my grandfather used to say because the fish came unhooked on it’s first hard run upstream. Continuing down the river, I hooked another nice fish which we landed after a prolonged chase downriver in the boat trying to get to a nice landing spot. I was pretty nervous but the beautiful chrome hen fresh from the ocean was landed, photographed and released unharmed. I have caught a few hatchery fish but this was my first wild, native winter-run steelhead and I am still giddy about the whole thing.
Given the higher than optimal and very cold water conditions, we were fishing subsurface nymphs (egg imitations) from the moving boat. I haven’t fished nymph patterns very often (almost never) for trout and this was the very first time I’ve tried it for steelhead. Normally, I fish wet flies for steelhead with a traditional wet fly swing using a two handed spey rod > wade into a run, cast across, let the fly swing with the current, step downriver, repeat until something pulls back or you get to the end of the run. It’s a very rewarding way to fish in my opinion. However, the places you can actually do this are limited. Nymphing from the boat while moving downriver allows you to cover a lot of water that would not get fished otherwise. Unfortunately, as I quickly learned, it’s hard to do well…
Being together in a boat for 7-8 hours affords a couple of guys a lot of time to talk and this was no exception. When I’m fishing with Jim, of course, I try to focus on fishing and the Olympic Peninsula ecosystem. Since this was my first time trying this type of fly fishing, we spent a lot of time discussing the technical aspects of nymphing as well as swinging flies. Proud dad that I am, I also couldn’t help bragging about Aika’s great season.
Which brings me to the point of this rambling post… Aika lost her semi-final match because she made a tactical mistake. She was the better wrestler by far and was leading with only 50 seconds left in the match. Instead of playing it safe and stalling out the last seconds, she kept going 100% trying to get a pin that she didn’t need which put her at risk. Of course, she then gave up a high-scoring move and lost by one point. This is a lesson most kids learn early in their wrestling experience, within a couple years. For kids in club programs wrestling at a high level, this is when they are in junior high or maybe the first year or two of high school at the latest. Unfortunately for Aika who has only been wrestling seriously for 2 1/2 years, she learned this lesson in the semi-finals of the state championship she was favored to win in her senior year. It was a bitter pill for sure but it’s something she will remember as she continues wrestling in college and beyond when the stakes will be even higher. In her case, all the incredibly hard work she has done gave her the Technique but she did not have the experience (Time) to have learned the appropriate Tactics for the situation.
But since this blog is all about me… back again to fly fishing, more specifically, nymphing for steelhead. I have put in the Time and with that time, including a lot of books, videos and listening to more experienced anglers, I feel I also have a good grip on Tactics. Where I fell short last week on the Olympic Peninsula was Technique. I really had no clue as to what I was doing at the start of the day. By the end I had a glimmer of what it was all about but not much more. It’s very easy to wed yourself to a single way of doing something, especially when you have just enough success for it to be rewarding. The risk is falling into the old adage “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail…”. Now I’m not about to put up my spey rods and start nymphing all the time – swinging wet flies is still my preferred way to catch a steelhead and a trout too for that matter. However, in the future, I plan on doing a better job of spending the Time to build a broader range of Techniques so that I can actually execute the best Tactical plan on any given fishing day.
Later in the day, I hooked a hot fish that almost jumped into a bush in it’s first run, then it ran under the boat and finally into a boulder filed rapid. After a nice fight, I finally worked her back into some calmer water where Jim waited with the net. Right before being scooped, the fish came loose and disappeared back into the Hoh. Fine by me as these are wild, native fish to be released not killed. The rush of the initial take and the fight is what I was after and that’s the awesome experience that beautiful steelhead gave me. All in all, it was a great birthday present to myself. Now I just need to think of some excuse for another day with Jim this spring…
I know January for the best of all winter steelhead months… the steelhead , with the brightness of the sea still on him, is the livest of all the river’s life. When you have made your cast for him, you are no longer a careless observer. As you mend the cast and work your fly well down to him through the cold water, your whole mind is with it, picturing its drift, guiding its swing, holding it where you know he will be. And when the shock of his take jars through your forearm and you lift the rod to its bend, you know that in a moment the strength of his leaping body will shatter the water to brilliance, however dark the day. -Roderick Haig-Brown, A River Never Sleeps
I envy Haig-Brown’s January experiences in the PNW during the early part of the 20th century. These days, December/January are the months when the hatchery steelhead return to PNW rivers, in ever decreasing numbers despite huge numbers of planted smolts. The wild fish begin coming in in January but the later months of winter are best for the native fish. I have read that the early returning winter steelhead runs have been largely exterminated by the hatchery cycle – early returning strains are selected so that they remain segregated from the later returning natives. However, this means that any early returning fish face gill-nets, increased kill-fishery pressure and competition with hatchery fish. So it’s rare to hear about someone catching a native steelhead in the early season these days.
The returns for Puget Sound rivers have become so depressed that they will close the first week in February to protect the native fish. There is a lot of debate on the subject and it’s an incredibly complex issue but I feel that the impact of the incidental mortality of a catch & release fishery is pretty low on the list of causes for depressed steelhead runs. Given, the environmental issues, Native American treaty rights, politics, etc. it’s a true “Wicked Problem“. makes me depressed to think about it…
…and after a nasty morning of
fishing getting skunked on my soon-to-close homewater, I was feeling pretty down. We’ve had a lot of snow the last week and the plows had piled up a big snow wall in front of all the pullouts. I ended up parking on the side of the road about a half mile from the normal pullout and hiked to the trail as cars loaded with skis & snowboards streamed past. I’m sure they were wondering what in the hell the dude with the big fishing pole was doing walking along the highway in the rain.
Yes, rain. And a bit later, driving wind to go along with slush turning the already snot-slick boulders on the riverbank into some sort of antigravity device designed to send anglers ass-over-head into the 34deg river. All that to fish a river with no steelhead in it…
Yet, when I got home and read the Roderick Haig-Brown section on January steelhead fishing, something happened. It was like a pat on the back from across the decades. Reflecting on his passage above, I found myself silently nodding “Yes, that’s it exactly” and all this craziness somehow makes sense…
A new toy! A 3 1/2″ 1912 Salmon Perfect built by reelsmith Chris Henshaw in England. An original Hardy 1912 Perfect is outside my financial resources and even if I did buy one, no way I would take a that sort of collectable reel to the river (see the note about slick boulders above). Chris’ modern interpretations of the vintage Hardy designs are functional works of art. I can’t wait to hear this thing sing when a steelhead makes that first big run…
This is one of my ‘confidence patterns’ and the fly with which I catch more trout than any other. I typically fish it while moving downstream using the traditional wet fly swing. However, it works great high sticking across pocket water, upstream in the film, etc, etc. It is my variation of the traditional northcountry spider template with a thread body and sparse hackle. I add the glass bead for a little more sparkle and weight. It also keeps the hackle flared out and buggy in the fast currents of mountain streams. Works great in other colors too – adjust to match your local conditions.
Here’s a full step by step with materials list: Primrose & Partridge Softhackle
It’s been my personal tradition the last few years to go fishing on New Year’s Day regardless of whether or not I actually have a chance of catching anything. Two years ago, I went to a beach and caught a nice little sea-run cutthroat. Last year, I went to my usual run on the Sky and it was so cold that the felt soles of my wading boots were freezing to the rocks I stood on…
This year, I tweaked my back helping the kids with their wrestling and thought I was going to have to break tradition and stay home. I was in a fair amount of pain the night before and still stiff on Sunday morning. However, the weather looked surprisingly good – 50deg and partly cloudy so I downed some ibuprofen, grabbed my big Guideline LeCie and headed to the river.
There were a lot of people out on the river so I went to a run that I knew I could have to myself. Probably because there are never any fish there… A shame really as it’s a nice piece of swinging water. My thought was to just get my line wet to preserve the tradition and head back to the house. Maybe sneak some greasy fast food (never get it at home) on the drive. Hiking down to the river, I noticed my back was feeling pretty good. I ended up working through the run and going back to hit a couple of the fishier sections twice. It had rained hard earlier in the week and the water was dropping and clearing with that nice ‘steelhead green’ color. However, the thing I didn’t notice before I left was the wind. It was howling. Luckily it was blowing downstream so even my crappy river-right double spey didn’t matter. Just toss the line up in the air and let the wind take it.
I fished my new Bourbon Prawn most of the run. It swims very nice and the red Golden Pheasant and Jungle Cock really glowed in the water. I also tried out a tandem tube bunny leech that I recently tied after the Silvy pattern. When I want to get down and nasty, that’ll probably be my go-to fly. I had one grab that might have been a fish but I’m going to call it a rock so I don’t feel bad about missing the take…
Anyway, I paid my penance to the fishing spirits and I’m looking forward to fishing in 2012. My resolutions for the year are much more simple than the 10 of the past two years:
1) Fish more than I did in 2011
2) Have a net decrease in my investment in fishing tackle
3) Continue to help beginners or newcomers whenever possible
4) Contribute both time and money to conservations efforts
Oh yeah, catching a big native winter-run steelhead on the OP wouldn’t suck…
Happy New Year!
In 2010, I gave myself an explicit set of goals to guide my fly fishing during the year. I didn’t perform so well against the standard I set to say the least… Perhaps in reaction to that failure, I didn’t post a new set of fishing goals for 2011. I just sort of carried on with the 2011 goals floating around in the back of my mind but without talking or posting about them very much. The one exception was the goal to fish 52 days a year or an average of one day per week. This one wasn’t about the actual days, rather as a catalyst to roll out of bed on those days that might appear marginal when looking at Internet forecasts, etc. Sometimes, those can be the best fishing days of all as the river will be uncrowded due to everyone else sleeping in…
Anyway, here are my (Un)goals of 2011 and how I fared:
Depending on how much ‘credit’ I give myself for the partials, I’m coming in somewhere between 70% and 45%. Not bad compared to last year’s paltry 40% giving myself full credits for partials. The three items marked “Fail” all seem to relate to traveling to fish. 2012 will be tough in that respect too as is my final season of playing the combined coach/Dad role and there will be a fair amount of wrestling travel this summer.
Even so, I’m really looking forward to spending an increased amount of time rediscovering the Olympic Peninsula this year – not just for steelhead, I’m also very excited about the potential for sea-run cutthroat on the little troutspey, resident trout fishing and of course, salmon.