Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Hat

If you fish you have hats.  Hats for fishing, hats for wearing out, and then there is that growing pile of hats that remind you of place and time you don't want to forget.  My old Resistol is one of those hats, one that I still have, yet one that these days just keeps a peg in my house company.   Over years of serving me well it's earned that. 

I remember taking this photo like it was yesterday.  It was in the late 80's at the take out below a place we fondly knew as Seaton Camp.  I help build this steelhead camp back in 1986, the same year I started Western Rivers Flyfisher after returning home from that incredible fall experience in BC.   That year the two Bulkley Mice, one tan, one black were added to the hat band, but the steelhead pin would become a part of this well worn later. 

That fall I was fortunate to guide a group who lived in the east; Stan, Marty,  and Giorgio in particular.  Giorgio was probably one of the best dry fly steeheaders I've ever fished with.  I learned a lot from this guy.   I remember our last day together we were paired with this ass who kept accusing me of putting Giorgio in all the buckets, when in fact he got all the buckets that day.  Giorgio fished shit water and had one of the best days of dry fly steelheading I've seen.  He was that good. 

Marty was a decent stick and he'd had a good week, but going into our last day poor Stan still hadn't caught a steelhead. If you fish for these fish you know what it feels like to not be hooking up when others are.  It happens to us all, but in this particular circumstance for Stan  his misfortunes carried a more significant burden.

Stan pulled me aside that final morning at breakfast and said he wanted to go out with me for the day.  We'd already spent a day together, and I really enjoyed this kind old gentleman.  With Giorgio now out of the equation, fishing was so good he left early to be with his girlfriend, it would just be Stan and I.  Although I wouldn't have called myself a seasoned steelheader at this point in my life, I know enough to know that the more you want one of the fish, the harder they are to come by and I understood this all too well as the day unfolded.

Like the photo of the hat, I remember the day well.  Before lunch Stan hooked a big fish, one that he struggled to handle.   After a long fight, it came unbuttoned.  I buried my face in my hands in disbelief.  In the morning sun we stat down to contemplate our misfortune and the opportunity lost, the weight of his burden growing heavier.  As we got up, Stan turned to me and made an emotional request.  Before he headed home he wanted just one steelhead, no more.  Given his age, I knew this would be trip he'd probably not do again. 

In the next piece of water,  Indian Summer, Stan caught his fish.  After tailing it, I handed to him to hold for a photo and to have the opportunity to feel what it's like to have one of these incredible fish in ones hand.  After he let it go,  with tears in his eyes, he walked over and gave me a hug.  It was a special moment, one in life I'll never forget. 

But, there's more to this story.  Remember that pin?  We'll in the summer of 87 Stan sent me that gold pin in memory of that day, that moment that we shared.    Unfortunately, the pin no longer sits in that old hat.  The day I returned home from butting my dad to rest and settling his affairs, someone broke into our house.  Upon first inspection it appeared they didn't get much that was worth anything. Several month later I realized by happenstance they ended up with the first nice reel I ever bought myself.  It was an old Hardy Marquis.  Several more month passed when in the middle of the night I woke realizing they'd gotten my steelhead box.  That was pretty devastating.   Several years had passed before I noticed that the gold pin was missing from my hat.  I stared at the small black dot in the center of the hat where the pin was in utter disbelief.

I remember looking through my old photo's for this Throwback project and coming upon this photo.  There were a lot of mixed emotions that came out when I saw it.   When it was all said and done this photo reminds me of an incredible year and a  gentle old man who I met and shared a very special day with almost 30 years ago. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Victory for the Skeena Watershed

"We did it" proclaims The Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition header on their web-site. A decade long battle to preserve the Sacred Headwaters ended favorably 12-18-2012.  Couldn't think of better Holiday gift.  As the Coalition proclaims in their press release; “Coalbed methane development to be permanently banned from headwaters of major salmon rivers VANCOUVER - The B.C. government announced today that Shell would be withdrawing its plans to develop coalbed methane in the Klappan-Groundhog tenure area in northwest British Columbia. The government will also not issue oil and gas tenures in the area in the future”. Read more.... This is an epic bit of news.  It's nice to win one for a change.....

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

An Environmental Fiscal Cliff

Before the Senate this December, among other stuff, is the Sportsman Heritage Act; a “Fiscal Cliff” of its own regarding the impact this bill will have on wilderness, wildlife and the outdoor experience. Fortunately given the significance of fiscal matters before the Senate they may not have an opportunity to put this controversial bill on the table. On the other hand, it may pass unnoticed under the shadow of other more pressing matters. That would be unfortunate and significant. Although the bill pertains to hunting, shooting and fishing specifically this ill conceived bill will affect a wide range of outdoor enthusiasts.  If you haven’t read or followed this bill, which I’m finding few have, and you fish or simply enjoy quiet places you’ll want to pay attention.  Better yet, get involved. 

The most significant problem with H.R.4089, the Sportsman Heritage Act, is the impact it will have on the way federal agencies make management decisions on public lands: Forest Service, BLM, wilderness, wilderness study areas, wild and scenic and national monument lands; decisions that affect wildlife, their habitats, and the outdoor experience. As it stands now the appropriate agencies analyze the effects that activities such as hunting, fishing and shooting have on public lands.  The analysis is done according to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  For those not familiar with NEPA, the process requires that the cumulative affect from activities such as these that occur on public lands be analyzed.  This critical and in-depth process is vital in managing public lands to preserve and protect wildlife and their critical habitats.   In other words should H.R. 4089 pass those agencies that have been in charge of evaluating and implementing best practices to protect and preserve wildlife will no longer do so.    

If you read the second statement in the bill Section 102 under Findings it states, "recreational anglers and hunters have been and continue to be among the foremost supporters of sound fish and wildlife management and conservation in the United States”.  Again under Findings Section 102 the third reference states, “recreational fishing and hunting are environmentally acceptable and beneficial activities that occur and can be provided on Federal public lands and waters without adverse effects on other uses or users”. These are simply egregious statements.  To say that hunting and angling have no significant impacts on wildlife, habitats and other users is not correct.  I have been in the outdoor business for 25 years and have spent a lifetime recreating.  There are few places left on this planet, let alone this country where we haven’t had significant impacts to habitats and those wildlife that depend on them for their existence.  

Also of concern in H.R. 4089 is the Hunting, Fishing, and Recreational Shooting Protection Act, which is one of the firearms industry's top legislative priorities. The bill amends the Toxic Substances Control Act to clarify the original intent of Congress to exclude traditional ammunition; ammunition containing lead components and fishing tackle from regulation by the EPA. 

There’s a reason that lead shot and sinkers have been banned in  some states, several National Parks such as Yellowstone, because lead shot and sinkers when ingested by waterfowl and raptors is lethal. On the east coast prior to the ban of lead sinkers for angling 50% of all Loon deaths were attributed to the ingestion of lead sinkers that were left discarded by anglers.  In the west desert prior to a federal ban on lead shot when hunting upland game and waterfowl, 30% of all Golden Eagles tested were found to have ingested lead shot.  The impact these lead products have on waterfowl and raptors is devastating and well documented. 

This bill was crafted with the hopes of enticing more users into hunting and fishing and raise badly need revenues.  In the short term,it may have some impact on increasing the number of those who recreate,and sell more hunting and fishing licenses, yet I would suspect those increases will be incremental if at all.  Those benefits from additional revenues, however will be short lived. Without the ability to regulate the impact of these uses and users and implement sound environmental practices to preserve and protect these critical habitats they will surely decline, the experience for those who now push to open these areas eventually eroded.  

There are other aspects of this bill that are also concerning. There is a potential for more roads and structures to accommodate access in wilderness where deemed necessary, but the main points I've raised are what concern me and other the most.  I urge you to write your senators and have them vote against this poorly crafted bill.  Time is of the essence.  Here is a link: to the bill in its entirety. Like all bills you may need some help in deciphering it.  I did.  If you Google H.R. 4089 you’ll find plenty of viewpoints.  As an angler and outdoor enthusiast, I feel H.B. 4089 will lead to the loss of critical habitats that are the lifeblood of our nations fisheries and over time significantly impact my fishing and outdoor experience.  These areas need to be protect, need to be regulated not only for wildlife, but for those fortunate enough to experience them, today, tomorrow and in the future. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

It Ain't Easy

I began this piece in August fresh from the showroom floor kicking it in a cheesie hotel room trashed like all who attended three days of Fly Tackle Dealer in Reno somewhat perplexed. For over two decades I've attended our industry trade show.  It’s always left me with a renewed enthusiasm for our industry, its people and fly-fishing in general. Annually it’s the only opportunity we: manufacturers, retailers, media and others vested in the lifestyle of fly-fishing have to gather.  Over the past decade, possibly longer, there has been considerable discussion and emphasis on growing our sport and again this topic occupied a fair amount of the daily dialog on the showroom floor, in hallways and during the last forum that I attended on “Women in Fly-fishing”. 

First off, I'm not a typical shop owner or flyfisher who advocates mainstream philosophies.  I'm concerned theses days for what's in the best interest of our industry, fly-fishing in general and most of all your experience.  I understand the need for growth as a retailer and industry, but I’m also very cognizant of the fact that the lifestyle we pursue with fly rod and reel is resources limited. Looking ahead I'm less concerned with growing the sport or seeing more fish being caught than I am with making sure we preserve the integrity of fly-fishing, the experience, the health of our fisheries and maintaining access to the waters we fish. 

Over three decades have passed since I got serious about fly-fishing. When I started there were no strike indicators, Al Gore had yet to invent the internet and in general there were fewer bodies on the water.  Much has changed since then and some of it I find rather concerning, especially the short cuts we condone in an effort to make fishing with flies easier and more effective without regard for the affect some of these practices are having on the fly-fishing and the waters we fish.  

In an effort to make fly-fishing easier, especially for those just getting started, we have adopted the strike indicator: bobbers, balloons, hunks of yarn, foam, all that take the skill or need of casting a fly with any proficiency out of the equation. On most trout streams flyfishers no longer cast, but lob their flies, wash windows, or chuck and chance.  I don’t fault or criticize those who use these techniques, since most have been lead down this path as a matter of convenience, profits and lack of forethought, however I am critical of an industry that has taken the very essence from fly-fishing in order to attract more participants rather than promote fly-fishing for what initially attracted us to it in the first place:  the challenge of the game, its grace and eloquence when done right, the sense of accomplishment on a variety of levels, all executed among some of the worlds most incredible landscapes. I don’t know anyone who was attracted to fly-fishing because it was easy, or as a means of catching more fish, yet we’re on this tangent that rarely reflects any of the sports attractive qualities. 

We all have our stories of what prompted us to pick up a fly rod initially.  In my early youth I would ride my bike to a friends bass and bluegill pond almost daily.  They happened to have a fly rod hanging with their conventional tackle; a Shakespeare Wonder rod with a Perriene automatic reel, that I randomly picked up out of curiosity. On that day my fishing changed forever. The attraction and fascination had nothing to do with its ease or for that matter even catching fish, it was the feel of the rod, the challenge of casting, being mesmerized by the visual display of the fly line unfolding in front of you and the command of it all when it rarely felt right.  The fact that it required skill to use only made it that much more appealing.

Fly-fishing has taken me to places that few other ventures could have.  It's been a life long learning experience that I now have the fortune of sharing with others.  Over the years I've put a lot into learning to fly-fish.  On many fronts I still do and often I'm still not where I would like to be.  There has been frustration along the way, and I still have moments where it all goes helplessly wrong. All said and done, fly-fishing can be quite simple,  that's its beauty. As long as your fly is in the water you have an opportunity to catch a fish regardless of your abilities.  In the grand scheme of things, if you are having fun that's what matters most, yet if you want to truly reap the sports greatest rewards you'll need to put your time in.  The fact that it is challenging has a great deal to do with its appeal.  Personally I can think of few things in life as enjoyable as spending time on the water, playing this game, casting fur and feather to lure a fish to take a fly, and when that happens because of the essence of it all its magical.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Rivers of Change

I never seem to tire of a good sunrise or sunset, yet as I grow older the more I appreciate such displays from Mother Nature. I've been told it has to do with aging and the anxiety that arrives with the passing of time recognizing that one day you'll see no more.  These days as years pass days seem like hours, months melt to weeks and life's pace grows more frenetic as the years fade away.  With these realities comes the significance of the simpler things in life, like this morning sunrise, the quiet drift down a free flowing river, swinging flies on a fall day, and a recognition that you get to fish just for the mere pleasure of it all. 

I awoke on the first day of my annual steelhead pilgrimage while others slept or stumbled for coffee scrambling around barefoot trying to capture mornings array of good light. I have taken a hundred or so dramatic photos from walkabouts of early mornings and evenings in the past.  What captured my attention this particular moment was the silhouette of the abandon dory. Not that there aren't a few good photos out there with drift boats in low light, regrettably though you just don't see many of them in this part of the world anymore.

In the west dories are the preferred means of transportation when fly-fishing for trout on waters that accommodate them.  What’s a Salmon Fly hatch without a flotilla of drift boats floating downstream after them?  In the steelhead world where sleds are permitted drift boats have become somewhat of a rarity.   It's one of the reasons I choose to fish with Derek and Andrea of Frontier Farwest. Although they've incorporated a few jet boats since purchasing this lodge from Collin Schadrach, they still use Collin's old Clackas on many of their trips.  They aren't always an option, but when they are I'll take a quiet slow row down a river over the noise, smell and hectic pace motor boats lend to any steelhead day. 

When I first traveled to British Columbia to work for Collin in 1986 he was one of only a handful of steelhead lodge operators, but the only one using drift boats to guide his clients.  With only the rhythmic sound of the oars to alert others of our presence, we often surprised other unsuspecting guides as we'd slip down on them unexpectedly. Most often they would quickly gather their sports prematurely exiting the run and race to the next piece of water before we’d have a chance to get there. Often we’d slip in behind them, have a cup of coffee, some homemade cookies, before proceeding to finish what they failed to. We weren't always successful at picking their pockets, but conversely they weren't always successful in fishing their next piece of preferred water.  When we did scoop a steelhead or two from their vacated pockets there was a certain satisfaction that would accompany our successes and manner in which we chose to fish.

Much has changed since those early years in BC; there were far fewer guides compared to today leaving plenty of water to go around for all who shared in fishing for steelhead.  The few jet boats that were on the river weren't enough to disturb much, which was good considering most lacked ethics.  They're a little more considerate these days, but given that there numbers have grown considerably they have in many regards further eroded the steelheading experience.  What once was a fairly peaceful semblance of compatible flyfishers at times now resembles a frantic race from run to run. Those who prefer jet boats say they don't influence the behavior of a steelhead.  From my experience I question that. 

When I first began fly-fishing these waters it was before two handed rods were popular and all we ever needed were dry flies.  Today finding someone who steelhead fishes with a single handed rod is as rare as finding a steelheader who fly-fishes for these fish with waking flies let a lone just a floating line.   One of the reasons dry line steelheading on many rivers in this region and in the lower 48 is no longer very successful is the traffic has changed, fishing for these wandering fish becoming that much more challenging.  Those who fish tips don't notice the changes as much or realize that many of BC's rivers and others throughout the Northwest were known for their dry fly and dry line steelheading.  Today such is rarely a consideration.  If it is what was once common place is now simply an after thought. 

Although my numbers are not what they use to be, I find the challenges of steelhead fishing with a wet or dry fly even more rewarding than it was several decades ago.  Those I fish with who also remain steadfast in this stubborn endeavor having such an appreciation for a steelhead that will rise to a dry or greased line fly that they to remain stubborn in their dedication regardless of the conditions as well. As you get older and you've been at this game for a while, success and pleasure from fly-fishing comes in a variety of forms. If you’re fortunate you’ll realize it’s not about how many fish you catch, but the methods in your madness and that the most memorable are not always the fish that come to hand. I think that’s what fly-fishing is all about, what attracted me to it in the first place and what makes the rewards of steelheading with a floating line that much more enjoyable.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Last Grab

Collin Schadrach pulling into Frontier Farwest signaled the end of one part of my fall steelheading junket and the beginning of another.  My companions who I shared an incredible week of steelheading with had just departed for home the lodge transitioning methodically to quiet chaos in preparation for its new arrivals.  Before moving on to the Mother River rains on our final days returned memories of the two previous years floods, yet this breif freshet was not quite as bad.  We woke from camp that final morning deep in the secluded canyons to a rising river, colored, yet not in full spate.  As the day lingered the rivers steelhead green faded to brown; never a promising change when one hopes to have reasonable success swinging flies.

The last fish I touched left me appropriately with another fleeting opportunity that was more mirage than reality. The grab came with half a belly of line out the end of the rod early into the head of a small piece of water.  It was soft, the steelhead briefly mouthing the fly, letting go before my fingers could pinch the cork.  After such an incredible week, the grab was almost an afterthought and interruption to an incredibly pleasant day.  Yet in that instance the days nonchalance surged into a tense awareness. I paused, gathered myself and presented the fly a second time. The pause and tension this time as the fish  lick the fly as it passed even less perceptible. It's tail broke the chopped surface as it rose to take the greased line fly;a cocky wave of gamesmanship,one that I didn't have the upper hand in. Before the third swing I slowly changed flies the game in full progression   Had I smoked I probably would have rolled one to rest the fish even longer.  Again I cast. Again the steelhead sniffed the offering, yet oh so softly the hook never finding its mark. That was it, game over. I hung my head, breathed a sigh knowing that given the days deteriorating conditions that would probably be it for the day.

For those who swing flies for these illusive travelers such moments are about perspective.  That's the beauty in steelheading; there's plenty of time to ponder the moment, the day, the sense of it all, these incredible fish and the rivers they call home.  For all the fish I brought to hand on this trip I'll remember this encounter with comparable appreciation knowing I could have just as easily gone without, my flies simply an illusion swinging unperturbed in the turbid water. Such has been the case many a days when fishing for these fish. It's what makes you appreciate such moments and the opportunity to wander the worlds rivers where steelhead live.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Steelhead on a Dry Fly

There are steelhead rivers that have a reputation for piscatorial wanderers
that "look up" and under the right conditions take a well skated dry fly. BC has a few of them and I've been fortunate to skate a fly or two on a number of its more hallowed waters.  My past two seasons hosting trips to BC weren't exactly conducive for fishing period let alone a waking fly.  Historic rains blew most of the regions rivers out, rearranged some, deluged fishing lodges, towns and airports. We were fortunate to at least be able to wet a line during those tough years.  Many were not so fortunate. For those who pursue these mysterious fish, such challenging conditions are not unusual.  They are part of the game. 

In BC, the Morice River is one of those waters that has a reputation for its surface oriented steelhead, yet I've never had the opportunity to skate a fly across it's broad reflective runs under conditions that were conducive to a dry fly.  This year was different.  Upon our arrival, we found a river system in stark contrast to the previous several years: warm water temps, low and clear as drinking water.  The Morice could't have been in better shape. 

If there was a day to have success skating dry flies this first day with its overcast skies and threat of rain couldn't be more ideal.   My fishing partner, however isn't as confident in the waking fly and quickly challenges my decision by sticking two fish early on light tip, yet sparse fly.  His reel screaming and acrobatic fish that cartwheeled out into the tranquil pool offered little consolation in my decisions as my riffle hitched flies skated ignored throughout the morning. As the day warms my fortunes change.  I don't see the first take mid-river currents yet the line briefly tightens when a steelhead  grabs the fly.  

The next encounter comes from the tail out of a deep placid run, the boil unmistakable, the sound of my old Hardy breaking the morning stillness evidence of the dry flies success. For the time being, my partners reels have gone quiet, as the bright hen breaks the early afternoon stillness. We connect for a moment before going our separate ways.  Several cast later a nice buck  cartwheels across the same tail out before coming unpinned.  A third steelhead brings my line under tension three more cast into the same run, yet  distracted I flail at the unexpected yank.  As I continued to enjoy success throughout the day my partner switches his methods, unfortunately for him all too late.  

This first day reminded me of those initial years fly-fishing for steelhead when all I ever hung in front of a steelheads face was a waking fly.   Times have changed, however.  Today there are a lot more guides and jet boats. Between the boats and the way today's fly casters fish for steelhead, most of the times we're waking on their heads.   That's OK.  I didn't get into fly-fishing because it was easy.  Same goes for chasing steelhead.  Today's dry line challenges have me looking for new water, exploring little nooks, crannies and unsuspecting pockets that are barely big enough to swing a well tied fly through.  That's all good since over a decade now of fishing this way it's become my game, regardless of the conditions. I may not always catch the most steelhead, but then again I might! The tip guys aren't too stoked when I do....

After fishing water the color and texture of carmel for the past two seasons in BC to see the tops of ones boots in three feet of water lent refreshing enthusiasm for a change. At my age under such favorable conditions it keeps me from stumbling as much.  That in and of itself can be rewarding. On top of the great river conditions this year: weather, scenery, then to sting a bunch of chromers on a waking fly left me with one of the more  memorable steelhead days I've enjoyed in some time.  I hope there are more days like this in store for me in the future.  Should there not be, I'm simply grateful for the ones I've already had.