Monday, December 20, 2010

To Fish Great Water Well

A light drizzle dimples the blackened tarmacs gathering puddles as we depart the twin engine turbo at “Steelhead International”.  First impressions, perfect weather for encountering the provinces chrome jewels.  Prior to landing pressed faces peer through aged windows catching glimpses of a glacially tainted river meandering through a valley corridor lined in golden poplar, birch, and fir.  To a steelheader far from home an anxious yet welcome view. After an evening of suds, a short restless night is spent preparing for what lay ahead. 

From town the Queens Highway travels south crossing the river where another glimpse affords a less desirable image of the waters below.  It appears swollen by comparison, a brownish tinge permeating its depths.   Perhaps the previous evenings failing light lent a more palatable quality to the rivers appearance.  As we continue to the lodge I ponder the reality of that deception knowing past experiences.

A damp afternoon leaves us exiting a river on the rise.  The following morning we huddle in darkness on the rivers bank its audible pitch alerting us to her unsettled violence, yet we prepare for the day with enthusiasm.  Dawn greets us with a broken sky, a crimson glow highlighting the distant snow covered peaks; the first we’ve seen of them since arriving.  For good reason we were the only group to launch that morning, although others gathered to stare, cups of streaming coffee held in their hands skeptically watching as we departed.  

Ancient downed cottonwoods, limbs mixed with smaller debris drift by as we hopelessly swung our flies, posting guides on vigil against an unfortunate encounter.  We believed there was hope, after all we’re steelheaders.  The suns warming rays accentuate the waters impenetrable color while highlighting the corridors ribbon of luminous golden foliage.  With rains subsiding, hope rekindled, undeterred we continued on.

Midway through the week the caramel colored waters dilute to a consistency that resembles weak coffee.  Outside the lodge, the once raucous flow is audibly tempered; subtle changes that impel a steelheader on.  Like vultures, others now descend, where once we fished alone.  Competition now stalks this waterway sensing opportunity.  They are greeted by those who believed and persevered as intruders knowing the solitude that was once enjoyed would now be interrupted. 
Just rewards accompany optimism and faith.  For those who pursue these fish, such truisms often are all one has.  Those who fail to accept this, move on to an aspect of fly-fishing that is more predictable, and forgiving.  On waters where vagabond jewels only temporarily reside, faithless casts frequently go unanswered. John Hazel one noted with experienced reflection on the nature of steelhead fishing with a fly; “good steelheading is simply fishing great water well”.   As our time on this unimpeded river unfolded, this was never more true, nor fulfilling.  

With three days remaining, optimism and hope blossomed in the form of a plump rose colored buck.  For the first time since arriving, belief, hope and faith firmly rests in a pair of outstretched hands.    Given the nature of this sport, a solitary fish is worth jubilant celebration; even more so given the hand we’d been dealt and the conditions we endured. 

In the final days, conditions improved, so did the fishing.  Given our expectation, moments of trepidation eventually yielded to success and celebration.  In many respects we were fortunate knowing in reality there are no givens here, after all you are a guest in Mother Nature’s court, subject to her whims, playing a game that remains relatively pure, honest, and raw.  Unlike other growing aspects of fly-fishing here a sense of fair play and simple appreciation still exists.  

Last days always arrive too soon. Before departing reflective contemplations are calculated from the glass confines of “Steelhead Internationals” solitary gate with a certain sense of despair.  At the edge of the runway the river flows out of sight, dotted with solitary figures methodically probing for an elusive quarry.  You yearn to still be among them.  The corridors once vibrant poplar and cottonwoods now sway rhythmically naked and exposed.  Silently inventory is taken of the experience, opportunities lost, and the years of wandering this country and its waters.  A good friend once said upon first arriving in this country, that I would never be the same.  I scoffed at that notion.  Over two decades have since passed since then, he was right.  

As an infected soul, I quietly board the plane lost in my thoughts, already yearning for that which will be left behind.  From the window, as I have for decades, I’ll grasp one last glimpse of a river that tugs as it does its steelhead hoping to again return to fish great water well. 

Saturday, December 04, 2010

The Doc Spratley

One by one I’ve begun rebuilding a steelhead box that was recently stolen. Although other items were taken that box of faith and hope represented a quarter of a century of steelhead fishing; a collection of flies tied, bartered and gifted over the years.  Of all that was taken, it was the most significant loss.   

Several weeks passed before I sat down at my bench to begin the arduous tying process that would fill some of the voids left by the absconded box knowing that I would be unable to simply replace, or recreate that which was lost overnight. In doing so, I’ve found a renewed sense of excitement in tying those patterns that have proven their worth over the years and a renewed interest in tying a few new ones.

Greg Pearson stopped by the other day and naturally we spent a fair amount of time discussing our steelhead season; waters we had fished, successes, failures, flies and other related matters. He’d found great success in a pattern I’d heard of, but never fished or tied, the Doc Sprately.  What caught my attention was the fact that it had a green butt.   Those that know the patterns I prefer when steelhead fishing, know that a number of my flies quite consistently have a green butt.

Shortly after Greg left I was perusing the internet looking for samples of this fly and stumbled upon one that was of interest, the Doc Spratley Spey.   It is a beautifully dressed low water fly, and one deserving of a steelhead.   After a slight modification to the wing, there now lies a nice little gathering of these in my new box adjacent to those freshly tied patterns that are the foundation of my offerings.  Come next season, I’ll be looking for a reason to fish this fly.  It won’t take much knowing that any respectable steelhead would find it hard to resist.  

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Best in Fly Fishing Media

Given that print media has taken a dive over the past decade or, there have been some excellent on-line publications such as the latest issue of This is Fly.  The other good internet publications and the first of it's kind was, Catch Magazine.   Not only are these new internet magazines refreshing, they are free, they don't write biased and worthless product reviews, and the vivid imagery simply pops from the screen. 

But all is not lost when it comes to good fly-fishing print media.  I must give a shout out to one of the few good newsstand fly-fishing rags, The Drake; still the best magazine in print and worth the paper it's printed on.  There are others trying to carve out a niche in fly-fishing, but to date none match the creativity or whit in writing or material that The Drake brings us.  I just wish they'd put it out more than a few times a year.  

Check them out!  Good stuff when you can't chase your favorite species with fur and feather, or need a good fish fix at the office!  Enjoy.....  

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Old Man

My kids made me music CD’s when they still cohabitated the house.  They were affectionately labeled “Old Man Mix”;at least I believe they were.   It was good stuff: Neil, Hendrix, Allman Brothers, Peal Jam, John Butler,  Ben Harper, Dylan, Marley, blending musical transitions of the years we shared.  Those mixes accompanied and still do many a road trip resonating most harmoniously with windows down, a waft of fresh cool air swirling about the interior, with the smell of fresh cut fields permeating the senses. 

Coincidentally, about the time these musical medleys emerged I encountered a mortal reconciliation.  Seated quietly among the flowing grasses and wildflowers on the banks of the Henry’s Fork waxing in the afterglow of a memorable morning, fully absorbed in the rivers encompassing beauty this disturbing contemplation eroded the tranquil moment; how many more years do I have left to fish these waters?  The thought set me upright, fractured any sense of contentment I was experiencing, left me perplexed, distracted and contemplating a timetable of life past and present.  I still vividly recall that moment.    

Not long after that, the reality of that intrusive thought sat before me; flesh and blood.  He was a rather distinguished gentleman with graying hair, full mustache with a shouldered slouch creeping into his once erect posture.  There was a hint of brightness to his eyes, but the realization of life’s mortality had eroded some of that.   His presence and our ensuing conversation affixed emotions of my own fresh ponderings.  As we talked, a mounting sadness permeated the room. 

My friend had come to the end of his fly-fishing life, a life once filled with vivid anticipation and adventure on the worlds waterways.  In his hands were his tools of the trade; rods, and reels of an era gone by, each with their own narrative, the test of time worn well into each unique piece.  A vest tattered lay limp across his nimble legs.  With sadness he handed these items over to me to sell, knowing that family nor friends would give them the considerations he felt they deserved.  Quietly I watched him leave, those encroaching thoughts resurfacing from that reflective morning.

Shortly after this, my father passed away.  It was expected, yet the suddenness of his demise challenged any preparedness for his departure.   Just before his passing, seated upon the bleached remains of a once towering cottonwood in a steady British Columbia rain, writing phone numbers in the mud in an effort to try and reach my father after he was hospitalized, made the distance between us infinitely long, yet I was thankful for the brief solace this country afforded me knowing what ultimately lay ahead.   What more fitting of a place to prepare for such matters, to garner life’s realizations, reflect upon a man you’d only come to truly know not all too long ago and in between ones own destiny. 
Much has changed in my life since that moment several years ago bathed in sunshine while contemplating life.    Fly-fishing now lends occasions to wander the world’s waterways with a more contemplative outlook, where the catching of fish is no less celebratory, but overall yields to a smaller gesture of fulfilling circumstance.  Given the fortunes of my time, each outing bears an enhanced significance, each wandering however brief more poignant, each fish appreciably unique more noteworthy.  Similar to the older gentleman who I had shared that introspective moment, there is a growing appreciation for time in general, especially time on the water, and to fish for the simple pleasure and solace it affords the just reward.  

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Anglers Sue for Stream Access

It was bound to happen sooner than later, a law suit in dealing with Utah stream access.  On November 13th, the Utah Stream Access Coalition filed suit challenging the merits of HB141; a recently passed bill that took away the public rights to access Utah's public waters. Check out this story by the Salt Lake Tribune for additional details. 

For all anglers this creates an opportunity to put in place stream access laws that were supported by the Utah Supreme Court in July of 2008, however it's not a time to sit on the side lines and wait to see how this all works out.  The Coalition is going to need participants and it must raise significant monies to support these actions. Visit their website or follow them on Facebook to see how you can be apart of this historical action. 

Sunday, September 05, 2010

The Big Guy

Its not everyday one gets to fish with their mentor whose skills and generosity have made him one of the unsung figures in flyfishing.  Through the years Emmett Heath and I have revolved through a variety of doors before coming full circle and again find ourselves entwined in business once again and more importantly even fishing together now and then.  For both of us, at this juncture in our lives, our recent hook-up only seems fitting.  

Emmett infused his talents and sense of ethics over twenty years ago into our guide service.  That sense of ethics and stewardship drifted away during his absence.   It’s nice to have him mentoring a new generation of guides with his soulful philosophy and sense of right.  Given the way most guides operate these day, most could all use a dose of his wisdom and tutelage.

For the first time since rejoining Western Rivers, I and several of my staff had the privilege of fishing with the “Big Guy”.  This seasons summer seemed has passed much too quickly for anyone’s liking.  Knowing that opportunities to fish the Green River and spend some time with our guides was slipping away had several pulling the Red Eye on what would end up being a spectacular day.

It is amazing how easy it is to take a resource as spectacular as the Green and those that are in your backyard for granted.  That is something Emmett has never done nor lost sight of.  He’s rarely left this panoramic country, simply recognizing that this prolific fishery suits him just fine.   Each time I and others have the opportunity to be on his river, I’m reminded of this.  This day, like those in the past was no different. 

keen eye and perspective on his place in the history of the Green River and what a precious gem this uniquely clear river is.  We got a sense of that before we reluctantly parted company late that day, and in leaving a sense of regret that we hadn't taken the time to do this more often.  Such surreptitious journeys have become a rarity over these past years.  Such seems to be casualty of life as of late. All of us hoped that will change one day.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Argentina Revisited

Comfortable seated, tired and stuffed, I leaned back to gaze upon a foreign sky consumed.  In my hand the embers from a dying cigar glowed warmly, a hint of smoke drifting aimlessly in to the abyss of the Argentine night.   Overhead the Southern Cross slowly crept from beneath a cirrus sliver; the Milky Way intensely reaching from horizon to horizon off to its side.  It was the first clear night since arriving in Argentina and the first opportunity to partake in a ritual my first evening the Nuequen Province; a therapeutic conclusion to each eventful day.

Earlier the day began cold and unwelcome; winds ripped the meniscus from the rivers black reflective surface.  Sheets of horizontal rain added to the mix of challenging weather, yet we found more than a few trout willing to take our small offerings.  As the day progressed unrelenting winds tore at our efforts disheveling our casts grossly off target as if discarded bits of paper.
These elements seemed to suit this vast countries character, its lush valleys and raw mountainous landscape.  Such days at home are cherished, knowing all but the fairest of flyfishers will venture out. Here, where 53 kilometers of private water at your personal disposal one doesn’t have to subject themselves to such exigent elements to enjoy relative solitude; a luxury that does not go unappreciated.

Last year the enamored waters of the Rio Malleo left me skeptical of its rich history and legendary reputation. First impressions of this storied fishery were vicariously morphed from the impressionable and imaginative writings of the prolific Ernest Schweibert.   Prior to leaving San Huberto, home of the Rio Malleo, the discovery of a timeless journal lavishly anointed with the musing of past guests expressively depicting their memorable experiences on these storied waters left me with images tempering my departing skepticism.  Its last entry in 1999 was the final year Mr. Schweibert would fish this river with his beautiful flies and leave his gracious impression and artistic renderings in the torn pages of this eloquent find.

From its upper meandering and lush meadows to the Rio Malleo’s lower reaches there is significant contrast to its character.  Shallow riffles yield to elegant pools that flow through one of trout fishing most impressionable valleys.  At its head stands the valleys omnipresent guardian, Lanin, a discernable landmark that lies in dormant vigil at Chile’s rugged border.    Further downriver the lower valleys more confined river corridor finds turbulent waters sheltered by dense thickets of willow; refuge to some of the rivers more notable resident that so far have eluded my gifts of fur and feather.

Towards evening fragmented columns of light magically found their way through the Andes raw granite stonework; picturesque light illuminating the valley walls and yellowing tall grasses evidence of the days belated hour.  After a lengthy walkabout in search of more enticing waters I emerged from a dense copse of willow to find the most alluring of waters.  Evening’s first caddis frantically take to the air; their pupal sucks abandon and lifelessly adrift. Those that lurked in wait briefly exposed themselves not wasting the opportunity to dine on Mother Nature’s bounty.  For now, the trout superior in the food chain, fed uninterrupted, but in an instant as in all of life that can change.
Before departing to reconnect with my companions, I would experience one of those rare yet euphoric epiphanies that leaves one with the realization that anything other than appreciating the moment would detract from scale of what just happened.  It would come to it’s conclusion as the final piscatorial canvas, burnt orange and peppered in spots of the blackest ink,  slipped quietly from the cradle of my outstretched hands again to seek solace within these sheltered waters; its girth impressionable, the struggle filled with emotional swings, ending admirably in awe.
Before stepping from the river I paused to removed my hat, swept my hand across my midsection and bowed in a familiar gesture of gratitude and recognition.  Heading back evenings darkness had begun to blacken the western sky; distant peaks now absent of any illuminating light.  A cascading river and the ubiquitous chatter of parrots lent a sense of place to my surmising thoughts.    Momentarily among tall grasses I took stock of that which surrounded me and pondered the experience of fishing in an unspoiled setting where riparian corridors exist neither uninterrupted nor compromised by the presence of man.  Such is getting harder to find.

Upon leaving the Rio Malleo, I have a new found respect for the river that eluded me upon my first visit.  Looking back it troubles me that such considerations effected my perceptions; there should have been simple consolation in the eloquence of the resource, but as in life that which is obvious is not always easily observed.  I remind myself, the same can be true in fishing.         

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Quiet Observation

In the growing twilight a lone trout rose uninterrupted from the placid mercurial waters quietly sipping dying mayflies haplessly adrift.  With each audible rise and residual tranquil dissipating ring of death the urge grew, yet I cast not a fly nor moved to do so.  I simply grasp the moment to relished the simple yet poetic act of life;  an act that only over time I’ve come to appreciate in simple observation content to not disturb that which was playing our before me. 

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Harrmian State Park Threatened

There is movement afoot in Idaho to eliminate funding for the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation (IDPR) by Governor Otter in an effort to trip the 2010 state budget.  In doing so he would move the state part system into the Department of Lands, saving the state and estimated $10 million dollars. 

For those who fish, this could and most likely will result in the elimination of Harriman State Park, home to the fabled fishery known affectionately as "The Ranch". This particular section of the North Fork of the Snake River, the Henry's Fork, was donated to the state of Idaho by the Harriman Family.   Under their aggreement, should the state default on any aspect of the agreement, the park would revert back to the family.  Should the governor get his wishes, that is exactly what would happen. 

Given the current economic climate, the move by Governor Otter are a threat to this national treasure and other valualbe resources in the state that are protected by their Idaho State Park Status.  For Harriman State Park and it's globally recognized waters, this resoucre is vital to those fragil communities that depend on this resource for their livelihood. 
To read more about the Governor Otters proposal read: 
Keep Idaho Department of Parks & Recreation. At the end of the article there are additional links to express your concerns to the Idaho Legislature and the Governor.   There is also an active petition:

Make your voice heard.  Even if you have never fished these incredibly unique waters, it is imperative as an angler, conservationist, naturalist or user of this park to insure that the stay within the current system and remain protected for all to enjoy.  There are options, and far better ones than what is currently being sought by Governor Otter.