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.  

Sunday, September 23, 2012

BC 2012; The Journey Begins

Hard to believe that a year has passed  since I boarded Hawk Air to return home after several weeks in British Columbia chasing migratory fish that at times seem infinitely elusive. The previous years epic high water event resulted in a last minute phone call from Derek, Owner/Operator of Frontier  Farwest and one of fly-fishing's more impressive steelhead operations, while we were seated in the airport preparing to depart.  He called to inform us that the river had again exceeded its capacity.  Ironically the previous year it had gone out the day we arrived. We were on a roll!  To the character  of our group no one batted an eye and we stayed the course.  As one of our crew eluded to, "I have time off to go fishing and I'm going fishing". 

We are not sure of what this year will have in store for us, yet we arrive in Smithers this year under clear skies and walk from the plane into a smoke filled valley that hasn't seen rain since June;  a stark contrast from the previous damp years.  It's dusk when we fly into this picturesque valley, so a visual perspective of the river is assuming at best.  After two years of swinging flies in silt laden waters it will be nice to see the bottom of the river for a change.  With weather these days one never knows.  I don't even bother looking at forecasts any more.  I just pack my stuff and go.    

After a short night Angelo, Lars and I wander over to the Bulkley Valley Farmers Market for coffee from the Bugwood Bean.  I discovered this Saturday gem of a gathering several years ago.  In doing so  I'm quickly reminded that there are other reasons that we go to such unique and scenic lands to cast our flies and not all of them have to do with catching fish.  This particular morning I've been looking forward to a coffee from the market brewery and to briefly immerse  myself in the small town culture of Smithers before it time to switch our focus to fishing. It's been a year since Angelo and I ended the previous years trip with that incredible last day.  It doesn't seem like it.  Time seems to pass these days at a frenetic pace.  Of all the trips I've been so fortunate to take this annual migration is like going home.  It's at a good juncture in the year and swinging  flies seems to slowdown life down to a more reasonable pace, regardless of the success. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Down Time

By the time we slowly rolled down the driveway evenings rush hour had subsided, the sun was low on the horizon and the days suffocating heat was seeping form summers parched landscape. Not that the timing of our departure was intended to create any convenience or comfort.  It's simply when we finished packing after a day at the shop and got underway for Western Rivers annual shop trip.

For the first time in decades we escaped Utah with out running into an obstacle course of orange barrels or delays prompted by endless construction that Utah freeways always seem to be hindered with. I shouldn't complain since the infrastructure of most of our major cities in this country is in utter collapse.  In the absence of construction our escape transpires seamlessly.
Our annual shop trip started over two decades ago.  We haven’t missed one since. It began in the corals that bordered the Nature Conservancy's Silver Creek Preserve were we set up that first camp.  We used the neighboring rancher’s cattle chute for a table.  That is when he didn't have a need for it.  It was a far cry from sanitary, but level and had character.  I don't know if our presence led to the current camping policy that is now enforced, but you can no longer camp at that convenient location.  As a result the Henry's Fork is now our base.  It's a step up from a camping perspective.  The cattle chutes been replaced with a fancy a roll up table. Although camp now is a little more civilized, the biggest difference is the presence of grizzlies.

Skyler and I got a jump on the group and after a short night of sleep we began our walk into the Ranch relatively early.  A light rain woke me and I could have easily dropped back to sleep, but knowing what an overcast day can lead to on a western spring creek and a strong cup of java was ample motivation to roll out of my tent.  Skyler needed a little more prompting, but for a young kid he holds his own.  

We spent a full day on the water.  For our efforts we endured a number of empty takes, a refusal or two and one nice fish before darkness forced us back to camp.  For the Henry’s Fork in late July the day could be regarded as respectable.  Here’s it all relative. Over the three decades of fishing these waters I’ve had better, and much worse.  If you are going to get your head handed to you this isn’t a bad place to simply watch the world by or take a nap.  Anymore on this river having seen it go through some pretty tough times I’m thankful to have an opportunity to cast a well tied fly to a rising trout. On some days that’s all one can ask for. 
Back at camp the long week, a short night and full day on the water all took a toll.  While Skyler stayed up till the rest of the crew arrived I called it a night.  I was so trashed I didn't even hear the rest of the crew arrive around midnight. Laughter, and they rhythm of a mellow guitar initially woke me and for a brief moment had me thinking of joining them.  A minor explosion quickly put any such notion to rest.  The deafening silence that followed the mishap while everyone took inventory had me little nervous. Luckily there were no serious injuries, but the incident put a quick end to the night. Since it was around 3, that was probably a good thing.
The next morning I was impressed by everyone’s effort to get up at a reasonable hour.  They may not have been in the best shape, but they were stoked to get on the water.  We scattered like broken glass throughout the Ranch once we set to motion seeking opportunities this place yields so infrequently; something we experienced first hand the day previously.  Some found success others put in a long morning before succumbing to the lure of a Grub Stake sandwich followed by a long afternoon nap. 

For three days that first day summed up our fishing experience.  Typical of this fishery when its temperamental its was about being in the right  place at the right time.  For the most part everyone enjoyed some decent success.  Given our chance I’d have to say we did pretty well.  Reflecting on previous Shop Trips, this one rates as one of the more successful ones.

Late on the last day we all eventually gathered to walk the well worn path back after our final day on the river. We paused momentarily to watch Sir Nicholas work a stubborn trout that several of us had taken shots at over the three days we were here. There isn’t a one of us who would pass up a rising trout without making a go of it regardless of the situation. After a lengthy iteration Nick whiffed when the trout rose and appeared to take his offering, his patient audience moaning in reaction to the lost opportunity.   To our dismay the trout continued to rise.  Finally Nick’s persistence paid off, the rainbow finally taking a beetle.  To an ovation he eventually hoisted the trophy mid current after digging it carefully from the weeds.  On the way out, we couldn’t think of a more fitting end to our stay, regardless of what had transpired previously. We were also thankful that the Ranch at this late juncture in the day was void of others. 

I’m fortunate to have such a talented crew on many fronts.  Not only are they dedicated to their work, but turn them loose on one of the worlds most challenging waters their passion and skill is even more impressive.  It’s a fishy crew, that is fun to spend time with on any river let alone one of our favorites the Henry’s Fork.

Monday, July 16, 2012

On Rare Ocassion

The narrow dirt road showed signs of wear, to our pleasure none recent. Debris lay strewn about much of the dry rutted road; bits of winter’s aftermath still lingering among the hidden shadows of the canyons sandstone walls. The year still young has been historically mild, moisture sparse, especially compared to the previous couple of years.   With this in mind we ventured off the beaten path in hopes of finding a stream void of others, just a few willing trout and an early window to fish water that normally affords few if any early opportunities.   

Several sandstone spires roughly etched by time stand sentinel over the entrance to a hidden oasis.  Entering the confined valley ancient cottonwood, dense willow and abrasive river birch lay drab and bare compared to the lush foliage that we left behind. At first glance we gaze upon a river surprisingly clear its tributaries yet to dilute the streams clarity with spring’s freshets; considering this past arid and mild winter that may never happen.

Somehow we managed to not hit anything or drive off the narrow furrowed road as we made our way up the rivers valley.  When it ran near water we paid little attention to its meanderings or condition instead taking every opportunity to discover shadows with flowing tails, a flash, an undulating ring or the flutter of life as it emerged into a terrestrial world.  

Several miles above the rivers largest tributary we pulled over content with our choice for a place to begin.  Not that it really mattered since we were the only ones here. Pouring ourselves from the confines of our vehicle the morning’s cool air and lack of others added a casual yet anxious pace to our readiness.  Even though we saw no signs of aquatic life we tied on dry flies to our limp tippets, simply because we felt it was the appropriate way to fish this rare day. 

Soon after entering the narrow streams cool waters our artificial flies drifted haplessly as if untethered initially undisturbed or attracting any noticeable interest.   Several casts into the run a slow methodical rise from a brown trout interrupted the drift of my partners fly, his line soon tightening on the unassuming trout sending it to seek deeper water in hopes of some security from the resistance that pulled upon its body.   For the trout’s size it put up an admirable fight before gently sliding into his net.  We admired the trout’s butter rich color, plumb belly, and translucent pictorial fins before it quietly slipped back to the depths of the rivers emerald pool.  

As the day wore on we each released several more trout before deciding it was time to head home; content with a day that exceeded expectations.  We could have caught more, but to do so would have been in disregard for the uniqueness of this fragile resource.  Even if we had, it would have not made a difference in the day, only diluting the experience, blurring individual trout to numbers, erasing the uniqueness or recollection of those that came before.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Travelers Beware

I’m literally just getting my feet back under me after returning from my 4th visit to Argentina. Whether it’s our growing familiarity with this culturally rich country, our growing friendships, the fish, the food or the diverse fly-fishing opportunities that seem to abound in this vast country, these trips just seem to get better. 

Ron Sorenson, our host while fishing in Argentina, told us after last years incredible pleasant due to the countries very cooperative weather we should scale back this years expectation some. As he said, for Argentina or anywhere for that matter, “it doesn’t get much better than what you had last year”.  On an entirely different level this trip was as impressive as the last, or any that we have taken for that matter.  After traveling here for several years that is what I’m finding quite refreshing about fly-fishing in Argentina; it has so much to offer it always surprises you sending you home with an aspect of the experience you didn’t expect. 

One little surprise brings a note of interest to Argentine travelers who frequent this country or for those who are planning a trip in the near future! Unexpectedly we were informed upon arriving in the country that they no longer allow you to take your rods and reels on the plane when flying domestically within Argentina.  When I travel, I don’t like being disconnected from my rods, reels or flies. These are my babies.  Whenever possible, they are always close at hand, yet that is getting harder to do these days. Fortunately for me, one of my customers had a Fishpond Dakota Carry On, and I was able to stuff my rods in that with those he already had in tow.  All said and done we had 11 rods, not to mention a hand full of reels in this bag. 

After putting a price tag on the contents of that bag, a value that exceeded the price of this trip, we got a little concerned about the possibility of loosing its contents.  On good advice from Gaia Macchiavello, our guide while getting around in Buenos Aires, we had the bag wrapped in plastic before checking in.  Thanks to EBay, the worlds largest Pawn Shop, there is an easy and very lucrative way to turn your fly-fishing equipment into quick cash.  Last thing you want to do is make it easy for potential thieves to gain access to your valuables.  Should they, at least bury and hide your reels, flies and secure your valuable rods.  Lock them when you can or wrap them in plastic if possible as we did in Argentina.  This type of theft doesn’t happen very often, but you still want to error on the side of caution. For $10.00 we wrapped up the bag and sent it off; well worth creating the hassle given the value of your gear.  

It was an incredible trip.  I’m still putting the finishing touches on my journal, and each day I conclude brings back moments of a trip that lived up to everyone’s expectations.  Can’t wait to go through all my photo’s and publish some of them here as well.  If you haven’t been to this country and you have the opportunities to travel with your fly rod, Argentina should be on your buck list.  Although at the time it wasn’t at the top of my list, it is now, Chow! 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Mother Natures Wrath, Mother Natures Bounty

At one point during the day it was wishful thinking.  I’d hoped to depart in daylight for my weekend spring drive to the Green River.  With the weather forecast putting some of I-80 under me before darkness engulfed the landscape would have been sensible, but typical of most of my departures I hadn’t even breached my driveway before evenings last light began to fade in the west.  

After stopping for java and gas rocking the in the free world is a traveling necessity, especially at this hour. Randomly “It’s too dark to put my key in my ignition” overcame the sound of rubber on the road as one of Neil’s classics permeated a budding emptiness.  Although the morning’s sun was far from rising over my hood ornament, the song and opening line were more than appropriate.   Thankfully my travels were uneventful and void of ungulates and other four legged wanderers that find springs warm pavement an attraction or often deadly impediment to historical migrations.

Under a star studded sky I threw pad and bag on the ground; a place I’m most comfortable.  Sleep came quickly after a long day at the shop and the ensuing drive.  During the night the wind awoke me on a number of occasions.  At first light, the landscapes alluvial terraces rimmed the eastern horizon their silhouettes dark yet fluid, once shelter for some of the west’s most notable outlaws. Scrub oak, sage, and juniper strained against morning gusts.  While coffee was brewing pink and red hues painted the eastern sky. “Red sky in morning, sailors take warning”.  Note to self.

I met Emmett and our crew of guides along with Geoff, Kat, Jim, and several others on a piece of common ground that’s familiar to all who fish these waters. For those who fish seriously the formality of such gatherings along with the scrambled disconnect that is associated when marrying diverse agendas creates a certain level of anxiety.  It was evident this morning, yet the mood was still very light hearted.  For the first part of the day, we needed light and to sideline our efforts for some kodachrome moments.  After that, all any of us cared about was sticking a few fish.  Actually if the truth be known, that’s all any of us really cared about. 

Below the Bureaus mass of concrete the Green River emerges cool, crystal clear, rich and undeniably one of the west’s more prolific trout streams.  With varying agendas we scramble to launch with any kind of efficiency.  Being the only ones to do so our efforts were more humorous than a distraction the only urgency prompted by the oncoming storm and the loss of good light that was needed for some decent underwater footage we’d hope to get. For the moment the narrow canyon and river lay bathed in sunshine, yet to the west there was growing evidence that any morning pleasantries regarding the weather were eminently temporary.  Eventually anchors were lifted and we were free to pursue what the day would yield, any anxieties quickly washing away.

In the early part of the day dark eddies sheltered sporadic rises the approaching storms violent squalls rarely giving us an opportunity to present a fly. Overhead slivers of deep blue exposed above the narrow sandstone walls were slowly eclipsed as the storm continued to evolve. Later in the day eddies held pods of trout leisurely feeding between gusts on troughs of scum laden with spring’s mutilated midges. We took turns picking them off till our arms gave out from holding our boats against the relentless wind finally driven to move on.

For two days, other than a brief morning reprieve, Mother Nature punished us. At times every fiber from ones body fought to keep boats from being pile driven into the shore.  Columns of water ripped from the currents spiraled upward filling the canyon, On the edges still waters churned in chaos, dried grassed ripped from the surrounding landscape flew adrift in the air, yet it was Mother Nature’s wrath that compressed a sporadic afternoon hatch of Blue Wing Olives attracting the rivers residents to gorge unfettered.

Although we could have had success from the boat, we found opportunities best on foot. With heads bowed when gale force winds ripped through the narrow canyon and across the water one could stand their ground.  Off guard and remaining upright left one stumbling for balance.  Between the gusts left little time to find a target and cast before another rip would send any cast still airborne haplessly off target.  When casts were true and you could find your fly the game was pretty easy, in fact at times too easy.  After a short while rather than cast at random pods of feeding trout we took turns casting at bigger bulging backs and trout with their heads agape as they took in the struggling mayflies.

At the end of the last day as the wind and the storm intensified I left Geoff and Kat culling the herd.   After a spring drive home last year I was a little gun shy about staying longer.  By now rain pitted the surface of stillwaters, drenched our raincoats and pierced our souls when the wind tore into us. All the way down the bank trout continued to rise and temp me, yet acknowledging the intensity of spring storms made me come to the realization that one more trout wasn’t going to make my day.  Staying alive was; a decision that proved quite prudent in the end. 

For a brief moment just past the Clay Basin turnout a few column of sun broke through illuminating portions of expansive vista.  I barely had time to roll down the window for a photo before the moment was lost.  To the north a black wall engulfed the landscape awaiting a reluctant arrival. By the time I reach I-80 the freeway lay obscured under driving sheets of horizontal snow.  I talked to several others who made the same drive somewhat later.  At one point tractor trailers were sliding backwards on Seven Sisters.  It wasn’t quite that bad when I went through, but not much better.   By the time I reached Evanston the pavement was lost to ice and snow.  Although last years drive home from an early season visit to the Green River was far worse, this one definitely rated.

Rounding the corner to Park City the storm finally lay behind me and I could relax and reflect on the past two days. Looking back on the trips I’ve taken this time of year I‘ve had my share of nail biters, none worse than last year.  When snow plows can’t stay on the road you know that life’s going to get interesting.  There were many aspects of this trip that were just that.

To enjoy one of the west’s great rivers in relative solitude is rare these days.  A good storm will give you that most times.  Yet while Mother Nature is dishing out here worst she can simultaneously hand you and unexpected gift.  On this trip we saw her many sides.  By days end all things considered no one was complaining. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

All's Well in Montana

This isn't one of my typical Blog posts since it has nothing to do with wandering the world’s waters, or casting flies. Although I was in Montana where there happens to be more than a few noteworthy waters, wetting a line this trip just wasn't in the cards. Can't say I was disappointed since it was still early in the year, and Montana does have other recreational options besides fly-fishing, especially early in March.  

My wife and I headed to Missoula to see our daughter, take in a little skiing and partake in a few other activities while visiting, some unexpectedly. Seems my daughter has been competing in a series of local telemark races through the winter and there would be several races while we were there.  We kind of knew this, but she wasn’t too specific about races or particulars, which for a young daughter isn’t out of character or concern.  It’s been a rather poor winter in Utah, so we haven’t had much of a chance to ski this year.  Getting to possibly get some turns in, hang out on the slopes, enjoy the local scenery all worked for us.     

Shortly after arriving we went up to one Missoula’s local ski areas, Snowbowl, to lend support at one of my daughters evening telemark races.  Snowbowl isn’t your typical ski area, and by today’s standards this wasn’t your typical telemark ski race. Although the competition was fierce, and quite good the extra curricular activity surrounding these races made them incredibly entertaining and simply a blast.

As an X-racer, preparation are key to ones success and here they played an integral role, yet their pre-race measures were a little more entertaining than what I was accustom to.  For one, the lodges bar played an integral role in getting everyone focused for the evening challenges. Being from Utah, just being able to see the bar was refreshing, but that’s a whole other story.  Local après’ ski enthusiasts, race supporters and competitors shared a few local Montana brews, one of the bars infamous Bloody Mary's, or a shot or two of a favorite liqueur to loosen up the joints and dilute any potential pre-race jitters. Then there were the costumes. Yep, as bystanders I don’t know who was getting the most out of the evening. 

Up on the hill, many of the competitors simply could shred even under the less than ideal condition. We were both impressed. Where most race hills are neatly groomed, this dual slalom course looked as though it hadn’t seen a decent going over in weeks, let alone the day of the race. Add a foot of fresh snow on the steep course that covered ruts and moguls just enough to make conditions even more demanding.  Didn’t seem to bother most however, neither did the rather poor lighting.  These guys and gals were good, mastering the hill and course with an inebriated expertise that was impressive.

Day two we hit the slopes, not exactly rested from the day before. Crack of noon club, but at this local ski area there was plenty of fresh powder to go around. If you enjoy tree skiing, tight trees, you’d rarely cross another track. We found the relaxed pace and pleasant atmosphere of Snowbowl quite a refreshing change from the vibe that exudes from today’s mega resorts. Utah skiing isn’t too shabby by anyone’s standards, yet we’d have to admit that this quaint ski areas very reputable scene on and off the hill was rather alluring and a nice change.

Saturday evening found us back at Snowbowl for the telemark series final race; a race that would determine team and individual champions.  Similar to the first race we observed teams dressed in costume, but being the last race of the season the teams pulled out some stops.  Now guys and gals in drag are an ordinary site on Duvall St. in Key West, but in Montana not exactly what one would expect to find.  Good thing it was a mild night.  Everyone got a kick out of Team Subaru, car body, headlights and all.  On the dual slalom course their skills were even more notable.  Telemark racing without such bodily obstructions is challenging enough, yet this team made it look rather effortless.  They didn’t beat the team in drag, but they did come close. For all it was a ruckus affair; fierce competition, great laughs, good food and thoroughly entertaining.

The awards party afterwards put icing on an already eventful evening.  By the looks of things it was a good night for the bar, especially since our evening tab nights end wasn’t itemized. Not that at that point it mattered. Through boisterous chants of USA, USA, USA, the crowd acknowledged each competitor or team as they received their respective awards. The rally cry carried on late into the night!  It was awesome.  After the awards we stayed around for a round of leg wrestling, butt darts, and jump rope again to ruckus ovations of USA, USA….  Butt darts, that was a new one for us. 

Now for the fish part of the story!  The winner of the men’s division was a local fly-fishing guide.  If he’s half as good a guide as he is a telemark skier, I’m in.    Note to self!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Supporting Home Grown

In fly-fishing fly rods are the wand that transforms effort and energy into a rhythmic dance that eloquently delivers wisps of fur and feather to an unsuspecting quarry. They are the essence of our sport that connects us to waters near and far. In my lifetime they have evolved from natural fibers the color of golden honey, to smooth fibers of glass to what most use to pursue the worlds fishes today, graphite.   Although fly rods have changed considerably over the years what hasn’t is the process and the fact that some of the finest are still made painstakingly by hand here in the USA.

Recently I took a tour through a manufacturing plant that is regarded as a world leader in fly rod innovation, technology and design, Sage. Unlike the growing  number of fly rod manufacturing companies that produce their fly rods overseas, they choose to make all their rods in the USA. This wasn’t my first tour of a leading fly rod company or was it my only visit to Sage.  On all occasions I was captivated by the methodical manufacturing process and the impressive number of craftspeople whose hands touch each rod before it is finished.

Before taking the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island, home of Sage, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Marc Bale, its VP.  He was kind enough to put me up for the night at his beautiful lake side digs and chauffer me around rarely letting a minute pass without invoking some insightful thought on the state of our industry, our place in time and where our train may or may not be heading.  Seems we’ve shared this conversation before.

On the ferry we sat with several of Sage’s IT crew admiring their latest web-site that recently launched.  Already my convictions that much has changed in this industry were being confirmed as we scrolled laptops and phones to admire the sites latest enhancements, gadgets and widgets.

Although I would assume it’s a bit of a hassle for those who migrate from Seattle daily via ferry to the island, I felt it was a rather pleasant experience.  I’m sure they find the novelty of this peaceful crossing  somewhat arduous, but for me this water taxi added a very nice quality to the start of the day. A good cup of famous Seattle java only made the passage even better.

Upon arriving at the factory a brief greeting in the lobby took place before being led to Jerry Seim’s cluttered office.  It reminded me of my own disheveled confines back in Salt Lake. For those not familiar with him, he’s Sage’s head rod designer and has been since the first time I made this trek.  Other than we both were older, his office looked as it did over a decade ago and stands as testament to someone whose life long pursuit of the perfect fly rod remains a driven passionate quest. 

I first met Jerry some thirty years ago outside of Will Godfrey’s North Fork Angler on the banks of the Henry’s Fork.  He bet my fishing partner he could cast further with his hand than my buddy could with his new 9’ graphite fly rod.  It wasn’t even close.  For those who haven’t seen Jerry cast, his effortless and deceptively powerful stroke simply leaves one in awe.  In this day an age of “Castrubation” and competitions it’s rare you’ll ever see him jacking it out there.  Instead, should you be fortunate to grace his presence, you’ll find him more interested in discussing his latest pursuits, fly rod design or technology developments within the industry in general. He also likes to discuss his trips where  he puts his fly rods to the test, but on this visit he was all business and for good reason. With his latest endeavor, the Sage ONE rod, he has raised the bar.

We stepped out back to his private casting pond where he divulged the attributes of the new ONE rod.  Unequivocally this brief, yet thorough synopsis of this rods unique features, from its color, weight, unique mesh of carbon fiber married with Sage's new proprietary resins were as impressive as Jerry’s effortless casts.  I’ve always had considerable respect for Jerry and after this day even more so.

Next I had the great pleasure of getting a rather lengthy tour with Steve Greist, Sage fly rods head mad scientist; handle bar mustache, white lab coat and all he looked the part.  He’s been with this company since the beginning.  Before he ran me through the plant, we spent a fair amount of time discussing the arduous process of building quality fly rods in this country; a fact that clearly sets them apart from their overseas competitors when it comes to consistent quality and attention to detail. That was on display at every corner of my tour through the Sage factory.

Prior to my first visit to Bainbridge Island I expected to see a factory resembling today’s auto industry; lots of white coats, plenty of machinery, sparks flying, and hard hats. Yes Steve was wearing a white coat that day, but he was the exception. Having that over zealous image shattered I came away again in awe of the process and especially the personal touch and attention that goes into building today’s Sage fly rod.  Given the manufacturing challenges that companies are faced with, I was even more impressed with Sage’s unwavering commitment to building all their rods in the states.  Where others have succumbed they have stayed the course.

Although Don Green, Sage’s founding father, is no longer with the company the reins of Sage are in good hands with Travis Campbell.  To my delight his commitment to making Sage fly rods on Bainbridge Island and to maintaining the Sage brand as one of the cleanest and most recognizable in the industry is unwavering.  As this company moves forward I believe his business acumen and tenacity will allow him to do just that.  I can also attest that he's a dam good stick, whose is passionate about the sport and committed to its rich traditions.

Sage isn’t the only company that makes fly rods or quality fly-fishing products here in the states.  There are others. Many I am privileged to carry at Western Rivers Flyfisher: Simms waders made in Bozeman Montana, Abel and Hatch reels beautifully machined in California, Scott fly rods in Montrose Colorado, Waterworks/Lamson reels just north of us in Boise Idaho, Nautilus Reels south in sunny Florida, RIO fly lines in Blackfoot Idaho, premium Winston Rods in Twin Bridges Montana ,SA fly lines in Midland Michigan, and the list goes on. These and other dedicated companies manufacturing in the US produce some of the world’s finest fly-fishing products; products that in many instances are the driving force behind our sport, that are coveted today, but also will be treasured for generation to come. 

When I left Bainbridge Island I departed with a renewed perspective for those manufacturing companies that produce jobs and support local communities by continuing to manufacture their products in the USA, their dedicated staffs and the value in the products they proudly put in our hands.  In this day and age it’s a significant challenge for any manufacturing facility whether here in the US or Europe to not wander to China, Taiwan or Korea. The next time you go to purchase something to wet a line with you should ponder the true benefits of their efforts. As I have you'll see they go far beyond just building quality fly-fishing equipment, accessories and apparel. That has always been important to me, it should for you as well if you care about the future of our sport, the worlds waters we fish, and fly-fishing as we have come to know it.