Saturday, April 27, 2013

Skunk Off...

Skunked: If you go fishing and catch nothing

I've been really good at catching nothing lately. Heck, it had been well over a month since I had landed a fish... sure, I've hooked trout and a mystery fish while swinging flies up in BC, but my futility streak had reached a breaking point. I needed to catch a damn fish.

Knowing that Steelhead are elusive creatures this time of year, I dragged my Dad out to Central Oregon with high hopes of putting up big numbers of trout on the Fall River. 

The Fall is a lovely, yet eerily artificial fishery south of Bend that has treated me very well my last few trips there. 99% of the fish are hatchery in origin and while there are a few lunkers hiding in downed timber, the majority of the fish are cookie cutter 8-12" planters. With my recent string of bad luck, the idea of 20-30 planters on the end of my 3 weight line sounded great!

After an early rise, we busted over the mountain, across the lovely Deschutes, past the turn off for the Crooked River, and the turn off for the Metolius. Either of those other stops would've been a good call and shorter haul! 

After arriving at my favorite spot on the river we cast, and cast, and cast... and we saw no fish. Hiking a nearly a mile up and downstream to hole after productive hole we were dumbfounded as to where all the fish were. We'd see a lone trout hiding in the downed trees but the normal honey holes were void of all trout life! Not even a blizzard mayfly hatch later in the day aroused activity.

Sure enough, we come to find out what had been going on. Recently, a family of otters had made their way back upriver from the Deschutes... let's just say they've been eating very well. River otters are cool creatures but given that an adult otter eats 2-3 pounds of fish per day, you can see that they can make a big impact on less wary hatchery trout. 

After three hours of crap catching, we decided to tuck our tails and make the hour diversion to the Crooked River. The Crooked has not exactly been kind to me (which is perplexing given it's reputation as easy water) but I was determined not to go home skunked.

We arrived to a very windy, and thankfully less pressured fishery, than I had encountered at the Crooked in early March. BWOs were coming off in droves, and there were a few small risers working the inside seams. I rigged up the nymph rod and went to work. Soon enough, three casts in a row were met with three hookups and landings. Life was good again. 

I caught typical Crooked River wild Redsides (6"-12") and though they weren't close to the size of a Steelhead, landing my first few felt just as great.  

As the day progressed, the focus was more on my Dad's casting and getting him into fish. He's not delved into fly fishing like I have and he has never had a casting lesson in his life. I'm not a true instructor, but working with him was a fantastic experience. He was throwing out some fantastic casts by the end of the day and he was working good water. If he hadn't had some short strikes and bad luck (he lost at least one fish), we both would've gone home skunk free.

Before we packed it up to drive the 3+ hours home, I insisted on working the dry fly rod. My 3 WT Sage had yet to land a fish on it and there were too many BWOs out on the water to ignore. Sure, I didn't see many risers and the wind was nasty, but I couldn't NOT make an effort. 

Blind casting through the middle of the River as I worked my way back up to the car I had a surreal moment. A subtle rise and sip of my emerger pattern, a nice flash, and the setting of the hook seemed to happen in slow motion. After this momentary blip of slow-mo perfection, the fish shot out of the water, jumping many times. 

This was not any old Crooked River fish, but rather a big fish for the watershed. She fought me tooth and nail and on a 3 WT, the near 15" Redside was like a Steelhead in my mind. A quick net, picture, and revival and she sped back to her prime lie. 

A perfect ending to a great day, and the skunk is officially off. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Oh Canada!

Vacation... in my mind, that should mean fishing trip. And I used a few days of time off to head north for what proved to be an amazing fishing (not catching of course) trip. A friend picked me up from a work event in Bellingham and off to the border we went!

It's been a very long time since I've visited Canada and I was excited to see just how quick and easy my enhanced ID would be at the border. With minimal lines, we were asked a few questions and soon enough we were in beautiful British Columbia. Just a few hours later we found ourselves pulling off the Sea to Sky highway in scenic Squamish, BC. A beer and a round of Poutine at a local pub was a nice welcome for us. After the "refuel" we checked into our hotel and then geared up for some tributary fishing in the area.

We only had about 5 hours to fish on our first day in town and we made the most of it. After driving a mere 15 minutes from our hotel, we set up on a pretty obvious run off a very obvious pull out. Other fisherman were milling around and I was certain that this was not as remote nor unique a fishery as we had originally conjured. Nevertheless, my friend was hooked up within 10 minutes of getting his waders wet! A 20"+ Bull Trout came to the shore after a rather mundane fight and we thought we were in for days of fast and furious action.

Not so fast! 

We didn't touch a fish the rest of the day on our tributary exploration though we certainly put some effort into it. After a short night's sleep we headed upriver to fish the mainstem of the Squamish system. Much of the river is not fishable due to Tribal lands and we had to run nearly 30 miles up the river before finding open water... This water is not your average fishery. 

This is BIG water. Braided and natural, the river changes course every year during runoff. Your favorite run is often times gone the next year and this is evident in the log jams and old riverbeds that litter the banks and islands of the upper river. Despite it's complexity, seeing a river in a truly natural state is almost as amazing as catching your first Steelhead. 

Working our first nice run of the day I experienced a pretty solid take. In typical Skinny Waders fashion, I flubbed it up. Wham... another tug... instead of letting the fish take more, I turned the rod in towards shore and tried to set... a good sized splash and loss of tension and there was nothing attached. I can't confirm what species it was, but I sure felt pumped to feel a tug, and pissed that I messed the whole deal up. 

We fished on, with a break to go back into town and get more medicine (I was fishing with a NASTY cold) and beer. The beer up north was not only 40% more expensive but it was also a far cry in quality from the delicious beer found here in Oregon and Washington. Thankfully the medicine was better than the stuff stateside and it was much more reasonable. I'll call that a wash for this trip. 

After our daily refuel we drove back upriver and crossed channels onto island after island. These gravel islands were crisscrossed by washed down timber, piled high upon the banks. These timber graveyards are beautiful but also very dangerous. Climbing over the wrong piece can result in some serious injuries should it splinter or break. It was slow going as we methodically worked run after run of perfect swing water.

The scenery on the river made the day rewarding, as did the casting practice. We felt like we worked the water well and we left the river that night eager to meet up with our guides on the lower river the next morning.

Our guided adventure started innocently enough at the local Tim Hortons Donut Shop. I was in heaven eating industrial donuts that conjured up my long lost memories of Dunkin Donuts in Gresham. After slamming down some delicious donuts and downing some crap coffee, we met our guides Yos Gladstone and Tommy Thomson of Chromer Sport Fishing. 

Two men to a Watermaster raft, we took off down a tributary river starting our fishing day at a beautiful confluence spot on the lower mainstem. This water was incredible... merely 8 kilometers from the salt and less than that to the town of Squamish, we were in Steelhead nirvana. The only sad part was the lack of fish. You see, the system averages just 1,500 fish back per year with the prime issues in the watershed being headwater logging and gill netting. It's a shame because as a whole, their habitat looked much better than rivers I've seen in the lower 48 and they didn't have hatchery steelhead to compete with their wild stock fish. 

Undeterred by long odds, Yos and Tommy put us on run after run of the most prime water I've ever seen. These runs would've been overlooked by most anglers and they sure were hard to reach, but they all swung beautifully. 

Yos took my casting, which had already greatly improved over the past 3 months, and he helped me bring it to the next level. I've never felt more confident behind the spey rod as I was throwing bombs to 80 feet and feeling great about it. We fished hard and we fished a longer than average day as we stayed on the water for over 11 hours! Our lunch break consisted of cold pizza and warm beers (whoops!) during a quick break between runs... we just wanted to fish! 

Yos (the owner of Chromer) and Tommy are two of the most down to earth guides I've ever had the pleasure of spending time with. I admit that I've never fished with a crappy fly guide, but they went above and beyond my previous guided experiences. It was like fishing with guys that you've known forever... Chromer offers trips in all of the best watersheds in British Columbia and if you want to fish in BC, you'd be crazy to book your trip with anybody else! 

The guys kept us in the right mindset, and if it was any other person coaching me I'm not sure if I wouldn't have started to get down on the situation. Truth is, I was fishing better than ever and there was nothing more that we could've done to get into fish. We hit the river in low but prime shape, during the typical peak of their spring Steelhead run, and we fished the best and least pressured runs on the river. I guess it was just another dose of Steelhead reality.

Candid camera... the best skunking I've ever had! Photo by Yos Gladstone

After getting off the river and grabbing a good bit of pub food (a strange theme during this trip), we hit the rack. I've never fished that hard, nor been that tired after a day on the water. Despite being skunked again, it was strangely rewarding. Beautiful scenery, great water, and fantastic company!

The next day we hit the lower river for a few hours of DIY prospecting with no love. After fueling up with crappy liter rate gas, we grabbed some more Tim Hortons to-go and made for the border. Seven hours later I found myself back at home, skunked but feeling more alive then ever.

Oh Canada. You were great. I can't wait to fish you again... and eat your donuts!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

More Dirty Work...

It was another new experience for me, as I took to the water in search of Columbia River Spring Chinook. Springers are arguably the most prized of the Columbia River Salmon species and with a short season, few fish, and big water, they may be the most difficult to catch!

I was fortunate enough to join some friends who truly know the Springer game and off we went in search of these tasty salmon. Armed with the newly required barbless hooks we went 3/3 and enjoyed a typically manic-weather day on the big C. 

I'm so very thankful to have landed my first Springer, a smallish 10lb fish that put up a fight that a kelt Steelhead would be ashamed of. That said, trolling in the dreary weather with a bunch of lead is just not my cup of tea. Trade me for a spey rod working a long run or chasing trout on a freestone in July and I won't say no... just don't ask for any of this Springer because it is going to taste GREAT!

Say hello to my little Springer...

Monday, April 8, 2013


Fly fishing can truly be a best of times/worst of times type of deal...

Somedays you catch fish. Sometimes you catch lots of fish. Other times you don't even get a hook up. When steelhead fishing, I never seem to get a hook up.

Sometimes the weather is perfect. When steelhead fishing lately, the weather sucks.

You can probably see where this is going...

This feast/famine mentality isn't in the experience itself but also in the crowd you surround yourself with on the water. Let's face it... great people and crappy folks alike share the water with you.

I've compiled a list of things to love and hate about fly fishing. Feel free to have fun with it and chime in.

Things to love:
1. Getting out and fishing... duh. It always beats a day in the office.
2. Catching fish... I'm not necessarily all about the "experience" factor. Sometimes a day on the nymph rod is in order!
3. Cutthroat... see number 2 for more explanation.
4. Tying flies. It's a great for passing down time on a rainy day and it saves money in the long run on your favorite/most common patterns.
5. Sharing the water with friends. There are few things better than good fishing friends. Share stories, talk sports, drink beer, and fish with someone.
6. Getting out and exploring new water. Enough said.
7. Embracing the history of the sport and holding that history close to your heart.
8. Teaching others the sport. While it can be frustrating teaching a beginner, it's also enjoyable to get them into fish. Remember your roots and that someone suffered when you were flailing away, losing flies to trees and brush left and right!
9. Montana. Duh.
10. A good pair of waders and comfort while fishing.

Things to dislike:
1. Not going fishing. Adverse water conditions, crap weather, and work can sure derail a fishing trip.
2. Not catching fish... duh.
3. Steelhead. They are opposite of Cutthroat as they are hard as heck to find and thus hard to catch. At least for me. They do qualify for the love category should you catch one.
4. Spending too dang much money for quality gear. I hate crappy equipment and I've made my share of mistakes over the past few years going cheap and regretting it immensely. That said, why must fly fishing be so expensive?
5. Sharing the water with ass-hats. Whether they fish flies or gear, the plethora of rude people on the local waterways here astounds me. What ever happened to common courtesy? Beyond that, stereotyping folks on the water is a joke. Just because someone fishes bait doesn't automatically make them a terrible person. Likewise, just because I'm swinging a run doesn't mean that I'm an elitist who drives a BMW. Show respect to all anglers... 
6. Lack of water access. Fishing is not a crime and the lack of access on the rivers around southwest Washington is disturbing to someone so used to trout fishing with great to excellent access. I guess it could be worse (England perhaps), but since moving home it has been frustrating.
7. Driving way too far for too little fishing and even worse catching. 
8. Not having a boat... well, not having a river worthy boat is a better dislike topic. I do have a float tube and little lake boat but they aren't exactly river worthy. All in good time I suppose, all in good time.
9. Bat bites and falls down steep river banks. I'm apparently very susceptible to both and they really do suck.
10. Living so far from Montana.

Roscoe, the world's worst fishing dog also misses Montana... a lot.