Friday, March 28, 2008

Fill 'em Full of Lead

Yes friends, those dastardly and conspiratorial pinnipeds days are numbered. We're gonna round 'em up and fill them full of lead at long last. I mean after all how dare they have the audacity to eat OUR salmon! Those fish are ours and it's just not right that sea lions are eating them. Never mind the fact that we over harvested the Columbia River smelt that the sea lions used to feed on in the Columbia causing them to seek other food sources for survival. It also doesn't matter that it was us that pretty much set the dinner table for them to feast on salmon by putting man made fish barriers like hydro-electric dams.

The prevalent thinking is to vilify sea lions as selfish gluttons who take more than their fair share of salmon but wait! We say the same thing about the commercial fleet who take more than their share of salmon don't we? Maybe when we talk about selfish gluttons we should look in the mirror!
You see what I'm getting at?
I have no doubt that sea lions eat a large amount of migratory spring chinook as they make their way up the Columbia River. I also have no doubt that something needs to be done about the situation. What I am wondering is when the sea lion problem is taken care of and the commercial gill netters are kicked off of the river and the commercial trollers are kicked off the ocean and then the runs still crash who do we point the finger at then? Who will be the scapegoat?
Oh heaven forbid that we should look at the proverbial man in the mirror because after all we are owed salmon aren't we? To hell with every other user groups, it's us in our $30,000 jet boats back bouncing eggs who are entitled to it all.
You know as sarcastic as this blog entry may seem it is the way that far too many people think.
They don't really give a damn about wild fish because after all you cannot smash them on the head to get freezer burned. Sure they may say it's all about the fish but it really is only about those fish that they can harvest. We cannot be inconvenienced by caring for the wild salmon that used to range far into the Snake River system and beyond in Idaho.
The sea lions are just the most convenient thing to blame right now and what could be better than having the Columbia River run red with pinniped blood because like some spoiled rotten child we sports anglers refuse to be told "You can't have it" so we will throw ourselves on the supermarket floor and have our little tantrum.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Road Less Travelled

Shane on the Metolius

I've expounded on the joys of fly fishing a few times on this blog so please bear with me on this latest.When I think about why I pursue trout and steelhead in this method I seemingly cannot begin to run out of flowery adjectives on why I fish this way. For many years I have pursued what many consider the greatest freshwater game fish that swims and even with conventional casting and spinning gear they were still a worthy adversary.

Shane with Cutthroat Trout - 2007

I learned to drift fish, which is no small feat considering the fact that you are trying to detect the most subtle of takes from a winter steelhead. Consider also that winter steelhead are lethargic at best in the cold water of winter so they would not move very far to take ones offering. I feel that after about a decade of this style of fishing that I had achieved every thing that I could achieve fishing this way so I felt it was on to the next challenge and that is the stalking this magnificent trout with a fly.
To say that I have not accomplished or ever will accomplish everything that there is to accomplish in steelhead fly fishing is a huge understatement. I have had limited success in this endeavour due mostly to the fact that I am, for the most part, self taught and so it's apparent to me that my teacher is a buffoon and woefully inadequate.
In spite of poor training and a myriad of mistakes I push on ward though while some of my friends fill their freezers with hatchery steelhead and tales of legendary trips. Well I've had a few of those trips with casting or spinning gear filled with a plethora of fish and so I'm not all that impressed anymore.
Ah but when it comes to fly fishing then that is different. Fly fishing for steelhead is the big mystery that I've yet to solve. It's the Rubik's cube of all angling pursuits and just when you think you have the whole thing figured out that one red cube shows up amid a field of green and so you must dismantle the whole puzzle to start again.
I've been fortunate of late in that I've become friends with one of the great ones in steelhead fly fishing. I've written about him before and his name is Mike McCune. Mike patiently helps me with my Skagit casting and I know he must get frustrated in my amateurish efforts.

Mike McCune on Coastal River - Winter 2008

So I push forward along this road less travelled and I know as even the legends of this sport know that the end of the road is never in sight. There are too many wonderful and magical side trips to take along the way. The joy of fly fishing is just that...pure joy. I cannot ever recall being unhappy while on the river casting a fly well except for when it is time to go home. I cannot say the same thing about other angling methods I have pursued.
I do not want to come off as elitist either but for me this is the best path and only path for me and it's the path that I will follow until the end of my days.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Crawl Before You Walk

When I purchased my first fly rod, some thirty three years ago, it was a gaudy creation by Johnny Hooker, a local Portland rod maker. Johnny bought all the factory seconds fiberglass blanks that he could get his hands on from Lamiglas up in Woodland, Washington. These blanks, while structurally sound, usually were linearly challenged meaning they were not close to being straight. I had really no idea what it was I was after but I knew I wanted to catch steelhead on a fly rod so old Johnny set me up an eight foot seven weight with a severe left turn permanently built in the tip.
Now mind you I had never even caught a trout on a fly much less a steelhead but I wanted to skip elementary school arithmetic and dive right into college trigonometry.
Needless to say things did not go as planned. I should have started out pursuing trout and going on from there. Could have saved myself more than a little frustration I think.
I see a lot of people doing the same thing these days and after a season of frustration, which usually includes a windy day on the Deschutes, these folks discard the notion that they too can be the second coming of Paul Maclean. Their enthusiasm for fly fishing is shattered and their gear ends up on ebay or craigslist.
Not all of them are stubborn like me and doggedly pursued this addiction called fly fishing.
It's really too bad that this happens because they are depriving themselves of the joy of angling that, in my opinion at least, cannot be matched.
The legend and lore of fly fishing has filled countless books that inspire the imagination of each generation that reads them. Where else will you find names that will be recognized by those of us that love this sports. What serious fly fisherman is not familiar with names such as Wulff or Kreh or Haig-Brown.
While it's true that the movie "A River Runs Through it" brought droves to the river when it came out in 1992 you have to wonder how many got fed up with tailing loops and wind knots so they gave it up.
When I am asked by newcomers about steelhead I always try to counsel them to experience the joys of trout first before becoming the hopeless masochist that is the steelhead fly angler.
I also think those that get past the clumsiness of those first years become, not only better anglers, but also learn to appreciate the fact that fly fishing encompasses many things beyond catching fish. The learn to care deeply for the fish, the river and the environment.
So the next time you encounter a neglected fly rod or reel at a garage sale think about the hope that rod once provided and take comfort in knowing you crawled before you could walk and became the angler you are today.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

ODFW Gets it Right? When Hell Freezes Over Maybe!

Has hell froze over? Are the Chicago Cubs a sure bet to win a World Series? Apparently that is what it's going to take to get ODFW to change course and go all the way with responsible wild fish management. They took a baby step but it's not a long shot it's not enough.

After several years of a misguided and dogmatic strategy of upriver plants of hatchery steelhead on the Nestucca river they have re-evaluated the program and decided to move the large majority of these plants into the lower portion of the river.
Realize of course that their are still some 40,000 hatchery and broodstock steelhead smolt being released in the old release area so obviously this is not even close to a perfect scenario...yet.
Plainly speaking the much touted steelhead broodstock program is not doing what it was intended to do! On top of that, and most troubling of all, is the over all effect on main stem spawning native steelhead. This is an ill conceived program that boils down to a state sponsored welfare program for gear and bait guides. Having the hatchery steelhead planted in one up river location and given their propensity for straying, provided north coast gear guides the opportunity to fish during a time of year (late winter) when in the past was reserved for wild steelhead only. The out of basin hatchery stock, which comprised the bulk of hatchery plants in the past, was done by the time the native steelhead showed up. The native steelhead were pretty much not interfered with as far as intermingling hatchery fish being present.
The broodstock program changed all of that and what we have today is a late arriving hatchery stock that is intentionally timed to arrive during the same time endangered native steelhead arrive.
Folks it was like a mass hypnosis among the north coast fishing scene. This program, with the nearby Wilson river and the further south Siletz river also having similar programs along with the Nestucca was supposed to make everyone happy with a phasing out of the out of basin stock from the Alsea river being replaced by the so called superior broodstock plants.
As most of you surely know it just does not work that way and what we have today is a declining native winter steelhead population in those rivers that was making a comeback prior to the implementation of these broodstock programs.
So here is hoping that ODFW does not stop there and takes into consideration the big picture and that is the welfare of wild native steelhead and not the welfare of a handful of bait guides....keep your fingers crossed.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Looking For That Silver Lining

Photo Courtesy of Artic Explorers

Being the Internets angry fly fisherman is not an easy job folks. The threats to wild fish and their habitat are never far from my thoughts.
It's not all angst and worry though and the many things that attracted me to fly fishing in the first place are the very things that sustain me.
It's like that perfect cast that I stumble into every once in awhile. The stars and planets all seem to align and I do my best Lefty Kreh imitation. The line rolls out in a perfect arc and my fly graces the surface in such gentleness that it seems like it was dropped out of the sky by heavenly hands.
A well executed cast is truly a thing of beauty and at least for me since it does not happen nearly enough but when it does then it will always bring a smile to my face.
The quietness of a late summer day on any coastal river while in pursuit of coastal cutthroat trout is another quality of this sport that defies description. I sometimes even find the quiet intimidating because maybe I'm afraid of doing something to disrupt it. I would compare it to the stillness of a church in silent prayer and so maybe it is my church so should I say "Amen" under my breath?
I am fortunate to live just over an hour away from some blue ribbon coastal cutthroat trout fly fishing and very seldom is there anyone else encountered along the stream, a stark contrast to what takes place during the time that the fall salmon are present. In these days of petroleum insanity the relatively short run to the upper Wilson is my refuge. I pine away for my cutts during the seven months of closure and treat the opener as some sort of holiday. So is it any wonder why one would fight so fervently to protect these fish?
Then there are those very special and very magical treks east ward to the rivers of such beauty that one could easily get emotional at the very first sight of them. Of course I'm talking about the Metolius and the Deschutes and
these are truly the rivers of my dreams.
I have tried to paint a picture on this blog as to the way I feel when I'm on these rivers.
The Deschutes in it's brawling, wild ruggedness and the Metolius in it perfection of beauty. As I've written before these rivers do not give up their trout with the same generosity as a coastal cutthroat stream and some have even asked why bother then?
Many of you know why I take the all too seldom trips to these rivers and I think it's something that only a fly fisherman can understand.
So while I fight what I consider is the good fight for wild fish I hope you readers understand why this way of life and the resource involved are so worthy of the fight. It's certainly not so I can have a pleasant place to reflect and cast my fly in my old age...well at least that is not the only reason. It's because there are some places and things in these tumultuous days that need to be reflected and written about for nothing other than to appreciate how lucky we are to have such escapes.
I know you have them and they may well be your escape and the elixir for your soul to help you cope.
They are silver linings even in the darkest times aren't they?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

It's Not Logical

Will someone please explain to me the logic in taking wild steelhead and turning their off springs into hatchery fish! Also please show me the logic in providing a harvest fishery that was created almost exclusively for professional bait guides.
Well folks that is what we have going on right now on many of our river. These are rivers that have fragile populations of wild winter steelhead .The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, out of their infinite wisdom and wise stewardship of the resource, created the steelhead broodstock program. These broodstock programs amount to little more than a guide welfare program.
Why on earth is it better to make wild spawning winter steelhead into nothing more than hatchery stock? Where is the logic in releasing these bastardized off springs of wild parents on top of emerging true wild off springs?
Why does ODFW ignore the studies that show the total unfitness of these first generation returnees? and finally why would one well know north coast gear fishing guide actually applaud the concept of wild steelhead spawning with returning uncaught first generation broodstock steelhead? The logical outcome of such stupidity and greed spells disaster for wild steelhead.
The evidence is there!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

You Need to Ask Yourself

What is really important to you as a fly fisherman? Is it having nice gear? I know I really enjoy my bamboo rods so I guess that is important to me. Really though, all the nice equipment in the world does not matter one iota if there are no wild fish left. We can have all the exotic destinations and fly in to remote locations but when that last fish is caught then what good is it all?
It's been said time and time again by people a lot smarter than me that we have to, as sportsmen and women, become involved in protecting what we have too long taken for granted.

It works to! The Steamboaters lead by Frank Moore decided that their love for the North Umpqua needed to be more than just lip service and they have dedicated their lives to that river and it's fish. Yes, it's great to be around a bunch of friends who enjoy fishing as much as you but after the rods and reels are put away what do you do then? What do you do when your favorite river, your beloved river has no fish left or is getting pollution dumped into it? Do you fight like crazy to do all you can to attack the problem or do you just move onto other waters? I'm betting you would fight like crazy.
When you see trash and vandalism along the banks of your favorite river do you get mad? Do you take along a trash bag and clean it up? Or do you just shrug and shake your head and say what a shame it all is?
It's not enough anymore to just be a good citizen and leave the river the way you found it! We have to be involved if we ever expect our children and grandchildren to enjoy what we have enjoyed. We have to become proactive!
Lord knows there are so many forces working against wild fish or clean water. We have had nearly eight years of attacks on our natural resources by an administration that has no soul. An administration who only sees things in the profit and loss column.
It's the individual conservationist/angler that will win the day if everyone does his part.
I need to remind myself of this same thinking. Just because I might write an impassioned blog entry about wild fish or conservation does no let me off the hook as far as doing my part. I need to be more involved and I intend to do just that!
I doubt that any true conservationist is really ever satisfied at the amount of work he or she is doing. I would bet that they think they can do more because it's just that important!
It's our responsibility.