Monday, December 19, 2011

"Rasslin" with Salmon

In this corner, weighing in at 25 to 30 lbs. fresh from the Pacific ocean...the champion of anadromous salmonids...Oncorhynchus tshawytscha AKA King Salmon!!!!!
and in this corner, weighing in at TOO DAMN MUCH,the stumbling angler....AKA Dumb Ass!!!!!
As Michael Buffer would say "LET'S GET READY TO RUMBLE"
Yes that is what it seemed like as I struggled to help my friend land his very first fall Chinook salmon on an Oregon coastal river a few weeks ago.
The river was running pretty high when John hooked this brute on what amounted to steelhead tackle. John fought the strong flow as much as the fish and with the river being so high there was little if any room on the bank for him beach this big fish.
I coached him along as he played give and take with the fish ever fearful that his light tackle would fail him.
After what seemed like an hour (more like 10 minutes) the fish was ready to come in. With no bank to slide the salmon up on, it was up to me to land John's fish so he could stay on his girlfriend's good side and play hunter/gatherer bringing home some fresh meat. All of John's future fishing trips rested on my shoulders as I positioned myself to "pin" this fish. Well what happened next would have been an excellent submission to the funniest home videos show but thank God no one was filming. I pounced on this salmon and he was not quite ready to surrender! With his broad tail he scooped up a big finful of sand and mud and threw it right into my face.Pissed off now, I grabbed this slimy bastard with both hands as he and I "rassled" in the shallow water with me taking on water in my waders from the thrashing about. Since John did not have a salmon club to beat the fish senseless I directed him to take a thick piece of shoreline drift wood and bonk the big fighter. Fortunately that worked and his prize was harvested.
I was very happy for John as I brushed sand and grit off of my face and out of my mouth. He had gotten his first fall Chinook and peace would reign in his home.
But wait!!! A few minutes later I hooked a very acrobatic winter steelhead that actually did kick my ass! As I was thinking about how I would be cooking this 10 lb. or so hatchery fish he jumped one more time, spitting the gear which smacked me right in the was a knock out and all I went home with was a fat lip and a gritty taste in my mouth.

Many thanks go to "Al Baker" for encouraging me to capture this epic moment of angling technique for all of posterity....Merry Christmas to all

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


They can bring you to your knees after an encounter, leaving you a slobbering, jelly-legged, quivering mess! These sea going rainbow trout will bring a seemingly sane person out into near blizzard conditions in pursuit of them.
To the non-angler this behavior surely must seem like masochism or insanity at the very least. In my years of pursuing these fish I've hiked 5 miles up the Deschutes canyon in blazing heat August after summer steelhead. I have fished in weather so cold that the water not only froze in the guides of my rod but also froze my reel thus rendering it useless. It's hard to explain to someone who has never caught a steelhead why those of us who have will do almost anything to hook one.

Steelhead trout (oncorhynchus mykiss) are the fish of legend from the coastal rivers of British Columbia, Oregon, Washington and California to the mighty Columbia and it's tributaries like the Deschutes, Sandy, Snake and it's tributary the Clearwater. Steelhead have also been introduced into the Great Lakes of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota to name a few. They are the premier coldwater game fish in North America and are second only to Atlantic Salmon (Salmo Salar) as the greatest freshwater game fish worldwide but some would argue that steelhead fight better.
Steelhead trout have captured the imagination of generations of anglers. Celebrities like Jack Hemingway and Zane Grey sought them on the banks of the famous North Umpqua and Rogue rivers in Oregon. The rivers of British Columbia like the Kispiox, Skeena, Bulkley, Thompson and Dean are truly the rivers of dreams because of their large strain of wild steelhead.
So why do I love them so much? They are the truly fish of MY dreams! Their wild abandon when hooked is unforgettable and gut wrenching in it's fierceness. I can remember many of the steelhead I have hooked in the 38 years of fishing for them and I think it would be safe to assume that other steelhead anglers can do the same. They connect us to those fabled steelhead anglers of long ago like Roderick Haig-Brown and Mike Kennedy and the modern contemporaries like Bill McMillan and Lani Waller.Many celebrity steelheaders were made famous by the fish and not vice versa!
Wild steelhead numbers are in an alarming decline throughout the northwest and it is truly enough to bring hardened steelhead anglers to tears. We will never again see them in large numbers and to those that really care about this fish it breaks our hearts.
I remember my first steelhead from Oregon's Sandy river from back in 1974 just like it was yesterday. Each steelhead I have caught over the years was a unique encounter that will be with me through the rest of my days and honestly what other outdoor pursuit can do that?
There is no such thing as a casual encounter with a steelhead and even in their inferior hatchery version they still battle better than anything swimming in fresh water in this part of the world.

I have an affection for cutthroat trout not unlike a doting father would have for his fragile newborn. With steelhead it's more like a torrid love affair! You obsess over these fish like nothing else. Dec Hogan calls it "A Passion for Steelhead" and that explains it best.
People might wonder why some of us take our passion to a visceral level when our beloved steelhead are threatened by those that have no soul. We mourn the death of any wild steelhead because of the love we have for them.
So if you have not had the chance to fish for one of these magnificent trout in their wild form then do so and at all haste because we are nearing a day when they might be just a fond memory of a loved one lost.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

A Most Sacred Place

On our 2009 vacation to Hawaii I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor on Oahu.
As I looked down into the rusting gun turret of this battleship I could not help thinking of the more than 1000 Sailors and Marines entombed in the ship.

What would have these brave men accomplished in their life if they had not died on that December morning 70 years ago? Could one of them found a cure for cancer or maybe one of them might have been elected president. Perhaps their offsprings would have done great things and made the world a better place.

I'm sure this has all been pondered before over the years.
To go to the Arizona memorial has been something that I have wanted to do all of my life and to actually go there was a surreal experience.
The diesel oil from the wrecked battleship still seeps to the surface.

I knew it would be an emotional time for me and it indeed was.
To all who read this and have a sense of history you owe it to yourself to visit this most sacred place.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

A River in Winter

Highway 6 ribbons through the dark Pacific Northwest rain forest on this late fall day but in reality it is winter despite what the calendar says. It is something that all of us that call this part of the country home know all too well. The alders and maples have long since forfeited their summer garb, and in the low light of a winter sun, look stark against the gray sky.
Recent rains have swollen the river to a busy flow that is mostly the constant in wintertime. No longer do the leaves swirl in the dark tannin colored pools as now the river turns an almost slate color as if to define the coldness of it's water and winter itself.
The summer and fall river of just a few short weeks ago is now foreboding as if to warn of the dangers in it's water. The wildlife that make their living along shoreline go about their business as gulls wheel over head worrying about dead and decaying salmon that are just out of their hungry reach.
Man might be able to channel, dam and divert the river but if given the chance the river will always reclaim what it lost due to man's interference. The river in winter will reluctantly submit seemingly waiting for the right opportunity to rebel.
I have to take this winter river seriously on these cold days. The river that I waded on a carefree summer or fall day is now intimidating in it's winter power.
The river in winter is a cold and dangerous beauty that demands respect and reluctantly gives up it bounty. I spent almost all of last winter dealing with someone who needed help but refused to take it and my fishing along with my over all well being suffered. In the darkest days of that time I could have used the river for solace and renewal and this year I will do just that.
While winter is not my favorite time of year this year I will embrace it as the journey we need to get through to reach the promise of spring. It is much like our own lives.
I liken the river in winter as more of a time of cleansing and a refreshing of the stagnation of summer. It's a necessary thing that occurs but it is not always pleasant much like my own experiences.