Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Pursuit

In the nearly 40 years of casting a fly it seems like fly fishing is no longer a outdoor pursuit but a way of life. No matter what hobby I have done in those 40 years, and there have been a lot of them, it's always fly fishing I come back to. It calls to me and even if I cannot ford swift streams or climb down into remote river canyons like I used to, it's still a lasting love.
I've read about the legendary fly fisher Mike Kennedy who requested that his favorite bamboo rod be cremated with him and the ashes sprinkled off of Mott Bridge along the North Umpqua and I think Mike knew then what I finally know now.
It seems to me that fly fishing isn't something you do casually. One can dabble in fly fishing, never really letting it become a life long pursuit but it must feel kind of hollow . If you take it seriously it will take you places, if only in your dreams, that you never imagined. You become intimate friends with the trout you pursue and the notion of ever killing a wild trout is unthinkable.
Certain rivers become your home that you always long to return to like a world traveler coming home from a long journey.
To feel all these emotions you must be willing to make your journey into fly fishing more of a pilgrimage. You are a traveler into the joys of trout.
Does this make sense? I hope so because it makes perfect sense to me. When I can no longer get to the river I will spend the rest of my days thinking about my fly fishing adventures. The fish I hooked and the fish I lost. I'll remember all the wonders of the rivers I fished and the wonders of the things I experienced.
You can go there too my friend. You have to be willing to take it all in like a child would at a toy store. Remember that you have been given a wonderful gift.
This pursuit of fly fishing should never, ever be a stressful thing but a thing where you are constantly renewed and thankful.
It's hard not to over think the pursuit of trout on a fly and yes it can be a difficult pursuit at times. Difficult but even after a rough day of wind knots,broken tippets and lost fish you can still come away with the satisfaction of walking in the steps of people like Roderick Haig-Brown, Lee
Wulff ,A.H.E. Woods and Mike Kennedy. As great as these fly fishermen of the past were they still had a beginning point point, just like the rest of us. They achieved fly fishing perfection in the truest sense. The perfection is something that has alluded me but that doesn't take anything away from the pursuit.
So if you are willing to let this angling pursuit take you to all the wonder that it holds you will never regret it. Enjoy the journey friends!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Hatchery Steelhead Versus Wild Steelhead

We have to change current management practices or our grand kids will not be able to fish for steelhead.Anyone who has caught a fresh wild steelhead knows the difference!
I should make clear that, when I talk about steelhead, I am talking about wild, naturally spawned and reared Oncorhynchus mykiss, not their distant hatchery outlaws. Wild steelhead are the genuine article; hatchery fish are not. The scientific literature is resplendent with the reasons why. Anglers know, or at least should know, from personal observation and experience that hatchery steelhead:
• Are not native, not wild, and do not behave as wild fish.
• Are much less responsive to a lure or fly.
• Enter the rivers over an extremely compressed period. Wild steelhead exhibit wide diversity in run and spawn timing and thus provide year-round angling opportunity with at least some wild steelhead entering rivers on virtually every tide.
• Migrate rapidly to their release location.
• Are known to be harmful to native populations.

Perhaps the most basic question concerns the future of the fish themselves. Without robust wild populations, we will not have a sport. Ask any experienced steelheader whether his fishing is better now than in the past. Invariably, he will note that his angling and angling options are, at best, faint echoes of what was available just a few decades ago. If this downward trend continues for even a short period beyond the present, then the prospects for steelhead and steelhead angling are-to put it mildly-less than hopeful.

What happens if, instead of joining with another wild fish that has passed through the same environmental lenses, this survivor meets and spawns with a hatchery steelhead? We should expect that their progeny would survive at a lower level because they lack the fitness of progeny from wild-wild pairings. Thirty years of field research by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife scientists focused exactly on this issue confirmed our expectation. The study compared the reproductive success of different pairing possibilities between wild and hatchery Kalama River steelhead:
• Native Kalama summer runs (both parents are native Kalama fish);
• Mixed parentage (hatchery male-native female or native male-hatchery female);
• Hatchery-only parentage (both parents hatchery-origin fish).

The findings? Only native-native pairings produced returning adult steelhead. The contributions of all other pairings to the returning adult populations, in the techno-speak of the study, could not be statistically distinguished from “zero.” In other words, the hatchery-hatchery, hatchery-wild, and wild-hatchery progeny were so ill-adapted-so unfit for the environmental challenges they faced over their lifetime-that none of them survived to adulthood. As predicted by Darwin, differences count in life.

The results of this careful, long-term scientific study make clear two essential facts. First, hatchery fish are not the same as nor are they an acceptable substitute for wild fish. Second, permitting hatchery fish to interact with wild fish has the effect of dramatically decreasing the productivity of the wild fish.

Pacific steelhead and salmon on the West coast are in crisis-not because we do not understand the causes for their declines. Instead, we know perfectly well what needs to be done but have instead insisted on following management practices that we know are harmful: excessive harvest, inadequate escapements, hatchery introductions, land use practices that are both unsustainable and detrimental to steelhead, and so on. We have further compounded the crisis by focusing our money and efforts on the stocks that are at the highest risk while largely ignoring other stocks less at risk, all the while continuing to apply management regimes known to be harmful. We also have examples of what will work if we have the courage to trust in the resilience of the fish themselves while providing for their basic requirements.

In short, the problem is not the fish. We and the manner in which we manage steelhead are the problem. Unless and until we change the basic management paradigms, we can be certain that the species will be functionally extinct in what is now their already greatly diminished range.
The above excerpt is from Dec Hogans new book "A Passion for Steelhead"

I have often heard from the ignorant masses "There is no true wild fish anymore" BS! That is wishful thinking by those who care nothing about this diminishing resource. The Bush administration would have us believe that there is no difference and what that amounts to is an attempt to water down the ESA so corporations can log and diminish wild fish habitat.
The ODFW is touting their "Wild Broodstock Program" It all sounds so good on paper but when it comes right down to it these progeny of wild fish are still hatchery fish.  Don't fool yourself into thinking anything else! They are still hatched and reared in a hatchery environment and imprinted with the same hatchery traits as those worthless out of basin mutants that have been dumped into the rivers for years.
I can honestly say after years of learning through trial and error that I would not lose one minutes sleep if all salmon and steelhead hatcheries in the state of Oregon closed down. This is a monster we created by building dams and plundering our pristine rivers for profit. We have gotten addicted to hatchery steelhead and like any addiction we cannot kick the habit! We feel like we are entitled or something and no matter what, we need to "bonk" a few satisfy our egos. Until we make catch and release a way of life, ingrained into our psyche it will never change. I could do without fishing the coastal rivers for a couple of years for the sake of wild steelhead....could you? I'm not just patting myself on the back here either! My education on this was a long time coming but I made it and if I convince just one other angler to make catch and release a part of his/her angling life then it will have been worth it.

The photo above is a wild Wilson River winter steelhead I caught in 2005. This fish was perfect in every way and there is no hatchery fish that can compare! Anyone of you that have caught a lot of both hatchery and wild steelhead know where I am coming from on this.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Little Joys of Fly Fishing

In this piscatorial pursuit of ours it is pretty well known what the pleasures are. Things like hooking a big trout on a dry fly or that cast that has taken years to perfect. Then there are things like a stream so clear or hooking a wild fish and then watching it swim away, a trout so beautiful that your emotions take your breath away.
These pleasures are a big part of the angling style we love but how about all those little things that bring us all joy as well.
I was thinking about these things today and while still fresh in my feeble mind I thought that I'd better write some of mine down. Some of these little pleasures might seem a bit silly but to me it's just part and parcel to why I fish this way.
Do you get a little flush of excitement when you see the courier stopping his truck in front of your house to deliver your new fly rod? It's the culmination of all the anticipation of waiting for that new rod that you are sure will catapult your angling experience into the stratosphere. Same thing with a new reel and the ultimate small joy is when they are both delivered on the same day.
I also like the pleasure of filling a new fly box with flies. Arranging them according to type and size....what fun it is to do this when you can't be on the river.
I enjoy immensely the small maintenance tasks I do on my bamboo fly rods. By maintenance I mean applying a new coat of bri-wax on the cane in anticipation of the season to come.  Anyone who has worked with bri-wax knows that it takes a bit of elbow grease but that  is  okay because I know it's a labor of love.
I particularly enjoy winding new backing and line on a reel. I used to secure the fly line to the backing with a nail knot and would work to tie the perfect knot to attach my line to. Alas the fly line manufacturers have gone to a loop to loop connection and so there is no need for a nail knot and I kind of miss it.
It's just the simple things isn't it? I suppose other recreational endeavors have these small joys as well but our joys are in anticipation of bigger things yet to come out on the stream.
Taking small pleasures in anything is what life is all about isn't it? I have never been able to understand the angler who "fishes angry" If you get so upset out on the river why do you fish? You would be surprised at the amount of people who fish that way. If some angry angler is ruining your day of fishing then just leave the area. There are other spots and other days to fish.
Once time, a few years ago, I was fly fishing the Sandy River with a friend. He hooked this big bright winter steelhead on a fly and got to fight it for a brief time. It jumped and ran and then came off. He was so upset that he threw his fly rod down in disgust at losing that fish. A big wild winter steelhead is a tough fish to take with a fly and anyone who has pursued them know this. Just to hook one is a huge accomplishment in and of itself. Landing a fish like that is the ultimate of course, but just hooking one is gigantic! I mentioned to him as he grieved at this lost steelhead, about how fortunate it was that he even got the chance to hook it. Some people go years and maybe even decades for that kind of opportunity. I think it got through to him because on the trip home he couldn't stop talking about the size and strength of that fish and his brief encounter with it.
I can honestly say that I have had very few bad days fly fishing. The small and large pleasures are plentiful and there is at least one every trip. Sometimes they are so small that you almost miss them but they are there. Go to the river with an attitude like that and you will always be a successful angler.