Friday, June 10, 2011

Steelhead in Solitude

Early this winter I fortunately found a weekend to visit my grandmother who just so happens to live within minutes of some good steelhead water.  Funny how the coincidences just happen to pile up sometimes.  :)

This particular stretch of water is a very popular early spring fishing destination when the water temps begin to warm after the frigid winter.  But for now the temps haven't gotten cold enough yet to push the fish back down river into the warmer deep pools.

In the spring a typical day starts well before sunrise as you and whatever posse might be down there with you get to the most likely honey hole and lock it down with sheer force of fishing combat tactics.  The idea is to physically occupy all the good fishing spots in the hole and hopefully prevent any other anglers from encroaching.    

This is an early winter weekend, however, and there is not another angler in sight as I drive up and down the river.  After a light rain last week the flows are ideal for wade fishing and the water has cleared.  I have my choice of the best holes and furthermore the best spots in each hole.  If any fish have come up I will have a decent chance to catch them.   

I realize the irony of the fact that I desire solitude yet I am one of the masses that actually help to evaporate that solitude.  But I am fisherman and solitude, like like old Walter, is just one of those things to pine for.  

All told I end up hooking 3 large B-run steelhead landing only one.  While the temps where cold the fish fought hard and were large.  But without a doubt the best part was not seeing another angler while I was fishing.

An early winter steel head caught without another angler in sight

Thursday, June 9, 2011

My Best Week of Fishing

It seems like each good day of fishing rivals my "best day" of fishing ever.  I can't rightly say what my single best day of fishing was, but I do have some extremely memorable days on the water tickling the lips of some of my finned friends.  Now if you were to ask me what my best week of fishing was I will definitely have an answer for you....

Royce in the Small Pool.
In the fall of 2007, my Dad, his buddy Royce, and myself made the journey to British Columbia to fish for salmon.  For the whole week the water conditions were perfect as the water was low, clear, and absolutely loaded with Chinook salmon!  That first night we found a small pool that was a holding ground for moving fish.  Below that pool was a larger one that held literally dozens of big fish.  We were throwing sinktips with bunny leeches and egg sucking leeches and getting bit in a big way!  We each had lots of hookups, but as we would learn there was a big difference between hooking and landing these monsters.  Nonetheless, for the most part after we found this hole we spent most of the time hooked up.

Eric Fighting a Tough Springer
When fighting chinook salmon the odds are stacked against the angler especially when using lighter fly tackle.  To begin with, the fish is a powerhouse built of rigid muscle upon rigid muscle so any illusion of control is immediately gone upon hookup.  Next, they have great endurance and use it effectively in combination with their sheer weight.  Due to the nature of fly fishing, the gear is typically lighter with 10wt rods and 15# line, which ultimately limits the amount of force an angler can put on a fish and therefore determines how long the fight will be. The biggest factor that works in the anglers advantage is the fact that Mr. Chinook has had to swim upstream a long ways to get where he is at and doesn't want to bolt back downstream.  He is typically content to stay right the hell where he is at!  After the initial struggle the fight boils down to a match of tug of war where every inch is gained and lost multiple times.  The point at which the fish comes to either the net or the bank is filled will equal trepidation as when the fish is initially hooked.

Early Morning Fight
About halfway through the 2nd day of sticking kings at will we understood this behavior thoroughly.  Each fish was not measured in inches or pounds, but rather in minutes it took to land the S.O.B.  10 minutes is a long time to fight a fish and 20 minutes is an eternity.  Fortunately, it is an eternity in bliss because there is nothing quite like the relentless pull of a powerful king.  By the end of the 2nd day the trip was already a success as we had already fought dozens of kings and while landing fewer had landed some BIG fish. 

We took a break from the kings on the 3rd day and went after a whole other adversary in the chum salmon.  Chums are the toughest pound for pound fighter in the salmon world, but in some cases being half the size the kings are slightly easier to deal with....sometimes.  I raved about chums in blog entry Pack of Chums.  Needless to say, our sore arms didn't get much of a break. 

Eric and Royce Mid Fight Break
Ever the gluttons for punishment, on the 4th day we went back to our king run and picked up right where we left off.  Somewhere in the middle of the 2nd day I decided to try indicator fishing for the kings since they were slotted up so nicely in the run.  I continued using this method and my hookup rate shot up even higher.  It's my understanding that in the ocean chinook tend to hang out along drop offs waiting for food (octopus, shrimp, etc) to come to them via the ocean currents.  For this reason, I believe a dead drifted pattern beneath an indicator is an incredibly effective method for getting bit. 

Ted and a Battleship
The 4th day was much like the 2nd except we knew exactly what we were in for.  Hookup, a bit of thrashing, a long fight, a bit more thrashing up to the net, a quick glory pic, and then start the process all over again.  Between the three of us at least one of us was hooked up almost the entire day.  One guy had to man the net and the other was usually in the process of trying to get hooked up again.  Life was good!

Eric and a Monster
The 5th and last day was just a morning session as we had to get back on the road to catch a flight.  Nothing had changed from the previous days, however, and it was game on yet again.  The only difference was that we were all tired, sore, and content from a week of hard yet awesome fishing.  We each caught a couple and were happy to hook them and let them get off unless they were an absolute monster.  It was as fitting an end as any to the best week of fishing I have ever had.  Best week of fishing without a doubt. 

Ted and One of the Biggest Fish of the Trip

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Pay Attention

Had this happen a few times yesterday
So yesterday the weather was so nice that I just couldn't stand to be at work so I took a "mental health" day and went up the hill to my new favorite pond.  I have fished the pond a number of times this spring and while I haven't always caught a lot of fish I have always caught something.  Yesterday, I caught lots and the rest of the fisherman on the pond (maybe 6 or 7 other guys) caught almost nothing.

More than a couple of the fisherman asked me what I was using to catch them and I was completely honest.  I told them I was fishing a chironomid pupa pattern and even the specific pattern I was using.  Their response was to quickly change flies, continue fishing, and continue to not get bit.     

Fish taken on a midge pupa pattern, a Chromie
So I must have been using some incredibly effective new stillwater tactic...nope.   I was fishing 2 midge pupa flies beneath an indicator akin to fishing a bobber which has been an effective stillwater tactic since time out of mind. 

Well, I must have killer new fly then....sorry try again.  The pattern I was using was a very common patten most stillwater fisherman have in their box. While my pattern might have been tied more cleanly, even the most rudimentary midge pupa pattern will still catch fish. 

So what was the difference?  I was using a common technique and an equally common pattern.  The difference was where I was putting my fly, obviously!  The average fisherman will simply troll aimlessly picking up the occasional fish.  A slighly more advanced fisherman will use visual shoreline structure as a guide point to where fish might be lying.  An even more advanced angler will utilize a fish/depth finder to locate underwater structure and possibly even where fish are lying. 

I'm not saying that every fisherman needs to run out a buy a fish finder, but if you see someone nailing fish and he has a depth finder then you would do well to pay attention to WHERE he is fishing.  If any of the anglers who had asked me what pattern I was using had actually paddled out to the depth I was at and put their fly near the bottom they would have gotten bit without a doubt. So in summary, PAY ATTENTION!!!

Pay attention!  You're doing it wrong!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pack of Chums

Chum salmon, also know as dog salmon are arguably the toughest salmon on a pound per pound basis.  King salmon, because of their considerably larger size, usually require a longer fight, but after the first few moments the fight becomes a redundant battle of inches.  With chum salmon the fisherman can never be sure what to expect.  Some fish explode with blistering runs punctuated with impressive aerial displays including tail walking and high jumps.  Other fish will just slow play the fight until they get really pissed and then unexpectedly explode.  It is for this reason the the ugly dog salmon is possibly my favorite anadromous quarry. 

Steelhead are a gorgeous and elegant fish, which have a special spot in any fly fisherman's heart because of their relation to rainbow trout.  Kings are the epitome of power and size; pure muscle with a big fin on back.  Chums are definitely not elegant thanks to their grotesquely protruding teeth (and a somewhat canine snout) and violent splashes of color on their sides not unlike a blood splatter.  Chums sport a face that only a mother could love, but their tenaticity has an appeal that is something a king or steelhead can't offer, at least in this fisherman's opinion. 

Chums Can Leave Your Gear in Shambles
I personally have witnessed more gear destroyed with a chum at the end of the line than any other fish.  On my last trip to BC my brother fished all week bringing in numerous kings and pinks and it wasn't until the last day when he had a strong dog on when his 4 piece rod was turned into a 5 piece.  I have had reels destroyed [see left], entire fly lines broken off, and have actually been bloodied by these toothy critters.  I have learned my lessons and now when I pursue chums I come with stronger rods and thicker tippets to subdue these tenacious fish. 

A Strong Chilliwack River Chum
Chums usually get chased out of a king runs fairly quickly so they typically don't linger around kings for very long.  One day on the Chilliwack river, in the middle of a king run, I saw a lighter fish pull into a king run.  I was in position to cast to this fish and almost instantly I was hooked up with a hot chum.  This S.O.B. turned 180 degrees and bolted down stream faster than any king I had hooked the entire trip.  During that seething run the handle on my reel rapped my left hand about a dozen times before the pain registered and I pulled my sore hand away.  That day my most memorable fish was that chum even though it was possibly the smallest fish I hooked that day. 

Spawning Chums on the Chehalis
To me the most intriguing thing about the chum salmon is their dynamic coloring.  The males typify the spawning condition with gnarly teeth, a humped back, and bright indigo vertical barring.   These bars are present on the widest part of the fish so as to increase a males apparent size to other competing males.  Females have a much more subdued appearance and some slight darker vertical barring, but no where near the male.  Females also have an obvious horizontal stripe down their sides.  The stripe is a signal to other chums that she is a docile fish and not to be harassed.  The stripe allows the males to determine which fish are a procreative threat and which are a potential partner.   You can easily determine the male from the female on this photo by the striping patterns.

The really cool thing is that the chums can literally change their coloring in seconds.  A female will increase the intensity of her stripe to increase her femininity to surrounding mates.  Conversely, competitive males can enhance the color of their bars to show other males they are not to be trifled with.  The coloring of a landed chum, whether male or female, is not indicative of their natural state because of the aggression the fish released upon being hooked and fought.  The fish below is obviously a hen because of the torpedo shape and non-protruding jaw, but both the vertical bars and horizontal stripe are quite noticeable.  This fish likely had a solid stripe before she was hooked. 

Eric and a Nice Hen
Another great thing is that they are a very well biting fish meaning that just about any presentation will work.  Swinging, indicator nymphing, and bottom bouncing with flies are all effective presentations.  My personal favorite is indicator nymphing because while they might be bitey the aren't always obvious bites and an idicator can really help detect strikes.  Even further than that I like to use a 14' spey rod for a nymphing rod (a completely bastardization of the spey setup, a topic for another day), which gives me a very strong rod to fight these aggressive fish with. 

Every year when fall rolls around I find myself yearning to go do some salmon fishing.  While the kings are a major attraction, I find that it's the chums that I really want to catch because they are such a memorible fish in every sense. 

Eric and Richard During an Epic Day on the Stave River

Friday, August 27, 2010

Fish of a Lifetime

It is truly a rare thing to catch the fish of a lifetime.  Every time you catch a fish that beats your personal size record you have to wonder if that fish is the biggest one that you will ever catch.  With a lifetime ahead of you how can you know that you won't catch a bigger or more meaningful fish?  Without reservation I can say that I have seen the fish of a lifetime hooked, fought, and landed successfully.  The problem was the fish wasn't on the end of my line.  This Walter was caught by my buddy Steve at the legendary Henry's lake.  

I was fishing with Steve on his boat on a late June weekend.  We had been getting slow albeit consistent action in the morning on midges near the cliffs, but midday and afternoon fishing was very slow.  Actually very slow was an exaggeration, the action was dead.  We were spot hopping and were in the channel at Staley's Springs when Steve's indicator took a dip.  A few seconds after he set the hook we got a quick flash and we both could tell that this was not the average Big H fish.  After relatively quick, but tense fight this 30" long, 19" girth, and 14lb trout came to rest in my net, Triple-D (and yes, my net has a name and a well deserved one at that). 

Steve has been fishing Henry's Lake regularly for almost 35 years.  The largest Henry's fish he had caught until this fish was only about 7lbs.  So not only was this Steve's largest trout ever, it was more than twice the size of any fish he had taken from Henry's.  The fish of a lifetime should naturally be huge, but it should also be rare in some sense.  Fish weighing in the double digit range are somewhate rare on Henry's, but fish in the teens are even more so.  Undoubtedly, this was a fish of a lifetime!

A fish of this size is at least 10 years old, which is amazing in its own right considering the fishing pressure that exists on Henry's.  The fish's advanced age became even more apparent when Steve was unable to revive him.  Instead of releasing this fish only to slip to the bottom and drown we collectively made the tough decision to keep this fish.  Years of catch and release fishing made this a very difficult call even though it was perfectly legal.

Keeping this fish actually helped shed some light into answering the question of the trout's exact species.  Henry's is stocked with 3 types of trout: yellowstone cutthroat, yellowstone cutt-rainbow hybrid, and brook.  Steve sumbitted the fish for dissection to the Idaho Fish and Game where they determined the fish had under developed sexual organs consistent with a hybrid trout.  The problem is hybrids typically have spots across their entire body where as pure cutts only have spots on their tail region (like his big guy).  The sheer age of fish is more consistent with a hybrid as cutts only live about 6 or 7 years while hybrids are have more longevity.  The fight was more remininscent of a cutt though as the fish didn't go on any blistering runs like hybrids are reknown for.  So the debate rages on, but I know one thing for sure.  I know that I hope this once-in-a-lifetime fish isn't the fish of MY lifetime! 

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Change of Pace

My buddy Russ gave me a hot fishing tip to a good bass pond so the first chance I got I skipped down there to temp a few bass.  The pond was very shallow so I was able to use a floating line and bass poppers all day and the fish were very very receptive. When I made it to the shoreline and saw bass working in tight to the bank I could tell it was going to be a good day. 

Fishing for bass is a definitely change of pace when compared to trout fishing.  Trout, at least while feeding, tend to move a lot so their fishing tactics revolve around intercepting them while they are prowling for food.  Bass on the other hand are ambush predators waiting for the meals to come to them.  Just visually inspecting the fish suggest their differences.  Trout are slime covered torpedos sculped for swimming long distances with minimal effort, while bass are built like a short roided-out line backer primed to crush anything that comes within sight.

I plopped my popper near the first bass I saw and no sooner had it hit the surface then water erupted as the bucket mouth swallowed my popper.  I continued working down the shoreline tossing my bug beneath the shoreline vegetation.  Some of the strikes I had were simply epic.  The water would swell in a wake toward my popper then the water would erupt....Fish ON!  Others would come and sip the popper off the surface like a trout taking a dry fly.  Others yet wouldn't even break the surface, they would just hover beneath the fly and suck it under the surface and into their large mouths (no pun intended).  Left: definitely a large mouth!

The sight fishing was fun because you could see the bass come up to the fly, inspect it ,and ultimately take it down, but getting bit by unseen bass was even cooler.  If you didn't watch that popper like a hawk, it would disappear and you would miss the strike.  The problem with watching the fly with undivided attention is that sometimes the bass unloads on the fly and scares the shit out of you because you are expecting a subtle take.  You can never tell when the water is going explode with an angry bass tied on the end of your line!  Right: Bass, Bass where are you?

Another difference between trout and bass fishing is the complexity of the flies.  Trout can be fussy at times for fly size, color, profile, action, et cetera.  Conversely, bass just require something to look big and alive even if it is colored like a carnival ride.  Not having to worry about pattern selection, and just covering water makes bass fishing a nice change of pace from trout fishing. Left: One downside to bass fishing is that it wrangling the fish can chew up your digits a little bit....

I had never spent a lot of time bass fishing, which is way my largest bass until fishing this pond was just a bit under 12".  At this pond I caught a number of fish in the 16-20" range, which were big strong toads.  In pressured public waters there are fewer of these large fish and the ones that are there are highly suspicious.  This pond had lots of big dumb fish, my favorite combination!  Places like this really let you know how good fishing could be with catch and release and good management.  Thanks again for the hot spot, buddy!  Right: A nice bass taken from my tube.

OK, maybe just a little more fish porn!  Left: This guy left a wake as he crushed my popper.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Big Fish Story

I caught a monster fish this last weekend. I'd like to say that the act of sticking this toad was due to sheer talent or skill, but I know that isn't entirely true. I could also say that I was simply lucky, which I was to some extent, but that wasn't entirely true either. I think what it boiled down to was a combination of being at the right place and time (luck) and having an adequate fly presentation acceptable for old uncle Walter (skill).  Personally, I believe that luck favors the prepared. 

It had already been a fantastic fishing trip because earlier that afternoon the bite had turned on in a BIG BIG way. It was quite possibly the best afternoon of trout fishing I have ever had as every 5th or 6th cast produced a slam on the end of my flyline. Each fish was not just the average fish, which for this lake is big in its own right, but the were big chunky trout. The afternoon produced 6 fish between 7 and 10 lbs. Unbelievable fishing. When the action finally died, we celebrated with numerous cheeseburgers and beers while lauding our afternoon's piscatorial conquests.

Even then with a full belly, a beer buzz, and the knowledge that I should be satisfied with the days fishing I found that I was still unsatisfied. The urge inside of me beckoned me back to the water to continue fishing.  As the sun began it's evening decent into the horizon so did I launch from shore in my pontoon boat.

By this point in the trip my path around the lake was well grooved. I had made the same casts over the same water dozens of times over the weekend. As my attention was diverted to the next positioning of my boat, my line went tight. This wasn't the same slam I had gotten all afternoon, but rather a more delicate pull on the line. The fish's initial response wasn't typical for a big fish as I was given a few quick head shakes usually indicative of a smaller fish. The secondary response of a blistering run into my backing and towards the nearest weed patch slapped the beer buzz away with a new found focus on this particular fish.

I had to pull my anchor up with my non casting hand (an awkward process at best let alone with only one hand) and then I was able to give chase. Paddling after the fish, I had to get my backing back and get some fly line on the reel so that I could put some semblance of side pressure on the fish and steer him out of the weeds. The fish still made it into the weed bed, but (luckily or purposefully?) I had been fishing heavier tippet all weekend and it held the fish as it shook through the vegetation. After a lengthy tug of war, the fish was finally tired enough to come to the net and I had a new personal record. A 31" and 16lbs rainbow trout.  Now, I was completely satisfied.