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.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Pyramid Lake Fishing Blog

My Dad (Ted) and I made it to Pyramid Lake around 2pm PST Friday (March 29th) night to find buddy Steve already fishing and doing pretty well.  We also hooked up with Bruce who was for all intents and purposes our guide and a rockstar stillwater fisherman to boot.   Bruce had already been fishing most of the week so he already had things figured out for us.  Just had to throw our ladders in the water and start catching fish (yeah, right).  Surprisingly, this was almost how it worked out.  It didn't take very long for me to get a few dips on my indicator and the skunk was off.  Steve was on a mission to set the IGFA record for a cutthroat on 3kg test line, which was 7lbs 4oz.  He came very close with the near 7lb fish (above) on the first evening.

Later in the afternoon/evening the wind picked up and started pushing larger 2-3' rolling waves into our ladders.  More than a few times I had a roller knock me off the top step of my ladder and had to frantically grab the handle just to hang on.  Extreme fishing if I have ever seen it!  The coolest part was the fish were still biting!  The problem was that a netted fish would divert your attention from the incoming waves.  Ted learned this the hard way and took a wave about shoulder height while fighting with a netted fish.  He was less than thrilled to have the 40F water go down his waders!   I had good bite the rest of the night when it was just me and another fisherman (Ernie) sticking out the rollers. 

After tent camping on the beach we had a decent morning bite at the same spot the next day.  The fishing was considerably slower than it was on Friday, but there was a good morning bite for about 2 hours follow by a spotty action the rest of the day and evening.  Ted managed to nail a nice 7lb fish with an indicator and a black midge. Later that evening there were pockets of decent fishing, but none were as good as the previous night.

Later that evening I tied into a better than average fish.  I learned this trip that an average fish is affectionately called a "shaker" because that is about all they do on the end of your line once hooked.  

Through out the trip we found ourselves having to lend a hand a critical times to each other.

Reaching out and netting someones fish was not an uncommon occurrence. 

Sunday morning continued even slower than Saturday night so we decided to pickup and move around a bit.  I had a good time doing this because we got to learn more of the lake and in the afternoon we found a deserted beach that had some BIG fish cruising up and down it.  I got a couple small bumps right away, but didn't hook up.  Soon thereafter, however, I was in mid strip when I noticed a small pod of fish cruising about 20' in front of me.  I tried to strip in to get my Wolley Worm in front of them, but it ran into an immovable object in the form of a large cutt.  The beast turned out to be an 8lb fish, my biggest fish ever on public water! 

About an hour after landing this toad, I was yet again mindlessly pulling my bugs through the water, when I noticed a large dark brown silhouette following my fly.  As I lifted my fly to recast (it still hadn't sunk into my brain yet that my fly had caught the attention of a lake monster), the fish turned his profile toward me and I could see his considerable size.  He was easily bigger than my previous fish.  Alas, he realized he was chasing some funny, not to mention there was a funny looking guy standing on a ladder right in front of him, and he peeled off back into the depths.  As if I already needed another reason to comeback, I now have the image of this gator burned into my memory.  I shall be back to catch you! 

The rest of the day and night were fairly slow.  We had good action on the deserted beach for a couple hours and then nothing.  We hit another hole or two and got a couple more bites, but that's about it.  That night we converged at the local watering hole (Crosby's Bar) to chat with some buddies.  It turns out they had pretty slow fishing as well, but there were still quiet a few big fish stuck including at least one 15 pounder.

Monday morning was our last day on the water and the wind was blowing like crazy.  Steve decide to forego the wind and just head for home.  Ted decided not to fish, and I figured I might as well take another shot at that 10lb fish.  Bruce and I got a couple more shakers, but that was about it.  Tough end to a tough trip, but one that had pockets of sucess and plenty of big fish.  What else could you ask for in a fishing trip?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Pyramid Monotony

Cast, wait, strip.  Cast, wait, strip.  Cast, wait, strip.  After monotonously casting continuously from sunrise to sunset while standing on a ladder casting becomes more of a compulsion than a conscious activity.  The corresponding obsession is the potential for the next cast to produce the fish of a lifetime in the form of a double digit pound Lahontan cutthroat trout (LCT) from Pyramid lake.

The most commonly accepted technique for fishing Pyramid lake is through the use of a step ladder [see photo to the upper left] which is carried out into chest deep water and planted in the sand.  This allows the caster to extend his cast further into the lake and ideally over a drop-off, which these predacious LCT's are well known to cruise along.   The idea is to let the fish come to your fly.  This is completely bass-ackwards from normal fishing conditions where the fisherman stalks the fish in its territory.  The mental strain of have to wait for the fish can sometime be unbearable.  You start to question your pattern, leader, ladder position, presentation, sexual orientation, OK may not the last one, but if there is too much time between bites you never know.

When the bite does finally come it is usually anything but obvious.  When Mr LCT inhales the fly and keeps swimming there isn't a sharp "bite" to feel on the line, just an increased tension and when the next strip comes it catches on the inside of the fish's mouth.  A bite on the line feels just like a snag.  Because Pyramid consists primarily of a sand based substrate (utterly devoid of obstacles) the odds are that you would have hooked that snag a dozen times before now on one of the preceding thousand casts. The coolest sensation is to set steel into a "snag" and feel the rod come alive with spirited fish.  The real difficulty is keeping the mental acuity after thousands of casts to realize that a snag is really a fish and to set the hook immediately. 

The fight is generally anti-climatic unless the fish is above the average size in which case things can get very interesting.  The full body flop of an average fish is evidence that the fish is just a "little" guy (little here is a respectable 18-20" though).  The bigger guys [like the hog to the right] pull much harder and give a lot of shoulder into the fight drawing it out.  I have yet to hook one of the true double digit monsters of the lake,which is the sole reason for which I will continue to return for some boring ladder fishing.