From Red Hot to Not

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Rivers have soul. They wind, and drop and rise by nature’s clock, not by man’s. They sway, breathe, protect, give, and take. Despite our best attempts to control them, to reroute and fortify their banks where they flood, and care about their ecosystems, the soul of a river reflects the harsh reality of how temporary conditions can be. The soul of a river is beautiful, and each river carries with it our own memories and reflections. It is true, that one never steps into the same river twice, because it changes, and so does our own soul.

River guides know the souls of these rivers more intimately than most; the ability to predict its attitude based on the factors that anglers measure moving water by – cubic feet per second, temperature, clarity. We know that the souls of our rivers stir when these factors conspire to make trout feed. For blossoms to shine, for grasses to again dig deep to fuel springtime’s growth. It is springtime now, in the Pacific Northwest. The sun just broke through the clouds above my home away from the river, leaving the ground wet and my short-sleeve shirt wet after a quick run to the truck to close the windows. Change, at a speed not dependant on the time on the clock or the day on the calendar, comes painfully sometimes and touches our souls. River banks, strong and dry, quickly strain and are scrubbed by cold snow melt high in the Stuart Range above the Yakima River, in Central Washington.

 

Yakima River Rainbow
It was red hot, and then it was not.  After a mild winter, showing it’s first signs of life, Skwalas were on the menu that day – 11 am and the boat launch is a mat of adult midges. At High noon, the sun is out and it’s a beautiful day – the first fish comes to hand. The river is in prime condition, and the wild fish are hungry. Through the deep canyon walls, past the charred stumps and brush of last summer’s late fire that leaped from bank to bank – not dirty run-off yet from the blackened ground. Past leaking tributaries that are beginning to creep up as the day warms. On a hot summer day, this is the place to be; colder water with more oxygen has the fish lined up here, but not today. Today the river is beginning to change, and as we near the end of the trip, and the wind and clouds begin to fall, it feels different. The river’s soul has changed again.  A few days ago, the soul of this river lost one of it’s true champions.

Yakima River Cutthroat
This past week has been particularly hard on the guide community in the PNW, with two of it’s fine souls and champions of wild fish, passing away. Each leaving a legacy of conservation, of change – from the rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula where wild steelhead are loved and their future’s fought for, and the beaches of Puget Sound. The dry, high plains of Central Washington mark the split of the Evergreen State into two here – souls of these rivers in the Northwest are richer now with the spirit of these fine men. Their losses will be felt, seen – more than a few drams of whiskey will flow as an offering to the souls of these rivers. There will be empty chairs in the fly shops and coffee houses where rained out trips stalled to re-plan; when, where, what to expect.

The fishing report is one way to measure what’s happening on the river. When I looked at the forecast, and reflected on my experiences on this river, this was shaping up to be a fine week of dry fly fishing. A warm front approached, dark and menacing – but far enough out. And then, the soul of these rivers called out and reclaimed for good what had been shared over the last 30 years. Conditions change, and it’s expected to fall below freezing for the next few nights – slowing the melt of snow, and the rivers will drop. When I step foot in the Yakima again, I’ll think of these guides and how they shaped the future of these fisheries by caring about them in the past – and saving their souls.

Hatch or Hype?

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We’re close. Proximity perhaps accelerated by the long, dark winter. It’s been a mild one, no doubt. No lengthy power outages, no massive winter storms that crippled the Metropolis; even the higher elevations, although close to “normal” now, don’t take on the appearance of straining under the weight that fly anglers feel between the months of November and March. Well, unless you pursue Steelhead to the East or West of Puget Sound. Me? I’ve fished through the winter, on the Yakima. Had a guest from Virginia who fished in December – she got a steelheader’s experience that day – but she was there.

Another group of anglers concerned about steelhead and management policies for the Skagit River have arranged an “Occupy” event – the Skagit boasts wild fish returns that meet the predetermined goals set by WDFW yet the river remains closed, even to C&R fishing for Steelhead in some areas of the watershed. This begs the question, among many, of managing expectations in the face of supply and demand, of ownership and accountability, of what’s best for the fish and the fishery.  Keep up to date with what’s happening on the Skagit here - https://www.facebook.com/OccupySkagit?fref=ts

But we’re here to talk about trout, wild trout.

February Yakima Rainbow

On the Yakima, and across the Western US where springtime conditions have anglers anxiously planning, scheming, and arranging their gear – where is that new rod or reel and line you got for the holidays? Did you forget about an Orvis Gift Card left in the stocking by St. Nick? I’ve already been planning my guide season, with calls coming in from both near and far about summertime trips, about what to wear, what flies to use, where to stay….and then it comes to mind – we’ve got springtime fishing on the horizon, and if you’re a fan of stoneflies, caddis, mayflies, and warm, sunny days on the river – they are a short-drive away on the Yakima River.  All that’s missing is you!

There’s a degree of hype that goes into the hatch, sure. Fishing guides are just as eager to get on the water as anglers are themselves – and yes, we’re guilty of a bit of hype I suppose. But the fish are waking up, the river is coming alive, and even though there may still be snow on the ground in places and you’ll still need sunscreen, the hype is valid.

IMAG0941_BURST002

Water temperatures are slowly creeping up, driven by longer, warmer days. The sun has been kissing the cobblestone on the banks, and the bugs are drawn there to hatch – like sunbathers on the beach. Get out your bloomers, your sunglasses, and your picnic baskets – it’s time for a feast.  Guides know it, fish know it, and if you are ready to celebrate the coming of springtime, now is the time.

 

Trust Your Guide.

Some come to laugh their past away

Some come to make it just one more day

Whichever way your pleasure tends

If you plant ice you’re gonna harvest the wind.” – Hunter, Garcia

Estimated Profit

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This gallery contains 4 photos.

I’ve been struggling with this one, more so due to the heat, the up and downs, and the work put in trying to escape both.  If not here, then where and how long to get there.  Finding out that things … Continue reading

Help > Slip > Float trip…

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"Help's On The Way"

Help’s On The Way.  In the summertime, seeing a KC Sheriff on the river normally means one thing; too many recreational floaters on the verge of becoming terminal sinkers, being unprepared for the cold, fast water.  This isn’t an amusement park, and every summer people get into water that’s over their heads in both skill and depth, only to be in dire need of help.

Paradise waits, on the crest of a wave, her angels in flames.

As we approached the launch, the first Officer’s vehicle came into view – “Nice” I thought, they’re here to provide a little enforcement and advice for the booze cruise crowd, checking for life jackets, safety gear, and litter control.  Still, they were too late, and there stood two shirtless and buzz-killed guys with a shredded cheap raft, a 24 can “sport pak” of beer, with this to say – “They’re down there rescuing my girlfriend from a log jam.”

I quickly slipped the Salmonfly down the launch, knowing very well that being part of the rescue was not in the plan.  The side channel is open, and it fishes well, rejoining the main channel below, avoiding the tight corners, submerged logs, and boat-sinking swells that the unprepared slip into every summer.  It’s a blind corner, and it’s always in some state of hazard; I’ve had to portage it before, other times we anchor and fish streamers through the turquoise pools.  This day, however, the roar of a jet boat filled the air as we anchored up on river right, above the split, listening for any clues as to their progress.  The grinding sound of rocks in the intake shattered the afternoon air, and even as we sat in the shade lining our rods, it was not going to be a quick extraction.  I knew exactly where they were and how this was going down, and it’s not an easy place for a jet boat.

Finding quiet solace in the side channel, we were given a show of force by a hefty Beaver.  Two Phelpsian flips of the tail, and it was time to move on.

Did someone say
Help on the way
Well, I know
Yeah, I do
That there’s help on the way

The sound of the second jet boat coming up river signaled the alarm.  Knowing that we’d be staying overnight downstream, and the situation increasingly crowded, the anchor was pulled and we fished our way to camp, along the inside of the bend.  The train would come through later that night, about 2 am.  Under a full-moon and a screen-tent, it was loud, bright, and another reminder – things move fast and cannot be controlled so easily.

We had quiet on the river as dusk wrapped around us, other than the current slamming against the rip-rap wall on the opposite bank, the relentless mosquitos dining on our arms and legs, and the cracking of a small fire as dinner slowly came together – here, the slow approach yielded nice results.  Two jet boats with uniformed rescuers meant that no bodies were recovered, rushed downstream.  The call of “What’s for dinner” over the accelerating waves on the bank meant that the rescue was over, hopefully for the best.  I just waved back, it was just courtesy anyways.  I bet those Officers would rather not be pulling bodies from the river, but it happens.  One boat returned upriver about 20 minutes later, to their rig at the launch above.  They knew we slipped in the water while the launch was blocked, and I know that they were preventing others from being part of the rescue – but we were prepared.  I know that corner well, and that we could get through it, but respected it at 4ooo cfs.  I know what the river is capable of and it doesn’t flinch.

God help the child who rings that bell
It may have one good ring left, you can’t tell
One watch by night, one watch by day
If you get confused just listen to the music play - Hunter

The music played on, and Annie and I found a lot of willing fish on the surface the next morning, sipping caddisflies and ambushing purple hoppers under the overhanging branches.  Off the water before the terminal sinkers rallied their floating coolers, left the life jackets behind, and flooded the river with their own lyrics.  Don’t worry, Help’s On The Way.

 

 

Flying Shuttleman’s

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There’s an English inventor by the name of John Kay, who just two years after what would be the middle of his life (1704-64) invented a machine that revolutionized the process of weaving by reducing the human labor required, while at the same time improving the quality of the materials being produced.

What in fact he invented was called the “flying shuttle” because of the action that a mechanized arm traveled between two points, freeing the loom operator hands to complete other tasks, tasks the prior methodology required that two human operators were needed to properly seat and shape the garment being constructed.

At this point, as a courtesy to you, the reader, I will quickly advise you that the brief history of the flying shuttle was by no means any knowledge I had previous to sitting down just a moment ago and began putting words to paper typing on a computer keyboard.  This knowledge, you see didn’t come by experience, it was situational.  Something prompted this.

If you’ve been reading the last few posts (don’t worry, there’s a machine that also tells me if you’re not) I’ve left off at the tail end of a week-long trip on the Missouri River, outside of Craig, MT.  We camped at Mountain Palace.  There was a Greatful Dead reference.  Remember?  And yes, it has been a while since then, with a number of great days on the water, with family, with friends.  A great trip to the Smith River in MT courtesy of a friend’s permit that ended waking on the last morning on the river in a snowstorm.  Days of high, off-color water that are making me already think of September, of shorter and cooler days, and lower flows.  The river’s been up and down, and that starts to drive the thought of better days.  Sometimes I’m impatient, but something prompted this.  It’s situational.

Here’s an essay I came across after a little research into this post – yes, I’ve been taking the time to properly research for this post, as it ends the series – for any hope of this ever becoming acclaimed, it must have a beginning and the eventual end, correct?  The situation, as it seems, is the not the J word, but the S word – the shuttle, but you’ll have to have patience with me because the shuttle is just the metaphor.

The shuttle is one of those things that just has to be done.  Whether you take care of it prior, or afterwords, it’s done, and when among friends, with a certain course and courtesy.  It’s just expected that each of us has got one leg of the journey, and out of courtesy I’m going to defer; I’m going to look upstream before I pull my anchor and race to get that left bank before you do.  Because it’s common courtesy to do that.  If you’re already headed there, I’m going to assume you were even if you weren’t, because that’s what I would do.  It sounds like, “Hey man, I’m good with running the first shuttle so you can fish all the way to dark.”  There’s two sides, though – is this a “victim or the crime” situation?

If I offer my preference first, then you have every indication of what my intentions are, and you can choose to act accordingly.  John Kay’s machine was viewed as a threat, so the textile workers destroyed his invention out of fear for their situation.  Kay died poor but memorialized for his advances by the factories who copied his device, which according to history also spurred other inventions that increased demand for woven products.  Today, what isn’t natural is recreated by synthetic, and it’s often better and cheaper.

What started out as a rough-draft, of highly conceptual nature, and loosely defined meaning, took shape after a few days in high-water, hot days, and of getting back to the true meaning of passing knowledge along.  So that when the ugliness of competition and jealousy rear their nasty head, it’s already expected and while it’s your nature, I’m still going to defer.  It’s the perfect crime – I’ll watch you commit it, listen to your defense, and let you judge yourself.  Sentencing to be determined.

References

The internet and you. 

 

 

 

 

Brokedown Mountain Palace – Scrambled or Over Easy?

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So, are you gonna eat those or what?

Continued…

A few days into a great week of fishing on the Missouri River near Craig, MT and camp was pretty much settled in.  We’re into our norms – when people get up and shake off the whiskey, PBR, and way more food that you should eat from the night before and start thinking about getting back on the water.  That means breakfast, and breakfast means a big meal so that lunch on the river can be the easy one for the day.

Planning meals for a large group, even with a base camp, can be an occupational hazard.  Luckily, this group is pretty easy about food – if it’s hot and had at least two legs, it works.  I’m a big fan of breakfast, and eggs are good binders for peppers, meat, onions, and cheese.  In fact, most breakfast’s were either left over London Broil, Venison smokies or Elk backstraps.  Throw in some pig and it’s done.  It’s a good thing we brought five dozen eggs, cause the cardboard container they are housed in can get moist in the cooler, and well….the dogs came in handy for clean up.

One of the many..

 

The fishing was outstanding.  Most days consisted of getting on the water around 11 am, and watching hordes of midges take over the surface of the river.  There were few boats, mostly we were the only anglers on the water.  Over the course of the week, we developed a nice pattern on the lower river, between Stickney and Mountain Palace.  Midges, BWO’s, and when it got slow on top, drifting a Fire Bead Czech with a Ray Charles underneath.  Now, this particular style of fishing – in the words of a local guide, can be very technical.  And it’s true – the fish were in specific spots and depths.  Sean McAfee, who guides for Linehan Outfitting Company, knows this river well and shared just enough to get the rest of us in line.  Fish the braided water over the weed beds, 8 foot leader, a split shot – well, for those who enjoy sub-surface fishing, this is what works.  I prefer to fish dry flies, and the Comparadun in size 18 worked.

 

Fishing HQ

 

Among the basic camping sites along the Missouri, this was the most appealing.  Away from Hwy 15, at the terminus of great dry fly water, and wide open.  The Fly Fishers Inn, in the background, was once the hub of activity on the MO – prior to the sleepy little town of Craig becoming a Mecca for tailwater fishing in the West.  When your home water is blown out, the MO is a sure bet.

I heard that the property is for sale – a little more juice than I have in the pitcher right now, but the location sure is sweet and it’s turn-key.  If you want to own it, maybe we can work something out….

It’s quiet on the MO at night – except for here.  This apparently is breeding central for Canadian Geese, and the males were competing for cliff-side nesting space, and for females.  And we heard about it all day and night long.

Next up…Shuttleman’s.

 

 

Brokedown Mountain Palace

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Going home, going home, by the waterside I will rest my bones.  Listen to the river sing sweet songs, to rock my soul.  - Garcia, Hunter

Springtime is more than an awakening from the long slumber of winter, when the rivers rise and the hills begin to sing with the sounds of the shift towards longer, warmer days.  I imagine that many fly anglers, ready to shed their waterproof layers and expose their ashy legs to the warming sun, go through the same shift that I do – a springtime awakening sets the stage for the year.  A few years ago, I became so busy with trying to create a life for myself and my family that I pushed the coming season aside, forgetting to live.  This is not to say that I neglected to breathe, to walk in the water, to love.  I simply felt that I was stronger than the connection between the changes in nature and my life, that they could be overcome by hard work for someone else’s benefit, all for a paycheck.  And things, material things.  Things long since discarded, given away, lost.

I returned from Craig, MT a few days ago – floating the MO river with a small group of valued friends.  It’s my annual spring trip, carefully planned for after the Orvis Rendezvous, this year held in Missoula.  Last year, I made the long trek to Casper and was awarded the 2011 Orvis Endorsed Fly Fishing Guide Of The Year.  This was a tremendous shift in my life; validation for hard work and dedication, but also a burden.  The only way to say this is to say it honestly – it’s human nature to strive to be better.  A cohort of mine at Orvis, Jody Frederick, who did a wonderful job managing the Rendezvous this year (as always Jody!) posted a quote on Facebook earlier today:

“Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” -William Faulkner

Getting out of your own way is a struggle sometimes.  And Jerry sings…“sometimes the lights are shining on me…”  It’s a timely quote as I left for the Rendezvous this year reflecting on what the last year was, who my friends are, what was important.  Most importantly, who I was and what I still wanted to do.  Fulfillment.

   As the sun went down over my home, and I traveled East towards Missoula, down roads filled with lyrics and lines, the sense of springtime enveloped me.  Towards the end of the road marking the way to the rest of the year; accelerating towards the river faster and faster, let’s get there.

Spring has come, and the river’s are rising.  Full of the debris from a long, cold winter.  As they rise, the trees pulled back to the ground from which they came become summer homes for the developing fish.  Habitat, created by the seasons.

Brokedown Mountain Palace.  To be continued.

 

 

East Meets West

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There’s a British film made in 1936, titled East Meets West in which the cast of characters play though a modern day plot line; the coveting of something you don’t have because of it’s strategic value or place.  The main character in the movie plays a powerful figure being courted by two larger, foreign powers vying for his homeland, who manages to get what he wants from both of them.  There are days, on the river, that we’re faced with the same challenges – the finicky feeding behavior of early-season fish, the weather, the transition of seasons.  When the signs of springtime are all around you, it’s easy to be lulled into a false feeling of hope.  Steelhead flies have been named after this feeling, this “Winter’s Hope.”

I had the opportunity to share my home water, the Yakima River, with Patrick Fulkrod, an Orvis Endorsed Guide from Virginia, and his friend Mark recently.  I’m the sole Orvis-Endorsed operation in Washington, so networking and fishing with other Orvis-Endorsed Guides doesn’t happen all that frequently.  There are 70 miles of special regulations, catch & release, wild fish water.

Representative of the species.

Native strains of the Westslope Cutthroat (Onchorhynchus clarkii lewisi) are more abundant in it’s upper reaches, while rainbow and other game fish species populate the water above Roza Dam, the terminus of the special regulations water.  Below Roza, the Yakima broadens and warms, offering Smallmouth Bass and other game fish.

Nice winter fish.

 

 It’s here where Patrick and I, while a continent apart in distance, are the most similar.  Our  guiding style and approach, whether it’s because of our affiliation with Orvis or because we’re just cut from the same cloth, is client-focused.  Understanding the relationship between the guide and client is paramount and makes the difference.

 We’re miles apart in terms of distance, but not in how we guide, how we fish, and the ingredients for a great day on the water.  Like a prospective client of Patrick’s, I knew what to expect ahead of time, and I learned a lot about his fishery, the issues affecting his guiding, and we shared our best practices on how to be better guides.

After Patrick returned to VA, he sent me an email along with some pictures, and had this to say about our shared day on the Yakima:

“Everyone at this point probably has Facebook. Having this said, we all know what it is to have people on a friend list whom you have never met in person. Derek was one of these guys on my Facebook list. I, like many other people have dedicated my share of minutes (maybe hours) admiring Derek’s reports and blogs. When I first found out that I would be traveling in Derek’s “neck of the woods” I immediately thought of the idea to plan a day and fish with Orvis’ 2011 Guide Of The Year.

 I brought along a friend from home, Mark.  Mark and I met Derek on the outskirts of Seattle for our trip. For our trip the weather predicted to be a bit “un-accommodating.” Having the opportunity to meet a long time Facebook friend was a delight. Derek and I are both fortunate enough to make a living doing what we like the best; and that’s fly fishing. The flow of guide jokes and gear raves were non-stop; as was the wind. The fact that our day wasn’t the most productive didn’t matter. Our day was more productive in our eyes for the simple fact that it was time on the water.”

Oh the W.

The antagonist in our day on the Yakima was the W; or outside the fly fishing community the “wind.”  I hesitate to say the whole word, for fear of encouraging the atmospheric conditions that pushes air with force up the rocky canyons and sweeping the sage-covered banks.  But, as a guide must do, we were prepared for the conditions and made the best of the day.  In the end, East and West both got what we wanted – shared time on the water in challenging conditions making us appreciate a stronger power, the W.  The wind blew from East to West, and North to South.  It blew us against the banks of the river.  But it couldn’t spoil a great day on the river.

The W wanted to get the best of us that day on the Yakima, but we turned the tables on it.  Two Orvis-Endorsed Fly Fishing Guides from opposite sides of the country, on one Western river, managed to connect with a few wild fish, on a wild, wild windy day.  Oops, I said it….

 

Adhoc Dharma

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It’s been an interesting week – the end of a guiding season is on the near horizon, and it feels like it’s been staying lighter later on the river – as if the Earth is leaning to keep it’s feet in the warm sun as long as possible.  6 pm the other night, the caddis started jumping around like the dog does when your keys jangle in the door.  Pepper, our black lab, hasn’t had that kind of energy for quite some time now, and after a bout of cancer this January, and the common issues 15 year old labs face, we had to make the painful but obvious decision to ease her pain.  A dog’s dharma – it’s sense of calling or duties if you’re subscribing to the Hindu thought – was really evident the last few months.  She wanted to please, even though it was very tough to do so.  It’s easy to anthropomorphize (sp?) for dogs, because I tend to think of canines as family, more so than other pets.  Maggie’s been acting up lately too, so I observe her actions as frustration and not knowing where Pepper is, and being scared if she’ll come back or not.  How do you explain that to a dog anyways…

Pepper's final rest.

I’ve met a few of you in person over the last week or so – floating down the Yakima River just past the confluence of the Teanaway, you called my name and it struck me by surprise – guess I’m recognizable but it feels strange to hear it on the water, passing by.  Thanks for reading my blog – hoping you’ll leave a comment about your day as well, it looked like you were with family, your dog(s), and fly fishing.  A perfect way to spend the day.  Pepper liked to float the river with us, and on her last trip to the Clark Fork in MT, I first started to see that these trips would soon end.  I’m thinking of spreading her ashes on the water, and we took a plaster mold of her foot print.  We also did this with our first dog, Sage (just cause it felt funny running after her yelling “Orvis get back here!”  If I mix their ashes in the one thing that brought us all together, the river and fly fishing, my wish is that every return visit will result in a shared memory – but there I go anthropomorphizing.

Steelhead have also been on my mind, lately.  I’ve got a trip planned to the Grande Ronde with the Orvis Endorsed Guide, Mac Huff, in November.  I’ve floated the GR before, although from Minam to Troy in the warmth of July.  This is lower and later, but Mac’s been posting some great photos lately and it looks like it’ll finally happen.

Wishful thinking.

 

Speaking of issues – this dog must have real issues.  Assuming the owners are the kind of people that get up before they’ve even been to sleep, listen to Norweigan Death Metal on the way to the river, and in general refer to themselves as “Steelheaders” they’ve created quite a monster, here.  A dog that goes by the name of fish that doesn’t even really exist.  Or at least it’s headed that way.  Pacific Coast fish contracting Atlantic Fish diseases via Chile and who knows else where.  Become aware of the issues associated with fish farming, and you’d wish you hadn’t – at least when I’m thinking like a wild fish, that’s what I lament.

If you look around, you’ll find an interview with Robert Hunter, who after watching “The Hounds Of The Baskervilles” with Jerry Garcia, wrote the lyrics to “Dire Wolf” which, and very simply condensed, speaks of the eventuality of Death. “When I awoke, the Dire Wolf.  Six hundred pounds of sin, was grinnin at my window.  All I said was “Come On In.”

 

Anyways, it’s been a while since I’ve sat down and had a chance to collect my thoughts.  Fall fishing has been really good, and the river’s ready for a winter sleep.  I think of the turning colors as a big, extended yawn and pulling on the blanket, getting ready for a good nap.  Thanks for reading, and if I react strangely the next time you see me on the river, it’s not you – it’s the idea that being recognized is humbling and scary at the same time.

Fall

 

 

 

 

Perhaps reflection is the problem.

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I took the new puppy out for a walk this afternoon, at the usual time, and for the usual reasons.  Maggie is a puppy full and full; can’t stop eating, pulling on the leash, biting the rug, and the occasional slip up when I happen not to be looking.  It’s the kind of thing I’ve come to expect, like having an infant in the house again.  I’ll sit down to something really important, like change the channel on Pandora from Ripple Radio to Reflection, which I’ve so named for songs I enjoy.  And as I sat down at 6:37 PM tonight, a song by that band with the prism on the album cover begins; the acoustic guitar opening of Wish You Were Here is like the sweetest kiss from this little puppy of mine.  So I start reflecting on a issue that’s been arcing across the ridges and valleys of my mind for a while now, it’s colors not so bright and cheery any longer; and I open an industry magazine from today’s mailbox reflecting on the state of the fly fishing industry.

In no uncertain terms, the editor of the magazine sizes up what he sees as the biggest problems right now.  I hear “Running over the same old ground what have you found? The same old fear” floating through the speakers and landing pretty heavy on the subject – and that’s fear.  Fear in the industry is becoming a reflection on the many problems it faces.  That some should benefit rather than others is the pointed-head, spiked tail evil spirit in the room.  Tradition, the “way it is” and so on.  “What about me?” the battle cry comes, louder and louder.

What ‘s driving this fear, and I’ll ask another question – how visible is it to the “never will be an angler” or the person who probably won’t read this blog but has a few friends who might, or has a parent who used to, or who may live near a fly shop and always walks by but never in-person out there?  If you read the same publication I got in the mail today, before you even reached the 10th page, you will have read opinions, statements, and indictments about “why” the problem exists, “what” fear looks like down to the laces of its boots, and even the more other important “W” in the equation – the “Who?” this evil is.  Another timely lyric drops in – “Oh some evil spirit, oh some evil this way comes.  They told me how to fear it now they’re placing it on their tongues” is pretty much right on target.

I had a business teacher in high school whose favorite phrase to say in most every occasion was “Jesus said, the love of money is the root of all evil”  (actually, it was Paul who said it according to the internet but I’ve never quoted the bible).   Evil looks like someone else who wants to try a different idea, who wants to take a different path, who sees an opportunity to solve a problem.  That dank, unlit alley is a long, winding path that courses through us all, accelerated with a heavy push on the gas pedal by other forces – motivation, expectation, tradition, selfishness.  During a discussion today in that dark alley, I shed light on it – “thank you, but that’s what I do, that piece of the pie is mine, so bugger off.”  When we’re on that path of fear, it may be easy to find treasure along the way in someone else’s chest, but should we be afraid of that?  Or should that make us examine it and respond to it.  It’s hard to answer for you, fine reader, but I’ll sum it up from my point of view – if you want a piece of my pie, I don’t fear you, I fear my response.  Will I take note, and change, or will I rely on the past?

And so, I suppose (or, I’m told as I stop reading) that my response should be to look within, only seek relief with those who may seek the same, and forgo all else.  But I can’t help but read a ember hot idea burning through the pages about “the way to keep your pie is to make sure people think it’s yours.”  For you see, fear lives in the margins, and those small margins is what we’re all afraid of.  That ever darkening path of fear is a narrowing slim margin and it’s the most valuable treasure in the industry.  And it’s the  hardest stone along the path to break; for to continue to exist in the margins, it’s not really about supporting the industry, it’s getting your piece of it.  And there’s not a single person in it that isn’t out for it.  Once we all agree that this fear is competition, and that our own response is our own response, we can finally call it what it is.  And once you name fear, it becomes a lot more familiar..that Paul guy was pretty smart after all.

I feel pretty good about my (slim) margins and how I walk down that path right now – how about you?

 

 

Chasing Blue Lines.

Featured

First off, apologies to my six faithful readers, who despite my absence in writing and updating this blog, keep coming back.  You must like what you see, and since you do, please know that there’s going to much, much more coming soon.  Keeping up with the pace of the world while managing a full-time guide business, being a father for two brilliant children, a husband for my wonderful wife, and now babysitter of a new puppy – well, there’s just lots of stuff to balance.  But – there’s light at the end of the tunnel.  A special thanks to Dave Carpenter, recently endorsed by Orvis in Oregon – Dave guides on the Santiam, which is literally in his backyard. He catches steelhead, trout, and salmon within sight of his kitchen and fly tying area.

What have I been up to?  Well, in a longer than I prefer winter/spring, there’s been a lot of travel.  Along the way, I picked up a nice piece of hardware from the good people at Orvis – I had to buy a new belt….

And when I returned home from a two week trip through the West, fishing MT, WY, and UT – my home water was blown due to rain and snowmelt.  What does that look like?

It looks like this.  Chocolate milk, mocha, mud – whatever you want to call  it, it ain’t clear.  But with the right fly and technique, there’s always a fish to catch.

 

 

 

 

Took the new puppy along, and she’s becoming quite the fishing dog.  Right at my feet, eating rocks, sleeping in the truck, etc.

So, as the title implies, it’s down to chasing blue lines where you can find them for some spring time fishing.  As most of the Western US has record snow packs this year, it’ll be a while.  But, I’ve heard the Kootenai fishes well at 20K, so perhaps a trip to visit Tim & Joanne at Linehan Outfitters is in order.  All the while, chasing little blue lines on the map…

Thanks for reading – there’ll be more soon.  Much more frequent than 5 months.

Derek

Truckin’

Gallery

This gallery contains 4 photos.

Imagine if Jerry and the rest of the band were thinking of how to organize all of the band equipment, the roadies, the whole traveling show that for nearly 30 years was the standard by which all road trips in … Continue reading

Guest Post by Bryan LaComa – “My Time Machine”

My Time Machine

A lot can be said about a man and his truck, especially a fisherman. Clean, dirty? Well kept, or dented and rusted like an old piece of farm equipment? Well, don’t judge a book by its cover, right?

Peer inside and you might just find something else in there that has some soul. It’s like discovering Nina Simone or Miles Davis while shopping at the mall. It’s shocking and slaps you in the face when it happens. A cold-hearted flush of the toilet while in the shower. Immediately, you realize your misjudgment and mistake. You see, any fisherman worth his salt will have a few stories to tell of his travels and adventures over the years and, just like his old truck, so too will his visor.

Recently, I sold my old Ford F-150 with just over 287,000 miles on it. As I was sitting there in the dealership’s sales office trying to not absorb the essence of sales dripping on my knee…I kept slipping in and out of the conversation reflecting on travels, adventures and days on rivers far and wide with that ol’ truck. It was like a real life scene out of Leave It To Beaver. Black and White movie clips playing in my mind of days gone by. I bought that truck when gas was somewhere around $1.20 a gallon. I had a tape deck back then for god’s sake. I thought nothing of driving to Missoula for a weekend. Fishing the Yakima after getting off work on a weeknight during the long days of summer. Secret locations in Central Idaho with 3 tons of gear loaded in and racking up an impressive 6-8 mpg while driving 13 hours straight, each way. No problem.

All of a sudden, as I saw my old friend disappearing from the lot, I realized I had forgotten something. Something important. A few some-things in fact. Flies and lots of them. I had 18 years worth of memories in the way of flies on my visor and they were driving off into the sunset right before my eyes. Now, I never ran track in my day but after this hurdling performance I sure fooled a few people. Somewhere between Mad Max and Prefontaine I was I tell you. It wasn’t pretty but it was effective. I had to be. You see….a lot was on the line (….pun intended). My unwritten deer-haired, marabou memoirs if you will.

• On that visor was my first steelhead on the fly. A wild 8 pound hen from the Deschutes on a Purple Peril. That cold, rainy Tom Wait’s of a November day provided many great memories…..chubby belly dancers, a Praying Mantis and learning the pride of just how loud music could be played in a truck.
• My first fly caught coho. A wild 15 pound, sea-liced buck from the Hoh on a cone headed Popsicle on New Years Eve. Who needs Dick Clark and champagne when you have Jack Daniels and a National Park right?
• My first 20” rainbow…..A gorgeous early March bow on a Yellow Stimulator on a split cane rod in 1987. Met Tim Irish as well as Red and Marlene Blankenship that day. Boy, did that ever change my life. I was hooked!
• My first beach caught salmon and first fish I caught on one of my own patterns I tied…….a nice 6 pound Humpy on a Clouser. The fish gods were kind that day and rewarded me 4 times.
• My first Westslope Cutthroat…..a red slashed beauty of 14” from Kelly Creek on a Para-Hopper. That day I also discovered Lucinda Williams and Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. I still can remember the billowing dust cloud in my rearview mirror and the icy cold beers as my old beast plowed down the road chasing the fading sunlight like it was time itself. Little did I know at the time, I was.

All in all there were well over 50 flies up there and I could tell you what each and everyone was from. Even though I still can’t remember to get the garbage and recycle out by 7:30 am on Monday mornings, I can still tell you what each day was like, who I was with, where we were at, what we drank, listened to and likely what we cooked for dinner that night. Friends, Presidents and Glaciers have come and gone since that first day I decided to stick a hook in that faded gray fabric. The trips might be decades old now in my brain but there, on that visor…..they were still real. Just as they were the day I put them up there.

So, as I sit here writing this while looking at a pile of flies I hastily removed from my old visor, I realize how thankful I am for the movement of barbless hooks or a few might not have made it out alive. I am also not sure what I am going to do with all these hackled memories now. They are shamelessly sitting in a paper bag that my “salesman” gave me. Maybe they will end up on a wall or stuck in a hat. After sticking my first fly in my new virgin visor though I realize that they all deserve better. So, I raise my glass and toast to you my old friend. 287,000 miles is a lot of road. It’s a lot of counties and states. It’s a heckuva lot of fish but most importantly…it’s a lot of great memories that I am truly, very thankful for. Now, let’s go fishing…..this new visor looks pretty empty.

Pockets with Zippers

Those long twisty roads, creating the lyrics of the journey with our stories, the chapters are the long miles whose characters speak in rhythm with the dull thumps of the blacktop where it’s sealed from the thrusting and shaking of the earth.  Their pasts split, like the fork in the road you don’t take because you want to know where the knife is, damn the fork.  Under it all, wheels turning and oil burning.

Then it arrived, spoken by a wise man years ago – “Never show a man upside down wearing pants, unless you’re selling pockets with zippers.”

We’d just fished the pocket water of the Grande Ronde, the slow deep pools with just the right sized boulders underneath, but not boulders in the sense of the round – the sharp edges of volcanic basalt wearing dull, and will eventually get there, but not in my lifetime.  This is a nice return to the river for me, having floated it a few years past thorough the Wild & Scenic stretch between Minam and Troy, Oregon.  To be told that we floated, camped, rollicked on the sandy beaches playing Barts, danced, and generally lived it up a year or so ago through some of the densest rattlesnake and scorpion country afterwords was unsettling but sent a jolt of adrenaline up my spine, just the same.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the words of Robert Allen Zimmerman..

Let me drink from the waters where the mountain streams flood
Let me smell of wildflowers flow free through my blood
Let me sleep in your meadows with the green grassy leaves
Let me walk down the highway with my brother in peace.
Let me die in my footsteps
Before I go down under the ground.”

Mortar & Pestle

I suppose we were there to catch fish of mythical proportions and legacy, but mostly it’s one of those trips were expectations were low despite our best intentions.  To be honest, these fish have traveled further than the ones where I live, and they are probably more trouty in behavior as a result of it.  A recent discussion about steelhead behavior, mostly centered around the “players” or the most aggressive fish a in a pool.  A corollary discussion about the behavior of resident trout and perhaps that the longer that sea-run fish hold in freshwater, their behaviors become more instinctual.  Warmth in a mother’s arms, the natal preference.  And honestly, I don’t fish to compete.  Never have.  Too much of that these days, and the human behavior it drives is counter productive.  Someone replied that if you don’t want to harm wild fish, that we should only fish the systems without wild fish in them.  Isn’t that convenient?  I don’t agree with the most popular and effective way to catch steelhead, because I think it’s the easy way out.  If we’re really going to be serious about sustainable fisheries, then we have to take hatchery fish out of the wild environment to even out the equation.  If the thrill of catching a concrete run fish is just the thrill, then why not build giant concrete pools with only hatchery fish in them, and just let ‘em at it.  Put them far, far away from wild systems, charge by the fish, pound, length – whatever the people say brings value from the experience to them.  I’m not elitist, but a realist.  The continued stocking of hatchery fish in wild fish environments is just bad (insert your favorite term here, like “science” or “ethics” or “human behavior”) and drives a wedge between anglers and the general public who just doesn’t understand the difference.

The quote then began to make sense to me.  The very essence of a pocket is easy access to things that are important enough to be close, but not so important that you have to lock them away.  A pocket with zippers is nothing but a bag.  Wild rivers and their inhabitants should be important enough that we don’t have to put zippers on them.  It’s our way of protecting something we don’t want to lose, when in fact it changes the very essence of what it was to begin with.  You lock up the future of a wild system when you put hatchery fish in it – in essence, a zipper seals it’s fate.

There’s a term used in flyfishing, in describing flowing water features – “pocket water” is water that when the conditions dictate, the smart angler looks there to find fish.  Most often, that’s low and slow water being the dominant features, and fish will seek out the “pockets” of water where higher concentrations of oxygen, and food, should be present.  And, the ability to poke that nose out and grab a few calories with little risk or energy spent just makes sense, to a fish.  Pretty simple.

The more I look at the picture I posted above, the more meaning I find in it.  I stepped out of the boat a few hundred yards above the water I eventually swung a fly through, walking down the cobbled bank.  I sat on a log in the middle of the riverbed, low now and needing rain, and just listened.

Giraffes in the wild.

It’s just a rock, just like the steel beams in the picture above are not giraffes.  But it symbolized something bigger and more real.  A call to nurture the river and its fish for what they are, not to turn it and the fish into something else.  It looks more like a growing egg, protected by something long enough that will eventually fade away.  I just snapped a picture of it, but my initial thought was that it would look great in my collection of other symbolic items – but then the realization is that by possessing it wouldn’t change what it was, only where it was.  So I left it be.

 

 

Fernielicous Part Deux, or The Mouse Is In The House.

Erik Hayes with a Westslope Cutthroat, caught on a mouse pattern.

One year later, and with the world a much different place, we headed North with a StreamTech Boats Green Drake in tow, for delivery to Woods Bay, MT.  Brenco finally pulled the trigger, and happily took delivery of a sweet boat with nice amenities.  Unexpectedly, we came into a demo boat from a fly shop in MT that needed a little TLC and what better way than to take it across the border and pursue big trout on dries, and aggressive pre-spawn Bull Char.  All things aligned for the good of all.

Fernie was as welcoming this year, but colder and the Elk was running lower.  Fall is already in the air, the black bear already making appearances in town, prepping for winter.  We’re told that there are more than 100 RCMP in town for a conference, so instantly the flashbacks to last year http://flyfishtheyakima.com/2010/09/08/fernielicious-with-a-twist/ didn’t feel as ominous.  Well, at least this time it would be bears, not meth heads, but where did the chocolate-covered raisins go…

 

Mousin'......

 

Day one was uneventful; a late afternoon float throwing big dry flies, a copious Fall caddis event which the YakCaddis came in handy for, Chubby’s, streamers of all sizes – it all worked.  The only reason to change flies was just to see what wouldn’t work – it’s that good of a fishery.  A few small Bulls come to hand, but nothing like what we’re expecting.  Dark came quickly, and we high tailed into town.  There were four of us, but like the Three Wise Men we were drawn to Fernie to find no rooms for the weary.  Apparently the economy in Canada is much stronger than in the US, as there were plenty of workers in town occupying every available room – but for one.  Kyle from WI makes the call and finds a kitchenette not far from where we stayed last year, and we settle in.  I’m pretty sure everyone snores, although I’m the only one called out for it – and Brenco’s dog licks himself all night.  Insert your dog jokes here, but damn son give it a rest.

 

Day two and we’re floating a different stretch this year – no improvement in launch facilities, so I’m still left to wonder where exactly the $20/day that tacked onto the “special waters” permits goes.  We’re met by several other boats, so the locals are onto something and we’re in on it too.  Big pools are accessed by football (US, not Canadian) sized runs that run shallow and are no match for the Green Drakes.  These boats pull very little water, don’t bang around like glass or wood boats, and even when portages were necessary, at 165 pounds (what’s that in Canadian?) very easy to move around.  We don’t draw the attention of many fish to start – it’s earlier in the day, colder, and overcast.  We mutter that it’s an olive day, but that would take all the fun out of throwing chunky foam dries.  So, I dig deep into the box and out comes the Mouse.  I tied the pattern above earlier this year, and have only fished it on the Yakima once.  I got a few followers, so in the face of adversity (meaning, each cast didn’t move a fish) I suggest we go rodent to get their attention.  And it worked.

Rodents.

 

Sunlight, through your tail, makes me happy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day Three is the day of the Bull.  The big fish aren’t showing themselves so it’s back down to the lower stretches of the river, and a quick stop at one of the many fly shops there in town.  Where’s the 2/0 bunnies, please?  Depth charge line, the 7wt lined up for the battle and it stood to be a good one.  We don’t leave this system without big Bulls, and it’s down to the last day.

Three Wise Men or The Four Horsemen?

Fishing with even your best friends after three days can be challenging – the bottle of whiskey is running low, the Pabst is warm, and there’s a nervousness among us.  Whose going to boat it?  The jockeying intensifies, with normal decorum taking a break as we drift down further, light fading..

We wonder if there is a curse.  While casting mouse patterns, Hayes witnesses a large cutthroat take this fly right off the line without even a ripple – staring back at me, as if to rewind time, the silence of the bank robber sends a chill down our spines – the mouse pattern that’s been so effective is now gone – I only tied one.  Hayes doesn’t give up easily, so we wait a minute on anchor – and the mouse appears.  Popping out of the water a few yards downstream, I quickly unseat us from the cobbled river bottom and the chase is on.  Recovery comes quick, and without hesistation he ties it back on.  Five minutes later, we veer left at a shallow braided fork in the river – we’ve not floated this side yet, and with Brenco and Kyle ahead of us, may have just pulled a coup.

 

We're headed left.

And then it happens again.  Only this time, a strong cutty makes a strong shake of its head, and the mouse is gone.  We watch in horror as it swims away.  Wait, did I tie another one?  There’s another mouse in the house, only this one is tied a bit differently and doesn’t sit as nicely.  Remember the tail in the first photo?  That made Mouse #1 swim so lifelike that we narrated each cast – “it’s just me, little ol’ field mouse walking down the log towards the river for a sip – oops, I’ve fallen in and need to swim away from these big fish so that I don’t get GULPED.”  Brenco and Kyle have witnessed us take two large cutts on the mouse, and can’t believe it.  Mouse #2 doesn’t have the mojo, and it becomes apparent that perhaps we are cursed – Hayes casts it into a log jam and we’re done.

Switching from oarsman to caster, I take the front seat and try a Chubby Chernobyl – it’s worked already, it’s easy to see, and at this point, hoping it’s a curse buster.  “There’s a nice undercut over there, Hayes – put me on it” I ask and make haste with casting.  Then, the curse rears itself again.  I’ve hooked a bird in the leg, and it’s making havoc with my line.  Diving and yelling like mad, it’s trying to drown itself it seems as I pull it closer towards me.  We are cursed, indeed.  It’s quick but messy, bloody work but the bird comes free, flying off into the trees.  I’ve taken the rod down, and stored it away.  We consider the events of the last 30 minutes, break for lunch, and as the wind picks up, make for the takeout.  Half of the float remains, we’ve hit a rough patch, but press on.

It’s time to change strategy and tactics – the big bulls will come with time we say, and float over gin clear water from deep pool to deep pool.  There’s less jockeying for position now, as deep holes become treasure troves that require time.  Fish it all the way, from top to bottom, they’re in there.

And then the curse is broken.  Kyle and Eric are 40 yards downstream, at the tailout of the last big pool with any promise.  I can see Kyle’s fly rod bent towards the water and he’s shouting about a bull char.  I’ve cast 60 feet to my left, behind a car-sized boulder, and let it sink.  Then a strong pull, and a flash at a big Bull.  It took three days, but within 10 seconds of each other, we’ve each hooked a fish and the work begins.

Elk River Bull Char.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to fish these great waters with great friends, and this year’s trip is a welcome change from last years.  Concerns about locals removing the air from your tires, wondering if vandals will strike again (I didn’t bring the bag of chocolate-covered raisins to appease them) go away quickly as the riches of the experience overcome the worry.  A curse that is broken.

“Blue light rain, whoa unbroken chain,
Looking for familiar faces in an empty window pane.

Listening for the secret, searching for the sound
But I could only hear the preacher and the baying of his hounds.

Willow sky, whoa, I walk and wonder why,
They say love your brother, but you will catch it when you try.”  -Robert Peterson and Phil Lesh

Sounding

I’m outside my comfort level, with unfamiliar gear that strangely enough, when asked, I step right in and work; downriggers, cut-bait, depth finders.

It’s comfortable on the water, a break from the oars in exchange for the salty air and seagulls.

I celebrate a good friends coming birthday with time on the water. Soon, we’ll be back in shallower freshwater, casting flies and far removed from the deep Sound.

White Russian

Right outside this lazy summer home
You aint got time to call your soul a critic no.
Right outside the lazy gate of winters summer home,
Wondrin where the nut-thatch winters,
Wings a mile long just carried the bird away. “Eyes Of The World” – Robert Hunter

Ask for a mixed drink anywhere you go, and it’s likely not going to be exactly the same as the last one you had at that other place – local flavor, or the attitude of the slinger that day, or perhaps you’re bringing something to the bar that flavors your drink in a more esoteric way.  Either way, it’s the first day of September, and as it happens the sun rose this morning in such a different way as to slightly touch the corner of my roof – perched for the morning soak, Eyes breezes through the speakers and it comes to me – the Sun is lower in the sky, and the warmth extends itself in a different way as well.  As we get closer to Fall, the day is now measured by how much the water warms and brings to life the river.  Technique changes, and it’s less noisy in the coming months too.  Orange and yellow begin to slowly influence the palate of the day, soon to dominate the green, then surrendering to the gray and white and winter’s blanket of snow.

 

I’m looking forward to Winter this year, not just for the change in season but for it to be deservedly quiet; the noise of summer has worn it’s welcome.  It makes you wonder if it’s just as awkward for nature to change seasons – putting on a pair of pants the other day, it felt like it was too early.  “What is this fabric from my knees to my ankles?” my calves seem to ask, and I can only acknowledge and then wonder just where the cold-weather dry bag is – the wool socks, down jackets, fleece hats.  Shuddering at the cold I know I’ll feel soon I quickly move to the shorts drawer and give that pair of shorts one more chance.  The long-sleeved shirts, however, are moving to the top drawer.

 

I’m stuck in a particular eddy, around how fly fisherman interact with our cold water resources, and how we leave it.  I took a nice drive up the river road yesterday, and it was too easy – and I feared, what have I missed?  Did my comments mean nothing, do the voices of those who love this river sink below the weight of vox populi – make wilderness easy by paving the way.  A few shaker potholes, the smaller waves in the gravel that kick rocks off the side, the occasional “ting” on the fenders sound like seconds on the clock.  I smile and reflect on the lack of garbage however, but I fear that this new layer of crushed stone simply covered what was there, sweeping it under the quartz carpet.  20 minutes later I’m at the trailhead, Maggie’s running around anxiously to get to the water and I’ve got to slow her down.  Sling pack, rod and reel, water, bushy dries, and we’re off.  Rain, but my hoodie will do just fine.  Hope the fine folks from that insurance company up here aren’t filming – “Sandals, Shorts, and Hoodie Guy, you’re one of us.”  Oh well. The first casts come tight on wild fish, with more chasing the one I fooled to see just what’s going on.  Release, cast, release..

 

For the secrets this river gave up yesterday and those it’s still keeping today, this is why I return here.  The intoxicating mix of stone, water, trees; the quiet conversation that Nature holds internally, flaring in colors both bright and dull – the deeper emerald pools holding the coldest memories of winter as a reminder.  It’s a mixed drink; swirling around in the glass, it’s inviting and the ingredients go well together.  I bellied up to the bar yesterday and ordered a drink that quenched a fading summer’s thirst.