Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Started to think it would never happen...

First year with the spey rod
Like most people who fish, I began my time on the water gear fishing for whatever was in the lake that day as a kid or trolling the Hood Canal for whatever we could find. I fly fished on and off growing up, but still very little. It's only been in the last couple of years that I really began to take fly fishing seriously and develop a serious addiction to the sport. After the first 15 minutes of casting my new two-handed fly rod and also after whapping myself in the back of the head several times, I caught my first fish on the Spey rod. It was a 13” shiny little Dolly Varden in October on the Skykomish river. I thought to myself “this is going to be easy if I'm catching fish already.” Little did I know…
Now, I can't even count all the holes in my jackets from learning how to cast or how many flies I lost because I had no idea what a T-17 was. I even snapped off an expensive shooting head one time because of that heavy sink tip. The learning curve has been massive. After a least one day nearly every weekend for the past two years, gallons and gallons of gas, several long road trips to different rivers, watching Skagit Master 1 multiple times, watching Skagit Master 2 multiple times, and then reading from front to back a book written by the great Dec Hogan, I finally am now feeling at ease with my spey rod in hand.  It's only within the last year or so that I've felt confident casting in most situations and conditions and have actually started to see results.
First Swung up Salmon
This past fall I hooked my first salmon on a swung fly on the Skykomish river. Throughout the last couple of years, I have swung flies and hooked up on several Dolly Vardens,  some Chum salmon, multiple Rainbows, and a whole grip of cutties. All are great fish and all have brought me great satisfaction, but in the end it boils down to my personal vendetta for those chrome ghosts.
 This past weekend on the Sky we hiked in to a spot on the river where I knew there should be some fish (since we caught one there two days before on the meat sticks). After a couple casts with my gear rod (aka meat stick) I became bored and decided to go back to the spey rod and walk down river a ways. Wind howling, I had to adjust my casts to figure out how to get some line out without creating a rats nest in mid flight. Second or third cast up just from the tail out, mid swing, there was a weird “nudge” on my line, half a second later, SMASH!! Lifted my rod and there she was! Three acrobatic spin jumps, and she swam right at me full speed. THIS is why they tell you get a large arbor reel for steelhead fishing. Reeling in at full speed I was terrified that she may have spit the white and orange barbless intruder, but then I caught up to her. Got her to shore and that was it. Two years of practice for 2 minutes of enjoyment. Bonk! Off to the grill, it was a nice 6 or 7 lb chrome bright hatchery female. Never been so happy about a dang hatchery brat.
You always hear about the “grab” and that moment was something that will be hard to forget. I have caught fish many different ways, but none as satisfying as this. It was a swing I will never forget, and I will never be able to pass through that run on the Skykomish river without swinging my fly through its entirety with anxious anticipation of another "grab".
For the last couple years I have been severely addicted to fly fishing. This did not help…. 


Friday, November 28, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving - Raging River

Remember summer when the river was flowing at 700 CFS? It's now the end of November and things have chaned. Went out exploring today...

Big Eddy Boat Lanch

Big Eddy Boat Launch

Big Eddy Boat Launch

Across Sultan river from Boat Launch

HWY 2 Sulatan River Bridge

Monroe Bridge

Al Borlin Park Monroe

Al Borlin Park Monroe

Downtown Sultan

Downtown Sultan

Downtown Sultan

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Weekend Report - Skykomish River

If there are pumpkins and corn stalks on the porches around the Pacific Northwest, there is probably pumpkins and corn stalks floating down the flooding rivers along with driftwood and muddy water. This time of year the river flows can be a real roller coaster ride. Many rivers are blown and take some time to recover. Luckily, the Skykomish River seems to be one the quickest rivers to recover from these rains.

We have been lucky enough to have the rains hitting us just right. Typhoons and blown out rivers in the middle of the week make it a little easier to go to work and pretend to do our real jobs. These mid-week rains have been easing up come Thursday or Friday and the rivers start dropping back into shape by weekend. Hopefully this trend will continue.

The Skykomish River seems to fish best under 7000 CFS this time of year. Eventually normal winter flows will set in and should be flowing around 4000 CFS or so. We were lucky enough to hit it last Saturday at about 6700 CFS as we were launching the boat underneath the bridge in Sultan. To start the day there was about 16” – 18” of visibility with the river clearing up much more throughout the day.

Skykomish Coho #1
With our shuttle now parked at Ben Howard, we started the float from Sultan. The first mile or two of the float was pretty uneventful. After about two miles of a quiet river float, we finally saw some signs of fish splashing along the shore.  First cast into a little side hole, fish on. Pulled the boat over just down river and we managed to net the first silver of the day. Couple casts later back up river into the same hole, Coho number two on!! Several more casts, a couple pieces of pizza, a couple pictures, a couple Bud Lights, and we were back on our way down the river.
Skykomish Coho #2
The nice thing about getting a couple of fish in the boat within a matter of minutes, is that the rest of the day instantly becomes easier when you aren’t stressed about the lack of fish.  We then floated for a couple more miles further down river, with little to no signs of fish. We stopped at a couple of the normal runs to swing flies and see if there was any chance at all for a late summer or early winter steel unicorn… but of course, no such luck.

Alas, just up river from the “Afternoon Hole” above the Ben Howard boat launch we spotted multiple splashes in the frog water along the shore. It was game on again. With the boat parked up river and a short walk down, it took only two or three casts before it was fish on again!! This time it was a large green dinosaur. The chums have arrived, it must be November. We snapped some pictures and put her back in the river to swim another day. One more fish was hooked but not landed before the river became quiet again. And as quick as that school of chumleys came, they were gone.

Skykomish Chums
The passing school of chums has gotten me excited to be on the river in November as chums are strong, willing to bite, and put up a great battle. November on the Skykomish River is a great time. Cohos, chums, and maybe, just maybe, there will be a steelface milling around in the Sky’s fall waters.  The greatest thing I learned on this trip is to keep a close eye out for signs of fish this time of year who might be swimming tight along the shore lines. If they are there, they will likely let you know. Even with muddy water with little to no visibility, you can still find fish. As long as you can hit your days right and avoid the floods this is a great time to be out.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Is it Fall Already?

Fall time in the Pacific Northwest normally consist of rain storms, blown out rivers, and fantasy football. It is also about filling the freezer with salmon. It is now mid October and we are just starting to feel the effects of fall. It has been dry and the rivers have been running low and clear. The past few years have seen solid runs of coho salmon staging themselves in the Puget Sound waiting for the first rains and an opportunity to make their journey up stream. And the rains have been late.
Fall Coho
This fall has been dry, rain is just beginning, but the salmon have been making their way up river. We have hit the Skykomish river several times and had the holes all to ourselves. This is a rarity out there. Low river flows below 1000 CFS have scared people away and kept the jet boats away from the Sultan and Monroe boat launches. It was so low it kept most drift boats away as well. We have made the float from Sultan Monroe several times, and have also fished from shore around the Sultan area and have managed a couple fish.
Salmon season is a great time to learn the ropes of fly fishing. A common term is “lock jaw” but these fish are willing to take a fly in the rivers. Fishing early morning hours is a must and lockjaw does seem to happen when the sun gets high in the sky. Pink and Purple bunny strip egg sucking leaches will catch just about everything that swims in a river, including Coho. You can swing them with a spey rod, dead drift under and indicator, or slow strips near the bottom with these ESL's. Small twitchy strips in a slow swing on the spey rod with a fast sinking poly leader and 3 ft of mono seemed to work well. Any fish on a spey rod is fun, and you can find Coho, Bull Trout, Sea Run Cutthroat and whatever else is swimming around this way. The best part about fall is that all these fish are there!

There's something about fishing rivers that I love much more than any other body of water, but if it doesn’t rain, it doesn’t rain. So the smart move is to hit the salt water. We had an opportunity to roll over to the Hood Canal and cast for more silvers. We hit one first thing in the morning  chucking gear, and a couple sea run cutties on the fly but that was the end of the action.
This rain should push fish up the river (and fisherman) and we should start seeing some  chums roll in as well which are always a fun battle. Fall is one of the best times of the year in the PNW. It is much more fun to fish when the river is full of action and splashing fish with the orange trees in the background.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Learning on the Lake.

It’s been a few months now since I hauled the new (new to me at least) drift boat across the Cascades and parked it in the garage to start as a new project. It still has a long ways to go, but after getting it all painted and put back together, I have been itching to get it on the water. With the rivers closed and my extreme lack of rowing experience, getting it out on the lake seemed like my only option.

Growing up, fishing on lakes was the norm. I learned how to fish by spending time on lakes with my family. But since I have dedicated 99% of my time on the water to fly fishing, I have been forced to relearn lake fishing tactics. Aside from dragging wooly buggers around the lake, I feel like a newbie. How am I supposed to cast 17’ of leader with two flies and a bobber attached to it? What heck is a blood worm?

The last few trips have been to a local lake near Snohomish called Panther Lake. It is one of the “three lakes” here in the area. It is a relatively small lake with a decent supply of stock rainbows, bass, and perch. Rainbow trout have been the target as of late and we have managed to hook a few on wooly buggers in about 20 feet of water or so. This is where the long leaders and a chunk of split shot come handy. It’s not the most exciting tactic, but trolling these wooly buggers deep and slow has been most effective.

Even though at times it may seem that time spent on the lake is not as “serious” as a day spent fishing hard on the river in the snow, this has been a great learning experience. I’ve learned the basics of rowing my drift boat, granted moving water is much different, but when it comes to learning how the boat operates, this has been huge. I’ve learned that a roll cast and letting the boat drift is about the only way to get that 17’ leader out there. I’ve learned that “if it ain't broke don’t fix it”, that a wooly bugger is still about the best tactic out there to catch fish. I’ve learned that I have fat fingers and that tying size 14 chronomids is much different than tying intruders on articulated shanks. I’ve learned that I have a lot to learn, and any time on the water no matter what you are doing is valuable.  


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Occupy Skagit - 2014

Last year there was a movement that started on the banks of the Skagit River. Hundreds of steelhead obsessed fisherman put on their waders, dusted off the fly rods they weren’t allowed to use, and made signs to speak their voice to reopen the catch and release fishing season on the Skagit River. This is a group of knowledgeable and experienced steelhead anglers who have put in the time and research to get this movement started. The likes of Dec Hogan and Bob Triggs were there last year and ESPN even pulled their little red tug boat up to the launch to cause a scene. It’s happening again. March 29, 2014 9:00 a.m. at Howard Miller Steelhead Park on the banks of the Skagit. Below is an excerpt from forum written by member _WW_ who has been spear heading this movement:

"Occupy Skagit 2014

Last April we gathered at Howard Miller Steelhead Park in Rockport to show support for changing the management paradigm for wild Skagit Steelhead. Currently, all of Puget Sound Steelhead are considered by the ESA as one Distinct Population Segment (DPS) and as such are listed by them as threatened to become an endangered species.

The decision can be read here:

The decision covers all of Puget Sound from the Elwah to the Canadian border, every piece of fresh water between these two points that dumps into the sound is affected by this listing. The health of each individual run is not considered on its own merit, but instead the entire area's steelhead are tainted with the aura of “nearing extinction”. While this may be true of many streams affected by the listing it is not true for all of them – the Skagit in particular continues to return healthy escapement numbers. These numbers can be seen to be fluctuating up and down in what many consider to be it's carrying capacity zone.

Scientists can argue over the numbers, their validity and what they mean but here they are in ten year increments:
1978 – 5,757 (the first year that I can find for WDFW escapement numbers)
1983 - 7,732
1993 - 6,900
2003 - 6,818
2013 – 8,800

The goal of Occupy Skagit is to restore the Catch and Release Steelhead season on the Skagit that used to run for Feb 1 – April 30.

In order for this season to be granted by NOAA and NMFS a basin specific Steelhead Management Plan agreed upon by all parties, WDFW and Tribes, needs to be submitted and approved.

Is it possible?
It was done for Chinook (almost instantaneously I might add) and it can certainly be done for Steelhead.

The event last April garnered the notice that it was intended to. Believe it or not, we were actually recognized and discussed in the halls of bureaucracy. The wheel is starting to turn, but it has yet to gather it's own momentum. It needs another push!

There are two events scheduled with the meeting in Olympia being the single most important thing you could attend. Rockport is fun, but the real deal is in Olympia.

Occupy Skagit - March 29th
Howard Miller Steelhead Park in Rockport

Occupy Skagit Commissioners Meeting - April 12th 8:30 am
Natural Resources Building
1111 Washington St SE, Olympia, WA - First Floor, Room 172"


The numbers are there. The Skagit is healthy. We need to look at our rivers on an individual basis. Opening the Skagit to catch and release would also take away some of the overwhelming pressure that is happening out on the Olympic Peninsula. I am not a biologist, but it seems like more good than bad would come from the opening of a catch and release season on the Skagit River. One might think that opening up a river to fishing would just cause harm to it. There are mortality rates involved with a catch and release fishing season, but not enough to affect the run. It didn’t when the season was open. This is a legitimate concern in a river system that is in danger. But the Skagit has healthy returns of wild steelhead.

The Hoh River is a beautiful place and is steelheader’s paradise (or is it). However, it often fails to meet wild steelhead escapement goals. Even though the goals are missed, the season continues through April AND you’re allowed to keep a wild fish!! The Skagit has been above escapement and we are not even allowed to swing single hook barbless fly. The logic seems flawed. Let’s Occupy Skagit so we can experience a catch and release fishing season in 2015.
OCCUPY SKAGIT 2013 photo by Sozinho Imagery

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Puget Sound Sea Run Cutthroat

The past few years, late February through the end of May has turned into sea run cutthroat fishing season for me. This is the part of the year when all of our local rivers here in the Snohomish/King/Whatcom county area are closed to fishing through the Endangered Species Act. Though other times of the year may offer some better sea run cutthroat fishing, this is still a very fun and easy alternative to swinging flies for steelhead. Steelhead fishing is in full swing other places, but it is just not feasible to travel somewhere every weekend to chase steel, when within 20 minutes of my couch I can be standing on several different beaches.

Sea run fishing in the Puget Sound offers easy access, great scenery, and is a fun rapidly growing fishery. The south end of Puget Sound offers some of the better beaches in the area, but the north sound offers some good beaches as well. Places like Picnic Point, Lund’s Gulch, and Mukilteo waterfront offer very easy access to cutties. Just watch your back cast, as there are often beach combing families walking these beaches, and many of them will be curious as to what you are doing and are oblivious to the fact that fly fishing requires a little space.

Sea run cutthroat will feed on whatever and whenever something is available, they are opportunistic feeders. When the water is moving, more things to eat are swirled around; hence you should fish moving tides. When tides are slack, food is not moving, so sit on the beach and drink a beer during slack tide. Big tide swings will offer the best fishing. Just like rivers, look for seams, where slower water meets faster water, this where the fish will find food. Bait fish patterns, shrimp, spiders, and poppers should be the go to flies. Most likely in the 4 – 6 size range.

When it comes to gear, I have invested next to nothing on sea run specific gear. I have an old brandless reel I found in a box at a garage sale for $2 and a cheap 6 wt. rod. No need to get fancy, spend your money on gas to get to the beach to practice your casting rather than fancy gear. Many beach anglers will use a stripping basket, but I don’t use one and haven’t really seen the need for one. Weather conditions in the Pacific Northwest this time of year feed the stereotype, it rains a lot. Be prepared for windy and rainy days. The wind can often pose a challenge on the beach. If you can, try to make to wind work in your favor. I spent a windy morning at Picnic Point yesterday, but was able start at one end of the beach and use the wind gusts to propel my casts and work my way down the beach around the point.

There is not a ton of information on sea run cutthroat in the Puget Sound. There are groups working to learn more about these fish, and to get some sort of idea as to how many fish there are out there. This is a catch and release only, open year round salt water fishery. This is an awesome fishery that is growing in popularity. It’s an easy way to break into fly fishing since there is not much required other than a rod and a few flies. So head to the beach and enjoy.