Saturday, January 31, 2009

One Fine Afternoon~a Bright Day with Even Brighter Fish

It was another upper AR mission.

I again, fished with 'Old Man Wilson' who really, despite his age of 69 years, is anything but old...

He wakes ME up in the morning, almost always gets to the river first and moves up and down the bank like a phantom on a steroid-infused ghost chase.

He is the real deal as his license plate; ANGLER1 suggests.

Ted doesn't fish to relax. He fishes to hook big, hungry steelhead.

When he totes his custom-wrapped Loomis spin rig and vest bulging at the pockets with the finest steelhead candy (borax/jello-cured roe) in the west... he is on a serious mission.

He keeps it simple at the terminal end of his line with nothing but lead and hook... yet he never leaves home without his spool of orange thread. He lives and dies by the 'thread-wrapped berry' which he quickly but carefully forms like a spider meticulously spinning her victim in a tomb of silk.

A dip in the water, three wraps above the bait, several soft 'cacoon-wraps' around the eggs, finished off by a few more wraps to the hook above. The final result is a delectable, tempting berry fluffy and oozing, draped over a #6 Gamakatsu red octopus. Any steelheader knows this to be a superior, fine-wire hook and not a blushing, Japanese cephalopod...

Reel, drop... reel, drop... reel, drop...

Got to keep that morsel moving. The river is low and lacks enough flow to move the bait around the river bed properly. Besides... in a straight line drift changing the vertical plane the bait travels through can only increase the odds of a fish finding it.

And finally, Ted doesn't want the small fish, the dark fish, the lazy fish nor 'the slink' as he refers to a spawning steelhead... he wants the kind of fish we all want... the rogue, monster chromer that can't help but chase and rip into anything in its path worthy of parting its big rubber lips...

He works his spoons in similar fashion = FASTER than what the books or the experts or the die hard spoon guys tell you. Wobble: schmobble, flutter: klutter, thump: crump, slow: schmoe... "I'm not interested in that slow drift shit you and Ray like... I'm lookin for that aggressive bastard... that mean motherfucker that's on a mission... Throw it out, three cranks and KER-FUCKIN-POW!!"

Yes, we all agree that Ted fishes his spoons all wrong and yet... he catches monsters casting and retrieving his spoons the 'wrong' way.

The last day worthy of discussion was a sunny Thursday. Fishing had been tough. Fewer fish in the river and yet, 100X the amount of idiots fishing for 'em. The nice, out of the way run that we'd been fishing since mid-October... seemed to have all but dried up. Complicating matters was that every Tom, Dick and Harry (mostly 'Dicks') had found our lil secret spot and within a week there were 100 lines, along with corkies, spin n glows, beads, shark-hooks and enough lead to sink the Lusitania... in all lanes of our once-clean drifts...

Ted was talking in his usual cheery demeanor... about how there wasn't a fish within 10 miles of us... and that the run was over and something about a waste of time and roe...

His pessimism was sharply interrupted by a fish who obviously had not been listening to his negative banter... "There it is!" "She grabbed that roe so hard she damn near yanked the rod out of my hand." He said something about it feeling like a small fish.

I reminded him that the weather and water were cold and that he might just be surprised.

Indeed, we were both surprised as the fish who found her spirit at the end of the tussle, took 12 minutes and a 50 yard dash downstream to finally land.

I suspected before I snapped the photos that she'd be sportin' a sail for a dorsal and a flag of flesh in front of her tail. Ted always seems to hook bucks or wild hens when he's down on his roe and most needs to bonk a hatchery hen.

After the exhilaration of the fight, and the frustration of yet "another fucking fish with an adipose fin" left his blood, and nerves...

...his face glowed and beamed a smile as he revived and released the girl back to her underwater world.

We returned to our patch of cobbles below the flower bush doubting but hoping that there may actually be more than one fish in the run. I snipped the spoon from my line and rigged up with a small chunk of steelhead roe. 3/4 into my drift I feel a line snag and as I raise my rod tip to pull out of it, 'the snag' starts shaking its head at my rod tip. I quickly changed my attitude and set the hook, FISH ON!

I knew it was a good one after the first run and though it wasn't quite as big as Ted's fish, mine lacked and adipose fin and had a belly distended with sacks of roe.

I landed and dispatched the cookie-cutter 8# hatchery chromer.

As Ted would say... we were shittin' in tall cotton...

Unfortunately, the cotton wasn't tall enough because a fly guy from across the river saw what transpired and so we figured on unwanted company in the days to come...

It didn't take long for Ted to hook a second fish and as usual... it was bigger and brighter than mine...

...a mint, hatchery hen in the 9-10# class.

With a limit of 1 each in pretty short order we had nixed our chances of great day of fishing and settled instead for a good day of fishing. We both kick ourselves for not releasing at least one of those hens so we could know how many fish were in the run... but quality fish had been hard to come by and each of our roe reserves were next to none so we planned our 'escape route'.

Most of the guys on the river make a big production out of their hookups... whooping and hollering... bellowing out, "FISH ON BABY" so all the world knows they're on a fish. Ted has taught me to do the opposite... to celebrate on the inside and not announce an invitation which ultimately leads to a crowd of idiots in your favorite spot of river...

We placed our fish in garbage bags and took the high and silent road out of the area. The action began at 1330 hours and we were off the water by 1415 hours.

I called Benny to fill him in on the action. Ted and I agreed to hang out and give him some roe so we went and had a Starbucks coffee and waited for Benny's mad dash from work.

We met up and went back down to the glory hole but as it usually goes... the fish had moved onward. It wasn't a total loss though as Benny did manage to hook and land a nice little buckaroo.

Since that day, I've fished more times than I care to count... and though I've hooked and landed a few steelies... the skunks have been way too frequent.

I'll try and get caught up with the entries here but time is short and fishing takes precedence over writing about it...

Tomorrow, I hope to tangle with a fat dime of a hen while (with any luck) the rest of middle America sells its soul to the NFL and the NBC.


Saturday, January 10, 2009


Now, I'm not one of those arrogant bastard hot shots who likes to rub people the wrong way.

Nor am I one of those pretentious assholes who tears up the river with a fish and screams out, "FISH ON! IT'S A CHROMER!! YAH STEELHEAD BA-BEEEEEEEEEY!!!" so that every guy on the river and even the bag ladies in the adjacent neighborhood turn and look at me fighting my fish.

BUT I do tend to get a bit angry and vengeful when someone acts in a less than respectful way on the river...

It was the first rainy, cold day after the opener and I got down to the river in no big hurry.

A few friends of mine were drifting roe or indicator nymphing on our side of the river. Few, if any fish had been caught all morning. I came down with only my heavy gear box. the one stuffed with $300 worth of spoons.

I walked up and down with a copper 2/5 oz. I often do well with copper on rainy days...

An hour went by and the masses started showing up on the opposite bank. A guide and his client slipped in to the line with Hyde drift boat in tow. They pulled up, got out and commenced to swinging bugs with spey rods.

I walked up to the faster water above the run in part to get away from the developing crowds and in part to put my spoon in some new water. I was casting across the river between the edge of the riffle and some slack water on a small shelf extension below an upstream island. It didn't take long before a young steelie found my polished silver spoon. The small fish put on quite a show for the guys on the opposite bank as it jumped and splashed the water out in front of them.

I walked down quickly to get the fish landed and free up the water.

After a couple fast photos and release, I made my way back up in to the slot and wouldn't you know... my slot wasn't MY slot anymore because the drift boat guide moved to within 3 ft. from where I'd hooked the fish.

I laughed, told myself a 'fly-fishing/guide joke' and moved back down river.

In my new spot, I was positioned exactly between the guide and his client. I couldn't cast to the opposite bank now and work the seam water. I mean I COULD but ethically speaking... I wouldn't because I'd be fishing on top of the fly guys or in their swing so I decided to put on one of the heavy STEE-LEE spoons and work the fast water closer to the middle.

I saddled up the 'vintage, brass fatty' with bright, roe-colored swashes on the sides and rolled it out there. I timed it so the drop wouldn't interfere with the guide's swing nor with his client's cast. One cast and only a few seconds later... a lil' chrome bullet hit the skies with a #2 sickle-siwash impaled in his upper lip.

Now, I'm not a spiteful S.O.B. but I was almost as happy to hook and fight that fish as I was to watch the dumbfounded look on said guide's face when it jumped and damn near splashed water on said client's fly rod...

It was cool to get one on a wobbler-type spoon which isn't my usual preference... sometimes you just got to show the fish something new or something very old that just looks like new. Jason was kind enough to snap a couple closeups of the old-skool Stee-Lee in the Steelie's palate before I sent him back.

The rain let up a little and the fly fishermen came out of the woodwork. Spey rods. fly rods, indicators, thingamabobs, floating lines, sink tips, nymphs, egg patterns, Simms waders, vests and other very fancy and expensive accoutrement.

One guy hooks a 12" half-pounder...

"WHAT PATTERN YOU GET IT ON" is bellowed from across the river...

"Copper John" is the touted hot (smolt) tip for the day...

More fly guys descend the cliff... like paratroopers falling out of the sky on a tactical reconnaissance... rank and file... they work their way like stormtroopers, down the bank with whips in hand...


Many miles of river just to get 'a hit'

Leary of the hordes of upriver anglers, sight-fishermen, cliff-jumpers, redd-stompers, liners, and snaggers and hopeful of new runs of fresh, unmolested fish... I set out Wednesday morning to REALLY cover some water.

Dressed for warmth and comfort, I set out to hike and wade 6 miles of river. I was traveling light... packing only a Shimano CU300DSV reel spooled with 10# Maxima UG and strapped to a 9'6" GL3 casting rod.

My only terminal gear was a box of spoons and swivels.

I find that spoon fishing is most effective when covering LOTS of water.

I got to the first hole. At 900 CFS, holes are few and far between... This was a soft water pocket formed by a bend in the river 75 yards directly across from where I stood in a long slot of mild rapids with a depth of 4-12 ft. The opposite shore adjacent to the triangular patch of soft, holding water was flanked by willows and alder trees.

I most likely had thrown 'the first string' in this stretch of river. I never like to forgo options and throw long before I throw short... I knew I was saving the best water for last when I pitched my gold BCS 2/5 oz. spoon straight out mid-river. The drift was a bit on the fast side even with mending and feeding line. I switched to a Riverfisher spoon which in faster or deeper water often gives a better feel because of its thicker edges and fatter bottom than the Pen-Tac models... Still no dice. I tried throwing upriver and high sticking. I switched to a 1/2 oz. Stee-Lee spoon in orange and brass and put a little more heat to my retrieves. There was either nobody home or I just wasn't showing the fish what they needed to see.

Time to try the ace in the hole. I put the gold 2/5 oz back on and threw slightly upriver and in to the middle of the soft water pocket all the way across the river. The spoon hit the water. I counted to 3 and as I engaged the gears of the reel and started to raise my rod tip to throw a mend, a chrome-plated beast of a hen surged out of the water. I wound as fast as I could and it was enough to feel my rod start to load. My line was directly out in front of me when the fish, now very pissed off... shot out of the water beneath the overhanging willows and towards current... She threw 2 violent head shakes at me and left my spoon slack lined.

I'm not a fan of spectra line though I'm pretty sure the "Power-Pro advantage" would have resulted in a landed instead of lost fish...

I still go back and forth between casting gear and spinning gear, light line and heavy line. On this mission I opted for casting gear and 10# Ultragreen. I'm not a rod tip nor line watcher. My eyes aren't that sharp and I'm a tactile kind of guy so I almost always prefer to FEEL what my spoon is doing in the water.

In most cases, this works just fine. But in this case I had three real disadvantages to the 'feel approach'. I threw upriver in to relatively-slow water. I had 75 yards of line out. I got picked up on the drop. Even though I've hooked, lost and landed some quality steelhead since that one... I still play the tapes over in my head about what I could or should have done differently on THAT fish: use braid; fish it from the other side; move upstream 20 yards and cast/swing down with a heavier spoon through the same water; wade out to mid river with the same spoon and do everything the same but be READY...

I worked the hole and all the water around it for the next 1/2 hour and never got tocuhed nor saw any signs of steelhead life.

Three guys in a drift boat showed up and asked me if I'd done any good... then proceeded to drop their anchor 20 yards up from where I'd hooked/not hooked that magnificent hen.

"You gotta' be fucking kidding RIGHT?" "You're gunna' drop in on top of the run I'm fishing?" was my question to which I already knew the answer...

"Aw man, we can't pass THIS up." he uttered as he grinned.

I guess I could have just hucked a rock at 'em but instead I took the higher road and said, "You could if you had any common courtesy and decency about ya' but do what you gotta' do." and I continued to fish as if they weren't there. They left. I left.

I continued up river and met a fly guy who'd claimed he'd not not fished since October. He was respectful and fairly friendly so I told him about my close encounter with an upriver bright and pointed the way to the spot. He said something about working at Kiene's.

I spent the next several hours wading, scouting, scouring and fishing every seam, pocket, hole, run, and tailout I could find. I saw one dark salmon and had a bump or two on this spoon or that but my rod never got bent.

The trip was a good one for me though. I learned a lot as I always do when I fish new water. I found a few runs and deep holes which I know will hold quality fish when we finally get some numbers...

I'll have to make the same trek with roe, plastic worms and jigs to see if the fish were absent or just sluggish and shy.

This has been a strange steelhead year on the AR. The river flows and temperatures have been consistently lower than I've ever witnessed.

I think the majority of the hatchery run has yet to come up but that there are more fish in the system than people believe. It's time to wake those fish up and give them a reason to move and eat.

YES WE CAN! all get along (Gearheads embrace fly guys and vice versa)

Excerpted from my post on Bill Kiene's Fly Shop Forum:

My buddy Benny, his father, Jim, the family dog (Sadie) and I... headed out to the river this morning. Two spey swingers had gotten up and on the water a bit earlier than we had.

There was a gentleman advising a lady flyfisher on the finer points of spey casting/swinging.

Said gentleman was friendly and greeted my friends and I with gregarious demeanor.

My intention was to move 100 yds. below the two and fish.

I was asked not to step in and cut off the swing.

I conceded but replied slightly defensively and made a remark about standing on the fish...

It was already set in motion.

Preconception versus preconception (?) Fly-guy versus Gear-guy...

I retracted back to the gravel bar, closed my mouth and opened my heart and mind a bit...

The spey angler expressed his willingness to share the water but in rotation style and I thought about it and took inventory:

Friendly folks
Greeted us warmly
Communicated clearly and kindly
Willing to share the water
and they were there FIRST

Time for amends.

I apologized to said individual and thanked him for being kind enough to share the run.

Not long after... three more pairs of Simms waders showed up (RUH ROH)...

Long story short.

One introduced himself to me.

Soon we were all talking and realizing we had much more in common as anglers and as humans than we had differences.

The fishing was less than stellar but what made my day was the lack of pretention and the abundance of mutual passion and respect for the river and the sport we ALL so know and love...

You know who you are guys/gal.

Nice to meet you and thanks for the positive vibes.

One of these days, I'll get by the shop and say hey~

This reminds me of Bill's simple yet wonderfully-profound... post the other day on steelheading ethics and coexistence of differing schools of thought and methodologies.

This is a veritable can of worms... Night crawlers? San Juan? Mad River fluorescent pink 'jellies' with chartreuse tails?

I dunno' but since I opened it... I'll bite.

Bill W.?

I was referring to Mr Kiene's words of wisdom as stated in the Russian River thread.

Here it is again in case you missed it:

"Don't get excited about any of this because we have had the same discussions for about 40 years now. I can't believe there are any fish left but there are.

There are so many variables in the ecology that I don't believe anyone has the answers to any of this.

Just try to enjoy the days you have here on earth and don't worry about what others are doing.

We have little control over what goes on here on earth so enjoy it while it lasts.

Politics and religion are the real proof that we don't know body does.

Really wise people know they don't know much.

People with answers are the ones who are in the dark.........

I think it's time for my meds?"
Bill Kiene

As for the swing zone etiquette... When I stepped in to the river that morning, I was intending to walk 75-100 yards downriver BEFORE casting so as to NOT be spooking the water at the end of Adrien's or Sheryll's (SP?) swing. They had no way of knowing this but I am always respectful to my fellow anglers on the water whether I am first to it or not and especially since the 2 were there first... I would never have stepped in to their drift.

I opted to retreat completely when he kindly suggested I not cut off her drift...

Spoon fishing is indeed much like swinging... The sweets spots are on the drop (12 o' clock) during the swing (lifting phase of spoon) at 10/11 or 1/2 o' clock (depending on side of river...) and the dead drift (end of swing at 9 or 3 o' clock). One enters the water and moves downriver and covers near to far and quarters down... all very similar so I have a very good idea of where I can go and not screw someone up.

However... as any Amato Publication or old timer steelhead angler who fishes tight quarters with other folks would tell you... Rotation (from top to bottom) of the drift is indeed the most democratic as it allows everyone to cover 'new' water and to have a shot at the sweet spot/s of the run's...

Because I fish alone most often, I had forgotten the rotation bit but once I thought it through it made sense and I followed suit.

Is it ethical to ask someone not to step in to your swing route? I say yes and if you were there first, the newcomer should ask you if it's ok to step in period (within 100 yards) in my opinion.

I should have asked 'Big-A' that question and/or let him know my intentions before stepping in.

Ironically, after everyone left, a gentleman (with a fly rod) approached and stopped 100 yards down river and before fishing asked, "Am I okay to fish here?" "Are you drifting down this far") and he was well out of my swing. I thanked him for his consideration and told him to have at it. I have found that many to most of the downriver 'fly guys' as we say... are extremely respectful and congenial.

The lineup...

I used to be one of those guys in the lineup with a long leader and bead setup (salmon).

For many reasons, I abandoned that method and moved on to what I know are more skillful and believe are more ethical means to hooking fish.

Standing in a line up of 10-40 guys to floss or even legitimately fish for and catch a steelhead... is for me about as enjoyable as having a root canal and I haven't seen the dentist in a long time.

Though I do have my opinions about 'liners' I will say that nothing is black and white, completely ethical or completely immoral. Many of the liners I know (or used to know) do release most or all of their fish. Further... it is true that steelhead will move from a hold to WILLFULLY eat a corkie, yarn tuft, and yes... even a bead.

Unfortunately, those same fish are often PULLED off their redds by a counterbalanced snare (1/2 - 1 oz piece of lead and a leader 8'-30' long) over and over and over again.

Ask the basin 'purists' (who hate/curse me for sometimes bonking a hatchery fish) about all the fish they release.

They have names for them 'cuz' they've hooked them and dragged them up and down the river so many times...

For many of those guys, it's more about camaraderie and being with their bro's.

I can respect that aspect.

I fish the 'secret spot' at Nimbus a few times a year. Sometimes, it's the place to be but usually' for me anyway, it isn't.

I covet fishing as a mostly solitary venture and by choice.

I'd rather walk miles of scenic river alone and get 1 quality fish or 1 quality skunk than listen to a bunch of crap, ego, animosity, and bs while breaking off on line snags in frog water every other drift, surrounded by; concrete, steel and trash.

And as for the idea that "gear guys rarely move"...

Not so... when I fish spoons, I will often cover 2-5 miles of river.

Unfortunately, with the river at 1000 CFS or less... holding water is in very short supply and was even more so when the upper river was closed... so locking in to a hole did have increased utility/appeal...

I'd say that liners take the #1 slot in not moving from their favorite perch. I know a guy who names rocks after himself...

With that... I think this has come full circle on the original thought as echoed by Bill Kiene...

Whether you fly fish, bait fish, bead fish, lure fish, plunk or even floss... there is one commonality between us all and that is that we each are in awe of and consumed by our passion and pursuit of the mighty O. mykiss.

It would be Utopic if all anglers/all humans in general... had an unyielding credo of mutual-respect which they never abandoned both on and off the river...

But since we are only human... we should simply strive to keep these ideals at the forefront of consciousness as much as possible while we each, in our own best way possible...

"...Just try to enjoy the days you have here on earth and don't worry about what others are doing..."

I know I will~


Happy New Year To All~