Thursday, January 30, 2014

Yes you can spey cast on a Hobie Pro Angler

Sunshine and the threat of drought do not make an ideal winter day in the Pacific Northwest. But, it was all we had to work with on my latest kayak adventure. The trip was slated for a Sunday in mid January and the clear skies and lack of rain had the Clackamas River running at summer levels in both volume and clarity.

Michael Rischer and I pushed our Hobie Pro Anglers into the clear water and headed downstream in search of winter steelhead. My goal was to see how well the kayak handled in the river and see if I could accomplish my next major goal - spey casting from a kayak.

The first riffle was simple and fast and after floating through a calm stretch at the end of the riffle, we headed into a more complicated chute that caused anxiety in the approach and endorphins at the exit. It may not have been major whitewater, but it did prove the PA could handle some rough water. The next couple river miles proved fairly easy and fun and the PA continued to prove its stability and comfort.

After fishing several stretches I arrived at a long run where I slowed the kayak, dropped the 10 pound pyramid anchor and settled on the edge of a five-foot deep slot. After putting up the Hobie H-bar, I stood up with the 12-foot 7 weight spey rod and started throwing the 550 grain Skagit head and sink tip.

I fell into an easy rhythm and was able to cast so the fly could swing through the run. The fly looked good, the swing looked good, and the water looked good. But not good enough and I was rewarded with no hits or bumps. I worked down the run alternating between resetting the anchor and adjusting the length of my cast. About half way through, Michael pulled in and I had him shoot some video from the shore to offer a better perspective on the spey casting.

I finished the run and it was time to head back to the ramp. We drifted over more great runs and holes but saw no fish in the gin clear water. At one point, the thin water caused me to run aground while Michael threaded a narrow slot perfectly.

The trip proved unproductive for winter steelhead but I am looking forward to coming back for winters when the rain returns and for summer steelhead when the water warms up. Unless the weather changes, I may be fishing for summers earlier than I anticipated.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Kayaks - the most versatile boat

In December 2013, I realized that the most versatile boat was not made of metal, wood or fiberglass. No, the most versatile boat was made of plastic (and fiberglass, but mostly plastic).

I started this post because of a recent kayak trip down the Clackamas River in my Hobie Outback. It was the second to last test in determining if I had made the right decision is selling my sled and have my only boats be kayaks.

My boat obsession started with a 12-foot Klamath Fishmaster I picked up for $200. A lifelong fly angler, my fishing exploits changed with the arrival of my son. I knew a different approach was needed and with a limited budget I took a chance with the $200.

My old Ivycraft Sled
My old Fishmaster
I refurbished the boat, sold it, bought another and continued this upgrading process in order to minimize the impact on the household budget. Neither my son, nor my wife, truly enjoyed being in the boats so I made a selfish goal to work my way up to a jet sled. I reached that goal within four years when I got a screaming deal on a 16-foot Ivycraft sled with a 115hp Merc pump and 9.9 hp kicker.

As a fly angler, the sled was the near perfect boat because it could go about anywhere: big rivers, small rivers, lakes and bays. I could fish for salmon, trout, steelhead, crab and sturgeon. The biggest problem was pulling it with my Ford Escape Hybrid.

Although capable, I didn't like using the Escape to pull the boat so I had my fishing buddies pull it. A fair trade - I bought the gas for the boat, they bought the gas for the vehicle. That boat was a joy and I thought I had the perfect boat. Along the way I discovered kayaks and a parallel quest was started. You can read more about the start of that quest in my first blog entry.

In December 2013, I completed the winter steelhead boat test by taking the Hobie Outback down the lower Clackamas River. This little adventure proved that my fishing kayak could now do more that nearly all my other boats combined. I could fish big lakes, small ponds, big rivers, bays, and now small rivers. Of course the Hobie could not power upriver through rapids like my sled, I could pedal upriver and fish holes or runs more that once, unlike my drift boat.

I now had a boat that nearly matched the sled and with one more test, the ocean, the kayak would prove more versatile than my sled. That test is likely to come this summer.

In the meantime, the run down the Clackamas was one of many I expect to do this winter. I still have several ideas to try including using my spey rod while standing up on an anchored Hobie Pro Anger 14. Look for information on that adventure soon.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Columbia River Double

       The Columbia River is truly one of the great rivers of the world. Running through two countries, three states and draining a huge portion of the western United States, it refuses to be fully tamed. The fisheries of this great river have been nearly decimated and only recently have they show significant life. This year more than a million Chinook, or "king" salmon returned to their home waters. And this is only one of the salmonids that return to spawn, die and continue a cycle of life that is nearly as old as the land itself.          As a boy growing up in Heppner, a small town in Eastern Oregon, my brother and I would spend our summers fishing for trout in Willow Creek, the small stream that ran through the tiny farming and ranching town. One day we were fishing near the confluence of Willow and Rea Creek. We could nearly have jumped across either creek but the confluence was deeper and wider that any other area and one of our favorite holes. Using a single action fishing reel and long bamboo rod straight out of a 1920s fishing portrait, my brother drifted a worm through the hole and it exploded. He found a steelhead on the end of the line. This excitement was short lived but the memory has lasted decades.
           A few years later my the family moved to La Grande and I would again have memories of seeing big salmonids plying small streams way up in the Blue Mountains. I didn't fully understand the breadth of their journey until one day I was looking at the map and followed the Columbia inland to the mouth of the Snake, up the Snake to the mouth of the Grande Ronde, up the Grande Ronde and finally to the small streams I fished as a kid. All that way to die.
      This August while dealing with the mechanical and insurance issues surrounding the Escape, I returned to a favorite creek inlet of the Columbia. It was a go-to fly fishing spot for summer steelhead and salmon but in recent years the fishing was slow, the anglers combative and the whole experience was anything but fun. I called my friend Steve a couple days before and we both decided to give it try with the fly rods. The day proved great as I hooked and landed a small Chinook, and landed one of two steelhead I hooked. I was able to get some decent footage on my Drift camera which is included on this post and on my Youtube Channel. Although hooking and catching the fish was exciting, it brought home again the power of these fish and I felt blessed to touch these great creatures.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Glimpsing the water unicorn after 10,000 casts.

      My buddy Jim made me go to the Deschutes River for a weekend in mid October. Okay, so he didn't need to twist my arm much, but I almost didn't go due to a tedious project at work and a near miss on buying a house. Fortunately everything fell into place and Jim wasn't taking no for an answer.
Jim with a beautiful Deschutes River hatchery steelhead.
      We left Friday afternoon and set up camp in time to get a couple hours on the river. The sun was bright and the temperature was perfect for a long sleeve shirt and fleece pullover. I brought the 5 weight switch, 7 weight spey and the 5 weight single handed rod expecting to spend most of my time with the switch. I was also excited to fish my 1930s Pflueger 1496 reel with the round line guard.
       I stepped into the water in the middle of a great run, threw a short cast and started working the water. With each cast, I worked out to the sweet water and was tossing 70 feet before I started the steelhead shuffle through the run. My casting skills sucked but I was still tossing the fly with decent distance and enjoying the occasional tug that defines a good cast with the Skagit head. One of the ugly casts was rewarded with a solid tug on the line as a steelhead slammed my size 4 freight train fly. The rod danced and I yelled with joy. Within seconds the line went limp, the rod went flying and I had touched a water unicorn. On the next cast the countdown began as I started on another 10,000 cast count to the next steelhead. 
     I cast until dark. Woke up the next morning and cast all day until dark only touching a fish, a small trout, when I switched to the single handed rod. I think I reached 10,000 the next morning. I was fishing a run Jim and I had fished the previous morning while Jim fished a short run below. He started yelling "fish on" and I reeled up and quickly walked down to the lower run. When I found him, he was leaning over a beautiful hatchery steelhead that was destined for the dinner table.
         After taking a couple photos, I returned to my run. I finished a swing and took a step down. I secured my footing, lifted the rod and the line went tight. It was fish on. The steelhead started swimming upstream and I kept pressure while reeling in the line. I turned my head cam on and started capturing footage as the fish swam towards the middle of the river. I felt a solid head shake and the line went limp. Another fish lost. I stripped the line in, took a step and cast the line. Only 9,999 more to go. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

In search of the mythical steelhead and getting hit in the rear

       After a great start to the summer, the second half was a series of trials involving an accident, insurance, a mysterious sound and searching for the mythical steelhead.
       The excitement of the John Day River rafting trip crashed into a two month ordeal starting literally with a young woman crashing into rear of my Escape in early July. The woman did not want to involve the insurance company - something I would never advise now. Ultimately Progressive was involved and after three months I ended up with a new differential but instead of the insurance company paying for it, I paid the $3,000 (BTW - Progressive is a good insurance company if your the insured. I, unfortunately, was the victim).
       The Courtesy Ford Dealership Service Center lived up to their name during the ordeal. Only a few weeks earlier to getting hit, Courtesy did a service check and green-lighted the Escape including the differential which they checked and changed the fluid. After the young woman hit me, I had the body shop fix the bumper damage and make sure they sent the truck to the service center. I heard a strange noise from the rear a couple days after the accident and wanted it checked out.
       That noise was the sound of a failing differential. Progressive decided the age of the vehicle and minor impact outweighed their responsibility to pay anything but a couple hundred dollars for the bumper. Unsure what was going to happen with the insurance, I put in a used differential. Within days, I noticed a clunk coming from the rear and took it back to Ford. They diagnosed it, thought they fixed it and gave it back but the sound would not go away. I ended up working with the service manager and his crew swapped differentials, axles, drive lines, power take off rods and spent 33 hours doing so. The only way to fix the sound was putting in a new differential. By October the Escape was running well and I am back in fishing mode.
        During the three months of vehicle fun I sold my boat, bought a trailer, modified it for kayaks, picked up a used Hobie Pro Angler 14 foot and spent many hours chasing the mythical steelhead. I am no stranger to this wondrous fish, but lately it has taken 10,000 casts to find each one. My trips have included the Columbia and the Deschutes rivers. Look for more stories soon.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

In the heart of summer

The spring fishing season started with a surprising successful trip to Hagg lake on opening day. The surprise was finding a pod large of rainbows on Scoggins Creek arm. The Hobie proved its worth that day easily pedaling from the Sain Creek arm which had frustrated me that morning.
     The following weekend wasn't nearly as successful but I did land another big stocker. During the next couple months, trips to Harriet Lake, Benson Lake, Willamette River, Tillamook Bay, Deschutes River, Columbia River and Swift Reservoir were all mixed with some days outstanding while others a total bust. The trips are all recorded on my YouTube channel.     
      The weekend before 4th of July was the highlight of my summer so far when my son, Sam, and I joined friends of Western Rivers Conservancy on a four day float trip down the John Day River. The canyon was stunning and the guiding and support from Little Creek Outfitters made it a trip that will likely be a lifetime memory for my son. I posted three videos to my YouTube channel so you can check out the canyon and the plentiful smallmouth bass. I didn't do any kayaking that trip, but I certainly look forward to returning and giving it a run in some plastic and looking for steelhead.
     I haven't done much work on the kayaks this summer since they are nearly set up with every modification want. I did pickup a Hobie Sport at a great price and need to do a little work on the anchor setup. My wife enjoys kayaking in the Hobies because it's easier on her shoulders. Of course being a cyclists, I think she prefers using her feet for propulsion.
       The biggest challenge is getting all three kayaks on the Ford Escape. I am able to do it and will post a video soon. I also plan on doing some follow-up videos on the modifications I have found work well for fly fishing from the Hobie.
     There are more adventures coming this summer and expect more posts and videos soon.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tillamook Bay - Sturgeon Quest

A calm morning fishing for sturgeon on Tillamook Bay.

In my desire for new adventures in the kayak, one topping the list is catching a sturgeon on a fly rod from my kayak. I have told many fellow anglers about this quest and most looked surprised, skeptical or intrigued. None have laughed.
      It's a complicated task and there are many people, including me, who have caught large sturgeon from their kayaks. There is even a handful of people catching sturgeon on fly rods in British Columbia on the Fraser River. However, I have yet to find anyone combining the two.
       With the Willamette so close to home, I have ventured several times to the "willy" in hopes of catching one of these ancients on my 12 weight. Last summer I had identified the "perfect low tide" and marked the calendar. On that beautiful fall morning I launched my kayak from the Milwaukie boat ramp a couple hours before the low tide. With the low water and the low tide, I had determined this was the best possible opportunity to get my line on the bottom of the river. The location was one of my favorite sturgeon holes and at only 45 feet deep that day, I thought "this is going to be it." You can see the results in my video, Dinos and Bass.
       Most of my Willamette trips were practice for my main destination - fishing Tillamook Bay. All the Oregon coast bays have sturgeon, but the Tillamook is the one best known for sturgeon fishing. The problem is that the bay can turn from calm to a whitecaps in an hour and the sturgeon holes are well-kept secrets. In December I made a resolution to reach out through the Northwest kayak anglers website and ask someone to help me learn the bay. In February, I was successful in finding a kayak angler who knew the water, had caught sturgeon in the bay and was a safe kayaker - all important aspects of fishing the bay.
         The best sturgeon fishing is in the spring during extremely low tides. After a couple unsuccessful attempts to find a date (bad weather, bad timing) we agreed on a Saturday in March at the end of spring break. The day proved unbelievable with calm wind, blue skies and a morning minus tide. We launched by dragging our Hobie kayaks through a creek bed that provided a fairly easy way to move the boats to the bay without going through the muck.
        We arrived at destination about two hours before low tide. One guy was already fishing from a 15-foot Smokercraft. Rodney quickly identified his spot and anchored up. I decided to peddle around and look for a hole. The deepest hole I found was 10 feet. The rest of the area average 5 feet. I realized how shallow this bay is. I also found out how fast thousands of cubic feet of water can drain from the bay as my 3 pound claw anchor with 1-foot 1/4 inch chain failed to grab time and time again. I finally had to let out 60-feet of line to get enough scope to get the anchor to hold. I decided to use conventional sturgeon gear first and tied on a shrimp Rodney had pumped the day before. I tossed it in the "hole" which was about 6 feet deep. After an hour, and no bites, I switched to my 12-weight and tossed the 15-foot 800 grain shooting head into the water. It immediately was on the bottom. I finally felt like I was fishing with my fly gear. I must point out that sturgeon are not sight feeders. Instead, they really on smell to find their food, usually clams and shrimp in the bay. I had tied on a shrimp hoping to get a bite before moving to my "fly" a sponge soaked in juice. I will not pretend this is a purist fly sport.
        The tide moved through the low. I saw, what I thought, was another line tangled on mine. Instead, it was my leader coming back towards me as the tide started its incoming cycle. Rodney and I pulled up and because the weather was perfect and the bay calm, we decided to kayak across the bay. We went over several channels and our trip varied from water 4 inches to 8 feet. We found another hole in the west channel, anchored up and started fishing the incoming tide. We fished for about two hours and I had one good hit, while Rodney had a couple. About 2:30 p.m., the wind was picking up a little and we decided to head back. The trip back was about three miles and in the last mile the waves were starting to whitecap. We had made a good decision to leave. About 200 yards from the takeout, a 5-foot sturgeon rolled 15 feet from our kayaks, in water no deeper than 10 feet. I took it as a message to come back and try again. And I certainly will.