Saturday, April 29, 2017

Water Everywhere but Few Fish

Trolling for kings on the Willamette.
What a wet winter it has been. This is an obvious statement to anyone living in Portland this past winter. Record rains, snow and cloudy days are actually normal for Oregon and since the past couple winters and summers were relatively dry I suppose we are experiencing the swings that create the "average."

What seems to be missing in all this water are fish, especially spring chinook. The counts have been low on the Willamette and Columbia and the fishing tough. At least for me. I have plied the Willamette for several days with not a single bite.

The only solace in my efforts is that I haven't seen anyone around me catch a fish either. In fact, I have yet to see a single salmon caught this year. That's not to say they aren't being caught. Several of my fellow kayakers have posted happy selfies with big fish. I have not lost hope. In fact I expect the high water is causing the run to be late and by May and June, my luck will change. At least I hope.

For now, I will continue my fishing in hopes doing some catching.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

A wild ride with a wild steelhead

I consider fly fishing for winter steelhead an optimist's sport. During my many years of chasing these fish from sleds, drift boats, on the bank and more recently from the kayak, expectations of catching one on a fly are low. Of course, if catching fish were a requirement for fishing trips, they would be called "catching" trips.

With this in mind, I was looking forward to my first winter steelhead trip of 2017 more for the company and as a way of scouting a section of river in a drift boat before taking the Pro Angler.

Steve and I arrived at the launch as the faint light of winter morning was fast pushing the darkness aside. Pulling away from the shore, we could barely see the water - and the obstacles in front of us. We talked as we drifted through the long run towards the first rapid. Steve rowed into position and we dropped through the rapid. It was short and we floated a minute before Steve slowly guided the boat to our first stop. We rigged up the rods as the sun turned the edges of the clouds a deep orange.

This first run was new to me so Steve took lead. We talked for a while as he fished, needing to get some distance through the run before I followed. He stopped talking for a moment and stared at his line. "I just felt a fish," he said. He let the line hang in the current for a few seconds longer before casting again. I headed back to the boat, grabbed my rod and started at the top of the run. I was a third of the way through when Steve walked past me to the boat saying he was going to change rods and follow me through the run again.

The run was about 80 yards long but a deep side channel bordered by a steep cliff cut it in half. The channel also eliminated any opportunities to chase a hooked fish downriver. Even if you could chase a fish, at the end of the run was a shallow rapid that, if the fish chose to run, would dash any hopes of landing it.

This was also not a classic steelhead run. The side of the bank dropped away to a wide, deep slot that shallowed up to a bench before dropping again into the main river. I was now at the middle of the run, casting the spey line farther and farther into the main river with the line crossing the bench and into the hole. I was feeling good as the leader occasionally touched the bottom.

I watched as the line swung across the bench when suddenly it went tight and the rod bent. The short loop of running line in my left hand was taken and my old Pflueger 1498 let out a short scream as it gave up more. I was following my line downstream when the middle of main current upstream suddenly exploded. I had only experienced this on the Dean River - the fly line is downstream but the fish is upstream. Of course this situation was short lived as the rod was now deeply bent and my reel screaming loudly with the running line being followed through the guides by the backing. This was a big fish.

"Fish On" I yelled at Steve and within seconds he was out of the boat and next to me with the net. We were both smiling.

Over the next 10 minutes it was a back-and-forth fight with the fish taking line, me earning it back and then the fish taking it again.

Clackamas fish are typically about 7 to 8 pounds with an equal mix of  wild and hatchery fish. This fish was much larger and likely wild. Several times I looked at Steve and said "I can't do anything with this fish." I knew that until it was tired, the fish was in control.

More than once it headed towards the lower rapid, threatening to spool me, only to stop short and come back into the main run. At one point, the rod was bent but not moving and I thought the fish had wrapped the line around a rock. Steve said he didn't think so and I gently applied more pressure.

There was only so much pressure I was gong to put on the 10-pound tippet, especially because there were three knots on the tippet and I didn't remember how long ago I tied two of them because I hadn't used the spey rod since last fall,

The rod started to bounce again and I was back into the fight. By now the fish was getting tired and I was gaining line. Soon the fish was close enough to see and both Steve and I gasped. It bolted when it saw the net and the reel gave up more line but the fight was ending and unless something broke or I did something stupid, we were going to net this fish.

When Steve finally brought the net up with the fish inside, we were looking at a bright, wild buck steelhead nearly a yard long. It was lifetime moment and we gave each other a high-five, taking a few moments to admire the fish.

We never took the fish out of the water knowing our next goal was to get the fish unhooked, revived and returned to its primary objective of passing along its genes.

The fly was a black leach pattern about 2 inches long with a trailing hook. Half of the fly was hanging out of the corner of the fish's mouth and the hook was firmly in the bottom of its tongue. This fish was well hooked.

To make it easier to unhook, we broke the tippet tied to the fly and I used needle nose pliers to remove the hook. We took photos being careful not to lift the fish completely out of the water. I let the fish rest and recover carefully holding it in the slow current.

It finally broke free from my grasp and swam to the deeper water to become a reminder why I am optimist and fish for winter steelhead.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

A fantasy comes true: two spring salmon on two herring in three hours

Spring Chinook are nearly as mythical as steelhead. Persistence, skill, tools and a really lucky day are key to success. My recent trip to the Willamette River was heavily weighted on the last one.

Work had consumed me for the past month and I needed a day in the kayak. I woke up Sunday morning torn between fishing for trout or salmon. Based on my previous salmon trips, I was leaning more towards trout. But, I also wasn't interested in driving two hours in hopes of catching a couple large trout that had recently been stocked in Timothy Lake. Besides, it was cold on the mountain.

I spent an hour getting ready and as I pulled out of the driveway with the trailer and kayaks I decided I would mull it over on my way to get coffee. I had two fly rods, a sturgeon rod and a salmon rod and gear so no matter what choice I made, I was prepared.

I walked into Safeway, grabbed three nearly expired yogurts that were 50 percent off, and stepped up to the Starbucks coffee stand. I ordered a large coffee, paid the barista and headed out the door. I pulled out the parking lot and headed north to Swan Island boat ramp. As I pulled in, I was pleased to see a nearly full lot of bass boat trailers. OK, I thought, salmon it is, with sturgeon a strong second.

Since I had no bait, I drove to the nearby Fred Meyer, bought a tray of green label herring and another coffee and headed back to the ramp. Within the hour I was trolling herring in the Hobie Pro Angler and marking several fish on the fish finder. I trolled downriver with no luck and headed back. Soon the rod bent once, twice, and then started dancing. I grabbed the rod, felt the fish and immediately started fumbling with the remote video switch. This is usually when things go wrong. In the next minute, I had to extend my net, turn on the cameras and keep tension on the fish. Somehow I did all three. Then I realized how bad my kayak netting skills were as I missed the fish about five times and had to one-hand the rod as I turned the kayak so I didn't run ashore. Somehow through all this, the fish stayed on the hook, which was barbless, and I finally landed it.

It must have been my day because within 30 minutes of landing the first fish, I was hooked up with a second Chinook which I landed quickly after a short fight. I had just caught two spring Chinook on two herring in less than 3 hours.

There was no way to top that and as the guy on the dock said "I would go home now." So I did.

Check out the video. And Go Farther. Catch More.

Monday, May 2, 2016

SUPin' new

Ok, that's a cringe but accurate.

I recently bought my first SUP and I am onto a new experience and project. The goal is fly fishing on the SUP in a variety of situations ranging from small lakes to large rivers. Ultimately I want to catch a steelhead or sturgeon from it.

The board, a Lifetime Amped, cost only $240 with a paddle - an excellent deal from Dick's Sporting Goods. It has a some scratches and the foam decking has bubbled in a few places but overall, it's a cheap intro to a SUP.

It is 11 feet long, weighs less than 50 pounds and includes a small drop-down rudder or fin. It's hollow and seems to have a well designed hull.

My first trip was to Benson Lake, really a pond, in the Columbia Gorge. A few days before the trip, I read it had been stocked with trout. If true, the lake offered me a chance to catch something on my first SUP trip.

Safety First

Since in was early April, I put on my dry suit and PFD for safety. After gearing up, I easily carried the board to the water, jumped on and carefully paddled around. With no wind, the board was easy to maneuver and fun to paddle.

I could stand up and sit down fairly easily and overall I was comfortable on the board. I tried casting the fly rod and again felt comfortable. The main problem was not having a safe place to store the fly rod while paddling.

I fished for about 45 minutes with no luck. I didn't even see a fish rise. For the next hour, I paddled around and changed my position from sitting down to standing and then sitting again.

While paddling, I noticed the board would not stay straight unless I alternated my paddling from one side to the other. During some small gusts of wind, I became a sail and felt less stable.

Soon, my core muscles were feeling the workout.  I headed back to shore, got out of the suit and loaded the SUP on my Escape. If I master this skill, I thought to myself, I can easily take the SUP to work and get some fishing in during the evening hours and work on my steelhead and sturgeon goals.

Until then, my next steps include adding pad eyes, a seat, rod holder and hatch. The hatch is the most risky because it requires cutting into the hull.

Look for upcoming posts as I try SUPin' New... I just had too.

Go Farther. Catch More.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Back on the water

So far this winter has set records for warm temps and little snow in the Oregon Cascades. Drought is not in the picture so far since there has been no shortage of moisture. However, instead of snow, we have seen a lot of rain and rivers that flow high and muddy or low and clear.

Monty, a new kayaker, joined me on a couple trips this winter. the first on the Willamette during one one of the high and muddy flows. The second on the lower Sandy River during a break between the rains.

Both were learning experiences. The Willamette provided me a chance to secure two boats on one anchor. I chose this idea because anchoring a kayak in a big, cold river in winter is one of the most dangerous parts of kayak fishing. Since Monty was a rookie kayak angler, I wanted to be as safe as possible which meant anchoring my kayak and then having him bring his kayak alongside mine and lashing onto it.

The idea proved effective, although it took a couple tries to get the anchor to stick. When it finally did, we were able to relax and enjoy a couple hours of fishing. On this trip, sturgeon was the goal and we brought a couple to the boat.

The second trip provided Monty the opportunity to use the Pro Angler 12 in a slow steelhead river. An accomplished steelhead angler from southern Oregon, Monty has great fishing and boating skills and was soon comfortable moving around the river in the kayak. I had outfitted both the PA 14 and the 12 with drift boat style anchor setups and before long we were anchoring up in the river swinging flies and floating bobbers (Monty isn't a fly angler yet).

I fished a couple drifts standing up and spey casting. About half way through the trip, I learned how to drift slowly through the holes using an indicator and weighted fly. I did this by turning the Mirage drive around and using the drive in reverse. The system proved very effective and I am anxious to get out again and master the process.

Check out the Willamette video from my YouTube channel and featured in this post. I am still working on the Sandy video.

Until then, keep trying new things on the yaks.

Go Farther, Catch More.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Teaching others at the Fly Tying Expo

Check out the show by clicking here.
When I started kayak fly fishing, the goal was to expand my fishing opportunities. I have owned a float tube, pontoon boat, numerous skiffs, a drift boat and a river sled. All were fun but each boat had its limits.

As I spent more time in my kayaks, it became apparent, that the kayak was the most versatile boat ever made. I also discovered that I was blazing new trails and combining skill sets, while learning from fellow kayak anglers.

Now I have the opportunity to teach fly anglers what I have learned from my kayaking experiences.

On March 14, I am teaching fly fishing from a kayak at the Northwest Fly Tyer and Fly Fishing Expo in Albany, Oregon. Although I am not being paid, the proceeds from the class help fund the event and help promote the sport of fly fishing.

I am excited to see what questions others anglers have about the sport and hopefully help them discover the fun, excitement and versatility of kayak fly fishing. If I do it right, I will answer most questions, uncover some new quests and make a couple new friends.

Go Farther. Catch More.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

My rant about the competitive nature of fishing

I loaded my little Heritage kayak on the Ford Escape and headed for a tiny suburban pond on the morning of Super Bowl Sunday. I had checked the stocking schedule and discovered the pond had recently been planted with 500 larger trout and I figured it was a perfect quick trip before the game. The pond was barely 5 acres but there were some areas difficult to fish from shore even with a spinning rod.

I pulled in the parking lot about 10 a.m. There were about five or six guys on the pond. Not ideal, but there certainly was room for the kayak on the far shore where I wouldn't crowd the bobber and spin guys. I put on wader, dropped in the kayak and started paddling toward the middle of the pond. I saw a guy throw a spinner towards a tree hanging in front of me and I knew my day was going to quickly end. It was cemented when he said "boats are not allowed on the pond."

I challenged him and said I had checked the regs and and signs and knew it wasn't the case. Of course, he wasn't going to listen to me and I decide I wasn't about to push the issue.

Instead, I paddled back to the shore, loaded my kayak on the Escape and decide to head somewhere else. I was frustrated with the situation because it exemplified an issue facing the fishing community.

Instead of a way to escape the hustle of life, some anglers were treating fishing as a competitive sport. Instead of sharing the space and being courteous, guys are yelling at one another about how they owned the water,  threatening each with fake gun gestures or casting their lines over one another. It was sad. Like most states, Oregon has seen the number of anglers continue to decline with fewer young people taking to the sport and the old guard dying off.

I cannot blame the younger generation. I have a son who would just as soon sit in front of a video screen as in a kayak. Considering the violent nature of today's video games, that is rather telling.

Of course not everyone is an asshole. I have met many wonderful people on the river and I have found most kayak anglers friendly and willing to share ideas. And, I am not above joking with a friend about his fishing skills on a particular day.

Outdoor activities were once an opportunity for generations to bond and enjoy the natural environment. Now fishing and hunting is often a competition for limited resources and some feel it is more important to harvest something than enjoy the experience.

I continue to encourage my son to join me on kayak trips or fly fishing some of my favorite water. And sometimes he does. But I am also very careful about the water I choose. We need to continue to teach our children the value of nature and the essence of life. They should understand that the package of fish or meat was once a living creature and it died so we could nourish our bodies. If we don't, the fishing community may face the same challenges as hunting community and people will be saying angling is cruel while they order the grilled salmon off the menu and wonder why it is so expensive.

OK. I feel better now.

Go Farther. Catch More.