Not just 1 dead wild steelhead!!!

Here in the wonderful state of Washington, we are still allowed to kill one wild steelhead a year. I am not sure the notion of killing one female with her nearly ready to release eggs is taken into consideration as this angler just killed more than one. hoh_steelheadeggsonground1
Here lays the future of a species that are about to go away forever and yet policy around the region is allowing for the killing of not just one fish, but as you can see here, potentially hundreds.

Things have to change. Today my dad encouraged me to be reasonable and factual with regards to my reaction to such sights and future articles regarding steelhead because reason is irrefutable and people will listen to it.

I couldn’t agree more and yet I simply can’t control my feelings when I see the residuals of a wild steelhead killed and its hopeful offspring left to help the grass grow. Tell this to a politician who has been reasonable about any other controversial issue. Seems to me it is just that much easier to muffle the sound of reason when that reason isn’t blasted from the rooftops, even when irrefutable.

This just isn’t making sense and yet so many out there, outside of our region are left to think these fish are just as abundant as they once were. It couldn’t be that bad, look at everyone who is guiding for them and how many they catch. What isn’t visible to those outside of the PNW or whom just simply aren’t involved with fish conservation at all is the tooth and nail fight that is being waged over a species of fish that is in many parts of the PNW, an ESA (Endangered Species Act) listed species, yes, the very same list the bald eagle was on.

These fish won’t recover if this matter or listing status isn’t taken seriously. Dylan Tomine has said there is encouraging work being done in certain places and while I agree, it doesn’t help the over all awareness of the fish. If an angler perceives the population of steelhead to be great on the Deschutes, then why wouldn’t the rest of the regions fish be in just as good of shape? This is the daily battle we have when speaking with clients who want to go steelhead fishing.

Yes, each fishery is unique and will require a unique set of management policies to save/recover/help/whatever the steelhead in that watershed. But if the word doesn’t not get out about the over all state of the fish, especially in Washington, we will all be looking for a new place to swing our flies.

About CCA, Everyone in PNW Should Read This

Bill Monroe: Does CCA’s bet in gill-net gamble indicate its hand was forced?

By Bill Monroe, Special to The Oregonian January 23, 2010, 10:00AM

Benjamin Brink/The Oregonian Spring salmon are the Columbia River’s most prized — and controversial — catch. Jim Wells (left) and Brian Tarabochia pull the gill net out early on a cold morning on the Columbia. Like a methodical poker player suddenly switching to “all-in,” the region’s largest and potentially most influential player in sport salmon fishing is shoving all its chips forward in the gill-net gamble.

But is it by choice?

The Coastal Conservation Association of Oregon has launched a ballot
initiative drive to rid the lower Columbia River and tributaries of gill-net
fishing for salmon, steelhead and sturgeon.

This, after the association and others failed to talk the 2009 Oregon
Legislature into mandating gradual shifts in salmon harvest away from

Even after that failure, the association’s one-step-at-a-time strategy
appeared intact through summer and early fall as players began positioning for another run at the 2011 Legislature.

… until the ballot surprise, unveiled around Christmas.

CCA Oregon’s initiative, if passed in November, will ban all non-tribal
gill-netting for salmon, steelhead and sturgeon statewide, i.e., on the
Oregon side of the Columbia River and tributaries, including currently
netted off-channel Select Area Fisheries Enhancement (SAFE) areas. It calls for an effective date of Jan. 1, 2011.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife would have to use most of all of the angling surcharge fee increases to help the gill-net fleet transition into more selective harvest methods such as set nets and seines that don’t kill fish.

Dave Schamp of Hillsboro, chairman of CCA Oregon, suggested the decision was inevitable after CCA learned of a separate, well-financed effort poised to launch a similar ballot initiative.

CCA was cornered. Its rise in popularity, after all (more than 10,000
members in a few years), was based in large part on the presumption the association would do just what the ballot initiative proposes — end
non-tribal gill-netting.

Schamp acknowledged the association’s more methodical approach had already raised eyebrows within the membership.

“They wondered what the heck we were doing,” he said. The “what,” Schamp said, was a shift in the CCA’s emphasis from allocation to conservation. “We don’t have anything against commercial fishing,” he said. “What we’ve wanted all along is harvest reform.”

So was CCA Oregon caught between a rock and a hard place, forced to act prematurely?

“One could draw that conclusion,” Schamp said. “But we also didn’t want the wrong petition out there; we wanted something with a high degree of success and we wanted to do it for the fish.”

Forced or not, Schamp said CCA Oregon is confident of the initiative’s
passage, citing extensive polling before the December launch. “It showed overwhelming support by a broad spectrum of voters for the end of gill-netting,” he said.

The gill-net community is understandably prepared for a difficult battle.

Jim Markee, a Salem lobbyist representing the commercial fleet, said current statutes allow only gill-nets in the Columbia, not the kind of commercial fishing gear the initiative demands. That, he said, will effectively ban commercial fishing, leaving all returning salmon to sport anglers — a message he will try to convey to voters.

CCA collected 5,000 signatures (2,000 were required) within days, Schamp said, to get a ballot title from the state attorney general. The comment period on the proposed title ends Monday. Chief petitioners are Schamp, Senator Fred Girod, R-Stayton, and Representative Rod Monroe, D-Portland (no, we’re not related).

Its status can be viewed online by going to On the top bar, go to “Elections,” then scroll down and click on “Initiative, Referendum and Referral Log.” On the form that appears, change the election year to 2010 and enter Schamp’s name (or Girod or Monroe) as the chief petitioner.

Without being specific, Schamp said CCA Oregon will comment on changes it wants in the proposed ballot title. Review by the attorney general’s office will probably delay publication of a ballot title well beyond the Pacific Northwest Sportsmen’s Show on Feb. 10-14, Schamp said.

Markee said he will also submit challenges to the attorney general’s office before Monday’s deadline.

The secretary of state will require 82,769 signatures to get the initiative to the polls in November, but Schamp said the target will be at least 150,000. “We won’t have any trouble at all getting way more than we need,” Schamp said.

More problematic are the potential risks:

— If the initiative fails at the polls, so will all or most of the impetus
for harvest reform at the legislative level — perhaps for years or even
decades to come.

The initiative could drive a wedge in the Columbia River Compact, with
different commercial fishing rules on the Washington and Oregon sides of the lower Columbia.

— A vastly lower or zero incidental mortality on wild salmon for commercial fishing could mean a major increase in the commercial take of hatchery salmon and, thus, lower numbers for sport fishing. That’s contrary to the reason many CCA members signed up in the first place. Tribal gill-netters above Bonneville Dam might also face increased scrutiny of their take of wild salmon and steelhead.

— Commercial gill-netting is already tightly controlled and, state managers say, is not exceeding its allowable incidental kill of salmon and steelhead listed as threatened or endangered.

— The state Department of Fish and Wildlife would have to re-allocate
angling fee surcharges from the popular restoration and enhancement program to re-tool the commercial fleet.

Schamp acknowledged each potential pitfall but declined to debate or
elaborate. Instead, he repeatedly fell back on the conservation mantra.

“People have a lot of fear of the unknown. Our focus is on doing what’s
right for the fish,” he said. “Putting the allocation issues aside, the goal
is to eliminate a method of harvest that is not selective.”

Markee, however, said federal protection of endangered salmon and steelhead will still allow the same number of incidental mortalities whether they’re taken by commercial or sport fleets.

“This is not about conservation,” he said. “Those fish are still going to be killed by somebody.”

Mother Nature catching her limit…


Picture 063

Every year fishermen flock to the North Cascade Highway system outside of Bellingham to try their luck at the salmon and steelhead of the Sauk and Skagit Rivers.  These rivers are some of the most fabled waters in Washington State for fly anglers, and for good reason—these are some of the few rivers in the state that gives you a shot at very large, wild steelhead.

 But, there’s another group that flocks to this area with the return of the salmon and steelhead; and they come in larger numbers that anywhere else in the lower 48 states:  bald eagles.  Hundreds of eagles gather in the trees along the Upper Skagit to nest and feed on the dead and dying runs of salmon, with their numbers peaking from the middle of December through early January.  We were able to see 15 or so this past weekend (January 17th) in about 4 ½ hours of watching. 

 If you have never seen these animals in action, it is well worth the drive.  To see them soaring effortlessly, diving down to snag a salmon, cruising up the river while barely losing ground to a car traveling at 35 mph, or just to hear their loud and other-worldly call to each other really is Nature at its finest. 

But, as a fisherman, it also slapped me back into reality with regard to the importance of the salmon runs.  Our goal in fighting for the runs of fish should have very little to do with ourselves and our enjoyment of the sport—that is simply a by-product of a much bigger cause.  The reason we fight for it, and ultimately the reason why we love the outdoors, is because we don’t control it.  We don’t determine when that fish will strike, when that elk will appear, or when the sun will set in just such a way that only Glacier Peak will be illuminated.  Nature keeps us on our toes, keeps us looking for what’s right around the corner, and if we’re honest, makes us feel small.  In a world where everything is increasingly at our finger-tips, the feeling of smallness and increased alertness makes us feel whole because it takes us back to our original roots.  We fight for the salmon runs because they are an integral part of maintaining this bigger-than-us cycle of life. 

As humans we definitely have the power to screw this up.  Our “power,” however, shrinks to the point of foolishness when compared to the absolute splendor of those moments where Nature reveals itself fully in front of our eyes—a moment such as Mother Nature catching her limit.

New York City, Pebble Mine, and Fishmongers


On a recent visit back east I got a funny feeling from being so far from Northwest steelhead water. Let’s just call it “Spey Withdrawal” for now, but you all know what I mean when it’s been too long since swinging through your favorite run (we need a better name for it though, I’m open to any suggestions). Anyway, to temporarily relieve the symptoms of Spey Withdrawal I decided to visit a fly shop in of all places on Fifth Avenue in Downtown Manhattan. The Urban Angler is a superb shop with a great staff; I highly recommend it to anyone in the area. Upon exiting the elevator right onto the shop floor, the very first thing I saw was a “Save Bristol Bay” cap. “Red Gold” was all over the shop and the guys working there were well educated with what’s going on in southwest Alaska. I went in just to quench my thirst for fly-fishing and I left impressed at the fact that a shop in New York was so involved and knowledgeable with regards to saving Bristol Bay. It’s great to see what a widespread effect all of the conservation efforts have on something as important as this.

With that said, it amazes me that a few (but certainly not all) of the people right here in Seattle who desperately depend on this resource know very little about the subject. In light of Kevin Davis and Steelhead Diners’ campaign to get local restaurants actively participating in conserving the Bristol Bay fishery we thought about trying to get more of the Seattle food community aware and involved. EWA has been visiting local fishmarkets and have had some great responses from places like Seattle Fish Company in West Seattle (now advertising “Bristol Bay Sockeye” and educating their customers about the Pebble Mine) and Wild Salmon in the Fisherman’s Terminal. Hopefully we’ll have more markets and vendors on board shortly and with their help maybe even the entire Seattle seafood industry doing more and actively participating in the fight for Bristol Bay. Thanks to those who are doing their share and spreading the word.

Puget Sound, all season fishery, have we said that before?

pugetsound_mikemillercastingfe1pugetsound_rickpicholacuttcls1The past couple of weeks, we have been focused on hitting the saltwater, more because it is nice to fish over fish rather than swing through what appears to be empty water much of the time. Last week, 4 trips and 6 anglers saw/hooked/moved/landed 27 fish. Not bad considering most believe this time of year to be a waste of time out there. Weather has been perfect for it too, overcast, rain and virtually no wind.

Some food for thought.

All of these fish were taken on floating lines. You don’t need an intermediate line to fish out here and this time of year a stripping basket only makes you look like a rookie at times.

Every fish was within 30 feet of us standing in ankle to knee deep water.

On the weekend, perfect days both days and not another angler was seen.

Shoulda Been There Yesterday

As a fishermen you spend a lot of your time looking for that special place where no other angler has been before; virgin water. Maybe you travel to Montana, Alaska, Argentina, New Zealand, Kamchatka, the South Pacific, or the Indian Ocean. And maybe when you get there the fishing is everything you ever wanted. Or maybe the fishing is a little tough, the wind blowing kinda hard, the water’s sorta murky. Maybe the guide/shop-owner/local says “you shoulda been there last week” or, “you shoulda come next week.” When you hear that you know somebody was there last week, and somebody will be there next week. In other words: it’s not virgin water.
Then one day you decide to drive to that little blue squiggle on the map that you’ve always thought about fishing. You don’t even know if there are fish there. And maybe when you get there you don’t find a parking lot, and maybe you don’t find a red Hills Bro’s coffee can in the bushes either. Perhaps you have to hike a little to find any water that looks fishy. You find some fishy water, fish it for an hour and catch nothing. So maybe you go home. Or not. Maybe you fish another hour and move a fish. Then you move another, and then you catch one. And another. And another. They’re native, or maybe they’re not but they’ve been there long enough that all signs of hatchery origin have disappeared. Maybe they’ve been there long enough you could even call them wild. The fish: beautiful, and the water: virgin.
You fish until dark, and drive home smiling. Thoughts of bright, strong, and just-a-little-naïve fish swirling through your head. Maybe now, Monday morning, when you close your eyes at work, you see fish flashing after your fly. And maybe your fishing buddy calls you up and asks how the fishing was. You say, “oh, it was just a little creek,” or, “there were a few small fish.” Something like that. Or, maybe, if your buddy is a really good buddy you say, “oh man, you shoulda been there…”

New species to target, and they are native!

So while pursuing hatchery steelhead on the Cowlitz River this past month or so, looking for those large, beautiful chrome bright planters, we stumbled across a new species. Not new in that no one knows about it but new in that no one we know is guiding for them specifically.

What was once considered the atrocious by-catch and indicator of “fishing on the bottom” is now revered by some anglers.

Catostomus macrocheilus, otherwise known in fish nomenclature as “suckers”, are a vibrant, hefty and native species. More predictable than steelhead typically, they are now adorned with praise and gratitude for having saved many fishless days by moving with aggression to swung flies, as aggressively as they are capable of anyway.

We are now deep in the development process of new flies that will enable us to bring even more, larger fish to hand in a day. Look for these patterns to be picked up by Umpqua and copied by other major manufacturers, we will keep you posted on what they look like and in the meantime, enjoy the eye candy as Jim Witwer helps his fine catch pose for the camera.

Nice work Jim!cowlitz_jimwitsuckerfe1

My New Years Resolution

I don’t think I’ve ever made a new years resolution. I usually try to make resolutions as they occur to me, instead of saving them all for the end of the year. The New Year provides a delineation between past and future useful for self analysis, but it never really moved me to make a resolution. This year however, I am making a New Years resolution.
Making a New Years resolution is a big deal for me. This day, today, January 1, 2010 marks the end of living the dream. 12 years ago I received my first fly rod, a 9’ sage DS2 five weight, for Christmas. I still have it, though now I have many other fly rods as well. Five or so months later I received waders for my eleventh birthday and I was hooked. Quickly I resolved to become a fly-fishing guide, and, after a little research I decided the best place in the world to guide is Alaska. It took me six years, but just after my 17th birthday I was on a plane to Anchorage where I would meet my new boss, Kirk Gay, the owner of Valhalla Lodge.
I was living the dream, fishing every day in the Bristol Bay region. That summer I saw my first truly monster rainbow, caught my first grayling, pike and lake trout; my fly-fishing world was redefined. During the school year I would fish the Puget Sound almost every day after school, and steelhead or trout fish on the weekends. Every summer I was back in Alaska with the bears and monster rainbows.
When I graduated from high school I selected a college based on proximity to fly fishing and skiing. It turns out that you can’t graduate from college and fish or ski every day of the school year. I had to cut back on my fishing, but I still managed to catch some very nice brown trout and backpack into some of the most remote trout fishing secrets in the West.
I graduated from college and spent four months helping a friend open a fly fishing lodge on the mouth of the Kvichak River. We spent the day building and painting, and at night discovered that 30” rainbows will smack a slider like you wouldn’t believe.
This fall I decided it was time to settle down, get a career, and use that college degree. Now I work as a chemist at the Infectious Disease Research Institute. I live on First Hill. It’s weird admitting that I am a young urban professional after so many years of defining myself as a trout bum. Finding out that my boss was not okay with you leaving work early to catch some anadromous fish was a disillusioning experience. I’ve had to come up with other ways to satisfy my addiction. I spend hours editing photos and reading blogs and magazines but it just isn’t the same.
So this year I’m making a New Years resolution. I resolve to get out on the water more. Tomorrow I’m gonna go see if the sea run cutts still remember me. Hope to see you all out there.