Wow, if you haven’t seen this yet, you should probably sit down for it. It will never cease to amaze us how this “story” of consuming native steelhead manages to make itself present in mainstream media. We are obviously still entrenched in a battle of information and sourcing correct data to those who can spread it because at some point we are simply headed to a place where all we will be able to do is talk about “what once was our state fish of Washington”….before they were decimated by poor fishery management led by poor data. Read and weep as they make 4000 fish seem like a million.
I picked my brother in law up at the airport at 9:50 pm. He was on a flight in from LA where he spent the day with his son at the beach. It was 82 degrees when he left. Now, in Seattle, it is raining, 44 degrees and we are heading for the Hoh River.
We drove most of the night and reached the Hoh at 2:30 in the morning. It was pouring rain by now and the campground that we found was more lake then ground. We opted for sleeping in the back of the truck and waiting to see what the light of day would bring.
More rain. Steady, cold, hard, rain. The river was chocolate milk and raging. It had been on the drop all week and I was having pretty high hopes till that moment. We decided to move up and see if we can find a river with some visibility. The Sol Duc seemed to offer us some good chances so we drop the boat and fish. That day was fantastic. A couple hard tugs and a nice dolly kept us pretty happy and even warmed us up a bit.
We finally set up respectable camp. We ate well and crashed early. One more chance to float the Sol Duc in the am kept us feeling pretty optimistic.
Although the river has very little swinging water where we were it is super fun to row. There are some nice rapids and enough waves to keep you on your toes.
No fish that last day but we did see bigfoot drinking beer and played a ton of guitar.
“I just launched my Fishing Dog Photo Contest, which should be a lot of fun. Who knows what images I might see. Grand prize is a Loop OPTI spey rod and matching Speedrunner reel. Worth what? About $1,200 retail. I threw this rod the other day and it launches. Other prizes are coming from Hatch, Yellowdog, Bug Slinger, Smith, fishpond, RO drift boats, and Deneki. If you’d like to be included in this contest with prize donation just let me know.”
Having grown up with a black lab as my dad’s co-pilot in the boat, I have plenty of experience with dogs, that like water, being in or near it when a fish is on or being landed, holy crap! We used to have to chain our labs head to the bottom of the boat, literally 2 inches from the bottom. We only found this out after simply putting his leash around the seat, he nearly hung himself going after a winter steelhead we had to chase down a run on an Oregon coastal stream.
My other favorite is when the dog things larger fish are out to get them and the growling and play fighting begins, try stopping a nearly 100 pound male black lab, from attacking your fish as you beach it, keeping the line taught on a spey rod and you can’t even get to your fish.
At any rate, some of my fondest memories of fishing growing up involved in one way or another a dog. Dog Bless ’em!
Check out Anglers Tonic for more details.
I recently took up spey casting, and in doing so I learned a great deal about why fly fishing is important to me. The ideas manifested in this article have been swimming around in my mind for a while now, finally developing into a single cognizant flow during a recent steelhead trip to the Hoh river which proved to me that simply catching a lot of fish is highly overrated. Achieving a true appreciation of the sport of fly fishing and experiencing the awesome level of fulfillment it can add to one’s life involves a depth of understanding that goes far beyond feeling a fish throb at the end of your line, dragging it onto the bank and snapping a few photos to show your buddies.
Before I get any deeper into this, let me start from the beginning…
I learned to fish for steelhead with a single handed rod using a strike indicator and a team of nymphs. In my mind this setup will forever be known as a set of training wheels. There are several reasons why a person might choose to bobber fish for steelhead, and very few of them have anything to do with mastering the art of fly fishing. I utilized this tactic because I wanted to catch steelhead. I was already well aquainted with nymphing for trout so there was almost no transition at all. Apart from reading water to find steelhead holding lies as opposed to feeding lies that trout prefer, there is no difference between nymphing for trout and steelhead.
Is it an effective way to steelhead fish? Damn straight!
But I digress, even though my new set of training wheels allowed me to catch many large, hard fighting fish I was left feeling empty, like my success had been unearned. I didn’t feel like a “real” steelhead fisherman, just a guy who caught a lot of steelhead.
When I think about images synonymous with fly fishing for steelhead I picture a frostbitten sunrise on a sprawling river like the Skagit. I imagine wading deep into the river’s flow feeling for purchase on the cobble rocks with numb feet. I can hear the line rip free from its anchor point on the waters surface as I swing the thirteen foot double handed rod wide to form a D-loop, and then up and out over the river. I make a big mend to let the sink tip do its work and then tighten on the line. The fly swings across the current searching for a fish. Nothing. Cast, mend, swing, step, repeat…
A steelhead fisherman covers water while searching out his quarry. Patience, persistence and meticulous attention to detail are his key virtues. Countless hours spent on the water have given him a keen sense of his surroundings. He is aware of the subtle changes in current speed caused by variations in the river bottom. He has faced the disappointment of arriving to a raging torrent of a river after a fresh winter rain and the challenge of tempting a large silvery fish from the bottom of a crystal clear pool under the midday august sun.
This is the depth I was lacking, and in learning to fish with a two handed rod I was taking my first step to becoming a “real” steelhead fisherman.
This idea was driven home for me when Ted and I drove out to the Hoh river to fish it one final time before it closed for the season. Like any fishing trip it began with high hopes and giddy, sleepless nights in anticipation of that electric surge when a fish is peeling drag off of your reel.
Within ten seconds of arriving at the river and wetting my line I knew I would not be experiencing that feeling on this particular trip! My casts were awkward and disjointed. On each successive attempt my line would appear to die right in front of me, leaving me feeling quite impotent as an angler. To make matters worse, boat after boat drifted by us with gear fishermen raving about how many fish they were catching. We even observed one set of anglers cleaning two beautiful chrome bright wild fish at the edge of the river, a saddening and frustrating sight on a number of different levels.
One might think that feeling the intense frustration of not being able to fish effectively while numerous others were enjoying success would cause me to throw down the spey rod and grab the glow bugs and strike indicator. To be honest, there were a few moments when the only thing keeping me from launching the thirteen foot contraption clear across the river like a javelin, knowing full well I could throw it further than I could cast at that moment, was the fact that it had the name Dave McCoy engraved on the butt section just above the cork. However, I never once thought about switching back to the training wheels. My resolve was set, and my desire to learn to spey cast greatly exceeded my desire to land a steelhead.
Luckily I was not alone in my struggles, and I had some lessons from Dave, who is a phenomenal teacher, to fall back on. So I started with the fundamentals I had learned while casting on green lake during my initial spey lesson, and along with a few helpful tips from Ted McDermott that fixed some hitches in my cast I eventually got to the point where casting turned into fishing.
Slowly the moves became ingrained and my casting turned into a rhythm. Cast, mend, swing, step, repeat. My numb feet dug into the cobble rocks and held fast as I stood thigh deep in the powerful current of the river. I relished in feeling the “snap” in my snap-t and smiled at the satisfying sound of my anchor tearing from the water as I swung the rod wide to form a d-loop and sent the line sailing out over the river. My frustrations were carried away in the flowing current and I was able to look upon the place I was in with new eyes.
Bald eagles soared overhead. The afternoon sun warmed the back of my neck. As the power and beauty of the Olympic Peninsula soaked in I reflected that Ted and I had it pretty good.
On day 2 Ted got himself a fish. And we were able to explore a beautiful section of the upper river.
We met up with some fellow guides, Dylan Rose and Ryan Smith who were drifting the upper river in Dylan’s raft. Together we enjoyed a beer and some laughs. Ryan was gracious enough to allow me to cast his CF Burkheimer double hander with a Skagit Line, a staggering difference from the old Sage VT2 and Delta line I had been heaving for the past two days. I was reminded of yet another reason other than catching fish that I enjoy fly fishing. Sharing my experiences with friends.
To be clear, I do enjoy catching fish and I have nothing against nymph fishing. In fact I still firmly believe that it is an effective tool for catching fish under certain circumstances. If catching fish is the only goal you have during your trip, if that is your sole purpose for taking time off work and away from your loved ones and traveling all the way out to some gorgeous river in the middle of nowhere, then go ahead and nymph, you will catch fish. However, If you are anything like me, then you might get to thinking that maybe in this crazy world of fish porn and internet forums, where competition is high and one-upping the last guy with more pictures of bigger fish has become the norm, maybe we should re-evaluate why we began fishing in the first place. To get back to our roots. To satisfy an urge to explore the unknown. To get in touch with ourselves and our primal human instincts. To master an ancient art form. To become part of a worldly culture and recognize the importance of an energy greater than our own. These are the reasons why I chose fly fishing as a path for my life.
No more training wheels for me!
(special thanks to Dylan and Ted for some of the great photos!)
Well over a decade ago, I moved to Telluride, Colorado in my former career (if you can call it that) as a ski race coach. Summer jobs around the western US were easy to come by as a fly fishing guide so I was excited to move to this quaint little town and add yet another few rivers to my book of knowledge.
One of the first rivers I would begin to guide was the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and who would be my first guide trainer, none other than Frank Smethurst himself. Fresh after a season of flipping a raft with clients in a rapid called Cable and losing the keys to their private jet, for the mile or so leading up to Cable, Frank was in my ear, “Do you see this life jacket I am wearing, it is the most buoyant one you can buy. Know why I wear this one, it is because I was wearing one like yours when I flipped and didn’t come up for nearly a minute!! You MIGHT want to consider changing yours, or not flipping.”
For a week Tee Clarkson and I got this from everyone on our rowing and fishing but no one was more tedious about it than Frank. “You aren’t actually going to fish that are you?” tone soft but condescending.
At any rate, I have known Frank for 16 years or so and when we got the chance to fish together this past week on the O.P., I was happy to see nothing had changed, fish honestly do fear him, everywhere, as he is simply the most passionate angler I have ever known and has game to boot.
While our time on the water was shortened prematurely by rain, it was a wonderful flashback in time to the good old days of Telluride and the people who helped shape who I am as a guide today. To watch Frank catch his first winter steelhead and be a part of that experience was just another page in our history together and one we won’t forget anytime soon.
Thanks Frank for coming out and as always, great to see, drink and fish with you old friend.
Tell me that the most recent issue of Fly Rod and Reel hasn’t printed what I am sitting here reading, oh my GOD! After such a stellar issue last month, dedicated to steelhead, FR&R just took about 5 steps backwards and took Joan Wulff with them.
In this industry it is easier and unfortunately safer to steer clear of hot topics, leaving them open to debate amongst many who are seeking guidance on these issues from those they trust and respect. I would wager thousands of anglers are looking for someone to be an authority on the topic and yet has anyone besides a handful of conservation organizations in the region been willing to step up to that plate? No for fear it might, “offend and turn off prospective customers or existing ones…” author will remain anonymous and clearly a glass half empty type of personality.
Rather it should maybe be viewed as if you are passionate enough to stake your reputation on the well being of a species that doesn’t speak English or any other language to my knowledge, for the betterment of society and those who rely on them for their livelihood, maybe you will attract like minded clients/customers and turn existing ones into life-long believers with you.
Unless you live here in the Pacific NW, have had your life affected by these magnificent fish and what they endure to become a part of that said life, then you don’t have a right to say, endorse or have anything to with the future of these species. Nothing!
Why does Joan feel the need to associate herself with this unfortunate story? For her to introduce such an article shows the uninformed and removed state of those who do not live and breathe the plight of these fish day in and day out as a part of working in this industry and more importantly in this region.
In fact it is quite cavalier for her act this way while at the same time have this in every FFF Flyfisher magazine:
Can you be anymore hypocritical…this is not what these fish or this industry needs. We need well respected and world renowned anglers and conservationists to positively politicize acts like this for the benefit of the fish.
While on the subject, why does the IGFA have, allow or even accept applications for species in peril? World Record status of steelhead and other species around the world that are in serious trouble with regards to their long term sustainability should simply be put on hold or closed to change until they have regained at least a portion of their former populations.
As an organization that is supposed to represent our industry they too should have a higher standard and conscientious view of what it means to remove such a species from the gene pool.
The mention that this was the largest steelhead ever caught by IGFA records also shows a gross negligence in making sure they have compiled what is out there on record so as to give a more competent detail of their history.
Hey, IGFA, I did some of your work for you:
Idaho State Record
New York State Record
British Columbia Records, scroll down to Area Records
I feel sorry for someone who needs to have their namesake based on the killing of such a magnificent fish. Especially when looking to the not so distant future could find that is was also the beginning of the end of their race. Hind sight being 20/20, that might have been a good question to ask yourself before giving it the granite helmet huh Pete.
I would hope that when I die, my kids and with luck grandkids will look at what I believed in and fought for and be proud, knowing I was attempting to allow them the same pursuits I enjoyed growing up.
NONE of us out here believe the “it was bleeding” story. I have not seen one picture supporting this claim to be true and by the undertones in Pete’s article, he knew exactly what he was doing, where is the closest certified scale IGFA will accept that I can find…absolutely deplorable.
And as for Joan Wulff, make up your mind. Do you “Hold the future in your hands, and then release them” or do you kill them and grab the worthless little bit of history and run? What sort of lesson does this teach our up and coming generation of anglers? I am sorry to say I lost much of the respect and admiration I had for you.
As for FR&R, by simply printing the story without a side bar of comment by the magazine, you have endorsed this. A publication of this stature should be first in line to “police” such a story by putting the right spin on it. Only hope is to have it create enough awareness to help alter the policy here in WA but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
WDFW shoulders a good portion of the blame for this as well. Several years ago they took a step in the right direction by making ALL wild steelhead in Washington mandatory catch and release. Pressure from a small town called Forks made the entire fisheries management board back off this decision, allowing 1 wild steelhead be kept and we have been in a back peddling tailspin since. Their disparaging numbers currently compared to historical figures should easily warrant such a decision.
I LOVE this industry. I have dedicated 20 years of my life to it and to helping others marvel at its wonders and will continue to do so. But at times I am floored by the selfish nepotism abound in certain circles of our industry and it is time to grow up.
I will end this on these words:
“We have reached the time in the life of the planet, and humanity’s demand upon it, when every fisherman will have to be a river-keeper, a steward of marine shallows, a watchman on the high seas. We are beyond having to put back what we have taken out. We must put back more than we take out.”
The Longest Silence – Thomas McGuane
Was this too harsh? Tough, it needed to be said and thank you Dylan for pulling on the reigns.
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.
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.