Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Technique Tuesday: Bonk Your Hatchery Fish

Purple and Blue, a personal favorite hatchery fish removal tool.

It's getting towards the end of November, which means all of the 509/208/541 area rivers are loaded with hatchery fish that are prime smoker fodder, and the really shiny pond monkey hatchery fish are just starting to trickle in to coastal streams and ready for your grill.  This is a great time of year to catch both and put some food on the table so that your co-workers will quit asking "why do you go fishing if you just throw them back?".  Besides, that's what hatchery fish are put into the river for, and if you give a crap about wild fish you should be bonking every hatchery fish you catch.  Here are a few tips for helping to kill your hatchery fish with respect, and in a manner that creates the best table fare.

1:  Bring the fish to the rock.

I still remember standing at the top of a run with my buddy Dave watching Brazda hook and land a chrome bright hatchery fish on his spey rod, grab it by the tail, and smash it's head against the rocks on the side of the Calawah as if he was chopping a piece of wood.  At this point in my steelhead career I had probably killed 5 hatchery fish, all of which involved me searching the banks for the perfect club-stick, and then nearly bashing my thumb.  Watching what we then dubbed "The Brazda Bonk" made so much more sense, and became the quick and efficient way to dispatch of hatchery fish.  The simple technique of holding the fish like an ax and hitting it against a rock provides a quick and clean kill that respects the fish, and keeps you from fishing the rest of the day with bruised digits.

Bring the fish to the rock, not the rock to the fish.

2: Bleed'em Out.

Whether you are going to filet them or clean them, a quick slice to each gill will bleed your fish out, which makes for a clean tasting fresh fish.  I don't have the exact science behind bleeding them out, but when every AK guide I know does it (and they clean A LOT of fish), it is for a reason.

Chone, bleeing one out and channeling his inner Paul Mclean.
3. Bring the right stuff to finish the job.

The first tool for taking care of hatchery fish once they are dispatched of is a good sharp filet knife.  I have cleaned enough fish with a gerber tool that I kick myself every time I forget the filet knife at home.  One your fish is cleaned, trash bags, large Ziploc bags and a bunch of ice make for transporting your fresh catch home much easier.  Fish into the Ziploc bags, guts in the trash bags, and a pile of ice to keep your fish nice and cold.  Make sure you know your regulations about when it is OK to filet and when it's not.  Now it's time to find your favorite recipe and enjoy the tasty benefits of protecting wild fish.

Friday, November 15, 2013

So, what's your Dad think.....

Dad with is first steelhead.

I will preface this post with the fact that of roughly 1200 guide days I have had 3 anglers that I would never guide again.  So when I say "one of the biggest dipshits I've ever had in my boat" know that the dipshit:awesome fun anglers ratio is correct, and I'm not some angry guide drinking away my winter at the Blue Anchor.

So.....I have one of the biggest dipshits that I have ever guided in the boat, and half way through a full-can-of-chew-day he asks me the most condescending question I have ever been asked on a guide trip "So, what's your Dad think about you being a fish guide?"  Several years later now I don't remember what I said, but it was polite, and I continued to work through the day, knowing that a cold beer was getting closer by the minute.

I have never once questioned what my Dad thinks about my decision to guide, as he has supported me in everything I do, and is particularly fond of my guiding as he routinely reaps the benefits as an avid fly fisherman.  This week we cranked it up a notch.
Working on the rigging of what turned out to be the money fly.
Dad has been learning to spey cast since last spring, and given our distance apart I haven't been able to provide as much on-the-water help as I would like.  Numerous texts, calls and pictures have been exchanged.  Do this, don't do that, why are you stopping there?  Spey-instruction by iPhone.  This fall Dad has been making a weekly trip to a river that we grew up trout fishing, swinging his brains out, and having very little success.  As many of you know this is pretty normal as you start to cast a two-handed rod, and is what makes that first fish so special.

Along with learning to cast, Dad began tying his own swinging bugs.  Any steelhead angler knows that the fly doesn't matter, but given that my tying time is currently more available than angling time I sent out a package that included 12 swing bugs hot out of the vice.  The flies arrived on a Saturday, just in time to be soaked that monday afternoon and Tuesday as my Dad and brother were going to meet on our favorite river.

About noon on their second day fishing together I got a text from Dad as I filled out my TPS reports.  A simple one line message:  STEEL!  He had broken the skunk with my brother, on a fly I tied for him.  To say he was ecstatic was a understatement.  I have never been so excited about a fish that I didn't catch, let alone didn't even witness or net or see till hours later.

To answer the question, "What's your Dad think about you being a fish guide?".  I think he's ok with it, the smile above says it all.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Thank You Veterans!

I am holding this pole like I caught this steelhead, but Dave actually picked my pocket with it, harder than it's ever been picked before (or since).
As I sit in my office on Veterans Day today, and think about how lucky we are to live in the greatest country on earth, and what it takes for us to live this way, I can't help but think of the veterans out there that make this happen.  My grandfather served in the Korean War, and my Dad in the Coast Guard, and to them along with every other veteran, thank you!

Of my friends who have served, one in particular stands out, my all-time best fishing buddy Dave.  Dave and I met in college and after I forgave him for his rocking the boat style of casting and he forgave me for my control issues while fishing we became best friends.  There is nobody that I have spent more time driving around with (listening to the same CD because his CD player was broken), chasing all sorts of fish and having a blast.  After 4 years at Ft. Leonard-Wood, Missouri, Dave got stationed in Hawaii, and I am beyond excited for our next adventure  this spring (more details soon).  Thanks for being a great friend Dave, and thank you for your service!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Back at it

First trip in the new Clackacraft for both.
As I updated briefly her this past spring, 2013 has been a year of change for us.  The biggest and best change being the birth of our daughter, Harper.  We had no idea what this would entail, and had no idea how well we operated on such little sleep (some days better than others).

Although guide season usually cut into fishing time for Ke'lah and me, we would typically make it out for a few days while the weather was nice and the fish were looking up.  This year was an exception as we didn't make it out a single day from early April to this past Saturday.


With a forecast of 55 degrees this seemed like our last chance of getting H in the boat and having a float that didn't result in one of us getting pneumonia.  The weather held nicely and Ke'lah didn't miss a beat, catching her first fish of the day in the first spot she threw it in.  The resulting fish skipped across the surface twice on the right side of the boat, sounded underneath new blue, and then rocketed into the boat on the left side, missing H's carseat and a well-sleeping baby by inches.  Once she figured out what happened we died laughing, in the quietest manner possible to not disturb the peaceful boat.

As the wind picked up, and we already had a couple of fish in the net, we decided to coast down river, looking for animals and enjoying our home float.  The day couldn't have gone any better, and we began what is going to be a great introduction to our daughter and the great outdoors that we're so fortunate to have in our backyard.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Technique Tuesday: Netting Steelhead (And Other Big Fish)

Clearly this guide doesn't know shit about netting big fish.

Using a net while steelheading is something that some believe in and some that don't.  When I'm wading I'm in the no-net category, but if I've got my boat I've got my net.  A big, soft mesh net is a great asset for landing and safely releasing steelhead.  The amount of stress is substantially less by using a net than no-net, no matter how good you are at landing them without a net.  Here are a few tips for safely and successfully landing steelhead with a net.
Note the giant basket of the net, ready for a steelhead under a double rainbow.  Kirk Werner Photo.


1.  Get a big, fish friendly net:  This fact is obviously number one on the list, but is often overlooked.  I can't tell you how many time I have seen people with a net that is too small or is that old, green knotted material that is like the bad kind of loofah for the scales of a steelhead.  Your steelhead net should be larger than you think you need, and the bag should be rubber or fine, soft mesh, similar to your Air Jordan basketball shorts.  Ideally you will find one like the above rainbow picture.  The basket on this net is 38" and the mesh is fine and coated with soft rubber so that it is fish and hook friendly.  Once a fish hits this net you can hold the rim at the surface of the water while the fish sits in the water like a live well.  This gives you a great station for hook removal and pictures if need be.

2.  Get downstream of the fish:  I guess this tip should start with get out of the boat if you are in a boat.  I assumed that was a given but have seen enough gear heads yard beautiful fish into the middle of a Willies (even with Sparky's law) that if stating it here gets to one boat-netter, mission accomplished.  So, after you are out of the boat, get downstream of the fish, or at least quartered down from the fish.  Make the angler pull firmly up above you (sideways pressure!), and when the net is in position to the downstream and side of the fish, have the angler gently release pressure.  This should let the fish coast back into the net with its head turning towards you, and then gently lift up (keeping the fish in the water!).  If you get to far below the fish and try to scoop at the tail the net-job will likely be unsuccessful as the fish will feel you and power away.

Schpanky agrees that a full net is a happy net. Kirk Werner Photo.


3.  Don't rush:  I haven't seen a fist fight break out at the end of a botched net job, but I'm sure it's happened.  Patience is key when netting fish, and getting in a hurry often leads to a fish swimming away and an empty net.  Take your time, make sure that the angler is pulling hard enough, and wait till the fish is near the surface and ready to be netted.  It is the responsibility of the angler to pull hard and make sure the fish is landed quickly and safely.  Trying to dig a fish out of the bottom or jabbing with the net is never a good thing.

4.  Communicate:  Although this is another good spot that could lead to a fight, hopefully you and your buddy that is currently fighting said steel are close enough that he is open to a little help at this point.  By communicating with the angler about what you see the fish doing you can ensure that the fish hits the net cleanly and safely.  Giving good advice at this point will put smiles on both of your faces when the net is full.