Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Technique Tuesday: Right Angle Nymphing

For this week's Technique Tuesday we're going to stick with last weeks topic and elaborate on bobber fishing.  It is still winter, and as much as I wish we had an option for some dry fly fish around here right now a week of subzero temps crushed that opportunity.  And lets be honest, although substainally more effective, there are a hell of a lot more moving parts and technique that go into proper bobber fishing than tying a chubby onto the end of the string and throwing into the drink.

The first person I remember showing me right angle nymphing techniques was my buddy Johnny Boitano (no relation to Brian).  The concept is simple, instead of putting your bobber in the middle of your leader and tying flies onto the end cut you leader back where you would put your bobber.  For my rig, I tend to cut the leader off about 2.5' in, tie a perfection loop, and then loop on strong tippet (0x,1x,2x, sometimes 12lbs seaguar).  At the end of the tippet I bloodknot on the tippet that I am going to tithe fly too (often 2x or 3x).

Why go through this process instead of just throwing a bobber on?  Sinkage!  As you can tell from my rough drawing when you put a bobber into the middle of a leader you still have several feet of thick diameter line coming out the downstream side of the bobber.  This thick line prevents your flies from sinking, and means that you have to run more lead and crap on the end to get where you need to be.  By replacing this section with thinner diameter material your flies sink faster, which means less crap, and a much more successful rig that is also easier to throw.  The guides that I have shown this rig to have all converted once they fished it and the side benefit is once you cut down a leader you can use it for a long time for this application.  A chunk of 30lbs maxima does the same trick, but it seems like I always have a crappy leader around that is perfect for this application.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Steelhead Paradox

Back ya go buddy.

It takes about 3 second looking at my blog to understand that I like steelhead.  The salted cousin of the state fish of my home state of Washington, they captivate me in a way that no other fish has.  It is clear that I am not alone in this view, and this was again drilled into my head as I opened the most recent issue of the drake.  Two huge articles, again, about west coast steelhead.  One that is close to a hot spotting article, the kind that the Drake used to never write (I'll hit this point some other time) and the second a great article about the NU and it's protector.  If I were a journalist I'd tell you how many pages were committed to Steelhead over the last few issues of the Drake and other fishing mags (are there any others?), but I'm a blogger so I just bitch about things with little to no real evidence.  To that accord the press that steelhead have been getting lately is tremendous.

It kills me to see it to some extent.  Shiny pages of hero shots and poetic stories about freezing cold fishing and listerine green water.  Steelhead are without a doubt the hottest thing going in fly fishing, and the marketing world clearly recognizes this.  Promotion of these majestic fish comes in all forms from the articles to clothes and reels and social media, they are everywhere.  Working as a steelhead guide for several years puts me in the cross hairs of responsibility too, along with running a blog and being a vocal proponent of their protection, i recognize my role in the pressure.  I have been a steelhead fisherman for a very short time in the big picture, and the 12 years that I have fished for them the pressure has grown exponentially.

The downside to all of this pressure is easily observed if you float any big western steelhead river.  Pull outs are lined with trucks, boat ramps are crammed with trailers and rooms are hard to  come by when rivers are dropping.  This pressure has the obvious downsides of fish mortality and user of the resource, along with simply not being able to find water to fish.  Days that I have to give up numerous good runs because of pressure are not yet the norm, but are certainly happening more often than when I started steelhead fishing not that long ago.

If there is one thing I have found as a fishing guide and in my professional career it's easy to sit around and point fingers and blame without trying to fix the problem.  Sure mag's, guides, shops, social media and a litany of other sources are responsible for this popularity growth, but what good can come from it?  How can we use this popularity to help the fish that we all love so much?

I think the best possible outcome from this recent fame is going to be protection.  Every time I float into a run that i love and see anglers there I remind myself that if steelhead didn't have the celebrity-like following they wouldn't have the protection, and every last one would likely be removed by one method or another from their native rivers.  Rivers without native fish are substantially easier for politicians to molest, and make hard decisions disappear.  The steelhead creates a symbol for protection that many can rally behind.  I certainly don't know the answers to the many questions this side of steelhead fishing creates, but it's something that I continuously think about.  The more people that are fishing for these great fish the more opportunities there are to not only help them survive but thrive into the future.

I wrote the above piece and sent it to my buddy Mills to take a look and we bounced around some ideas.  Here are a few of the ways that I am personally trying to help solve the problem.  Let me know what you do to help steelhead!

- Donate $ and time.  A couple of the org's that I have donated time or money to are the Hoh River Trust, Native Fish Society and Wild Steelhead Coalition.  TU seems to be doing some good stuff with their Wild Steelheaders United as well.

-  Education:  I don't guide for steelhead anymore, and I would like to say it's because I chose some holier-than-though path, but the reality is I have a daughter and I want to spend time at home.  That being said, whenever steelhead come up while I am trout fishing I am informed about the facts of the fish and educate my guests to the best of my ability.  Getting people on a national level to understand the perils of these fish is paramount to their success.

- The Little Stuff:  There are a ton of things you can do while fishing for them that all add up to a stronger survival rate.  Keep wild fish in the water, bonk hatchery fish, don't take a picture of every last fish you catch, use a net for landing.  These things along with many others all contribute to survival rate and make a difference with every fish you are fortunate enough to catch.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Technique Tuesday: Winter Nymphing

Worth waiting out the cold and a pair of leaky waders.

As I sit here in troutville and hear the wind try to blow down our chimney I think a return of the semi-regular (ok, very random) technique tuesday post about winter nymphing is due.  Sure, there are going to be a lot of days between now and April that in this part of the world it's better to stay inside wrapping bugs than freezing your satchel off for a couple trout.  When those days do warm up a few degrees, and the fish start to get happy here are a few tips I've picked up over the years that make a difference.

Fish slower water than you think

This is number one for a reason.  As I'm sure you already know, slower water = warmer water, which is a good thing in the winter.  When trout don't have to worry as much about o2 levels in the water, they don't have to live in a riffle.  I am always amazed at how slow of water trout will live in when water temps get low.  If you can find an eddy with a slow seam that is my fave, but even when you're on insides start SLOW.  When I am guiding out of my boat in cold weather and rowing laps on a big run I always start way further in than I think I should.  I routinely see my guys question the first lap I make though the run, but it pays off enough times that I have to do it.  The same goes for wading, start shallow and slow, work out.  Keep your eyes peeled in the foam too.

Crank the bobber-daze to 11

When a trouts metabolism drops with cold water, their aggression and desire to attack things goes down dramatically.  When you combine that with living in slower water in the winter, the takes can be very subtle.  I still remember fishing a pod of midge eaters with Jack Mitchel on the Yakima many winters ago.  We were taking turns catching fish, using a zebra midge and a palsa pinch on indicator.  It was my turn, and all of a sudden Jack goes "hit it, hit it".  Knowing better than to question my then boss I pulled  the trip with a fish on the end, and turned and looked at him, asking "how the hell did you see that, I saw nothing!"  He just laughed and said, "I saw your indicator roll over on the surface."  Ever since that day I watch my bobber like crazy and set the hook if it looks at me wrong in the winter.

Tie loop knots to all of your flies

This is actually a tip that I use all year long, but it makes a bigger difference when you're fishing lower water.  My friend Greg turned me on to this trick for nymphing in higher pressured rivers, but it transfers over to winter time as well.  The biggest advantage that you get from tying a loop to a fly is movement.  Even with something like a #18 brassie your bug moves more, so much so that I think you can run one size heavier tippet.  So if you should be fishing with 5x, you can get away with 4 and a loop (all fluoro, mind you).  Oh, and of course you use the best loop knot ever, by the man, Lefty.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Losing Their Specialness

My friend Stuart with a gorgeous Salmon River fish.
I spent my beginning years as a steelhead angler chasing bobbers on foot and out of a boat on numerous Eastern Washington rivers with a variety of excellent anglers and guides.  One of those buddies, my friend Shan, was at a similar skill level to myself when I began this adventure, and was on a similar learning curve, constantly pushing each other to get better.  I have a lifetime supply memories from our times fishing together, but there were a few lessons we learned together that I reference more than others.

Shan, an outstanding angler and as good of fishing buddy as you could ever have, often had a saying when you were catching them and he wasn't.  Comparing steelhead to sex, he always joked about how the more you caught the less special they became.  "Losing their specialness" was the ongoing joke between us, which meant that you were catching a bunch.  10 years and numerous steelhead later, I have completely found this to be true.  Not to say that the steelhead are not special, I know that I will never find a more amazing and rare fish, but the more you catch, the more comfortable and routine the process becomes.

This past weekend, I spent a day on the Salmon with a friend of mine from Bozeman, Stuart.  Stuart and I know each other through work and had never fished together before.  Where I spent years of my life on the giving end of a two handed fly rod chasing anything that swam, Stuart pursued other activities.  A good caster and great guy to fish with, we swung beautiful runs for 3/4 of the day before we found any fish.  We separated on a large run and I squashed the skunk with a beautiful wild fish, colored up and aggressive, it was the sign that we needed to keep spirits high.

The next run that we fished is the type of water that you would read about in your steelhead 101 book.  Gliding along with a side channel to break up half of the seam, there was no question that someone was going to catch one.  After several fly changes throughout the day Stuart deferred to my experience and handed over his fly box for a moment reminiscent of The Natural (Pick me out a winner Bobby).  I grabbed a green butted Hohbo (aka greatest steelhead pattern of all time) and sent him on his way.  10 casts in to starting behind him, in the middle of the swinging "space out", I watched Stuart's line come tight, rod shift towards the bank, and a spunky hen skipped around on the end of his line.

Doing my best Sasquatch impersonation I scrambled down the bank in time to tail his fish, the first of the season for him.  While stuart is a long ways from a steelhead newbie, you could feel his energy as he cradled the fish for a couple of quick pictures.  A hatchery fish that I would normally dispatch of these days, Stuart elected to let the fish go.  This choice instantly brought me back to my early steelhead seasons.  I still remember fishing my favorite 509 river and throwing back hatchery fish, not wanting to club "the specialness" with a stick and put it in my cooler.  To watch this excitement in a friend was incredibly rejuvenating, and a good perspective on a niche of this great sport that I can't get enough of.