Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Wrap-Up

It's very difficult to not write a year end post in 100% cliche's but 2015 disappeared in a hurry.  I looked back at my 2014 wrap-up post and I vowed to write less bullshit, and accomplished it.  With all of the other avenues out there to get your opinion online I'll be interested to see how much longer blogs have any impact.  I know the ones I get jacked to read dwindle every year.  So, that being said, thank you so much for those of you that do come here and read what I periodically throw up.  It means a lot to me.

Like last year's 4 for 2014 here's 5 of my favorite pics from 2015.  

Lat but certainly not least, the highlight of 2015, Michael William.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Why the WDFW Ruling on OP Steelhead Sucks

My buddy Art, before he was my buddy Art, with a beautiful swung fish in the newly "no float fishing" zone of the upper Hoh.

Last week the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission made what has been announced as a historic ruling on the rivers of Washington's coast known lovingly as the "OP".  These rules, which include a ban of bait, barbs and killing fish on all rivers, as well as designating a portion of the upper Hoh off limits to fishing from a boat, do come as a strong indication that science is being taken into account in WDFW, something that has not always been the case.  However while many seem to be celebrating this as a huge victory, I don't completely share the overjoyed view of these regulations.

As a long time steelheader, former OP guide, and Washington resident for most of my life you would think that I would be singing from the mountain tops with the rest of the internet.  While I do agree that it is great to see these changes, and I do think it will have a positive impact on the fishery, it leaves me with a lingering question:  What the fuck took so long?

Wild steelhead are as incredible a fish as you can possibly catch on a fly rod, and to me, a fresh native winter steelhead is the pinnacle.  No colors but black and silver, see-through fins and a deep rooted anger that they're summer brethren don't share, there is not a fish that I hold in higher regard.  As a guide I had the choice of most anywhere I wanted to spend my winters guiding, and I chose to return home to the coasts rain soaked rivers.  That is why I find the amount of time that it has taken to make these changes to be so frustrating.  Every river that has been listed in the bait/barb/kill ban falls well under escapement every year (meaning there are not enough fish coming back, according to the state, which has a very low bar as far as "enough" is concerned) and it has gotten to the point that the fishery has nearly collapsed for the absolute most no-brained incremental changes to be made.

At what point do things have to get to on the coast for some real decisions to be made and some action to be taken that truly protects fish?  Is the state of Washington going to let things go like they did on the Puget Sound rivers to the point that the only option is closing the rivers?  This would be the greatest disappointment of my angling lifetime because many of the answers are so clear.  Obviously removing nets and dealing with the tribe is the easiest answer.  Get rid of the mechanism that remove half of the fish as they enter the river and all anglers are happy.   I have witnessed the many different netting techniques employed, including drift netting, and it makes you sick to your stomach.  The political nightmare that is this option is more depressing than i can fathom, and I just hope that in my lifetime this is accomplished.  There are many other parts to the puzzle that can be picked off in the mean time, from enforcement and poaching to habitat degradation and logging, that offer easier solutions and don't involve federal/state pacts and treaties.

The other part of this ruling that I have noticed online is the continued segregation of steelhead anglers.  The comments I have seen from gear and fly anglers about the impact of the boat ban have at times been moronic.  The general argument that the spey anglers now have a sanctuary, and this is going to lead to trampled redds and an increased impact on fish is bullshit.  Even as a guide who spent a ton of time rowing bobbers around, I have absolutely no prolem with the fish having a boat free zone.  It is the only place in the entire state of Washington where fishing is banned from a moving boat.  In a state full of fishing regulations that a neanderthal would scoff at for being archaic, it is refreshing to atleast see an attempt at something progressive.  If any conservation impact is to ever be had, anglers need to put aside what type of rod they are using, where they are from, and get their shit together to make some reel change.  

I am fortunate that i have been able to work with some very good conservation organizations, and have gotten to see a lot of good work done.  In no way am I questioning the work of  of WSC and the other groups that pushed for this, and I understand the political powers and incrementalism that is conservation.  This is a victory, and certainly a step in the right direction, I just wonder how far things are going to have to go before changes are made that actually have teeth.  The only solace I have is that I know the fish will always be there, even if it's only a few and we can no longer fish for them.  When you hear of fish spawning above the Elwah dam site just down the road, within months of the dams being removed, it eases the pain, and provides some eternal hope that no matter how bad we fuck things up, the fish will come back one way or another.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Economic Impact of Fishing: Montana

Not that much different than a gold bar.

So for those of you who don't know almost three years ago I cut my guiding back to part time and started working as an economic development planner for a company out of Butte.  Since then, I have definitely developed a passion for economic development (certainly not a passion that would rival fishing) and am fascinated by the dollars that fishing brings to my region of Montana, and particularly the juxtaposition between fishing/guiding and agriculture in a valley that is constantly yearning for more water.

I was fortunate enough to sit on the Upper Missouri Basin planning update process a couple of years ago, and helped to form a water plan for the Upper Missouri which included everything from my part of the world (Big Hole, Beaverhead, Ruby, Madison) to just past Great Falls and Fort Benton.  One of the big takeaways I got from the economic development side was talking to fellow ED Planners from the lower river, who had no concept of use of water for recreation.  To them, and obviously the bulk of the irrigators, water was something to be consumed.  This consumptive use was something that those of us in the upper part of the valley, and as a minority the anglers, had to work to combat in the plan.  While there is certainly a need for consumptive use, the value of non-conusumptive uses are tremendous and renewable.

Today I opened up The Chum, and saw this interesting article on the economic impacts of fishing throughout the country.  I quickly scrolled though the states I was interested in and came to Montana. $350 million spent statewide directly on fishing, spread amongst 350,000 anglers, so about $1000 an angler (I know I did more than my part).  One of the most interesting facts I learned at the Upper Missouri meetings was that approximately 50% of angling in the state occurs in the the Upper Missouri (including Big Hole, Beaverhead, Madison, Jefferson, Gallatin).  Combine those two pieces of data and you have $175 million dollars spent in our area directly on fishing.  Even with more conservative number (lets do 25%) thats still $87.5 million! Obviously this is a very simple overview, but certainly enough to get my brain working.

So, why is that important?  In case you haven't noticed we aren't quite packing away the snow every year like we used to 100 years ago.  And with temps increasing and water decreasing, the demand for such a precious resource increases dramatically every year.  When it comes down to thinner and thinner years, and more difficult decisions are to be made, being able to show where the dollars go, and more importantly where they come from, is what decision makers are going to be focused on.  It's great to see that the conservation efforts that take place don't go to waste, and that there is some real economic value to leaving water in our rivers.

Part 2 of my very simplistic economic study is going to be Washington's coast.  We all know the best financial use of steelhead is not dragging them out of the river in a gill net and shipping them to Pikes Place.

Thursday, December 3, 2015


For the longest time I never bothered tying intricate steelhead flies.  They eat a piece of bunny or flash just as well, and catching them is the fun part, right? I was young and frankly happy anytime I hooked one that didn't involve a bobber.

During the time that I didn't get it, I was fishing every day, guiding all the time, and viewed fancy flies as getting in the way of time I could be fishing.  Now that I sit here and write this post across from my daughter and her play-dough, with another kid sleeping in a swing in the other room, knowing that i will only have 5 days to go steelhead fishing this spring, I understand.  Taking time to put the feathers exactly where they should go, pulling material off when it's not perfect and geeking out to the point of OCD makes sense, when time at the desk is easy to come by and time on the river is tough.  It is through tying that I stay connected, think about the fish I've caught on each different pattern and color, and am reminded why these fish are so special.