Friday, November 15, 2013

BridgeLips and Wizards of Current

Bull Run River
I have very little personal fishing history with Salmon. My first experience fishing for Salmon was in the Wisconsin on the way out to Oregon. We stopped to visit Naomi's mom's place in Milwaukee WI in September of 2006 and I walked down to the Milwaukee River near its confluence with Lake Michigan expecting an opportunity to fish for Smallmouth in a skanky urban river.  I was really surprised to see Chinook rolling in there in September.  Ended up having a really good day the next day landing 4 of 6 big landlocked Chinook a Smallmouth and a Walleye! . Catching them on spoons and bucktail jigs and struggling with my 10lb. test travel rod. 
spinner caught post-spawn

In Oregon in 2008 I made a few forays out to the lower Sandy River at the delta in late October fishing black marabou jigs and wading in the same quicksand that terrified Lewis and Clark in that area.  I love the look of that Delta but it did not end up being very fishy for me. It has no good trout water in that low stretch. It is big, wide and sandy and thus hard to fish.  But I did have a ton of fun riding my bike out there in the dark and did catch my first Steelhead smolt casting a micro spinner to it right under the big Highway 84 bridge.

"Everything pulls hard." Quote to me ca. 1995 from Klee a Bahamian fisherman

Eagle Creek
I had one of those odd fishing experiences over Labor day weekend where you get more than you ask for.  I was fishing a 1/4 oz. purple curl tail jig off the jetty at Tillamook and had only hooked one Black Rockfish in hours of casting. The one other guy fishing out there was new to the area from Spokane so I was filling him in on what I knew. I mentioned that this was theoretically a spot where you could have a chance at a Salmon from shore while still in the saltwater. So I eventually put my money where my mouth was and put on a heavier 1/2 oz. jig head so I could fish further out and deeper in the channel. I had fixated on a spot where the jetty wall had collapsed forming a small penninsula of big rocks out into the channel and the current spiraled around it.  Cast upstream, let it sink 10 seconds, bounce bounce. I was gambling with the jig getting it down into the kelp. Only a few casts in right up next to the rocks I hooked what I thought was a VERY solid rockfish. The hit had that vertical bounce of a Rockfish which then proceeded to peel tons of line off the reel and sped out to mid channel at a speed impossible for a Rockfish.  It then came up at did a surface thrash and I could see all the chrome silver of a bright Salmon. Then it ran again out even further and surface thrashed and threw the jig. Me being severely outgunned with 10lb. line was really fun. I have learned to love the "no handed release" but I now have this reel spooled with 30 lb. braid. 

Flash forward exactly 1 month:
Sandy River near spawning sites

I have made a serious attempt to start a regular "fishing practice". Our shop is not open on Mondays so I have been trying to take every Monday and go fish somewhere close to home. 6 weeks in a row ... and it is making me very happy.
tiny tackle shop at Troutdale

In early October I headed out the the Sandy River for a day of chasing fall Salmon in the fresh water. Still too shy financially to get a fly rod bigger than my 5 wt. I was armed with my selection of french blade spinners. I decided to stop and fish a nice looking rocky spot on the lower river as I knew the upper river would be crowded with more people.  I got a good wadeable stretch all to myself.  At this point in the season most people seem to be fishing the big holes generally with something on a bobber. I was casting a big #5 all gold Blue Fox. I was thrilled out of my mind to hook a big post-spawn native female Chinook in a seam next to a crazy long slot rapid. The fish tore into the heavy chop current and made 2 nice long runs. This fish was much easier to stop than the fish still in the saltwater.  I love these Blue Fox spinners with the slow rotation on the blade that you can feel with the braided line and cork handle. I got her back in the water and she swam of with surprising energy.

Successful Session with Spinners in the Clackamas River

inside tiny tackle shop
In late October  -  I was still looking for the odd chinook or coho. I want to avoid people as much as catch fish.  I ended up finding that there is a fish count for the Clackamas  River and reading that there are a handful summer steelhead in the river as of Oct 14.  By mid afternoon --- after a long walk along slippery rocks exploring a new section of the Sandy River I gave up on that river.  I discovered a connector road that gets me to the Clackamas River in 20 minutes.  Exploring again by wading far from parking lot on foot I found some good nervous water on the river.  Not as much curve or bend in the river as I would like but and not overly bouldery --- but swift and uneven bottom with medium size cobble - whitecapping in a big area from the turbulence caused by the uneven bottom.  I was hoping for a summer fish so I switched down the spinner to a #4  --- bumped down again to tarnished copper instead of gold and managed to catch 2 small hatchery Steelhead. (barbs are pinched on these)
a young Clackamas Steelhead
Mountain Whitefish
The next week  I waded a large portion Eagle Creek park on an upper tributary of the Clack.   I was trying to find Coho… I have never caught a Coho and was trying to add one to my "life list" I suppose.   I have heard they are notoriously hard to get to bite when they are in spawning mode. I have experienced hard to catch jack Coho at the mouth of the Clackamas.   But saw 4 dead coho way up into the Eagle Creek tributary.   I caught a bunch of small trout on micro spinners with the barbs pinched.  I kept walking downstream until the Eagle Creek met the Clackamas River.  This section looks good - not great but good - I fished the low clear water very systematically casting then taking a step - repeat.  At the tail of a big pool I caught my first Mountain Whitefish.  It killed a big spinner and fought valiantly the way all trash fish do.  I thought if I could figure out how to target this fish by fishing the deeper water and the tails of pools I could have a blast. Cascades Ladyfish !

 I Regress onto Bait Boat:

Dave fighting Chinook
Chrome Tidewater Chinook

In Early November I had the super lucky privilege of getting out on a boat in Tillamook Bay near Garibaldi, OR. My freind Dave Barmon of Fiddlehead Landscapes had an extra spot on Pete Wilson of Pete Wilson Stoneworks 20'+ Boat.  Pete was nice enough to have somebody along he had not met. It was a good education for me.  I like most types of fishing and had never done this type of trolling before.  It was that spinning a plug cut herring on 4 conventional 30 lb. test rods behind the boat - with spreader bars and a 5 oz. weight!! kooky!   (BTW NO Snook or Tarpon would EVER hit a live bait that is literally spinning. If you rig a live shrimp so that it spins in Florida - forget about it - nothing is touching that weirdness)  We trolled an area called the Ghost Hole with many other boats.  This would also be my first experience "combat" fishing - with a high concentration of boats. But we hooked 3 big Chinook and landed 2 it was really fun. Though I did really miss getting to feel the fish hit. Trolling not so much about fishing skills but very much about life skills - organizing your life to have a boat. So very different from fly fishing at 7700'. So I think I am getting a very well rounded Oregon fishing education.

I have cried three times this fall:

moody Garibaldi Harbor
The first time cried this fall as I was walking along the trail beside Bull Run River and realizing the Salmon I saw spawning had endured years at sea evading possibly Blue Sharks and Steller Sea Lions and Fisherpeople and Boats at the mouth of the Columbia - ascended all these sets of rapids to make their way all the way back here to spawn in 18" of water.  I was alone and looking at 3 spawning pairs of Fall Chinook. These fish represent the elite of the elite - one in 1000 fish - the class of returning spawners.

The second time I cried this fall was when I got a new 9 wt. fly rod and reel in the mail from my dad.  It came in the mail while I was at work. I had asked to borrow his old 9 wt. for winter Steelhead season and the assjack actually sent me a new rod and reel. 

Then I cried again when I was driving to the river early in the morning realizing how many people were breaking up or struggling with relationships.

Bridge Lips portion
Wed Nov. 13  

 Naomi ran the ENTIRE 30 mile Wildwood Trail on Monday. Of which I ran the last 18 with her... !!  She had been wanting to run this since we moved here. And then I also got a Wednesday off work. I had the choice to go to the fly shop and rig my new fly reel or fish… and I chose fishing for the day. Last month - I had run in two Portland Water Bureau guys at Dodge Park doing a gravel survey of that area regarding suitability for Coho and Chinook spawning. I asked them if there were Suckers in that part of the river.
 They said they do see Bridgelip Suckers. I hit three parks with access along the Clackamas.  I landed 3 Bridgelip Suckers and jumped one Trout.  Bridgelips are a
Bridgelips Sucker
solid fish. Any fish that will hit lures and hit lures in a trout current is a great fish. Like Ladyfish !  This really saved the day for me to have something take a little bit of line.  Suckers are Wizards of Current. This was in the same area that I caught trout 3 weeks ago so I was using a Gold #3. I also got some more scoop on fly fishing this area from an old dude with a drift boat. (his fly looked exactly like 2 Aero Jigs i just bought - like a woolly bugger stuck to an egg…)

Some Fish Stuff of Interest:

This was apparently a record year for returning Fall Chinook to the Columbia. This is good. The Coho run I am not sure about… we had heavy rain that came early in the fall and then a dry October which likely set things back.

Also something that came up in the past few weeks is odd catches of species in odd places: A Mahi Mahi off Ilwaco, Washington! I am most interested in  the few recent documented Striped Bass in the Columbia River. One really large female of 71 lbs. !  There is an erie and cool photo of a Striped Bass passing through the fish ladder at Bonneville Dam back in June.  I will be looking for big ones in June someday - just under a giant school of Shad.

On November 8 was the premiere of WAYPOINTS a really good fly fishing documentary by Confluence Films. The trailers of all their films are worth watching.  I went with my friend Matt Reed who I think liked it. He might be afraid of Saltwater fish though.  

"This is my fishing rod. There are others like it but this one is mine." quote
sparky Clackamas Steelhead
from internet
Sandy River
Get out there and fish!

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