Saturday, January 4, 2014

Chrome is Gold

On Steelhead and what happened in 2013

So I'm putting all the photos at the top and all the text at the bottom. I figure everybody likes nature photos but not everyone wants to read about fishing. So here is November and December's fishing thoughts and excursions and some bits on 2013 fish in general.

Naomi photo of Gull in flight - Wilson River

Spawned out warriors on the Wilson on Jan 1

Wilson River Trail - Naomi runs fast

I looked up "pristine" in the dictionary

Nice piece of water for a yoga pose

More cracked out uglyness on the Wilson

Bubba is tying on a jig

Matt Reed reading water

Book of man and salmon

Matt readin'

Typical arsenal for 2013

 Wilson River at about 500 cfs

A deer was beating me up off camera

Clackamas at "action" flood stage

Go Ducks!

RIP Spinning Rod ? not likely

Clackamas: water temp 33

Yay ! I can cut my hair

Futuristic Lures of the year 3000

Hobo Hillbilly Moonshiner
Excalibur jumps your heart out of your chest electrified - Steelhead on the Clackamas River in November

Sandy River having no trouble looking poetic.

Silver is Gold Steel Chaos.  

Chrome bolts downriver and holds on to the night. So I caught a Steelhead ! And released it in short order after taking my obligatory fast and terrible photos. See photo above.

      On the Clackamas River. Almost nothing was right about hooking this fish in this spot. The lure was too big. The sun was too bright at 2 pm. The water was too cold at 41 degrees. It was over sand.  Wrong wrong wrong. I had just fished 5 hours of good looking bouldery pocket water.  I put on a bigger #5 in silver. Generally, I figure that if you have to fish larger than a #4 to get down in the rip you are fishing too fast of water. Well it was near the head of a big pool - so that was textbook. But what do I know. I get the cult like obsession regarding this fish.

     My whole body was electrified. My face looked hilarious. The fight lasted long enough that I began to be conscious of my hilarious breathing. Nervous, focused breathing. You can’t believe your touching this animal. This is the closest thing I have to religion.  But I will take it.  My first Steelhead was a big 30+” hatchery fish that made a hard drag zing like mad. I hobbled over boulders to chase it and was lucky enough that it began to tire near a boat ramp.  Hence the rumble concrete under the fish in the photo.  10lb. test did feel a bit silly… 15 is probably better.

      It happened the Monday before Thanksgiving.  From most of my reading, Thanksgiving should be about the earliest one can expect winter fish in the tribs. (This is what one does when one does not quite have time to go fishing --- we all read about it on the internet.) I also got a couple of small steelhead smolt  that day and lost 4 spinners. It made it a lot easier that I was going after them on spinner rather than fly.   BUT I was not able to cover very much water on foot. Access is limited to the parks along both rivers that I fish - so someday it would be nice to have a raft or a boat.  But the hiking an exploring on foot is still really fun.  I always have a moment in a day of fishing where I realize where I am at - EVEN if I am in the middle of Portland on the Willamette River. I am in an incredible area and how quiet and peaceful it is. I am conscious of my breathing in a different way in these moments. 

     Steelhead mess with you head.  This is by far the most puzzling fishery I have ever experienced.  I can kind of understand why people would do it. I am not sure I understand why people would go Steelhead fishing more than once.  I built up the mystique of Snook in my head like this as well but I think Snook are way easier. I have thrown at so much DECENT looking water in December. I have yet to see a fish other than the one I caught. (I am not counting spawned-out salmon, whitefish and suckers) Though I am not able to sight fish to suckers either. Somehow I am always hooking them in 2’ of water but never seeing them while wading ??

      I really don't know if I'm casting to any fish all day.  It is a strange fishery ---you don't see any fish. The species in the river in winter other than Steelhead are just whitefish and suckers.  Hence the Cult of Steelhead. and the Cult of Egg Pattern. The Steelhead is the only fish and the Salmon eggs are the only hatch.  Covering water is really a challenge on these rivers out here without a boat or raft. Often you can only access a half mile or so at best right at one of the parks. Wading in each direction usually presents you with an unclimbable cliff or private land or and unsafe river crossing.  But we make do. I usually fish it a little too hard when on foot. Really trying to cover the water – fishing sections all the way through twice slowly cause it’s all I have. BUT I think I am starting to get it with the water levels and the water temperature. It is very slowly starting to gel. If you can get the water levels, water color and temperature to line up than you have a good starting point. I bought my first fishing thermometer last week.

      I actually almost went fishless in December until I fished the tail of a big pool on the Sandy with a jig.... hard ..... like I was trying to catch a sucker ... which I was. And I managed a couple of Bridgelips on the Sandy.  I was conscious of not wanting to get bageled for the month of December.  Whew…. My insanity is intact.

Reading a book called "Salmon Nation" about the interactions of Salmon and people since white folks arrived. It is quite good. 

      I also have been expanding my winter tackle box to include more jigs and flies. The marabou steelhead  jigs and basic flies. I find the jigs easier than spinners to swing slow-n-low for Steelhead.  I find it a bit eerie that they sell these at Bi-Mart and I get them there -- and then I go fishing nearby and see nobody fishing. I also find it a bit depressing that my hobby is so common that it can be store bought 2 miles from my house.  BUT I think the jigs will help me transition to fly better as they are so similar to the winter Steelhead flies. I think you could get them to hit soft plastics (Mister Twisters) as well but I have not developed any confidence really even with spinners yet and I KNOW trout hit spinners. I am also very slowly building up my collection of flies. Santa was extremely good to me in the fishing store gift certificate area. Hit the Orvis store today and octupled my fly collection. Thanks Mary and Eric!! Thanks Naomi for enduring over an hour of the temple of fly fishing.

Going a bit further afield to fish:

Notes on the Wilson River so far –

Matt Reed of Bee Thinking and I went out to the Wilson river in mid December and had a rough go of it. The water was too low and too clear at 600 cfs BUT a good 44 degrees. It is one of these crazy pretty small coastal rivers with the clear aquamarine cast water. We fished four different spots along the lower river from mile marker 12 down to 7.  At the last spot we actually had the truck broken into and the window smashed and they got a bag of my clothes. I reported it to the Tillamook County Sheriff and hope something turns up. ha! 
I went back with Naomi 2 weeks later and parked at a spot 10 miles upriver in a lot at a great Trailhead.  She was able to get in a long run on some really nice coastal jungle trails. AND she took most of the amazing photos above. 

I am also engaged in an interesting debate regarding bait vs. lure. vs. fly  or the caste or class system as represented by fishing.  rich=medium=poor   I have fished lures comfortably for ten years and fished them mixed with bait prior to 2002. And now dabbling into fly fishing.  How does one decide on traveling far to fly fish?  or fishing bait close to home instead?  Does one drive farther for better water or fish closer to home for more time on the water ? I like the stuff the group Urban Lines is doing on the subject of fly fishing your home waters. I always have to have a spot I can go to and fish for just a bit that is close to home. 

This discussion was spawned by some insulting comments I made about bait fishing. I did not intend for them to be insulting but I can see how they were taken that way. I think bait fishing is honest. And thank you to Brian for pointing out that we all use hooks.  As a qualifier I would like to offer that spending time fishing for non-food fish is ridiculous and that I have mixed feelings about it - yet I still do it. Conflictions.  It is the socio-economic aspects of the different types of fishing that I find worthy of discussion.  

I took a survey of some fishermen I knew: 
We did a one word association with the 3 main types of fishing  

1.bait  2.lure 

Here is what I got: 

Neil –   bait= food               lure=fun                    fly=far driving 
Phil –   bait=amateur          lure=fun                    fly=unessesary
Adam - bait=worms            lure=big tackle box    fly=snob    tenkara=interesting
Ryan-   bait= uninspired      lure= utilitarian          fly=artful
Dave – bait=fish                 lure=sticks                 fly=nothing
Gary –bait=stink                lure=doll                    fly=rising
Naomi – bait=master          lure=allure                 fly=super 
Matt – bait=powerbait         lure=mepps               fly=legit
Luis –  bait=  neil                lure=neil                    fly=neil
Brian - bait=hook                 lure=hook                 fly=hook

End of Year
Ruminations and stuff that happened. 

I caught 21 species in 2013 year on lure and fly.  See List BELOW.  It was a good year. Fishing is picking up for me in general - work has calmed down a little.  
Though I did not do any full on  “fishing trips” this year I managed to weasel in some fishing on family  trips to Hawaii and San Diego and on camping and hiking trips. I suppose the thrill of the year was the  3 Trevally I landed at on Kauai.  2 on poppers...!!  (these would be juvenile Giant Trevally). Jacks and Trevally are my favorite fish. It is like god has handed you an inshore tuna. Kablaam !

Though being a bit intimidated by fly fishing (the limited casting, the knots, the snobbery, the prices, accessing the whole water column) I managed to get out on a couple of Oregon rivers and on my own, throw some nymphs and some San Juans and land some trout on my 5wt. 

To be fair this Steelhead thing is kicking my ass psychologically. It is quite possibly the
most humiliating thing I’ve done to myself.  One never knows if there are fish in the river ... except when the water is low and clear and then you can see that there are no Steelhead.  Nothing ever busts the surface in a big way. But you fish anyway and go fishless in some of the prettiest river water imaginable. I think half of the addiction is about these amazing areas.  The water seems to either be too cold, to high or too low the past 2 months. Really need higher dirtier water. Watching the Wilson spike a bit after a small rain but quickly drop - headed for a mere 400 cfs......
I am learning to work hard for my fish.I have to learn a whole new type of fishing really.  This is Oregon baby smurf,  fish it hard.

Fish Species of 2013 – new fish in bold

Manybar Goatfish
Giant Trevally 
Peacock Grouper 
Smallmouth Bass 
Largemouth Bass 
White Crappie 
American Shad
Northern Pikeminnow
Bridgelips Sucker 
Black Rockfish 
Mountain Whitefish 
Brook Trout 
Cutthroat Trout 
Rainbow Trout 
Chinook Salmon 

Fishing is a celebration of how these creatures live in this weird earth life we all share. 
 Have a great 2014. Get out there and fish. 

- Neil 

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