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Deep in the Coast Range, it wasn’t Saquatch that inhaled my roe. My friend Jason and I were catching lots of salmon and I do mean lots, every couple casts type lots of salmon. We even had a simultaneous bobber down double . . . . But we were catching mostly dusky chinook and the occasional bright hot coho thrown in and we were sorting through those fish looking for a chrome chinook or two.

‘Bobber down’ and I set the hook into a pretty hot fish. Hooked not far off the bank, I instantly caught a flash of purplish red tiger stripes. “Dude, this thing’s a chum!”

“Are you sure?” Jason asked incredulous.

“I think so.” While not so for folks in Alaska, BC or Washington, in these parts calling “chum” is a big deal. I had never caught one in Oregon. There are two stable populations, one in the streams draining into Tillamook Bay and the other in the Yaquina. According to the Oregon Native Fish Stock Status Report, the Oregon Coastal chum SMU consists of 13 populations, eight of which exist, three of which are extinct and two are presumed extinct. In the river system we were fishing, the chum is presumed extinct. Does this look extinct?

Rare Oregon Coast Range Chum

Rare Oregon Coast Range Chum

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Wednesday marked a milestone and it couldn’t be a bad trip unless I sank or otherwise messed up the dory. See, Oregon’s fall salmon returns were in a serious trough, a downturn of epic proportions. Coming off the huge runs of wild chinook and coho it seemed the good times would never end but . . . ocean conditions crapped out worse than the only time I ever went to a casino and the salmon disappeared. I mean, we are talking going from over 100,000 salmon in the Siuslaw to probably 15,000 fish and even what we considered huge was was down from historic returns of 300,000-450,000 fish.

So, I made what I considered a self-less decision. Well, almost self-less (I did hope my decision would please the fish-gods and bring me good karma in years to come). I decided not to fish for salmon until we started to come out of the trough. I figured the fish I would likely catch were more needed on their spawning grounds than in my gullet, a decision made easier by the plain fact that there weren’t very many fish to catch anyway. I did fish for salmon once last year on a river that has a hatchery run of coho and I caught a wild fish that was released by my nameless net man who contrary to instruction took a stab at the fish while it was still hot. Whatever. It would have been released anyway.

So it has been a full two years since I really fished salmon. But everything indicates that we are climbing out of the trough and recent heavy rains brought the Siuslaw up a boatable level. The environmental conditions all indicated a bonanza, a salmon stampede. I called my friend Mike, “It’s gonna be on like Donkey Kong.”

“Count me in.”

It was then I realized how my self-imposed exile was effecting me. As soon as I decided to fish my mood improved.

We put in just at first light and floated down to the Forks. I noticed right away one of my enemies in the Mckenzie wild fish fight on the water and I wondered if he noted my “elitist” fly guy gear: plugs, spinners and a bobber and jig set-up. Whatever. Strangely, there weren’t any fish around at the beginning of our float, we weren’t even seeing any “rollers” and no one was catching anything. The first salmon we saw was the buck Mike hooked:

Buck Chinook, Siuslaw River, OR

This was Mike’s first salmon! A very respectable buck chinook, nice work, Mike! I think he was happy about it:

Mike with a buck Chinook, Siuslaw River, OR

I’ll be darned though if the fish weren’t doing what the textbooks said they should. We kept working. Most boats and bankies had zero fish. Some had one. We worked down the second to last pluggable run on our drift and the left rod popped off in some heavy current. Fish on! We manuvered into some slack water and dropped anchor and the hen chinook took the fight to me. She kept using the heavy current to the river right to her advantage making repeated runs with the help of the fast water. The first time I saw her, she had the whole plug in her mouth. A few minutes later when she surfaced again I saw that only one tine of the rear treble was between me and a broken heart. But things went my way and we landed her. A quick inspection revealed why it had been such a battle, she still was strong with her sea-spirit:

Sea-Lice, Hen Chinook, Siuslaw River, OR

Hen Chinook, Siuslaw River, OR

We had to really work for our fish but it was great day on the water, not in numbers of fish, but it’s awesome to be back in the game!

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I decided to test my prediction from my last post and today, I guided another father-son trip on the town run of the Willamette. This time both guys were flyfishers and we used flies exclusively. We put in early and began swinging our flies through likely runs. A fish rolled in a tailout and I thought to myself, ” I spot ’em, I got ’em . . . ” Well, the fish grabbed twice without getting stuck but the third time, she wasn’t so lucky:

Town Run Steelhead

Town Run Steelhead

Casey caught this fish forty minutes into his steelheading career. It took me months. We got grabbed four more times but none of them resulted in a solid hook-up. Still, a fish in the boat on a flyfishing only trip, you’re winning.

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It certainly isn’t in a National Forest. Age old firs and bulbous ancient cedars don’t line the banks. But this float through the second most populous urban area in Oregon is not without its charms: principally, Summer Steelhead and lot of them. Sunday, I guided Dan and his father Dean on the mainstem of the Willamette. We launched in Springfield, floated through the netherworld of Glennwood and into Eugene. Dan is strictly a fly angler, his father a gear guy but I have ways to make the two diverse fishing styles play nice.

The first thing we did was drag flies without effect through the upper section of the float. I decided to switch Dean over to a gear set up, a fixed float with a jig. I showed him the ropes, to keep the bobber upright and to extend his drift by freespooling. He had the touch and within 20 minutes Dean had his first hook-up. The fish fought strangely and stayed near the boat:

IMG_0879

The fish leapt near the bow and broke Dean off. But he had the hot hand at least as far as hook-ups went and hooked four steelhead within a couple hours. Unfortunately, he had one of those runs where despite hooking lots of fish perhaps the hook-ups weren’t all that solid and the all sea-run trout escaped.

But Dan was like Alcatraz. While Dean had been drifting jigs, we were also swinging Dan’s flies and in a tailout near the end of the float after attaining some garbage collecting Kharma a steelhead hit Dan’s MOAL leech with a thud. This time there was no escape:

Town Run Summer Steelhead

It was a good few hours of steelhead fishing, we had hooked five “fish of a thousand casts” in just a couple hours. The town run has good amounts of steelhead and water and should continue to fish well.

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It has been a really long time since I posted. Once you get out of the habit of frequently updating it gets to where you don’t even know where to start. I’ll try to catch up as best I can and start updating the blog more regularly.

Mom was here this spring and I made her go fishing with me. We, (Mom, me and my mustasch) hit the lower Mckenzie flyfishing for trout through the mark and recapture area and caught and tagged a few fish.

Lower Mckenzie Trout Tagging Trip

The procedure was simple. Catch the fish, and into a cooler of cool river water:

Lower Mckenzie Trout Tagging Trip

Measure the fish:

Lower Mckenzie Trout Tagging

Back into the cooler and then tag the fish. Log all information and repeat on another trout. The idea is to capture and tag trout and by knowing how many trout are caught and how many have tags and how many don’t, the size of the population can be extrapolated.

I also made Mom go winter steelheading with me. I caught a small steelhead, my last of the season:

Late Season Oregon Wild Winter Steelhead

Mom was watching from a bridge above the river and when she said, “oh you got another one,” I thought oh no, the old bird is losing her marbles. A split instant later and my lure got slammed by a big steelhead and . . . equipment failure. My reel wouldn’t engage and I lost the fish. From her perch high above the river mom had seen the sea-run brute turn and chase my lure. That’ll teach me.

We also took a cool hike to Alsea Falls:

Alsea Falls Hike

Alsea Falls Hike

Alsea Falls Hike

Alsea Falls Hike

Alsea Falls Hike

We took a drive in the Cascades:

Mt. Washington, Oregon Cascades (3/30/10)

Mom left too soon but in another rare event my sister Stephanie was here and I made her, you guessed it, go fishing:

Me and Steph, Middle Fork Willamette

We hit the Middle Fork Willamette on a slow day but I eked out a few fish including this nice one:

Middle Fork Willamette Rainbow

Her visit was too short and she is back in Germany now.

Other fishing trips have yielded some nice trout:

Lower Mckenzie Guided Trip

Lower Mckenzie Trout

Mckenzie Redside

Middle Fork Willamette Rainbow

I even got out on the ocean for some rockfish. We headed out at Newport:

Heading Out at Newport

The catch included lingcod, cabezon, rock bass a quill back and even a sole:

Rockfish, Lingcod and a Sole

I’ve also been working on the Bartender. I have to run but I’ll try to finish catching up the next couple days.

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Tuesday, I lay in my sickbed contemplating the waning days of winter steelhead season.  My body ached, even my eyeballs hurt and my throat was raw.  I defintely would be too sick for an office job but too sick to fish?  Hell, it’s a sore throat not a death rattle and even then . . . .

I threw the gear together and decided to explore a nearby small stream reputed to have a late native run that I’ve never fished.  I was reminded there is nothing like the excitement of fishing new water, especially if you connect with a steelhead.  Parking along the limited access points, I worked my way downriver until I reached private property and headed back upriver. Bushwhacking past the car I found a really good looking spot and run my fies though 10 or so times.  Nothing.  I pitched a spinner.  First cast, fish on . . . .

Oregon Small Stream Winter Steelhead Buck

It was a smallish winter steelhead buck of about 5 pounds and he didn’t put up the best fight. Once landed I saw why:

Wounded Oregon Small Stream Winter Steelhead Buck

I handled him carefully, gripping his tail wrist. Never removing him from the water I twisted the hook free. He darted off. I’ve caught one other steelhead with almost this exact wound on the same part of the fish and Chris Daughters just caught a trout with a similar injury. I wonder what could cause that? Another cause of wonder, I didn’t see any signs of spawning. No redds at all. Maybe they spawn further upstream. I only explored a couple miles of nine or so miles that are public and open to steelheading. Less mysterious was how silty this little stream is. The deforested mountain slopes pump sediment into the stream that isn’t any good for the fish, burying their spawing beds.

It seemed like it could be an epic day what with the early fish and all but I didn’t find any other steelhead and bushwhacking along this small water’s banks I had a thought, “Oh crap, Jaden’s practice.” It’s a minor miracle that I even remembered while steelheading, I raced home and got him there.

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Warning: This post contains a fairly graphic image.

This isn’t the post I wanted to write about this trip. I wanted to write a love song about a remote backcountry stream somewhere between northern California and southern British Columbia, a place that has never been logged, where the runs of salmon and steelhead of decades and centuries past sway in the old growth sitka Spruce and douglas Fir and the younger alder and maples that stand along the stream banks. This place has strong runs of coho and chinook and steelhead. I make several pilgrimages a year there, where I always feel my spirits restored, my hopes renewed and my commitment to conservation of indigenous, self-sustaining coldwater fish populations reinvigorated. I feel good there.

I hiked in, greeted by the smell of death and stumbled on the poacher’s camp. A dead cow elk lay near an abondoned tent, debris and a igloo-esge wigwam constructed of douglas Fir boughs. The meat had been stripped of the side of the elk and much (to my untrained eye) had been wasted:

Poached Cow Elk

Near the corpse lay a calling card that completed the scene and gave a glimpse into the poacher’s mind. Not ashamed, he was genuinely proud . . .

Poacher's Calling Card

There were also signs of “fishing.” Abandoned bags of cured roe . . . my mind spun with the possibilities, poached hen salmon eggs used to poach steelhead in a pernicous cycle of waste and abuse. Somehow, the world felt cheaper and crueler, like the when unattainable girl you idolized from afar as a youth threw herself at some dumb jock who dumped her immediately and bragged to everybody who’d listen, relaying the story of conquest, sneering, laughing and coarse. Disgraceful. I strung up my rods.

The strategy was simple. Swing the swinging water, bobbercator the indiacator water and if the flies didn’t work, show ’em the spinner. I worked upstream fast as is my way without touching any fish and saw a flyfisher just ahead vacating a deep pool. Figuring he had thoroughly worked it with his flies I skipped mine, cast a spinner and retrieved slowly. A sea run cutty grabbed my lure but didn’t stick and I repeated the cast, retrieving even slower and a bucky buck, dual striped with a deep glowing red gill plate grabbed me and ran us up and down the pool before sucumbing. Of the fish I hooked or caught there is only this shot:

Bucky Wild Steelhead Buck

There were other hopeful signs. A log jam that started three years ago has continued to grow, accumulating habitat enhancing debris:

Natural Log Jam, Year 3

The stream was full of steelhead redds, I stopped counting at well over twenty in less than three miles:

Steelhead Redd

I moved a steelhead with a swung intruder and it took position behind the fly, grabbed and I set too soon. There was no connection. Then it happened in this pool:

Sage TCX

As my tandem offering drifted into the gut of the run my indicator plunged down and I was connected to the hottest steelhead I’ve ever hooked. The big buck went on a rampage, first running down toward the bouldery tailout I was able to turn him and he jumped in displeasure. He ran towards the top of the run, turned and reached full speed running downstream and again broke the surface with the most impressive leap I’ve ever personally witnessed from a hooked steelhead, easily four feet. He came upstream one last time and powered down toward the tailout again, I tried to stop him from reaching the rapids below . . . . I put on the brakes and held –but my but leader didn’t and it was over. No great loss. My only regret is that I had been unable to locate the tripod or you’d be watching video of this ass-kicking instead of reading about it.

I continued to work upstream not doing any more good with the flyrod. I pitched my spinner just below a rapid and as soon as it hit the water a chrome hen grabbed it, breaking the surface I saw her silvery head and flanks as she spit my spinner back at me in disgust. I fished the next run with the flyrod and caught a bright hen on a spinner. In this small water she also ran toward the downstream rapid and I knew I couldn’t stop her. I stopped fighting, opening my bale and she held in the tailout for several minutes under minimal tension. Lulled to sleep I moved her into deeper water and began the fight again, a quick tailing and she was off. A couple casts later, a buck who must have been courting her chased down my offering, took a swipe but wasn’t hooked.

Hiking out thorough the old growth in the moonless night, a small circle of light thrown by my headlamp, I wondered if the cougar and bear used the trail once darkness had fallen and I thought of the big steelhead trout in the small stream below and whether they too felt a tinge of fear at the wildness of it all.

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