Wednesday, December 31, 2014

End of a great year!

Molly and I ended 2014 spending the day duck hunting.  It was a cold, clear day in the valley.  Few birds flew, but the numerous Teal hanging out in the valley gave us a chance to shoot a limit of my favorite eating duck.  

2014 was one of the best years of my life.  Personally and professionally it was an amazing game changer.  A new home on the banks of the Umpqua and my new career with Trout Unlimited were certainly a part of the great year we've had.

Spending time on the water and in the field with some of the best people I know also added to the great year that was 2014.

I can't wait to see what 2015 has in store for me, my family, friends and great clients!

Have a safe and happy new year!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

End of the Run

Many of our south coast rivers received a great return of coho salmon this past fall.  Today I took a few hours to look around a favorite "no-name" winter steelhead stream that had finally come into fishable shape, checking out new runs looking for a grab from a winter steelhead.
While working down river, swinging some of my favorite winter steelhead patterns, Molly and I came upon one dead coho after another.  They were hanging from every stream side willow and piled up in every log jam we came upon.  Molly was in "hog heaven" with all this "low hanging fruit" munching on every fetid, smelly, stinking dead coho carcass she came upon.  I can't even imagine what sort of delectable culinary delight these rotting salmon must smell like to the sensitive olfactory senses of a great hunting dog like Molly.  I know for my nearly, non-functioning snozaola, I was struggling to keep my breakfast down in several runs. 

In a sweet looking bucket on the far side of the stream, I made a few probing pitches with a favorite winter steelhead bug when I felt the fly come to a stop.  A moment later, weight began to build on my spey twig followed by a bright flash of red just under the surface in this little bucket.  

I guiltily brought this old warrior to hand as quick as my gear would allow, fly hung solidly in the top of his tongue.  Seems like a lifetime ago, but actually it would have only been September when this buck would have sported chrome sides down in the estuary and I would have loved to have had him grab my fly.  Today I only felt sadness as another run comes to an end.   

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Role Models

Throughout my life I've been very blessed with the role models I've had.  My dad and my grandpa were the first to have a huge impact on me and the man I wanted to be when I grew up.  Later, men like James R. Tharp, Frank Moore and Harry Lemire would further provide a model for who I wanted to be like.  

There were other's too.  Men I never met in person, but read about and admired.  Men like like Syd Glasso, Walt Johnson, Trey Combs and Bill McMillan.

Life is strange with twists and turns that no one could imagine.  So when I agreed to guide a couple of gracious anglers who made large donations to TU's wild steelhead initiative this past November on the south coast for fall chinook, it was a little surprising that another angler with a great reputation would be joining me to help out on the trip.  TU had recently hired none other than John McMillan (Bill's son) as our science director for the steelhead initiative and John would be joining us on the trip.  I knew only of John by his reputation as a world class scientist and innovator of fish observation  techniques and steelhead fly fishing MONSTER!.  I couldn't wait to meet him and share some of my favorite fall chinook fly runs with him.

He arrived ahead of our guests and he and I hit it off like peas and carrots.  Generous, polite, gracious, intelligent, articulate and one helluva great fishermen.  Everything I had heard about him was right as rain.  

      John with a south coast fall king.

Legends are made in the most unintended ways sometimes.  On one cool November afternoon during this trip, John hooked a decent fall chinook that immediately dove into a huge brush pile across the river.  Try as he might to extricate this beast from the brush, this fish was having none of it, simply burrowing in even further making it unlikely that John would ever see his spey head again.  John was having none of that! When John handed his rod to one of our guests and began heading up the bank for privacy, it occurred to me what plan had been hatched.  I implored John to abandon such foolishness, adding that I had literally dozens of other suitable heads that he could have back at the cabin.  I told John that this is what gets folks to read about oneself in local newspapers.  Undeterred by my offers or admonishments, John reappeared from the streamside brush wearing only his boxer shorts as he hurriedly crossed the gravel bank and plunged into the icy waters.  A quick swim across the river to the brush pile and several minutes exploring the depths with his toes allowed John the ability to reacquire his spey line and begin the process of getting it back.  Our other guest joined us on the bank to watch the spectacle unfold.  As a way of cheering John on, the guest offered "if you get your line back and land the fish, there's a hundred dollar bill in it for you".  Over the next five or more minutes John did his very best to earn that $100 bill, but was only able to manage getting his beloved spey head back.  Legendary.

On the last night of our trip, John quietly departed the cabin we were using as our salmon camp at 2:00 a.m. with a very long drive ahead of him.  He was determined to make it over to the John Day early enough the following day to hike in three or four miles and camp for a couple of days.  He was dying to fish his favorite steelhead river before heading back home to Washington.  

The other day John and I had to meet in Portland for work.  Gracious and giving as ever, John presented me with three gifts.  The first, a book he co-authored with his father "May the Rivers Never Sleep"

An amazing book detailing our northwest rivers, the fish we love and observations made through the seasons by John and his dad.  Amazing imagery and heart felt stories of these two men who have devoted their lives to our rivers. 

The second was a poster created from an image John captured while diving a Washington Steelhead stream.  This poster will find its way into a frame and will adorn a wall in our cabin on the Umpqua for the rest of my days.  John and I share a love of donning fin's, mask, snorkel and wet suit and slipping into our favorite salmon and steelhead streams to observe.  I admit though that my interest lies in finding steelhead lies that can be covered with a fly, while John is more interested in learning more about the fish he's devoted his life to protect. 

The third gift was a simple paper box containing a variety of John's fall chinook flies.  His generous way of helping me restock some of my fall chinook fly boxes from the loss of flies to brush piles during our trip.  Truth be told, none of these flies will likely ever be used to catch fall chinook.  Nope, these flies will end up in shadow boxes with other flies tied by other role models.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Its been awhile since I've posted to this blog.  A variety of reasons really.  My work with TU has kept me busy.  I've enjoyed every minute of it too!  Great work, great people and partners and its work that is so important for the rivers and fish I live to love.  

Our new home on the lower Umpqua has taken a fair amount of my time the past few months as well.  Now that we've got most of that done and can just enjoy the place, you'll likely see more posts from there.  We've scuba dived the whole river in front of the place.  We've chased fall bear and elk during archery season in the hills and canyons surrounding it.  The boys caught tons of smallmouth bass out front before the cold high water came in September.  Fall Chinook and Coho have slid by, unmolested by yours truly or any of my family, friends or guests, in spite of more than just a few casts with spinners from our dock.  The winter steelhead started showing up around Thanksgiving like they always do on the lower Umpqua, but this years rains and high, muddy water hasn't lent itself to swinging flies.  Kind of a bummer for me and my buddies, but its also nice to know that the beating the fish have taken from the hordes of anglers plying the low water we've had the past two years didn't happen again this year.   Maybe this winter there will be a few more wild steelhead in the North Umpqua fly water.  Something else to blog about in the coming months I suspect. 

Winter steelhead hold a special place in my heart.  They're TOUGH! Not only in terms of just plain old grit, they're tough to catch, especially on flies.  The past 15 or so years has changed the game and leveled the field quite a bit with our advances in gear...rods and lines particularly, but in fly design and tying materials.  But even with these advances, they're still damned tough!  

Step, cast, mend, swing.  Step, cast, mend, swing.  Step, cast, mend, swing.  Hour after freezing hour.  The lines swing stops at some point, sometimes days into it.  Slow steady weight transmits up the fly line, into the rod and your numb hand...followed by that sweet sound.  The sound of your click-pawl antique Hardy reel as line melts from the reel and backing leaves the guides.  GREAT STUFF! and once experienced, tough to walk away from. 

Until the flows recede a bit and/or the winter fish start showing up in fishable numbers in some of my coastal streams I'm content to hang around the house, get my TU work done and do a little bird hunting.  I have a friend from Montana who corrects me every time I call ducks and geese "birds".  

In Montana where he lives I guess a "bird" is some little feathery creature that hides in the brush until your uppity English pooch sniffs the smelly little bird up and stands there "pointing", another word for "telling" you "hey here's one, here's one boss".  Then you simply dismount from your trusty steed and flush the bird for dispatching with your high dollar over and under 20 gauge. 

 I point out to him that the "birds" me and my sons and buddies hunt require a little more effort to bring to hand.  We often plant and flood ponds to provide quality feed and roost area for our birds each spring.  Then in the fall we construct blinds that allow us to hide from the wary eyes of our prey.  We intelligently place realistic decoys (sometimes hundreds of them!) in a manner that accurately depicts what these "birds" look like when relaxed and social and feeding/resting.  Then when the birds fly by we use all manner of gadgets and gizmo's to clinch the deal.  Calls, jerk strings, spinner dekes all further the illusion that all is calm, all is bright... finally, after ALL of that effort, we might actually get a chance to bring the bird to hand with camo painted 10 or more likely 12 gauge pump or semi-auto shotguns.  And IF we don't blunder and miss (happens way more often than I willing to admit) our poor old trust worthy "working mans dogs" like labs and Chesapeake bay retrievers finally get a chance to do the deed that they live for, retrieving!    

Merry Christmas to you and yours and here's to a great New Year!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Spey Rod's...good for the environment?

Back in the good 'ol days, everyone fished with single handed rods.   They had their charm.  Easy to pack up and down the steep, brush-choked banks of our northwest salmon and steelhead streams.  Fish felt strong and powerful on these little twigs in comparison to the first spey rods that swept across the landscape.  Monstrous, weighty things that inevitably guaranteed a trip to the nearest "sports surgeon" to re-attach torn ligaments,  rotator cups etc. 

They also had their down-sides.  They wouldn't allow the less athletic, less skilled fly casters the ability to force their way past the 80-foot mark like the longer rods would.  Generally, they wouldn't allow the angler to flail away with basic over-hand casting without routinely loosing valuable steelhead flies.  Lots of time spent up the banks in the trees and brush, un-pinning flies and leaders instead of swinging through watery lies that held fresh steelhead and salmon.

"Yuppy Rod's" and "rods for people who can't cast" as one of my mentors once described these two handed spey rods.

And for me, the "good 'ol days" meant locating dozens and dozens of beautifully crafted, hand-tied steelhead flies left in streamside limbs and branches.  Almost like a "steelhead christmas tree" where green-butt skunks, silver hiltons and the like, adorned bank side alders, maples and cottonwoods giving the ever watchful - fishing guide the opportunity to put at least a few flies back in hollow fly boxes. 

Those were the days!  

The other day I was working with a new client on one of my favorite steelhead runs on the N.F. Tamawanis when I noticed a stream-side alder growing high behind a favorite steelhead casting station.  It kind of took me by surprise.  This thing had really grown tall over the past several months.  For the past 20 years that I had been swinging flies in front of this Alder, I had NEVER seen it get so tall.  Anglers would NEVER allow this "fly-stealer" to grow to such unprecedented heights.  Yet, here it was.  And it occurred to me that everyone fishing spey rods didn't have the need to trim this stream side vegetation back as they had in the past.  Back when they were loosing flies in their back cast with the single-handed rods.

Maybe its because I work full-time for Trout Unlimited now that I think of things like stream side shade, riparian buffers and how removing vegetation can adversely effect salmon, trout and steelhead habitat.  How a lack of shade can increase water temps.  Maybe its because my efforts at finding  steelhead "Christmas tree flies" were so pathetically unfulfilled in recent years.  

Either way, it occurred to me that while spey rods may be rods for "people who can't cast" and that their use kept flies out of stream side limbs and branches...and out of my reach, their use may actually be good for the rivers they're used on, because anglers are less likely to hack down streamside fly-grabbing flora.   

Just a thought.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Steelhead Rodeo

One of the great benefits of working for Trout Unlimited, is the opportunity to do a little fishing myself.  That opportunity presented itself last week when I got to host a new member of the TU family, Libby Earthmen for two days of steelheading.  She rose fish both days and I even ended up with a grab or two.  She shot all of the above images of one of the fish I landed on the NU.  

There are fishable numbers of summer steelhead in the upper Willamette and North Umpqua.  If your interested in getting after them, give me a call. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Molly then... Molly now

This was Molly when she was around 11 weeks old last July.
In this, one of my favorite summer steelhead runs, there isn't really any place for her to get out of the boat to explore while I fish, so whenever I'm in this run, which is frequent, she likes to just sit and watch me work through the run.  

Yesterday was the first day of my new summer steelhead season that we were able to fish this run and when I turned back to check on Molly, this is what I saw.  I love outdoor traditions.  I guess this will be another one to look forward to. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Placing large wood in streams for habitat.

There was a period of time when "experts" felt that leaving natural wood in streams was bad for cold water species of fish.  Back in the 60's, after the big flood of 1964, local, state and federal agencies with the help of well intended volunteers went out to streams and actually removed every large piece of woody debris they could. 

They believed that all the wood in streams caused too much damage during high water events.  Now we know better.

Placing large logs in streams, root wads and all, greatly enhances the stream habitat and creates the most diverse habitat.  

This woman-made log jam, created by the efforts of the USFS on the upper McKenzie (thank you Kate!) was placed about three years ago.

This long, easy flowing pool with spawning gravel "as far as the eye can see" is the result of those efforts.

The log jam allowed for the high water from the previous winters "high-water" events to allow various sizes of gravel to settle to the bottom and create amazing habitat for spring chinook, bull trout, cutthroat, rainbow trout and lamprey.  All of these species have recently returned to this side channel on the upper McKenzie to spawn and rear their young. 

So here's the question I would pose;  Do we spend $$$$ to rear fish in the local McKenzie hatchery that will continue to allow us fish (trout, steelhead and salmon) to pursue as long as we continue to provide funding for the hatchery...kind of bucks for fish, or do we invest in habitat and restoration projects like this, that will provide fish for the next hundred years without additional investment?  

Don't misunderstand, I'M NOT OPPOSED TO HATCHERY FISH!  I don't subscribe to the idea that if your into native fish, that your opposed to hatchery fish or vice a versa.  That's just not using your thinking cap!  There is no doubt that there is a place for hatchery salmon, trout and steelhead in Oregon waters.  The upper Willamette "Town-Run" steelhead fishery is a perfect example of how hatchery fish can be so important to fishing opportunity, harvest opportunity etc.  Its an awesome example of how much "good" a hatchery can do.  But I'm also realistic about our ability to do "mother natures" work.  Thousands of years of genetics and specialization can not be improved upon by man.   Another example of this is the North Umpqua winter steelhead run.  It's strong, its healthy and damned sure doesn't need us meddling in it.  No need to plant hatchery fish here.  We just need to manage it. That means dealing with the throngs of anglers trying to catch these magnificent fish. 

We've been trying to bring back salmon and steelhead numbers (not even historic numbers, just fishable numbers) for over a hundred years.  I don't know about your experiences, but I promise you, my fishing today is no where near as good as it was in the 70's and 80's.  Even with our improved gear and techniques, its nothing like it was when I was in my teens and twenties.

I submit that its NOT about hatchery vs. natives.  Its about looking at each watershed and making intelligent decisions about how best to give us fish.  Some watersheds are so degraded that we have no other choice but to plant hatchery fish. Fine, do it. Those systems should get a lot of hatchery fish.  Other systems need a boost from us.  Placing large woody debris in the system, making other habitat improvements to repair the damage from a hundred-plus years of poor stewardship and let mother nature do her part.  Other systems don't need our meddling.  Good habitat, good strong runs of fish.  No need to plant hatchery fish, just manage it for the throngs of us humans that currently inhabit this big blue ball spinning through space.  How 'bout we start the conversation and stop all the emotional drama! 

These are complex landscapes with complex issues that involve not only our rivers, but our oceans as well.  Its seems making obvious changes to the ways we deal with our cold water and cold water fishes is a great place to start.  Look how the Columbia has responded in recent years to simply increasing the amount of water being spilled over all the dams.  Obvious, simple stuff.  As easy as putting some wood in a stream.

Let me know where you'd like to meet for a cold beer or a cup of coffee to have this conversation. 



Friday, May 16, 2014

I've always chased my tail.  It's just who I am.  I've ALWAYS had a burning desire to pack as many amazing moments and experiences into the days the good Lord has given me.  I'm betting that I'm no different than you are.  Work hard! Play hard...right? 

I recently had the opportunity to bring aboard one of the best young men I know.  A guy who lives and breathes for his bride, his new born little girl, the good Lord and our amazing outdoors! 

Josh Farnsworth is a great young man that has spent his whole life in the woods, on the rivers or slogging around our duck marshes and is now working full time for me.  I couldn't be any happier to have him working with me and providing my clients with the opportunity for the outdoor experience of their lives! 

Welcome aboard Josh!

If you're interested in getting out on one of our rivers or chasing deer, elk, turkeys, bear, ducks or geese with one of our regions best guides, give me a call!



Monday, February 24, 2014

Damsels in Distress
About this video
"My wife and I were fly fishing with friend/guide Dean Whaanga in New Zealand when a combination of bad weather and good timing resulted in a fish giving us the experience of a lifetime. I crawled on my stomach with my camera to the water's edge, hit record, and watched what was one of the coolest moments I have ever witnessed. Thanks to Orvis for the support."
Damsels in Distress

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Historical "Willy's" pick-up

Frank and Kyle in front of the "Willy's"

When my oldest son, Kyle (now 23 years old) was about 8 years old, he laid his young eyes upon a truck that he fell in love with, literally love at first sight!  

The truck is a 1952 Willy's pick-up that belonged to our friend, Frank Moore.  Frank bought the truck from the "Brown's" who owned a grocery store in Roseburg, Oregon.  Frank bought the truck in 1957.  
For years the truck had "garbage hauling duties" at Steamboat Inn.   Jeannie fondly recalled how all of their children and the children of guests at the inn, would somehow find a place to hang on and ride in, or on the truck on these garbage runs.  Jeannie said it was a high-light for all the kids in those days at the inn. 

Over the years Frank hauled clients he guided to many of the runs along the North Umpqua in the truck.  His son's Frankie and Dennis learned to drive in the truck.  Frankie actually crashed the truck into one of the cabins at Steamboat while learning to drive. 

  Frank and the Willy's

Just before Christmas this year, Frank sent me an e-mail telling me that he wanted Kyle to have the old truck.  Over the years Kyle has earned a reputation for his skills at restoring old jeeps and as Frank put it, he wanted "to see someone have it that would love it and restore it".  

So earlier today, Kyle and I and my nephew Seth, drove down to Frank and Jeannie's and loaded the old truck on a flat bed trailer for the trip home to Cottage Grove.  Jeannie and Frank said their goodbyes to this beloved member of their family.  Pictures were taken.  Hugs were exchanged.  

As we headed down the hill, driving away as Frank and Jeannie looked on,  Kyle expressed sadness over bringing the old memento home.  He loves the old truck, but he loves Frank and Jeannie more.  When I explained to him that Frank and Jeannie wanted to give the truck a new home that would love it as much as they did, he understood and was "honored" as he put it, that they loved him enough to make him the "new home" for this historical "Willy's" truck. 

Kyle and the old truck at its "new" home at our house in Cottage Grove. 

Over the coming months (and years) as Kyle restores the old truck, I promise to post pics to show his progress.  Kyle's plan is to bring the truck back to its original glory when Frank first used the truck at the inn and along the banks of the North Umpqua, hauling a load of garbage and a bunch of youngsters on a "big adventure" during much simpler times! 

Duck Hunting

Molly is growing up fast!  Yesterday she retrieved her first duck with hand signals and marked a bird that went down about 150 yards from the blind and brought it to hand all on her own.