Saturday, December 26, 2009

Same Old Thing

I know, I shouldn't be surprised. 

"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." sums it up when it comes to WDFW's continued management of fish stocks from abundance into extinction.  The latest in a series of head scratchers is below:

"OLYMPIA – The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has scheduled a public meeting Wednesday, Jan. 6 in Kelso to discuss prospects for smelt fisheries on the Cowlitz River and other tributaries to the Columbia River in 2010.
The meeting will be held from 6-8 p.m. on the third floor of the Cowlitz County Administration Building at 207 4th Ave. N. in Kelso.
As in recent years, state fishery managers are predicting low returns of Pacific smelt in 2010. In addition, NOAA Fisheries has proposed listing the species as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). A final decision on the proposed listing is expected in March.
“Fishery managers are thinking long and hard about what kind of smelt fishery – if any – makes sense in light of the proposed ESA listing,” said Bill Tweit, WDFW Columbia River policy leader. “Before we begin making those decisions, we’d like to hear what the public has to say.”
Earlier this month, representatives of WDFW and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife agreed on restrictive sport and commercial smelt-fishing seasons for the Columbia River, but delayed decisions about the Cowlitz River and other tributaries.
Sport fishing for smelt on the mainstem Columbia River will be open seven days per week starting Jan. 1, although anglers catch very few fish there. The ongoing commercial fishery will be restricted to Mondays and Thursdays starting Jan. 1 through March 31.
Columbia River smelt are part of a designated West Coast population that extends from the Mad River in northern California to northern British Columbia. A scientific review by NOAA Fisheries found that this stock is declining throughout its range, mostly due to changes in ocean conditions."

So we have a fish stock declining throughout it's range, mainly due to ocean conditions that soon will be listed under the ESA.  So the plan is to continue serving the needs of resource users until the stock plummets to extinction.

Good thing they want to hear what the public thinks.  Too bad there has been no shutdown of the commercial and sport harvest fisheries.

Same ol' Thing, Same ol' Thing.... at least the song is catchy.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


A sad state seems to be coursing through internet fishing bulletin boards, both fly and gear.  With potential closures of not only wild steelhead fisheries, but reduced hatchery plants it seems like everyone is having a hard time with the new page of fishing in Washington State.

One can only imagine the hope and promise that was felt over 100 years ago when hatcheries were first coming on line.  What an idea, that we can actually have it all.  We can over harvest, from the river mouths to distant saltwater feeding grounds.  We can dam up rivers, blocking access to spawning grounds and destroying important cultural meccas such as Celio and Kettle Falls.  We can log our ancient forests, withdraw water from our rivers, and let cows trample and shit in riparian zones with no repercussions.  We can pave wetlands and replace a renewable food source with "food" from the local Wal Mart.  

Take, take, take, take, take...... until there is nothing left to take.  We are at the destination of the "hatchery industrial" complex we were so smitten by.  The last bits of the foundation are crumbling.  The hatchery fish are having the same problems as the wild fish.  Their numbers decline, so much so in Puget Sound that rivers are closed to angling to make sure hatcheries get enough broodstock back.  And at the same time that hatcheries cannot make escapement, the state continues to allow harvest on wild stocks hovering at low levels barely making their escapement goals.  The take continues with the fishermen looking for numbers in an age of low numbers.  "Look at me," seems to be the name of the game. 

The raceways, cities, and suburbs have no soul. You can find it walking through ancient forests, watching shooting stars trace a path through dark skies, and releasing a native steelhead back into the green waters. Through a fish, you can feel a connection with all that has been lost. You have briefly touched a part of the past, a past of natural bounty.

Now, dams are being removed.  Serious thought is given to segregating hatchery fish from wild fish.  Weirs are being installed to block hatchery fish from accessing spawning tribs.  Slowly but surely the wild fish are having their revenge.  The main point is that no matter the technology, hatchery fish require the same things that wild fish do.... healthy rivers and oceans.

All we are left with is scraps, hopefully enough crumbs have been dropped so that we may follow them backwards and save something worthwhile of the past.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Levee Broke

Looks like the last of the "healthy" wild steelhead runs in Washington State has failed to meet escapement.  A recent thread on the Piscatorial Pursuits bulletin board (Click here for Thread) puts last seasons wild winter steelhead numbers on the Quillayute at 4700 wild steelhead.  The escapement goal is 5900 fish.  Let's also not forget that the Quillayute is a huge river system which includes the Sol Duc, Bogachiel, Calawah, and Dicky rivers.  So that 5900 escapement figure is basically a joke to any one with a conservation bone in their body or who has any idea about the historical numbers these systems used to produce.
As sad as this news is, it might be a wakeup call for anglers and WDFW to change the management scheme (although pyramid or ponzi might better describe the current management scheme) so that in 10 years we cannot even imagine fishing over such low run sizes and that run sizes in 10 years are 3-5 times what they were last season.
If you have a chance send an e-mail to the WDFW Commission and let them know that under escapement is unacceptable and that strong harvest restrictions and hatchery reform is necessary to prevent this from happening again. 
WDFW Commission e-mail

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Freak Out

The drift started uneventfully, worked my way down river stopping and swinging through one run in the cold morning shade.  That was interesting.  The rod, guides, and reel froze up quickly making working a good length of line with a short head pretty difficult.  No fish, so I kept moving downstream.  As I approached a drift boat plugging a tailout I saw them jump up as a steelhead took their plug.  "Not a bad sign," I thought as a drifted past into the next run.

The next run already had anglers from boats in it, but they were focused on the lower end and drift fishing.  I walked down to one of the anglers and asked if I could work the head of the run, further upstream.  "No problem," was the response I was hoping for so I walked back to the raft, grabbed my rod and stepped into the water.  I flipped my line out and thought my fly looked funny.  I grabbed it and realized it was frozen solid... it was more number 2 pencil than a fluffy intruder-ish type fly.  I warmed it up and started working my line out swinging the fly through the water.  I was about to start stepping downstream after working my line out when I felt that pull.  The cold probably slowed my reactions down as line started coming off the reel... but quickly the frozen thoughts warmed up and I went crazy.  I lurched back on the rod like I was going to set the hook on a tarpon.  I picture myself with my back angled 45 degrees from my hips pulling the rod backwards.  Of course, I'm gonna blame the loss of the fish on a dull hook, a grab closer to the hangdown, or something other than the fact that I went beserk after months away from steelheading and then a massive slump since moving back to the Northwest fishing interior rivers enjoying record runs of steelhead.  I'm sure a muttered a foul word or two before getting back to business and working this run twice before drifting further downstream.

I didn't encounter any other fish that day, but I swung some beautiful water and tried some water types I might have passed over on previous trips with the hope that come warmer temps and warmer seasons (spring) some native fish might be resting just primed to jump all over a swung fly.

Hope to get back soon and find my steelhead slump-buster.  Hope these pictures get you thinking about swinging flies through emerald green glacial streams for your slump-buster, however long or short the slump is.

Finally, The River

The next morning was cold and the alarm clock is especially jarring when tucked into a warm sleeping bag.  I shoved a quick breakfast into my stomach and started the car with enough time for the heaters to melt the ice on the inside of the windows.  I drove to the takeout, packed everything I'd need for the day into the Water Master bag and started walking.

Walking along the frost covered roadways was interesting.  The occasional log truck heading to work blew by.  I quickly turned off the headlamp as the half moon illuminated the clear morning.  Slowly, the gloves came off and then the hat was replaced with the hoody from my base layer.  Carrying a 45 lb raft plus my gear was at least keeping me warm.  Thank god for the Nice frame and sling I ordered from Mystery Ranch company (Mystery Ranch).  Nothing like being able to put some of that weight on my hips.

I eventually made it off the main road and onto the dirt road leading to the launch.  I walked another mile and a half as the distant sun started lightening the sky.  Eventually I heard the rumble of a couple vehicles coming up from behind.  The rattle was a sure sign one was towing a drift boat.  Even though I was within a half a mile of the ramp, my thump shot out to attempt to save a bit of energy.  The first vehicle passed but the truck towing the drift boat stopped.  I jumped into the back of the pickup, although jump might not be the best term for climbing into the back of a pickup with a 50+ pound pack on.  Off we drove to the launch.  We drove out onto the gravel bar and I hopped out, gave a quick "Thanks!" to the driver and started getting my gear together. 

I was still toasty from my human-propelled shuttle, but I was struck by something I hadn't seen before on river rocks.... hoar frost.

After getting geared up with foot warmers (the adhesive toe warmers work great), I pumped up the raft and slowly started floating down the river.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Frigid Dusk

Just returned from my first trip back to the rainforest since last February.  I always feel refreshed after spending a day fishing these beautiful wild rivers.  I am a huge fan of the National Park system as well which only adds to the joy of being in such a place. 

I arrived the night before and decided to see if there would be any space available in a coastal campground.  Luckily for me, there was a spot or two to choose from.  The truth is that I don't think any one else was there.  The cold temperatures seemed to keep everyone away.  I backed into the spot and built a fire and enjoyed some dinner.

The sounds of the surf were soothing as I watched the sun slowly set over the clouds sitting offshore.

I enjoyed the view and as the skies darkened the stars came out.  The milky way seemed to dive from the heavens into the pounding surf.  The occasional shooting star grabbed my attention but I knew that it was going to be an early morning so with visions of grabby steelhead dancing in my head I fell asleep to the Pacific's roaring sound machine.

Next.... an even colder dawn.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Food for Thought

As winter sets in, I look back with fond memories of the food of this past summer. The wife and I spent the summer working on Mount Desert Island in Maine and were overjoyed with the fresh vegetables and fruit available, especially coming from the high mountains of Colorado.

Of course, my favorite was the fruit. The small local stawberries tasted vibrant compared with the larger ones shipped across the country from California. While the strawberries were great every morning on my bowl of cereal, they were complemented from July through the end of August with wild blueberries. We found incredible fields full of blueberries off the carriage roads in Acadia National Park. 30 minutes to an hour of picking would yield about 5 days worth of berries. I now look at the berries common in most markets and they look like giants compared to the tiny wild blueberries of Maine.

We also tried something new this past summer. We bought a farm share at a local organic farm. It was $20 a week for 12 weeks and we got a large bag of greens, beans, potatoes, strawberries, zucchini, and assorted other vegetables all 12 weeks. It felt good supporting a local farmer but the food tasted superb and we knew it was healthier for us and the planet.

You can find a local farm at this link. I look forward to next summer's bounty here in the Pacific Northwest.