Fish coddling

Let me preface this by stating that I am all for conservation-minded fishing. I pinch my barbs (unless I’m targeting hatchery fish that are intended to be removed from the gene pool and consumed). I play fish as quickly as possible so as not to stress the the fish unduly, and I do my best to #keepemwet. I’m also happy to find something else to do with my time other than fish when conditions demand it, such as when the waters are too warm, or fish counts too low.

But what about fishing with a 100% chance of not hooking a fish?

Fishing without the hope of hooking a fish is called casting practice, and I’ve done it before (most notably when the intended quarry is steelhead). And there have been a few times when I wanted to practice my Spey casting, out of season, so I tied a chunk of yarn to the end of my leader and plied the waters with zero chance of hooking and harming either the fish, myself, or anyone else.

But what about intentionally fishing a fly without a hook?  No, really. Apparently it’s a reel real thing, sort of. And while it’s not a new concept (there are articles dating back as far as 1999, according to a quick search), a recent article has brought the issue to the surface again.

A Seattle Times article by Brian J. Cantwell, Is hook-free fly-fishing the next big thing? talks about just that: fly fishing without a hope and a prayer of ever catching a fish. The article states:


“Hooking and reeling in the fish is material only if you plan on eating it, which most anglers don’t these days.

 So why not fish with hookless flies?”
Um, because it’s pointless. But I digress. The article does bring up a good point: if you’re not going to eat what you catch, why put the fish through the ordeal, only to release it?
“Turns out, it’s far from a new idea. In a 1999 New York Times piece, fly-fisher Jim Emery cogitated, “The only real challenge in trout fishing is getting the fish to rise and take your fly. The rest may be exciting and fun, but just for the angler. The fish goes through a lot of abuse and stress.””
 (First, I had to look up the meaning of “cogitated”, which means to think deeply about something; meditate or reflect.)


I disagree with the assertion that the thrill ends when the fish is hooked. I’ve lost a few lot of fish in my time on the water. Sometimes I set the hook too soon, other times too late. I’ve lost fish soon after hooking them, and some I’ve lost at the net (which can nearly always be blamed on the net man). The take, or initial hookup, is satisfying for sure, but I view the challenge as only beginning when the fish is hooked. It takes certain skill and finesse to play the fish to the net, especially when using light tippet needed to fool wary fish. And isn’t that a big part of fishing—to challenge one’s skills as an angler? You know, to seal the deal?

The article goes on to ask if, when fishing without a hook, the angler is still harassing the fish?

Well, of course they are.  Any time you interrupt the natural behavior of the fish you are harassing them. Let’s say you make a cast, with your hookless fly, to a trout that is rising to real bugs. The fish takes the time out of its day to take a swipe at your offering, quickly realizing it’s not what was expected. The fish shakes their head, spits the hookless fly, and after a period of self examination and shameful sulking, returns to feeding on real bugs. The fish has burned unnecessary calories in doing so, lost time out of their feeding schedule, and perhaps most importantly, suffered an emotional blow.

How would a hookless angler suggest dealing with the latter?  Perhaps calling out, “Sorry, fishy!” (Don’t laugh—I’m sure some anglers—many from Seattle— already do this).

If we start fishing without hooks, we are no longer fishing—we are fish coddling. Coddling (not to be confused with codling or lingcod) only serves to ensure weak-minded fish that are incapable of making it in the cruel world in which we all live (Darwin would undoubtedly agree). If you want to do the fish a favor, don’t bother using hookless flies.

Just stay home.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to do as I have always done: use barbless hooks and not catch many fish.

This should make for a good discussion so please take a couple minutes to leave your thoughts in the comments section. If you subscribe to the UA via email, don’t reply via email because nobody but me and you sees that.


March of the lion


The amicable passing of the torch—isn’t that sweet?

You know what “they” say about March—it comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.

For those that don’t grasp the meaning, it’s a metaphor. It signifies that when the month of March begins, the weather is fierce—still winter-like. When the month is over, the weather has mellowed to gentle Spring-like conditions. That makes sense given that the Spring (or Vernal) Equinox occurs during March. The first official day of Spring—yay!


The season of Baseball—the quintessential fair weather game— has begun! The first significant bug hatch on most western rivers occurs in March—the march of the skwalas! Ah, the wonderous lambing season is upon us—let us rejoice in the season of hope, knowing that the glorious days of summer are approaching!

That may be the case where you live, but not here in the Pacific Northwet. Yes, March charged in like a lion, full of wind, rain and cold (for here, anyway) temperatures. We had snow accumulations during the first week of the month. As the lion marched on, the weather remained largely the same: gray, wet and chilly. I believe we had two days where the sun won the battle against clouds and rain. And in the last week of the month the weather has remained largely unchanged. Oh, sure, it looks as though on the 31st the clouds may part, the rain may cease, and we may actually see the sun for about the 10th time since October…but look ahead one day to April first and—no joke— we’re right back to the unseasonably cold, wet, shitty weather. 60 degrees?  We haven’t seen that yet this year.


Plants are refusing to burst out with their display of Spring colors. The grass is green, and growing, but it’s having a hard time keeping up with the moss. It looks like winter outside save for a few hearty trees that are budding out, slowly.


Below are some stats about Seattle weather since October 2016, but as you read the tally, bear in mind that Seattle proper gets considerably less rain that where I live, 25 miles to the east: Seattle sees 37.49 inches per year on average; where I live sees 52 inches annually.

Seattle Weather Fun Facts courtesy of the NWS (Nasty Weather Service):

Of the 178 days that have passed since the “water year” began, Seattle has had 123 days with rain or snow, 149 with more than 70% cloud cover, and just 9 days with less than 30% cloud cover (which apparently constitutes a sunny day). Seattle set records for rainfall in October (10.05 inches). November and December were gray and miserable, but not as wet as October. January wasn’t record-wet, but it was gloomy as hell with 7.45 inches of rain. February was nearly a record month for rainfall in Seattle, with 8.85 inches (the record being 9.11 inches). Come on—we’re splitting hairs here—we should get a trophy for February. March has been the 6th wettest on record, with 6.66 inches (about 3.38 inches more than normal). February and March combined have had the most precipitation ever recorded in Seattle, with 15.56 inches. Remember, that’s in Seattle, which benefits from a bit of a rain shadow effect compared to most other parts of the Puget Sound region.


Here, the lion wins by eating the lamb.

So, whomever “they” are that say, “in like a lion, out like a lamb” can bite me. This March the weather has sucked. The lion won. February, January, December, November and October sucked, too.

They also say that you can’t change the weather, but you can bitch about it, and I feel marginally better for having done so.

Pass the vitamin D—I’m clearly deficient. I probably need to go fishing, too.


The lamb succumbed to the incessant rains of March.


Didn’t even try to not go fishing

Last year at about this same time, me and the Albacore’s ventured to Forks, WA to do a bit of steelhead fishing. We got rained out, and instead of fishing we sat on our asses and watched basketball for 3 days (shoot me now). Here’s a recount.

This year, when it came time to schedule the trip to Forks, I just couldn’t get excited about it (Mrs. UA and I had also already scheduled a trip to Nashville in April to see Schpanky, so my Big Spring Trip was spoken for). I felt a tinge of remorse for taking a pass on the Albacore trip because I do rather enjoy fishing with those boys, so I wished them well. I also figured that, in my absence, they would have a banner year. Steelhead on the swung fly. Many.

Well, I just heard from Large Albacore, and they didn’t touch a single fish. Not only that, they didn’t fish at all—the trip was a bust this year. The difference this year is that they determined it would be a rain-out before even making the trip: a pre-emptive strike, if you will. We should have made that same call last year, but as Large Albacore said this year, “I’m slow, but eventually I catch on.”

I must admit that I’m not surprised. It’s a dicey proposition to encounter favorable conditions in Forks this time of year, any year. Given that western Washington has had one of the wettest, coldest winters on record, and Forks is the wettest that the Pacific Northwet has to offer, the writing was on the wall.

So, as far as I can tell, the best way to not go fishing is to just stay home. It’s considerably cheaper than the cost of gas, ferry crossings, motel and food for 3-4 days, all to not go fishing. And by staying home I can control what’s on the television, and it’s not basketball.

Madness, I say.

Washington Weather

This has been one of those winters that beats a person down and has them thinking about moving to Arizona and taking up outdoor shuffleboard.

I’ve been AWOL

I just realized the last post on the blog was way back on November 1st, 2016—last year.

That could mean one of a few things:

  1. I’ve been fishing a lot: I’ve been catching many winter steelhead in the Pacific Northwest, traveling to Patagonia (it’s summer there) to chase sea run brown trouts, and am currently in the tropics fishing for tropical species and drinking fruity drinks on the sandy beaches. I’m just not rubbing it in your faces writing about it.
  2. I spent the last two months in jail and was just released.
  3. I have recently entered the Witness Protection Program and am keeping a low profile.
  4. Who cares, really?
  5. Insert your own reason for my absence


Sauk it to me

The Sauk River is one of three major tributaries of the once-fabled steelhead river, the Skagit, in North Central Western Washington. I’ve only fished the Sauk twice: the First Time in April 2009, during what was—unknowingly at the time—the last catch and release steelhead season before the WDFW closed that season down. The second time I fished the Sauk was when I dressed as a fisherman for Halloween 2016.

Ignorance was bliss (2009)

Ignorance was bliss (Sauk River, 2009)

In 2009 (when it was still socially acceptable to wear a fishing vest) I was a greenhorn Spey rodder, and on my first cast of the day, dumb luck struck and I landed my first wild steelhead on the swung fly. I’m glad I didn’t know it at the time, but it would be a long time after that day when I would land my next wild steelhead on the swung fly.

But let’s not dwell on the past, shall we? Jumping ahead to 2016, while no longer a greenhorn to the two handed rod, I am not a significantly better caster: ‘functionally adequate’ is how I describe my Spey casting prowess.

Late October is a bit early for western Washington winter steelhead, and while there may be a few early returning fish in the system, it’s not likely that they’ll be enticed to the swung fly. This time of year it was all about bull trout, or as some mistakenly call them, dolly varden. The difference between a bull trout and a dolly is fairly simple to explain, which I’ve done HERE in the past if you’re so inclined. At any rate, my friend Bob Margulis invited me to join him for what is one of his favorite times of year to fish the Sauk, when one stands a chance at a rather mixed bag of finned quarry: salmon, steelhead, sea run cutthroat trout, and/or bull trout. The bull trout have, at this time of year, recently concluded their annual spawn, during which they migrate from the main river up smaller tributaries. Once they’ve spawned they are spent, and hungry, and they move back down to the main river in search of a cigarette food.

As a very light, sporadic rain fell, we dropped into a run below a well known bridge and Bob set me up at the lower end of a run while he worked through to the top section. The Sauk was running a bit high due to recent (and current) rains, but not unreasonably so. There was a glacial green tinge to the river and visibility wasn’t horrible. In other words, the river was fishable. We observed a couple of chum salmon spawning in the gravel of an inside channel—a hen raking the gravel, creating a redd into which she was laying her eggs. A male moved in behind her to do his part. Cutthroat and bull trout would eventually move in later to snatch eggs from the redd, and eagles would eventually feed on the chum carcasses. Interconnected, the circle of life becomes quite evident during this time of year on Pacific Northwest rivers.

But I digress.

Bull Trout Candy

Bull Trout Candy

I laid out the first cast with my Spey rod—rigged with with a Compact Skagit head and type III sink tip—joined to a fluffy white streamer that, for lack of the actual pattern name, would best be described as “bull trout candy.” Just before the fly swung into the hang down, there was some resistance on the line. Naturally I assumed I’d hung up on a rock, but when the rock began shaking its head I changed my mind. There ensued no drag-screaming runs nor acrobatic displays, but the fish did communicate its displeasure and pulled with determination. After a short fight I landed what was a rather nice bull trout—somewhere in the 26-28″ range—certainly my largest to date. As Bob mentioned, “Where there’s one there’s more,” so after releasing the dolly bull trout native char I continued fishing the run with the hope of finding another fish. Apparently that was the only willing participant in the run as neither Bob nor I touched another fish. We moved upriver, above the well known bridge, to try our luck on a new piece of water.

A splendid Sauk River dolly varden bull trout.

A splendid Sauk River dolly varden bull trout.

I forgot to put the rod behind my neck for the photo.

I apologize for forgetting to put the rod behind my neck for the photo.

The rain began to fall in greater abundance as we situated ourselves on the next run. In my estimation, winter steelheading weather is wet and cold—a miserable combination that keeps most anglers inside by the fire reading about summer trout fishing. As the rain increased it certainly looked like winter steelheading weather despite that with temps in the low 50’s it was far too warm to be considered true winter steelheading weather (my hands weren’t even numb).

Despite appearances, not winter steelheading weather.

Despite appearances, not winter steelheading weather.

And that was fine, because we were fishing for bull trout. And I landed two more. These were considerably smaller than the first fish, each stretching the tape at about 18 inches. Despite their diminutive stature, they were game little fighters, one in particular was full of enough piss and vinegar that it jumped twice in protest. That would conclude the catching for the day, and in case you naysayers are screaming in outrage that my success is anything but an unaccomplishment, bear in mind that the day was not without unaccomplished incident: I had left home at 6:40 AM to meet Bob at 8 o’clock. I got 12 minutes from home when I realized I had left my waders back home in the garage. Fortunately I remembered before getting too far up the road. Wet wading would not have been a pleasant endeavor, despite that it wasn’t miserable enough to be considered winter steelheading weather.

Given that this is an election year, this seems appropriate to leave you with this: