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NASCAR and Tenkara: A Guide’s Day Off

by Kirk Werner on April 21, 2014

A non-working guide in the Rear Admiral’s seat.

When enjoying a day off from the fast-paced business of day-to-day guiding, does a fishing guide ever really just take a moment (or a day) to chill in the back of someone else’s boat? You know, slow things down and engage in a bit of selfish ‘me time’ without feeling compelled to constantly offer helpful instruction such as, “Mend, damnit—MEND!”?  I can say that on this particular and recent day the answer was, ‘yes’.

My buddy, Derek Young, is in fact a fly fishing guide, and he joined Morris and I for a float on the Yakima River on a recent Friday when he wasn’t working: Good Friday, to be sure—a day when many of particular religious persuasions eat fish. And while I am married to a Catholic who typically eats fish on Good Friday, I opted to go one better and actually fish on Good Friday.

The Yakima is always finicky, but this is a particularly tough time of year to encounter optimal conditions and fish willing to play nicely. We did find the river holding mostly steady after coming down off some very high flows. There was still a lot of water moving downstream, but visibility was good and the water had some decent color. The water temp was still on the chilly side: 41 degrees (F) to start, warming to only 44 degrees by afternoon. But that’s enough to get bugs popping and fish rising, and we followed swarms of swallows feasting on hatching March Browns and a some BWO’s throughout the day. No fish were rising, however, despite wishfully throwing dries for a period of time. Nymphing was the only game that produced the only action of the day.

Morris finally gets a turn to test his oaring abilities.

Morris, after begging repeatedly offering to take a turn on the oars, did a fine job of putting me on a fine cutthroat that took the Lightning Bug dropper in some soft water inside a likely seam. It was one of those classic spots where on most rivers you know there’s going to be a fish, but on the Yakima you doubtfully hope there’s going to be a fish. In this case, there just happened to be a fish. It didn’t fight very hard, seemingly a bit sluggish from the cold water, but it was a good fish and put a nice bend in my 6 weight. It was my mistake of getting distracted while reaching for the net that allowed the fish to slip the hook. Spring is the time when the trout are spawning , and whether it was preparing to spawn or had already completed the act, I didn’t want to play the fish too long or risk injury by handling it. Clearly the right thing to do was execute a perfect, conservation-minded LDR on the fish—easily a Yakima 19 (translation: 17 inch fish).  Later in the day while swinging a soft hackle nymph I had another grab followed by a couple quick head shakes but no hookup. Other than that nobody witnessed any love from the fish. Morris took great pride in having put me on the only fish of the day and I determined that the only way to avoid his insufferable boasting in the future is to never let him oar again.

But this isn’t so much about the catching, moreover the fishing—particularly the fishing of The Guide on his day off, so let’s back up a bit.

Slow down with the Fast Eddy

After launching the Olive boat, Morris and I loaded our fly fishing gear and watched with great curiosity as Derek grabbed his arsenal for the day. Surprisingly it was not a fly rod, but rather a Tenkara rod. Specifically, a Fast Eddy Tenkara rod.  Now I know next to nothing about Tenkara other than that it is a simplistic means of fishing with a long rod and a short, fixed amount of line, and no reel. I do know that modern Tenkara owes its heritage to an ancient form of Japanese angling, and I know from studying martial arts that Karate means ”empty hand” so I assume that Tenkara translates to “empty (or completely missing) reel”. I could be wrong. Whatever the exact translation, the very nature of the art of Tenkara would suggest a greater simplicity and a slower pace, so the Fast Eddy was a curious proposition.  The name alone is suggestive of speed and the rod has sections of bright orange so we coined the term NASKARA: a combination of NASCAR and Tenkara. Speed Zen.

NASCAR meets Tenkara

Art imitates life.

As I rowed and Morris fished with traditional fly gear out of the bow seat, we would each glance back repeatedly to watch The Guide on his day off frantically wielding the NASKARA rod. On occasion we would hear a variety of descriptive words as Derek offered his thoughts on the matter of employing the way of Tenkara on a big river from a boat. He acknowledged that this was neither the time nor the place for this form of angling, and as the day wore on, despite mastering the retrieve with both left and right hands, Derek brought the Fast Eddy in for a final pit stop and grabbed one of the fly rods. He may not have had any better success catching fish, but his casts were longer, and fewer.

Derek rarely gets cold feet.

A few other highlights from the day included downstream w#nd that mandated a lot of back rowing to keep the boat from racing downriver in the high flows. The w#ind also insured that the day remained on the chilly side, which resulted in the wearing of socks for The Guide on his day off. Derek claims to have naturally hot feet and fishes in sandals most of the year, and in fact started out the day with his feet clad accordingly. But as the day wore on, out came the socks. One could not help but see the irony of getting cold feet and unproductive NASKARA fishing on the same day.

Morris fishes while The Guide enjoys his day off.

The UA fishes while The Guide searches for his reel.

Suffice it to say we had an excellent time despite typically slow fishing, and The Guide seemed to enjoy his day off. On the way home we stopped at The Brick in Roslyn for some Good Friday fish & chips Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches. A good Friday, indeed.

Hope you all had a Happy Easter.

 

PS: Did you notice that I didn’t dedicate an entire blog post to the fact that Show #11 of the Open Fly Podcast went live last week? It featured guide stories with Camille Egdorf and a different kind of conservation segment with Becky Selengut, author and chef. It was a good one, in case you missed it.

 

 

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Something’s broken with OP steelhead rivers

by Kirk Werner on April 8, 2014

Washington’s Olympic Peninsula is home to rivers that many regard as the last best fishing for wild, native steelhead in the lower 48. To name just a few, the Hoh, Bogachiel, Sol Duc, and Calawah comprise a list of rivers with long traditions of being a mecca for steelhead fishing. The area around Forks is a beautiful, wet, somewhat remote, wet, somewhat unspoiled, wet area that is less than 4 hours from Seattle, including a 30 minute ferry ride. Theses rivers are comparatively short as they flow directly into the Pacific Ocean from headwaters in the coastal Olympic Mountains. Catching a chrome-bright fish is common. Or at least it used to be, so I am told.

When the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife began closing Puget Sound rivers to late season fishing a few years ago, essentially eliminating the best of winter steelhead season, anglers had few choices of locations in which to chase these anadromous rainbow trout. Eastern Washington (inland) rivers, if they happen to remain open late in the season, aren’t quite the same as the rivers of the Olympic Peninsula. Fish in those inland rivers have hundreds of miles to migrate, past several dams on the Columbia River, in order to make their spawning grounds by Spring.  They tend to be smaller than the coastal fish and they’re far from chrome bright by the time they hit their natal streams. And most of them are hatchery fish. By no means are they not fun to catch, but it’s not the same. The inland rivers tend to fish much better in October anyway, while winter steelheading has always been more of a western Washington game. But when WDFW decided to close the Puget Sound rivers early due to depressed fish returns, that began to put more pressure on the Olympic Peninsula rivers. People wanting to pursue wild, winter fish began focusing more and more on the coastal rivers. While I am by no means an avid steelhead fisherman, I’m guilty of jumping on the Forks Bandwagon—at least somewhat.  For the past 4 years in a row, I’ve made a trip to fish the OP. 

Before ever having been to the Forks area to fish, I had a preconceived idea that there were scores of fish in the rivers, and that they would be caught—or at least a few would be. Even if angling unaccomplishments resulted in lost fish, I fully expected several hookups—this was the Olympic Peninsula, after all: Fabled wild steelhead rivers. Free-flowing wild rivers. Fresh fish, still carrying sea lice. Hot, strong, tail-walking torpedos that just hours before were still swimming in the ocean.

With that hope in mind, Schpanky and I embarked on our first trip to the OP in late March, 2011. That first year my buddy and guide, Joe Willauer, took us down the Hoh River where Scphanky caught two nice fish: one early in the day; the other at the take-out. Half-surprisingly, I came home smelling of skunk. I missed a real nice fish, but was glad to see the boy hook up twice so the day was a success in my books. We fished using nymph rigs all day. Fished long, fished hard. Despite the two fish, in my opinion it was a slow day based on my preconceptions. An off day I reckoned. Besides, it’s hard to time things perfectly with only one day to fish in the wettest part of the lower 48 where the rivers can blow out quickly. Perfect conditions are hard to come by unless you fish there a lot. We’d go back the next year and hope that the OP would show us her best, or lat least something better.

Joe and Schpanky, first Hoh River fish 2011

Schpanky and his second Hoh fish, 2011

In late March of the following year we returned to Forks to fish the Bogachiel River with Joe. On this trip we once again nymphed on the go, stopping to swing flies with the Spey rod once—to no avail. While nymphing, Schpanky landed a nice fish and lost a another, while I lost a nice fish and landed a 5 pounder: a colored-up fish that most would call a “trout.” It was slow fishing like the previous year, but we caught fish and at least the river wasn’t blown completely out of shape. So no complaints. Still, I couldn’t help but feel that the OP had to be better. I’d go back the next year and hope to encounter a more productive OP.

Schpanky’s nice Bogachiel fish, 2012

My Bogachiel “Participant’s Fish”, 2012

The third year was a total bust for me, but it wasn’t the fault of the rivers or the fish. A strong reaction to a tetanus shot I’d received the day before saw to it that I spent the entire first day hunched over in the back seat of Large Albacore’s raft with a left arm that I couldn’t move. I’ve never felt worse in my life—couldn’t even muster the gumption to pick up a fly rod all day long. Neither Large nor Junior Albacore had so much as a bump that day either. On day two, still suffering from flu-like symptoms so, I ran the morning shuttle for the Brothers before calling it quits. I drove home, cursing my doctor the entire way. After two more days of fishing, the brothers Albacore reported that neither had touched a fish. No bumps, no lost fish. Nothing. And the weather had been uncharacteristically perfect; the Bogachiel was in great shape, just lacking fish despite that the Brothers covering a lot of water with nymph rigs and Spey rods. It was, once again, late March. I began to wonder if this was normal.

Don’t get a tetanus shot the day before a fishing trip

The Brothers Albacore, 2013

After that fateful 3rd year I reasoned that it couldn’t possibly get worse so this year I went back, again in late March. This time I joined the Brothers Albacore and their Pappy Albacore. We fished the Bogachiel River, again. On the first day the river was a bit high and chocolate-colored from heavy rains. Despite the appearance, the river actually gave up a nice chrome hen to Large Albacore’s swung fly. I was fortunate to be there wielding the net. It had been a long time since I’d seen an OP steelhead—I’d almost forgotten what they look like. Relieved to get the skunk off the boat early on day one, we angled on with great hope. However, that was the only steelhead to be landed that day. I did manage a 10 inch coastal cutthroat, but one doesn’t venture to the OP in quest of 10 inch cutthroats. The next day the river was a bit higher, but better-colored. We nymphed, we swung. Not a single bump on day two. Large and Junior each scratched out a 10 inch coastal cutthroat, which we determined was the same fish, and the same fish I’d caught the day before. I had to return home a day early while the Albacores fished a third day. Despite Pappy’s hookup and brief battle, no other fish were hooked. 3 days, 1 fish. It was more productive than the dismal previous year, but the lack of fish willing to play was a tough pill to swallow. I spoke with a WDFW employee conducting creel counts at the end of the second day: a single fish had been reported caught on the lower Bogachiel River.

Large Albacore’s Bogachiel hen, 2014

I’m not going to go into reasons why I think the fishing seems depressed on the OP Rivers. I don’t get out there enough to capitalize on what may be more productive fishing than I’ve experienced, and I am first to acknowledge that catching is never a guarantee on any river, anywhere. But I will tell you that the escapement numbers of returning fish making it into the rivers is down and continuing downward. Make a point to see Shane Anderson’s film, Wild Reverence. Draw your own conclusions. Read Bob Triggs’ blog to hear why he quit guiding for OP steelhead this year.

Will I go back next year?  I won’t say no for sure at this point,  because I greatly enjoy the time spent with good friends. However, despite that my angling prowess insures that my impact is low, it’s starting to feel not right for me to go out there and attempt to harass what seemingly few fish remain.

Something ain’t right.

 

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Wild fish recovery depends on many factors. One of those factors involves hatchery fish, or more specifically, less of them.

A group of anglers, not affiliated with any conservation organization, has pulled together to raise funding to let the folks at the Native Fish Society know that they’ve got support in the face of other groups who oppose the Native Fish Society’s stand on the matter of reducing hatchery fish.

The Adipose Pledge can be your way of sending a message of support for wild fish.  Consider taking the pledge, HERE.

And thank you for your time.

 

 

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The Open Fly Podcast, Show 10 (and a word about my blog)

March 27, 2014

Scores of readers have written in, asking me, “What the hell?  As of late it seems the UA blog posts have been nothing more than announcements when a new show being posted on that Open Fly thing…What gives?  Are you still blogging or what?”  Actually, nobody has written with any sort of inquiry, but any [...]

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The Open Fly Podcast, Show 9

March 20, 2014

Aquatic invasive species is a topic every angler should be keenly aware of, and on Show 9 of the Open Fly Podcast you’ll learn some good things including the proper way to clean your boots to prevent the spread of alien organisms. Bleach is out, water is in. Dry them thoroughly or put them in [...]

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