April2012

Not fly fishing in the desert


After complaining (OK, grousing incessantly) for months about the lousy weather here in the Pacific Northwet, Mrs. UA booked us a flight to Arizona for the week of Schpanky’s Spring break. I fully acknowledge that we were all in need of some Vitamin D, but I’m convinced that her underlying motive was to get me to shut up. It worked, temporarily.

This was not, obviously, a fishing vacation. But every time I go anywhere, I have a tendency to ponder the area’s possibilities for wetting a line. My conclusion is that the Phoenix area is not exactly a hotspot for fly fishing. Certainly if one is willing to drive a fair distance they can find water that holds fish, and in fact many of the area golf courses have ponds with some sort of fish. There are a lot of golf courses in Arizona so if you like golf it’s probably akin to Montana for fly anglers. But I don’t golf. In fact, I loath the game.

For most of the week we simply relaxed and did a lot of nothing, which was fine by me. The cement pond in the back yard provided the closest thing to fishable water that I would see the entire time we were there. With plenty of time to sit and think, I formulated some thoughts based on observations:

The AZ desert is a cruel place inhabited by evil shrubbery that will hurt you if you let your guard down. There are cacti known as Jumping Cholla that do appear to jump on you if you get too close. This did not happen to me, but my brother-in-law was describing it and ended up with a shoe-ful of prickly spikes. They’re harder to remove than a barbed treble hook. The last photo is not someone I know, but serves as another good reason not to ever golf.

Jumping Cholla

A minor case of having been jumped by Cholla.

A major case of being jumped by Cholla.

While different than the species that have been driving me crazy in the Pacific NW, the desert has wood peckers. The peckers around my home seem to like the wood on our house, and our rain gutters. In the desert nearly all the homes are built with something resembling stucco, and a rain gutter contractor would go broke for lack of business, so I am not sure what the birds bang their peckers on. I didn’t see many trees, either, but I did see a lot of saguaro cacti with holes created by birds. Likely the peckers are to blame for this.

Arizona woodpecker.

We don’t have In-N-Out Burger joints up here in our corner of the nation, but they do have them down in Arizona. I’d never eaten there before but have been told the burgers are good. We ate there twice and while it was good both times, I wouldn’t say that it warrants a trip to Arizona for the sole purpose of eating at In-N-Out Burger.

Phoenix has a Major League Baseball team: the Arizona Diamondbacks. The team is referred to as the D-Backs,  for short. Or so I thought. What I discovered is that the local sportscasters affectionately refer to them as the “D-Bags”. I kid you not. The first time I heard it on a television newscast I was sure I’d merely heard what I want, and not what was actually said. And then I heard it repeated over and over: D-Bags. Clear as day. Go figure.

The Arizona D-Bags

Fishing for coldwater species is not big on the list of things to do while in Phoenix, nor apparently, is fly fishing. A visit to Dick’s Sporting Goods revealed a very limited selection of fly tackle: a single Pfleuger starter kit. However, there was a ready supply of other fishin’ poles.

Even though fly fishing may not be big on the list of recreational activities in the desert, this does not prevent people from driving the #1 Stupidest Fly Fishing Car from 2011. Which reminds me, it’s probably time for the 2012 list, although I’m confident the Nissan Cube would take top honors. Stupid car.

I was privileged to see my first real, live roadrunner while in Arizona. I was disappointed to learn that the birds are not purple, nor do they make a call that sounds anything like “Meep-Meep”. You can imagine that I felt like a child when they discover that Santa Claus isn’t real.

Fence post runner

 

Arizona nights are clear, and good for star gazing. Mrs. UA is very proud of the app on her iPhone which tells you exactly what you’re looking at when you point the phone toward the dark heavens. I’m not a big astronomy buff, but I never tire of sophomoric humor. Ever.

It's funny every time.

 

It was a nice change of pace and change of scenery, but after a few days I felt trapped, like a fish out of water. The desert is too dry; too hot. Not enough of the stuff that I complain about back home.

Inadequate fish passage.

 

Like the fact that it’s 50 degrees and raining today.

Book recommendation: An Entirely Synthetic Fish

Over a year ago I wrote haphazardly about Anders Halverson’s book, An Entirely Synthetic Fish: How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America and Overran the World. By haphazardly I mean I mentioned it, and speculated what the message of the book was. Without having read the book at the time, I couldn’t be sure of my hypothetic ways, and was really just having a little fun, possibly at the expense of the book itself. No harm in a little Unaccomplished Drivel, right? Nobody takes me seriously anyway.

Over a year later I’m happy to say that I have finally read the book. And I rather enjoyed it. A lot.  It wasn’t what I expected, and yet it was. By that I mean the scope of the book was what I expected. It tells of the rainbow trout’s history as a mass-produced hatchery product that was shipped out across the country and stocked in places far from it’s native range. The book is a historical recount of how this all began and how man interfered with nature (surprise!) and screwed things up royally for native species along the way.  But the book was more than I expected because it was highly entertaining and interesting to read. It talks about why sportfishing has been such an important part of American history. If it weren’t so sad, the detailed mention of certain historical debacles as pertaining to fish management would be nearly laugh-out-loud funny: Hatchery trucks with sirens so anglers knew when and where fresh rainbow trout were being dumped into the water…come on, that’s good stuff right there! Can’t you just imagine a bunch of fishermen chasing the hatchery truck like a bunch of kids running after the Ice Cream van and it winds through their neighborhood?

The book was published in 2010, and has since won a National Outdoor Book Award. Much of the initial fanfare surrounding the release of a book may have already taken place so many reviews can be found. I am not classifying this as a review, but I am definitely calling it a book recommendation. From cover to cover this book is a great read; it’s interesting and entertaining. You’ll gain a certain appreciation for the the rainbow trout and a better understanding of the history of trout fishing in America. You’ll also come away with a head-shaking awareness of how far we’ve come in many ways, and how far we have to go in others.

Get this book. You’ll be glad you did.

Sportsmen Descend on DC to Save Bristol Bay ~ Pass it Along

I’m not even changing the headline because in this case redundancy is a good thing. In fact, all I am doing is copying and pasting what was posted over on The Outdooress blog today, which was first posted on the Outdoor Blogger Network.

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The following is a guest post available to all outdoor bloggers who have an interest in the Pebble Mine/Bristol Bay issue.
Please feel free to re-post it on your blog. 

(Passed along from the conservation section over on the OBN ~
Go check it out, copy it from here, copy it from there, but let’s spread the word)

Sportsmen fly to DC to tell president and congress to say no to Pebble Mine

Fly FishingPhoto by B.O’Keefe

Starting Monday, April 16, more than 30 sportsmen from around the country are traveling to the nation’s capitol to let their elected officials and the president know that protecting Bristol Bay is a top priority for hunters and anglers.

This is an important week to show the folks who have the power to protect Bristol Bay that sportsmen are in this fight. We’ve got folks from Alaska, Montana, Michigan, Colorado, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Texas, Wisconsin, Washington, North Carolina, California, Missouri, New York, and Virginia representing this great country and the millions of people who want Bristol Bay to be protected and left just like it is today–pristine and productive.

recent report by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation shows that there are 34 million hunters and anglers in the U.S., and we’re a powerful constituency. Every year, we pump $76 billion into the economy in pursuit of our passion, through our spending on gear, licenses, gas, lodging, meals and more. All of that spending and activity directly supports 1.6 million jobs in this country.

We are also an influential group because 80 percent of sportsmen are likely voters – much higher than the national average. And, we also contribute the most money of any group toward government wildlife conservation programs. So, hopefully if we care about an issue and show our support, the decision makers will listen to what we have to say.

In just a few weeks, the EPA will be releasing a draft of its Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. This huge scientific assessment will likely guide future decisions about large-scale mining and other industrial development in the Bristol Bay region. If they find that disposal of waste from the mine would adversely harm the surrounding clean waters or natural resources, the EPA can deny or place restrictions on a required dredge and fill permit. If warranted, we hope the Obama Administration would take that step to protect Bristol Bay.

You can support the fight for one of planet Earth’s finest and most productive fishing and hunting destinations by taking action today. Fill out this simple form that will send a letter to the President and your members of Congress asking them to protect Bristol Bay.  Let’s carry our sportsmen into D.C. with a lot of momentum.

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Go ahead: Copy and paste. Fill out the form on the Trout Unlimited website and submit it. Keep the ball rolling. Stop the Pebble Mine.

 

In like a lion, out like piece of cold mutton.

 

March is said to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb. I can confirm that as the month began, I was glad for my beard because the Pacific Northwet rang in March with a certain ferocity (cold, wet, snowy/rainy, crappy). And it didn’t improve much by month’s end. Lions or lambs, either way we’d been screwed by the weather. If you think I’ve been bitching about nothing, check out this graphic from the National Climactic Data Center:

The weather blues, literally.

 

Needless to say, March was a good month to put in the rear veiw mirror. The end of the month also signals the end of the Washington state fishing license for the previous year. Here in the Evergreenblue state, the fishing license calendar runs from April 1 through March 31, and my son, Schpanky, and I were milking our 2011 licenses for all their worth by fishing on the last day that our licenses were valid. We hoped to get our money’s worth on our second annual trip to Forks for some Spring steelhead fishing.

Last year’s pilgrimage to the last bastion of native, wild steelhead fishing in the lower 48 was a trip with my buddy Joe Willauer of Evolution Anglers that resulted in my son’s first two steelhead, one of which caught under the glow of a double rainbow. It also resulted in a skunk for yours truly, and the regretful, forgetful act of leaving behind a few reels. Reels are essential for steelhead fishing  and luckily I was able to avoid an inadvertent introduction into the ways of Tenkara thanks to a reel borrowed from Joe’s buddy and fellow guide, Aaron O’Leary of Angler’s Obsession.

We hoped to repeat some of last year’s antics and avoid repeating others.

First off, we wanted the rivers to be fishable. In an area that sees more annual rainfall than any other spot in the contiguous US below the Canadian border, the rivers of the Olympic Penninsula blow out with regularity. In a year where the weather was worse than normal (whatever normal is anymore), the odds of encountering fishable waters for a one day window of opportunity which had been booked months in advance is a dicey prospect.  Last year we fished the Hoh River and were rewarded with a river on the drop. This year I nervously watched the flows the week before our trip. Here’s what the Bogachiel River, which we would be fishing, looked like:

 

It has blown-out mid week but was on the drop as we headed to Forks on Friday the 30th of March. But would it hold? Not to spoil a surprise, but yes. It held.  It was high, but fishable.

As we made the 3 hour drive to Forks, we encountered pretty much what we expected: rain and signs of recent rain. Even a little white stuff as we neared our destination.

Dusting of Olympic Penninsula powder.

To think that fire danger can ever be high in this area is almost laughable.

Duh...

I did not want to forget any essential gear this year, so I was very careful to remember nearly everything. Spey rods and reels, check. On Friday night (well, technically it was Saturday morning at 2:37 AM) I awoke in a cold sweat after realizing that I’d left my single-handed 8 weight rod AND reel at home. While Schpanky slept soundly I tossed and turned until 4:13 AM. I realized there was only one thing to do so at I sent Joe a text confessing that I’d left certain items behind, and asked that he bring an extra rod and reel. Then I fell back to sleep for another hour and a half. When we met for breakfast at the Forks Coffee Shop at 6:30, Joe revealed that he had not received my text. Damnit. Not to worry, Aaron was nearby and had us covered. Again.

My favorite reel to borrow when I go to Forks.

With a fishable river and the proper tackle in possession, the next thing we hoped to repeat was the catching of steelhead. Only this time I actually was more concerned with my own well-being than that of the boy. As a 17 year-old child he’d caught his two fish last year. There would be no more coddling. He was 18 now–old enough to buy smokes and porn: old enough to let his old man catch a fish.Within 30 minutes of our put-in, Schpanky hooked and landed a beautiful 15 pound hen. Even under low clouds and a steady, drenching, 38 degree rain, the day was off to a bright start. Joe would see at least a portion of his $15 tip.

Joe Willauer and Schpanky

The Accomplished and Unaccomplished Anglers

It’s always a relief to get the skunk off the boat early and doing so ensured that the day would be a success, even if no other fish were caught (I kept saying this to myself over and over). I’ll admit that as the day wore on I began to resent the man-child in the front of the boat; the youthful angler who had now caught 3 wild steelhead on the rivers of the Olympic Penninsula, to my none. When I set the hook on a good fish later in the day I instantly felt better about myself until the fish–a bright buck that was clearly much larger than Schpanky’s fish–made short work of me as it made a suicide run right for the bank of the river and broke me off. As we broke for lunch I was engulfed in a dark cloud of angling despair.

The Highway 101 bridge, while perhaps not particularly scenic, did offer a welcome roof over our heads and we enjoyed the chance to get out of the rain and warm up with a Cup of Noodles served up with Joe’s organic silverware.

Nothing but the finest when you're a guest in Joe's boat

Joe and I were both sporting a pair of Redington Sonic Pro Zip waders and posed for a photo which I’m sure will become a new poster for Redington. On a quick note, this was my second opportunity to test the waders and so far, two thumbs up.  On a day of relentless precipitation, the waders kept me dry and comfortable, and Joe and I both agreed that the zippers are a must-have. There is no pleasure in getting half-way undressed to relieve pressure on the bladder, especially when doing so in a rain forest.

They come in a wide variety of sizes.

As the afternoon wore on we mostly nymphed on the go, although we did stop at a couple runs so we could break out the Spey rods. Or as Joe refers to them, the “Poles of Futility”. Not surprisingly, no fish were hooked on the swung fly. The afternoon saw a continuation of rain and a couple more hookups with fish. Whereas the morning had resulted in Schpanky landing a nice fish while I lost a nice fish, the afternoon saw Schpanky losing a small fish while I landed a small fish. One doesn’t go to Forks to catch 5 pound underachiever but it’s better than nothing, especially when nothing is what one had come to experience previously. In defense of the fish in the photo, it looks smaller than it actually was thanks to Joe’s ridiculously large net, and my oversized hands.

An unimpressive fish and an Unaccomplished Angler

When all was said and done, we’d had a great day on the river. Schpanky will be in college this time next year so he won’t be able to make the trip, and because of college I may not be able to afford the trip. If I do go I’m going to catch a bigger fish and remember my 8 weight rod and reel. Just for good measure, I hope Aaron is close by again.

A reward for having waited

It was nothing short of an act of desperation when I called Marck and said, “I need to fish on Sunday.” Fortunately his response was favorable.  Too many months had passed since I’d wrapped my hand around the cork of my 4 weight. Too much crappy weather had been endured recently. I didn’t just need to get out and go fishing, I needed to do so on a day that would brighten my outlook on life in general.

I spent the entire day before our trip doing yard work, something I’ve grown to loath with each passing year. You see, I live in fear of our yard. It’s rather sizable and induces head-spinning Landscape Maintenance Attention Deficit Disorder.  By the time I finish one project in the yard, all I need to do is look to my left or right and see numerous other tasks needing attention. There is no getting ahead, no sense of accomplishment. Just perpetual hopelessness against a yard so needy that it drains a man. However, with got one task completed, I left on a particular Sunday morning with a conscience that was as clear as the skies.

That was the ticket: clear skies.

Anyone who lives anywhere knows that this time of year is completely hit and miss when it comes to weather, and Mother Nature changes her mood on a whim. One may pick a day based on the weather forecast, but there’s no guarantee the weather will hold up it’s end of the bargain. This time, however, the weather was actually better than I’d hoped as we drove east, across Snoqualmie Pass, which was still tightly in the grips of winter.

As we drove along the river into the lower Yakima Canyon, it was apparent that other angling types had the same idea as us (skwala hatch), and there were several boats on the water already. No worries, we weren’t in a hurry. In fact the longer we waited, the warmer the air and water would get. Red’s Fly Shop was kind enough to sell us a few obligatory skwala dries (we didn’t need them, but we like to drop a few bucks in the shop). We arranged for our shuttle and chatted up with owner Steve Joyce, who happened to be getting ready to hit the river himself. We laughed about botched shuttles in the past and got the low-down on the new shop, which is long overdue. Construction is well under way with a completion date of August (hopefully sooner). It looks to be a really nice facility that will also offer the opportunity to grab a burger and a beer, and a deck on which to enjoy both. I can see myself spending a fair amount of time on that deck once it’s complete. Because I really like burgers.

The new fly shop at Red's Fly Shop

With the water temps headed toward 44 degrees, we fully expected the skwala stoneflies to be popping and fish rising to this first major hatch of the year. Our expectations for perfect catching conditions were exceeded by the weather which was, in fact, perfect. It was one of those days where just being on the water was reward enough, and catching fish was not the foremost concern. That’s what fly anglermen say when the fishing is slow but in this case being on the water under blue skies really was all that mattered. We were able to fish in short sleeves under a bright sun that warmed the day into the low 60’s. Just the ticket for the pasty, vitamin D-deprived skin of winter.

Marck took the oars first as he always does (it’s his boat, and he’s a bit of a control freak). Our general rule is that one guy fishes until a fish is caught and he was on the oars for an hour before the first rainbow fell for my skwala dry. Not a large fish by any standards, the Yakima 12 (translation: a 10 inch fish) served to get the skunk off the boat. Normally I wouldn’t waste the time or film on a fish this size, but I had time, wasn’t shooting film, and this was the first Yakima fish of the year. And I was in a festive mood. I gladly swapped places with Marck and promised I’d keep The Hornet off the rocks as much as possible.

A Yakima 12

I bounced  off several rocks rowed for quite some time before we broke for lunch, another highlight of the day.  Marck has become a masterful meat smoker and the pulled pork sandwiches he brought along were exceptional, especially when paired with a cold beer. After lunch I was back in the bow, trying in vain to fool another fish on the skwala. We saw a few adult stoneflies on the water, but not in any great numbers, much to our surprise. We saw a couple nice fishing rising in a slow seam and anchored up on them. Whatever bug they were taking was small–probably in an emerging state because there were no bugs visible on the surface. These fish weren’t willing to play, so we moved on.

Marck broke out the nymphing stick for a spell but that didn’t produce any more results than the topwater attempts. We traded positions one last time and in one last act of desperation I decided to try something a little different and tied on a March Brown. That might not seem like such a radical idea as it was late March, after all. However, the March Brown hatch wasn’t exactly happening just yet. Throughout the day I’d seen an occasional small brownish mayfly coming off and I figured if the fish weren’t eating skwalas, they probably wouldn’t eat a March Brown either. I had nothing to lose.

There’s one nice stretch of dry fly water just before the take out, but thinking that it would produce a fish was really little more than wishful thinking and it appeared that one fish might be our tally for the day. It didn’t matter, really, that we caught any fish, or that the one fish was caught by yours truly. I’m not competitive.

Within sight of the takeout, a Yakima 14 (meaning a 12″ fish) hammered the March Brown and gave me a two fish advantage over Marck’s skunk.

Perfect day, indeed.