In the past I’ve half-jokingly asserted that what our Pacific Northwest rivers need are brown trouts: sea-run brown trouts (also known as sea trout in Europe). You know, the kind that were introduced in the southern parts of South America such as Chile and Argentina, in the region commonly known as Patagonia, where they also make some pretty swanky fly fishing gear.
Sadly, our Northwest native steelhead runs are greatly depleted, and while the fish are clinging to existence, it seems we may never get all groups concerned to the table to agree to make all the changes needed to restore the runs to their historic greatness (or at least to give the fish a chance). Gear fishermen and fly fishermen are often at odds over the issue. Tribes continue their gill netting ways, and the government seems to still think hatcheries are a good thing. The divide over wild steelhead is maddening.
Perhaps it’s time to move on, close the hatcheries that are a drain on the natural and financial resources, and quit holding onto the past. Rather than wasting seemingly endless time, resources and money in an attempt to bring back the steelhead, I’d like to pose the question:
“What can Brown do for you?”
First, a strain of sea-going browns would go a long way toward ridding the rivers of hatchery steelhead by eating their way up and down the watersheds (wild steelhead would survive because, well, that’s what they do, given half a chance). Secondly, an established population of sea-going Salmo trutta would also provide a worthy recreational replacement for the lost runs of anadromous rainbow trouts by offering all anglers a quarry that’s big, strong, and nasty. Browns are also amazingly resilient to warmer water temps, which we’ll see as the climate continues to change. This winter, for example, has been very mild in the Pacific Northwest. Our snowpack was bleak. It’s easy to see that this summer could get very interesting with regard to dramatically lower than normal flows due to a greatly diminished spring runoff. Rainbows and cutthroat trout are not going to be pleased with the results. Browns are never happy, but they wouldn’t be quite as unhappy as the other trout species who prefer very cold water.
For anglers of both camps Operation Brown would be a win-win: catch and release anglers could continue to catch and release these fish, while meat harvesters could catch and kill their fair share because, being a non-native species, there would certainly be a harvestable limit. It wouldn’t take long before former steelhead anglers would be saying, “Steel what?”
Washington might eventually change the state fish from Oncorhynchus mykiss to Salmo trutta, and become known as the Everbrown State (which is really a better description of the central and eastern parts of our state, anyway). I’ve always imagined what first time visitors to WA must think when they approach the state from the east. Once west of Spokane they undoubtedly experience shock and disbelief: “Holy criminy—I thought Washington was supposed to be the Evergreen State?!” Classic bait and switch…
Obviously Operation Brown is just a maniacal pipe dream as it would never happen in this day and age where the introduction of non-native anything is severely frowned upon. And honestly I don’t seriously want to give up on the recovery chances for wild steelhead, a Northwest icon. The vast majority of anglers are passionate about the plight of the wild steelhead: for example, Shane Anderson of Wild Reverence fame wouldn’t likely support the introduction of browns into our Washington rivers.
But what if browns found their way into our rivers by some means other than a formal, federal or state-sanctioned program?
Things could then get very interesting.
Disclaimer: This entry contains absolutely no references to fly fishing. It is intended for the one person who may happen to stumble upon the article while looking for such information as contained herein.
Math and science were not my strong suits with the exception perhaps of Marine Biology—I rather enjoyed that class in high school. But scientist or mathmetician I am definitely not. Because of this I’m no engineer, either. I am, however, somewhat of a tinkerer and do enjoy a bit of MacGyvering—you know, using baling wire and duct tape as a solution to a problem. As long as it doesn’t involve great skill with power tools or fine attention to detail, I’ll take a crack at jury rigging most things.
Some would also accuse me of having too much free time.
I recently acquired a longboard as part of my midlife crisis. Shortly thereafter I discovered land paddling (also known as street paddling) and as soon as my Kahuna Big Stick arrived I took it for a quick spin up and down the asphalt at the end of my driveway. Despite being a neophyte in the ways of the street paddle I immediately noticed that the rubber blade had a tendency to slip and lose traction at the end of the stroke, particularly when attempting to paddle up even a mild incline. In my vast wisdom I surmised that the vulcanized rubber blade was too hard to adequately grip asphalt in a most effective manner. I concluded that the material needed to be of a softer compound—more like a tire.
At the same time I understood the rationale behind the manufacturer’s decision to use the material they did: anything softer would wear out even faster. After putting a couple miles on the stick I did notice that it had already begun showing obvious signs of wear on the ends, where one plants the blade at the beginning of the stroke, and where one pushes off at the end of the stroke.
In my desire to improve upon the OEM traction and durability I purchased a 20-inch mountain bike tire for $20. Simple math might suggest to us that this works out to be $1 per inch of tire but that would be incorrect; the cost is actually considerably less than that. You see, the 20″ designation refers to the diameter of the tire. As a fabricator I’m more concerned with linear dimension. It’s the tire circumference that interests me much more so than diameter. Thus, a 20″ tire has a good deal more material than 20″ due to the circumference of the tire being considerably longer than 20″. Something about multiplying 20 by pi. Like I said, math is hard. The bottom line is that I didn’t want to spend much on a speculative project that may provide no benefit as far as increased traction, and for $20 I got roughly 63″ of material with which to work.
My First Generation Performance Enhancement Prototype (Exhibits A and B below) covered the bottom of the blade and was attached using cable ties threaded through holes I drilled in the tire material. It worked pretty well, especially if I was real careful when planting the stick for the stroke. There was a notable improvement in traction over the bare OEM bade, but because the ends of the blade were still exposed, traction remained compromised and the OEM blade would continue to wear on the ends. I was not satisfied.
I removed the First Generation Performance Enhancement Prototype and went back to the drawing board. This time I accounted for the exposed ends of the OEM blade and cut my next tire section accordingly. The Second Generation Performance Enhancement Prototype (Exhibits C and D below) shows a marked improvement in the design and functionality. The entire OEM blade footprint is covered, resulting in vastly improved traction through the full spectrum of the stroke. It also completely protects the factory blade from wear and tear. If I keep steady pressure on the Kahuna Stick throughout the entire stroke, I get no loss of traction unless I am attempting a significant incline. That’s when I get off the board and walk. A little cross training never hurt anyway.
I’m quite pleased with the Second Generation Performance Enhancement Prototype, but like any designer/fabricator, I fully admit there remains room for improvement. Once I’ve worn out the current prototype I plan to experiment further with a different type of bike tire. Admittedly the tire I purchased was rather inexpensive, and cheap. Being an off-road mountain bike tire it features fairly pronounced tread lugs separated by considerable areas of non-tread. I can see how this particular tire design might wear more quickly on pavement than a tighter tread pattern intended for road surfaces. Perhaps something along the lines of a hybrid tire is in order.
Perhaps something like this:
Or perhaps like this:
Whatever you do—even if it involves no aftermarket modifications at all—don’t use your land paddle as a braking device. It’s not at all effective, in my opinion, and will only wear down your blade prematurely. Stay off hills (I do) or have a good exit strategy (I dont’) for when your speed exceeds your comfort level.
Now, what was that about me having too much free time?
Perhaps it’s time to go fishing (oops, I lied about this article having no reference to fly fishing).
NOTE: Since first publishing this article I have made the decision to remove the Kahuna blade altogether and affix an XL Kong Extreme. The grip is vastly improved over even my previous modifications, with the added bonus that I can put peanut butter in the Kong and stop occasionally for a quick hit of protein. The hole in the XL Kong was just a tad too large for the Bamboo Kahuna Stick to fit snugly so I drilled one hole in the Kong and inserted a lag bolt, lining it up with one of the pre-existing holes in the stick. If you have one of the adjustable Kahuna sticks, use the next smaller sized Kong (Large) and it will fit nice and snug-like with no need for additional hardware. No matter what stick you have, if you opt for the Kong, go with the black ones—Extreme Kongs. They’re made of the most durable material. Check the hole size to see which one fits your stick best. And pass the peanut butter.
PS: Some SSUP-ers like the Kong ball option. However, the hole in the those is way too small for a stick without drilling, which requires the need for a drill press. Unfortunately not many have a drill press sitting around.
Update: Since this was updated, I have gone the way of the Kong Extreme Ball. The black one, size Medium/Large. I managed to bore out the hole in the ball just enough (without the aid of a drill press) to barely insert the end of my paddle stick and seat it firmly and deeply into the ball. No retainer bolt needed. The ball is lighter than the Kong non-ball mentioned above, and appears to be made of higher density rubber. Should last a long time.
It wasn’t quite a month after losing our Chocolate Lab, Edward Brown, that I was surfing Adopt-a-Pet and Petfinder for the thousands of dogs in need of homes. We hadn’t planned on getting another dog so soon after Eddie passed and I suppose I had convinced myself that I was just ‘window shopping’ to get a sense for what kind of dogs were out there. You know, for when the time was right.
Anyone who has had to say goodbye to their canine companion knows the huge void they leave in our hearts and in our homes, and in the weeks following Eddie’s passing our house had grown far too silent. He was always a very quiet dog—most of the time you hardly even knew he was there. But Eddie’s quiet presence was bigger than he was, and he was big. It was always reassuring to know that he was there. He was good company. The best.
We 2-legged types get rather used to having a dog around and the things that were once daily routine don’t go away quickly: we catch ourselves off guard during certain moments because we expect our dog to be right there. Of course, they’re not right there. It takes time to heal and for those certain routines to fade. In our case those routines were deeply-rooted after many years of uninterrupted canine company.
It had been almost 20 consecutive years that we’d had a dog in our family because Kate the Dog, our first Chocolate Lab, overlapped with Eddie: Kate had just turned 11 when Eddie came home with us as a 6 week old pup. Those dog years were busy years spent raising kids; there wasn’t much down time. But now that our kids are grown (though still living at home), life has a slower pace. When you remove a dog from that equation you have a recipe for, well, loneliness. I work from home and Eddie was my office assistant, my constant companion. I speak for my entire family when I say it had been far too quiet recently.
Just window shopping, I told myself.
Online listings of dogs display photos and even videos, but you never know until you meet the dog in person what they’re actually going to be like. All rescue dogs have baggage: for some, that baggage is the reason they’re up for adoption; for others it’s hard to imagine why they lost their homes in the first place. Whatever the case may be there is always an unknown, and when you agree to adopt a rescue dog you roll the dice to a certain extent. Wish for the best and hope that the dog will meet the majority of your expectations. Our wish list in a dog is pretty simple because Kate and Eddie both exemplified the qualities we loved and would want again: a sweet, calm disposition; gentle and submissive, a dog that plays well with others (both 2- and 4-legged).
One needn’t look far to discover that there are countless dogs in need of a new home. I checked the listings several times, seeing many of the same dogs time and time again. Most, if not all, have stories that tug at your heart strings and while many listings intrigued me none jumped off the page at me.
Until I came upon a listing for a dog I’d not previously seen.
The first photo of “Happy” caught my attention: it was those soulful eyes. Her listing said she’s a Lab/Boxer mix. I supposed that might be accurate, although breed(s) were not of the foremost consideration:
Then there was this one—there was no hiding the sweet disposition behind this face:
I thought she looked rather sad in the first two photos, and who could blame her after all she’d been through in her short life? And then in the third photo her namesake personality shone through via her expression and blurry tail:
In a video posted on her adoption listing, Happy can be seen playing gently with other dogs; relaxed, her tail wagging happily the entire time. She was clearly very sweet, with a calm disposition and a gentle, submissive nature. Happy’s YouYube video won’t be available indefinitely so I captured a couple of screen shots in which her personality is evident:
As mentioned nearly all rescue dogs come with a backstory that will melt your heart and Happy is no exception to that. She and her sister were found as 10-12 week old puppies along the side of the road in the desert of southern California where they’d been dumped. Emaciated and covered with ticks, a kind-hearted Guardian Angel rescued them and nursed them back to health. This compassionate woman had children and dogs of her own so she was unable to keep Happy and her sister indefinitely. She fostered them until permanent homes were found for the little black and white sisters.
In November of 2013, when Happy and her sister were 6 months old, they were adopted out to separate families. Every indication suggested that Happy’s adoptive family would be perfect and her Guardian Angel was confident that Happy had found her happily-ever-after home.
Such would not be the case.
It was a few days before Christmas 2014 that Happy’s Guardian Angel noticed a photo on the local shelter page. The photo showed a dog cowering in the corner of its pen; the caption listed the dog as having been abandoned on rental property. The Guardian Angel couldn’t see the dog’s face, but a mother’s intuition told her it was her baby. She contacted the shelter and requested a better photo, which upon seeing she immediately knew it was Happy (she was wearing the same collar she’d been wearing when she was adopted out over a year before).
Unfortunately Happy’s Guardian Angel was at her limit with dogs at home and pleaded with everyone she knew to rescue Happy—to no avail. On the day before Christmas the shelter director sent an email, agreeing to ‘turn the other cheek and wave all fees’. And so, on Christmas Eve, Happy’s Guardian Angel rushed to the shelter and pulled her. As it turns out Happy had been turned in to the shelter by her owner’s landlord, who had discovered her abandoned in her home. I don’t know the circumstances surrounding her abandonment, but whatever the case may be her owner had moved out and left her behind. In an act of semi-humane(?) decency the owner had left a couple of 50-lb bags of garbage-quality Ol’Roy dog food (if so inclined, check out the number of complaints and recalls) and a few 5 gallon buckets of water for her. This was her fate for TWO MONTHS—no contact with anyone, human or otherwise. Following this horrible ordeal Happy once again received the love and company of her Guardian Angel’s family, including her sister (whose forever home sadly hadn’t worked out, either).
This was Happy’s life when I stumbled upon her adoption listing.
I contacted Rompin’ Paws (a Pacific Northwest rescue group) and submitted an adoption application—I couldn’t imagine that this sweet dog would be available for very long, and luckily my application was first in line. Our application was approved and the wheels were set in motion. During the week and a half that followed we prepared for Happy’s arrival with eager anticipation and an ounce of hesitation, hoping that roll of the dice would pay off. On March 1st Happy arrived in Seattle from southern California via Paws Without Borders transport. She was accompanied by several other dogs that were also being adopted thanks to a joint effort of two rescue organizations. Happy wasn’t so sure but we instantly knew we’d made the right decision.
She’s still timid and unsure—her tail has wagged a few of times but remains mostly tucked between her legs. She sticks to us like glue, not letting us out of her sight. Who could blame her? She can’t grasp that ours is her forever home—she doesn’t know that she just won the lottery.
We anticipate that over the next few weeks—or even months—as routine sets in and washes away her fears, Happy’s inner happiness will shine through and that tail will be wagging with reckless abandon. We have plenty of time. We’ll wait for her.
Happy will never replace our beloved Eddie, nor would we want her to. What she will do is honor his legacy by being a loving member of our family and carve out her own place in our hearts. She’s already begun to do that.
Disclaimer: This story has nothing to do with fly fishing.