Salmon Season ain’t over….

Some December kings will be chrome, some will be bronze, like this buck released last week.  All are beautiful.  Each will make your heart sing when, or should I say – if – you get a grab.

Cherish each fish hooked, each fish seen only as a shadow in the depths, or as a wake in the shallows.  Cherish too the salmon carcasses,  otter, heron, beaver, weasels, tardy October Caddis, seals, and the river.


JULY 10 2009 – Great Grab

North Umpqua.  Three evenings and three mornings to poke around and fish a Muddler.

I’ve just finished tying up ten or so dozen of these silly flies.  Time to fish the dang things.  Whoa!  Forecast says partly cloudy for the next few days, so off I go.  Simplify, my friend Rob tells me.  Take a few flies and fish them well.

I am moving slowly on this trip.  I often must stop walking on the trail because my chest hurts and I can’t breathe.  But the feelings go away when I stand and cast. So on I fish.

Three evenings and two mornings without a grab, a boil, or a tug.

It’s my final morning and I am really tired.  I fish a few of the places I have visited the last three days.  I fish with anticipation and deliberation.  I am so tired that I don’t move around much.  I don’t wade much.

About 9 AM, I’m fishing a piece of rough bubbly water.  I’ve heard that this a good place to fish and remember hooking a one-salt here long, long ago.

Thirty minutes covering the same piece of water.  Long casts.  Short casts.  Slow swing.  Short, choppy chugs.  I stand in one place at the water’s edge.  It’s about all the energy I have.  At least my Snap-T is looking good.  The AirFlo Scandi Compact makes me look way better than I am.

I’m distracted.  I’m exhausted.  I’m ready to go home now.  I make a short cast, let my Muddler start to swing and see the shadow.  There it is again.  Oh my God!  A steelhead.  An honest-to-goodness steelhead.  And a big one too.  The fish takes a swipe at my fly and misses.  I twitch, the fish romps me, and everyone disappears in the foam.  I feel nothing.  I wait.  Still nothing.  I pull back and there’s the fish.  Slack-lined but connected.

The fish promptly exits the hole downriver and just as promptly dashes back upriver to leap at my feet.  I’m elated.

I slide the fish to the water’s edge and pull out my camera.  The piece of technological crap won’t turn on.  I slip my barbless hook free and she bolts back into the pool.  Twelve pounds, I think.  Nah, twenty.  Hell, claim she’s a thirty-pounder.  Who cares?  Might have just been eight or nine.  I laugh.  I smile and smile and smile some more.

I sit there on the gravel bar, crying and crying – big sobs of joy.

Still sitting there, I cut off my leader and fly, wind a neat coil, put them in my shirt pocket, and walk back to my truck.

Less than two weeks later, I nearly suffered a fatal heart attack.  Turns out that dry fly, wild, North Umpqua summer steelhead was a gift of life on more than one level.

Today, I can see that steelhead dash my Muddler.  I can see her laying in the water, me kneeling on big cobbles as I slide the hook out.  I can see the huge spots on her back.  I can see spots on her adipose fin, a faint rosy hint along her side.  Deep and clean.

Today, too, I can see the evening that Lisa and Jackson drove me to the emergency room.  “I’m fine,” I said.  “Just take me home,” I said.  “No Dada,” my son said, “Mama’s taking you to the Emergency Room.”

Thanks, Lord.


September 28 2009 – Great Grab

On the Deschutes.  First time in – way too long.  Fishing steelhead with my dear friend Steve, plus new friends Dave and his father Doug.  Dave and Doug know this river.  They secured a prime campsite, pointed Steve and me to the best water and said, “go get ‘em.”

It is maybe 1 PM.  Slow morning.  Not like last week when Dave and Doug caught steelhead by the wheelbarrow-load.  Steve got one fish in Camp Water this morning.  The sun is high and bright.  It’s windy.  Deschutes windy.  I pull out my 8140 and punch a 600 gr AirFlo Skagit compact with a heavy 15’ tip toward a trench.  Six-inch blue string leech.  Dumbell eyes.  Splat!  Not pretty.

My leech plops down, I throw a big mend, and feed line to help the fly sink.  But before I commence the swing, off races my line with a hot fish attached.  Never felt the take – just got jolted by my line slicing upriver, throwing water into the air in front of everyone standing in camp.  Quite a show.  Blistering runs with much clumsy stripping and reeling slack line while trying to make contact again.

Surprise, surprise!  My first Deschutes fall Chinook.  Unbelievably chrome, considering how far from the ocean this fish has migrated.  They tell me this run is relatively healthy, with four- to seven-thousand wild fish spawning below Shears Falls.  This fish is one more example of nature’s mystery and the precious adaptive genetic diversity still found in wild salmon and steelhead stocks.  Not many of these Deschutes Chinook succumb to fly fisher’s offerings.

I am blessed by this fish and my friends on this trip.


Simms Boot-Foot Waders

I’m glad that I took these waders on my last two salmon adventures.  No doubt that I’m accustomed to my stocking-foot waders and cleated boots.  I grew up with hip boots, eventually graduating to SealDris and felt sole wading shoes.  I don’t remember who made the felt soles, but I can picture them in my mind.  They were really nice.

These Simms boot foots are comfortable to the max, quick and simple to slip on- and off, and are perfect for wading rivers where cleats are not needed.

Hummm.  Might need to get a second set, just in case.  On the river in the dark.  Off the river in the dark.  Sixty seconds to get in or out of my waders.  Raves for ease and comfort.

These waders are available through the Caddis Fly in Eugene or at….


June 1 2009 – Great Grab

Jimmy guides me to an anchor point in the shallows, where we can cast into the channel.  Several boats troll through the channel in front of us.  We wait.  Jim says, “go ahead and give it a cast or two before I cast my spinner.”

I have yet to hook a spring Chinook on a fly.  Two seasons of serious effort.  I‘ve been among the fish.  I’ve cast to rolling kings, seen the wakes coming across tide flats toward me, only to come up empty every day.  I’m still optimistic, though, and make a long cast into the channel.

My fly swings below me and I give it a little strip-retrieve after letting it sink a little.

The springer must have turned across the current to take the fly, a classic, steelhead-like, going away, corner of the mouth pull that tries to claim your rod.  Anglers in four or five boats trolling the channel around us see the grab and I can hear them.  “Hey, look at that!”  “He’s got one on a FLY!”  Bill Monroe, Oregonian writer, is fishing with a guide in one of the boats.  This fish makes the paper, and, statewide, people think I do this all the time.  Ha ha.


November 25 2009 – Great Grab

Strip, pause.  Strip, pause.  Strip, pause.  Repeat.  At least half of my shooting head is inside the guides.  I stop stripping, thinking, “what to do next?”  “Where to cast next?”

Pause, pause, pause – Yank!  Big head shake.  Strong fish.  An awe-inspiring, crushing take.  Could well be the last day of my season this year.  A big chrome buck, released upriver, safe from the seals.


What is it About Thanksgiving……

What is it about Thanksgiving . . . .

Thanksgiving morning 2009:  5 AM.  What is it about Thanksgiving anyway?  Who on earth thought up this event that is designed, as far as I can see, purely as an excuse for ruining some of the best salmon fishing of the season.

I’m home now, coffee on my desk.  My family will be scrambling around soon.  We’ll load up the Civic; make a Starbucks stop, and hit the road for Portland by 9 or so.  Thanksgiving with David’s wife and family.  It will be fun, really fun.

But I should be somewhere else today.  I should be on the river.  Yesterday was one of my best salmon fishing days  of the year.  I was where I was supposed to be, the fish were there, and enough of them were grabby to make me smile – and smile.  I fished mostly alone, in a T-shirt, in the sun.   Boats passed me all day long.  “Doin’ any good?” they’d say.  “Got a dark Jack,” I’d reply, divulging part of the story truthfully.

At dark, alone on a gravel bar, I saw the wakes coming in.  I clipped the boat on a carabineer, let it swing loose in the current, found a rod with a Clouser still tied on, and waded into the water, making little twenty-foot casts.  Maybe it wasn’t quite dark yet.

The fish came and came.  I let my Clouser hang in the current.  Several kings swam between me and the shore.  A seal chased fish around, throwing a wave over the gravel bar.  I could see my boat slowly drifting away from the trailer, gently tugging at the winch rope.

The kings kept coming as the darkness gathered and the moon rose above the river mist.

I knew how far these kings would travel in darkness, and where they would rest the next morning.  I knew where to launch, where to anchor, the line, and the fly to fish.

Eventually, I reeled in and finished loading the boat.  I found the truck still running, the driver’s door open, and the transmission in drive.  At least the hand brake was on.  The boat had drifted to the end of the winch rope.

Today I’m heading out for a great day with my family, and I am genuinely thankful for them and the time we will spend together today.

If I could, though, I would postpone Thanksgiving Day to a different month.  Maybe January.  Or April.  Or any dang month that isn’t October, or November, or December.

Brad paisley sings in the background as I write.

“When you see a lake you think picnics, and I see a largemouth back under that log.”

Brad understands.


Salmon Art

Salmonburst – Copyright by Jay Nicholas

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, yes?

I see beauty in salmon.

I try to represent some small glimmer of the salmon’s immense beauty with watercolor, or photography, and with words, spoken or written.

All of my artistic efforts are insufficient.  The real beauty is there, in the fish.  Still, I will persist, out of respect, or stubbornness, or  an attempt to explore different perspectives and see them again and again, when I am not on the river.  When I am only with the salmon in spirit.


Fair or Foul?

Foul hook: verb.  The act of hooking a salmon in any location other than inside the mouth.  A salmon can be fouled on purpose or unintentionally.

The term Snagging is often applied to the act of foul hooking salmon and implies a purposeful act, but a salmon can actually be foul-hooked quite by accident.  The term flossing,  refers to the accidental or intentional hooking of a salmon on the outside of the mouth as a consequence of the leader becoming located between the salmon’s jaws and subsequent action by the swimming fish or the retrieval of the line drawing said leader through the mouth, resulting in the hook at the end of said leader lodging on the outside of the salmon’s mouth.

A snagged salmon may be referred to as flossed, lined, skinned, or fouled.

The chinook pictured here ate a Clouser cleanly.  You can barely see the lead eyes and the hook is buried in the roof of the mouth.  Good grab here.

I saw several salmon foul-hooked recently on the Elk.  I didn’t count how many.  More than a few. But I only saw two people whose fishing manner was likely to increase the number of salmon they fouled.

One fellow I saw with a fouled salmon was probably in his seventies.  Plainly dressed, wearing hip boots like I haven’t seen in twenty years, and a stained work coat.  He was casting a spinner.   His tackle was inexpensive and well worn.  Several hours into the morning, he hooked a salmon.  Making a blistering run across the lagoon, the fish catapulted into the air twice in quick succession.  “Damn,” he said.  “Snagged.”  He continued to play the fish.  I stood by and watched, saying nothing.

“Wish it wasn’t snagged,” he muttered, almost to himself.  “I’m gonna keep it if I can,” he rambled on.  “My buddy is only 67; he’s got Alzheimer’s.  Can’t fish anymore.”  “I’m gonna take him a fish if I can.”

He played the salmon for a long time, but eventually the fish pulled free and he had nothing to take to his friend.  His shoulders sagged.  He was stricken to have lost the fish.

This man was not tying to foul that fish.  He was just casting his lure hoping to catch a fish to take his friend.

Sadly, two fly fishers put on a show of fouling fish that same day.

They were equipped with the very best waders, coats, rods, and reels.  All the right stuff.  Elegant but not overdone.  These two men slipped into a line of anglers and began working out their shooting heads.  Excellent casters.  Lots of chatter.  High energy.  Laughing and joking about this fish and that fish, this place and that place.  They cast across a school of kings, let their flies and lines settle into the water, and began a rapid retrieve.  Two or three casts after stepping into the water, one of them set up hard on a fish.  His rod stayed down for several seconds, then the fish somersaulted out of the water and took off downstream.  “Fish on!” he yelled, delighted, and began to wade off downstream after the fish.

His partner continued casting, briskly stripping his fly across the pod of salmon as his companion yee-hawed off in the distance.  “What odds would you give me that your buddy’s fish is fouled?” I asked.  “Seventy five percent fair, twenty five percent foul”, he replied.    “Bullshit!” another guy in the line retorted.  We had all seen the telltale, out-of-control leap the salmon made, the absence of a head-shake when it was first hooked, and the uninterrupted downriver run.

The salmon was fouled, no question about it.

The second guy hooked up shortly, with the same result.  No head-shake.  Frantic leaping.  He too, let out a yelp of joy and followed the salmon down the lagoon.  Each of these men fought their salmon to the beach before releasing them.  They returned to the line, beaming with the thrill of the battle, and repeated the routine over and over during the afternoon.

They could have adjusted their position, the weight of their flies, or their retrieve to reduce or even eliminate the likelihood of fouling fish.  They could have used lighter leaders.

The salmon pictured above is hooked outside the mouth, accidentally flossed.  This fish gave the head shakes characteristic of a fair hooked fish.

Some anglers may squander skill and knowledge in return for bragging rights.  “Hooked fifteen yesterday”, they might say.

My friend Steve was fishing the same general area.  He did adjust how he fished. He had one good grab, an honest hook-up, while the other guys fouled a dozen or so fish.  Steve landed his fish and went surfing.  The other guys yee-hawed on into the afternoon.

The Chinook pictured here requires a very personal ruling.  One has to get down on hands and knees to see the that the hook placement is barely  on the outside of the tooth line.

Close.  Very close.  I wonder if this fish was  messing with the fly, maybe bit the head of the fly.  Did it purposefully bump the fly?  Dunno.   I would certainly count a steelhead that banged a big leech or a swung Green butt Skunk, even if hooked on the outside of the tooth line, because I have seen steelhead chase a fly and head-butt it, so to speak.  I  have seen steelhead and sea-run cutthroat also take a fly by it’s tail or hackle without taking it into completely into their mouth.

Should salmon fishers count fish hooked like this salmon as fair?     Maybe.

During the the 2009 salmon season, I hooked two kings that I am absolutely positive were attempting to eat my fly, and were hooked barely on the outside of the tooth line.  One ate a four-inch long Comet and one ate a three-inch Clouser.  The hooks were in the right part of the mouth, upper forward portion of the mouth – just as classic Clouser bite hook-ups would be.  So, my philosophy regarding outside of the tooth line hook-sets has moderated a little.

PS: Try looking up salmon snagging on the Internet.  Turns out the practice of intentiaonal snagging is entirely legal in certain locations.


Egg Sucking Leeches?

No, I have no idea if a leech actually ever sucks a salmon egg.  None.  Who cares?  These silly flies work.  They catch steelhead, salmon, trout, great white sharks, probably, too.

I love purple hints in my steelhead flies.  Any old purple will do, I suppose, but I have become rather fond of the Bright Purple offered by Hareline in Rabbit strips and crosscuts.

Don’t ditch your old standard purple materials, just consider getting some of the bright purple if you haven’t already given it a try.

And the only thing better than purple is purple, black, and blue, with a hot dubbed head.