New Strike Indicator Discovered!

Check this out.

I field-tested several of the currently popular strike indicators purchased in fly fishing shops and here is what I found.

Test methodology: I secured four fly rods in rod-holders, stripped out some line, and let a 4/0 Skykomish Sunrise hang in the current below the boat. I attached a different strike indicator on the eyelet of each rod and waited to see if the indicator would clearly signal a good bite.  The four strike indicators tested included three traditional models and a newcomer: a little copper bell.  An impartial observer stood in the bow of the drift boat and recorded the efficacy of each strike indicator as the day progressed.

Here’s what happened with the traditional, industry-standard strike indicators:  absolutely nothing!  The fly attached to each of the four rods received vicious strikes from trout, salmon, tuna, striped bass, and crocodiles, however, only the little copper bell gave any indication whatsoever that the fly on its rod had been banged.  Fancy that!

Not being one to jump to conclusions, I plan on carefully researching this matter. Until then, however, I wanted to share the shocking results of this field test.  A photo of the most effective strike indicator is shown here.  Currently, these little bells are not sold in Fly Shops, so I plan on buying several thousand for three cents apiece, then selling them on the Internet for $9.99.

Should pay for my next fly rod, maybe.



Sea Lice – How fresh is fresh?

Sea Lice?

Salmon and steelhead fishers commonly look for sea lice on fish they catch and use the presence of these parasitic copepods as an indicator of  fish fresh-from-the-ocean.  Well, it turns out that sea lice can hang onto our fish as they migrate upstream for days or perhaps even a couple of weeks.

I’m no expert on these critters, but I am writing a short article for the Oregon Fly Fishing Blog describing what I have observed regarding the transition one may see in the appearance of sea lice as they begin to die after our fish enter freshwater.

You may view the article (after it is completed and posted) at

This photo shows a really fresh-from-the-ocean copepod nestled at the base of the anal fin of a Sixes River Chinook.  This fish probably entered the estuary less than 24 hours before this photo was taken.

I’d love to hear what you know about how long sea lice can survive in freshwater and where you have caught sea-lice-bearing salmon and steelhead in Oregon.


Drumming in the Longhouse ……

A month ago, I stood among salmon.

Tonight, Chinook are digging redds in more than twenty of our coastal rivers.  They are not alone.   The coho, chum, steelhead, and cutthroats will each find their own river-places, digging nests to shelter hope.

A few months from now, whatever young salmon survived the winter floods will be hatching, wanting only shelter and food to sustain them yet another hour.

I will be tending to my life – while the salmon tend to theirs.

We spend too little time, I think, reflecting on the salmon’s gifts.

Too little time drumming in the longhouse.


Of Salmon and God …

Original artwork Copyright Jay Nicholas, 2009

Christmas Eve, 2009.

Religion means many things to many people.

I’ve never been much for organized religion, organized ways of thinking, or regimented behavior.

I  beliveve in the existence of things that are essentially good and right, and understand that some things in this life we know are are essentially evil and wrong.

Salmon, I think, represent goodness and rightness.  Ecosystems – rivers – that support wild salmon represent goodness and rightness.

I am grateful to be here on this earth, in my home with my family, now.

My wish today is that this planet experience greater harmony and rightness this day and all the days to follow.


Eggs, Eggs, Eggs ……

Salmon eggs as Bait?

It was probably 1961 and I was deep into learning about fishing here in Oregon.  I was learning to tie flies.  I was trying to catch a salmon or steelhead, entirely unsuccessfully, I should add.

All this with no mentoring.  My father didn’t know about these things, although he had once enjoyed fishing himself, in a far distant time.

I remember my first experience with salmon eggs as bait.  Since my first few salmon and steelhead were caught on spoons or spinners, I didn’t know what to do with the eggs so I just tossed them into the creek with the guts.  But then I met a man from McMinnville who, in a few minutes of streamside coaching, opened my eyes to the wonders of bait fishing for steelhead.

I was captivated.  My mind soared with possibilities.  He saw things, knew secrets about steelhead that I wanted to learn.

So off I my dad and I went to the Otis gas station in search of salmon eggs.  I don’t remember much about the gas station.  It wasn’t the Quickie Mart we see today with Red Bull and Hostess doughnuts stacked to the ceiling.  I do remember, though, a gallon glass jar sitting up on a shelf, three-quarters full of brown, salt-cured salmon eggs.

I don’t remember the price.  Didn’t matter, I had to have some.  The man got a white cardboard container, like we still use for restaurant take-home, grabbed a skein with tongs, put the prize in the box, weighed it, and my father paid.

Creek-side, I clinch-knotted a bait hook to my Scotch Line – anyone else remember pale pink Scotch Line – and made a cast.

Muddy water and all, I hooked a salmon.  Lost it too, but I hooked a fish.

That was the start of my egg fishing days.  I learned about egg-loop knots, added yarn to the mix, read about secret cures and all.  I used, borax, salt, sugar, and Strawberry Jello.  Then I acquired some dye in the 60s from a friend who worked in a Weyerhaeuser Mill in Sweet Home.  Rhodamine-B. This dye worked magic on my eggs, turning them a florescent hot pink that surely, no self respecting salmon or steelhead could resist.

Years of egg fishing followed.  I learned to appreciate the subtleties of the small and large egg clusters; drift fishing and plunking; bobbers for kings in tidewater; and the egg-shrimp combo.

At some point, I drifted away from using eggs and bait altogether, finding that I was just as happy fishing spoons, spinners, jigs, drift lures, pink rubber worms, flatfish, and even flies.

Now I see that there are toxic chemicals in some of the egg-cures that people rave about these days.  Never would have guessed.  Never in a million years.

What to do?  Simple, stop using these chemicals.  Period.  I’m fine with some sort of an allowance of time for for folks to transition.  Such matters are beyond the realm I choose to micromanage.  There will be battles, threats of lawsuits, actual lawsuits, and finger pointing.  It is probably inevitable.  People are people, god love us all.

But think about this, please.  Twenty years from now, I believe that we won’t be fishing most of our wild salmon rivers with bait.  Twenty years from now, salmon and steelhead will be revered and receive more protection than they do today.  Maybe I’m right – maybe not.  I just believe that we will be limiting ourselves to artificial lures and not allowing bait.

Seems like doing away with toxins in bait now is a good way to start the transition.  It is easier on me because I don’t have the twenty quarts of cured eggs in a freezer.  I don’t depend on producing egg-cures to support my family.

I hope that folks who are in the middle of all this matter act thoughtfully, respect fish and people, and build bridges to the future.  All of us, as anglers and conservationists, have an opportunity to step into the future.

Those who know me understand that I don’t especially care for one-size-fits-all solutions.  I don’t claim to have all the answers.  I love wild Pacific salmon.  I respect everyone who loves to fish for salmon, regardless of how they fish.

We must deal with this issue.  We would feel great indignation if a farmer introduced a fish-killing chemical into our rivers.  There are laws that limit how close to streams foresters can apply fish-killing chemicals.  Rightfully so.  Our turn to face the complexities of this issue.

From Alaska to California, where native pacific salmon live, we must figure out a solution to this issue.  Some of our rivers support ESA listed salmon and steelhead.  Some of our rivers have relatively healthy runs.  Some runs are mostly wild, and some runs are mostly hatchery fish.  To me, these are just details.  We shouldn’t be willfully introducing poison to our rivers.

I leave it to the many creative minds in the angling community to find a solution, set time tables, educate anglers, and move into the future.  I think we all want wild salmon and steelhead in our rivers – forever.  Let’s get on with finding the solutions.




This old-as-dirt pattern still catches fish.  No bull.  I fish these flies big and small.  Slim tinsel bodies and thick chenille bodies.  Long thick tails and short sparse ones too.  These flies have produced for me in water that was clear, dirty, green, and brown.  Salmon and steelhead eat ‘em, guaranteed.  More details to follow regarding hooks. materials, color combinations and fishing conditions.  For now, though, remember that I love my Comets.

It might have been September, 2003….……


Bill and I were anchored together on the Lower rogue, alone, one drizzly afternoon.  Everyone else had packed-it-in by noon without hooking a single fish.

About three o’clock, I hooked-up with a nice king of about twenty-five pounds.  At the time this fish was among only a handful I had hooked fishing flies and I was brimming with joy simply to have hooked the fish.  It made a graceful, arching leap into the afternoon glare and promptly exited the great hole where we were fishing, two seals in close pursuit.

By the way, the Lower Rogue is the only place, so far, where I have experienced  fair-hooked king salmon making graceful, three-feet-out-of-the-water leaps. More on that topic another time.

I anchored in shallow water, clumsily followed downstream, talking to myself as I worked on the slooooow process of retrieving close to three-hundred yards of backing and my fly line.

Sure that the fish had either been taken by the seals or simply come unhooked, I was surprised to find it exhausted, laying in six-inches of water along the gravel bar.

I beached the fish, bled it, and eventually made my way back upstream, into my boat, and rowed out to rejoin Bill mid-river.  I was elated.

Bill was chatty and shared my excitement.  “What fly, he inquired?”

“Clouser,” I replied.

“What color?” he asked.

“Fish Hair,” I replied, “Polar White belly; Hot Pink sides; Kingfisher Blue for the back.”

“Any Krystal Flash,” Bill asked?

“Nope,” I replied,” just forgot it.”

We fished together the rest of the day, anchored about 10 feet apart, with no sign of interest from the salmon.

Next morning, Bill and I were on the water at first light, fishing alone again.

The sun was up in the sky and it must have been close to 10 o’clock when he hooked-up, pulled anchor, as is customary, and soon beached his fish.

Within seconds, he was on his cell phone.  A gentle breeze carried his voice over the water; he didn’t know that I could hear every word.

“Yeah, Bill here. “  “Yeah, the fish are in.”  “Yeah, you won’t believe it.”

“No competition.”  “No wind.”  “Get up here right now man; tonight, tomorrow morning.”

“Just get up here.”


“It’s a special pattern I tie – Fish Hair, Polar White belly, Hot Pink sides, and a Kingfisher Blue back,  no flash.”

“Yeah man, it’s happening right now, you’d better get up here. “


Journal Entry: Elk River November 23-24, 2009

Journal Entry – Elk River November 23 & 24, 2009

Two fascinating days on the Elk.  Anticipation, danger, discovery, disappointment, success, and more.

To read the full article and see the photos from these days, see the Oregonflyfishingblog at:’-salmon-fisher’s-journal-just-another-day-on-the-elk-river/

There are other days from the season just past that deserve a journal entry.  I will get to those when I can.


Welcome to the Golden Arches of…..

Harbor seals.

I was reading an article in Fly Rod & Reel about steelhead fishing in BC’s Queen Charlotte Islands last night.  Imagine that.  Me.  Reading.

Oh well.  There was a photo of the author, Greg Thomas, proudly showing us a steelhead he caught.  And there, smack dab above the pectoral fin, were a set of golden arches.  I’ve seen these many, many times in recent years on Chinook salmon.  I never really noticed them before my friend Jack, who knows far more about such things than I, pointed out these little scratches some four or five years ago.

These, he explained, are made by the claws of harbor seals, when they’re trying to grasp the fish.  They’re nicknamed golden arches because, well, you can see the resemblance, right?

Since then, I see these golden arches a lot.  A Lot.  I have seen many other more serious wounds in salmon that I believe have been inflicted by seals or sea lions.  Usually, I avoid these wounds as subjects of photography, because they are pretty ugly.

Some folks tell me that seals, especially, are not effective predators on salmon and steelhead.  Without data to support my assertion, I say Hooey to that.  Maybe it depends on how one defines the word effective.

Enough for now.  In time, I will  comment on how frequently I see these and more serious predator wounds in salmon and steelhead; hook scars; watching harbor seals hunting salmon in packs and in the dark; how one can detect de-scaling and scale regeneration in salmon and steelhead; comparing the appearance of hatchery and wild salmon; and other matters that roll around in my head while I’m on the water, hoping for a grab.

By the way, this observation is just a snippet of a larger picture and is not intended to be prejudicial to marine mammals and harbor seals. 


Love my Nor-Vise…

I started tying flies somewhere around 1962 or 63.  Somewhere in there.  My first vise was, most naturally, from the magical Herter’s Catalog.  It got me going but didn’t survive the rigors of a seventh grader trying to figure out how on earth a guy could make that cool spiral of hackle from the tail to the head of a bucktail caddis.  They didn’t provide much useful advice to Western fly tyers in that little grey  Herter’s Fly Tying instruction Booklet.

Anyway, then i got a Thompson, wore it out and then grew into a Thompson Ultra, I think, and as the number of flies I tied grew, I broke collet washers and vise jaws now and then, but with a good stock of parts, I was entirely pleased with the Thompson.

For whatever reason, in the 1980s I bought a Regal Vise.  Whoa!  I really preferred this vise.  Simple.  Quick.  No adjustments to make.  Reliable.

Skip forward to the mid-1990s.  Wanted to try a new vise.  A fly shop recommended Dyna King.  Bought it and tried it.  Great for certain applications.  Overall, I preferred the Regal.  So I went back to my then-favorite and messed around with various new vise-heads.

Now let’s go to why my favorite, must-have, wouldn’t-in-a-million-years-give-it-up vise is now a Nor-Vise.

I had a dear friend who used a funny rotating vise back in the 80s.  He tied commercially on it and told me it was great.  I think I might have even used it a few times at his home.  I was stump-fingered.  Couldn’t get the hang of it.  Gave up. politely thanked him, and went back to my Regal.

In early 2006, another friend encouraged me to try a Nor-bobbin.  I was skeptical.  I tried it and initially, was frustrated when the thread retraced and i needed to re-thread the silly thing.  But after working with it for a week, I realized the advantages it offered over my cadre of fancy standard bobbins.  This was a bit of a problem because I probably owned forty-something traditional bobbins at the time.

Then I went to a FFF Expo in Albany.  Usually I just smiled and walked past the nice man sitting there demonstrating his invention, the Nor-Vise.

This time, though, I stopped and watched, from a distance at first, then up close and personal.  I was still suspicious, clinging to my thought that this vise was mostly a gimick, a magician’s trick.

But I purchased a Nor-Vise and went to work.

Three years later, the Nor-Vise is my absolute go-to foundation for all my tying.  It holds hooks positively.  It saves me considerable time in fly construction.  It is a marvel spinning dubbed bodies.  Did I mention that it is fantastic for tying dubbed bodies.  My tinsel rib is a marvel to behold.  Stimulators and Wooly buggers with palmered hackles over-wound with copper wire are perfection, and fast to tie.

I could go on but won’t do so now.  I also got to know Norm over the last three years.  Fine gentleman.  An innovative engineer and consummate fly tyer.  A great teacher.  Norm can do things with this vise that are beyond my current skill-set, but the efficiency, reliability, and superior technical advantages of this vise are  mind-boggling.

Wish I had tried one years ago.

No hype, no bull, just performance.

Now for a shameless and blatant commercial suggestion:  give a Nor-Vise a try.  These are genuinely effective quality tools and Norm backs them with a full warranty.  These are available at the Caddis Fly, as are any of the Nor-vise accessories that are not listed in the on-line catalog.

I still keep my Regal handy, because there are a few functions ot tying angles I seem to need it for (like tying on Waddington Shanks).  Those functions comprise maybe 5% of the tying I do, but that 5% is still important.

And the Nor-bobbin? Now have over twenty of these gizmos and use them for 99% of my fly work.  Duh.