Summer Steelhead Flies?

Summer Steelhead Fles?

This is the age of Intruders and Tube flies, and oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention “strung-out” steelhead flies.  These are great fish catching innovations.  They wiggle and jiggle and use different hooks, and do, in fact, sometimes elicit great takes and quite possibly enhance fish-hooked-to-landed ratios.


One might wonder, if one has finished reading all the boring articles about the history of salmon hatcheries; digging globs of AquaSeal out of the carpet in the family room; nail-knotting braided loops to shooting heads; tying up full boxes of Clousers that are ¾” longer than the flies fished last season; working overtime to buy a lifetime supply of claret saddle hackles, conducting break-strength tests on seventeen brands of leader material, using 6 different knots;  and trying to hack the boss’s computer to add twelve weeks of vacation time to one’s account; and figuring (optimistically) how much of a tax refund one will get next year to justify a home equity loan to buy a new power boat now – why bother fishing old-style summer steelhead flies?

Well, here’s why.

Sometimes they will catch more fish then the new-fangled flies.  Honestly.  I think.

I just finished shooting over 40 videos of some of my favorite summer steelhead flies with Chris Daughters at the Caddis Fly.  Some of the “old differs” out there in Google-land will look at these flies and see crittery bugs they have fished in year’s gone by.  Some will see flies they still have n their boxes.  Ain’t much that is “revolutionary” in this collection.  Maybe “evolutionary, though.  I have taken a number of traditional steelhead (and salmon) flies, modified colors and materials a little, and developed these flies.  No, I don’t carry two-dozen each of 40 different flies every time I go on the river.  that would be silly.  That would be what I did twenty years ago.  These days, I only carry one dozen each of these forty flies, plus my Intruders, my Tubes, and my strung-out flies.

Just kidding.

I am more likely to fish flies like those pictured here during the spring, summer, and autumn.  They fish well, swim straight and true, and steelhead eat ‘em.

My go-to summer steelhead flies include large and small comet-boss style flies, and traditionally silhouetted steelhead or Atlantic salmon wet flies.  Remember the Green Butt Skunk?

Shortly, I’ll describe each of these fly styles and my (irrational) rationality for fishing each.

Meanwhile, have a great weekend, go fishing, be grateful for your life gifts, and be kind to someone – I bet they need some good Karma just like we do.


The quest for Balance…


I’m not good at balance.

Not good at all.

I’m known as a “closer,” a person who completes projects, creates product, delivers on time, as promised, or better.

That’s all fine and good. But this all comes at a cost.

My focus on accomplishing something, whatever it might be, is at once a blessing and a curse.  Focus is necessary to do anything these days.  Accomplishing a lot of things, many separate things, requires much distinct focus on each and every thing.

This ability to focus and deliver has allowed me to be “successful” in my professional life.  The ability to focus has allowed me to achieve a high level of performance tying flies, fishing, writing, creating salmon art, and sometimes, mowing the lawn or tidying-up the garage.

People who barely know me admire my ability to accomplish as much as I do, never recognizing that I, too, have only so many hours in each day.

I don’t know if they wonder how I manage to balance work, writing, fishing, friends, and family.

Do they know that there simply are not enough hours in a day to get it all done?

Do they know that I never achieve the balance that I should?

I’ve neglected my family, much of the time.

I love Lisa and Jackson dearly. My first-born son, David, and his wife too.

I’m not really sure they know how much I love them.

They know I love to fish; fly tying; writing; salmon art; photography.

They have plenty of evidence that I love my work and all things salmon.

The other night I said to Lisa, you know adore you.


Not good, I thought.

Lisa knows I love and adore her. But it would be nice, she was probably thinking, if I remembered her birthday, and Mother’s day, and didn’t announce to the world that Thanksgiving interferes with the best part of the fall Chinook season.

I take my family for granted.

I know they will be here for me, no matter what.

Did I mention neglecting my few dear friends?  They know how I take them for granted.  They forgive me.  They know it’s just the way I get stuff done.

The salmon, now, that’s a different story.

The salmon may be here today, and have moved on tomorrow.  A hot bite missed is gone forever.  Like the three days last fall when the kings were taking Clousers in the surf at the mouth of Elk River.  I got there two days late.  Two days late is like being in a different galaxy than the salmon.

My family forgave my foray chasing should-a-been-here-two-days-ago salmon.

My family continues to tolerate the intensity of my working-salmon chasing-writing-creating art-tying flies-go fishing cyclic obsessions.

Thank you.

It is who I am.

If they medicated me any more, I’d probably achieve balance, but I might just sit and drool on myself, unable to remember what it was that I was supposed to be doing.


Perspectives on Salmon Hatcheries . . .

Salmon hatcheries have been with us for well over a century here in the Pacific Northwest.  Few of the anglers, and conservation minded people I know, even the most ardent wild fish advocates study the history of salmon hatcheries.

The Oregon fly fishing blog just posted the first part of an article I wrote summarizing he historical expectations of salmon hatcheries in our region.  I invite anyone who cares about the future of Pacific salmon and fishing to check it out.

I did my best to be accurate and fair. Guess what?    As much as I know, I am sure I have much to discover and new ways of understanding.  The only way to do this is to engage in constructive dialogue.

Agree with what you read?  Say so.

Surprised?  Say so.

Disagree?  Again, say so.

Thanks – JN

Salmon fisher’s Journal: South Santiam, June 19, 2010

Here I am again.

My beloved and tolerated South Santiam.

Just an hour from home.  A chance to be on the water with a friend and swing flies for hatchery summer steelhead.  A tradition for over thirty years.

I have seen days when it seemed I was the only one on the river.

Rare days.

The weather was perfect, and I didn’t mind making my way slowly downriver, swinging flies through water just-fished with spoons, bait, plugs, and jigs.

I am chained, I suppose , to the closeness of the place, and the chance to be on the water, away from a computer.

Even now, I find new anchor points, places that, out of habit, I have not tried, or have forgotten over the years.

My wade footing is better than before my heart surgery, but I still must be cautions, and after ruining 3 separate cameras while swimming, I only carry a waterproof Pentax.

Rick got grabbed. The fish rushed towards the boat, and then, as is often the case, was gone.  We saw an occasional boat with a steelhead hanging on a rope over the  side of the boat.

Interesting local custom.

There was one place where I wade fished, a place where the cast, and the swing, and the hang-down were so perfect; surely I’m gonna get grabbed here, I thought.

Not this day.


Do Hatchery Fish Spawn in the Wild?

Here we go again.  Blogosphere Google searches seeking information.

Q:  Do hatchery fish spawn in wild

A: Why yes they do.


Not always.

Sometimes hatchery fish simply die before they mature sexually and are therefore unable to spawn in the wild.  Sometimes this death occurs as a consequence of actually being caught and “retained” by an angler, as intended. So that pretty much negates any possibility of spawning in the wild.

Sometimes the hatchery fish do not get caught, don’t die, and do in fact spawn, either with other hatchery fish or with wild fish.

Sometimes the offspring of the hatchery fish survive and themselves reach maturity and spawn.

Sometimes the offspring of hatchery fish live for a portion of their life cycle and then die before spawning.  Studies of the effectiveness of hatchery fish spawning in the wild, compared to wild native fish spawning – a mouthful – usually show that the hatchery fish are not as productive (i.e., they express lower fitness) than the wild fish spawning in the same stream.

There are some examples where hatchery salmon or steelhead that escaped from net-pens have established “wild” naturally produced runs, but these are, to the best of my knowledge, principally in places where the salmon are exotic (not native) and in these places, and the exotic salmon have decimated any native fishes that were present in the streams.

Bedazzled and confused by my oversimplifications?  You should be.  The matter is complicated.

Beware of simple, one-size-fits-all answers.


Nicholas’ Fly Fishing Glossary: Okie Drifter

Nicholas’ Fly Fishing Glossary

Q:  Okie Drifter


This Google search takes me way back to the early 1960s.  That was when I was trying mightily to catch my first winter steelhead here in Oregon.  Fishing Neskowin Creek and the Nestucca River, I was.

Glass spinning rods of about 7 ½ or 8’.  Mitchell 300 spinning reels.  My Scotch line was a pale pink, if I remember correctly.  The Okie Drifter was a standard for winter steelhead anglers.  These hard plastic gizmos were hollow and were threaded on a leader with one hook above and one hook below the hollow drift lure.  These were usually fished drift-style with pencil lead weight about 18”- 24” above the Okie.

The two-hook rigging was believed to increase hooking probabilities over the use of a single hook below the drift lure, and that thought was probably correct.  By the way, pencil lead was soft lead shaped like a pencil, typically ¼” or 3/16” diameter, stuffed into surgical latex tubing.  Some folks still drift fish this way today.  Some anglers fished lead shot referred to as “cannonballs.”  Slinkies were yet to have been invented in those days.


This doesn’t seem to have much to do with fly fishing, does it?

Well, yes it does, because it is part of my roots as a fly fisher.  If I had a fly fishing mentor like Frank Moore back then, I would have made the transition a whole lot sooner, I think.

I do remember hooking a beautiful winter steelhead (several in fact), on Okie Drifters.  I judiciously managed to break each one off, in quick succession.  Eventually, I hooked a steelhead small enough that I was unable to break it off.  That fish was hooked on a copper and red WoblRite spoon.

That fish probably would have taken an Egg Sucking Leech.


Fly Fishing Commandments

More Google search questions that bring folks to my Blogospheric droning.

Q: Fishing Commandments

Thou shall fish more this week, month, year, and decade – than you did previously, resolving to not ruin thy life by entirely forsaking thy professional commitments, friends, family, medication, and need to seek counseling.

Thou shall have fun, rejoicing in the mere fact that ye be alive and in sufficient health to go fishing.

Thou shall issue honest bond that ye shall indeed mow the lawn, take out the trash, paint the garage door, weed the garden, arrange to secure workmen to repair thy leaky roof, vacuum the fly tying den, and scour the corn dog sticks from neath the seats of your vehicle, all being necessary in due time.

Thou shall give thanks that ye have a fishing pole, hook, and string to fish with.

Thou  shall respect the fish you seek, not killing more than you need, and maybe less than you need.

Thou shall think about the ecological needs of the river and the fish before killing your catch.

Thou shall learn more about your craft, and take pride in the angler’s craft.

Thou shall not soak thy flies in shrimp-garlic-anchovy-taco oil.

Thou shall teach a child to fish, or at least teach a child to appreciate fish and rivers.

Thou shall help thy friend learn how to keep from wrapping a Skagit Compact around his or her head while executing a Snap Z.

Thou shall not feel obliged to loan your Burkheimer 8139-4 to your best friend who is just learning how to Spey cast, lest he or she attempt to use said Burkie as a wading staff.

Thou shall forsake all manner of non-fly-fishing equipment when venturing forth to pursue salmon, steelhead, and trout – including but not limited to jigs, bait, spinners, and plugs.

Thou shall smile having read the previous Commandment, knowing that it was not intended to demean fellow anglers who do not exclusively fly fish and was merely a suggestion for consideration.

Thou shall teach a friend to understand that hatchery fish are not the same as wild fish, while respecting both, each in their respective place in the universe.

Thou shall invite other anglers to share your water, especially if you are in a boat and they are afoot.

Thou shall take a deep breath and smile, if an angler should intrude upon the waters you are fishing, perhaps stepping into a run just below you.  Said angler may know exactly what heinousness this action represents, but thou shall not sully your day by imagining said angler with his insides wrapped about his outsides, lest ye fall prey to the dark-side.

Thou shall give thanks to the marvelous and never quite comprehensible life force of the universe when eating a fish.

Thou shall not eat farmed salmon. Ever.

Thou shall not reply to your buddy who has enquired as to what flies you recently used to catch twenty-seven steelhead — “oh, a little of this and a little of that.”


PS: these commandments are non-denominational, having sprung from the salmon mother herself.  More to come, no doubt, in the future.

Burkheimer Trout Fly Rods, and more…….

The Google questions just keep on rolling in.  Anglers continue seeking the truth.

Here are a few of the week’s miscellaneous and un-categorical questions, just for fun.

Q: C F Burkheimer trout fly rod

A:  Good call.  Kerry Burkheimer builds some absolutely gorgeous fly rods in the troutish action  realm, principally in the 2 wt to 6 wt range; but one can pretty much ask Kerry to build the trout fly rod of their dreams and he can get’ ‘er  done.  Russ Peak and Lefty Kreh both influenced and helped Kerry refine his thinking and rod designs for trout fishing.  Each Burkheimer fly rod, including the trout rods, has been designed from the mandrill-up, by Kerry, refined over time.  Truly most excellent, unique and rare fly rods.

Check out Burkheimer trout fly rods here:

Q:  Funny objects caught fishing

A:  Blank.  This Google inquiry draws a complete blank.  I have seen a lot of funny things while fishing.  And recently, while casting my fly in the intersecting prop-wash tracks of 700hp powerboats trolling herring in Tillamook bay, I overheard the anglers in said powerboats laughing their raingear-clad asses off and snickering at the sight of a loon fly fishing down in the bay.  So maybe, just maybe, I qualify as a “funny object fly fishing.”

Q:  Harbor seal + coho salmon

A:  Tasty snack for the seal.

Q:  King salmon fly rod

A:   If I had to choose one fly rod with which to fish for Chinook salmon here in Oregon (perish the thought) it would be a 9 wt, moderate-action fly rod of 9-10’.

Q:  Jay Nicholas Comets

A:  I have no idea where this one comes from.  I do not fish comets.

Q:  Teach kids how to fish

A:  Great idea.

Q:  Ten hippies

A:  Better than nine hippies, but not as good as twelve hippies.  A Hippie is also the name of a most secret summer steelhead fly that I invented 59 years ago at the age of 2 and have pretty much kept under wraps, or so I thought until last summer when some dude walked into the Caddis Fly and innocently asked for ten hippies to slam in his fleece leader wallet in preparation for an upcoming trip to the Deschutes.  Now the horses are out of the barn, so to speak, I might as well share the dressing.  Hook:  #4 snelled Eagle Claw bait hook.  Thread: 6 lb Scotch line.  Body:  clump of black Lab body fur obtained by repeated belly rubbing and “atta-boys.”  Wing:  clump of winter-kill deer obtained from carcass adjacent to Deschutes River “camp water.”  Note: all materials may be attached with half hitches and none need be aligned or proportioned in any manner.  Second note:  Grasshoppers may be used to increase the skatability of the Hippie.

Q:  My Girlfriend wearing waders

A:  Cool.  Nice imagery. But dude, like, gimmie a beak.  Lisa doesn’t even have waders, I sure as hell don’t have a girlfriend, and I ain’t gonna post s story about your girlfriend wearing waders.  Not smart.

Q:  Should Chinook salmon be capitalized

A:  Spell checkers say yes.  The vast majority of professional scientific journals say yes.  Webster’s, apparently, according to my buddy Rob Russell, says no.  So he harasses me continually on this matter every time I capitalize Chinook (harassment will be forthcoming).    Most people either don’t care, or think that coho and steelhead should be capitalized, which they should not.   Rob and I agree that we can live with whatever; life is too important to get our Simms panties in a bunch over capitalization.

Q:  Wild fish pros

A:  Anglers who only fish for wild fish. And they do it for money too.  Imagine that.

Q:  Why is fishing bad

A:  Generally, fishing is not bad.  It is a hell of a lot better than going to the movies, except maybe Avatar or Sector 9.

Q:  Why wild fish harvest is bad

A: It ain’t, just so long as there are sufficient numbers of wild salmon, steelhead or trout (salmonid obsession here) that can be harvested and still leave a fair ecological and genetic share for the wild fish and the river ecosystem.    Abundant and productive runs of wild salmon and steelhead can afford to yield some fish for the human diet, no doubt.  Sometimes a lot if you wish.  The finesse required is to figure out how much harvest of wild fish is suitable and how much is too much.  Complicated.  Healthy wild salmon runs can support quite a nice harvest.  Problems arise when people kill too many wild fish in runs that really should be left to spawn.


Nicholas’ Fly Fishing Glossary: Best Steelhead Fly

Google away, folks.  Fun every day.

Q:  Best steelhead fly

A:  The fly you have secured to your leader right at this instant, just so long as you soak it in water that contains at least one actual steelhead and that I, Jay Nicholas, have personally, myself, humbly, invented and even perhaps tied the fly.

If only imaginary steelhead inhabit the waters being fished, it makes as much sense to fish a bass fly, an egg pattern, or some monstrous Intruder invented by Jeff Hickman or Ed Ward because – after all is said and done – why waste one’s best steelhead fly on steelhead-less waters anyway?

Some fly fishers think that the best fly is the last fly they happened to catch a fish on, but this only tends to produce a self-fulfilling prophecy anyway because it causes said angler to continue fishing the same fly because once upon a time her or she caught some silly fish on the dang thing.


Tie on a Bucktail Caddis.

Tie on a Burlap.

Tie on a Teeny Nymph.

On second thought, do not tie on a Teeny Nymph.  Sorry Jim.

Any of these and two thousand other steelhead flies are generally ineffective and will not catch nearly as many steelhead as a steelhead fly that I have invented.

Just go fishin’ and tie on a fly designed by me, personally, and you are virtually assured of hooking at least seventeen fine chrome steelhead, be it winter or summer, on my ingenious fly pattern, that also happens to be completely original except for the fact that it looks a lot like a Green Butt Skunk, minus the green butt, minus the black chenille, minus the black hackle, minus any tail whatsoever, minus the white wing, with the addition of a kingfisher blue hackle and a few straws of Mirage Flashabou.

This is the best steelhead fly.

Except for the other steelhead patterns that I tie, which are also the best.

Ha ha.


Bolgosphere Questions & Answers from the Netherworld May 2010 Part 5

Bolgosphere Questions & Answers from the Netherworld May 2010 Part 5

This is part five of five. Ain’t done yet folks.  The fascinating questions keep pouring in, and I’m gonna try to answer to the best of my ability, so help me . . . . . ..

Q:  Strike indicators bells

A:  These are large (5 – 7”) bells attached under the left arm-pit of Spey fishers.  The purpose of said bell is to announce to God and one’s angling companions that one has received a pull, grab, yank, tug, or bite.  This is accomplished by rapid waggling of one’s body in a rotational fashion such that the “strike indicator” bell flops against the anglers chest and back, alternately, in concord with the body’s rotational motion.  Strike indicator bells are very important, because they usually signal the best part of the day.  This is because most fish are lost promptly after dealing a fly fisher a strike and if it were not for the strike indicator action, one would be left wondering, “did I get a strike?”

Q: Tell salmon issues

A:  Where to start?  Salmon need whole ecosystems, from the mountains to the far oceans.  They need places to spawn, for their young to shelter and feed.  They need unpolluted, free passage to and from the ocean.  They need protection from over fishing.  They need to avoid predators that have little else to feed on these days.  They need not be exposed to adverse ecological interactions with hatchery fish – competition, disease, predator attraction, direct predation, and so on. They need not be ground up in dams when migrating downstream, and need not be delayed by dams on their upstream migration.  They need spawning gravels not too compacted or sullied with silt.  They need shelter and food when they first emerge from the gravel.  If any link in the ecological chain from birth to death is broken by human activities, the salmon are at peril.  Guess what?  That is what people, humans do best.  We humans take great pride in messing with Mother Nature.  We think we can re-arrange the chain of ecosystems that salmon depend on, taking out some water here, cutting a few extra trees there, building a road across a river bend, throw in a few dams, dump a few tons of Prozac down the toilet, fertilize the crops, spray the bugs, stock hatchery fish, drill for oil (it can be done without risk, I assure you), dike the wetlands, run drain tile across every field, put our homes and businesses right on the river banks, sell twelve million drift boats and jet sleds and gummy worms to anglers, and  — and the list goes on and on.  Salmon issues?  Where should we start?

Q:  Red kelt

A:   A kelt is a post-spawning steelhead or Atlantic Salmon.  Females very quickly silver up as they migrate towards the ocean.  Males, because they will mate again and again and again (did I note that males are not a do-it-once-and-get-back-to-the-ocean fish), retain their spawning colors for a very long time.  In male steelhead, these colors are dominated by a reddish stripe along the length of their body.  A “red kelt” would likely be a male steelhead.

Q:  Wild hatchery steelhead the same

A:  No, wild and hatchery steelhead are not the same – ever.  A hatchery steelhead may be the first generation product of taking wild broodstock from a river and raising the young in a hatchery.  They are not the same critter when they return to the river.  Ask hatcherymen (hatchery-persons?) if the offspring of wild parents behave differently in the hatchery.  The usual answer is – yes – the offspring of wild parents behave much differently than the offspring of hatchery parents.   Some hatchery steelhead are able to reproduce fairly well almost as well as wild fish spawning in rivers.  Some hatchery steelhead reproduce  very poorly in streams or reproduce successfully only once in a while depending on river flow conditions, for example.  Hatchery fish, even highly domesticated hatchery salmon and steelhead, have been able to establish “natural” runs of fish in south America and far off regions where no salmonid fishes were present.  This is true, also, for hatchery rainbow becoming established in the Eastern US, where brook trout were native, and for transplanted brook trout establishing “naturally reproducing “ populations in the West.  That said, it is unusual, at best, for a transplanted steelhead or salmon stock to “replace” a native stock.  I can not think of a single example where this has occurred.  Elk and or Chetco River Chinook were transplanted to the Alsea, in hopes of producing a late-run Chinook to spice up the recreational fishery.  That was in the days when fisheries agencies commonly transplanted fish around, hoping to improve on nature.  Didn’t work.  It turns out that wild fish native to specific rivers tend to have very specific genetic traits that give them a strong survival advantage in that basin.  This is not to say that a salmon or steelhead stray from one basin to another will not survive or could not provide a beneficial addition of genetic diversity to the local native population.  This is simply to say that, on the whole, salmon and steelhead are best adapted to their local rivers, and that similarly, hatchery salmon and steelhead are best adapted to early live in a hatchery environment.  Ahhhhhh. I am sure I have erred more than once in this make a complex issue simple.   Forgive me or not.  I ask that you consider these ideas as starting points for constructive discussions, not as the final word.  Thank you.

Q:  Wooly buggers tied on octopus hooks

A:  Never heard of this.  The result could be interesting and might set of a frantic feeding frenzy at Diamond Lake of one were to chuck one of these flies into the water and strip it in over the weed beds.  But I need to enquire – would this be a Waddington Shank Wolly Bugger with an Octopus stinger, or would it be fully loaded on the Octopus hook and look like a big fuzzy scud?  Would you want to tie on red Gammies?  Nickel black?  Ooooooooh, how about Damsel fly olive on a green Gamakatsu Octopus hook, maybe a size 2?  Deadly.