Nicholas’ Salmon Fisher’s Journal: Nestucca River, late September, 2010

Nicholas’ Salmon Fisher’s Journal:  Nestucca River, late September, 2010

No one fly fishes for Chinook on the Nestucca River. Period.  End of discussion.

So the story went, recently, when my friend Todd (attending a wedding) asked a coastal resident if anyone fly fished in the area.  Silvers – maybe someone fly fished for coho salmon, Todd asked.  Nope.  Chinook?  Not possible.   Steelhead, he wondered, could anyone be fly fishing for steelhead in Nestucca tidewater?

The answer was emphatic.

“Look Todd, I’ve been fishing here for more years than you’ve been alive, and I can tell you that no one – no one – fly fishes for salmon around here.”

Todd, an avid and accomplished fly angler, fly tyer, professional fly fishing guide and all around perceptive fellow, was pretty sure that he had, indeed, seen not just one but several people fly fishing in the Woods bridge area, and witnessed one fish, species unknown, being netted by a fly angler.

“Hey Jay”, our phone conversation began: “do you know if anyone fly fishes on the Nestucca around Woods?”  “Why do you ask”, I replied, keeping my options open for the moment.  Todd told me his end of the story.  I had to let it all sink in for a moment, then I told Todd my end of the story.

The world is a very small place.

By chance, we both took photos of of Ed’s Chinook at the same moment: me in the boat, and Todd, visiting from his home in Medford, from the bridge.

Is the world weird or what?

Take a second look at the lead photograph and see Todd’s maroon Land Rover on the Bridge, with Todd shooting the photo beside his rig.

Simultaneous photos, taken from different perspectives by friends who haven’t seen each other for a full year, were united on the Nestucca River by a Chinook, a fly rod, and a photograph.


Nicholas’ Salmon Fisher’s Journal: Chinook? September 16/17, 2010

Jay Nicholas’  Salmon Fisher’s Journal September 16-17 2010

Yes folks, Chinook salmon are  lurking under the waters of the Alsea  in this photograph.  Doubt me?  Take a look.

A bright Chinook  jack ate Ed’s fly.

Being a perfect gentleman, I exerted a little “brush-back,”  just enough to maintain my position in the boat.

Finding it impossible to get a grab myself, I proceeded to run my new Koffler Sled around the Alsea, pretending to look for biters.

September 17 found us on a secret river located near Pacific City, where practically no one has ever seen anyone fly fishing for Chinook, unlike the Alsea, where that us apparently the only way people fish for kings.

We learned that Chinook like to lay under docks.  At least that was how it seemed that day.

There were Sea lice on this buck, a two-salt male,with just a hint of bronze.  Again, I was the dutiful observer and recorder.

Oh my gosh, his head looks so small.

As the day evolved, I came to understand why my dear friend Rob has so many “exploding” fly rod stories to tell.  Kerry, please don’t look.

Ed and I drove home after dark.  Rob camped on the beach, preparing for two more days among the salmon, which he found again each day.  I made it home, waaaay past my bedtime, vowing NEVER to tempt fate with the late drive.

The sled is clean again, tanks are full, and I’m looking at the tide book wondering when to go again.  Four days on the water, three salmon to the boat, several grabs missed, all by my trusty fishin’ partners.   Soon.  Soon the tug will be at the end of my line.  Maybe not until 2011, but soon enough.


Jay’s Thoughts on Sea Run Cutthroat Fly Patterns . . . . .

Sea Run Cutthroat flies – favorite fly styles

Note:  This is a preview of more to come, think about 2011 as time to dig deeper into the lives and flies of Sea Run cutthroat.

Everyone who fishes Sea Runs has their preferences.  That’s what you are about to see here:  preferences, not absolutes.  I tie and fish several basic styles of flies for sea run cutthroat, depending on the circumstances of where I am fishing, time of day, time of year, and how I see the fish behaving in a particular time and place.  If you have not seen this video recently, or ever, check it out.  Chris Daughters and I shot several videos, including this one on Sea Run cutthroat fly patterns and styles, as part of an extensive set on flies designed to catch these foxy fish.

I won’t say much about or estuary and saltwater flies popular in Puget Sound, mainly because I have zip personal experience fishing there.  These fly patterns lean heavily to the baitfish and shrimp genre.  Small Clousers and modest-size scuds are apparently effective, and these fly patterns are targeting fish that are actively feeding in salt and estuarine waters.  This might make it useful to consider that individual fish often key-in on specific types, sizes, or colors of feed; if so, imitating the preferred food of the moment could be important.

Anglers fly fishing for sea-run cutthroat in Alaska and BC are in the habit of fishing egg-sac fry flies.  These are little streamer patterns with a ball of yarn or dubbing under the throat of the fly to imitate the not-quite absorbed egg-sac on a juvenile salmon fry.  This is intellectually useful but has limited application in Oregon, where the population of sac fry for sea-run cutthroat to eat is less than 0.0000367 of what it is up north.

For better or worse, as the saying goes. Here is a short description of my favorite Sea Run Cutthroat fly styles.

Traditional, named Sea Run flies. These are a few flies I tied back in the 1970s for fishing Blueback and Harvest Trout.  These principally include the Female Coachman, Pete’s Special, Spruce, and Siletz Special.  They were effective flies then, they still are, and there is some feeling of tradition associated with tying and fishing these flies.

Baitfish Imitation flies. These tend to be very slimish, longish flies intended to imitate a small fish that any self-respecting Harvest trout would want to eat.  Sea Runs, like all coastal cutthroat, are a very predaceous species:  they like to eat other fish.  Rarely, I will tie small Clousers, but I usually shy away from Clousers unless I am fishing where I want my fly to sink a little deeper.  Puget sound anglers seem to like Clousers (I have never fished there), but when fishing the upper tidal reaches of Oregon coastal rivers, I have thus far concentrated on simple streamers that fish well in the top three feet of the water, where I can see the fish take the fly.

Slim bodied wet flies. This fly style is based on the characteristics of Sea Run Cutthroat flies that were fished for decades and are well portrayed in Les Johnson’s book (fly Fishing for Sea Run Cutthroat; Frank Amato Publications).  These flies are characterized by the use of Uni Yarn for the body.  I also use Mirage Flashabou for winging these flies, finding that the flies sink well, swim true, and have just the right amount of fish drawing sparkle.  I tie these flies without tails, and I have proof that the tail omission feather increases solid hook-ups by a factor of 0.000239.

Dubbed Body Wet Flies. These depart from the profile of the slim bodied wet flies in two ways: 1) I use special fuzzy dubbing blends to make a buggy body that is thicker; and 2) I use hackles that are a little fuller, longer and/or webbier than on the slim bodied wet flies.  This fly style also incorporates Mirage Flashabou and omits the tail.

Double Hackle wet flies. This fly style incorporates a blended dubbing for a body, but places a webby hackle at both the rear and head of the fly.  Reminiscent of a Renegade fly, these flies were inspired by a fly I tied in the 1970s, a Bear Paw (I think).  This fly style continues a progression from subtle and slim to a more authoritative and juicy.  Again, no tail, but also no wing; the hackles alone are just the ticket to induce the take.

Reverse Spider Hackled wet flies. I tie these flies with rooster saddles or neck hackles rather than mallard, but the main point of these flies is that the hackles are tied with the dull side facing forward of the hook eye, and dubbing is wound at the rear of the hackle to keep the hackles “cupped” forward.  No tail, No wing.  No flash.  This is an intriguing fly style, a little difficult to tie, but effective and worth experimenting with.  A few Blueback devotees I know consider this their “secret” fly.  Dunno what to say.  Hope they won’t quit speaking to me.  Can’t be that good, a fly, can it?

Deer Body Hair Wing Flies.  The bushiest, boldest Sea Run Cutthroat fly style I tie incorporates a deer hair wing and a full hackle tied over the flared wing.  These flies tend to elicit the most spectacular reaction from Blueback, are the most fun to fish, but have one significant weakness.  Sometimes these flies excite the Sea Runs so much that they will slash at the fly, even bumping it or grabbing it by the wing only, refusing to take it in their mouth.  This makes for great fun and adrenaline rushes, but comes up short on tugification.  The solution to this dilemma is to go to a smaller fly, amping down on the bodacious properties of the fly.  Fish that will show boldly to a full profile deer wing fly will calmly engulf a slimmer, more subtle wet fly.  Not every time, but often enough that it’s worth keeping this tactic in mind.  Same tactic applies to steelhead, right?

October Caddis. As the season progresses, Sea Run Cutthroat move upriver with the Chinook.  A lot of these fish will key in on loose eggs drifting out of spawning redds, but many of these fish are also interested in eating big October Caddis and are wonderful fish to raise to a swinging fly like a caddis imitation or a smallish Muddler.

Egg patterns. These are little flies that are deadly effective and will catch harvest trout by the bucket-full when they are laying in riffles behind spawning salmon, gorging on loose eggs until they puke.  This is strike indicator fishing.   Plastic beads are not flies, but are fished in the same manner and are unspeakably effective when fished by bead-o-maniacs.  Fishing egg patterns can be crazy at times.  Although all fishing is fun in its own right, I’ve found that the thrill of catching a 12”- 14” fish is way greater when I can see the fish romp a fly just under the surface, so I concentrate my Blueback fishing down river where the fish still have blue backs.


Jay Nicholas’ Salmon Fisher’s Journal, September 5, 2010

Jay Nicholas’ Salmon Fisher’s Journal, September 5, 2010

Alsea Tidewater: Two Decades Later………

Yeah, it has probably been at least twenty years since I fished Alsea River Tidewater.  For lots of reasons.  No.  Don’t want to talk about them.   For about a decade, I spent much of each October bobber fishing for Chinook out of Kozy Kove.  Interesting time of my life.  Not one I would want to go through again.  Lots of fish caught, lots of emotional pain, some life lessons I recall, in my head, grateful to have moved on.

September 5, 2010 was a great day.

New boat.  Nice.  More than nice.  More to follow.  Lots of good times to follow.

I am still a little terrified, and a lot excited about the new boat.  No.  I’m a lot terrified and a little excited.  75/25?  No.  30/70.  Whatever.  There is a mixture of fear and excitement.  I ran a 16’ x 48” Alumaweld sled twenty years ago.  I do remember swearing to Lisa that I would never, ever get a powerboat again.  Too much hassle.  Too much money.  Too much maintenance.  I’m too old.  I don’t need one to fish were I want to fish.  No place to store the boat.  Everyone else would love the boat but I’d be the one who would have to maintain it.  Too loud, just too noisy.


Changed my mind one day andpresto – here comes the new sled.  Joe Koffler built me a  16’ x 60” flat bottom sled boat.  I initially thought I would go with a 20 hp outboard, I said.  By the time I got the boat it was a Yamaha 60/40 (60 horse outboard motor rated at 40 hp at the jet pump).

Rob Russell, my dear salmon obsessed kindred spirit, was in the boat with me, on this first sort of serious fishing day in the new boat.  Rob, experienced guide and boatman, suggested that I shorten my bow line, to avoid the possibility of sucking the rope into the impeller.  Good call.

Rob chose our first anchor point. Six or eight boats had been fishing where we anchored when we were at the boat ramp, but had all motored upriver as the tide turned from slack to the incoming.

Forgot to mention – no point trying to launch a jet sled, or any other craft for that matter, on Salmon River at a minus tide.  We had arrived at Salmon River at daybreak, loaded our gear into the sled, and found about a hundred yards separating the end of the boat ramp from the water.   A dozen cars parked at the Hwy 101 bridge told us that yes, there were some kings in Salmon River, but we cruised on down the coast, blabbing away, headed for the Alsea as the day brightened.

First anchor point. Ten minutes into our fishing.  Rob got grabbed.  Solid.  Beautiful strong chrome fish.  Long powerful runs.  We stayed on anchor; in deep relatively snag free water.  Rob worked the henfish close and released her.  We were both happy, excited, and smiling big smiles.

This fly hooked Chinook was a big deal. For all the King Salmon I caught back in my bait and bobber days, I never caught a Chinook on a fly.  Never even tried.  Never saw anyone flyfishing for salmon back in the 1980s.

Wow.  As far as we can tell, we are the only guys crazy enough to fly fish for kings here on the Alsea.  No doubt, we will go back.  Whether we catch any more kings on flies, who knows.  But we will try, I guarantee, we will try.  Unless we get lured off  by the Rogue, or the Umpqua, or the Nestucca, or the Tillamook, or the Nehalem.  Oh well, we’ll fly fish for Chinook salmon somewhere, and soon too.

We fished on up to the head of tide. We charted fish on the graph.  We anchored and tried different fly lines, and different flies and fished for sea run cutthroat in the sun.

Sea run cutthroat will always show themselves, I always say when I talk to people about sea run cutthroat.  They might not eat your fly, but they will always flash at it if they are anywhere near.

Hah.  Several big sea run cutthroat were taking something at the surface, under a leaning tree.  Rob and I tossed big flies, small flies, bright flies and dull flies at these raising fish, to no result whatsoever.  Alas, I didn’t have a dry fly line and a size #12 Stimulator or some such dry fly to test on the cagey little beasties.  One fresh-run blueback eventually came to a purple-bodied, sparsely hacked fly with no flash (Rob insisted on pulling off the 3 strands of flashabou).  This was a clean, blue-backed, first ocean fish of about 12″.  If this fish spawns, returns to the ocean next spring, and doesn’t get ambushed in between, it will likely be 14-15″ on its next run in 2011.  Two months from now, it could be miles upriver from here, eating eggs drifting out of Chinook spawning redds.

A beautiful day. Sun and clouds.  Bagels.  Lamb chops and pretzels, and banana chips and one beer and 4 bottles of Gatorade.  Lots of catching up on life, science talk, salmon talk, lamprey talk, striped bass talk, sturgeon talk, hatchery talk, guide talk, friends talk, personal life talk,  and our dreams for the future.  It was a perfect day to fish a little and devote most of our focus to things a lot more important than fish.

I was pretty tired when we got back home, having been up at 3:30 to make it to Salmon River at daybreak, parking the boat back home at 8 PM.

Our plans to fish on the 6th transformed, partly out of our exhaustion, to a plan for sleeping-in, catching up on non-fishing life, and looking forward to our next adventure.