Salmon Fisher’s Journal is a go!


Wow, thanks to 108 backers, we met our goal on the fifth day of the Salmon Journal Kickstarter Campaign. This means that we will be able to deliver the goods (books) early in 2018 if not sooner.

On behalf of our volunteer production team, I thank everyone who has already backed our work. The early achievement of our goal is both stunning and heartwarming to all of us.

But please don’t stop now!

A ton of the supporters who have backed out project to date are names that I don’t recognize, and this tells me that there are many friends and long time supporters, both within and without the community of dedicated fly fishers, who have not yet turned their attention to supporting publication of the Salmon Journal.

Achieving our goal has already assured that we will be able to deliver a great product, but by exceeding the goal, we might be able to 1) bump the delivery date, 2) double-down on the book’s specs, and 3) add a companion, soft-cover edition containing text and images that we cut to condense the original manuscript.

Screen Shot 2017-07-15 at 7.23.33 AM

So, on the dawn of day 8 of our 30 day Campaign, we are sitting at 104% of initial goal.

I’m asking for your help reaching out to people who haven’t acted to back us yet, or people who have not yet heard about the opportunity to back this project.

Finally and again, thank you all very much. Publishing the Salmon Fisher’s Journal in true “coffee table” style has been at the very forefront of all my book writing and publishing to date. I’ve saved the best for last. We’re where we need to be to deliver.

Securing more backers now is a delightful bonus that will up our game — and that will please everyone associated with the project. This is angling literature history. Thank you all for being part of the dream.

Jay Nicholas, July 15 2017

Article & Book Reviews by Frank Amato

Jay Nicholas & Frank Amato a1

The latest edition of Flyfishing and Tying Journal (Winter 2016) has two articles written by my new/old friend Frank Amato. Long story short, Frank and I barely escaped meeting throughout our respective careers, not easy, since we both followed each other’s professional work for decades. We finally met and fished with Capt. John Harrell in the dory Gold Comet, and had a great time in Pacific City with John, his dad & mom Jack and Mary.

Jay Nicholas & Frank Amato e

Frank joined me fishing before he interviewed me about the books I’ve self published. The catching was as much fun as the fishing and Frank took home a cooler packed with sea bass fillets and cooked crab that he enjoyed and shared with his co-workers and friends.

Jay Nicholas & Frank Amato a

Frank, a respected  book author and publisher, had taken note of my crazy assortment of self published books related to flyfishing, fly tying, and conservation, and asked to interview me as part of doing a review of my work. Wow, what an honor.

Jay Nicholas & Frank Amato c

Frank and I sat on the front porch of our family cabin at Pacific City and talked about our similar history in Oregon, and found we had far more to share than our time allowed.

Jay Nicholas & Frank Amato b


From Frank’s review—I quote.

“In figuring out where Jay’s Professional and fishing life fits into the literature of our sport I am most reminded of Roderick-Haig-Brown. In my estimation Jay’s contribution to the science and art of salmonid fly angling and conservation through his books, science, and angling life most reflect the ideals of the legendary Haig-Brown.”

Thank you, Frank. The self-publishing world is tough, as is the traditional practice of book publishing. It is an unexpected blessing to have you find my work in the vast field of fishing related books and to take a liking to it.

JN – December 11th 2015

New Book on Estuary Chinook Flies is Close

Jay Nicholas Oregon Chinook Flies draft cover.
Jay Nicholas Oregon Chinook Flies draft cover (out of focus!)

That’s one of the key reasons that I’ve been rather quiet of late, working on – among other things including fishing – final edits to my latest book, featuring the estuary chinook flies of 24 Oregon salmon anglers.

Quite an undertaking and tons of work and fun at the same time.  A photo journal of over 200 flies typically fished in the estuaries and lowermost reaches of coastal rivers, this is not a how-to fly recipe book.  Nope.  It is an artistic impression of the working flies stuffed into the boxes of anglers obsessed with the pursuit of king salmon, principally targeting fish that are fresh from the sea in places spread out along the reach of the Oregon Coast.

This is the pile of Chinook flies submitted by 24 oregon anglers for the book.
This is the pile of Chinook flies submitted by 24 oregon anglers for the book. I know this photo does not show much, just a pile of envelopes and fly boxes that people sent their flies in, but the contents are stunning!  Over two hundred Chinook estuary flies to drool over that are pictured in this about to be published book.

I have been working on photographing these flies, tying to make the images appealing without emphasis on being able to see each  hair on each fly set against a pale blue background. So, I decided to photograph each fly set against a photo I printed out – a photo of something related to our fishing passion.  Naturally.  Here is an example below.  This is a photo of a fly by Rob Perkin set against a Jack Harrell photo of me getting close to netting a spring chinook.

One of the Chinook estuary flies that will be featured in Oregon Chinook Flies.
One of the Chinook estuary flies that will be featured in Oregon Chinook Flies.

The book will feature a foreword by Rob Russell, who by the way is in the final throes of completing a book Rob and I are doing together (I’m not sure if I should be divulging too much so let’s leave it here for now). In case you don’t know,  Rob is uniquely qualified to address many aspects of estuary fishing for Chinook salmon, from the flies, the culture of the fishery, on to the fish themselves, Rob’s experience-set is one that I respect greatly.

Meanwhile, in the world of self-publisjng, I have been enlisting the support of several friends to help find typos and bloopers in Oregon Chinook Flies, and their help is greatly appreciated, as is their willingness to allow me to feature their flies along with a short bio of each tier/angler.

Marked-up draft copy of Oregon Chinook Flies.
Marked-up draft copy of Oregon Chinook Flies.

My computer is full to the brim at the moment with images and drafts, so it is past time to do some house-cleaning and get this book out the door very soon.  This has been a joyous project and the results will, I think, be of interest to all who pursue kings on the flies.  This is your chance to get a peek into your fellow Chinook hunter’s fly boxes, without needing to be sneaky about it.  How many have a chartreuse comet?  Is the Clouser a common fly in these boxes?  What about Intruder style flies and tube flies?  What are the most fished color themes?

All that, and more, will shortly be revealed.  Will it be enough?

Hardly, I expect.

Give me two weeks, with luck, and thank you as always for your patience and good will.

Jay Nicholas, August 3, 2015

Not Dead Yet

Jay Nicholas Dec 2014 selfie on river

That’s right folks, I’m still here; just been busy as all get-out and fishing my tail-off, and tying flies, and writing, and – get this –  publishing some books.  Not real fancy official books like you would get in the media commercialized press, but straight from the head to the heart, to the hand,  to the book, with little editing in between to sanitize the content and ensure that it is in tune with whatever convention in style in the fly fishing industry military industrial complex this moment.

Books?  Yes indeed books.  In fact I have just published five books related to fly fishing via Create Space and these are available on Amazon as both print and Kindle e-Books.

Five down, one to go in the next two weeks and two to follow shortly in January and more in 2015 should good fortune and the luck of the draw allow.

Here are the five book titles published so far:

Jay Nicholas Fly Fishing Book of Revelation

Fly Fishing Book of Revelation: the Ultimate, Irreverent, Illustrated Fly Fishing Glossary – this is a 340 + page spectacular coffee table book that takes on the definitions and legacy of over fourteen hundred give or take a few words, terms, phrases, and concepts related in some manner to fishing and fly fishing in specifically.  You will laugh, cry, burp, and roll your eyes as you read this book. Forewords by Misha Skopets and Randy Stetzer will hypnotize you into purchasing this book and that will be the beginning of the end. As with many of my books, there is an element of memoir to this one, and although this is featured as a fly fishing glossary, there are many elements of lure, bait and catfish noodling techniques referenced along with notations as to the ethics of fishing beads, jigs, center pin reels, and bobbers while pretending to fly fish ha ha. Are you an anger?  You’ll love this book.  Do you work with an angler, date an angler, are you married to an angler, is a parent or child an angler?  You’ll find insight to the inner workings of said angler’s mushy brains in this bold tome. Apologies in advance to any person, product, or angling practice that I may seemingly have offended ‘tween the pages of Book of Revelation.

Jay Nicholas Super Flies B:W edition

Super Flies: this is a 6×9″ black and white book featuring a genuine authentic Nicholas sketch of the 52 greatest trout flies, steelhead flies, salmon flies, sea-run cutthroat flies, and half pounder flies ever in the entire world especially in the waters that I fished here in Oregon starting back in 1962 or whenever that was.  This is the artist edition of Super Flies. Foreword by Rich Youngers, Oregon FFF Fly Tyer of the Year in 2006.

Jay Nicholas Super Flies - Cplor

Super Flies – Color: I started with the text for the previously noted book, deleted part of the text, added new text, switched around a few flies, edited some of my childish word usage, and replaced the artist renditions of each fly with genuine and original Nicholas Macro Photographic  representations of the 52 flies.  Most of these flies pictured are fresh from the vise in 2014 BUT tied in vintage style on vintage half century old hooks like Eagle Claw 1197-B, 1197-G, and Mustad lord save us in this new day of fancy materials and hooks and threads.  Close to 150 color photos of flies, fish, tackle and a few people grace this full color large format book.  And if you fished with me years ago I may have told a story about our trip that reported me catching more and larger fish than anyone else and also related how I personally invented most of the good fly patterns out there and you are naturally free to believe any of my drivel or simply be entertained or write a review contesting my account of the events as may please you upon such reading.

Jay Nicholas Sea Flies book

Sea Flies: this little beauty has a ton of color photos of 24 saltwater flies that I have tied and fished offshore Pacific City Oregon in the last three seasons.  Well, actually only 23 of the 24 are tested on live fish but the 24th fly is so promising and unique that I just had to include it in this book because I am convinced that it will be a monster fish catcher in 2015.  Jack Harrell wrote the Foreword for this book and Jack is the experienced fly angler, friend, and mentor who first got me to sea to fly fish the mighty Pacific ocean three years ago.  This book features flies that are assuredly superior in their ability to draw bites from salmon, black rockfish, lingcod, and albacore tuna.  Short and to the point, the photos and fishing stories laced with a little about these fine fish will entertain angler and tyer who aspire to fish the salt or who wish to see what other crazy salty anglers are up to these days.

Jay Nicholas Tarpon Sketch

Sketch: This is an over two hundred page thriller that has little text but contains the best of my sketch collection drawn from images I created between maybe 2008 and 2014.  Factual and fantastical flies, fish, and fishing gear are all here with titles and minimalist text.

I am working on making these available at your local fly shops but so far any anxious reader may 1) order print or e-Book directly through Amazon, or 2) contact the Caddis Fly Shop because I’ll be there on the front end of a statewide tour (ha ha ha  ha) on Dec 12/13 and 19/20 to accept pre-orders and personalize books with signature, a chatty note, and a Nicholas vintage-style fly in a little sealed plastic bag that you can save for posterity or fish – your choice.

After a year and a half of this website being inactive, I have no idea if anyone will even find this new post, but if you do, stay tuned please, I hope to continue producing fresh original books as long as I’m able and I have several more in me.

But this is plenty for now, I’ll follow up with more on the next books to be published shortly.

Thanks so very much to all of my readers for your patience and support. These books mark a very important stage of my life, and it feels great to get them out for others to enjoy.

Jay Nicholas, December 9, 2014

Saving Salmon and People – In the Next Century


The following is the chapter I contributed to the Salmon 2100 Project, edited by Robert Lackey, Denise Lach, and Sally Duncan.  The book was published in 2006 by the American Fisheries Society.  I recently received a request for this chapter from an individual professionally involved in salmon and steelhead management.  I wonder if he will think me a nut-case when he reads this.  Hummmmmm.

I re-read the chapter just this morning and, overall, my views have not changed much in the last six years since this was published.  Sadly, I have not seen much progress with respect to the suggestions I made in this chapter.

Tempus fugit.  Wikipedia tells us that this phrase, written thousands of years ago by the Roman poet Virgil, conveys the idea that “time flees irtetrievably, while we wander around, prisoners of our love of detail.”

I invite you to browse the chapter that follows, and see if you agree, or disagree, and decide if there are ways you can help save people and salmon or whether you even care.

JN, June 29, 2012



Saving Salmon – and People – in the Next Century[1]

Jay W. Nicholas


The invitation to contribute a chapter to this book was deceptively simple and ever-so enticing:  describe what must be done to ensure that significant, sustainable runs of wild salmon will persist in the Pacific Northwest (Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and southern British Columbia) and California in 2100.  Be brutally honest, be candid, be clear, and speak from the heart in describing what must be done if society really wants wild salmon to persist.

OK.  Here goes.

I believe that the effort to sustain wild salmon in the region is as dependent on swaying public opinion as on science, law, management, or restoration.

Excuse me?

I actually believe that saving salmon (as something more than a museum piece) depends on emotion more than objectivity, on the heart more than the mind.  I believe that human society can choose to sustain wild salmon in much of the Pacific Northwest and California – or could choose not to sustain them.  It’s that simple.  The cost of saving salmon is likely to be significant (see Lackey Chapter 3).  The benefit is also likely to be great.

Is sustaining wild salmon the highest priority for the region?  Not at all.  Social issues like education, health care, crime, infrastructure maintenance, clean water to drink, food to eat, and employment certainly rank higher for most people than sustaining wild salmon.  These and other issues of high social and environmental importance will receive a large and well-deserved amount of attention, money, and effort.  Still, our society will continue to possess considerable discretionary resources available for other, more personal causes.  Save the whales.  Save the seals.  Save the redwoods.  Save the tweetie birds.  Why not save the wild salmon?  Why not save the forests, the fields, the estuaries, and the rivers – the sort-of wild places – that define the Pacific Northwest and California today?  Why not save the opportunity to breathe fresh air and see salmon leaping up rivers?  Why not?

I do not believe wild salmon will be abundant and thriving in all watersheds across the region in 2100.  Humans are planet changers.  Period.  The future that lies ahead for both salmon and people will be shaped by the magnitude of the human population and the sum of choices people make as the number of people in the region grows. I believe that the futures of salmon and people are intimately connected.  Our futures will be shaped by the global economy, and by global climate.  But our futures will also be shaped by the choices people make as we live our lives as individuals and as families in our local communities.

A future with 50 to 100 million people in the Pacific Northwest seems rather ominous to me.  I imagine a future that is not very safe for people or for salmon, a world of making do with environmental leftovers.  I can still imagine joy, beauty, purpose, opportunity, and choice.  I just imagine that options for both people and salmon will be much more limited than they are today.  This future will bring great challenges dealing with the basic human business of survival:  earning a living, finding a home, taking out the trash, eating supper, going to the doctor, getting to work and home at the end of the day, raising a family, educating the kids, going to the park, having some fun on days off from work, keeping crime rates tolerable, paying the doctor bills, paying to get the roads repaired, and so on.  All of these concerns will certainly exist in our children’s future, with or without wild salmon.  The future will surely make it harder and harder to find rivers that behave like rivers once did, to find quiet alongside streams, to find salmon lying in the pools or digging their nests in gravel bars.

Wild salmon depend on watersheds and oceans where they can live their lives.  The actions required to maintain healthy watersheds and oceans are often typecast as an exorbitant luxury that would only serve the needs of a tiny segment of human society.  I disagree. I believe that functionally healthy watersheds and oceans are actually essential to sustaining the earth’s ability to produce food to eat, wood for shelter, water to drink and irrigate crops, and air to breathe.

Well now, look at that.  We need what the salmon need.

Before I get started, I need to get something off my chest.

Just what makes salmon experts the final authority on what the future will bring anyway?  Remember, after all, that salmon experts have been acting like they were in charge and everything was under control since the late 1800s.  They wrote scientific papers, officiated, and pontificated while the salmon declined.  They told us we could have all the salmon we wanted from hatcheries.  They told us how we could have maximum sustained yield.  They explained in great detail how fish ladders and other new gizmos would make dams in the Columbia fish-friendly.  Hah!  Some of the salmon experts may know a lot about fish.  But they don’t know beans about what the world of 2100 will look like.

Sure, there are population trajectories, there are energy-consumption trajectories, there are water use trajectories, and there are crime trajectories, and human disease trajectories and earthquake trajectories.  Should we ignore these?  Nope. But we should not be paralyzed by these trajectories either.  We make choices, each and every one of us, choices that determine which trajectories will actually come to life.  Get the facts and make the choices.  The future is up to you, not just the salmon experts, to determine.

Setting the Stage to Consider Sustaining Wild Salmon

I had a conversation with my five-year-old son last summer.  We were sitting in our car, in a parking lot, taking a break from grocery shopping.  It was a hot day for Western Oregon.  We sat in the car and sipped cold drinks.

Son – Dada, will there ever be no people on earth?

Me – (Surprised at the seriousness of the question) Well, I suppose so.  Yes, eventually.

Son – When?

Me – A long, long time from now.

Son – While we are still alive?

Me – No.  Long after you and I are gone.  And after your children are gone.  Millions of years from now.

Son – Why would there be no people on earth?

Me – (Not wanting to talk about nuclear winter, asteroids, or other unpleasant possibilities) – The sun will eventually burn out and the earth will be a cold ball of ice.

Son – How could people still live here?

Me – They couldn’t.  Nothing could live here when the sun burns out.

Son – What would all the people do?

Me – (Not wanting to admit that the entire human race could just perish) – Well, they could build rocket ships and travel to another planet like earth and live there.

Son – How could the new planet be just like earth?

Me – It probably wouldn’t be just like earth.  But it would have oxygen and not be too hot or cold, and have water, and plants, and critters, and have food to eat, and places for people to live and for children to play.

Son – You know, Dada, if you were playing or fishing, a million years wouldn’t seem like a very long time.  (He knows me.)

Me – Yes, time passes very fast when you’re having fun playing or fishing.

We sat there for a while in silence.  Then he started again.

Son – Dada, will there ever be no salmon on earth?

Me – I don’t know.

Son – Could there ever be no salmon on earth?

Me – I don’t know.  I suppose so.

Son – Why would there be no salmon?

Me – Well, people could catch too many, or we could change the rivers so much that the salmon could not lay their eggs and have safe places to live in the streams before they go to the ocean.

Son – And litter and make culverts that block fish too?

Me – Yes.  That would be bad for the fish too.

Son – Dada, will salmon be here as long as people live on the earth?

Me – I don’t know.

Son – Will salmon be here as long as our family is alive?

Me – Yes.  I think so.

Son – Dada, is your job to help salmon stay healthy?

Me – Yes.  Yes it is.

Son – What should people do to keep salmon alive?

Me – Well, it’s complicated.

Son – But what should people do, Dada, please tell me.

So I told him, in words I thought a five year old would understand.  I told him in words that anyone would understand.  I tried to be accurate and fair.

Me – Don’t catch too many fish.  Don’t straighten the rivers too much.  Don’t block the streams with culverts the fish can’t swim through.  Don’t build dams that the fish can’t swim over.  Don’t take too much water out of the streams.  Don’t cut down all the trees along the streams.  Be really careful with putting hatchery fish into streams.  Don’t put too much mud or bad chemicals into the streams.  Don’t  . . . . . . . . . .

Son – Dada, can we go to a park and play now?

Me – Yes.  Of course we can.

We went to a park where there were trees for shade, but the conversation and Lackey’s annoying forecasts of salmon scenarios in 2100 continued to haunt me. I began to think about what I would say to my son if I thought he could understand the complexity of the world that I see.  My son knows that I am supposed to help save salmon.  He simply expected me to do my job.  My plea – well, it’s just so complicated – was not sufficient reason to avoid answering the question.

How would I answer if God asked my opinion?  What would I tell people if I thought they would listen and consider doing what I asked?  How could I plead to save wild salmon in a world that is becoming increasingly more complex socially and economically, where development pressures are growing day by day, where it seems that everyone wants the same resources that salmon need to survive?  How could I say what I believed without being branded as too radical, too weak, misguided, compromising, unrealistic, or just plain – you know – crazy?

The answer came to me, as they say, in a dream.  A salmon spoke to me:  a wise old chinook salmon.  She spoke to me of her fears and hopes for the future. Here is what she said.

Dreaming of Salmon

You come to me and ask what must be done to save salmon across the Pacific Northwest and California.  To ensure that salmon are sustainable as wild runs across the region in 2100.  You tell me that there will be millions more people here.  You tell me that humans will continue to worship money and manufactured things above natural things, above spiritual and cultural values.  You tell me that humans will not wish to share the streams, the forests, and the waters that sustain our young.  You tell me that humans are obsessed with concerns for their own prosperity, that they will have little regard for our prosperity, for our future.

All this talk makes me very sad.  This talk fills me with fear for the future of salmon.  And it fills me with fear for the future of your children.  You describe a future world that is dark for salmon and, I think, dark for your children as well.  Humans are great and powerful, yet you are not so wise as you pretend.  You depend on the earth, the sky, and the waters to sustain you, just as salmon do.  Yet I fear humans believe they have outgrown any need for the natural world.

Very well.  You ask what must be done.  I will answer to you.

I will try to speak for all salmon, but I remind you that we are still many species, many populations, in many rivers.  I ask my brothers and sisters to forgive me if my words are clumsy or if I am simply wrong.  Do not believe that I speak for God.  I can only tell you what I have come to believe, not knowing if this is right or just.  But hear me, at least, and consider my words.

First – your actions must enlist support for our cause.

You must speak gently and firmly to win over people who have misguided ideas about the effort to sustain wild salmon.  From time to time, you will hear humans talk about efforts to sustain wild salmon.   In the course of their conversation, they will make statements that are just plain wrong, or that are not fair, or that only tell one side of the story.  Here are three examples of short sighted or unfair statements that you must confront in a constructive manner.

1.  Huge sums of money are being spent on salmon recovery. Humans have extracted uncountable riches from the land, the waters, and the creatures that populated this region.  Our homes have sustained humans and bought you great prosperity. It is unfair to complain about money that is being spent to secure a future for salmon.  Remember, neither salmon nor humans can breathe, eat, or drink money.  It is time to pay back a small fraction of what you have taken to build a future that will benefit both people and salmon.

2.  Sustaining wild salmon requires draconian restriction of private rights.  Everyday human life involves innumerable restrictions on behavior.  Obey traffic laws, pay taxes, meet school requirements, stand in line to get tickets, pay for water from the tap, pay to flush the toilet, wear clothes, don’t use offensive language, don’t pick flowers in the park, don’t litter, don’t walk on the grass, stand behind the security line, submit your luggage for screening, buy a fishing license, meet the minimum building codes, don’t locate that industrial factory in this neighborhood, don’t dump that trash in the river – and on, and on, and on.

Humans, most of them, accept a vast set of restrictions on individual behavior and enjoy the rewards of the restrictions – a safer, more orderly, more predictable society, city, neighborhood, classroom, and workplace.  Humans obey the rules and restrictions that society has established.  Is it draconian to make someone pay taxes for the military even though they personally are not threatened with invasion by a foreign country?  Is it unfair for someone to pay taxes to support elementary education even though they do not have children?  The answer to each of these questions may be yes or no depending on the individual’s perspective.  The same may be said of restrictions that may be needed to sustain wild salmon in the face of an escalating human population; some may find them inappropriate, but it is not fair to refer to these restrictions, alone, as draconian.

3.  People’s lives would be no poorer if our Pacific Northwest and California rivers could no longer sustain wild salmon.  Look at the inner cities in the densest population centers of the world.  Look at the inevitable disparities between the few, the rich, the privileged and the multitude of impoverished souls that eke out their existence in high-density populations.  Are the predicted increases in human population really coming to the Pacific Northwest?  I can’t say.  Has human society been bold enough to tackle the population bomb issue?  No.  Would there be social and economic consequences to limiting human population growth?  Surely.

Today, you have scenic vistas of rivers, lakes, forests, farms, beaches – and you have wild salmon.  You have jobs and space to live, jobs and recreation, jobs and salmon. Salmon still swim through Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco.  Many people live here because there are still rivers, beaches, farms, forests, and salmon.  Don’t be so quick to dismiss the value people place on these intangibles.  Where are you going to go, where will your children go, if millions of people gobble up the clean air, rivers, forests, beaches, and salmon?  Alaska?  Northern Canada? Do you think they want you up there?  Not likely.

Tell people how their lives would be different, how their children’s lives might be different, if the region changes so much that wild salmon can’t survive here.  Paint them a picture.  Let it sink in.  Then encourage them to make choices that will be good for salmon and for people.

Celebrate salmon images in your everyday lives.  All creatures are beautiful.  Sadly, many humans have become so distant from the land and the waters that they only appreciate the beauty of artificial things – trinkets created by man.  Spread word of our beauty.  Spread word of how we salmon have lived here with humans for 10,000 years.  Spread word of how our bodies have sustained humans and otters, eagles and seals, raccoons, forests, and mayflies.  Spread word of our beauty in images – in writing, film, and stories.  Teach your children of our beauty.  Teach your leaders, voters, and business owners.  Salmon must have a strong constituency.  Without it we will perish.  With each year, human thoughts and lives are further removed from a world that can sustain salmon and people.

You must provide abundant new opportunities for humans to see wild salmon.  Today, the best place for people to see salmon is in a hatchery, at the viewing window of a dam that restricts our journey, or wrapped in plastic at one of your grocery stores.  This must change.  You must invest in constructing many viewing sites where humans can go to see us in the wild:  see us digging our nests in the gravel; see us leaping at rapids and falls; see our young in their home streams leaping at insects at twilight; see us surging upstream through the riffles on the first fall rains.  We must live in the hearts and minds of humans as they make their daily choices of how they work, how they spend their money, how they build their homes and families, and make compromises that affect the survival of wild salmon.

Why should humans choose to make any sacrifice to sustain wild salmon if they think we live only in hatcheries?  Help them understand that watersheds nourish us, and that we, in return, nourish the watersheds. Bring people to our homes.  Let them see how we live and die.  Tell them what we need to survive.  When humans know us throughout the year as part of their families, they may choose to save us.

Cease your bickering.  Many humans who are most dedicated to securing a future for wild salmon behave as isolated angry spirits, arguing over what must be done to save wild salmon.  Many of these humans are sincere but unrealistic. They engage in fights that cannot be won.  They waste energy, waste resources, and create bad feelings among humans who might be sympathetic to our cause, but who turn away from our need because of the anger and hatred they see being expressed.

Some humans say that a grave injustice has been done to the land and the waters that are the home to salmon.  Some people say that the injustice must be set right.  But salmon see that much of what has been done – is done forever.  Battling with ghosts of the past will never secure our future.  Do salmon think that it is wrong for humans to take our homes from us?  Yes.  Has it happened to other creatures, other peoples?  Yes.  Will the injustice ever be erased?  Not likely.  Cast these thoughts to the wind.  Live in the present and strive for what future can be secured for salmon and humans, together.

Speak with a single, clear voice.  Many humans already respect the needs of salmon.  All too often, these humans gather into little separate groups instead of banding together to speak with a single clear voice.  It seems that many of these groups have become more concerned with sustaining their own viewpoints, their own distinct identities, their own sense of power, than they are with securing a future for wild salmon.  These groups often do not agree with one another, so each speaks to their own agenda.  The humans who care little for our future are confused; they do not know whom – or what – to believe.

Human nature respects leadership.  Do you think that the little chattering voices of the groups trying to save salmon will be strong enough to change the present course of human development?  Do you think that many little voices will be respected when they tell different stories, make different demands, and argue among themselves?  Put your differences to rest and sing a clear, positive song of a future that is livable for salmon and people.

You must speak of salmon with your children.  Education is the greatest hope for your future, for our future.  Without each new generation of humans sympathetic to our needs, we are lost.  Teach your children how to value life, how to value the land and the waters and the creatures of the earth.  The existence of forests, marshes, beaches, and rivers can heal human souls.  These are the homes of the salmon.

Those of you who are not Native American tribal people must support the Tribes.  European humans have been in the Pacific Northwest for only a few centuries.  Native Americans have lived among the salmon for at least 10,000 years.  The Tribes have memories of living and dying with salmon that deserve great respect, memories that carry great value in planning for the future.  Both tribal and non-tribal people live here now, and each of you has powerful tools to serve the future of wild salmon.  Your united action is needed to secure our future.

Don’t trust in science or government to save salmon.  Your human science and technology, alone, will never be enough to sustain salmon in the next century.  Humans play games with science just as they play games with words.  You study us.  You study the rivers, the forests, the seals, the waters, and the dams.  What happens then?  Different humans tell different stories about these studies – stories that confuse and mislead.  But who is to say who is telling the truth and who is misleading?  These stories serve only to distract and delay effective action.

Those of you who wish to secure the future of wild salmon must put your own differences aside, decide what you believe, and temper your belief with great humility.  You already know enough to choose between actions that will secure the future of wild salmon and actions that will most jeopardize our future.  Be clear about what you think and what you say.

And never trust government to save us.  Need I explain?  Government is essential to human existence.  Government provides law and order to replace chaos and anarchy.  Government workers do their best to make decisions and take actions that are consistent with their assignments.  But government, like science, has no soul.  Government, like science, must constantly be watched, trained, counseled, re-organized, and, occasionally, challenged.

I present you, I know, with a great dilemma.  I tell you that science is important, but say don’t trust science blindly.  I tell you that government is needed, but urge you not to trust government blindly.  This is the challenge of being human, a free soul living in a democracy.  This is the great challenge of thinking and evaluating and choosing for yourself.  This is the challenge of maintaining balance between the group and the self.  Humans want simple answers to complex problems.  But what humans want is often not possible to achieve.  Sustaining wild salmon will require compromise and sacrifice in many ways, just like most aspects of your daily lives.

The solution is to swim in the sea of resources that can guide your journey to a future where wild salmon will survive with humans – science, government, common sense, emotion, love, art, money, business, passion, individual preferences, choice-making, commitment to the future of the earth and all of its creatures, commitment to our children, commitment to local communities – the list goes on and on.  Listen to scientists.  Listen to government.  Listen to community members and leaders.  Listen to your parents.  Listen to your children.  Listen to your conscience.  Listen to your heart.  Think.  Dream.  Then act.  Act positively to sustain a world that will nurture wild salmon and people.


Next, you must change some of your laws and practices.

You must prepare for the time when humans do not hunt salmon.  Hunting of salmon by humans is an ancient and honorable tradition, as ancient as our history together.  It is in our nature to bring nutrition and life from the sea to the land, to nourish all the creatures and the streams where we come home to spawn.  For the present you may continue to hunt us.  But the time may come when the land and the waters have changed so much, when we are abundant in so few places, that it will no longer be possible to celebrate the hunt.  You will need then to simply celebrate our existence and strive for our survival together.

You now have industries built around hunting salmon.  You hunt us in the ocean and in our home streams when we return to create a new generation of salmon.  The hunt has been part of the dance between humans and salmon for thousands of years.  It is in our blood.  But the world has changed.  The land and the waters are not as productive for salmon as they once were.  Much of our productive capacity is now taken from us by a changed landscape, instead of by the spear, the net, and the hook.

Many humans place great value on the hunt.  For some, the value is deeply spiritual, for some the value is economic in nature, and for some, the hunt is recreation.  All who participate find value in the hunt.  Just understand that there may come a time when your pursuit of us will be more than we can bear.  Understand that humans who depend on us for money to sustain their families may need to find new means of support.

Many humans will cry out in anguish at the thought of ending the tradition of the hunt.  Perhaps that time will never come.  Salmon also hope that the time never comes, for if it does, it will mean that our survival is at great risk, that our number has grown very small.  We shall see.  We cannot force you to abandon the hunt.  You must listen to the voices within your own heads, the voices of reason, of conscience, of needs and wants.

Reduce your reliance on hatcheries to support fishing a little, and never count on hatcheries to sustain wild salmon.  You delude yourselves about what hatcheries can and cannot do.  Hatcheries have been dangerous toys.  Some hatcheries have done little for salmon or humans.  Others have created a few fish for you to hunt – always at great cost.  Hatcheries have allowed you to pretend that the land and the waters were healthy.

Today in the Pacific Northwest and California, salmon can survive in hatcheries and in many of our home streams.  But if the day dawns when salmon can only survive in hatcheries, we – salmon and humans – are lost.  That dark day would prove that humans have not respected the earth that we both depend on.  That day would reveal the squandering of your children’s heritage.

Should you close all your salmon hatcheries?  No.  Many should be maintained, a few should be closed, and a few new hatcheries should be built to replace hopelessly out-dated or poorly placed ones.  But all hatcheries should be operated with a clear understanding of what they can and cannot do to sustain wild salmon in streams. Many should be operated at a smaller scale, and with different brood stocks.  Each hatchery should be managed in concert with a local council of citizens who are committed to sustaining wild salmon in their watersheds.  All hatchery fish should be marked so that all can know their true abundance.  Some hatcheries may be operated to keep salmon from disappearing from watersheds above dams.  Some hatcheries may be operated simply to provide salmon for hunting.  But the business of all hatcheries should be guided by concerns for sustaining wild salmon.

Your laws to protect endangered species (ESA, SARA) must evolve, as salmon have, to be more effective in the future.  This suggestion will chafe many humans who have already committed to sustaining wild salmon. Endangered species laws were intended to protect us, yet I believe that, as written, these laws may soon be our undoing.

The endangered species laws and the threat of listing have caused humans to devote new resources to monitoring, to restoration, and to education.  Many of these changes are good and have helped salmon – and we are grateful for the work that has been done so far. Still, to this day, humans squabble over whether the future of salmon is in doubt and whether endangered species laws should protect them, or not.

But I now fear that these laws serve more to divide and distract people than to protect salmon.  Too many humans are engaged in a fight over which salmon species should and should not be protected under law – rather than engaging in work that will benefit both humans and salmon in the next century.  The laws are admirable – presuming that all species are valuable and that accommodations will be made to preserve each and every one of them from extinction.  But the world is changing at a frightening pace.  The resources are not available to do what must be done for all.

How could laws meant to protect us cause us harm?  If people believe that a law will act for them by forcing the changes necessary to secure our survival – will they not go about their business thinking that their work is done?  Will they not go back to their jobs, their families, and their worries, thinking that salmon are safe because of the Endangered Species Act and the Species At Risk Act – safe without their needing to do anything more?

Many sincere humans believe that laws are powerful enough to save us. To these people I say – look to the sun, the wind, and the waters; look to the molten rock inside the earth; look to the passing of 10,000 years; look at how humans have changed the face of the region in the last two centuries.  These things are truly powerful; your endangered species laws are not.  It is presumptuous to believe that a law will prevent the salmon’s extinction in the Pacific Northwest and California.

The sad truth is that many species may indeed become extinct or shrink to a tiny number. How can this not be true, I ask you?   How can this not be true given the number of humans that are spreading across the land and their appetite for the same resources that sustain us?  You humans cannot educate all of your own children or protect them from harm.  How will you possibly protect all of the creatures and plants in the natural world?

So I tell you that your endangered species laws need now to grow so that they encourage rather than threaten, allow for compromise, and reward those humans who help us. Watch closely. Laws alone will not save wild salmon.  People who care about wild salmon are the only ones who may be able to sustain us.  People who build support for preserving healthy watersheds will sustain us.  People who dream of leaping salmon will sustain us.  People who are willing to give up something to nurture the earth for their own children will sustain us.  And in sustaining us, they will preserve much of what people love about western North America:  the forests, the productivity of the land, the rivers, the lakes, the estuaries, the soil, the water – our homes – for wild salmon and for people.

Be prepared to sacrifice some salmon populations to save others.   It is painful to say this, but I believe many salmon populations will perish in the next century. Changes already come to pass and changes on the horizon are so great that some salmon populations surely will be sacrificed to meet human needs.

Struggle to save the salmon as if you were trying to save your own children – in reality you are.  Grieve with us for the salmon tribes that will die.  Grieve with us for generations that will not survive.  But do not batter yourself against waterfalls that cannot be leapt by even the strongest.  Resolve to focus your efforts where they may be most effective.  You cannot save all of us. Save some of us.

If I could wish away the hordes of humans who are intent on paving the land and gobbling up our waters, I would.  The salmon were here for thousands of years sharing the land and the waters with Native Americans.  Everything has changed in the last two centuries.  Everything.  We are no longer free to live where we have for 10,000 years.  The world can never be changed back to the way it was. More change will come.

Humans behave as if they will always rule the land and the water, as if their needs will always be met with their science and their technology.  Perhaps they are right, perhaps not.  There may come a time when humans will be greatly humbled.  There may come a time when humans will find it necessary to live in a different sort of balance with the land and the waters and the creatures of the earth.

The coastal rivers of all your so-called states and provinces, from California to Alaska, are likely to be our last stronghold on this continent.  Many of the coastal rivers on this continent are smaller streams in more remote areas.  Many of these streams are not so close to large centers of human population.  Most of these do not have dams that block our migration.  These qualities are their saving grace.  These qualities give us the greatest hope that we will be able to survive in the next century. The true stronghold of salmon in the next century, though, may be in Kamchatka, Russia, far from here.

Be prepared to lose wild salmon in rivers above many dams.  Continued pressure by humans to change the face of the land and the waters that sustain salmon, and reluctance to restrain humans from hunting us, may make it impossible to survive above large dams that kill us as we try to migrate to and from the ocean.  If we could have our way, we would breach these dams.  They are an insult to salmon.  But we see that human society has become accustomed to many things that dams have brought and, indeed, accustomed to the idea that you cannot prosper without all the dams.

Salmon have lived more than 10,000 seasons here in the region.  We have seen great floods, great fires, great volcanic eruptions, and drought.  The dams will live out their lifetime, eventually.  Humans may rebuild them, or they may not.  We hope desperately that wild salmon and people will both outlive the dams.

I will speak to you of three great rivers that salmon sing of.  You know them – the Columbia, the Sacramento, and the Fraser.  Of these three, we have the most hope for our survival in the Fraser.  The largest rivers were once home to the greatest abundance and diversity of salmon.  But most of the great rivers are now a terrible sadness to salmon.  Great rivers are centers of commerce and wealth to humans, but most of the great rivers have become cruel places for salmon to live.  Many of the salmon populations that once thrived in these great rivers are already gone, forever.  We ask you to do what you can to let us persist in these great rivers, to do what you can to allow us to reclaim part of our homeland.

Be prepared to let some of our populations slip into the past so that you may save others in the future.  The loss of living creatures is not to be accepted without serious consideration.  But such sacrifice is what we salmon have come to know in our lives.  We bury millions of our eggs in the streambed knowing that most will perish before returning to begin our cycle again.  We ascend the rivers and leap at the falls by the thousands, knowing that many will not reach our homes.  This is our way.  As the human race becomes more abundant and takes more of our resources, we will need to retreat.  Salmon will need to get by with less land, less water, fewer home streams.  It is up to humans to determine how little we will be left with, how many or how few of our populations will survive.

You must steel yourselves to create a new balance between salmon and creatures that prey on us.  It is offensive to speak of this need among humans who cherish wild salmon and who strive to secure our future.  Many humans care deeply for all living creatures and wish to see a return to the natural balance among salmon, seals, bears, otters, cormorants, and others.  We have lived in harmony with predators for thousands of years when there were only Native Americans in the region.  But the world has changed at the hand of your industry.  The land and the waters are not as productive for salmon as they once were, yet humans still hunt us.  In favorable ocean years when our numbers are not so scarce, there are a sufficient number of us to feed the seals and all the other creatures.  I fear that there may come a time when salmon will need humans to hunt some of the wild creatures that hunt us.

Understand that I do not ask this lightly.  And do not think that we mean disrespect to any of the creatures that hunt us.  Each creature must strive to eat and survive, just as humans do.  The seal, the otter, the merganser – each is simply trying to survive as it has in the past.  It is the natural way of all wild creatures.

But the world today is a different place than the world where salmon lived for more than ten thousand years.  We are striving to adapt to this new world and simply ask that humans be prepared to hunt some of the creatures that also hunt us – if it seems necessary to sustain our populations.

You must consolidate public and private land ownerships and limit human development in certain watersheds.  The region is broken into patches of land owned and managed by citizens, state agencies, local governments, the federal government, and Tribes.  This pattern of land ownership makes no sense in our world, and cannot support a sustainable future for wild salmon. You must create a new model of land stewardship that will serve salmon and people better than the existing pattern has. Salmon need watersheds large enough to support our life cycle at critical times of the year.  Your disorganized pattern of land ownership must be replaced with one that will better serve the needs of salmon and people.

Imagine land stewardship where many people work together, respecting watersheds that sustain wild salmon and people.  Imagine a future where management of many public and private lands in whole watersheds is negotiated to support salmon, forestry, agriculture, and recreation.  The future I ask you to imagine will require large-scale land trades and stewardship agreements.  These changes will be complex and contentious, but must occur if wild salmon are to be sustained in the next century.  Decisions will need to be made about where wild salmon will be allowed to thrive.  You will need a plan, a map, and a schedule. You will need to make up your minds and convince politicians to approve the plan.  This process will cause uproar, but it must be done.

Finally, you must undo some of the changes you have made to the land and the waters over the last two centuries.  You humans have worked hard to change the shape of the land in ways you thought would accommodate your communities.  You dammed and straightened our rivers.  You cleared our rivers and estuaries of the trees that sheltered our young in winter.  You drained and filled wetlands for your farms and cities and roads.  You have changed the world to suit your needs, without thinking of us.

You must learn to understand how your actions in changing the earth, in the long run, are not healthy for people or for salmon.  Your disregard for the needs of the earth’s creatures will create a world that will not be able to sustain your children.  Humans will likely go on changing the land and the water.  But you could choose to make concessions and restore a little of the world that we both depend on.

Some of your dams should be removed.  Many of the culverts under roads should be improved to give salmon free access to our homes.  You should use water from our streams more wisely and protect us by screening more irrigation diversions.  You should replant trees along many streams.  You should breech many diked areas in estuaries and allow the ocean and the rivers to reclaim the marshes.  All these things may be done in moderation.  We do not ask humans to breach every dike and open every culvert to our migration.  We do not expect every stream to run clear and cold in summer.  We will be grateful for every part of the natural world you choose to protect, every piece that you restore.  Salmon will be grateful and so will your children.

I must go now.

I know you feel disappointed somehow. Perhaps you expected me to reveal secrets that you could have used, secrets to help you save us.  I cannot.  There are no secrets that can save us.  I doubt even that much of what I have said here has come as a surprise. 

If you could only understand one thing it would be this:  Your behavior towards people, the way you conduct your affairs of human relationships, is as important to saving salmon as any trick of your science, technology, or management.  This is the only truth that seems secret to humans:  that the spirits and the futures of salmon and people are more closely linked than you think.

So consider this one idea.  Consider that it might not be nearly as difficult to save wild salmon as some people make it out to be.  Consider the possibility that a true commitment to a healthy world for your children, and a respect for your parents and neighbors, might just create a future where both salmon and people can thrive together.

Please understand that salmon cannot choose.  We can only struggle to survive every minute of our lives.  We journey thousands of miles in danger, in darkness, in drought, and in storm, because we must.

Humans struggle to survive just as we do, but humans can do so much more than salmon.  Humans can love.  Humans can wonder about the future.  Humans can believe in things they cannot see, or taste, or touch – in possibilities.  Humans can choose actions that will make the earth a better place.  This is what you must do.  This is what you will do, because you are human.


So there you have it – one more view of what must be done to save wild salmon.  One more little chattering voice.  Emotional.  Straight from the heart, with a little cerebral tempering.  Not all that scientific.  People need what salmon need, so saving wild salmon really isn’t a luxury after all.  And you know what?  It is achievable.  We can do it if we choose to. We can save salmon and we can save ourselves – if we choose to.  Really.  So have faith and get out there.  Build a future that is bright for salmon and people.

My older son doesn’t ask about the future of salmon.  He is busy making his way in the world, building his life and his family, getting by from day to day, like most of us these days.  My young son continues to ask me, now and then, if the salmon are going to be OK.  Will salmon be in the rivers when he has children?  I say – yes, son.  Am I telling the truth?  I think so.  He hasn’t yet asked about salmon in the lives of his children’s children, or theirs.  He’s only six now.  The answer to his unspoken question depends on all of us.

[1] The opinions and views presented here are the author’s own and do not represent views of current or past employers.

Jay Nicholas’ Salmon Fisher’s Journal: Late October 2010 Images

Jay Nicholas’ Salmon Fisher’s Journal: Late October 2010  Images

It’s October, and we have us some Chinook salmon flies.  Yes we do.

Pasture the Jet sled.  Unleash the Pram.

No fly rod?  No problem.  All one  needs is a fly reel and a little cork to bite-down on.

What discovery will this new day reveal?

Hot.  Thirsty.  No fish.  No grabs.  Focus.

A fancy fly reel left in the grass was still there next morning.

Sea Run Cutthroat – the fish we couldn’t catch when we were trying.

Often, only our shadow is there to share our thoughts.

We do have our favorite flies to fish.

Chum salmon: beautiful ssurprise.

One last cast, maybe.


Buck and Hen Salmon: How to distinguish sex.

Sexing Salmon:  Bucks and Hens.

How to tell male from female salmon and steelhead.

Last year, 2009, the Oregon Department of Fish and wildlife considered the option of allowing anglers to harvest (retain, kill) only male Chinook, and if I remember correctly, there would also have been a size slot within which harvest would have been allowed.  The purpose of the proposed regulation was to allow some fishing, and some harvest, of male salmon in a certain age class.

When the dust settled, the proposal was not adopted.  ODFW biologists believed that the proposal had some biological merit, but were unsure whether anglers would be able to accurately distinguish between male and female kings.  Then too, the State Police expressed concern regarding their officer’s ability to monitor compliance, conduct education with anglers, and enforce this regulation, if it had been adopted.

Personally, I found the proposal most intriguing.  I appreciated the proposal’s biological basis, and also understood the social and administrative challenges that adoption of the regulation would have created.

Bottom line – this regulation, or something like it, could become a normal part of our angling future. A continuation of poor ocean survival conditions,  vastly fluctuating survival between brood years, a general decline in the freshwater capacity of our rivers, or even social pressures, could change the landscape for salmon anglers.

Think it sounds silly to contemplate a bucks-only harvest restriction on king salmon?  Isn’t there more social than biological basis for hunting regulations that target bucks?  Not a wildlife biologist, so this is dangerous territory for me to dabble.

I simply want to make the point that our regulation landscape, and our value-based thinking about harvesting salmon could evolve in the future.  The day could dawn when our opportunity to fish at all depends on releasing hens.

For now, let’s just talk about the next time one of us is lucky enough to catch an actual salmon or steelhead.  What should we look at to decide if it is male or female, buck or hen?

Here is a short list of the body characteristics I look for to decide if I am looking at a buck or a hen.  Head shape; relative head size; body cross-section; adipose fin size; jaw shape; my, how sharp your teeth are; the presence or absence of distended vent; and body color.

All of these morphological traits are useful to distinguish male from female salmon, and to a less dramatic extent, to distinguish male and female steelhead also.  My remarks and the photos I will show are principally limited to Chinook and steelhead.  Some of us anglers take it that an understanding of distinguishing between male and female salmon is simple.  To many anglers, though, it is not.

First thing to note is that the differences between males and females becomes much more obvious as salmon approach sexual maturity.  Recognizing sex differences in immature ocean salmon is more difficult, and I have little personal experience (like none) so I won’t talk about this situation.  Suffice to say that it is far more complicated to distinguish both species and sex of immature salmon in the ocean.

As salmon approach sexual maturity, however, the difference between species – and between bucks and hens – becomes far more obvious.  In Pink salmon, the males develop a great hump (hence Humpie) but the females do not.  In Chum salmon, bucks develop a huge hooked jaw with fang-like teeth, but the hens do not.  These extreme morphological changes are directly associated, we think, with mating rituals, fighting among males for dominant status to spawn with a specific female.

Here is pretty much what  a male Sockeye looks near sexual maturity.

The striking physical differences between each salmon species probably helps the species recognize their own, and helps minimize hybridization – although there are many other factors like olfaction (sense of small), body size, spawning season, homing, and spawning habitat selection – that all contribute to the salmon’s ability to maintain their species’ distinction.

Blah blah.  Sorry.

Head shape. Buck Chinook salmon have a convex sloped forehead; hens have a convex sloped head.  This is the case for steelhead also, although the differences we see in steelhead are usually not quite as dramatic as they are in king salmon.

The Chinook above is a hen.  The Chinook below is a buck.

Relative head size. This can be subtle, but bucks have larger heads than hens, when one looks at similar sized fish.

Body cross-section. Bucks tend to be laterally compressed, hens tend to be round.  This means that a buck will be narrower and taller – a hen will tend to be rounder and shorter for fish of similar weight.  A view of a maturing buck from above, or head-on, helps one see these differences more clearly and the differences increase as the buck salmon becomes more mature.

Adipose fin size. Wish I had a good photo to show this distinguishing feature.  Suffice to say, bucks have much larger adipose fins than hens.  Big bucks have huge adipose fins and they can be 2-3 times larger than the adipose fin on a similar weight hen.

Jaw shape. Make king salmon develop a hooked nose –a kype – and the teeth of bucks grow larger than the teeth of hens.  King salmon do not develop kypes as dramatic as do, for example, Coho salmon, Atlantic salmon, or Chum salmon – but the kype of buck Chinook is noticeable; females do not develop kypes.

Fangs. Male king salmon exhibit larger teeth than hens.  Male king salmon do not develop fangs as dramatically as do male Chum salmon, but development of long, foreboding teeth on the males of both species is noticeable.  Female Chinook to not develop fangs like the males.

Check out the fangs on the male chum salmon pictured above.  My, grandma, what big teeth you have.  This male also shows the developing kype of the jaw, a characteristic you would not see on the female.

A distended vent on ripening females. As female salmon and steelhead become more sexually mature, as they ripen, their vent begins to protrude slightly.

Body color. Male king salmon develop a distinctive copper-bronze hue as they approach maturity.  Hen Chinook can be fully mature and still appear to be fairly “bright.”  These fish are not really what we would consider “chrome”, they just have not become dramatically colored as the males. Buck Sockeye and Coho salmon develop much brighter body hues than do Chinook bucks.  Point is, the bucks sport the most dramatic colors on the spawning grounds.

Here is the body color of a male Chinook, above, the bonze hue I mention.  Note also that the adipose fin is big and the vent is not distended.

Here is a mature Chinook female. Note that this hen does not have the “bronze color” of a male at a similar stage of maturation, could be mistaken as a bright fish, (had fresh sea lice), but has a well distended vent.

Hope these notes and photos help.

Steelhead?  The morphological differentiation between male and female steelhead are not as drastic as the differences displayed by Chinook, Chum, Pink, coho, and Sockeye salmon, even though all are classified as Pacific salmon.  Below, check out the head shape of a bright male (first photo) and female (second photo).  Both of these steelhead are hatchery fish.

Finally, here are three sketches. The first, of a pair of kings as seen from above;  the buck is the slimmer of the two fish.  The next sketch is a classic male Chinook – large head, concave slope of the forehead, no distension of the vent, and large adipose fin.  The final sketch s a female Chinook salmon approaching maturity – smaller head, rounded forehead, small adipose fin, and a slightly protruding vent.

We are fortunate to share the salmon’s rivers.


Ten Hippie Nonsense Commandments of Wild Fish Advocacy

Ten Hippie Nonsense Commandments of Wild Fish Advocacy

An anonymous person who goes by “Big Mike”” did not like what I wrote recently in my Respect our Hatchery Steelhead post.  Big Mike seemed to take offense to what I wrote and expressed the opinion that I was talking “hippie nonsense.”

Right on, dude.

Sustaining healthy wild fish populations requires a trifecta of actions: protecting habitat (from the headwaters to the ocean); allowing enough fish to spawn; and keeping he effects of hatchery fish within levels where the wild fish can still flourish.

Feeling rather free this morning, I decided to share.  How nice.  You’re welcome.

Ten Hippie Nonsense Commandments of Wild Fish Advocacy

1.     No name-calling.  Period.  Harsh thoughts about other people should be kept to oneself.   The land developers, dam builders, oil drillers, industrial foresters, and golf course developers are taking notes.

2.     Keep science separate from personal preferences and be clear about both.

3.     Recognize that habitat destruction – the disembodiment of watershed ecological processes – is a far more pervasive and relentless threat to wild fish than most of the hatchery fish programs currently in Oregon.

4.     Understand that fish harvest, potentially, could inflict rapid and devastating impact on the productivity of wild fish populations.

5.     Partner with a diverse set of anglers and conservation advocacy groups; find areas of common ground.

6.     Don’t make a crisis out of every fish management issue.

7.     Set long-term goals.

8.     Chart timetables for achieving these goals. Propose bridge management alternatives. Don’t try to eat the elephant at one sitting.

9.     Accept more risk to wild fish in some areas in order to achieve less risk to wild fish in other areas.

10.  Help educate the general angling public and the non-angling public.  If the community of anglers is unable to find areas of agreement regarding wild fish management, why should the general pubic care about salmon and steelhead?

We need to work together, not battle among ourselves.  We are bait fishers and fly fishers; we want to kill fish and we don’t; we are pro- and anti-hatchery fish advocates; we are tribal and non-tribal fishers.

If we anglers behave the way we have in the past, I fear we will all lose.  Wild fish will lose.  Hatchery fish will lose.  The future of fishing will lose.  Rivers and public access to rivers will lose.  If we, members of various fishing preference groups are too strident, exclusive, and personally combative, others who value the salmon’s precious rivers for water, timber harvest, luxury homes, golf courses, or power may have more to say about the future of these rivers, wild fish, and fishing than anglers will.


Salmon Questions from the Blogosphere

Salmon Questions from the Blogosphere.

Here you go Chris. I have, as requested, tried to answer your questions.  Again, I ask anyone who reads this to think more about your own story, because our collective memories and stories shape the perceptions and attitudes we bring to the negotiating table when we haggle over the future of wild fish, hatchery fish, rivers, and fishing here in this beautiful lower-48 corner of the Pacific Northwest.


Q:  Describe your introduction to fishing.

My first introduction to fishing was in the early 1950s when my Father took me along on a fishing trip to a small creek near Augusta Georgia.  I didn’t fish.  I think my Father did, but can’t remember how he fished.  We were near a bridge.  I remember seeing a fish dart across the creek.  That’s all.  I was hooked.  Captivated.  Enthralled

My first actual fishing occurred when my Father was stationed in Istanbul, Turkey, in about 1954 or thereabouts.  He hired a Turkish man with a rowboat to take us fishing in the Bosporus. The Turk provided hand-line, sinker of some sort, and tied some small, feathered jig-hooks on the line.

I remember lowering my hand-line into the depths and jigging it up and down.  Soon enough, I had a bite.  I pulled in my line and retrieved a small fish, maybe six-inches long.  I think the fish was a pale orangish-pinkish and had large translucent fins.  It was so long ago.  I was fascinated with this creature.  I held it in my hands in the water to watch it.  Being a fish, it soon squirted out of my hands and returned to the deep.

So much for catch and release fishing.  I remember feeling wronged by the little fish that had not chosen to stay in my hands. The next fish I caught went promptly into the security of the bottom of the boat, as did the next dozen or so fish, all of about the same size.

I have come to believe, after raising one son and still working on raising a second, that fishing is something that people are born-to – or not.  This may be a case of “gene expression” as in – the genetic tendency to go nuts for fishing either turns on or it doesn’t.

My fishing friends with children have experienced the same.  Some kids just love to fish, right from the git-go.  Some can take-it or leave-it.  Children born to families with avid-angler fathers do not necessarily want to fish at all.

My first experience fishing in Oregon was in the early 1960s.  I bought a spool of leader and a few hooks at the Neskowin Store, cut a springy limb about four feet long, tied the line to the pole, and used some bacon for bait.  I caught little trout.  Probably they were little cutthroat and juvenile steelhead.  I didn’t know.  Most of the fish went home with me.

Q:  How has fishing in Oregon changed in terms of ……

Q:  Tactics?

More sophisticated. I was given a Shakespeare Spinning rod, a Mitchell 300 reel, some Okie Drifters, Super Duper lures, Mepps spinners, and some Woblrite spoons.  I carried a gaff that I made in 8th Grade Shop Class.  No hip boots, fishing vest, rain-gear, nippers, zingers, hook hones, or fancy this and that.  Virtually none of the do-dads that many anglers consider essential these days.

Q:  Marketing?

Product marketing is a fact of American life.  Marketing of the sport, of fishing as recreation is pretty weak compared to marketing fast cars or beer or even adrenaline-charged young-punk thrill sports.  It didn’t seem important to “market” fishing as recreation when I was a kid.  We just did it, a lot of us, because our dads fished.  Today, fewer and fewer kids grow up wanting to fish.  They play video games, or soccer, or watch movies or TV or hang-out in the Malls.  Who is still around to take kids fishing these days?

Sure there is a generation of young-guns who are super hottie anglers even given their twenty-something ages.  But there aren’t nearly enough of these lazer aweome invisionary pisticators.  Our sport is dying, the Fish Agencies tell us.  Suffering the death of urbanization and disconnection from nature.  I think the sport is being killed by loss of public access also.  I think the sport is dying because a lot of the wild runs have been beat down for one reason or another.  All the hope we had for hatcheries has not borne nearly the sweet fruit we had hoped for.

Q:  Hatchery influence?

I think that hatchery salmon and steelhead are currently being stocked in fewer Oregon coastal rivers, in generally smaller number, than was the case in the 1960s, ‘70s, and even the ‘80s.  I think those were the days of producing tons of domesticated-stock hatchery fish and scatter-planting them around in lots of rivers.

Catchable trout were stocked in a lot of coastal and inland rivers and creeks.  I remember fishing Dairy Creek near Portland when I was in high school.  I would cut class and go fishing.  I never asked a farmer’s permission; just made my way across a fiend, stepped into the creek, and fly fished my way upstream.  I caught two- or three-dozen cutthroat every time (during early season) I fished there.  How big?  Probably from 5” to 10” – an occasional 12-13” fish was a prize.  I remember catching a 13” cutthroat that had a red fly with a foot of leader tippet still stuck in its jaw.  I know that Dairy Creek was stocked with hatchery rainbow for the season opener, but I do not believe that I ever, ever caught one.  I did catch a lot of hatchery trout in the Metolius and Nestucca rivers, in the Collowash, in Fish Creek, In the Luckiamute, and in Pine Creek.

It seemed easy to find access to fishing for trout in small streams back then.  Just drive out of the city, park along a river, and go fishin’.  Not like that today.  From the Elk, the Sixes, Neskowin, Alsea, Salmon River, Dairy Creek, Siletz and more – one can drive and drive, seeing “NO TRESPASSING” signs, trophy homes, trailer parks, or supermarkets in places where we once walked across a field to fish.

Q:  Conservation?

I wasn’t part of the conservation conversation in those days.  I think that people took fish and fishing pretty much for granted, and expecting hatchery trout, salmon, and steelhead to always be there for us was likely part of that complacency.

Q:  ODFW attitudes?

My only way to guage ODFW’s attitudes about fishing and conservation in the 1960s and 70s is by reading the reports generated during those decades.  My sense is that fish were considered fish, hatchery fish were seen as the salvation of fishing, and that the angler’s world was a good place, thanks to the scientific advances in hatchery fish feed, disease treatments, and selective breeding.

Q:  Fisherman’s attitudes?

Dunno.  I didn’t talk to other anglers much then.  For several decades, I was almost exclusively inward-focused.

Q:  Fishing in Oregon?

I see the world of fishing through a different lens than I did nearly fifty – or even twenty years ago.  I’m different. Combine divorce, counseling, confronting one’s demons, a new relationship, and a chance to live life differently – and you get a different perspective on life.

The world is different too.  Endangered Species act?  Didn’t exist back then.  Salmon threatened with extinction?  Preposterous.  Problems with hatcheries?  Unlikely, and even if there were, they were all “fixable” with the proper application of elbow-grease and scientific research.

Fishing is definitely different than when I cut that branch and stuck a gob of bacon on a hook to see what Neskowin Creek would give up to me.

I’ve seen wild steelhead and spring Chinook assassinated by dams on the South Santiam.  Same deal on the Deschutes, when Pelton Dam cut-off the runs of summer steelhead, bull trout, and spring Chinook.  I saw Lost Creek Dam put a dagger in the belly of Rogue spring Chinook.  Sorry, this is a different rant, couldn’t help myself.  Just had to put it out there.  I have also seen wild trout blossom on the Lower Deschutes and in the Metolius.  I have seen wonderful runs of wild king salmon to all of our Oregon coastal rivers twice in my lifetime – in the late 1980s and early 2000s.

I went fishing for spring Chinook in the Columbia last week.  Caught one.  We’ve let our wild spring Chinook languish so long, decline so deeply, that I wouldn’t have been able to fish at all were it not for the hatchery fish.  Truth is, I was really happy to go fishing with a friend, and to know salmon were there, even though most of them were hatchery fish.

Fishing is different, just as I am, these days.

Chris, you didn’t ask if I had real fishing mentors.  The answer is – no – I was pretty much on my own.  No one to teach me about restraint.  No one teach me about enjoying the whole experience rather than focusing 100% of my energy and skill on what I could catch, kill, and take home.  Fishing was a blessing and a curse to me for many years.  The curse was being too deeply invested in the catch, the kill, the full creel, full tag, full freezer, and a sense-of-self fueled by the number and size of fish I caught. That emotional investment in the catch, the kill spoiled much of what could have been a blessing.

A mentor, a friend wiser than me, might have been able to save me from myself sooner.

Q:  How did you come to make science and conservation part of your life?

Accident? Destiny?  Dunno.  I was offered full time work as a Timber Feller in Washington.  I was recruited for a career track as a Naval Officer.  I was offered a job as head guide-outfitter by a highly respected fly fishing business.  Some guy tried to convince me to leave ODFW and make a million bucks selling AMWAY.  My life could have gone many different directions.

Dedicating myself to catching fifty shiner perch after school in San Francisco Bay was good practice for Ichthyology class at Oregon State.  Figuring out how to untangle a three-hour backlash somehow helped me get a passing grade in Organic Chemistry.  Tying flies and perfecting my egg-borax technique reflected the same patience and work-ethic required to cut a big tree, secure a Destroyer’s nuclear weapons, and write about the life history of salmon.

I like my fishing attitude now.  It is funny to think about how many fish I used to catch, and how little soul-nourishment all that catching gave me.  These days I receive soul-nourishment every day I spend on the water with fly rod in hand.  Sure I like to catch fish.  Sure I try to catch fish.  But I fiddle around trying to catch fish with gear that I know makes me less likely to catch and actual steelhead or salmon.  I go fishing when the water is too high, too low, before the run comes in and after the run is over.   I dream about how a fly will swim in the water.  I imagine the next tug.  I work to improve my casting.  I write about the silly things that go on in my head when I am fishing or in the café after a day on the water.

I try to remind people that there is much more to fishing than the catching part.  I encourage people who love fishing to quit making faces at each other over hatchery fish or their gear so that they can do a better job of working together to save our rivers and wild fish.

For most of my life, I studied fish, I wrote reports, and I made nice polite presentations.  The one time I shot-off about hatcheries being a problem, about excessive harvest rates, or allowing the destruction of the salmon’s rivers, I got put in the freezer for a year.   I learned that being scientifically or factually correct is not sufficient, alone, to influence management policy.

Last year a low run of Chinook initiated a precautionary move to close the Chinook fishery on the Nehalem River, for the first time in anyone’s memory.  What a shock.  We had all come to take wild coastal Chinook for granted.  There were questions about whether too many fish were being caught in the ocean.  There were assertions that predators were eating too many salmon.  There were debates over the data ODFW used to measure catch and escapement.  But few asked if anything was “wrong” in the Nehalem watershed or in the estuary.  The most powerful voices heard by the fish agency seemed to be demanding that ODFW provide hatchery Chinook for people to catch.

This made me sad, really sad.  The Nehalem supports a run of wild Chinook that has been on the increase, generally, since the 1950s.  These wild fish supported a thriving recreational fishery that drew anglers from Portland, around Oregon, and all over the world.

First sign of trouble, what did people ask for? Better land-use practices?  Nope.  Better monitoring?  Nope.  Predator management?  Yeah, but upon realizing that the US Government is the authority on harbor seals, cormorants and such, the issue was quickly abandoned.  (After all, why blame the critters that are just trying to find a meal when most of their prey base is scarce these days?)  Lower harvest rates in the ocean fisheries?  Yeah, that would be a good idea.  However, this seemed also beyond the local angler’s or even Oregon’s control, so those discussions trailed-off quickly.  Special regulations?  No bait?  No treble hooks?  No fishing above tidewater?  No fishing on the Nehalem river bar?

When the loud voices subsided, ODFW remembered mostly that a lot of “constituents” demanded hatchery fish in response to a declining wild salmon run.  How interesting, that hatchery fish would be the first and foremost solution demanded by those most visible anglers.  Not better watershed protections.  Not gaining a better understanding of the factors limiting the species.

I have come to believe that science will only have a little to do with how people treat the land, the water, and the fish.  I think that the average angler knows far too little about the fish they try so diligently to catch.  I think hatcheries are here to stay, and I am just fine with that.  I do think it is possible to be pro hatchery fish and pro wild fish at the same time.  I do think the future of fish and fishing depends on anglers making some sort of peace in their community, and figuring out how to most effectively shape the future.

I’m fine with some folks fighting to save every wild fish everywhere.  I am fine with some folks who might believe that wild fish are a myth and in any case we sure don’t need any of ‘em because hatcheries are the only future we can count on.

I am fine with these two polar opposites because I believe they are both dangerously wrong.  I have faith that savvy anglers in the middle, pragmatic, thoughtful, creative, passionate anglers – will get together and get it right.  Not that I know what “right” is, or that there is only one version of “right.”

A new era is dawning.  An era of opportunity.  Time to get on with shaping a future where fishing will thrive.   A future with strong wild salmon, steelhead, and trout stocks.  A future with hatchery fish that provide quality fishing for quality fish.

Q:  Can everyone get along?   Nope.  Don’t need everyone to get along in order to achieve great things for the future of wild fish and fishing.

Q:  What is the biggest misconception by the everyday angler about hatcheries?

There are two terrible mistakes anglers make regarding their beliefs about hatchery fish.  One mistake is believing that hatcheries aren’t a problem for wild fish.  The other is that hatchery fish, all by their lonesome, are always a poison pill to wild fish.

Both ideas are wrong, terribly wrong.

I feel a sense of urgency.  I know I have only a little time here to ensure that wild salmon will be a real part of my son’s lives, and of their children’s lives too.  This is about more than salmon.  It’s about the Oregon people who follow us will work in, live in, play in, vacation in, and maybe, someday, fish in.  Our wild rivers are slipping away, bit by bit.  Our wild salmon are no more secure than the banks of the rivers where the trees are being cut, where trophy homes are replacing single-wide trailer homes, where the golf courses are being engineered.


Hope that helps, Chris.

Shortly, I will answer Chris’s blogosphere question about what I would do if I was the Hatchery God.


The Science of Salmon Resilience

The science of salmon resilience says that many of our salmon runs are not much at risk of extinction.

The complexity of equations that judge the resilience of  salmon is dizzying: depensatory effects of small population size; compensatory survival at low rearing density; genetic effects of hatchery fish; straying; habitat; random events; cyclic variation; fecundity; sex ratio; persistence time on spawning grounds; habitat volume and spawning distribution; homing fidelity; extinction vortex parameters; life-stage survival rates.

Scientists labor over parameters, assumptions, transformation, and error terms; run models to represent a thousand generations, or a century, testing scenarios of deteriorating, similar, or improving ocean conditions.

As I write, wild winter steelhead are spawning in coastal rivers.  Eggs are incubating in the gravel as they have for over ten thousand years.  Coho and Chinook fry are emerging from nooks and crannies, seeking shelter at river’s edge.  Sculpin and cutthroat steal precious little food from salmon these days; the coon and otter fight over too few carcasses.   An ecological rain of nutrients carried to these rivers from ocean, abundant for millennia, has withered to a barely recognizable trickle.

People are deeply divided over what the science of salmon resilience seems to be saying.  Some see a politically motivated sham, a contrivance to deny that salmon are in trouble.  Some think that the science of salmon resiliency is merely stupid, because these fish, quite obviously, are headed toward extinction.  Some, though, accept the science of salmon resiliency. Extinction is not an issue, they say.  Most of the people I know have quickly decided to accept it or reject the science of salmon resilience.

Personally, I don’t accept or reject, believe or disbelieve.

The science of salmon resilience is young, yet it claims to understand the soul of nature.  I listen, and consider the advice this young science gives.  I choose to resist outright acceptance or rejection of this young science.  I am optimistic when I read that salmon are likely to rebuild if we don’t mistreat them too much.  I choose to be skeptical when people claim science proves that salmon are bullet-proof.

Time will tell.