Journal notes from quality destinations across the country...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Winter Provides A Gentle Hint

Caught up in all the fun this year had to offer, I found myself still fishing in November when normally I would have hung up my waders to enjoy a quiet winter.  But a couple days ago I snuck out with a friend and spent the first half of the day wading on the Yakima River.  The scenery, with the fall colors, was just beautiful.  And once the sun came up we caught several fat trout.  But at 8:00AM there was ice on all the leaves and branches.  Twice that morning I couldn't strip my line because it was actually frozen in the guides of my rod. 

That's winter's little hint that you either got up too early that morning or you are actually fishing too late in the season.  My die-hard friend chose the former but I'm going with the latter and will wish you all well as you enjoy the winter months.  Me, I'll be tying flies by the gas fireplace in the family room at my home, dreaming of spring and the adventures of a new year...

Monday, October 17, 2011

Cold & Happy on Puget Sound in October

Mid-October and the sun is shining...  Sure, the mornings are cold and when the sun goes down in the evening, you are immediately reminded that it's not September any longer.  That said, cool temperatures with sunny days and calm waters make the south Puget Sound something special to experience.  And I was out chasing Sea-Run Cutthroat for three solid days which, in my book, is icing on the cake...

One night I went scouting with David, looking for a likely spot or two.  No wind, still waters, and a brilliant sunset blew us away. 

Then the stars aligned yesterday while I was out by myself...  Okay, the stars didn't align.  I just finally did what I was supposed to do: check the tide, be there when the water starts moving, and throw a minnow pattern into shallow water off a sharp point.  Easy, right?  Somehow I regularly find ways to screw up that formula.  But not yesterday...  One hour after slack tide, I cast into calm water behind a rip line and saw that much anticipated flash in shallow water.  My line went tight and began to pulse. 

This was a nicer-than-usual Cuttie...  He ran for deep water and then decided he liked the dark water under my boat. It took a little bit to get him out from under but I eventually leaned over the gunwhale and lifted a sixteen-inch Cutthroat from the water. I slipped the barbless hook out and slipped him back into the quiet water.  He slowly finned away and out of sight.

For just a little more than an hour, the action was steady.  Then the little cove behind me filled with the incoming tide to the point that the water was no longer moving past the point.  And that was that.  The fish were gone.

When I turned the boat back toward the marina, I had a smile on my face for the seven fish landed, all between eight and eighteen inches.  I couldn't believe the size of the fish or the size of their fight.  It had been a good afternoon on the water. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

More Pink Ponderings

Well, I said I was done fishing fishing Pinks but I lied...  I've been out four more times since I made that original decision and I'm not sure I'm done just yet since the fish still seem to be cooperating even here in mid-September.  So now the action has extended itself for a solid month and, over the past 30 days, I've been out 15 times for an average of a trip every other day.  I'm sure the run has provided lights out fishing for some folks but for me its been more slow and steady the whole way through.  Sort of a slow burn but rather satisfying and we've enjoyed this 2011 season immensely.

These last few trips provided me with some Florida-style run and shoot where we were chasing down visible pods of fish and lining up ahead of them as they moved.  I got my son, Terry, up on the casting deck in the front of my boat and used the electric trolling motor to pull us quietly within casting range.  One time they came by us close enough that he got to watch the lead fish move over and take his fly.  It doesn't get any better than that...  

One of my favorite moments was finding a pod resting on the surface in 300 feet of water.  They were quietly milling about with their fins sticking up above the surface.  I have since seen this several times and it's provided an impressive moment or two when either a seal or a nearby boat motor has spooked the happy fish and the entire surface area explodes as the fish scatter and disappear.  

We're learning lots about their behavior and I'm already looking forward to 2013...

Friday, September 2, 2011

Last Thoughts on Pink Salmon

I've pretty much decided I'm done fishing the Pinks for this season.  It was a lot of fun and there were many adventures along the way.  Below are some of my favorite fish photos...

Who said Pinks are ugly?  Here's proof they aren't...

Terry Jones

David Dietrich

One of Rod's bigger fish.

Seals & Otters

I was fishing off a point with two guys in the boat one evening last week when I saw some commotion in the water, approximately twenty feet off-shore.  The tide was low, the sun was setting, and I was trying to make out if what I saw was a rock in the surf or something else.  I pushed my face forward, squinting to see if I could make out what was going on.  It only took a few seconds to realize I was looking at three otters playing in the surf.  They were rolling and kicking up water.  I stood up, pointed, and called them out for my companions.  We watched them rough-housing for a minute and then saw them hurry out of the water and lope along the shoreline in front of us.  They quickly turned and ran away from the water as if to head into the tree-line above the beach.  

They stopped short, however, and turned in front of an old log to look back.  They seemed to be looking right at me and I wondered if I had invaded their safe zone.  Had I pushed them up on the beach by getting too close?  I was a good forty yards off-shore and didn't think I was too close but they looked agitated, stepping sideways, back and forth, like they wanted to come back to the water but I was in the way.

I was thinking I might back the boat out a bit further and give them some room when the real reason for their anxiety materialized in the water between us.  A seal's head poked up and he was looking directly at the otters.  They were looking intently back at him.

I realized then what was going on.  Harbor Seals are known to enjoy a tasty otter snack from time to time and these three little guys weren't inclined to oblige him.  They turned and ran into the trees, disappearing from sight and far out of reach of pesky seals.

I score that one: Otters 1, Seals 0

Puget Sound Pink Ponderings

JOURNAL NOTE (August 24th):  The bay boat is tied up at the marina.  I've just dropped off two guys who were out fishing with me all day and I'm waiting for two other guests to come out for the evening fish.  Puget Sound has been good to us for a couple weeks now with mostly sunny weather and steady fishing for Pink Salmon.  But this evening, clouds have moved in from the south and the wind has picked up.  The cool breeze feels good on my sunburn.   

This is my ninth trip out in nine days and I'm looking forward to taking the day off tomorrow.  This much time on the water has started to have a cumulative affect on my level of energy.  By the time I'm done chasing these fish I know I will be exhausted and, as a middle-aged guy, this concerns me.  Now that my hair is gray I worry a lot about looking like a wuss.  My  youngest son tells me not to worry so much.  "Just embrace it, Dad."  He says. 

In my youth, I would hike up a mountain and fish fourteen hours on a raging stream until darkness drove me home.  Now I ride most of the day in the comfort of a boat and begin thinking about a nap half-way through.  

My son was fly fishing for Albacore thirty-five miles off the coast of Oregon a week ago.  Next to him was an older gentleman in a wheelchair, hooking more fish than anyone else on the boat.  The next time I want to slack off and blame it on my age, I'll have to think of that guy and suck it up a little... 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Go Outside and Play

The sunrise was in full bloom as I threw a pink and white minnow pattern into six feet of water near shore. I let it sink for a ten-count and began a slow, steady strip-retrieve.

Pink Salmon were rolling and jumping all around us and I looked up to watch, noting three other boats in the same general vicinity along with one Seal...

I felt the line go tight and muttered loudly, "Got one..."

The fish came to the surface and rolled soon after being hooked and I got to see he was above-average in size. He proved it by running off and taking me almost to my backing. As I worked to bring him back, I noted the strong bend in the 7-weight rod. Having broke my 6-weight the day before, I had grudgingly stepped up one size. Now I was grateful for the extra heft.

I eventually worked him back to the boat but he refused to be beaten and did two full circles around the boat. As I put more and more pressure on him, he eventually came alongside. My fishing partner reached down with the net. The fish saw it coming and surged quickly, breaking my leader and leaving me staring...

That was the big fish of the day. And as big a Pink Salmon as I've ever hooked. I knew it was over five pounds, closer to eight.

I could only shrug and tie on a new fly to try again. Between us we boated around ten fish before quitting at 10:30...


Getting up at 3:00AM every day this week would not normally be my idea of fun... And yet it has become such. Seeing the sun rise on Puget Sound in August is a magnificent experience and chasing fiesty Pink Salmon in shallow water is exciting stuff...

Saturday, August 6, 2011

An Orange Dry Fly & Bored Grown Children

The river is big but it's August so there is plenty of room to walk along the banks without having to brave the strong current. Both of my boys and my nephew, Telson, have come along to explore a place none of us have been to on the south side of Mt. St. Helens...

Of course, it doesn't take long and the boys are goofing along the shore while I'm still diligently fishing and trying to get a 50 foot cast to go 60 feet... This is one of those simple rivers and my fly selection is about as simple as it gets: orange Caddis, then orange Stimulator, then orange Humpy. They all work... The sun has been behind the sharp hillside for over an hour and we only have about 45 minutes of light left so I look to see where the boys are.

They are fifty yards down river, kneeling over a large, flat rock. My youngest has challenged his big brother to an arm-wrestling contest and for the first time in his life he wins. He yells upriver at me.

"Hey, Dad. I beat him! Twice!..."

"Nice." I return.

They come up to watch me for a while and then wander off to whittle marshmallow sticks for later. I thought these times would fade as the boys left high school and became men but here we are, giving me a deja vu moment that takes me back to when they were six and eight and playing in the rocks behind me while I fished. I guess some things don't change as fast as I think they do.

It turns out to be a good evening, with six or seven fish landed before I quit. And all on dries... It has been hard to see my fly on the water for some time now so I turn to shout and tell the boys it's time to leave.

They are downriver again, each bent over a stick, knives in hand.

"Hey!" I shout. "I'm not going to wait all night for you guys! Let's go..."

They grin and give it back to me just as good.

"Yah, Dad. Just one more cast, right?"

"We'll go when we see you actually go..."

I love fly fishing with my boys. Even when that's really not what we're doing together...

Thursday, July 7, 2011

July in the Salt

Last Saturday, there were lots of boats launching with me, even at 6:00 in the morning, and it would be a busy day on Puget Sound with Salmon fishermen working the traditional spots and the first day of crab season inviting even more folks out for the day. I zoomed by all of them and snuck inside the crabbers working in 40 feet of water to fish in-shore with an intermediate sink line for Sea-Run Cutthroat in two to seven feet of water.

I was literally all alone in an urban setting full of other boats and fishermen. It made me chuckle to realize that even here you can come up with a strategy to avoid fishing elbow to elbow.

The tide started to move pretty fast and I used the trolling motor on my boat to maintain my position in fifteen feet of water. Casting among the kelp and sea grass along shore, I let the small gray fly sink and then stripped it out into deeper water. Every once in a while a fish would follow all the way back to the boat. But other times I would see a quick flash and I knew the tug on my line was another fiesty Cutt... I was quite content and when the tide started to go slack I ran back in and was home by lunch.

Easy and casual, just the way we always want it. I need to seek more of these simple experiences...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Omak Part Deux

A friend convinced me that I could launch my boat on the sand and gravel launch at the lake. I was pretty worried but the tires didn't sink at all and we had a motor boat to run up and down the eight mile lake. It was sweet...

Terry caught the big one of the trip: almost 23 inches and fat, probably around four pounds.

The water is warming now and the fish will be going deep but we caught the end of the action and enjoyed ourselves immensely.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

More Bass!

Gary, Ryan, and I raced across the state to get to the lake before the sun got too low for fishing. We made it and had a decent evening, fishing Smallmouth for a couple hours before dark drove us off the water. Pictured above, Gary is battling the big fish of the evening. He'd made a great cast behind a large rock and been rewarded with a strong take. Ryan grabbed the net and got ready to land the bad boy but as Gary got him alongside the boat, he slipped the fly and left us wishing...

Oh well, others would follow. It was still an exciting fight.

Spring in the high desert is unsurpassed in its beauty. At least as long as the wind isn't blowing too hard and the rain holds off... It did and we enjoyed a warm weekend running the boat around the lake in search of hungry bass. I say we do it again in a couple weeks...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Spring Bass

Sometimes conditions align and offer a great day of fishing. When that happens with the Smallmouth then you know you've experienced something special. And that was the case this past weekend. The water temp was finally up, the fish were in the shallows staging for the spawn, the wind was light, the water clarity was good...

With everything in place we had what we needed to slay Smallies on the fly and we will not soon forget how many one to three pound fish were brought to the boat.

If you've ever fished in the high desert then you know how beautiful it can be. The clean air, the sound of the birds, the smell of Sage, sand, and wildflowers... It gets in the back of your brain and remains there, making it something you have to periodically seek out.

We started at daybreak and ended at dark. We ran the bay boat at top speed from cove to cove. We were warriors pitting skills against the feisty Bronzeback. What fun...

Aggressive Smallmouth will always have a place in my heart. And I will continue to seek them out in the spring when sunshine finally arrives to warm my moldy western Washington heart. And I will continue to bore my friends with tales of skill, which they will demote to tales of luck. And I will still grin, remembering the good days such as those experienced on this trip...

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Amber Lake in the Cold Month of May

A gray, blustery day made for heads-down, determined fishing. It took a couple hours but once the water warmed a bit, the fish began to move and we found success here and there on various patterns - Adam scored first on Chironomids, then I picked up a couple with a black Sealbugger. We had to search to find fish but they came steadily, if slowly. In the early evening, just before we quit, I tied on two Boatmen in tandem and took the 17-inch fish pictured below on the first cast.

I love stripping flies for aggressive Rainbows.

It had definitely been an early season, cold-day experience. But it was still satisfying to weather the 15 MPH winds and come up with as many trout as we did...

Friday, April 22, 2011

Omak Reprise

After recovering from the loss of my pontoon boat, I spent a day running to Spokane to purchase a replacement and then I was back at it. The weather was good and bad. It only rained on me once during the week but the wind blew non-stop and made it tough to fish in deep water because I couldn't hold my position well.

On my last afternoon, I found some shallow water near the south island and beached my boat. I waded along the long ledge that ran toward shore and found fish cruising in the deeper water where the ledge fell away.

At one point I was stripping a white wooly bugger and pulled it all the way back to the ledge when I saw a quick flash of red. A nice fish had come right up to the surface in an attempt to catch my fly before it got away. I was already lifting the fly up in preparation for my next cast and, if I'd been paying attention, could have left the fly in the water a little longer and probably hooked that fish.

I worked my way along the ledge, switched flies, and worked my way back toward my boat. At the exact same point, I threw a #4 black Scudzilla into the deep water and stripped it back. I was now being careful to work the fly all the way back to me before lifting and this time it paid off. Another fish flashed right at the edge of the drop off and a soft take resulted in a hook up.

The fish turned and ran for deep water and I fought him on the reel for a good long while, eventually beaching a healthy 25-incher in the sand. A great fish and another great week on this underrated lake...

A return trip in May seems in order.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Omak Disaster

Sometimes even the best plans turn to swill... The photo above proves it. The wind was blowing 20+ miles an hour but I had not driven 5 hours for nothing so I launched my pontoon boat and headed off for the south end of the lake. Three passes through the honey hole got me two nice Cutthroat when a wave came along and ended the day for me. The waves were whipped up one or two feet high and were bouncing me around pretty good. One wave too many and both welds on the right side of the frame gave way. The pontoon rolled over but didn't separate so I was able to let the wind blow me into shore.

It could have been worse but instead of consoling my wife that I was alright, I had to convince her I hadn't done it on purpose to justify the purchase of a much better boat the next day. Within 36 hours, I was back out there catching more Cutthroat!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Tying & Waiting

Got the vice out a week ago and have been working on some of those patterns that I used up last year. Sealbuggers, Boatmen, Epoxy Minnows, etc. Mostly lake patterns.
In about a month, all the boxes should be refilled and I'll be ready to get my new season underway. I'm hoping to work up the courage for some early spring Bass on Lake Washington and I know I'll be traveling in the high desert for some big trout by mid-April.
Let's go...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Cold But Fishy

The Groundhog spoke (or should I say "indicated?") and the sunshine this past week seemed to confirm that spring will indeed arrive early. We were fooled by the sun into making multiple trips over the last few days. I say fooled because 35 degrees is not spring weather. But moldy Northwesterners are often confused by that little-seen yellow orb and we were drawn out from our hiding places to marvel and bask in its rays...

I found an angle along the shore of a certain spring creek where I could see a nice Rainbow holding in a couple feet of water. He turned and made a small loop downstream so I cast upstream and let the black Sealbugger sink so it would come to rest on the bottom, just up from his lie. This was close enough to the bank that my fly line was laying on grass and bushes and only the leader was in the water.

I waited.

And I waited some more. I even displayed patience, something I don't always find possible. And then the fish was back, moving slowly, three feet off shore. As he got close to his original position, I gave the line a couple short hard strips. The first one took up the slack and the second caused the Sealbugger to scoot a couple inches along the silty bottom.

The fish froze and then moved forward. I gave another micro strip and the fly moved another inch. The fish came up and observed his prey from eight inches away. I saw his head start to move left and away from my fly so I gave another strip. The fly kicked up a little silt and jumped another couple inches. The fish turned, tilted down, and showed the white of his mouth as he sucked in the fly.

I waited until he started to raise back up and then strip-set.

He turned hard and threw his head back and forth. I stripped twice, long and fast. I had him. He boiled to the surface and thrashed before turning and running downstream. He jumped once, then twice, and I held on as best I could while I reeled in the slack line. Once on the reel, he made another brief run and after a few minutes was at my feet.

A winter fish in the two-foot range is always special.

And, funny enough, I don't actually remember being cold that afternoon.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Winter Months

The winter passed quickly and there didn't seem to be enough time for fly tying. But then again, is there ever enough time for fly tying? But a sunny stretch in February could only result in a quick run over the mountains for a couple hours on a favorite stream. And that little taste just makes the coming spring more anticipated. Come on April, hurry up...