Saturday, December 24, 2016

Carp Fishing 2016

The 2016 fishing season was looking promising - as was my attempt to keep up on this blog - and then some health issues took me in another direction. Still, those few days I had on the water were great days. The carp fishing was especially good ...

Friday, May 27, 2016

On Canoes, Common Sense, and the Thinking of Murderous Thoughts

Earlier today, a meme came across my Facebook feed, which featured a woman's ample cleavage and read, "Sometimes understanding what a woman wants is very difficult. It's like trying to figure out what color, the letter seven, smells like." Usually, these things give me a little chuckle then I scroll on by and promptly forget them. This time, however, I had to stop for more than a moment as I was struck by both the extraordinary cleavage and the relevance of the words in light of something that happened on last weekend's float trip. No, I did not eat any psychedelic mushrooms or drink peyote tea before setting off downriver.

The meme touches on our understanding, or rather our lack of understanding, of those people who are not like us. Insofar as women go, I've been with my wife for some twenty three years, and I still haven't a clue. This may be a deliberate effort on her part, but I'll never know - she's smarter than I am. Insofar as fly fishing goes, we bug chuckers share our rivers with any number of other folks who aren't the least bit interested in fishing. Their lack of interest in things piscatorial is something of an enigma, but they are no less invested in the river for our lack of understanding.

More often than not, the various parties who make use of the river exist in harmony. Every once in a while though ... things just don't go so well.

In the video, that's me standing thigh deep in the run. I knew the flotilla was behind me somewhere so I moved as far out into the seam as I dared, making sure there was plenty of water behind me so the canoeists could proceed unimpeded. There was some 15 to 20 feet of water to my front and 75 or 80 to my rear.

I suppose it could be that I am just such a beautiful man these folks had to get as close to me as possible. Maybe it was the gravitational pull of my corpulent mid section. More likely I think, is the possibility that no one ever educated these folks on river etiquette, and this is where I erred.

Rather than stand there mute, fuming, and thinking murderous thoughts, I should have spoke up and gently rebuked them. Chances are good they just didn't know any better. I don't think any of the clerks or salesmen at Dick's Sporting Goods or L.L. Bean hand out pamphlets on river etiquette to customers who purchase a canoe or kayak.

Speaking up may create a little bit of tension, but only so much as is reflected in our tone. Rebuke them, but do so with the understanding that in a world whose people are increasingly removed from Mother Nature, this kind of thing is bound to happen. Understand that common sense is uncommon. Remember that we don't go to school because we know everything; we go to school because we don't. Be a wholesome person, and explain to the armada passing to your front that there is a better way of doing things.

Had I done that, the bug chucker fishing one mile downstream from us might have been saved just a little aggravation as McHale's Navy passed him by.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Anybody Can Hendrickson

Our first notable hatch of the season - the hendrickson hatch - seems to have ended more quickly than it began. Just a week or so ago, there were enough duns on the water to make henny stew if one was so inclined. This week, nothing.

For many bug chuckers - and I count myself as one of them - the hendrickson hatch reminds us of why we took up fly fishing. Hendrickson season is all about the dry fly and watching outsized fish come to the surface. Oftentimes, the hatch provides us with opportunities to catch our best fish of the year as the early season trout we encounter are both winter-hungry and winter-dumb. Fishing is easy; life is good.

And then the hatch ends, the world settles into its summer pace, and we're reminded that we're not river gods. We're mortal, and many of us are mediocre fishermen.

Truth be told, anyone can hendrickson. As the water warms and buds form on the trees, trout come out of their cold water lethargy and are almost always more eager than wary. They'll whack garish, articulated streamers. They'll swallow every pink worm and purple caddis in your box. They'll come up top to gulp hennies, ignore your flubbed casts, and eat your rusty spinner as it is dragged, cork screwing and rooster tailing across the pool. All that nonsense ends as the hatch wanes, and march browns and sulphurs take the stage.

It's hardly a coincidence that social media witnesses a marked decline in hero shots and keep 'em wet photos as May turns to June. Rivers drop and clear, trout aren't quite so famished or eager as they were only a month before, and the fishing is markedly more difficult. The only way to be successful is to change tactics, and bug chuckers can be awfully resistant to change.

In a way, I'm kind of glad to see the hennies come and go. I'm in the mood for a challenge, the kind that leaves me scratching my head, perhaps even leaves me without another amateurishly composed keep-em-wet photo. Hennies don't leave you scratching your head; they don't leave you without photos. Hendricksons leave you thinking you've got it all figured out,    

Sunday, May 1, 2016

On Finding Noses and Growing Older

Ben and I recently spent a day floating the river in hopes of finding a snout or two looking skyward. We weren't disappointed, but we were a little rusty. Of a half dozen opportunities, we converted on two. Such is fishing, and as you almost certainly know - the fish we miss are the ones that keep us coming back.

The two fish we brought to hand were not, however, the most notable part of the trip. Somewhere along those first few river miles, in between the boat launch and the first trout willing to take a swipe at my hendrickson, I had a thought - not a wholly unusual experience in and of itself, but strange given its context.

I wanted to hook a trout. I wanted the thrill of out-sized noses, tight to the bank or in a foamy seam, to materialize from the ether and swallow our poorly tied bugs. I wanted long casts and tight lines. I wanted some affirmation that after a combined four decades of near continual practice, Ben and I were competent bug chuckers, able to get the job done.

With as much in mind, we loaded the cars with one cooler, two boats, four oars, five rods, twelve beers, somewhere in the vicinity of 1500 flies (we fished five or six all day), and at least 6000 calories worth of roast beef and egg salad sandwiches. We actually took the time to wash thermal underwear and patch our leaking waders. We drove one hour to the take-out and another 15 minutes to the launch. We left business unattended and cashed in collateral with our wives. All that, and somewhere after we launched but before that first fish, I was struck by the notion that it wasn't the fish we were really after.

Read any book that touches on fly fishing, at least any older book that touches on fly fishing (which means no Kindle editions are likely available), and you're sure to see a similar thread woven into the fabric of the text. Fly fishing is so much more than hooking, playing, and landing a trout. As corny and hackneyed as it may sound, fly fishing is about the experience of a day spent riverside.

I remember once attending a lecture and slide show - on nymphing techniques, I think - given by Joe Humphreys. I was eager to hear what so talented and recognized an angler might have to say, but truth be told, so many years have passed between then and now that I remember nothing the noted bug chucker had to say about fishing a nymph. There is, however, one nugget that for whatever reason left an indelible impression. Humphreys implored his audience to "look up."

At the time, I either had no idea what Humphreys was talking about or I dismissed it as so much romantic nonsense, but nearly twenty years after the fact I am struck by his words. "Look up," he said. Look away from the water, and look to the trees. Look to the sky, to the birds, to the sunset or the sunrise. Look to the world around you, all those things that have become cliche in the sport's literature, and above all else - look to your friends and fishing partners. Take it in. Take it all in.

We were floating a beautiful piece of water on a genuinely beautiful spring day. If only for a moment, we were free of the stress and worry life often heaps on us in abundance. We were concerned, or rather unconcerned, with something that in the grand scheme is nothing but a trifle: finding a rising trout and coaxing it into taking one of our flies.

I don't know why, maybe it's a consequence of having caught my share of fish or the result of growing older and realizing I've more years behind me than are likely ahead, but somewhere after the boat launch and well before I hooked that first trout, I looked up from the water and realized my being there was enough. Sharing a river with my friend was enough. Sharing hope was enough.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Staying True to My Word

Earlier this year, I made myself a number of promises. One of those promises was to reacquaint myself with my home river - my favorite river. Several years ago, she was savaged by a 500 year flood, and that flood left her changed. Her trout - large, dumb, and willing to take a fly - all but disappeared when the flood waters abated. Probing with nymphs or streamers, we would still find the occasional corker, but those out-sized fish became proverbial needles in the haystack. Every time I waded her runs and pools, I was reminded of what she had been, and I left feeling sad that her best days were behind her. And then, during the season of 2015, there was a faint ray of hope.

On each of several long floats, we found noses - snouts sucking down hendrickson duns and sulphur spinners. They weren't all in the usual places because many of the usual places had been wracked by flood, but they were there nonetheless. By the end of 2015's season, I came to understand that while the river had changed, I had not. I also came to the realization that such a fragile fishery needs more friends, not fewer.

For more than two decades I barely even whispered the river's name. I fished with a select group of bug chuckers, each of whom had taken a vow of silence, and for nearly thirty years we kept secret our bounty. We caught fish - a lot of fish, big fish - but we did so to the exclusion of other anglers and to the detriment of potential friendships. This year, I've resolved to change all that.

Don't misunderstand me. I don't plan to publish any GPS coordinates. I won't sacrifice my relationship with the river to the gods of cyberspace, but I am broadening my circle. I've opened myself to new friendships. With a handshake and a promise to treat her well, I've introduced some fine anglers to the river I know and love, and I've learned every bit as much from them as I hope they might learn from me.

More to the point, I've enjoyed fishing more than I have in quite a while.


Thursday, February 25, 2016

On Droughts and Overdue Resolutions

This may be a rambling and overly personal diatribe. You've been warned. Should you proceed and find you don't much like what you're reading - well, I am sure you know what you can do.

You can go ... yourself.
Until three or four weeks ago, nearly one year had passed since I last wrote anything of substance for The Rusty Spinner. One year, and truth be told, I missed it. The Rusty Spinner is a chance for me to talk fishing with friends at those times I find myself removed from both friends and fish. Although, I suppose it could be said that even when I am separated from both the river and this blog - sometimes by distance, sometimes by responsibility - I am never very far away. My flies, ragged from too many drifts over too many miles in too many years, always tumble through the currents of my imagination. Always.

As I sit here at this keyboard, however, I find I cannot remember where I was for those twelve months, and it occurs to me that if I don't know where I've been, then there is a good chance I was lost. Is it possible to lose your way without ever realizing you've fallen off the edge of the map? How does a bug chucker safely wade the current when he's unsure of where he's been or where he may be going? I suppose we have a choice: upstream or downstream, with the flow or against it. We're fishermen, brothers of the long rod, so either way we're likely to find a place that reminds us of home. All we need do is pick a direction and go.  

Last season, I spent fewer days wading the river's currents than I did in only the spring of any of the previous twenty years. My waders were dry. My lines were dry, and so too was my imagination. Vanished was whatever enthusiasm I may once have had for throwing a light line over heavy fish - turned to vapors and evaporated in whatever personal drought I was experiencing. Could there be any pain more painful, any hell more hellish, than that of the dedicated bug chucker suffering through the desert? Good Lord, I hope not.

What then brings me back to The Rusty Spinner? I guess I've stepped back in the water, picked a direction, and experienced a renewal of sorts - both of interest and of spirit. Lately, I find myself daydreaming: brown trout and steelhead, bass and bluegill, pike, musky, and carp. I'm a little surprised to discover they're all still there, right where I left them, in the brightest and most colorful parts of my memory. I find I haven't been this fired up about fishing since I was in my twenties, and now I'm making plans - new year's resolutions of sorts. Long overdue resolutions.

First and foremost, I plan to reacquaint myself with my favorite trout stream. She was hard hit by Hurricane Irene in the summer of 2011, and in the seasons that followed, the fishing fell off considerably. I've come to understand that the storm changed her. How might she have remained untouched when in the span of just a few hours the river's flow increased from a seasonal norm of a few hundred cubic feet per second to over 40,000 cfs? Homes and businesses were lost, lives were changed, and for the most part, the river's trout do not hold in many of the the same riffles and runs they once did. I am going to find them; I know they're still there.

When good rivers go bad
This is also likely to be the year I return to Montana. She and I have been apart for far too long. I miss her, and fate - for once working in my favor - seems to be conspiring to make a reunion happen. An old friend recently left his job with the Orvis company in Vermont, and he has taken on a new position with Montana Fly Company in Columbia Falls, Montana. His move, combined with ridiculously low gas prices, makes the trip almost certain. I'll return to Montana a little older and wiser than when I left her, and I might have a few more tricks up my sleeve than I did when last I fished there. I can't imagine I'll be the first to use a spey rod and swung flies in the riffles and pools of the Yellowstone or Madison, but I'm fairly certain the club's membership is small.
Shawn Brillon, formerly of Orvis, now working for MFC
Of course, looking forward to the new season is near impossible to do without being reminded of seasons past, and for whatever reason I find myself looking back decades. When I was a boy, it simply wasn't possible for my friends and I to fish trout whenever we liked. The nearest trout stream was too far away from home for a reasonable bike ride, and our collective need to fish could hardly be sated by a few weekend trips  to the Battenkill with our fathers. As such, we spent the better part of our formative years fishing the Hudson River, which flowed through our diminutive hometown and offered opportunities to catch any number of warm water species. We caught thousands of smallmouth bass and the occasional largemouth. We caught buckets of bluegill and crappie. We caught carp, walleye, and every once in a while, one of us would tag a pike. Regardless of their size, the pike were always the trophies about which we bragged. They were just rare enough to be interesting but common enough to be a goal within the realm of possibility. They were strong. They were fast, and they were angry. They were waterborne dragons, and we were the knights with whom they did battle.

Thirty years down river and I find myself once more dreaming of these predators. I've already started skimming through the pages of a faded DeLorme Gazetteer and poring over Google Earth; I've marked some likely looking water, and I'm making plans. I'll revisit my old Hudson River haunts. I'll explore two lakes and three or more rivers. This season - with the help of friends and fellow fish bums - I'll rediscover those dragons I chased as a boy. With a little skill and load of luck, I'll stick pins in pike and mess with my first musky. Should the river gods be so gracious, I'll even find time for a few bowfin and gar. I'm giddy at the thought.

My final resolution has nothing to do with fish, but rather with my fellow fishermen. For years, I have been far too secretive and reclusive a bug chucker. I've been such a piscatorial hermit, in fact, that I have failed to cultivate friendships for fear of having to share "my" water with new friends. This is the year that changes. I am officially too old and too tired to isolate myself in some small corner of some small river. This year, people come first. I will offer the keys to the kingdom, an invitation to the inner sanctum, to several people who have until now been on the periphery of my fly flinging world. With luck, they'll realize the invitation is genuine. With luck, they'll share with me a piece of the river I love. With luck, they'll respect that resource as I do, and with luck, their taste in craft beer is only exceeded by the generosity of their natures.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

On Salmon River F@#kdoggles and Moses Descending the Mountain

There is something about the experience of fishing New York's, Salmon River that lends itself to the expansion of the bug chucking vernacular. Maybe it's the easy wading. Maybe it's the unspoiled landscape. Maybe it's the native women: exotic, mysterious, toothy. Whatever the reason, nearly every time we're wading the river's currents we're faced with some new rub - something unlike anything we have ever before experienced. Sometimes this strangeness is born of mother nature, but more often it's the river's anglers who leave us scratching our heads like space monkeys staring down some strange, foreign fruit. Consider one of our latest additions to the lexicon: f@#kdoggle. F@#kdoggle was spawned on a day and in a moment when we couldn't quite make sense of the world - a moment in which some of our fellow bug chuckers forgot the lessons learned from their fathers, grandfathers, or in that short section of The Curtis Creek Manifesto devoted to etiquette and the fishing of a popular spot.

F@#kdoggle's genesis saw a late November morning break crisp and clear as five of us settled into one of our favorite runs. We arrived at the river around 4 a.m., made a pot of coffee that smelled like sex and tasted of malted turpentine, and as the sun peeked out over the trees we started our rotation: one man at the head, three working through the bucket, one man in the tailout. Cast, step, cast, step. From top to bottom, the whole process took us some 45 leisurely minutes to complete, and with five anglers swinging five different flies on five different tips, we were likely hitting every fishable inch of the water column. Our rotation allowed each of us a shot at the best sections of the run; two of us hooked steelhead on our first pass, and with our second hookup so began the F@#kdoggle.

One of the peculiarities of fishing the Salmon River is that regardless of where we might wet our line we're likely to have an audience. There are only 16 river miles from dam to lake, and some of that water is private and posted. Consequently, a great many anglers are packed into a relatively small space. Compounding the effect of limited space is an epidemic of steelhead fever, which is a potent affliction with the power to make men do things - despicable things - they would never do on an ordinary trout stream.

As that second fish took off on its first run, the alarm of line peeling from the reel had the effect of alerting a trio of passing anglers to the presence of fish in the water. Standing on the ridge overlooking the riffle, they huddled, they whispered, and they pointed. Plans were made. While three of our party contended with the chaos of landing, photographing, and releasing our second steelhead of the day, the three musketeers slipped into the empty spaces between us and began nymphing the seam. In typical Salmon River fashion, not one of the interlopers ever said "hello" or made introduction. No one asked to join our group or to share the water, and before we could finish that first pot of Death Wish Coffee, our rotation had ended.

There is no way of knowing if those three anglers were the advanced guard for a larger group or if some member of our party owed a karmic debt, but no sooner did our nymphing cousins set up in the middle of the run than four more anglers tiptoed into the tailout, waded clumsily across the river through the very water our bottom most man was fishing, and then set up on the far bank directly across from us. To be clear, in the space of ten or fifteen minutes, five anglers had ballooned to twelve. Twelve anglers were fishing a piece of water that could comfortably hold four, accommodated five so long as they were all were in synch, but became something of a circus if stretched beyond that limit. The result?

The early stages of a F@#kdoggle.

But numbers alone do not a F@#kdoggle make. F@#kdoggle requires a certain something - something even the most talented writer might find difficult to articulate. A carnival barker would say it's a spectacle, extravaganza, or a feast for the senses. Southern gentry might suggest it's a heckuva hullaballoo. A soldier returning from war would speak more plainly and call it a clusterf@#k.

And a clusterf@#k it was. Shortly after crossing and scattering any fish that may have been lying in the tailout, one of those bug chuckers on the opposite bank hooked - or rather snagged - a late season king salmon. The angler was fishing at the top of the run, immediately across the river from our coffee pot and top most man, when his tippet likely tickled the mudshark's dorsal (or the whitish stub that remained of its dorsal). Suffering the onset stages of steelhead fever (or perhaps having an epileptic fit), the fisherman immediately set the hook Bassmaster Classic style, and for fifteen minutes we were treated to Jo-Jo the Idiot Circus Boy running up and down the far bank as he chased a fish that had likely spawned a week prior and was just moments earlier looking for a quiet place to die. Eventually, one of our party spoke up.

"For f@#k's sake," he yelled. "You have a king, and it's snagged in what used to be a dorsal fin. That little chartreuse spot on its putrefying back ... yeah, that's your fly. Just break it off so the rest of us can get back to crossing lines with each other. F@#king halfstack."

Jo-Jo's response summed up the whole scene: "I want my fly back."

He wanted his fly back. Of course he did. For the sake of that 75 cent Estaz egg, he was willing to inconvenience everyone else in the run, and for the sake of a fish, he was willing to disregard anything his mama ever taught him about courtesy. He was willing to set up directly across from eight other anglers in what may be one of the narrowest runs on the river. He was willing to cross the river through water in which another bug chucker was swinging a fly. He was willing to forgo any semblance of grace, courtesy, or decorum. He was willing to do things he would never consider doing on other, more refined rivers. Why? Because this was the Salmon River, and for reasons known only to the river gods, there are no rules governing civility on the Salmon River.

We propose to end that tradition. Like Moses descending the mountain, we carry with us the law - rules to live by for the Salmon River's fisherman: bug chuckers, pinners, and gear heads alike. Consider them. Please, consider them. It's not about you; it's not about us. It's not about one group of fishermen or another. It's about the health of a river that has been hurting and the hope our children might enjoy it as we have.

Ten Commandments of the Salmon River

  1. I am the river, Salmon River; thou shalt consider me before all things. 
  2. Thou shalt leave neither refuse, nor excrement, nor entrails, nor mono, nor any sign of man strewn on my shores.
  3. Thou shalt not floss, nor line, nor snag; for snaggers are as thieves, and they shall be made to crawl on their bellies. 
  4. Honor the steelhead and her brood; she is of water and there must remain so to bring joy to the joyless. 
  5. Thou shalt not kill any steelhead but to soothe thine family's hunger. 
  6. Thou shalt not Boga for Boga is of the serpent of the abyss - the destroyer of piscine souls.
  7. Thou shalt show courtesy in all that you do as grace begets beauty, and beauty begets peace.
  8. Thou shalt rotate thine water with both friend and strangers on the path; for rotation is of the spirit, and spirit is of the river.
  9. Thou shalt not covet your neighbor's riffle, but will instead offer him your own. 
  10. Thou shalt carry these words with you, and sew them as seed; for in the planting thou shalt be blessed. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Eternally Wild

I go to a dark place when I watch this video and juxtapose the film with what I see on New York's, Salmon River.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

On the Salmon River, Common Sense, and Watching a Friend Die

You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to. - Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler, On Grief and Grieving

I first wet a line in New York's, Salmon River nearly twenty years ago. Shawn Brillon - a dear friend who now works for Montana Fly Company and calls home Columbia Falls, Montana - introduced me to the water, the region, and some of the people who once frequented its banks. Our first trip was one I'll never forget but not because I caught my first steelhead. I did not catch a steelhead on that trip or even on my next trip. In fact, I did not catch my first steelhead for several years after Shawn first dragged me to the river; I was a most reluctant passenger. Instead, that first trip left an indelible impression because the whole experience was so unlike anything I had ever encountered.

Until the day Shawn first took me to the salmon-centric towns of Altmar and Pulaski, my fly fishing had been relegated to the days between April 1st and September 30th, which at the time marked the length of New York's regular trout season. In those days, I chased trout and smallmouth bass. Occasionally, I'd wet a line for panfish or carp. I fished when the weather made for a comfortable day of fishing; winter run steelhead were completely off my radar. 

Winter fishing seemed an aberration. Why would any bug chucker, who by my juvenile understanding was most concerned with dry flies and rising trout, willingly consent to fish in the middle of a lake-effect snow storm?  What was a Korker? How in God's name was I supposed to cast half an ounce of lead on a 10', single-handed rod? At the time, spey rods were as foreign to me as camel racing and switch rods had yet to be born. What the hell was Estaz, and why would any self respecting, out-sized trout eat something I might otherwise hang on my Christmas tree?    

I remember being wholly miserable for most of that first trip. I was nauseated from the three hour drive to the river (Shawn drives far too slowly and indulges in the brake pedal far too much for my tender constitution to bear). Several hours with my lower extremities submerged in the near frozen, gelatinous currents left me in what must have been the early stages of hypothermia; no doubt a consequence of my own ignorance, inadequate clothing, and the brutal November storm that drove freezing rain into our faces on a near horizontal axis. At any point, I would have happily packed up, gone home, and never returned to what I thought may have been the final, frozen circle of Dante's, Inferno. And then Shawn hooked a fish.

Nearly twenty years have passed and I can still see ten pounds of platinum silhouetted against the blue-black slate lining the Salmon River's banks. The hen somersaulted from the water and cartwheeled twice before slamming back home with such force a passerby might reasonably have thought a pony had fallen from the sky and plunged into the pool. Nearly twenty years, and I can still see the fish and the smile on my friend's face.

Much has changed from then to now. Like many Salmon River anglers, I quickly graduated from running line and slinkies to floating line and indicators. Eventually, the bobbers (let's call them what they are) disappeared and my single-handed sticks were replaced with switch rods. In recent years, I've laid aside nymphs and eggs entirely. Now, I swing flies - some big, some small, all of them beautiful in their way - along the seams in which the river's steelhead reside.

Unfortunately, as my fishing has evolved the fishery itself seems to have devolved along a contrary arc. The past two seasons have been especially discouraging. By all accounts, salmon and steelhead returns have been somewhat diminished from their height in 2011 and 2012. Evidence for reduced numbers of returning fish is largely anecdotal, but far more disturbing than the possibility of a reduced return (which may happen for any number of reasons, be perfectly innocuous, and part of a normal cycle) is a confirmed steelhead die-off, which is in its second year and shows no signs of abating. Fisheries biologists claim the explosion in steelhead mortality is the result of a thiamine deficiency, which is in turn caused by a staple in the steelhead's diet: the alewife.

My most recent trip to the river drove home the implications of such a die off. After a full day on the water, I had only one tug. As my fly (a diminutive #6 purple heron) swung across the lip of a tailout, it was intercepted by a large steelhead intent on making a fool of me. In one instant I was into my backing, and in the next moment the fish was gone. Of course, one pull - on a swung fly over the course of an icy January day - is all any bug chucker can reasonably hope for. Most days, I would have left the river feeling quite content and satisfied with myself.

Instead, I spent the drive home thinking about the three dead or dying steelhead I saw drift past me as I worked my fly through the run. Eight hours. One hookup. Three dying fish, and two of them were hens. Plump, egg-heavy hens. What makes this especially unfortunate is that I've seen this death dance repeat itself on nearly every trip I've taken to the river over the past year. Lately, a day wading the Salmon River leaves me feeling like I'm watching a friend battle cancer, like I'm watching a friend die. The Salmon River has become a killing field.

So what's a bug chucker to do? I suppose it would be easy to turn a blind eye or to give ourselves over to despondency, but neither ignorance nor despair get us anywhere. Instead, I suggest we begin by using some common sense, but first let's be clear about something. The Salmon River that we all know and love, is an artificial fishery.

As its name implies, the Pacific salmon is indigenous to the left coast, not the Great Lakes. Kings were originally stocked and today exist in Great Lakes tributaries only so they might combat the invasive alewives that are at the heart of the steelhead's trouble. To be clear, the Salmon River's steelhead enter the river in the fall to feed on the eggs of the fish whose purpose is to feed on the fish that is killing steelhead. If this were a Star Trek episode, this would be the point when someone mentions a tear in the space-time continuum.

And this is where common sense comes into play. If we want the fishery, complete with all its artificiality, faults, and ironies, to survive and to flourish, then we need to help it along as best we can. Fewer fish means those remaining stocks are all the more precious, which means we need to become kinder, gentler anglers. I suggest we all agree to the following:
  1. Let 'em go. There is no good reason to keep a steelhead when the future of the steelhead fishery is uncertain. Yes, it's legal. Yes, you can. You can also grind up a Budweiser bottle, mix it with hamburger, and feed the fatal mixture to your dog. But why would you (either drink Budweiser or feed a bottle to your dog)? It's a heartless thing to do. It's a douche move. Don't be a heartless douche. You love your dog, and you love your steelhead.
  2. Keep 'em in the water. If you want to take a photo then make it a quick photo. If you need to weigh a steelhead because you think it might be a personal best, put the damn Boga grip on your net, weigh the fish in the net, and then - once you've revived and released the fish - subtract the weight of the net. I assume you're capable of simple math, and steelhead weren't made to be hung in the air from their bottom lip any more than you were. If you know a guide, please forward this to him.
  3. Stop snagging 'em. Here, I am speaking foremost to my fellow bugchuckers, especially those who frequent the lower fly zone in Altmar. Some of you guys need to cut it out. You know you're lining fish. You know you're lifting them. You ... know ... it, and you know who you are. If a steelhead won't move to your fly or bait, then chances are good it hasn't the energy to survive a prolonged battle at the end of your line (perhaps as the result of a thymine deficiency). This may seem awfully preachy of me, perhaps even a little hypocritical given I've only been swinging flies for a few years, but for God's sake, challenge yourself. Fish in such a way as to give the fish an advantage. Be beyond reproach. All this leaves aside the fact that the LFZ has some beautiful swinging water if only people would rotate through the runs and fish them that way.
  4. Preach on brother. Preach on. When you encounter someone riverside who's doing the wrong thing, encourage them to do the right thing. Model the correct behaviors, and if encouragement doesn't do the trick, then be abrasive. Call them out on their nonsense. I can guarantee they're more afraid of conflict than you are; they won't dare mess with someone who has the moral high ground. The same ego that pushes them to snag a fish is also their Achilles heel. They're not afraid of you, but they're terrified of being mocked by their friends and fellow bug chuckers. They're piscatorial pussies. Embarrass them. Shame them.  

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

On Looking Back and New Beginnings

I cannot believe over a year has passed since I last logged into The Rusty Spinner. I've felt the absence - acutely and genuinely. Like so many bug chuckers, I enjoy an opportunity to talk fly fishing when I can't be on the water, and for several years this blog had been the vehicle by which I could have those conversations. I've missed it, even if it's true that most of the time I spent here was likely spent talking to myself.

Regardless, I hope that today's post will mark something of a new beginning for The Rusty Spinner. I've blown the dust off the laptop, and I am feeling ready to go. The experience is akin to the anticipation we all likely feel in the moments before a fishing trip; and we all know how powerful that feeling can be.

Here's to hoping the river gods will see fit to bless me with some inspiration. Until my muse arrives, I hope you'll be satisfied with some amateurish and poorly edited fish porn.