Sunday, June 28, 2009

Oregon Albacore flyfishing

Oregon actually has an offshore tuna fishery available to flyfishermen who don't get seasick. This is the longfin albacore. It sometimes approaches within 20 miles (with el Nino) but more often is past the 30 mile mark. I have a 12 wt and I am stocked up with bonine. They troll flies or chum them in with live bait and there is no catch limit as they are not considered threatened, which is typical American management for maximum sustainable "yield", a topic unto itself, just ask anyone currently suffering through the second great collapse of the striped bass fishery.

I also have some anchovie flies tied by Rick Vandenburg which I won as a door prize at his slide show on a cold Maine CCa gathering highlighting his offshore big boat trip out of San Diego a couple years back. I expect to do some tying shortly; nothing provides me a greater sense of accomplishment that tying big saltwater flies, using synthetic materials, like ultrahair, to form a pallet of color, blended together and anchored by a glass-like epoxy head. Trey Combs has the best offshore saltwater fish hooks on the market; I believe you could tow a small vehicle with them because their shanks are such thick posts of steel. With luck I'll have some pictures in the not too distant future to share.

Pardon my lapse of time, I had a two week renewable energy law class to get through plus twenty page take home exam. Ha.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Evil Fish- Part Two

See the Video below for Part One of Evil Fish.

I can tell you that this six day trip yielded forty pages of notes about bonefishing; when I tell people about this trip I say, "It was like every morning was Christmas." Of course, I have been accused of getting up at 1am for a four am trip, just to organize my flies and re-tie my leaders. I will tell you more about this trip sometime in the future. Right now, it being June 22d, the day after the Summer Solstice, you have no excuse but to be out somewhere on the water. I can't think of any place in the Northern Hemisphere where you can't find fish activity right now.

Evil Fish

Except for Pike, I suppose few fish I am apt to run into in the Northwest can be described as evil- which is actually a compliment in my book. I love nothing more than to throw a surface popper at a pod of bluefish and watch them race each other to blast it free. They also have a black pupil in a yellow sclera that follows your hand around, even when out of water, a good reason to invest in a boga grip and be patient when landing. I have never seen what a set of bluefish jaws could do to the human hand and I would prefer to not have to witness that, having seen that they can easily cut a mackeral in half. I recommend John Hershey's book "Blues" to provide a complete description of them for all their ferocity and beauty. They are marauders to anything smaller than themselves; the fact that they are candy to Mako sharks and bluefin tuna raises them even higher in my regard.

All that being said, I did discover the most vicious fish I have yet known while on my first Bahamanian bonefish trip a year ago. Capable of the kind of speed that you really just have to witness to believe, the barracuda sets a high standard. When wading across a flat, from a mile away in the morning calm, you can hear them rip through a school of bonefish, and if you're lucky see the roostertail of their dorsal fin. From such a distance the scattering sound of a large school of bones is like a large handul of pebbles thrown high into the air. I read somewhere that predator/prey evolution caused the north american antelope (a.k.a. pronghorn) to acquire its 55 mph speed. Its predator, now long extinct, was a cat-like speedster, much like a cheetah. Each stride of the antelope now is testimony to a shadowy fear no longer in existence. I would find myself squinting as I watched an antelope put on its afterburners, as I crossed Wyoming, to see if there was an apparition silouetted in the dust cloud, closing the distance. Without the cuda, there would be no bonefish, and we anglers would be all the poorer for it.

This video is taken of a good friend of mine, Vic, who at first unknowingly works a bone close for release, only to be surprised in a big way. I continued filming and the second segment follows. Be aware that even the guide was disturbed by this large cuda, which I estimate at over five feet and forty pounds. We treated the fish gingerly as we walked backwards, trying to get some distance from it. It wouldn't leave us alone until it got the head; that struck me as a matter of pride. Despite their best efforts, I doubt cuda get too many bones. Enjoy.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Portland, Maine to Portland, Or

My family is bi-coastal. I have lived in Maine for over 15 years of my life and now Oregon for over seven years. They share similar features in the love their natural gifts inspire in others and their offbeat sense of who they are. They inspire geographic egocentricity. I have hiked, camped and boated extensively in both states and they are both counterfoils. Maine is deciduous woods, ancient mountains, stunning islands and coastal fog. Oregon has volcanic peaks, sun blasted high chaparral, sage brush, and rivers that flow as blue as Paul Newman's eyes. It's ocean is less forgiving, a wild animal, whose intent is always to be questioned. I have come to love them both but sadly I can only live in one place at a time. At this point in my life I do not foresee returning to live in Maine, in no small part because of children and work. The common thread that runs through all this is my love of flyfishing and need to get out on a regular basis to immerse myself in the surroundings and feel the pull.

As I sit here at my desk in Oregon, I am buffeted by memories of cruising Casco Bay or the Elizabeth Islands, expectancy thrumming through the rigged lines, feeling the hull rise and fall atop the gentle swells and watching for birds or a place where the clues give rise to fish beneath. fishing acts a s a bridge between human and nature, leaving one constantly alive in the present yet always searching for new means of connecting. The Elizabeth Islands, for one, a archipelago stretching from Woods Hole, Massachusetts south, and owned almost entirely by the Forbes family, remains largely undeveloped. You find quintessential striped bass habitat along its shores, huge glacial rocks jutting twenty feet from the bottom, tidal rips caused by water forced through narrow funnels of land, coves that trap bait, and Vineyard Sound's constant flushing action. I have seen the waves jumbled like granite chunks against each other, pyramiding ten feet, and glass-clear calm, where a mosquito's spit could be seen on the surface a mile away.

The Story of Friendship

A famous philosopher, I believe it was George Santayama, once said that friends are friends in spots. Which is, in my interpretation, that we share only a small piece of our complex selves with others, and that for friends there must be a significant piece that is shared. Of course even with friends there are gradations of this as well. At the very least a friendship must extract good humor from the participants. At its best, friendship is a synergistic, creative enterprise, wherein we feel ourselves grow in enthusiasm and interest, not just toward the other person but also to the surrounding world. Fatigue and boredom have very little to do with true friendship. The other interesting phenomenon to me is that, despite our best efforts, sometimes friendships just plain end. The elements of the other person that drew you to them, attenuate or change or, perhaps you do, without really fully appreciating it, until the distance seems great. I've had that happen a few times, usually with respect to friends made when I was younger and which time and experience bore down on, like water on rock, and changed the flow.

I'd like to think that when it comes to fishing partners certain common elements find each other. I suppose shared obsession isn't too strong a word insofar as having the interest in getting out on the water goes. Curiosity toward the natural world, having a naturalist's eye, to put it another way, also seems a common denominator. Patience with the process, but exasperation with failure; these two create the fine line. I don't like to get skunked and I will fight it like a puppy on a short leash, but sooner or later we must all become philosophical and accept that our best efforts fall short from time to time. I suppose that doesn't mean we don't feel shortchanged when we have arisen at 4:30 am and found that the best pre-dawn opportunity amounts to zippo. Still we did put ourselves in the way of opportunity, which is more than ninety percent of our fellow humans do, and should feel gratified about it. I am reminded of that feeling when I am loading the boat back on the trailer at 9am after five hours on the water and others are just arriving. Usually I know what they missed.

So I am blessed to have many very good friends, with countless accumulated shared hours with them on shore or on boat. I see many fish in my mind's eye, some of the best of them I never had the pleasure of bringing to my hand. They remain captured in memory and in the stories we swap among ourselves. Even when casting to spotted fish cruising the shallows, at the back of my mind I know how transitory the experience will be, even as I live in the moment. The visual stays with me and is reinforced by the presence of a fishing companion. Our friends make these brief moments of sublime pleasure remain solid far into the future; they provide us with the pinch to the flesh that, yes, that fish was real.

For those of you who know of what I say, enjoy your friends. For those with whom I have had the pleasure of spending many a moment of true joy, I thank you and look forward to our next adventure.

Ray's River Dories

If you ever have say 100 plus hours of free time on your hands and the desire to work with wood, my suggestion is to buy a kit for a drift boat and have at it. The best manufacturer of these kits is, in my humble opinion, Ray Heater based out of Multnomah Village here in Portland Oregon. Ray has been doing boats for over twenty-five years and just walking into his shop is like breathing spiced cedar scented air. His kits are straightforward and yield surprisingly excellent results, even for neophytes. Check out his website for a sampling of his designs and prices-

I bought his 17' rogue River flyfishing model back in 1996- the year my second son was born. I spent the hours between 10pm and midnight working on it, after putting in a full day of attorney billable hours, and, upon completion, promptly moved from Oregon to Maine. As much as I love Maine, it's rivers run a poor second to Oregon's. This boat pined away from my enclosed shop for ten years to get back, and now it gets out at every opportunity, usually to the Deschutes, but soon enough on the McKenzie, the Rogue and the Umpqua. My current goal is to get adept enough with the oars to tackle white horse rapids on the Deschutes, a three day paddle through class III and IV water. I'm still a way's away from that but soon enough.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Oregon Coast- The jetty at Winchester Bay- Umpqua River meets the sea

This week my family went to the Oregon coast expecting grey skies and cold. Surprise. Blue skies and 80 degrees. What do ya know? I did take a couple rods and my all round salt box. the locals fished bait. The tide was ripping and all I could think about was the striped bass that populate the Umpqua- with a minimum 30 in limit size. There was a ton of bait, anchovies, working and the birds were on them. No boats! Jared and I rigged up and up and walked out on this massive jetty. The work that went into this jetty was astounding. Rocks that had to be 20 plus tons. When I say birds, I mean classic, pelicans, herring gulls, black backed gulls, guilemots, cormorants. Everything rafted up and diving on bait balls. Occasionaly, about three hundred yards off, I could see fish surfacing and blitzing. No way could we reach them. I tied on a yozuri pink jig, probably 3 oz and heaved away. Our neighbors were fishing clams and bringing in a steady stream of what they termed sea trout, which were actually greenling sea bass. None bigger than a couple pounds. I'm sure they thought we were idiots throwing artificials on braided line. Tons of structure along th edge of the jetty. Halfway through I had a decent strike on 15lb fluoro and I kept the pressure on. It is always nice to be rewarded for your efforts, yes? I landed a 5lb lingcod; this toothy devil that did not deserve to be landed but he came in and I lifted him clear. Lots of teeth and barnicles to clear, so he wanted to die apparently. I gave him to one of the locals who was thrilled to bring it home to dear old dad.

If I had but one rig to bring with me in heaven it would be a bucktail jig (or clouser, arguably the same thing). Anything that swims finds the dipping, diving action irrestible. The yozuri is sharp and fluorescent. I guess I should get a few more now that I lost that one. I should also return to fish a fly in the headwaters of the Umpqua. It is supposed to be the most pristine steelhead water along the coast. I am a believer in always bringing your rod and checking new territory out. See my goofy face and fish below.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Drake

I just received my second issue of The Drake. It is by far the best flyfishing magazine I have come across. I have subscribed to the major ones from time to time, Flyfishermen, Flyfishing, Flyfishing in Saltwaters, Saltwater Flyfishing, fish, fish, fish. You get the picture. The Drake beats them all (although I urge you to check out the Florida Sportsman and On The Water). Why? It has excellent quality photos and stories taken in the field by people like you and me (okay, and occasional Barry and Cathy Beck photos, whose center console photo graces the top of this blog). The writing is great, the stories are not long but are original, they snap with humor and hit you in the gut with genuine emotion. They are, like the best stories, more than about fishing. I doubt any of these writers ever submit more than one or two stories, which means they capture the moment with an original eye and voice and don't spare or recycle the details. You read each one and conclude that spending a day on the water with any of them would be a fine experience.

Since we're on the subject of writing and fishing, if you haven't read this book, you should- Fishing Came First, by John Cole. John is now deceased and I attended his memorial service in Maine a few years back, held in the winter at Bowdoin College's Chapel. It was a tremendously moving service, in no small part because of the testimonials. Sitting at the front of the church was a new wooden drift boat laden with flowers; his son had built it from a kit (I personally can attest that this is no small feat) and had given it to him several months before the end of the past fishing season so he had had some chance to use it. John was the real thing, an opinionated conservationist, a mentor, a dedicated wordsmith, and a fanatical fisherman, whether for stripers or tarpon. Next time you need a break, check this one out of the library, pour yourself a scotch and find a comfortable chair in a quiet room. You'll thank me.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tuesday Hiatus

Ah, mid-week. Well I advocated for a day off from my job search (different story) and made the most of it, taking a friend and spaniel to the Deschutes yesterday for what I hoped would be an eventful day of dry fly fishing. Salmonfly hatch is to the Deschutes River what the running of the bulls is to Pamplona, Spain. Which is to say, pretty much everything. Even though it is a big brawling western river, it is a fickle spring creek at heart...except for salmonfly hatch time. A mere three to four weeks in duration I'm sure that a true biologic study would find that its trout gain a third of their fat reserves from this brief window- which is saying something given the aquatic insect stew making up the river yearlong. But the hatch was not bringing fish to the surface as I had hoped, although for a brief period in the early afternoon it did. I managed three fish to the hand and many misses during this period. Evidence of severe wind damage abounded, beyond anything I had ever seen. Trees where snapped off at the base as if kicked by a giant. This came through the canyon Thursday of last week and I can only imagine the frantic feeling it inspired had you been drifting the river during its full fury.

As an aside, as much as I love dogs, Sophie was pain in the ass. She barked at me even when I stood ten feet away, whining and behaving like I had left her abandoned at the side of the road. Dependency. A double edged sword. When you want affection, great. When you want solitude, or at least manners, not so great. How to loosen the bond of an adoring puppy, such are the difficult dilemmas I face.

Friday, June 5, 2009

June 5, 2009 Overcast and Quiet

Sophie, barely four months, lies in a tight circle at my feet, now dry but still smelling undeniably of wet dog. This is my first springer and I must say I am impressed. She has the temperment of a buddhist monk crossed with a school boy on the eve of summer vacation. Which means she has either an on or off switch and generally makes herself quite well-liked by all new acquaintances. Even with larger dogs, known to have border-line personality disorders, she finds her way through the tangled thorns of their personalities and gets them to behave.

She spent the first drift boat trip down the Deschutes, a ten mile drift, laying peaceably on the stern seat and enjoying the sun. Only when I waded out of sight did she let loose her particular whimper, drawing me back and making me provide reassurance.

I suppose all this is by way of introduction. I am along in mid-life, married, with children, but still actively dreaming of my passion to fish. It never lies far from the surface and I have been to too many places to be able to ignore the images, smells and sensations my life has brought me on the water. the photo of the boat is of a Jones Brother center console. I confess it is not my boat BUT it is very similar to the 18' Maritime skiff I owned up until 2 years ago and which I trailered all over Maine and Cape Cod in search of striped bass, bluefish and anything else interesting. I love the ocean and, though i have a warm spot in my soul for trout and the gentle pull of rivers, I still feel the salt on my face, see the underwater structure along the Elizabeth Islands and cannot suppress the yearning to cast amongst them again. Of course I now live in Oregon and have my drift boat to offer me solace but it is living in two different worlds.