LANDED: GREAT WHITE / ABOUT WEED / MASTER OF TREVALLY
THE FLY FISHING AUTHORITY
Plan Now 5
Giant tarpon after dark Off-the-grid cutts and bulls Iceland’s highland char Lake Ontario’s remote smallmouth Tyne River Atlantics
NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018 • VOLUME 41 / ISSUE 6
32 AFTER DARK IN THE KEYS The night game for giant tarpon. —Jerry Gibbs
Ditching the masses for cutthroat and bull trout. —Greg Thomas
46 OVERLOOKED & UNDERRATED
Chasing char in Iceland’s Central Highlands. —Zach Matthews
52 SMALLMOUTHS & SHIPWRECKS Way out there for Duck Island’s giant smallmouths. —Ryan Sparks
58 GRAY SKIES & BLACK ROCKFISH Base-camping for rockfish and ling on Vancouver Island’s rugged west coast. —Rob Lyon
LANDED: GREAT WHITE / ABOU T WEED
/ MASTER OF TREV ALLY
® THE FLY FISHING AUTHORITY
Cover: Randall Johnston trekked into the Idaho backcountry to catch and shoot a beautiful late summer bull trout.
Giant tarpon after dark Off-the-grid cutts and bulls Iceland’s highland char Lake Ontario’s remote smallmou th Tyne River Atlan tics
ZACH MATTHEWS AMAMG_18110
8/31/18 11:08 AM
NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018 I 1
NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018 • VOLUME 41 / ISSUE 6
4 SIGNATURE 6 OUT THERE
Patagonia trout • Key’s tarpon
Makos and whites off San Diego. —Michael Love Jr.
A life dedicated to giant trevallies. —Zach Matthews
Midges are easy to tie and take winter trout. —Dave Hughes
Dave Zoby’s Fish Like You Mean It. —Ryan Sparks
Two-thousand-plus kids into fly fishing—and counting. —Joshua Bergan
18 GUIDE FLIES
Two flashy nymphs that take trout… and whitefish. —Boots Allen
20 GATE CHECKED: CLE
Fly in. Catch steel. Drink beer. —Robert John Pales
The Devil Bug is still a go-to for modern anglers. —Will Ryan
25 PERSONAL HISTORY
Confessions of a Middle School Wrestler. —Reid Bryant
Atlantics, once again, on the River Tyne. —Chris Santella
25 PERSONAL HISTORY
Old Trucks and Bull Trout. —Dennis Dauble
66 FLY TYER : WINDING UP MONSTERS ®
Letting kids tie monster flies. —Scott Sanchez
There’s something about weed… and the fish that swim beneath it. —Scott Sadil
2 I AMERICAN ANGLER
SIGNATURE by Greg Thomas
OCK CREEK ALMOST killed my college education. In fact, one day the dean of the journalism school pulled me aside and said, “I don’t care if you get the work done, you still have to show up for classes.” He added, “If this happens again, you’re done.” I didn’t see much of Rock Creek over the next few months, but I did make the dean’s list that quarter, this time in a good way. These days I rarely fish Rock Creek, even though it rests just 25 miles east of my home in Missoula, Montana. Over time I’ve deemed it as place that offers small fish and the angling hoards. And, it has a nasty dirt road that runs next to it for 40-some miles, a rutted, washboard beast that takes years off your vehicle if you spend much time on it. But this fall I decided to fish it, just to see how the old friend was doing. I knew the stream endured whirling disease in the 1990s and lost a significant portion of its rainbow population. And I knew that brown trout had taken over the available space. And I also knew that a management decision to go catch-and-releaseonly on the stream’s native cutthroat paid dividends. But I still considered Rock Creek to be good for numbers (anglers and fish) and bad for size. I didn’t even get a fly on the water until 2 p.m. But I’d already remembered something I’d maybe forgotten about the place—Rock Creek flows through a narrow valley that’s as unique and beautiful as any you’ll find in the state. And, I’d passed dozens of prime runs that were void of anglers. That reminded me of an interview I conducted with Doug Persico, the late owner of Rock Creek Fisherman’s Mercantile. Regarding late summer and early fall fishing he’d said, “Where are the people? We still have PMDs, lots of big caddis, and all the terrestrials. The fish are eating like crazy, but it’s as if everybody is ignoring it.” I parked at an access and talked with a couple people who were wrapping things up for the day. They were from Helena—big fish country offering the fabled Missouri River and its trout-rich impoundments, meaning Hauser, Holter and Canyon Ferry reservoirs. What in the 4 I AMERICAN ANGLER
hell were they doing here, I wondered. And then I asked, “What in the hell are you doing here?” The man replied, “Look around. This is our favorite place to fish. We always find ourselves drawn to Rock Creek. It’s just beautiful.” It is, that’s for sure. But about those tiny trout. I’d met up with a couple friends who were visiting from Georgia. One owns a yurt on Rock Creek and spends summers here. When we reached his favorite run, he took the tailout. In short time he had six fish to hand, but nothing bigger than 10 or 11 inches. Same old Rock Creek, I mumbled. After a while, however, I walked upstream to the next run and broke it down. I liked the head, but the middle of the run offered a little more structure and depth. And it was now later in the day so I didn’t expect a major mayfly or caddis event to occur in the riffles. I tied on a mahogany dun emerger and let it ride. I missed a few dinks before a nice fish took the mahogany. A few moments later I had a 16-inch cutthroat in my hand. A few casts later I hooked a brown that immediately leaped about two feet in the air. And as it crashed back in I said, “That’s not a bad brown at all . . . anywhere.” Fact is, it was a beautiful male, measured 17 inches long, and offered numerous bright red spots that seemed to be battery charged and levitating above the body. A gem. Soon after, I spotted a very subtle rise on the far grassy bank. I made the throw, the fish ate, and a few moments later I had another cutthroat, bigger than the first, cradled in my hands. I turned upstream and shouted to a friend, “At least 17-inches.” What happened, I wondered? I’d take those fish on any stream in the area, including the Clark Fork, Bitterroot and Blackfoot. Even the Big Hole. I waded out and peered at the deep green forests, the grassy, burnt-yellow slopes, and the rolling mountains above. I’d made a mistake with Rock Creek; I’d written off water as stagnant, and fish as prisoners. Instead, things morph. What else was I missing, I wondered, knowing already I’d be back on the creek that weekend. Further research required, of course.
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6 I AMERICAN ANGLER
Location: Río Figueroa, Aysén Region, Patagonia, Chile Target: Trout—browns and rainbows
Note: Located in the Andes Mountains, surrounded by glaciers, ice fields, and fjords, lies the mighty Río Figueroa. This river is a classic unspoiled watershed immersed in a towering old-growth wilderness. With plenty of mayfly, caddis, and terrestrial hatches, there is enough action to keep any angler occupied and the trout feeding freely. Speaking of trout, these brutes range between 14 and 24 inches on average, and the best time to hit them is between December and March, meaning fall in the Southern Hemisphere. Here, a fat rainbow takes advantage of a foam line created by the river’s steep gradient, waiting for a mayfly dun or crippled caddis to drift overhead. Specs: Camera: Canon EOS-1D X Lens: Canon 70–200 mm f/2.8 IS II Filters: Circular polarizer Photographer: Bryan Gregson bryangregsonphotography.com
8 I AMERICAN ANGLER
Location: Islamorada, Florida Keys Target: Giant tarpon
Situation: Tarpon fishing, to me, is the pinnacle of things you can do with a fly rod. Those fish havenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t changed for 150 million years and are true dinosaurs. Just getting a fly in front of a tarpon and actually getting it to attack are hard enough, but landing a dinosaur like this is a true test. After two days of wind and blown casts, angler Jeff Harwin got one to stick. And, in this image, after 58 minutes of jumps, runs, and chaos, Capt. Jeremy Fisher attempts to land the beast, which we estimated at about 140 pounds. Getting the Shot: I had to stay at the back of the boat and do my best to stay out of the way. I wanted to get on the poling platform, but I had to stay mobile and keep the boat balanced while the angler and captain were battling the fish. To make sure everything was sharp and in focus, I bumped up the ISO to 1600 and shot at 1/800 at f/20. I used a Canon 5D Mark III with a 24â&#x20AC;&#x201C;70 mm lens to get a good wide angle. I also used a circular polarizer to try to eliminate the harsh glare of the water. Photographer: Jeremy Allan, jeremyallanphotography.com
D e s t i n a t i o n 10
P r o f i l e 12
H a t c h e s 14
BEAST MO WE WERE THREE OLD COLLEGE roommates, now consumed with fly fishing, meeting in San Diego to get our fix. On the first afternoon with On the Fly Charters, we whipped Clousers into Mission Bay and hooked up with some barred and spotted sand bass. But our sights were set higher; over the next two days, we would target the real dramatis personae of the area—the shortfin mako, which roams the Pacific off San Diego from June through October. And while doing so, we’d get a real toothy surprise. The Southern California Bight stretches from Point Conception to San Diego and serves as a transition zone between two North Pacific water masses, the Pacific equatorial and Pacific subarctic. The area is one of three known mako rookeries; the others are off New Zealand and Madagascar. The area also draws 10 I AMERICAN ANGLER
What to do when Jaws shows up in the chum slick. Story and photos by Michael Love Jr.
Makos are the acrobats of the shark world, and they are found in good numbers off the California coast, particularly off San Diego. Great whites are present, too. Anglers can’t fish specifically to whites, but what choice do you have when one eats your fly?
ODE other sharks, as we soon discovered. Capt. Dave Trimble owns On the Fly Charters. His group of guides maintains 12- to 16-weight fly rods with heavy tippet, wire leaders, and flies that Trimble ties. Once on the water, Trimble made an analysis of the water temperature, current and wind, and pointed the bow toward what he called “sharky water.” Adrift on the blue, we dropped chum, forming our “burley slick.” This was a sight-fishing game, and for 45 minutes we stared at the slick, barely blinking. Then it came—70 pounds of sleek blue. John Hedgpeth was the first to step up, graciously getting our first nervous mistakes out of the way. There they were—poor casts and missed hooksets, all in full focus. But then he put it together and sank the steel into that mako, which immediately showed off its airborne skills. WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
Guide Flies 18
Once we got that fish to the boat and removed the hook, the action was almost nonstop, with the makos coming in one after the other. Makos are the fastest sharks on the planet, and the highest leapers, and our reels screamed. Our lines tore rooster tails across the surface as these sharks fought against our lines and hooks. Trimble soon said we’d hit the best bite he’d seen in a long time, and by 1:30 p.m., we’d already landed 12 makos ranging between 40 and 90 pounds. During a 15-minute lull, I practiced casting. And while I was doing so, Trimble saw a dark form move through the chum line. As my fly sank, Trimble said, “Set the hook.” I did and the reel screamed. I noticed that this fish was darker than the makos we’d caught, and 20 minutes into observathe fight, Trimble verified that observa tion, saying, “Homie, I think you got a great white shark!” The great white fought differently from the makos. It made quick runs and thrashed the surface. It didn’t dive much and, unlike the makos, did not jump. Its speed didn’t match the makos’ either, but it proved to have an advantage in stamina during a steady 15 minutes of fight. We fought the fish as quickly as possible, as Trimble was immensely concerned about a quick release and the health of the fish. It is, in fact, illegal to fish for or possess a great white. Faced with this one’s volunteerism, it seemed sensible to land and release it as gently as possible. That meant bringing it to the boat to remove the massive steel hook with a long dehooker. The shark was a “pup” of around 100 pounds; we couldn’t determine its sex. Trimble hears of great white sightings every few years, but he assured us this encounter was extremely rare. Soon after releasing the shark, there was buzz on the radio, and by the time we hit the dock, news of the great white— perhaps only the third ever caught on fly gear—had spread widely. Apparently, I’d hit the jackpot of California shark fishing without even knowing it. One of the mates leaned to my ear and said, “You ought to
G a t e C h e c k e d 20
buy yourself a lottery ticket. You’ll never have a luckier day.” But the following day served up equal surprise, despite a big change in the weather. A nervous wind had arrived, and a dense fog blanketed the marina. Still, the bite was red hot, and by midday we’d landed and released 12 makos. Over two days, Trimble told us many stories, foremost a tale of a huge mako that he called Big Mo. And then it showed up, with a huge triangular fin cutting through the chum. Trimble shouted, “That’s Big Mo, boys! She’s eight hundred pounds if she’s an ounce.” She was almost 10 times the size of any shark we’d seen. She circled the boat repeatedly, and Trimble drew her close with a teaser fly. Then Todd H’doubler stepped forward and somehow made a perfect cast, landing the fly right at her nose. She took the fly and H’doubler set the hook. With the fish on the line, Trimble gunned the engines; mako have no fear of boats and can launch right onto the deck. He wanted to put some distance between us and that fresh fish. And it’s a good thing he did; she launched 12 feet high, six times. I noticed that just behind us were the rolling hills of Torrey Pines, home of the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open and the 2008 US Open. The view of Big Mo doin’ her thing gave those boys on the links a whole new meaning for the term water hazard. After an hour-long fight, we brought Big Mo as close as we dared, then popped the leader from a barbless hook. Sweat poured off H’doubler, and his hands shook. The denouement stood at a two-day total of 28 makos and one great white. It’s strictly catch-and-release on these beasts, and all our fish were released in good shape. While shark fishing may not be on the top of most fly fishers’ hit lists, makos are great sport—and I can tell you it’s a special moment to have one on the end of a line. Note: Riley Love assisted with the writing of this article. NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018 I 11
Overdose! A giant trevally expert wrestles with obsession. By Zach Matthews
PETER MCLEOD SEEMS LIKE A PRETTY unassuming chap at first blush. A colonial Brit born and raised in Hong Kong, he was sent to boarding school in England as a boy. There, he began fly fishing for brown trout and salmon. He first worked as a guide at age 16 and then, after finishing school, took a job at London’s oldest fly shop (Farlow’s of Pall Mall—founded in 1840). By that point, he was about as well steeped in the British Imperial fly fishing tradition as you can get. He even guided for Atlantic salmon in Norway in the 1990s, swinging massive two-handers with classic salmon flies, just as his forebears had done for 200 years. How did a guy like that end up becoming a world expert on the giant trevally—one of the fastest, meanest, most gloriously brutish saltwater game species on the planet? We had to find out. “My brother first talked me into heading over to Belize back in 1997,” McLeod recalls, “and I was immediately hooked on flats fishing. I didn’t encounter a giant trevally until after Alphonse Island opened up.” Alphonse Island is part of the remote Seychelles island chain in the Indian Ocean, northeast of Madagascar. The area has more recently been known for dangers not commonly associated with fly fishing. In addition to a robust population of tiger sharks—a real threat to wading anglers and regular tourists alike—the island chain is also near a major shipping channel that was popular with Somali 12 I AMERICAN ANGLER
pirates. The piracy threat was tackled head-on by NATO after the Captain Phillips hijacking in 2009, but for McLeod’s first decade fishing the area, this was the Wild West of angling. McLeod describes his first encounter with giant trevally with characteristic understatement: “We were wade-fishing for Indo-Pacific bonefish, and when the tide pushed in, we decided to switch over and try for a GT,” he said. “I found myself wading in far deeper water than I was used to, and I recall being distinctly nervous. Out of nowhere a blue shape came firing over the turtle grass and I just barely got my fly in front of it. I have never forgotten the ferocity and power of the take; it tore off into the surf so hard, I couldn’t really comprehend it. It wasn’t even a big GT, but I have been obsessed ever since.” That obsession led McLeod all around the world. “I’ve targeted GTs from Christmas Island [in the Pacific] to Sudan, in the Seychelles, even Indonesia.” The skill set required to specialize in GTs is different from other fish. “We use heavy tackle, eleven-weights and twelve-weights,” McLeod said. “GTs are an apex predator on the flats and they show no fear.” And flies for these fish have to be ultra-burly. “GT anglers started out using adaptations of tarpon flies, but those flies have morphed into a whole new art form,” McLeod said. “Creative fly tiers borrowed
You have to bring your A game to giant trevally territory. These beasts are aggressive and reckless. Peter McLeod loves that rush and has pretty much dedicated his fishing to this unique species.
an idea from African tigerfish patterns, and started spinning a mass of craft fur with a stainless steel core to create brush flies. Throw about half a chicken’s worth of hackle on the back, and you have the perfect GT snack.” Giant trevally flies make for demanding casting. “The hooks are all between 4/0 and 8/0,” McLeod said, “and you need a hundred-thirty-pound test leader to resist abrasion. Sometimes they’ll eat right in front of you, but they can also be a full fly line away. Even for experienced anglers, it’s demanding.” The payoff for all this hard work is one of the most electrifying flats fishing experiences imaginable: “They will accelerate straight at you like a fighter jet and smash your fly while looking you in the eyes,” McLeod said. “Then they’ll try WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
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to tear your tackle to pieces.” Physical fitness is an obvious requirement when chasing GTs, especially when the day involves a lot of deep wading. Anglers also need to remain alert. “On Cosmoledo [Atoll] in the outer stretches of the Seychelles, you need to stay on your toes and keep an eye out for tiger sharks,” McLeod said. “You get into a routine of casting a couple times, then doing a full three-sixty just so you can look behind you and make sure nothing’s slipped up close. I call it the ‘Cosmoledo Sweep.’ Giant trevally follow sharks, so if we see one, we always investigate, but it does carry some risk.” Many GT anglers carry two rods, typically a 12-weight and a 9-weight. McLeod says this is because skiffs are nearly absent from GT territory, and as the tide drops, the GTs work their way off the flat as the WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
angler works inward. At low tide, it’s more productive to switch over to a 9-weight and chase other species, like parrotfish or Indo-Pacific bones, until the GTs reappear. McLeod recently authored his first book, GT: A Flyfisher’s Guide to Giant Trevally, which has quickly become the go-to authority on the species. “They’re not easy to catch,” he notes. “They are constantly on the move, following currents, temperatures, and bait. They don’t follow predictable patterns, so every day is a new puzzle. What gives me the biggest kick these days is to watch the faces of other fishermen when they have their first GT encounter. They kind of melt down into a combination of terror and disbelief. Then the adrenaline kicks in and you see them resolve into bewilderment, exhilaration, and joy. What other fish can do that? That’s what fuels my passion.”
New: Trout Bugs Tied in Maine Fished Everywhere www.ssflies.com
NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018 I 13
MIDGES for Large Trout Don’t let midges fool you—large trout devour these tiny flies.
Midges hatch at any time of year, but become most important when temperatures dip in late fall. Hatches can continue through winter, and go on into pre-runoff or post-thaw spring, when few other insects are around to interest trout. A midge on the move makes a tough target, if you’re a trout. Larvae are eaten often, but rarely so selectively that it’s necessary to match them. Wire Midge Larva patterns will work when you need to match those larvae. Most midge pupae get taken when they’re motionless and helpless, drifting near the surface in streams, or suspended either near the bottom or just subsurface in still waters. Though there are myriad tying options for pupae, patterns based on the Zebra Midge or Thread Midge almost always solve the problem. Adult midges get eaten as emergers and stillborns more often than they do after they’ve achieved their wings. The old and famous Griffith’s Gnat is a good starting place on streams. Gary Anderson’s Ugly Duckling has become my favorite floating stillwater midge imitation. You already know how to dangle pupa patterns beneath indicators on still waters: shallow or sunk deep. A simple trick will let you accomplish the same thing just subsurface on moving water. I was once flummoxed by a late fall midge hatch on Montana’s Bighorn River while fishing with Jim Schollmeyer. When light faded the first evening, pods of trout began working central currents, above beds of trailing plants, taking something Thread midges (bottom) and wire midges (top) take trout in all seasons. They are easy to tie and especially effective on still waters, where they catch the eyes of large trout. During winter, they work wonders on moving waters and constitute the major portion of a trout’s diet.
by Dave Hughes
THE TERM MIDGE REFERS TO SOMETHING MINOR IN SIZE. WHEN APPLIED to the insect family Chironomidae, and the fly patterns tied to imitate them, they’re at times tiny, but their importance is rarely minor. Some midges are so large that imitations must be tied on long-shank size 8 and 10 hooks. Average midges are around size 16 and 18. Even when they’re size 20 and 22, midges are such abundant and nutritious bites that trout, many of them outsized, spend considerable time feeding selectively on them. 14 I AMERICAN ANGLER
so small, we couldn’t see it. Jim reminded me to suspect midges whenever you can’t catch sight of what rising trout are taking. I got out my copy of Ed Engle’s Tying Small Flies in the rental that night, stayed up late tying several variations on Gary Wilmuth’s Thread Midge theme, all on size 22 heavy-wire nymph hooks. The next sunset, after solving the biggest problem, those trout suddenly became easy. The light was so various—silver here reflecting the sky, and black there reflecting trees on the far bank—that it was necessary to rig two pea-size yarn indicators, one black and one white, six inches apart, followed by one of the midges on two feet of tippet and another a foot farther out. One of those indicators was always visible: black against the light background, white against the dark. After detecting takes got solved, it turned out that all those tiny flies worked equally well. Size was the key. Nothing else mattered. The trout were a mix of rainbows and browns. We were on the Bighorn—none of them were small. A couple equaled in inches the size number of the hook: 22. I have a favorite pond out in barren wheatlands that is typical of still waters. Midges hatch all through fall and winter. Surprisingly, but not uncommonly, the
pond offers most midge activity just after dawn and again just before dark, rather than during the warmest afternoon hours. In the sunrise, when ghosts of mist chase each other across the cold surface, scattered size 16 and 18 midges, too frigid to fly, draw trout to the surface. Big rainbows cruise and tip up to sip the stillborns patiently. Gary Anderson’s Ugly Duckling, with its foam body awash in the film, looks exactly like a midge trapped mid-emergence. It’s not difficult
to draw strikes with these. The problem is handling angry trout on 6X tippet, which is necessary to fish those small flies. More get lost than are ever brought to hand. When the sun sets over the same pond, igniting the wide sky red, midges that survived the morning arrive back at the pond to lay their eggs. They scoot around at random; British call them buzzers. Trout cruise in straight lines, poke big snouts out to take any midge that gets in their gunsights. It’s not difficult to time a couple of rises in a row, place a Cluster Midge about five feet ahead of the last one, give the fly a short scoot, and hold on for the next rise. Don’t get anxious. If you set the hook too quickly on a large trout, you’ll just yank the fly away or snap the tippet. Don’t ask me how I became an unfortunate expert at it. Dave Hughes is author of the recently released and two-thirds-updated second edition of Essential Trout Flies.
NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018 I 15
Fish Like You Mean It By Ryan Sparks
DURING MY SECOND YEAR OF COLlege, my dad got a subscription to Gray’s Sporting Journal. He thought it might be a good place to advertise the English pointers he bred and trained. As a benefit, I got each issue when he was done with it. It was my first exposure to “sporting literature,” and it sparked an interest that continues today. Back then, when I really enjoyed a piece, I would flip back to see who wrote it. After a while, one name kept coming up— David Zoby. His writing was relatable. He wasn’t writing about exotic expeditions or the massive fish he caught. He wrote about hunting the back 40, fishing where you could find it, getting skunked. It was bru-
tally honest and revealing. Since then, his writing has appeared in many outstanding publications: American Angler, The Flyfish Journal, and The Sun magazine, among others. I’ve kept an eye out for Zoby’s work through the years and was excited to see his recent collection of essays titled, Fish Like You Mean It. Collectively, Zoby’s essays explore the intricacies of a life on the water and in the field, from its challenges and disappointments to its greatest pleasures. In the opening essay, he writes about being smitten with fishing from an early age, envying his uncle’s fishing-bum friend because “he sleeps on a mat in the shed amongst the marlin rods and sailfish teasers.” Zoby’s writing is concerned with what he considers the important things in life—fishing, hunting, traveling, sleeping in the dirt, and talking to his dog. These are reoccurring themes. In “Fishing the Recession,” he recounts skipping houses on his boyhood paper route to fish local
bass ponds. “Confessions of a Spit Rat,” relates his time in Alaska while being tutored by a transient fisherman, Murph, in the ways of catching your dinner, finding out-of-the-way places to sleep, and generally not paying for anything you can get for free. “Perhaps Murph is right,” he concludes, “not everything of value should be paid for. Like the silvers leaping in the lagoon, the good life is free for the taking.” Taken together, these essays tell the story of a life punctuated by fish and measured in dogs. His stories appear to be about hunting and fishing, but like all great sporting literature, they are much more. His fine book is as soulful as it is thought provoking.
XS Fly Lines
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Cast Hope By Joshua Bergan MENTORS WHO FLY FISH OFTEN want to take their protegés fishing, but lack the required resources. Enter the nonprofit group Cast Hope, which provides those resources for mentors in Northern California. The desired outcome is to get more kids interested in fishing and to foster positive relationships through fishing. I spoke to Cast Hope’s marketing relations manager, Hogan Brown, about the group’s mission and history.
interested in screens and the digital world than the natural world. We believed that the Fly Club or “old school model” of getting kids into fly fishing was broken, outdated, and ineffective. You don’t get a kid into fly fishing by teaching them to tie knots and cast on the lawn. So we made a kid’s first experience in a boat with a professional guide. We wanted the kids hooked up within 30 minutes. After that, we can backfill all the learning about casting, knots, flies, conservation, and ethics. As our budget grew, our reach grew. We gave kids and their mentors free rods,
Q: How did Cast Hope come to be? A: Cast Hope founder Ryan Johnston and I were talking about how, for a long time, we were the youngest guides on the river and at fly fishing events. Ten years later,we were still the youngest. Kids seemed more
reels, flies, and gear, and eventually added camping trips, conservation programs, destination travel, and education. Q: How many kids has Cast Hope taken fishing? How many lives has it impacted? A: Over the years, we have worked with 2,500-plus kids. Right now, we are on pace to serve 550 kids plus their mentors across Northern California and Western Nevada for this year’s budget cycle. Q: What are some of the positive impacts Cast Hope has seen in these kids after taking them fishing? A: The positive impacts come in many ways. We have kids that have gone on to work as fishing guides, or we have shown the ocean to for the first time. We have kept kids in school, out of juvenile hall, given meaning to life when there seems to be no meaning, or shown them a world outside the concrete and asphalt of their daily existence. Check out more: www.casthope.org
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NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018 I 17
THE ZEBRA AN These two flashy nymphs take away the winter blues. By Boots Allen
Mercer’s Zebra Midgling HOOK: TMC 2457 or 2487 or equivalent, size 12 to 20. THREAD: Brown 8/0 Uni-Thread. TAIL: Pearl Krystal Flash. UNDERBODY: Pearl Krystal Flash. BODY: Amber vinyl tubbing. RIB: Ultra-Wire. WING CASE: Pearl Krystal Flash. COLLAR: Brown ostrich herl. BEAD: Gunmetal, size to match hook.
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MERCER’S ZEBRA MIDGLING When it comes to flies that can be used every month of the year and in a variety of water types and conditions, chironomid imitations are a no-brainer. These “midges” are present and active in the summer heat and winter cold. And you’ll find them in lakes, rivers, and streams, where they often provide the most biomass available to trout. Mike Mercer’s Zebra Midgling is one of my favorite chironomid imitations. Sure, I carry standard Zebra Midges, Ice Cream Cone Midges, and Rojo Midges, and I fish these flies quite a bit. But Mercer’s Zebra Midgling is the only midge pattern I use every month of the year and on every body of water I fish. It doesn’t fail. Most fly fishers think of midges as being the tiniest bugs around. And, without question, size 16 to 20 Zebra Midglings are the most effective sizes, especially on rivers and streams. But I carry everything from size 10 to 22 and have fished lakes in Montana and Idaho, where a size 12 imitation might have been too small. If you fish the Midgling this winter, concentrate on slower water on the inside bends and in the middle to bottom of runs. Some days you might find trout tucked up in thin water below rapids, but mostly they hold a little deeper in the cold months, trying to conserve as much energy as possible while still finding a good meal. This pattern can be fished in tandem with another nymph, say a PT or a Lightning Bug, or under a dry.
LIGHTNING BUG Yakima River guide Larry Graham created the Lightning Bug back in the early 1990s. I began fishing this nymph some 15-plus years ago, and it has been a proven trout fly over and over again. In fact, of all the patterns I discuss here, the Lightning Bug is the one that I would pick over all the others for catching trout every month of WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
ND THE LIGHT the year and in the most variable conditions. Straight-shank and curved-shank versions exist. I use both, but prefer the straight shank. The Lightning Bug is a consummate attractor nymph. Its narrow abdomen and bulbous thorax and head mimic the natural contours of most aquatic invertebrates. Just change the size and movement of your pattern, and you can imitate many kinds of subsurface life-forms. Once again, it’s the material components of the Lightning Bug that make it so effective as a year-round and all-around pattern. Silver tinsel makes up much of the body. This super-brilliant material glistens in clear water on sunny days. In fact, the Lightning Bug is easy to see in water that is off-color. Even if you have only a foot and a half of visibility, fish find this fly. An interesting aspect that adds to the reputation of this fly is its effectiveness on lakes. Many anglers use it to imitate swimming nymphs, like Callibaetis and gray drakes that often populate still waters. Slow hand-twist, figure-eight, and pinch retrieves on flats and drop-offs can produce solid results. Pausing after three to four strips is key. A fly fishing friend of mine uses Lightning Bugs in the size 10 to 12 range to mimic scuds and Mysis shrimp found on lakes in the Greater Yellowstone region. He also finds it effective on tailwaters immediately below dams where scuds and Mysis wash downstream during increased discharges. Change the size of your Lightning Bug, and you can imitate almost any aquatic invertebrate on a trout’s menu almost any time of the year. But be forewarned—whitefish love this fly. If the trout fishing is slow and you just want to get something on the end of a person’s line, perhaps even your own, tie this on, run it deep under an indicator with lead, and you’re sure to drum up whitie. However, if you can’t keep whitie off the line, you may need to switch patterns. WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
THREAD: 8/0 Uni-Thread or 70 UTC. HOOK: Tiemco 3761 or equivalent, size 10 to 18. BEAD: Silver or disco ball bead. WEIGHT (OPTIONAL): Lead or leadfree wire. TAIL: Pheasant tail fibers. ABDOMEN: Holographic tinsel. RIB: .05-gauge Ultra Wire. THORAX: Peacock herl. WING CASE: Holographic tinsel. LEGS: Pheasant tail fibers.
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Gate Checked: CLE CLEVELAND, OHIO Being in my mid-20s and single proved to be one matchless time for fly fishing. I spent most of my money traveling to new rivers with my three closest fishing buddies. Almost every Friday each spring, we drove from Chicago to fabled Michigan and Wisconsin waters to stalk wary trout. Summers were spent exploring various river drainages and high-country lakes in Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming. When fall arrived, we prowled Lake Michigan and Lake Superior tributaries in search of salmon and steelhead, until winter roared and sent us all to the tying table. It was a great way to live while it lasted. Then responsibilities accumulated. Several years ago, however, we devised a plan to get together once a year. Instead of pining for those endless summer days, we looked for a locale all of us could easily reach in a few hours of airtime. Being steelhead junkies and gluttons for extreme weather, we thought Cleveland made perfect sense. Thus began a new tradition. These days we meet and fish the wildly productive steelhead streams near the Rock and Roll Capital of the World, Cleveland. You can fish one or more of these streams for five to seven months out of the year. Fishing can be spectacular, and you don’t have to drive very far from the city to fish, which means this is a viable option for traveling anglers. The closest streams are the Rocky and Chagrin Rivers, which rest about 30 minutes west and east of the city, respectively. An hour’s drive east puts you on the Grand River. Conneaut Creek, an hour east, and the Vermilion River, an hour west, offer similar opportunities for fresh and holdover chrome, with the Chagrin offering the biggest steelhead in the area. All these streams are heavily stocked with wild Little Manistee River (Michigan)– strain fingerling steelhead smolts. Many “Steelhead Alley” rivers offer mind-blowing returns; during prime years, during the peak of a run, it’s not uncommon to hook a dozen or more steelies in a single day. Most of these fish weigh 6 to 8 20 I AMERICAN ANGLER
STEEL LeBron’s gone, but Cleveland’s steelhead remain. By Robert John Pales
pounds, with fish over 10 pounds caught every season. The Cleveland Metroparks System offers ample access on numerous waterways, and there are many others points of entry dotted along dozens of streams throughout the region. So, while heavy runs draw crowds, it’s possible to hoof it away from the masses and find a stretch of river all your own. Planning is the key to success in Steelhead Alley. First and foremost, be flexible. We learned the hard way on our first fall trip. Flows on the Grand were very low, but we were determined to fish it. After flailing the water futilely for two days, we encountered a local out hiking who informed us we were early. The fish simply hadn’t arrived. The following year, we hired guides. A storm blew in the day prior, blowing out every river near the city. Our guides called an audible and suggested we drive an hour and 20 minutes to Elk Creek in Pennsylvania. We were reluctant, but agreed. We each hooked no less than a dozen lively chrome steelhead and landed more than half of them. In addition, our guides directed us toward several spate streams near our hotel that clear in a day or less and hold stray fish. We experienced some success the next day by streamhopping before returning to the Elk on day three for an encore. Aside from a productive fishery, Cleveland has a culinary scene that’s a well-kept secret. For fine dining, Jonathon Sawyer’s trio of restaurants Trentina, Greenhouse Tavern, and Noodlecats offer a unique dining experience. If low-key is your jam, our favorite watering hole is the Tremont Taphouse. Its chorizo pizza is one of the most delightful pies I’ve ever eaten, and its craft beer selection rivals any. Speaking of suds, Cleveland has a booming craft beer scene. Dozens of breweries lie both inside and outside city limits, offering something for everyone. For the oenophile, try Grand River Cellars. Located a stone’s throw from the river, it offers a solid variety of reds and WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
Getting There: Cleveland Hopkins International Airport is accessible via most U.S. and international airports.
If you’re used to the West’s brawling metalhead streams, Cleveland’s water will be a surprise— you can find lots of steelhead, but your casts will be short. These fish are available seven months of the year, and all within relatively short drives of downtown.
Best Time for Chrome: Steelhead run the rivers from late September to midApril. On average, Ohio runs peak mid-November through December and last through the first two weeks of March or April; Pennsylvania runs peak late October through November and last through the first two weeks of March or April. January and February can be productive and uncrowded during mild winters. Check flows and contact an outfitter before you go. Gear: Take a 9- to 10-foot, 7- or 8-weight
rod for nymphing and an 11- to 12-foot, 7- or 8-weight switch/Spey rod for swinging. Also take wading gear and seasonally appropriate attire. Standard nymph and egg patterns produce dead-drifting, while streamers, sculpins, and emerald shiner patterns produce swinging.
hotel options exist in the Cleveland metro area. The city also boasts many renowned restaurants and craft breweries, with wineries scattered throughout the surrounding countryside. http://www.thisiscleveland.com http://www.ohiowines.org
whites, as well as small plates, sandwiches, and entrées. Several wine trails bisect the region, making Cleveland a great couples’ destination for non-fishing spouses who appreciate the grape and the grain. The sheer number of streams around Cleveland is overwhelming. Especially for your first trip to the area, hire a guide. If that isn’t your style, Steelhead Alley Outfitters guide Patrick Robinson suggests doing a little legwork before wetting a line: “Contact a local shop, check flows, check maps for public access, buy a few local patterns, and watch other anglers fishing.” Robert John Pales is a freelance writer living in Northern Indiana’s St. Joseph River Valley who chases steelhead 12 months out of the year.
Steelhead Alley Outfitters http://steelheadalleyoutfitters.com (888) 453-5899 Guide service covering Ohio and Pennsylvania steelhead tributaries. Chagrin River Outfitters http://chagrinriveroutfitters.com/site/ homepage/index.html (440) 247-7110 Full-service fly shop and guide service located on the banks of the Chagrin River, specializing in Lake Erie steelhead.
https://www.clevelandmetroparks.com (provides information about access points along various rivers) https://waterwatch.usgs.gov (provides real-time streamflow data for many area rivers) https://diyflyfishing.com/steelhead-alley (provides information on many area rivers, including access and ideal flows)
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HISTORY by Will Ryan
Sympathy for the Devil This old standby is still a go-to for many modern anglers.
E MIGHT CALL flies artificial, but we treat them like friends. They have names and personalities. Some are “attractors,” others ratty-looking, and some, like poppers, let everyone know they have arrived, just by the way they land on the water. This is largely our own delicious fantasy, of course. As Nick Lyons observed, “To people who don’t fish, flies are just objects.” Not for us: We tie them, and as we do, we tweak them, adapt them, and create their progeny. Consider the Devil Bug.
Catching a Tailwind
a talented artist, a writer, and a registered Adirondack guide. Before the Tuttles met, Orley had been a bicycle racer, a traveling salesman, and a ballroom dance instructor. The Tuttles, in short, were skilled, modern, and nobody’s fools. By 1922, they were selling 50,000 Devil Bugs per year. As Tony Atwill describes in a wonderful 1979 Rod and Reel article, the Tuttles farmed out the work to community members, with some making bodies, others wings, and so forth. The results were bugs of all sizes and colors, with and without wings—hundreds of patterns, literally. The Tuttles’ ads promoted the fly as a killer for all species, including muskies; the bugs could be fished in every
imaginable way, even dragged behind a spinner. Lottie not only handled the ad art, but also began writing about the fly in magazines. In essence, the Tuttles took their city smarts to the wilderness and got in on mass marketing of the 1920s. The Devil Bug could imitate—and catch— everything, fishermen included.
From Bass to Trout The Devil Bug appeared on the scene as the first commercially successful bass bug, but bugging was in its infancy in the 1920s, and it wasn’t long before trout fishermen hijacked the fly. A 1929 article in Fur-Fish-Game contended that, “The
The Devil Bug appeared in the years just following World War I, thanks to Orley Tuttle, a hotel owner on Fourth Lake in the southern Adirondacks. Tuttle noticed the way resident smallmouth bass sucked in beetles that fell into the lake with their wings whizzing on the surface. He fashioned an imitation with a body of twine, over which he pulled deer hair, leaving wings sprouting from the sides. Legend has it that he showed the creation to his wife, Lottie, who replied “Looks like the devil to me,” and voilà, a name. Lottie was 22 I AMERICAN ANGLER
The original Devil Bug (front) and its stepchild, the Cooper Bug (rear). (Left) The front and back covers of the original Tuttleâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Devil Bugs catalog.
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HISTORY devil bug floats without oiling, by pinching a split shot on the leader it may be fished sunken, and it is an artificial that is especially attractive to big trout, both brown and speckled. . . . And a lot of those old-timers we used to see going around with their hat bands decorated with snelled wet flies now wear the deer-hair bugs instead.” Articles such as these must have only accelerated the evolution of the pattern. At this point—and ever after, for that matter—trout flies became bass flies by getting brighter, bigger, or bushier (or all three). The Devil Bug pushed against that current, going instead from bass to trout, and became more elemental in the process. The fly was all about the taut top shell of pulled-back deer hair, the source of its glorious flotation. A New England tier named Jack Cooper from Salem, New Hampshire, used peacock herl for a body and made the overall profile slimmer, befitting a trout fly. As the fly fishing author Bill Tapply later wrote, “The fly worked so well that Cooper applied for a patent. He was denied on the grounds that his bug was too similar to Orley Tuttle’s Devil Bug.” Mainers began tying the fly with a red chenille body (also yellow, green, and pink) and called it a “Doodle Bug.” From the brawling rivers and forested ponds of the Northeast, the Devil Bug migrated across the country, adapting as it went. The West produced the Humpy, the same body, with wings and hackle, and Tom’s Thumb, a Cooper Bug with a deerhair schnoz. Many other anglers around the country tied beloved, anonymous flies with deer hair on top, sides, front, and back. There was just something about the way the deer hair kept the body on the surface, as if freely suspended. The body hung at rest, skimmed with speed. In truth, the Tuttles had more than invented a productive fly—they created a magical design.
You’ve Got a Friend In the postwar years, most fly fishers were generalists, rather than specific hatch-matchers, and as an “everything bagel,” the Devil Bug’s popularity grew. Field & Stream, for example, published at least three articles on the bug. H. G. 24 I AMERICAN ANGLER
“Tap” Tapply’s “Amazing Trout Bug,” a concise, inviting piece, may have been the most important. With the aid of Walter Dower’s sketches, Tap explained how to tie the deer-hair-and-herl Cooper Bug in 75 words. It was a 1960 version of a YouTube video. He also told how he caught four different trout on four different presentations with the bug: a free drift on the surface; a surface-disturbing retrieve; a drift just beneath the surface; and a deep, quartering retrieve. As Tap put it, “One way or another, [the bug] will round up some trout for you.” And sometimes when you least expected it. In a 2014 article in Orvis News, Phil Monahan wrote that it was the first fly he had ever tied: “After about 10 minutes of drifting the Devil Bug through good water to no avail, I decided that the pattern was useless. As I was searching through my fly box, I allowed the Devil Bug to drag in the water behind me. To my surprise, a 17-inch brown trout ate the fly while I wasn’t even paying attention to it.” Monahan was an experienced fisherman at the time, and a guide. But what of the angler just beginning fly fishing? And there were lots of young folks frothing up the water in the 1960s, the teenage baby boomers who would fuel the great fly fishing expansion of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. But in the dark days of the early ’60s, they were clueless. They were like neophyte fly fishers of any time and any place. You are out here with all this gear. You have heard that fish can be caught this way, but you’d like to see it happen, just to be sure. You have no idea how to actually fish a fly. You watch other people, but that can get weird. You slap the fly here and there, maybe snag a branch. The fly gets soggy, like your confidence. Then you have a Monahan moment, which the Devil Bug could make happen by just dangling it in the current. And you start to fish with intention. You catch more fish. That’s why people developed a fondness for the fly that comes to the rescue.
Legacies For the imitators, the Devil Bug could be a beetle or hopper, of course, or when tied with a tail, a caddis. Gary Borger
introduced the idea of an underbody of deer hair (beneath the dubbing) to help with flotation. As he explained, “This fly is essentially just a Humpy body. Modified slightly it proved more effective than any other fly I tried for imitating the partially emerged adult. Sometimes the newly emerged adults swim rapidly along the surface trying to get airborne and an intentionally dragged Devil Bug elicits dramatic rises.” As noted in Ed Engel’s Tying Small Flies, Roger Hill popularized the use of a micro Devil Bug, which employed a sparkle yarn and a trailing shuck. As for the original tie, the Tuttles’ daughter was still tying it in her 80s. That’s when the Eppingers bought the O.C. Tuttle Devil Bug Company. Karen Eppinger and her sisters traveled from Michigan to Old Forge to learn how to tie the flies. The results were astounding. Karen told Atwill in his Rod & Reel article, “Immediately we had more orders than we could handle. People would write to say that they had used Devil Bugs as children or that their fathers swore by them.” Today the Eppinger Company sells the Devil Bug, but no longer promotes it. As Karen Eppinger explained to me, “I’m the only one that knows how to tie them.” So you can still get them, but you’ll have to call the Eppinger Company directly and order them over the phone. And for those of us who grew up fishing them, we still look fondly for spots to pitch it, particularly beneath the green limbs of summer. Dan Legere of the Maine Guide Fly Shop says, “We have been selling and using it since the beginning, thirty-six years ago , when we were doing a lot of pond fishing. The main reason we still carry it is old-timers ask for it, and for some it’s the only fly they use when pond fishing for brookies.” And Dan is right. Devil Bugs bring out a loyalty from anglers of a certain age. It sounds very much like gratitude. Will Ryan teaches expository writing at Hampshire College. He is also a columnist with our sister publication, Gray’s Sporting Journal. His most recent book, Gray’s Sporting Journal’s Noble Birds and Wily Trout, has been published by Lyons Press, an imprint of Globe Pequot Press. WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
Confessions of a Middle School Wrestler By Reid Bryant
On my 41st birthday, I stood in front of the bathroom mirror and assessed the wear and tear, including some that occurred during my middle school wrestling career. I was a horrible wrestler. I hated the sweat and the bouts of ringworm, and I particularly hated the singlets. Most of all, however, I hated that I languished near the bottom of my weight class, and only wound up with a match only when the opposing team claimed a 145-pounder of similar hopelessness. On rare occasions when an opponent arose, my coach, Mr. Carroll, a notorious close-talker, pulled me aside in the hallway and said, “I’ve found you a butterball.” In Mr. Carroll’s estimation, this meant that the other team was burdened with a wrestler who, at 145 pounds, was approximately half my height and three times my girth, while being no more talented than I. In the anxiety that still haunts, I see an endless parade of portly adversaries in my dreams, all of them hell-bent on smothering me in their armpits. During the last match of my career, a butterball took my temperature with a high-crotch takedown right out of the gate, and had me in a compromised position by the end of the period. He had a point advantage, and a fire in his eyes that told me he would go for the pin. With a deft half nelson he had me on my back and struggling to keep one shoulder off the mat; the referee was down at our level with whistle in mouth, anticipating my demise; I kept that one shoulder up and flopped like a mullet, the cartilage between my ribs popping; my opponent, sensing desperation, wrenched my chin deeper into his armpit, leveled his bulk onto my sternum, and brought his mouth close to my ear. “I’ve got you now,” he whispered with measured certainty. At that moment I realized that, in the end, I just didn’t really care. So I dropped my shoulder to the mat, heard the slap of the referee’s palm, and was more than a little annoyed when my face was held in the butterball’s armpit for a few seconds post-victory. As I looked at myself on that 41st birthday, my wrestling caWWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
reer was at the top of my mind. That same day, just hours prior, I was on the forward deck of Lincoln Westby’s panga, 15 miles east of Dangriga, Belize. We’d moved off the flats as the tide approached high and made the run to a cut into the reef where Lincoln had, in the days prior, spotted rolling tarpon. Lincoln was a man of legendary reputation, so I him at his word when he announced, “We’ll see dem. Yuh’ll get yah shot. Some a dem taahpon go two-hundred poun.” It was difficult for me to envision a 200-pound slab of silver, let alone imagine being attached to one. Lincoln cut the engine and let us slide into the cut, which was impossibly blue, with a wide swath of sand bottom showing between the coral heads. The wind had dropped to nothing, and at dead high we just sat for a few minutes before Lincoln eased the anchor overboard. I had barely fished for tarpon, and never hooked a good one. In retrospect, a serious angler would have prepared for the potential of an epic fish, but as I stepped on the bow platform, success seemed pretty implausible. Lincoln scanned the cut in characteristic silence; I took it as a compliment that he didn’t ask to review my leader or knots. Sun burned the tops of my feet. Sweat rolled down F.W. THOMAS my back and soaked my shirt. My wife, Kim, handed me a cold Belikin; it was my birthday, after all. Somewhere at the end of that beer we saw them roll. It was maybe a hundred yards out, a winking disruption in the calm. There were broad backs and pushed water. I looked back at Lincoln, who smiled and nodded. “We jes wait fah dem,” he said, not taking his eyes off the fish. “Dey come up dis way as de tide ease out.” The fish rolled intermittently, but seemed to hang up at 60 yards out, seemed unwilling to push in closer. After a while, Kim cracked a Belikin, turned to Lincoln, and began to ask a question. Then Lincoln said, “Dey undah us! You go now, make dah shot!” (Continued on page 65) NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018 I 25
CONSERVATION by Chris Santella
Good-bye, Coal—Hello, Salmon Reviving Newcastle’s River Tyne.
TEP BACK IN TIME FOR A moment to Newcastle, England, circa 1870. The abundance of coal in the northeast, the invention of the steam locomotive and narrow-gauge railroad by local son George Stephenson, and the proximity of the River Tyne all combined to make Newcastle a major exporting hub. This, in turn, fostered a booming shipbuilding industry and a host of other industrial enterprises, from chemical works to tanneries. Newcastle, once a sleepy provincial town relative to prosperous London, was experiencing a golden era. The Victorian era was also a fine time to be an Atlantic salmon and oceangoing brown trout angler in greater Newcastle. Many years, returns on the Tyne and its two branches, the North and the South, eclipsed over 100,000 fish—enough to support a thriving commercial fishery; salmon in excess of 40 pounds were encountered with some regularity. Dave
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Downie, a local schoolteacher who has fished the river since 1965 and advocated for its fishery much of his life, shared an anecdote of the Tyne’s heyday. (Salmon anglers, as you may know, are scrupulous record keepers.) “On the North Tyne, there’s a beat called Lee Hall. Two doctors, who had leased the beat for £700 a year (a dear price at the time) landed 56 fish from Lee Hall in one day’s angling. They had to have a horse and cart to take the fish back to the village of Hexham, where they sold them off at market for a profit.” If one enjoyed angling for anadromous species, had access to fishable portions of the Tyne, and any hand in any of the region’s many thriving industries, the late 1800s were a fine time to be in Newcastle for work and play. Now fast-forward a few generations to 1959. That year, there was no record of any salmon or sea trout caught in the River Tyne. Decades of pollution—coal dust, detritus from shipbuilding, coke
works, and slaughter houses, not to mention raw human sewage piped in from over 200 points—had brought the river to its knees. The concentration of ammonia, especially, reduced the Tyne’s dissolved oxygen levels to a point that could barely support aquatic life. Depleted oxygen levels in the Tyne’s estuarial waters were especially hard on returning adult fish and departing smolts, which both congregate there. While no fish were recorded caught in 1959, there’s little question that a few salmon and brown trout were alive (if not necessarily well) and still returning to the Tyne. By the mid-’60s, there were reports of salmon being caught again, and anglers began quietly returning to the river’s banks. By 2010, some 4,000 Atlantic salmon and 2,000 brown trout were recorded caught, a record for modern times; in some recent years, as many as 30,000 anadromous fish have returned. What happened to improve the Tyne’s
The River Tyne flows through the center of Newcastle. At one time, the cityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s effluents flushed directly into the river. These days, the Tyne is running mostly clean, and salmon abound.
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CONSERVATION fortunes, to transform it from a near-dead river to become the top Atlantic salmon fishery in England and Wales?
he Tyne is best understood as several rivers in the course of its combined 120 miles. The mainstem is formed near the town of Hexham, where the South and North forks converge; from there it’s less than 20 miles to the North Sea. Tinted by peat, the river flows off-color with limited visibility—1.5 feet at best during my visit. The South Tyne flows through picturesque moorlands; grassy, sheep-dotted valleys; and quaint stone villages—an American’s notion of an English idyll. The North Tyne is more heavily forested. The mainstem below Hexham flows past sprawling estates faintly reminiscent of Downton Abbey, with an increasingly suburban feel. (On the Styford beat, for example, the local commuter train can occasionally be spied hurtling east or west, behind a row of trees.) Shortly before the Newcastle city limits, the Tyne gives way to a more channelized flow, with walls instead of rocks and trees defining its banks as it heads east through the towns of Tynemouth and South Shields,
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where the river meets the Atlantic. In its fly fishing–friendly sections, the Tyne is generally shallow; intermediate tips and smaller lightly dressed flies are usually enough to reach the fish. The Tyne is tidally influenced up to the village of Wylam, roughly 15 miles from the salt; bottom fishers might find cod or flounder on the downtown quayside. Breathing new life into a natural system as complex as a river—especially to the high standards that a species as sensitive to water conditions as Atlantic salmon require—is not a problem that lends itself to a silver bullet solution. It’s no surprise, then, that a number of factors contributed to the Tyne’s comeback. The first was the decline of Newcastle’s pollution-intensive industries. As less and less coal was shipped from Newcastle, there was diminished coal dust finding its way into the river. With coal exports diminishing, there was less need for new modes of coal transport, and shipbuilding declined. Other manufacturing concerns followed suit as economic conditions worsened. This turn of events was disastrous for many of the region’s citizens, as Newcastle plunged into a depression
that lingered for several decades—but the industrial decline no doubt benefited the Tyne’s salmon and sea trout. Newcastle’s industrial decline happened to coincide with a new commitment to water quality, including a plan for dealing with the vast amounts of sewage that were being discharged into the river. “The Joint Tyneside Sewerage Board was formed in the late ’60s to address the water-quality issues,” said Tony Rutherford, Sludge Process Optimization Coordinator for Northumbrian Water, which oversees water operations for much of northeastern England. “It took a number of years, but by 1973, they’d come up with the idea of an interceptor system, which would pick up sewage flows and divert them for treatment to Howdon, on the north bank of the Tyne, just east of Newcastle. This treatment would focus on solid waste removal. It was in full operation by 1979, covering 145 square miles and treating sewage from over one million residents. Once the Howdon facility was running, the river became significantly cleaner.” The trajectory of the Tyne’s recovery was not even. During drought years,
warmer water exacerbated lingering pollution issues, and there was fish mortality. Generally speaking, however, as the overall health of the river improved, fish stocks increased. The native Tyne fish that had never been entirely extirpated from the system began spawning with greater success, and more smolts successfully made it back out to the North Sea. These populations were augmented by salmon originally en route to rivers farther north. “The Tyne is not far from the Tweed and some of the other Scottish rivers that still see significant runs of fish,” said Nigel Milner, a fisheries biologist affiliated with APEM (a leading environmental consultancy) and Bangor University in Wales, who’s worked extensively on the Tyne. “The adult salmon returning to the river on the east coast of Scotland from Greenland or the Faroe Islands come down in a loop, reaching the coast south of Newcastle and then heading north. A portion of these fish would colonize the Tyne.” The late 1970s also saw the damming of the upper portion of the North Tyne to create Kielder Water, which would become the United Kingdom’s largest reservoir. To mitigate for the loss of
roughly 15 miles of spawning habitat, a hatchery program was initiated at the time, overseen by Peter Gray, an esteemed hatchery manager. “Gray experimented with a number of different strategies,” Dave Downie added. “Traditionally, you’d put parr into the river in spring and summer. But we weren’t seeing the numbers of fish coming back that Gray thought we should. He
believed that the young fish had been vulnerable to bird predation. So he decided to grow the fish up to smolt size and release them in autumn. This way, they’d overwinter in the river with enough meat on them to survive, and then head out to sea.” At least 250,000 parr and smolts were being added to the river each year, though there’s conjecture that the number was many multiples higher.”
An angler and his ghillie prepare to land a salmon on one of the Tyne’s numerous beats. Historically, the Tyne saw andromous runs pushing 100,000 fish. Today, the river draws around 6,000 fish per year, which, surprisingly, makes the fishing worthwhile.
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CONSERVATION While some in the Tyneside angling community feel that the output from Kielder Salmon Centre is largely responsible for the increase in salmon numbers, scientists believe that colonization played a more significant role in replenishing stocks. Some studies conducted by Milner and his associates suggest that the Tyne’s salmon populations might be better served by curtailing future stocking, though cessation is not imminent. Everyone agrees that the hatchery program has met or exceeded its initial mitigation goals for the dam. (It should be noted that a recent embrace of catch-and-release angling—not the norm in these parts in generations past—has also benefited fish numbers.) As the 1990s approached, the Tyne was poised on the brink of its former greatness. But drought years from 1989 to 1993 brought massive fish kills, and concerns that the river, which had come so far, was again on the brink of death. “There was meeting after meeting, and a great deal of finger pointing, mostly at industry,” Downie, who at the time served on the River Tyne Improvement Association, recalled. “The Environmental Agency [which oversees fisheries] said it was historic pollution and nothing could be done. At one meeting, a hydrologist named Malcom Newson, who was a professor at Newcastle University, stood up and declared that if someone would sponsor him, he’d come back within a year’s time with an answer for what’s
The Tyne flows through classic Scottish landscape and still offers a traditional Atlantic salmon experience, although fewer fish are destined for an angler’s wall—catch-and-release is assisting the river’s recovery.
causing the fish kills.” Funding was found, and it was soon discovered that the problem was the treated water that was being released back into the river at Howdon. While it was mostly clean, high levels of bacteria were still present, and this fouled water was moving up and down the river with the tides. That realization led to the creation of a secondary treatment plant to combat the bacteria, which became operative in 1999. The Tyne is now classified as 90 to 95 percent clean. The Tyne may be below the radar for Atlantic salmon anglers in America, but it’s worthy of attention. Angling access is very affordable (FishPal.com manages the leasing of many beats), catch rates are good, and the countryside around Newcastle is quite bucolic.
“Many anglers from the south used to drive past the Tyne en route to the Tweed and other Scottish rivers,” said Mark Cockburn, CEO of FishPal. “Now those anglers are stopping to give the Tyne a chance. And some Scottish anglers are coming south.” Efforts to invigorate the Tyne’s salmon and brown trout stocks have not been limited to the boundaries of the river. In 2001, 52 North Sea drift-netting licenses were bought out by a consortium of angling groups for nearly £4 million. But harvest remains a threat. “The thirteen drift netters that didn’t accept compensation—along with many shore-based netters—are still harvesting thousands of fish each year off the Northumberland coast,” Downie added. In the last few decades, the city of Newcastle had enjoyed a great renaissance, with a burgeoning 21st-century economy filling the void left by the coal and other heavy industries that brought it to prominence nearly 200 years ago. The healing of the Tyne and the subsequent return of Atlantic salmon may not have contributed to Newcastle’s economic resurgence. Yet for those who treasure nature, the redemption of a river has value in itself. Chris Santella is the author of Fifty Places to Fly Fish Before You Die, among many other titles. He’s an anadromous-fish freak who plies the water wherever they are found. Most often, that means for steelhead on the Deschutes River, which is located just east of his home in Portland, Oregon.
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Old Trucks and Bull Trout By Dennis Dauble
I arrive at my parents’ small bungalow to find my older brother Dusty soaking in the shower, his rod leaning by the front door. What happened to the anticipation that used to accompany opening day of trout season—when we went to bed restless and woke before the alarm went off, with butterflies in our stomachs? This more relaxed schedule, one that includes a full breakfast and a hot shower before wetting a line, indicates our biological clocks now tick to a different set of gears. Dusty raids Mom’s cookie jar while I load his tackle in my truck. We discuss his four-hour evening commute from Portland as I motor southeast across the Blue Mountain foothills, passing a PGG grain elevator that rises up like a monument above black-soil fields with a healthy sprout of winter wheat. I speed on gravel roads that are damp from overnight rain, but not so greasy, I have to steer with both hands. Twenty minutes later, the North Fork of the Walla Walla River beckons. Known as the “water fetching place” by the local Cayuse Tribe, it’s the smallest of two directional tributaries and the first to clear up. It has been 18 years since I last fished it. F.W. THOMAS Are wild trout still abundant for the taking, I wonder? I eyeball a stretch of open water. Bank full, the river shimmers slate green. I nose my truck up to a padlocked gate and gaze with trepidation at an old farmhouse. It is the the moment of truth. Will we get permission to access this exclusive stretch of private property? Dusty waits by the truck while I stroll to the back stoop where a matronly woman, gray hair pinned in a stylish bun, arranges a bouquet of fresh-cut purple lilac. Two hummingbirds zip past her head, hovering to sip from red plastic feeders hanging from the porch. “Mrs. Sams?” I ask. She smiles. So far so good, I think. At least I got the name right. It’s useful to read the mailbox. Brief pleasantries are exchanged. We discuss the weather, the amount of water in the river, and the condition of local fish populations. “I remember you from before,” she says. I suppress a double mocha buzz while she continues as if she has all the time in the world before saying the magic words, “My place only runs up to the next gate, but I guess you can walk up the road if you want to.” WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
My inner sanctum screams, Permission granted! I saunter to the truck, giving Dusty a thumbs-up when he sneaks a cautious look in my direction. We grab our gear and scramble over the barbed-wire fence like schoolboys playing hooky. A half mile up the road, on a high spot above the floodplain, the familiar sight of a rusty orange, ’34 International Harvester pickup greets us. Blackberry vines trail through the cab and engine compartment. The rear and side windows are broken out and the right front fender is half pried off, but both bumpers are intact. I rap my knuckles against the driver’s side door for good luck as we pass. Twenty minutes of hiking and two locked gates later, a westerly breeze moves ominous clouds up the valley. I notice that a fierce longing to fill my creel with trout “just to say I did” is missing. And how a once hurried pace has become deliberate. I soak up tidbits from the landscape. Spring bouquets of arrowleaf balsamroot and sulfur lupine decorate the south-facing slope. Nervous quail twitter from roadside elderberry. Mud is curdled on the edge of the one-track dirt road like decorative icing on a wedding cake. A lone raven tips back its head from a perch on a cottonwood snag and delivers a loud warning that echoes across the valley. Fishing the North Fork on opening day was once a tradition. Back when rising at dawn to be first on the river made the difference between catching a limit of trout and getting skunked. This common ritual became a thing of the past, however, when the demands of a career and family overrode how I spent my free time. At the three-mile mark, Dusty and I approach a stand of black cottonwood. Hidden under their protective canopy is “the Falls.” The river drops dramatically in elevation here, funneling through a crease in bedrock, and plunges over a waist-high basalt shelf. The result is a bathtub-shaped trout hole the size of a VW bus. I rest my hind end on a convenient boulder and rig up my fly rod. Dark clouds pile up at the head of the valley while bank swallows dip and twist to grab mayflies dancing above the water’s surface. Dusty approaches the river, crouches next to a wood-slat (Continued on page 65) NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018 I 31
After Dark, LOUIS CAHILL
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, in the Keys Purists may despise night fishing for Florida Keys tarpon, but nobody says it ainâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t high-adrenaline sport. By Jerry Gibbs
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Traditionalists, the experienced and the intransigent, scorn it as the redheaded stepchild of tarpon fly fishing. Night fishing, that is. They call it out as something for those who lack needed day skills—the demand for precision casting in myriad conditions, an ability to see fish at distance. And, they ask, how can you abandon the rush of the visual hunt, seeing a big tarpon close the distance, snap open its jaws, and suck in the fly? And yet . . . During the past couple of decades, a small but steady cadre of Florida Keys guides has refined the black-watch game into a teaching force, a game where runaway numbers of bites and hookups seem obscene in plenitude, where the demands during a variety of critical situations are no less the adrenaline shot than their daytime counterparts. This we know: You get no downtime in the night. Bruce Chard, a kid who simply knew his fish back in the mid-’90s, now a poster boy in the fly fishing industry, is credited
with refining night fishing in the Keys. When Chard was getting his start, the primary late-day fishing consisted of soaking mullet at the bridges. When the sun sank, the bite seemed to stop and most figured fishing was done; tarpon couldn’t see to eat, people guessed. Wrong. That fish’s eyes, alone, should have clued them to the tarpon’s nocturnal bent. Chard realized that a just-turning and outgoing tide offered the ideal current speed to ribbon forage near the bridges—easy pickings for the big fish. When the tide starts kicking, though, it shoots dinner—the baitfish, shrimps, and crabs—through the channels leading to the bridges, and then past the bridges themselves. This makes things harder for the ’poons. So they move. That’s when Chard says, Screw the bridges. He’ll tell you the fish move out, into Gulf waters—Florida Bay, more precisely—feeding where bait concentrates, which is over grass and along the edges of the channels in the flats. The fish move quickly, first maybe a hundred yards into the bay. The drill is to motor even farther uptide, shut down the engine, start drifting while blind-casting. You could get four or five eats during that 15-minute ride, when things 34 I AMERICAN ANGLER
are good. Eat your liver, day anglers. Next run, you likely motor another hundred yards farther upcurrent. In four hours, the fish can be two-plus miles into the bay. Middle of nowhere.
et a late start, say three hours into the falling tide, and your guide might take you into what seems like never-never land, causing you to think, What the hell are we doing here? But if it’s calm, the darkness humid and heavy, as soon as you shut down, you’ll hear a ploosh followed by a pow. And if the tarpon truly get on the feed, the sound is the staccato of a popcorn machine. They’ll be popping and pounding, sucking the bait, sometimes within a rod’s length of the boat, often with such power, it can be, well, frightening. In the Keys, such Wagnerian performances are found at virtually every bridge from Key Largo to Key West, with the bigger, deeper channels concentrating piles of large fish. Key West has its own night game, including the harbor option, with specialists like Capts. Greg Rahe and Nick LaBadie getting in on the act. Up in Biscayne Bay, Capts. Dave Hunt and Eric Herstedt lure the adventurous from Miami’s South Beach party scene to cast for night tarpon under lights. And on Florida’s west coast, Tampa native Capt. Jim Lemke developed nocturnal techniques that feature close-range fly pitching to illuminated, barrel-rolling tarpon where currents are not so strong as what you see in the Keys. Unquestionably, night fishing for actively feeding tarpon and coaxing them to eat by day are two different things. That’s especially true for the big, 40- to 50-year-old fish that have seen it all before and are under increasing angler, rec-boating, and environmental pressures. But the greater number of bites at night ratchets up an angler’s fish-fighting skill and builds confidence. In the dark, you’re also forced to feel the rod load while casting. By day, less experienced anglers often err by taking their eyes from a target to admire their loops.
here’s something else. Night tarpon are so energized, so pumped by their gluttonous feeding, they respond to the hook with a jumping ferocity beyond what the same size fish might display by day. And then they run. Invariably, even if hooked far out in the bay, they head with the current toward the ocean, toward the bridges. Hook a tarpon 100 yards from a bridge in strong current, and it’s “Katy, bar the door.” Add the eeriness of dark being pierced by a beam of high-lumen light, directed by someone in the boat tracking the fish and the fly line; add the possibility of sharks holding in current breaks, just waiting for the right moment to attack; add the slalomlike hazards of bridge and power line support piers— and all bets are off. Bringing a fish boat-side and pinging out WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
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the hook without angler casualties requires a rehearsal of tactics, precise teamwork, instant reaction, and luck. On calm nights, you make long, slow strips, gliding the black deer-hair ’poon fly on the surface, crosscurrent, and then back in. Tarpon can see the fly a long way off in calm water, but they can also see it with chop nearly coming over the bow. Their eyesight is incredible. When you get the eat, you may yell because no one can see the fish, nobody knows what kind of hell you’ve whipped up. When the ’poon starts crashing, the motor is cranked, and away you go. The fish may rip line off the reel despite the drag knob having been cranked down using your shirt. Somehow, the boat follows, booming past the first bridge supports with the water licking high. Now the fish is running straight, not jumping, between both bridges, until it cracks a hard left past the next support piers and is in the ocean. It’s slowing. You might have it. . . . Maybe the next fish goes nuts for 200 yards and your line and most of your backing are out, the high-beam light showing it wrapped around the barnacled bridge support. You get in the backing, your pal has the light on the line going down the concrete pier, and the guide is screaming, “Break it off!” It’s only 20-pound tippet, you recall, and should have cut by now. The current is absolutely tearing past the boat and the bridge like a surf break, before you see the line wrapped on the far side—you’ve tried to
break the line, not the tippet! The guide sees this, scoots around, and everything comes free. Even the fly. Forget the fish.
n the mid-’90s, most guides working the night shift used their daytime, technical poling skiffs, but they were tippy and scary as hell in the rips around bridges. And there were those sharks. One calm night near a bridge, one guide had two anglers in his little Dolphin skiff with one of them hooked to a tarpon that rushed the boat. A fabled giant hammerhead, locally known as Big Mo, heaved under the skiff, knocking it up. The guide grabbed the stumbling anglers, their eyes big as sunny-side eggs, while Mo blasted the tarpon into the air, catching it crosswise as it dropped. The guide gave up night fishing—at least in that little skiff. Most often, with the high-lumen light following the fish and the line, you see the sharks come, fins slicing the surface, bulls or hammerheads, and you clamp down and break the tarpon free. Still, it’s always a crapshoot chasing any big game fish that jumps—especially at night, when “the man in the brown suit” is near. Only once, back when he was a night guide, Chard had a hooked fish launch over his skiff, over the angler’s head. “We were very lucky that the fly line kind of took the good path over,” he said. “Amazingly, the angler actually cleared the line and fought the fish on the other side.”
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In 2010, after his second hip transplant, Capt. Jake Jordan gave up poling, sold his skiff, and bought a 20-foot-long, high-sided Jones Brothers center console. Jordan is now the go-to night guy in the Middle Keys. The boat makes his anglers very happy. Even in the big boat, Jake has had some excitement; tight drags that help stall wildly running fish also make those fresh tarpon charge right in. Happens so fast that keeping the rod off the gunwale doesn’t always work. Fish go under the boat, come out the other side trailing half a rod. It’s happened more than once. “One time when I had my [flats] skiff, a hooked fish came quartering at us, and the angler was getting his line back,” Jordan said. “Then the fish rushed alongside the boat and the angler, trying to follow, slammed the rod into the poling platform. The rod broke, the fish jumped and hit the port aft, coming half in, squirting out milt, sliming the angler and the boat before thrashing over. The angler looked down at himself and the mess dripping off him. “‘What the hell is this?’ he said. ‘It’s jism,’ I told him. ‘In nine weeks, you’re gonna have pups.’” Retired Outdoor Life fishing editor Jerry Gibbs lives on the midMaine coast, where night fishing for stripers is somewhat tamer than night fishing for tarpon—except for the lobster trap buoys.
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ugged Ditching the masses for native cutthroat and bull trout. Story and photos by Greg Thomas
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In the past 20 years, Montana’s
main rivers, along with those elsewhere in the West, have become clogged with driftboats and rafts, not to mention throngs of splash-and-gigglers, who launch their pink flamingos and paper-thin plastic rafts as a seemingly organized armada bent on ruining an angler’s day. It’s not always that way, and you can lessen the madness by fishing shoulder seasons, meaning spring and fall, when the weather gets “nipply” and many potential anglers are in the field, hunting birds, elk, antelope, and deer. But overall, no matter the season, the West is feeling a little crowded these days and I’m always looking for a way out. Lately, that relief arrives when fishing native cutthroat and bull trout. There are several detractions to this mindset. First, you can’t carry as much beer in a backpack as you can in some goliath Orion cooler that fits nicely in the driftboat. Second, as much as I detest those splash-and-gigglers, I do live in a college town and make the best of the available scenery, especially when the fish aren’t rising. You won’t see that in the backcountry. But to me, having grown up in a remote portion of Alaska— and after spending some of my most rewarding time in the high alpine country, where people are few and the views are grand—I still relate the most unique experiences to a sense of solitude. In Idaho and Montana’s backcountry offers an incredible fishing experience. Anglers often encounter wildlife, including Shiras moose. And the area’s bull trout (shown here) and cutthroat provide opportunity galore.
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other words, I don’t like sharing. This comes at a cost. Like most of us, when I got into fly fishing, I just wanted to catch fish; at some point, that agenda switched to catching quality fish; and finally, I sought the most difficult western streams to challenge my techniques and hatchmatching abilities. The Henrys Fork and, especially, Idaho’s Silver Creek were instrumental in that process, and for a long time, a 20-plus-inch brown sipping size 20 emergers off a flat surface was the ultimate thrill. That’s the knock against cutthroat, especially the westslope cuts finning in Montana’s and Idaho’s heavily forested rivers—they’re easy. Truth told, they’re opportunists living in a rough environment, and they must feed when the opportunity arrives; they are easy compared to those heavily fished browns and rainbows you might find on the big-name tailwaters, such as the Missouri, Madison, and Bighorn rivers, among many others. But . . . there’s something else. Few would argue that seeing a fish rise to a dry fly isn’t the ultimate angling thrill. And that’s what you get with these cuts—they’ll chow all the terrestrials, plus the big attractors, such as Chubbys, Turks, Trudes, and Elk-Hairs. Sometimes they’ll demand a Baetis or a P-chute Adams, but not often, and only on waters that have easy access along their banks. Fact is, often these cuts are easier to take on drys than they are on nymphs.
I usually end up taking the whole thing to an extreme: instead of fishing the easily accessed cutthroat waters, I focus on the very upper reaches of the larger rivers, and their tributaries, which are farthest away from roads and people. In my mind, I picture when and why the highly migratory cutthroat might be somewhere. It’s all a puzzle. Where are the cutthroat during late spring, when they spawn? The tributaries? The mainstem? Could a big cut be in a small tributary during summer, using it as a coldwater refuge? Would a big cutthroat stay low in a system during winter, in the big water and deep pools, because forage fish and midges abound? Is timing everything? I wonder. This hunt is no less challenging than choosing the right fly for a particular stage of the hatch, with a big brown rising beyond. This I know: Cuts move high during summer and drop back to the mainstem sections, especially the broad lower portions of these rivers, as soon as fall really hits and air and water temperatures drop, usually sometime in mid-October. At no time are these fish unwilling to eat. As much as I like seeing these cutthroat rise for drys, there’s something missing—I’ve always liked headhunting, and these fish average only about 12 inches long, with the largest rarely stretching past 16 or 17 inches. I can catch 30 a day on the best days, but that big-fish element that makes a day stand out for the rest of your life just isn’t there. Or maybe I just don’t know where the giants live and how to catch them.
Fortunately, there’s a wild card to play. When fishing westslope cuts, anglers often encounter bull trout, sometimes first noticing them when one of those beasts shoots to the surface to take a hooked cut in its mouth. I’ve had these bulls repeatedly slam cutthroat attached to my line and even take them underwater with them, like a shark slamming a hooked
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In Montana, anglers can’t specifically target bull trout, except in a couple of places, including the South Fork Flathead River. However, in Idaho, anglers can target bulls, so long as they quickly release those beautiful fish after capture. These bulls range between 3 and 13 pounds and provide a “big fish” option in backcountry settings.
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tarpon. It’s quite a show, and always a shock to see, although the cutthroat might respond, You don’t know the half of it. These bulls get big. Some stretch past 40 inches, and for those of you who fish steelhead, you know that’s a dream fish. I’ve fished through pools and buckets in these mountain streams, no wider than 30 feet, that hold dozens of these fish, many larger than any rainbow or brown you’ll ever catch. And get this—bulls do take drys. Twice I’ve pulled bulls to the surface with large, size 8 or 10 beetle imitations. One of those fish must have weighed eight or nine pounds. I’ve considered skating flies over some of these pools, although there is something strange about considering that method on a creek that may be only 10 yards wide. But it could be fun. The problem with bulls is that you never know exactly where they’ll be. You can guess they’ll be at the mouths of tributaries, but just as often as you find them, they are eerily absent. And you can search Google Earth for a stream and find pools that look likely, only to hike several miles to find the water brutally low and not nearly so appealing as you’d believed it to be. So the bull trout game isn’t a slam dunk, but when you find them, you’re usually in them, and the catching can be dramatic—I once caught and released 30-some of these beasts, fish up to 15 pounds, in a two-day window. Bulls haven’t always populated the western angler’s hit list. Or maybe I should rephrase that . . . bulls have been on the hit
list because they were once considered trash fish in Montana. Their seagoing cousin, the Dolly Varden, used to be considered a scourge in Alaska, too, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, from 1921 to 1941, actually paid a bounty for their tails. Once the bounty was revoked, the mind-set remained; if you caught a Dolly while fishing steelhead, sea-run cutthroat, or silvers in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, up the bank it went. A friend of mine, Montana born and raised, once showed me a photo he’d snapped on a backpacking trip into the Bob Marshall Wilderness, back when he was in high school. The photo showed a large bull trout, maybe a 10-pounder, resting on its side in a frying pan, with the head hanging off one side, the tail off the other, and a bullet hole in the middle. They’d seen it in the river while hiking on a trail above, pulled out the .30-.06 rifle, and gave it the lead. When I first moved to Montana, for college, I held a prejudice against bull trout because they ate
Summers in Montana and Idaho, even in the mountains, can be hot and dusty. When fishing in the backcountry, anglers must make do, and if that means cooling off, the stream is the best place to be. Western bull trout run big and may take dry flies—think about taking this fish, held by Jeff Wogoman, when it hits a size 14 ant intended for cutthroat. All bull trout must be released unharmed—take good care of them.
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rainbows, cutthroat, and browns. Now they are a savior for me—I can get my off-the-grid, dry fly, cutthroat experience with the possibility of landing a giant fish on any given cast. Before you key in my email address, the answer is yes: I do know that you can’t specifically target bull trout in Montana, outside a couple of places, one being the South Fork Flathead River in northwest Montana. But you do encounter bulls while fishing Western Montana’s mountain streams, and any time you tie on a streamer, it could be “game on.” In Idaho, you can specifically target bulls. Ditto for British Columbia, Oregon, Washington, and Alberta. No matter where you find them, and whether you pursue them specifically or they come your way by chance, bulls must be quickly released. They are an indicator species, meaning their abundance or lack thereof suggests the overall quality of a watershed. We lose the bulls, we likely lose the cutthroat and everything else soon after.
An admission: Sleeping on an air mattress ain’t as easy as it used to be. But my love for wilderness and getting away from people and our daily lives only has increased with the daily digital onslaught. I can’t float a river playing driftboat bang-o-rama and feel as if I really got out there. Plus, on most rivers, cell service is available—and you know how that can change the dynamic of a day on the water for those who take along a mobile phone. Which is another reason these cutthroat and bull trout streams appeal. No cell service here. If you get in trouble, you can power up your SPOT locator and type in, Save My Ass! That’s all you get. I like the sense of being mostly alone, relying on my outdoor skills to get me in and out alive. Not long ago, I spent a few days five miles back, camped in a small meadow with bull trout pools upstream and down and WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
lively cuts practically outside the tent door. In the evenings, a friend and I would chill because, really, there was nothing else to do. We’d catch our share of fish each day and return to camp with that completely worn-out yet euphoric feeling, from hiking and climbing the banks and testing our bodies to the limits. Then we’d cook a simple meal on a tiny one-burner stove. We’d drink a little, watch the stars, crawl into our tents at a reasonable hour, and get some sleep. We’d wake in the morning, boil water for oatmeal and coffee, then hit the water for another 10-hour fishfest. One morning, while we were drinking coffee, a cow moose walked right between our tents; another time, a black bear wandered through the meadow as if it owned the place, which we admitted by grabbing our bear spray and patiently allowing him by. I’ve survived a wicked flash flood while fishing deep in an isolated canyon for bull trout, and I’ve laughed for days at a friend who brought two left-foot wading boots on a multiday trip into the backcountry. (I lent him some New Balance running shoes that sort of worked on slick bottom rocks.) I’ve heard the first elk bugles of the year while hiking through these damp cedar, spruce, and larch forests, and once, I landed 100 cutthroat on my birthday and released 99 of them, saving one for a special dinner eight miles deep in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. There’s something in me and many of you, I’m sure, that isn’t satisfied with the cookie-cutter experience. Mountain climbers have it, backpackers, too; astronauts, spelunkers, and deep-ocean explorers feel a similar urge: some sort of drive to accept a unique challenge and see the unknown. For us, I believe, the beautiful places don’t include people, pollution, highways, and homes. That’s the draw to these bull trout and cutthroat waters. So, when you’re planning trips this winter, and you’re about to book another day in a driftboat, consider a day or two away from the big names, where you can be off the grid and ease that mind while tempting trout to the surface with drys. Then get yourself in shape and do it. NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018 I 45
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Overlooked Underrated & Chasing char in Icelandâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Central Highlands. Story and photos by Zach Matthews
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he wind veered again, this time blowing straight up the Kaldakvísl River in Iceland’s Central Highlands. Shivering, I tugged my hood around so it covered the left half of my face. The rain squall— just short of freezing—rattled against my jacket like sleet on a tin roof. It was late June, but the weather was miserable; Iceland was suffering through its wettest summer in a century, causing landslides in some areas not seen in a thousand years; one slide wiped out a famous salmon stream, forming a new lake. I flicked my rod upstream, resetting my drift, trying to ignore the conditions. Behind me I could hear my wife, Tracy, hunkering deeper into her nook in the rock wall. Five months pregnant with our first child, she was as bundled up as a person could be while still being able to cast. She had already caught her fill of fish, and was now focused on staying dry. Across the river, my friend Snævarr Örn Georgsson howled merrily in the gale, his rod tip bounding from yet another hookup. I was knee deep in drinkably clear water, filtered down from glaciers we could occasionally glimpse on the mountaintops surrounding us, when not veiled by clouds. The Kaldakvísl offers excellent fishing on a clear day, with large, white-finned char visible and no backcast obstructions for miles. Casting between rain squalls was something of a suffer-fest for us, but the char didn’t care. They continued aggressively feeding on midge larvae and the occasional stickleback (a small baitfish), oblivious to our privations. Iceland’s Highlands are a seldom-visited, somewhat stark region, which is often snowed in for half the year. We journeyed
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here at Snævarr’s suggestion, crossing a moonscape of volcanic scree in his Land Cruiser, miles and miles from the nearest town. Magma hardened in a hurry when this part of the island was formed, segmenting the stony ground into strange polyhedral pillars as big as a man—sort of like the crystals in Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. Over the millennia, the Kaldakvísl broke those pillars up, grinding them into gravel as it cut itself a streambed through the lava fields. Where we stood, the river’s flows had sheared off a vertical wall, leaving shallow nooks wherever a single multifaceted pillar had fallen into the river. Tracy sheltered from the storm in one such slot. Just as another curtain of rain passed over, my indicator dunked and I set the hook, feeling the heavy tungsten nymph bite deep into the jaw of a powerful arctic char. I was fishing with an antique reel, nearly 100 years old, and the char’s first run made it scream. I watched its wobble with increasing trepidation as the char hit third gear, wondering whether a vintage reel could hold up to such an intense fight. Char are relatives to the brook trout and, like their cousins, easily hooked. They are not, however, so easily landed. In fact, I was quickly learning that, pound for pound, your typical trout has nothing on a mature arctic char. The average-size char in the Kaldakvísl is over four pounds, with many reaching twice that size. Even a four-pound char is plenty to handle, especially on a 5-weight rod on rain-swollen river flows. As my fish got into my reel’s backing, I hastily ran back over what little I had been told about the arctic char in this river. Iceland employs a beat system, similar to the “outfitter”
Top: Snævarr Örn Georgsson cradles a Kaldakvísl arctic char, during a brief respite in the rain. Bottom: The glacier-fed Kaldakvísl cuts a wide river basin through volcanic soil.
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system in place on some western U.S. rivers. On the Kaldakvísl, the person with rights to the beat is named Kristjan Pall Rafnsson, a young and hip Icelandic angler who is co-owner of Fish Partner, a major Icelandic outfitter. The difference between Iceland and, say, Montana, is that you can’t just access the Kaldakvísl and fish on your own, as you can on the Beaverhead and dozens of other Big Sky Country waters. In Iceland, all the rivers are private, so you must secure permission from whoever owns the fishing rights. Rafnsson and a crew was actually filming a documentary on another section of the river during our trip, and we had met briefly before heading out. Rafnsson explained the unusual nature of the Kaldakvísl, which has everything to do with Iceland’s volcanic history. “In this river,” he said in his lightly accented English, “we have both char and brown trout. There are three sections, divided by big waterfalls. The brown trout are actually highest in the watershed, above the first waterfall.” This is paradoxical, because char are the fish better known for their preference for high altitudes and the coldest waters, nearest the glaciers. I asked Kristjan how the brown trout could have gotten above the char, and he answered, “They got there first.” Iceland has a sizable seismic history, meaning at some point in the past, the Kaldakvísl flowed all the way to the ocean without waterfall obstructions. During that time, the browns swam the full length of the channel. Later, a prehistoric earthquake disrupted the river, creating an unbridgeable waterfall. Char reached the watershed, intermingling with browns in the middle and lower sections, but couldn’t get over the waterfall to reach the headwaters. This didn’t seem to impact their abundance. Rafnsson explained that the base of the food web in the Highlands is the insect life. “You don’t see them when it’s windy and raining, of course, but we actually have so many caddis,” he said. “We also have a ton of midges. The char feed on these year-round, and they also eat the sticklebacks, which is why there are so many healthy fish.” The char are unquestionably in prime shape. Working cautiously so as not to blow my reel to pieces, and by using the curPtarmigan are common in Iceland, but finding their well-concealed nests is not. Her clutch of 11 eggs is typical, though only a handful will make it to adulthood.
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rent to turn the fish after each long run, I had managed to bring my char close enough to see. Shimmering teal and orange in the clear water, its white fins flared like airplane wings. I got enough of a look to see that it was over 20 inches long and probably weighed around five pounds—and then it made another run. As it sped away, I watched it scatter a whole school of its brothers. The whitefronted fins of char are easy to spot, and I could see many more all around me as I leaned into the current, resetting my feet. While I shivered and battled my fish, Snævarr was merrily toying with another of its brethren in the midst of the rain squall. He was apparently immune to cold, which we joked was all thanks to his Viking ancestry. On a previous trip to Iceland, I fished with Snævarr on his family farm on the eastern side of the island. There, fat brown trout over five pounds pig out on arctic char fingerlings, which wash down from the Highlands during the annual summer runoff. Char thus serve as both predator and prey; in the Highlands, mature char convert insect biomass and sticklebacks into baby char, some of which get pushed down to the coastlines each summer when the glacial fields begin to melt. Those babies are then eaten by predatory brown trout with noticeably long, sharp teeth—a special adaptation. These fish-eating browns grow fat as hogs in the summer, but nearly starve all winter, until the next glut of char arrive. The consistent rains, which were soaking me to the skin, convert to snow each winter, helping recharge the Highland glaciers while setting up a new cycle. The Highlands ecosystem, stark as it is, thus serves as the nucleus of an entire Icelandic trout food web.
pstream I heard another howl, this one slightly higher pitched. My friends Ken and Sydney Barré had accompanied us, and Sydney had just stuck her first fish, which was doubling over her blue fiberglass rod like a willow wand. Snævarr quickly landed his fish and reeled up, moving upstream with our only net. If we had chosen to, there’s a good chance we could all have fought fish at once—the char certainly would have cooperated. Sydney landed her fish quickly, and I watched them snap a few photos, with big smiles all around. She had two things to be thankful for: She had just landed her first arctic char, but more important, that
Left: The white-tipped fins of arctic char recall their brook trout cousins. Right: Ken Barré launches a cast as Iceland’s midnight sun permits extended angling hours.
also meant she could now join Tracy in the shelter of the shattered rock wall. Another squall line was building in the distance, and the wind made even shouted conversation impossible. Without question, the Kaldakvísl would be seen as a national treasure in almost any other country. Between its stark natural beauty, the abundance of its char (and brown trout) populations, and their near-suicidal willingness to take flies, it is an angling paradise, albeit a wet one. The funny thing about Iceland is how long it has taken for its citizens to recognize just what they have. Until recently, the Icelandic angling community was almost exclusively focused on salmon fishing. Catch-and-release was rarely practiced, and few anglers even bothered fishing for char. In the past 10 years or so, that has changed, sometimes with epic effects. Snævarr also guides for salmon in Northeast Iceland, for example, and he has seen firsthand the effects of catch-andrelease on that fishery. “Twenty years ago, it was incredibly rare to see anyone catch a thirty-pound salmon,” he said. “Then the anglers started practicing catch-and-release. I remember when the first thirty-pounder was caught; it was a big deal and even covered by the national papers. Nowadays, we are seeing a few thirty-pounders every year.” I asked him how the adoption of catch-and-release could increase fish size so quickly, and he continued: “Many Atlantic salmon die after they spawn, but a significant number do not, and obviously those fish can grow bigger and return. However the biggest fish also arrive first, meaning they are subject to angling pressure immediately, in many cases before they can spawn. By letting those fish go, they get to spawn instead of being killed. That means we keep the big fish in the gene pool instead of weeding them out. Before, we were basically accidentally selecting for smaller fish to pass on their genes, and now it’s turning back around.” This same awakening within the angling community is now extending to Iceland’s arctic char fishery. Where before, char were seen almost as a baitfish, now interest is up, in part due to the relatively inexpensive nature of char fishing. Many salmon WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
beats can cost a whopping $3,000 a day or more, but char fishing on the Kaldakvísl is much more affordable. The rod fee per angler is about $800, but that includes a guide, meals, and, most important, what they call “Super Jeep” transportation from Reykjavík. Compared to salmon fishing or even the increasingly popular brown trout beats, arctic char are still a steal. As the squall lines faded into the distance, the softer side of Kaldakvísl revealed itself. Leaving most of my party basking in the sudden sunshine, atop a high, grassy cliff overlooking the water, I worked my way upriver, picking up char and also brown trout. A feeder stream above a small waterfall had been spanned by an arched wooden bridge, right out of a fairy tale, and I jokingly glanced underneath it to make sure there weren’t any trolls hanging around. Suddenly, movement caught my eye, as I spied a hen ptarmigan merrily bouncing along the river’s edge under the bridge, pecking midge larvae out of the shallows. She must have felt my gaze, because she froze, then quickly buzzed over to a bank of the creek, tucking herself down in the grass. I made my way over to her and realized I had found her nest—rare even by Icelandic standards. I eased down into the lush grass beside her, as she tolerated my presence. For a few minutes, we shared a kind of uneasy companionship; I meant her no harm, which she may have sensed. Together we looked out at the Kaldakvísl, with two waterfalls and my happy group all in sight. Snævarr and Ken both resumed angling, hooking fish in tandem, as the ladies lolled in the warm grass, eating a snack and enjoying the suddenly beautiful weather. Iceland is like that—one minute it’s a volcanic, sea-sprayed rock in the North Atlantic, and the next it’s like something out of a Tolkien novel. For an angler, it’s a paradise, whether you’re angling for salmon, brown trout, or merely the sorely underrated arctic char. Zach Matthews is a contributing editor and the host of The Itinerant Angler podcast. NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018 I 51
Smallmouths & Way out there, searching for Duck Islandâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s giant smallmouths. Story and photos by Ryan Sparks
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fter weeks of planning, fording a flooded road, and a midnight encounter with smugglers, we set out under a gathering storm. Bearing southeast, the outboard climbed to 3,000 rpm as we watched the bank of land behind us slowly fade. Now surrounded by endless water, we kept an eye on a thick band of storm clouds, hoping they would hold off long enough for us to make the crossing to Duck Island.
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uck straddles the United States–Canada border and stands alone in the vast inland sea that is Lake Ontario. It’s one of the most remote islands in the Great Lakes and sees few visitors; it’s protected by ice during winter, and strong winds hammer the water the rest of the year. To reach Duck from Kingston, it’s a 20-mile run across that open water. There are just a few narrow weather windows per year when Duck is accessible. We hoped this was one of them. I learned about Duck Island from a fisheries biologist while researching Lake Ontario’s smallmouth bass. He said the average-size smallmouth in the Duck Island area is astounding, and that the island holds the most abundant smallmouth population he has surveyed . . . anywhere. He also warned that the island seemed like a magnet for storms. When I asked about fishing pressure, he laughed: “First you have to get there.” Soon after that conversation, I called my friend Reed, who was finishing his doctoral exams and in desperate need of a fishing trip. With some research, we learned that the island is part of Canada’s Thousand Islands National Park. Because of its seclusion, Parks Canada lists Duck Island as a nature preserve and doesn’t require a permit to camp there. However, complicating our trip was Lake Ontario’s extreme high water and our meager boat. With heavy snowfall over the winter and biblical spring rains, the lake level rose to a 118-year high. Homes flooded, docks floated away, and normally visible shoals were now treacherously disguised under inches of water. We had an 18-foot-long flat-bottomed johnboat, and while these boats excel in shallow water, it would be tested by Lake Ontario.
n the first day of our trip, the radar showed a looming storm. Still, we followed a rutted dirt road along a lonely, narrow peninsula that extended into Lake Ontario. As we approached an obscure boat ramp, the road dropped away into rolling waves. A handwritten road closed sign was the only indication we weren’t the first people to discover the submerged road. With Reed wading in front and testing our path, I slowly drove the truck forward. Waves crashed against the side of the truck and rocked its frame. As the water rose to the door, I felt the boat lift off the trailer and float behind the truck, still tethered to the winch strap. I nervously held my breath until the water receded and the boat sank back down on the trailer bunks. The gravel ramp was in good condition, although we spent some time clearing a blockage of debris. Curiously, there was a fish tug docked at the ramp, its windows barred and darkly tinted. Inspecting the boat, we found it currently abandoned, although muddy boot prints on deck gave evidence of recent use. Between our long drive, fording the road, and clearing the ramp, daylight was fading. We decided to sleep there for the night, let the storm pass, and get an early start in the morning. Bourbon and the steady patter of rain on the windshield made it easy to fall asleep. At 3 a.m., we woke to the roar of engines. A sharp glow of headlights came into view just before three souped-up Jeeps flew around the corner, not even slowing down before plowing across the flooded road. Suddenly, the mysterious boat anchored so close to the border seemed more devious. We were silent as the vehicles skidded to a stop. The occupants rolled down their windows and conversed loudly over
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the storm. Before long they noticed our truck, and a high-powered flashlight focused on us. We waved like idiots, the light snapped off, and they left as quickly as they’d arrived. Morning dawned without incident, but the encounter put us on edge . . . and we hadn’t slept. Thankfully, that lull in the storm gave us an opportunity to attempt the crossing. Just outside the sheltered harbor, whitecaps rolled across the surface, and the boat pitched upward with every one of these, then slammed down, taking on water. Over the continuous drone of the bilge pump, we talked about numerous ships that foundered on Duck Island’s treacherous shoals. Over the years, the island has developed a reputation as the “graveyard of Lake Ontario,” and it’s estimated that two-thirds of Lake Ontario’s shipwrecks lay close to the island. With water sloshing at our feet and storm clouds in the distance, we hoped we wouldn’t add another chapter to the island’s storied nautical history. When Duck Island’s lighthouse came into view, it shone like a beacon. In the time it took to reach the island, the storm that had hung so menacingly in the distance faded away, and now the skies cleared to a brilliant blue. We cruised along limestone cliffs and made our way past the exposed skeletons of sunken ships and into a sheltered bay where one of the last buildings left on the island, a battered cement icehouse, greeted us with a hand-painted Canadian flag. In its center, instead of the usual maple leaf, was a duck. We set up camp and quickly pieced together our rods. We motored out of the bay, made a wide turn around the island, and within minutes spotted two smallmouth bass cruising along the bottom. Invasive zebra mussels have doubled Lake Ontario’s water clarity in recent years, and in certain areas you can see bottom in 80 feet of water. This means fly fishing for bass is primarily a sight-fishing game. As I cut the engine, we watched the bass make their way toward scattered rocks ahead of us. When they settled in, we realized the rocks were actually an enormous school of bass—around 50 giants resting on the bottom, not doing much of anything. I positioned Reed for a cast, and he laid out a perfect presentation just beyond the school. After several strips, the fly hovered inches in front of the fish. They didn’t flinch, blankly looking ahead with a thousand-yard stare. Over the next several hours, we tried everything to entice these fish. Big streamers, little nymphs, gurgling topwater flies—they wanted none of it. Eventually we moved on, and only found several more groups in that comatose state. With the sun sinking, we cut our losses and headed toward camp to fish for northern pike. Back in the sheltered bay, we pulled bunny streamers along the edges of flooded cattails. Within 50 yards of camp, a green streak launched at my fly. It turned out to
Duck Island’s smallmouth bass are as large as you’ll find anywhere. Best, they are unpressured and usually willing to eat. The carp fishing, too, isn’t bad, as evidenced by this slab.
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To reach Duck Islandâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s smallmouths you have to cross miles of open water, which can become dangerous if the wind kicks up. Anglers must fish during windows of prime weather. Those who hit it right land some great bass and a few northerns on the side.
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be a pugnacious pike that made several short runs before thrashing alongside the boat where Reed performed a heroic last-second net job just as the fish threw the hook. It was our only fish that day, but its 41 inches imparted our campfire beers with a spirit of celebration.
e woke to birdsong and the gentle lap of water, and quickly strung our rods. Overnight the water had settled into a tranquil sheet. There was no cell service, no people, just the hum of the trolling motor and the rush of line through rod guides. We felt revitalized and headed to the flats where we’d found bass the day prior. It might have been the shift in weather, a change of water temperature, or the piscine gods smiling down, but we found the smallmouths every bit as aggressive as they had been tight-lipped the day before. We caught fish after enormous fish. Black bunny leeches, blue and white Deceivers, pearlescent flash flies—it didn’t matter. They vaulted from the water and flared their gills in protest. Once in hand, black bars appeared on their flanks like Apache warpaint. We paused only to retie knots and sharpen hooks. When I finally checked the time, it was 4:30 p.m. We’d been in a smallmouth stupor for almost 10 hours. Back at camp, Reed breathed life into the fire as I wandered off to collect more wood. Snapping dead limbs off a fallen tree, I noticed that my fingers stung, which was evidence of a great day—thousands of tiny tooth imprints stamped into my thumb pads. Later, windburned and exhausted, we crawled into the tent with hopes of sunrise smallmouths. But that night, thunder jolted us awake. By morning, 10-foothigh waves and pounding rain let us know we wouldn’t be going out that day. To escape the rain, we cooked breakfast in a decrepit, swallow-infested barn. Then we headed out to explore the island on foot.
uck Island has a long history of human habitation, and archaeological evidence suggests that indigenous people used the island to cross Lake Ontario as far back as 450 b.c. In the early 1800s, European settlers built a fishing village on the island, but now a few bare foundations are the only evidence of its presence. Hiking east across the island, we followed a faint footpath through knee-deep water into a tangled band of trees. Eventually we emerged into an open meadow where the path led us to the first of two long-abandoned homes. The forest had enveloped the first, and it took some bushwhacking to reach. The door was broken open, but rotten floorboards and a buckling ceiling kept us out. This was the home of Claude W. Cole, a famous Prohibi-
tion-era rumrunner who used the island to smuggle booze across Lake Ontario and into the United States on moonless nights. Peering into the house, I thought of our late-night encounter on the mainland and supposed those guys were just carrying on Cole’s tradition. Steady rain continued as we meandered through a jungle of vines along the island’s leeward side. Passing a flooded inlet, I noticed a pod of tailing carp and scrambled my rod together. I eventually hooked one of these fish, but it ripped my line to the backing and charged through a patch of flooded bushes, snapping my leader in the process. The rest of the carp spooked, so we slogged our way out of the marsh. Back at the shoreline, we found hundreds of thousands of dead zebra mussels that cracked like glass under our feet. In spots where waves had pushed them farther ashore, they created dunes five feet high. Following this bizarre shore, we came upon the island’s most impressive structure, the former two-story vacation home of U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. Dulles used the island as an escape from politics until his death in 1959, after which the island sat unused until the Canadian government purchased it in 1977. Now Dulles’s house is eerily vacant, with dead bats and mice littering the floor. Constant battering from storms makes me wonder how long it will stand. When we returned to camp, the Ontario Explorer, a fisheries research vessel, was anchored in the bay. We approached, knocked on its metal hatch, and I was happy to see the biologist who’d told me about the island. He said they were doing smallmouth research in the area, but were forced off the lake by the storm. With extreme winds in the forecast, he suggested we use the predicted lull to head back to the mainland the next morning. We headed his warning, rose early, loaded our gear in the boat, and pointed the bow north. As we came out of the bay, Reed tapped me on the shoulder, pointed back to the island, and said, “Just an hour?” Lake Ontario, arguably, has the best smallmouth fishing in the world. By a stroke of luck, we’d found the proverbial needle in a haystack and enjoyed a day of fishing that still makes my heart race. And now neither of us wanted to leave. I turned the boat and sped around the island, beaching it on a bed of zebra mussels. We waded an expansive flat, trying to spot fish, then stood on boulders and blind-cast to a deep cut. When I saw two smallmouths swimming between us, I yelled to Reed. He led the pair by six feet, and they raced each other to the fly, the larger of the two winning. After several jumps, the bass resigned and slid into the net. This was a perfect punctuation to our trip. Later that day we were safely across Lake Ontario, with the boat back on the trailer, headed for home. If its history tells us anything about Duck Island, it’s a place where humans are merely visitors who don’t stay long. Its shipwreck graveyard keeps most people away, while its spectacular smallmouth fishing draws only a few intrepid anglers. If you’re willing to fish Duck Island, you’ll find all the hefty smallmouth bass and solitude you need. And you’ll also get plenty of shots at carp, pike, and early season lake trout. Even better, on most days, the only sounds you’ll hear are the rustle of wind and the swish of a fly line. Ryan Sparks writes, fishes, hunts, cooks, and talks nonsense to his English pointer, Tippet. You can follow his writing, photography, and adventures at www.flywatermedley.com.
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Gray Skies Black Rock Fish
Base-camping for rockfish and ling along Vancouver Island’s rugged west coast. By Rob Lyon
he seas were glassy calm as we approached a string of timbered islets a mile off Vancouver Island’s rocky west coast. We were kayak fishing out of British Columbia’s Rugged Point Lodge, and soon, Richard Leo, our native driver, would kill the 250-horse outboard and fire up the kicker motor to get us into shallow water. We slipped through the reefs and kelp beds that swayed in the cold, green currents, in a perpetual dance with the ocean currents. In shallow water—the color of the Mediterranean— we slipped over the gunnels like aging commandos, hauling kayaks, motors, solar panels, and other gear onto a tiny whiteshell beach. This would be our base for a week, and after Leo motored away, my friend Steve and I couldn’t help but feel the remoteness set in. After schlepping gear above the high-tide line, pitching tents, and establishing a kitchen, I bushwhacked into the woods to rough out a privy. I stopped short above what looked like a salal berry pie. “Dude,” I called back over my shoulder. “What?” Steve answered. “Got some bear scat here.” I poked it with a stick. It looked like a pie, all right,
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packed with salal berries inside a soft crust. It had rained the day before, and I suspected it was much older than it looked. Steve showed up and took a look. “Not too fresh,” he said. “Fresh enough, if he lives on the other side of the island.” We looked around a moment in silence, then decided we would scout our tiny island. We found more scattered sign, but no sightings of Mr. Bear. No doubt he swam to a neighboring island, perhaps the one with the wolf pack that Leo told us about, a stone’s throw to the east. I found a glass ball nestled in the beach grass on the way back to camp. It was the second week in September, and summer’s high pressure was holding strong, meaning sunny days with wind picking up out of the northwest each afternoon. Camp was pitched and the apex predator threat reduced to Code Green. It was time to get out on the water and do some business.
t was our first time in our new Torqeedo engine-powered kayaks. We got them up and running, found our GPS satellites, and paddled through kelp and rocks into open water, where I tapped the throttle forward, heard the whine of an electric motor kick in, and nosed ahead ever so slightly. Then I pushed the throttle ahead as far as it would go and shot through the water. After so many years of straight-up paddling, it felt like magic to move through the water without flexing a muscle. I motored blithely to the nearby kelp beds to see about dinner. Along the British Columbia coastline, there are two predomi-
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nant kelps that create habitat for young fish, and structure for their predators. Giant kelp is found in more protected waters on the lee side of islands; the rugged bull kelp lives along the exposed coastlines. As a rule of thumb, when you find giant kelp, think black rockfish and greenling. When you come across a patch of bull kelp, you’re likely to find those rockfish and lingcod. I slithered a strand of kelp frond over the side of the boat and sat on it as a tether. I tied a giant Borracho Baitfish onto a short leader and looped it to a RIO Deep 6 sinking line. Positioned along the edge of a huge kelp bed on the lee side of our island, I would cast and count to 10, then strip the line back in two-foot-long pulls. Black rockfish are a school fish, and active throughout the water column. We catch them deep, but also sometimes see them jumping at the surface, chasing baitfish. I feel a take and strike, missing. I let the fly sink a few beats and resume stripping. Again, a hit, and this time a streaking run. Just what I came for. I pumped the rockfish (Sebastes melanops) to the surface and handled it as I would a big John Day River smallmouth. Gripping with thumb and index fingers on the lower jaw, I easily unhooked it. There were no teeth to worry about, but I had to watch those dorsal spines; the pain from a sting would bring tears to the eyes of a marine. It’s always great to break the ice on any fishing trip, and I quickly caught several more blacks at this spot, all mint copies of each other at a couple of pounds
Vancouver Island’s west coast offers secluded camping and great fishing, where adventurous kayak anglers take rockfish (left) and lingcod. King and coho salmon are added bonuses.
apiece. The current picked up, making it difficult to hold on to my kelp tether, and I decided to troll instead. With the kayak’s electric motor, I could hold the rod with one hand while cruising along the edges of vast kelp beds. Before the trip, I contacted Denis Pierce at Trolling Flies. Pierce is a trolling aficionado who implants disks on his flies to maximize the action. He sent out some of these nifty plastic disks for our trip, and I slid one up my line and secured it with a locking bead, maybe a foot in front of the fly. Then I swung it out over the side of the kayak to check the action. Whoa! It darted around, and I thought, If I were a fish and saw that thing swim past, I’d be on it. The action disk, as he calls them, turns an otherwise straightarrow minnow into a frenetic one. Even with that action, I didn’t hook any blacks, or a salmon, on the way back to camp. As I pulled my motor at camp, Steve held up dinner, a handsome four-pound black rockfish. Soon, the sun set like a giant WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
orange egg yolk slipping into the frying pan of the North Pacific. While Steve sautéed onions, garlic, and veggies and steamed up a pot of jasmine rice, I found a flat cooking rock and built a fire atop it. An hour later, I took a stick and pulled our cooking rock out from the coals and blew off the ash and slapped down our black, field dressed and scaled. Liberally salted and peppered, it sizzled for 10 minutes per side. It would be our first of many fish entrées that week, ranging from rockfish to greenling to ling— your basic coastal seafood buffet. NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018 I 61
ishing pretty much anywhere off the cold, nutrient-rich waters along the British Columbia coast is usually extraordinary. I’ve fished the entire outer coast of Haida Gwaii and Vancouver, the two major island groups in coastal British Columbia, and never once lacked for fish. If salmon is your target species, though, it’s another story—it can be feast or famine. I once pulled into a little bay after a long day on the water and found a school of frisky five-pound jack salmon encamped there with me. Fortunately, I had a sweet little Hexagraph 6-weight rod stashed in the hold for just such occasions. I strung it up and cast Sofa Pillows, of all things, to an appreciative audience and had one of the most memorable fishing days of my life. My motto is this: Come to coastal British Columbia for the rockfish and ling, and hope for those cohos and kings.
he outside of Cautious Island is aptly named—for bigger ships, at least. We squeaked through narrow channels between rocks and breakers. When swells arrived, we climbed over the front slope and skated down the back. When we neared a reef that took the full brunt of the North Pacific, it sounded like cannon fire as white froth fountained into the air. I knew one thing: We were in ling country. Remember the bull kelp I mentioned? It thrives on exposed shores, just like the one we arrived at. However, these are tough places to sit in a kayak and blithely toss a fly around. You’ve got
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swells rolling in, and surge refracting back off the rocks, which creates a chaotic sea. You may find yourself glancing back over your shoulder more than usual, hoping not to see the terrible NorPac rearing overhead. And why would an angler fight those conditions? The answer is simple: ling. Purists might choke on the idea, but after all the time I’ve spent on the coast, I keep an ace up my sleeve. When the menu reads fresh grilled ling fillets with butter and lime, and I’m pressed for time or dealing with nasty sea conditions, I’m not at all above tying a metal jig on the end of the line. Ironically, I prefer both fly rod and a dependable Galvan reel when I drop a jig. The reel provides that direct control we like and is maintenance free (compared to a level wind) and the rod is a joy to fight and pump a fish to the surface with. Not to mention, I can swing the line out over the bow of my kayak when need be.
hen fishing off these reefs, we jockeyed the boats in and out of the surf zone and lowered our jigs when we could. When we hooked up, we would use the motors (thankfully, they had reverse) to scoot away from danger and play the fish safely. (Below) This ling is perfect for dinner, and the following morning’s breakfast. These fish range between 5 and 50 pounds and put a bend in a fly rod. (Right) Base-camping on a beach has its merits.
I was still rigging up when Steve tied into something big, hit reverse, and scooted back toward me. I put down my rod and picked up the camera. The ling held straight down below the boat and shook a heavy head. Steve was able to gradually pump it toward the surface. I glanced down through polarized lenses and saw a hefty snake of a fish about a foot under the surface, right next to my kayak. That’s when I realized I hadn’t brought my net. But . . . I had a paddling glove on and a free hand, and the impulse struck me—I reached over and grabbed the wrist of the ling’s tail with one hand, and the jig with the other. I lifted and swung the fish onto my lap in one motion. Lings are living time bombs, lying deathly still until they start thrashing around. And this isn’t good—they have long, sharp teeth and toxic spines. When this fish went ballistic, I couldn’t think of anything to do but lean forward and “sandwich” the fish. It was a bonehead idea—and I knew so as soon as the hook sank into my leg. I turned my head to the side and called over to Steve: “Little help.” Steve was laughing. “Dude!” I said. “Get over here. We’re both hooked now.” Moments later, he handed me a net. I straightened, quickly unhooked myself and the fish, and dropped the ling in that net. It was a large fish, and Steve asked, “Think we can eat it all?” I picked up my driftwood priest and rapped the fish on WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
the head. “Yes, I do.” There was a small group of kayakers camped on a nearby island who were clueless about fishing. Several times during our stay, Steve dropped in to deliver fresh fish to the rookies. Eating prajna-free powder in a pouch out here seems, well, shortsighted, when ling and rockfish are available. Don’t get me wrong, we brought freeze-dried food, just in case, but we sure didn’t expect to eat it. Part of the coastal fishing experience is living mostly off the land, and if you’re not doing that out here, you’re missing out.
ur days settled into a routine. We would bust out on the water in the morning, after coffee and a leisurely breakfast, and explore. The cove gave us all the vectoring options we needed, no matter the prevailing weather. One channel led to tranquil bays; the other took us to reefy, open water. One morning I woke to the sound of wind out of the southeast, huffing loudly in the trees. I stuck my head outside the tent and saw a steely gray sea flecked with white that stretched across the horizon. The sky was dark and ominous, with storm clouds scudding like race cars overhead. A sou’easter was at hand. We turned on the VHF to get the latest weather prediction from Environment Canada. Storm-force winds were predicted. I’d been on this very isle 20 years earlier, when hurricane-force winds blew through. I’d come through fine in my North Face dome tent while a buddy had his $700 Swedish tube tent blown to shreds. We quickly erected a tarp shelter over a small driftwood stockade to sit under and enjoy the atmospherics. Then we pulled the boats up high onto the driftwood, guyed out our NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018 I 63
A Word on Our Rides
We fished out of 15-foot-long SoT fishing kayaks designed by Wilderness Systems, with a port just fore of the cockpit. We could run the boats as canon fishing kayaks or drop in the 15-pound motor, plug a cable into a GPS control unit, synch up with satellites whizzing overhead, and hit the throttle. These kayaks offered a 20-mile range with the highcapacity Torqeedo lithium-ion batteries. It was a gas to fish from a kayak with a motor. We could run these babies flat-out at six miles per hour, or troll all day long at a meander. We took along spare batteries and solar charging panels to keep the juice flowing. And maybe best of all, our hands were free to handle a rod instead of juggling a rod and paddle. I come from a hard-core expeditionary kayaking background, where self-power is the way, but these kayaks were handy for day jaunts away from a base camp.
Kayakers today are encouraged to camp on Big Bunsby. It is a big island (over 650 hectares), completely undeveloped, and has quality fishing surrounding it. But, should you decide you might want to camp and or fish (or both) anywhere else in the Bunsby chain, you should contact the Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’/ Chek’tles7et’h’ First Nations (KCFN) Admin Office ahead of time, for permission and details on your options. There are several islands in the chain that are off-limits, and ignorance is no excuse: (250) 332-5259. Fish are plentiful throughout the area—be informed of the regulations. You’ll want to take a map along with you. The waters surrounding Big Bunsby Island, including both the inlets to the north and south, are open. That is a ton of water, and you will definitely find fish. Fringe seasons are always less busy. Try September, even into October. Licenses are available online.
Checleset Bay Ecological Reserve: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/ bcparks/eco_reserve/checleset_er.html#Purpose. Big Bunsby Marine Provinical Park: http://www.env.gov. bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/big_bunsby/park_map.html. Rockfish Conservation Area: http://www.pac.dfo-mpo. gc.ca/fm-gp/maps-cartes/rca-acs/rca-acs/north-nord/CheclesetBayChart3604-eng.html. Rugged Point Lodge Water Taxi: A word on these guys. Kristy grew up in Kyuquot. and she and her husband, Matt, built the lodge in 2011. While it largely serves a sport fishing clientele, Kristy is happy to send the water taxi off on missions like hauling my buddy and me around to remote beaches that would ordinarily take a week’s worth of paddling. Highly recommended: http://ruggedpointlodge.com/lodge/ about-us/. Kyuquot First Nations Admin Office: (250) 332-5259. BC Saltwater Fishing Licenses: http://www.pac.dfo-mpo. gc.ca/fm-gp/rec/licence-permis/index-eng.html#stamp.
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tents, and waited for the show to begin. Big winds spanked the island and bent the trees throughout the day, but we managed to stay a step ahead of any damage. At the storm’s peak, we retreated to the tent and played Magic until nightfall. I mentioned eating locally; well, even this far out, we were drinking locally as well. That’s because, on our way north a week earlier, we’d stopped at the Mount Arrowsmith Brewery in Parksville, British Columbia, to meet Dan Farrington, co-owner of the brewery, and guide and co-owner of a north country lodge. We chatted up shared passions as we sampled the wares and left with our crate of Klean Kanteen growlers filled to the brim. The sea stayed lumpy on the exposed north side for two days. On the second day, we took our fly rods and went after schools of black rockfish along the giant kelp beds behind our island. We brought out a solar oven that evening to cook up our fish. While Steve filleted two small blacks, I prepped onions and garlic and quartered red potatoes. Then we laid our salt-andpeppered fillets into a steel sleeve and slid them into our little GoSun oven. The mélange of delicious smells on the sea wind was exquisite, and we nursed our growlers while we waited. Before long, we were tucked into a tasty meal.
t was our last day on the island before we would pack up camp and Leo would return for us. Shafts of sunlight pierced the ragged gray cloud cover. The swell to the north looked to be running 8 to 12 feet high, but smooth as silk, and there was no wind on the water, whatsoever. We loitered in camp a bit, then suited up and motored across the inlet to give the salmon one last shot. The inlet was deep and wide, and the outgoing tide was muddy from the rain. We won’t hook a salmon in that, I figured. But when we made it to the far shore, out of the ebb current, we found green water. We motored close in to the Battle River, where I’d found pods of hungry salmon in years past. The river mouth has a small set of breakers, a kind of miniature Redondo Beach. We trolled in front of and behind the breakers and kept a sharp eye out for jumpers. In the end ,we saw none and touched nothing but seaweed. We checked our displays and trolled back across the inlet. The water flushed a beautiful emerald color and flowed slick as glass. But by the middle of the inlet, we were in a swell carousel, bobbing high in the air, then dropping way, way down. I heard Steve shout, and turned to see a salmon leaping behind his boat. I turned the rudder to starboard, intending to help. When Steve dropped from view, behind another giant swell, I heard him shout, “Damn!” Catching a big salmon is the pinnacle of the kayak fishing experience and something we’d hoped to achieve on this trip. But I knew what that shout meant, and turned the rudder back to port. That meant the trip was over, with no salmon to hand. Fair enough— we’d missed the salmon, but we’d feasted on rockfish and ling, and camped in a remote and rugged portion of British Columbia, and we’d fished to our hearts’ content.That’s pinnacle enough for me. Rob Lyon is a freelance journalist who lives in Washington state’s San Juan Islands. WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
Confessions (Continued from page 25) Not knowing what else to do, I lobbed the fly backhand to the up current side of the boat and took in the slack. Underneath us, a skein of impossibly large shapes moved up current. And then, the sea broke wide open. There was a take and a whipping of line, multiple hard-pull hooksets, and a singing drag. The fish came up 80 feet out, exploded, and shook, gills flared. It was an absolute monster, and while it zinged me into my backing, I looked back at Kim and Lincoln and cursed like a pirate, while somewhere inside me the seeds of doubt were already quietly germinating. “De big one,” Lincoln announced while freeing the anchor. I leaned back on the fish as it aimed for the sea. Lincoln had the motor idling in case we needed to chase. I knew already, we needed to chase. The next few minutes seemed an eternity. I kept pressure and regained
Old Trucks and Bull Trout
(Continued from page 31) cattle gate and swishes the air with a ratty-looking Stimulator that I suspect has been tied on since he last put his rod away. Several casts later he hooks and lands a small trout. He holds it across the palm of his hand to admire before dropping it into the shallows next to his feet. There is something extraordinary about the first trout of the year, even if it is only six inches long. Eager to try my luck, I tie on my standard “attention” pattern, a size 8 Bucktail Royal Coachman. My first presentation to the signature hole downstream of the Falls is pulled deep by swirling current. I cast again and let my offering swing downstream to the tailout. No takers. Undaunted, I cast a third time and a fourth, but there is no grab or subtle tug when the fly floats or drifts deep. I work the opposite shore, stripping line with short pulls to bring my offering along the current edge. The Coachman darts like a panicky minnow but does not entice a strike. The absence of trout gnaws at me. I WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
150 feet of backing, then fly line. The tarpon pulled into shallow water at the north end of the cut. I tried to lift him, saw him jump once more, close this time, then felt him thrum down at an incomprehensible angle. I saw my line wrapped up, and turned to Lincoln for advice. It was over before he could speak. I reeled in and sat down. The fly line was corral cut and ragged ended. In the mirror that evening, I saw something familiar. At a glance, it was a lack of follow-through, a lassitude of spirit that plays out in my performances, as it has since I was 14. I could say I’ve become more of a battler, more driven, but it wouldn’t really be true. That tarpon reminded me that in the heat of competition, I often let go, exhibiting a flaw that by western standards should be tragic. But I suppose at 41, I’m old enough to frame it differently, or perhaps just to hide my failings behind wisps of philosophy. I like to think I didn’t give up on that tarpon as I’d given up to the butterball.
I like to think that in my fishing, even when the stakes are high, there’s no need for conquest or, correlatively, no potential for defeat. There is all the sweat, and all the adrenaline, and sometimes all the incomparable heartbreak, but there is also a complex relationship between fish and man that’s nothing more or less than a dynamic struggle. In the end, I was happy to cast well, to jump a massive tarpon, to feel the weight and raw power of something rarely seen. I didn’t need to land that fish to make a lasting memory, or to qualify myself as a winner. I walked away from the mirror, took a drink onto the dock, and watched the sun go down on another year. Standing there, I realized just how much I have grown, despite my unimpressive physique. That middle school wrestler didn’t love the game and just didn’t care; the angler in me loves the game, plays to the end, and whether victorious or not, is always ready for the next test.
wade upstream to a fast current that runs against exposed tree roots. I hold position in snowmelt water until a rainbow trout rises from the shadows to take my fly. It jumps twice, bulldogs at my feet, and sprints downstream over the falls. That’s when an enormous bull trout rises from its lair and takes the small fish down like a great white after a baby seal. My rod tip buries underwater and line slices back and forth in the froth. I yell to Dusty, “Get up here and take a look at this fish!” Meanwhile, the bull trout lets go of its prey. Not to be deterred, I drop the battered trout dangling on my line back down into the swirling current. Once again, my rod tip buries itself and the battle continues until the bull trout tires and coughs up my “bait.” Satisfied that I’ve had enough play, I unhook the small trout and toss it back. Dusty gives a low whistle when the bull trout surfaces one last time and engulfs my peace offering. The rest of the day follows with no particular sense of urgency. We hike upriver to where steep canyon walls press
close, passing overflow channels rimmed with yellow monkey flower and buttercup. Gentle breezes cajole a nearby cottonwood to release its bloom, coating my fishing vest with pale, delicate fuzz as magical as the dust of new snow. The stream becomes an artist’s palette of which trout are only part of the mosaic. Rather than race ahead as practiced in our youth, we alternate fishing short stretches. We critique each other’s casting, argue over the best patterns, and lie about the number and size of fish that we hook. The pleasant smell of trout stays on our hands. A brief downpour pelts us on the hike back but does not dampen my enthusiasm for this brief return to a landscape of my youth. Two brothers reunite on opening day to witness the predatory nature of a giant bull trout, catching their fill of trout, and aren’t arrested for trespassing. It may have been my imagination, but when we approach the old Harvester truck, a shaft of sunlight shoots through a keyhole in passing storm clouds, and rusty headlights shine as if someone switched them on high beam. NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018 I 65
FLY TYER® by Scott Sanchez
Winding Up Monsters To hook young fly tiers, let them use crazy materials and their wild minds.
at least one. Through these experiences I’ve learned a lot about teaching kids and what interests them. And I’ve also learned there’s still a little kid in me. For the past five winters, I’ve run a free after-school fly tying class for kids at JD High Country Outfitters, in Jackson, Wyoming. We keep it low-key and make it easy to participate. Kids already have way too many organized activities, so it is good to facilitate some spontaneity. No sign-up is required; the kids just drop in. They can come once, or every time. It’s kind of like pickup basketball—we furnish all the tools and materials, give them a place to be, and they just roll with it. Some of our longtime students now actually help the younger kids,
which is a satisfying progression to see.
How to Teach: Fun, Fun and More Fun If you want kids to learn to tie, it really needs to be fun and creative. In the world of fly fishing and tying, sometimes we take ourselves way too seriously. If we aren’t smiling, I ask, why are we doing it? If you take that mind-set into teaching kids how to tie, you’ll succeed. Let them learn the mechanics of tying by enjoying what they are doing. Remember, they won’t get to the advanced steps if they don’t enjoy the basics. Expertise follows. Allowing kids to participate in all aspects of tying, including their input on how a fly should look, keeps them captivated.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY SCOTT SANCHEZ
LY TYING IS A GREAT WAY to introduce fly fishing to kids, and it’s a fantastic way for you to spend quality time with them, doing something both of you enjoy. The nice thing about fly tying is it can be a stand-alone activity, creating works of art, or an add-on to fly fishing. Also, it is something kids can do on their own, anywhere. Best of all, it’s fun. For many years, I’ve had a great time teaching kids to tie flies. I’ve taught classes through the Federation of Fly Fishers, for school groups, and at the fly shops where I’ve worked. Once, I was in the middle of three instructors teaching 20 kindergartners how to tie a Woolly Bugger, and in a half hour, every one of those kids tied
Hi Viz Cheez-It
Hook: Dai-Riki 4XL streamer hook, sizes 6 through 1. Thread: Yellow 140 denier. Body: Gold 2-millimeter foam, colored with orange marker. Legs: Yellow medium round rubber. Center hole: 3-millimeter eye.
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Even the simplest choices, such as picking the color of a fly, make a big difference to children. They become more invested in the fly—and may think, Can this actually catch a fish? Giving kids options increases involvement, so don’t force them to tie a bug they don’t want to; if you’re using foam, let them choose among a beetle, an ant, or a Chernobyl. It’s all foam, and the technique is similar across all those bugs, so why let the bug itself matter? Sometimes it is good to go with the flow even if your students’ choices seem outrageous. A great example is the Cheez-It fly. Last spring, some parents brought snacks to our after-school tying class. A box of CheezIts gave one boy, Waylon, some inspiration. He said, “I want to tie a Cheez-It fly.” “Pretty simple,” I responded. We grabbed some gold foam, a pen to mark the foam, tied a foam square to a hook, and added rubber legs for good measure. Everyone had fun, and some of the other kids tied that Cheez-It fly, too. Waylon’s summer task was to catch a cutthroat on the Cheez-It. Another time, one of the boys, Dane, was interested in squids, something that carried over from a school project. Because of that, we tied some of my Duct Tape Squids, and for the next three weeks, kids who missed the squid session demanded a redo. There aren’t many squids in the Snake River—none, in fact—but there are now a bunch of squid flies decorating kids’ rooms in Wyoming. That’s one thing you can do with kids to keep them interested—let them create creatures. Foam frogs and mice are superb options, squids are another. These flies won’t get shoved in a drawer or hidden in a box. They’ll be displayed and shown to friends and family. When making creatures, remember that a cheap bag of doll eyes brings those flies to life. That’s when the kids get really excited. You might have to help with the glue; to further embellish the fly, try using markers. Remember, if you listen to the kids, they’ll tell you what interests them. Follow that lead, and you’ll have kids who love to tie.
Reasonable Expectations Successfully teaching most kids to tie has everything to do with letting them tie something that is fun, and less to do with WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
how the fly actually fishes. The early flies will be far from perfect. That is just the way it is. But it’s part of a process, and they’ll get better with practice. And you might be surprised; some of those ugly flies catch fish. When teaching, match the patterns and instruction to the abilities and desires of the kids. Different age groups will be able to do different things. For little ones, have them hold the material for the fly as you wrap it, or hold the material and have them wrap. Older kids will be able to do more. If you have some serious youth anglers, pick the patterns based on what they can reasonably tie and what types of fish they pursue. Remember this, too—from experience, I know that when they are done tying, they are done. When that occurs, let them take a break or do something different. Don’t force them to tie if they have lost patience.
Make Them Successful Make sure to provide tools that work, and also to encourage kids to use their own.
brought tools, encourage their use. This is a good way to make sure the children’s gear works while giving you a chance to adjust if necessary. If you end up with more students than tools, team tying is a good way to keep everyone involved. Have one tie in a tail, have the other tie the body, et cetera. Alternate who performs the tying steps for the next fly. If kids end up sitting in the corner, they aren’t coming back. Even if their first flies are horrible, let them finish and praise them. Find good in their creations. Every fly that comes out their vises is a success. Some are good, some are rough, but they are all winners. You got them to tie a fly, and that is a step up the ladder to building more. Make them feel like they accomplished something the first time. Do so, and they’ll come back to tie again. If you need to tie off their fly and glue it so it doesn’t fall apart, then do that. On the next fly, you may give them more assistance. Sometimes the flies are
Eyes and markers can bring flies to life for kids and get them interested in tying.
Tools don’t have to be expensive, but the vise needs to hold a hook, and the scissors need to cut. The best moderately priced vise I have found is the Griffin 1A. Simple, basic, easy to adjust, and it holds hooks of any size. Make sure the bobbin is adjusted correctly and that it holds thread that’s strong enough for the job. Check that the vise is at a comfortable height for kids to tie. You may need to modify table or chair height. If a kid has
mostly tied by you with a little help from the students. In the end, the flies are still theirs—and they can be proud.
No Parachute Posts Don’t start kids out on difficult patterns. Show them something that is manageable to tie. A good starter is the Woolly Bugger, which can be tied in any size, color, and multiple variations. Chernobyl-style flies are good, too. Foam and rubber can be NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018 I 67
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I can remember Kevin Hunter tying a fly like this 25 years ago. It is just a Chernobyl Ant, but for a kid, it can be a lot more fun to attach the additional elements; for an adult, it makes a great gag gift. This is a fly that will go on the wall, go to school, and be shown to all your kids’ friends, creating interest, and possibly awe, among their social circle. A Mylar chenille underbody makes a foundation for the fly that keeps the foam from twisting. Kids may need help gluing on the eyes and teeth. I use cyanoacrylate or Goop to put these on. For cyanoacrylate, I squeeze some onto a plastic lid and use a toothpick to apply. For the teeth, I usually dip the end lightly in Chernobyl Alligator Hook: Dai-Riki 4XL streamer hook, sizes 6 glue and then stick it to the foam. Craft glue through 1. can be used. Many of these glues are water Thread: Yellow Flat Waxed Nylon. resistant when dry. If the kids want a pink Underbody: Pearl Mylar chenille. or purple gator, go for it. I bet you can fool a Body: Green 2-millimeter foam. cutthroat, bass, or sunfish with this fly, too. Legs: Green or chartreuse medium round
rubber. Jaw: Green 2-millimeter foam. Eyes: 4-millimeter doll eyes or molded eyes. Teeth: White 2-millimeter foam.
Tying the 1 Chernobyl 2 Alligator 3
Cement the hook shank and make a solid thread base. Tie in the Mylar chenille a little behind the eye of the hook. Wrap the chenille back to the hook bend. Then wrap the chenille back to behind the hook eye and tie off.
Cut out the alligator body. The main straight part of the body (its middle section) should be a shank-length long. Ditto for the pointed tail and the head/top jaw.
Wrap the thread to the back of the hook shank. Secure the juncture of the tail and body to the back of the hook shank. Make a few moderate tension wraps and apply some pressure. Wrap a little width to the tie-in area to secure the foam and make it easier to tie in the legs.
Tie a rubber leg on the near side of the fly. Then tie a rubber leg on the far side of the fly. These should form an X.
Wrap your thread forward, just shy of the hook eye. Secure the lower jaw foam. Cut it roughly to the shape of the top jaw. Next cut a point on the back end of the foam to make it easier to tie on.
7 8 9 10 11
Pull the foam body/head forward and secure. Trim both foam jaws to match. Tie in rubber legs on both sides of the body as you did on the rear legs to form an X. Wrap the thread forward under the lower jaw and halfhitch a few times. Glue the wraps. Put a couple of small drops of glue on top of the head and secure the eyes.
Cut some small triangular pieces of white foam for the teeth. I usually cut a foam strip the height of the teeth and snip out little triangles. Cut extras, as they are easy to drop.
Dip the ends of the foam teeth in glue and stick them inside the jaws. Smile and talk to the gator. Pet it nicely so it doesn’t bite. Tell it, “Good luck,” and then cast it at a rocky bank!
combined to make just about anything. These materials are easy to work with and are cheap. Marabou-winged streamers do well, too, as do simple nymphs. Mop flies, poly-wing caddis, San Juan Worms, and Clousers are also hits. Whatever you do, don’t start kids on something technical, such as a size 16 Adams with a parachute post. Each time you tie with kids, whether with one or more, the session should build on top of techniques that were taught during the previous session. Start with larger flies; then work down in size. And don’t worry about teaching beginners the whip finish. Whip-finishing is much harder to learn than tying a fly. Half hitches with cement work fine for now. Near completion, make sure the kids have room to tie off their fly. Don’t crowd the head. Balancing fast and slow learners is always tricky. One good option is to add parts to the fly that you are tying. For example, if you are tying Woolly Buggers, have the fast kid add rubber legs or flash to the fly. Have the fast kids help the other kids. You might urge, “Can you show Fred how you made that fly?” Also, if you have multiple instructors, split the group by ability levels.
Moving On to Fishing Flies As tying skills improve, and you want to move into fishing flies, use entomology to bridge the gap. Show your kids a photo of what you are imitating. Kids love bugs. Hare’s-Ear and Pheasant-Tail nymphs are certainly productive flies, but they don’t have a lot of “wow” factor. Show the kids a real nymph and the Pheasant-Tail together, and they will be excited to tie a fly that matches the actual insect. Show them a baitfish when you tie a streamer, which is a great way to explain why we need clean water. I think many fly tiers are kids at heart and enjoy creating flies. There are many reasons to introduce kids to fly tying, but for me, the biggest gift is the grin on a kid’s face when showing you a finished fly. We can all live vicariously through that. Scott Sanchez is the longtime shop manager for JD High Country Outfitters in Jackson, Wyoming, and one of the most creative fly tiers in the West. NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018 I 69
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WATERLINES (Continued from page 72) over the years, from one end of the bay to the other, plus the innumerable mangrove esteros with their own miles of banks winding deeper into the unknown; and I understood, again, how many variables have to align to make one spot good while the other 9 out of 10 don’t hold squat. And yet, who wants to return to the same water, over and over, when there remain countless possibilities around the bend, up inside a new estero, behind an unexplored island?
o claim I enjoyed productive fishing the next couple of days would depend, of course, on your notions of sport. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for hooking and landing a shitload of fish. Casting the floating line is always a bonus, too. Seeing fish crush the surface fly doesn’t hurt, either. It was the usual assortment of inshore fare: cabrillas, corbinas, grouper, snappers. If there were many five-pound fish in the mix, I’m sure not one of them went six. I especially liked, however, that I was dissecting the long shoreline in a slot hidden behind a sand bar that, before, had always kept me in the main channel of the bay. Late the second day, I fished the push of the tide and then, with the breeze building, sailed across the main channel and up into a big estero, where I had seen pangeros moving with the tides. The wind was now humping, a late-winter blow directly out of the north. I swung Madrina into a tiny mangrove cove deep enough to hold water come low tide and then set up the boat tent and fired up the stove and took care of a couple dozen clams I had collected that morning in an estero along the bay side of the barrier island. Business, anyway, as usual, especially tucking into a protected anchorage, trying to find a little peace in the famous and sometimes ferocious Baja wind. At sunset it settled down, time enough to spot small squadrons of white pelicans gliding across the pink and orange sky, and then discover I was nestled in the middle of a primo grouper hole, the fish charging out of the mangrove roots, black shadows penetrating the dark water and punishing the fly. Grouper, it turns out, were thick WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
throughout this new estero, just as they had been near the fish camp in the bay, a suggestion of migratory behavior I hadn’t seen in the past if only because I hadn’t visited the bay in winter. I was struck, again, by how little I know. A hundred days on the bay mean nothing; a year straight on the water, and you might piece together a general narrative of what happens when a succession of species moves in and out of the bay. Trace the story a half dozen years, and only then would you have a fair idea what’s going on, although the shape of any season may prove as fickle as weather and wind. You learn to take what you can get. Slack high tide the following morning prompted me to fish the crease fly, casting into shadows that suddenly burst into froth and foam and the furious take of grouper and other oddball thugs lurking along the edges of the mangrove. Later, heavy currents from a steep tidal drop shut down the topwater game. I slid out toward the mouth of the estero. Clouds gathered; yesterday’s stiff wind returned. By noon I was anchored in the lee of a long bank of mangroves, waiting out gale-force winds while, across a narrow channel, out on an exposed mudflat, curlews and ibis and a single yellow-crowned night heron went about their business, as if oblivious to the blustery weather. A posse of loons paddled up the estero with the change of tide. A panga followed; pangeros jumped out on the bank above where I had caught fish in the morning. They ran a gill net from the bank, out into the channel, then back to shore a hundred yards downcurrent. A quick haul, and the empty net was back in the panga. Just as quickly, the boat vanished around the next bend. But between me and the gill-netters, I saw splashes, something happening over a wide reach of weed where the currents, pushed by the wind, fashioned a weave of seductive seam lines and ribbons of streamy water. I rowed out, anchored, tried swinging the crease fly. Nothing. Yet here and there, fish sent shudders across the braided currents, an angle of attack suggesting a river full of trout feeding on emerging caddis. Hmm.
I tied on a favorite minnow pattern, stayed with the floating line. I waited for another rise, covered it with a cast. Mind you, in this kind of setup, I’m perched on the afterdeck of a small open sailboat, trying to fish while dancing cheek to cheek with a mizzenmast in a confusion of twosteps over and around cleats, chocks, dock lines, tiller mechanisms, and, in general, a confederacy conspiring to undermine every cast. Little wonder it doesn’t always go off without a hitch, even when a fish explodes on the fly with the force of a bowling ball dropped from somewhere far overhead. Or maybe I was just unnerved by the ferocity of the rise—violent, percussive, the surface shattering as if struck a lethal blow. Later, when I connected, I had to muscle up on what proved to be heavy grouper trying to tunnel back into the weed from which they had launched themselves at the swimming fly. One fish came completely out of the water, somersaulting tail over head; I watched another pass through the surface as though a buoy, pulled underwater, were suddenly released, a great bulge giving way to more grouper than you could fit in a laundry basket, a fish I hooked but failed to turn despite clamping down on the reel . . . until my 20-pound tippet parted as if a leash yielding to a frantic hound. One after another. An hour? Two? Hard to say how long it went on. It turned into more big grouper pouncing the swinging fly, fished right in the film, than the ultimate steelhead fantasy come true. After things quieted down, I couldn’t help but wonder: What just happened? How did it happen? Did it happen? Why here? Why now? Why me? At this stage in a fishing career, I don’t think there are any good answers. In the midst of the ordinary, strange and remarkable things occur. One guy’s garden looks just like another guy’s weeds. If you think there’s a message, you’re probably missing the point. Scott Sadil lives in Hood River, Oregon. His newest fiction collection, Goodnews River: Wild Fish, Wild Waters, and the Stories We Find There, will be published by Stackpole Booksin February 2019. NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018 I 71
WATERLINES by Scott Sadil
Something About Weed Swinging for grouper. Really?
T WAS A LONG TIME BEFORE I thought of grouper as genuine fly rod sport. Way back when, they were just too damn big—or at least that’s what I told myself when, outside the bay, something grabbed a deep-running depth-charger and buried it into hidden reefs where no fly was meant to go, much less ever escape. You knew these grouper ran 80, 90, 100 pounds, although once GPS units became as common as graphite rods, big grouper like that all but disappeared. Commerical hand-liners and conventional gear guys returned, day after day, to the exact same spots, hammering a reef or rock pile, or even a shipwreck, until all the old, big fish became stories that nobody knew well enough to tell. Of course, these grouper were also up in the mangroves, the tidal esteros woven into the bay. The best water, no matter your target, has always been the deepest slots running against the tallest, oldest, gnarliest mangrove—the lies that never empty, regardless of the tide, with a jungle of roots and waterlogged limbs and storm-torn branches providing ideal structure for myriad inshore gamefish. Drag or drift a fly through one of those slots, goes the wisdom, es-
72 I AMERICAN ANGLER
pecially with the tide moving, and you’re sure to find a grouper now and then—a disappointment, sometimes, if you were hoping for a big corbina, golden trevally, or the ever-elusive snook. That’s about where things stood for me, until I began to notice, on late-winter runs through the north end of the bay, that grouper also like weed. I had sailed up to the boca at Santo Domingo, one of my favorite surf-fishing spots, only to discover that the sand estero had filled in, transformed by a conspiracy of waves and storm and winds into a smooth, wide, gently sloped beach—the same sort of featureless shoreline stretching dozens of miles north and south. I waded into the prosy wash, trying with long casts to find evidence of the deep channel that had always held so many good fish. Waves rolled in left and right. Wind bullied my loop. Soup swallowed the fly. I might as well have tried fishing a driveway. I hiked back to Madrina, my little beach yawl. Another aim of this swing north was to find a spot to set up a fish camp; I had a friend and his daughter scheduled to show up the following month. The plan was to pitch tents on the bay side of the island, out of the wind, accessible by panga. High, steep dunes limited the options, but I had anchored
Madrina off a narrow draw that opened onto a sandy shelf just wide enough for a couple of tents and a galley. It would be cozy, yet a perfect spot to unwind and enjoy a wee dram after pounding good fish in the surf-lined estero on the far side of the island. Plan B? It was too late to start for anywhere new; there was also a toe of grassy shoreline at the edge of the open sand, a promising hem of weed that extended into the water before a sudden drop into the dark depths of the bay. Plus, beneath the limbs of a single mangrove, well above the tide line, stood a rickety table made of driftwood lashed together with twine—evidence of a fish camp. If little else, I’ve at least learned this much along the way: Like boat launches and parking turnouts along a river, fish camps are nearly always located on good fishing holes. On a hunch, I strung up a floating line. Bait no bigger than gambusia, or mosquito fish, darted about at the edge of the weed; now and then, they suddenly flared, leaping off the surface as if gravel sprayed by a spinning tire. Something up. And it didn’t take long to figure out that a cast beyond the weed line, retrieved slowly back to the edge, the fly swimming just outside the tangles, inspired all manner of strikes, the very best being the heavy thump of grouper that immediately did their best to plunge back into the weed and burrow their way to freedom. It seemed so obvious, I wondered why I hadn’t found a spot just like this before. Then I glanced north, south, up and down the bay, and I thought about the hundreds of miles of shoreF.W. THOMAS line I had followed (Continued on page 71) WWW.AMERICANANGLER.COM
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