10 years or so ago I saw an episode of Trout Unlimited TV where Tim Linehan and a few locals floated down the Lewis River near Mount St. Helens in Washington state. It looked like a pleasant beautiful float with some fishing for resident cutthroat and bull trout. I've wanted to try that float ever since first seeing it.
Jump to June of this year. I met up with Tim Linehan at his business (Linehan Outfitting) and we talked about that float. Unfortunately after all these years he was a bit sketchy about the details, just that they put in below a bridge. After studying maps it was clear then that they must have floated one of two sections.
Last weekend my buddy Glenn and I went down to the Lewis to finally float it. We tried to find where they must have put the boat in and it wasn't at all clear. The easier put-in seemed to be on the section right below the bridge at the Lower Lewis River Falls campground so that's what we did. Mistake!
We floated in small 1-man catarafts. It took us 9 hours to run the 9 miles or so of water. There were 3 portages, one of which was grueling. It was mostly class III white water, though the water level was pretty low so it was scratchy - there was plenty of exposed sharp lava. One section in the middle I think is pretty much unrunable in anything except a kayak because it's a choked cascade of house-sized boulders. That's was the hideous portage.
After running about a mile we'd done a long portage and broken a rod so we decided not to fish and just concentrate on getting through. It was obvious we were not on the section they'd run on television. A lost oar (luckily found downstream), a broken oar and a ripped (but thankfully not punctured) pontoon later we got to the takeout in the dark. There was a while that I thought we'd be spending the night on the river in our wet gear. I love running rapids in the dark. Not.
In case anyone is thinking about running this, I highly recommend the section from the Curly Creek Falls bridge downstream, I think that's what they must have done on the TV show. I could not run the section we did with a driftboat and it might be physically impossible due to the boulder garden choke in the middle. And there is no way you could portage a driftboat like we did our little catarafts.
Here's what I'd do differently:
I just finished four weeks touring around Tasmania and I've got to say I was impressed. Like most Americans I suspect, before I went to Tasmania I really had no idea what to expect. I didn't know if it was a desert or a rain forest, flat or mountainous, interesting or boring. Well trust me, it's not a desert, it's got all kinds of different terrains and it's anything but boring.
A quick geography lesson for those who might think Tasmania is in Eastern Europe or Africa. It is an island roughly the size of the state of Ohio a couple hundred miles south of Melbourne Australia. It is an Australian state and is very much Australian.
For years I've heard rumors about the fly fishing in Tasmania. Phrases like "trout fishing in lakes reminiscent of bonefishing the flats" kept popping up so I had knew I had to get myself down there. But when I asked fly fishing guides in New Zealand about the possibilities across the Tasman Sea, I got a lot of negative responses. "Totally fished out." "Nothing like it used to be." "Crowded as a street in Sydney." Those were the types of comments the Kiwis had for Tasmania. Even the employees at a fly shop in Melbourne discouraged me about the fishing, saying that because of the worst drought in history combined with a cold December the fishing was really bad and I'd probably be happier visiting wineries. Well let me say right now they were all wrong. Very wrong. But it took me a while to figure that out.
I took the 9 hour ferry from Melbourne over to Tasmania (be sure to take your Dramamine) and as soon as I got there I liked the place. You immediately discover as the ferry is coming into port that the island is surrounded by beautiful beaches. I spent my first night at Narawntapu National Park and had 2 wombats, 14 kangaroos and over 20 wallabies visit my campsite. The next day I visited the Jansz Winery and discovered they made world-class Pinot Noir and sparkling wines. A day or two later I ate at Maggie McGee's restaurant in Coles Bay and had some of the best seafood of my life. And that's how I spent the first 3 weeks of my time in Tasmania - I figured the fishing must be bad so I walked gorgeous white sand beaches, tasted some really good wines and discovered little fishing villages with fantastic mom & pop restaurants. And I loved it.
Eventually I worked my way south of Hobart (Extremely beautiful coast down there) and started seeing some streams and rivers that looked might fishy. But I really wanted to visit the AirWalk (600m long walk through an old growth forest 40m up in the air - cool) and some caves down there (also really nice) so I tried to ignore the fishy looking water.
Then when I was visiting more caves in the central part of the island I stumbled on a really nice looking small river where I could spot trout feeding from a bridge on a tiny country rode. I parked, rigged up, and headed to the water. What I thought from the bridge was a trout rising ended up being a platypus, but still in about 90 minutes I caught 9 brown trout 12-18 inches long. That got my attention and I immediately got on the phone and made reservations with some guides that I had heard about who sounded good.
Unfortunately I was getting short on time so I was only able to go out with the guides two days. The first day I went out with Daniel Hackett who runs the RiverFly Lodge and we fished a small stream in the north-eastern corner of the island. It was great fun and I got the impression that the water only saw a few rods a year. Daniel was a great guide and I'd be happy to go out with him again. The second day I lake fished with Christopher Bassano who guides with the Rainbow Lodge and was very impressed. Christopher taught me a trick or two on how to fish for trout in windy conditions, and a whole new way to rig flies. It was great day and I definitely want to fish with Christopher again in Tasmania's Western Lakes Region.
Unfortunately, at this point it was almost time for me to return to the mainland. I got another day of fishing in on my own and amazingly I spent it lake fishing. It truly was stalking for big browns in relatively shallow water and I surprised myself by how much I enjoyed it.
Tasmania's a great place - great beaches, great food, great wine, great fishing, and great people. I'll be back.
It seems that all of the reports about Didymo (aka Rock Snot, an invasive algae which eventually takes over streams and rivers) in New Zealand have started scaring away anglers. All of the fishing guides I've talked do down here say that business is down and existing reservations are canceling because people believe the fishing has gone down hill.
What I've seen so far on this trip is a lot of very good fishing. Yes, Didymo seems to be found in another river every other week, and yes you do need to carefully clean all of your gear between waters, but the fishing is still very good. Some rivers such as the Lower Waiau have been closed and other such as the Mararoa should be closed, but for the most part most water is still open for fishing. Rivers such as the Oreti and Buller are infected yet I saw very little impact from the algae. Part of that I'm sure is due to the heavy rains New Zealand has been receiving for the last month (since I got here) which probably flushed a lot of the systems. It can't last forever, but right now the fishing is still pretty good.
It's a shame that New Zealand Fish and Game, or the Department of Conservation, or whoever didn't quarantine the initial rivers and streams when the infection was first found several years ago. Since then, anglers have spread this minor plague to more and more waters. This year I've finally seen a lot of signs up on just about every stream and river telling fishermen they need to take proper care not so spread Didymo, but I imagine very few people follow the guidelines exactly and I've heard about outfitters and lodges not cleaning their customers' gear at all. Eventually there is bound to be a major impact from the destructive algae, but everything possible should be done to slow down its spread.
It's also a shame that the guides down here are feeling the brunt of this. In my experience the fishing guides in New Zealand are almost a necessity for visiting anglers. I've found them to be quite knowledgeable, and a hard working lot. It's really too bad that some of them may need to find other employment if the number of visiting fishermen continues to decline.
What's the future? There are some reports that copper based solutions have been found which can control Didymo without harming stream life. Maybe that will help. But I don't see any way Didymo could be totally eliminated here; it is in New Zealand to stay. That means that over the years there will be fewer and fewer uninfected waterways. The fishing will probably never again be as good as it is right now. So get down here and give it a try!
A couple days ago I was lucky enough to get a tour of the Sage flyrod factory from my friend Larry Barrett who recently started working there. "Factory" is a bit of a misnomer, it should more likely be called a workshop because every step in the process of building a flyrod seems to be a labor-intenstive process. I've owned (too) many flyrods over the years and never really thought too much about how they are made. There were 12 or so stations in the Sage facility and each of the was staffed with obviously skilled craftsmen who seemed to be taking a lot of pride in their work. I'd guess that each rod takes at least a full day's worth of the combined efforts of these rod builders. If you've ever thought that two different rods of the same model casted a bit differently, you may have been right. Because these rods are hand made, they are bound to have slight differences. Sage's Quality Assurance checks guarantees that they are all defect free, but each rod is obviously unique.
One thing that really stood out was the amount of effort that goes into matching the different sections of a rod. Several steps in the process are dedicated to making sure that the pieces are paired up properly and that the seems in the blanks are correctly aligned. This care to detail carries on to warranty repairs. The Sage craftsmen don't just replace a broken section with a random off-the-shelf part, they meticulously recreate the missing piece.
Before I saw how these rods are made, I wondered how a Sage TCR rod could be worth over $700. I came away from the tour wondering how Sage could possibly build the Launch rod for only $175. Sage doesn't take any shortcuts, and they utilize local labor on Bainbridge Island as much as possible — even the rod sleeves (which I assumed were probably made in Asia) are sewn in their own facilities. When you buy a Sage rod, you're not just paying for a high quality product, but you are also supporting a strong employer of U.S. workers. Sage should emphasize the craftsmanship that goes into their products; I came away from the tour a much more loyal customer.
I spent last week in Jackson Hole Wyoming competing in a genuinely fun event - the Jackson Hole One Fly. The idea here is that you pay a big hunk of money (it goes to river restoration) to fish on a team of 4. You get to choose one fly for each of the two days of competition; if you loose the fly, your scoring is done for the day. Points are awarded based on the total size of all fish caught, with bonuses for large numbers of fish and a bonus for keeping your fly all day. All of the fishing is done along 12 different stretches of the Snake River near Jackson Wyoming and along the South Fork near Swan Valley Idaho.
I joined my friends Rick and Jon along with Jon's friend Mike early in the week and we spent several days scouting out the areas we could possibly fish. Even after much thought and deliberation, it wasn't clear what fly we should choose.
The first day of the competition, I was in a boat with a guide from Jack Dennis Outfitters named Brandon Powers and another participant, Liz. We floated the "Deadman's to Moose" section of the Snake and since this was Brandon's home water, I let him choose the fly for the day. He gave me a sparse Chernobyl Ant that he had tied himself. It was a tough day, with very few fish showing themselves and I ended up catching only 5 fish, but I kept my fly.
The second day I fished the "Canyon Section" on the South Fork with Eric Campbell as my guide. I've fished this water before, and always done well with streamers, so I chose a Wooly Bugger variant that I had tied myself for the fly of the day. In the first 90 minutes of the competition, I caught an 18 inch brown, a 9 inch cutthroat, and a 17 inch lake trout. The lake trout was a huge surprise. By this time, I was very happy with my choice of flies, and I was looking forward to a great day and a high score. Then disaster struck; on a back cast, my leader broke and my fly when sailing into the middle of the river. With over five hours of fishing time left, I was done scoring for the day.
In the end our team ended up placing 30th out of 40 teams. Not bad for a rookie team, but we're determined to do better next year. And we had a really good time fishing some great water.
Click here for more info on the Jackson Hole One Fly.
I just bought two new Sage rods: a 5 piece 4 weight 8'9" SLT and a 2 piece 5 weight 9' XP. I purchased the SLT for backpacking into small creeks, and I'm hoping the XP will be good for nymphing and fishing in windy conditions.
Both rods seem to be very well made with beautiful finishes (the SLT is brown and the XP is green) and nice hardware. Both rods came with aluminum tubes (I hate PVC tubes).
I fished the XP on the Yellowstone today and I was happy with how it performed. I used it to throw a tandem rig with a weighted wooly-bugger and a variety of small nymphs on the end. I fish it with a fly line which I've cut 10 feet off the end so the belly is closer to the end. The rig loaded easily and cast well, but with the modified fly line was a little bit tough to mend. I really like how the rod felt in the wind.
I have yet to fish the SLT, but just casting it in the grass it feels very soft. I'm anxious to get out on one of the local little creeks around here and run it through its paces. Maybe I'll even get up to the Firehole.
Well, I got a rod back from Scott, but unfortunately it wasn't the one I sent them. I got back a 6wt rod even though I sent them a 5wt. After talking to them on the phone, it's clear they have no record of my original rod and since I don't have the serial number of it, I'm pretty much stuck with somebody else's 6wt. It's not a fly rod I'd buy, but I'll happily keep it. I am going to buy a new 5wt though.
I just called Scott to ask if I could possibly buy a new set of top sections for my Scott G that I had my mishap with last November. Wonder of wonders, they said that if I sent them the butt section, they'd replace the top sections free. The lifetime warranty covers absolutely anything as long as you've got the butt section.
I have no idea how rod companies make any money with policies like this. I won't complain too much because I'm thrilled that I'll have my favorite rod back without having to spend $550. But this was without a doubt my fault and I didn't even break the thing, I just lost two sections down the river.
I've always liked my Scott rods. Now I'm a customer for life.
For the last ten years or so I've been going to the Abacos islands in the Bahamas looking for bonefish and the great experience of being in the Caribbean. I've been there just about every month between January and May, this year I hit the sweet spot: February.
I spent three days fishing with my favorite guide, Justin Sands who I've fished with 4 or 5 times previously. We were lucky to have beautiful weather: high temps in the upper 70's, gentle winds less than 10 knots blowing from the southeast and water temperatures about 76 -- add in the full moon which magnified the tides and it was absolutely perfect.
The first day out in the "Marls" section, I caught 12 fish, including a very large 9 pound fish Justin claimed was the largest he'd seen taken from that area. The second day I went out with him again to the Marls, I ended up catching 20 fish, an all-time personal record by far. We also had a shot at a permit on the second day, but i flubbed it.
The final day with Justin we went to an area I'd never been to before off the western tip of Little Abaco island. The fishing here was noticeably different. The day started out hot with about 5 fish in the first hour. After lunch as the water went down we decided to wade the flats on foot, something I've never done before. It was tough. I saw the fish at about the same time they saw me and of course it was a very short view of them as they took off demonstrating that they're the 3rd fastest fish in the sea.
I'd highly recommend the Abacos for anyone who wants to bonefish, either a beginner or the experienced warm water angler.
Here are my pictures of the trip.
Saturday I went over to the Olympic Peninsula in search of steelhead or salmon. I suspected that it was too late for summer run stealhead, but too early for the winter run. I was right. I fished with my friend Rick, on the Sol Duc for about 4 hours without seeing any sign of life. We then headed over to the Calawah where we saw a few (very large) spawning salmon, but nothing worth catching.
The water was running very clear in both rivers at a very respectable level. The day was sunny and clear, making for a beauitful time on the water, but alas poor fishing.
I've now probably put in at least 20 days trying to find steelhead in Washington. I've caught them in Oregon and British Columbia, but never here in my home state. I think they're a myth. My buddy Rick thinks they're a PR ploy by the state Fish and Wildlife Department.
There's nothing I enjoy much more than being on a trout stream in the fall. So last weekend when I had the chance to float the Yakima River in my Outcast personal pontoon boat with a friend, I jumped on the opportunity. It was a beautiful day - clear, crisp, and sunny. Although the fishing was slow, we had a great time just being on the river surrounded by the golden cottonwoods.
Until we got to the takeout. That's when disaster struck. The take-out at the Washington Fish & Wildlife access point just east of Cle Elum has suffered from erosion over the years and a large portion of the river piles up against the boat ramp. To make matters worse, there are a bunch of low-hanging bushes and tree branches immediately down-stream of the ramp.
To make a short but painful story even shorter, I slipped when trying to get out at the ramp and went floating down the fast powerful current into the woody crud. In the process I lost all but the butt section of my favorite Scott G-series rod, one of the oars from the pontoon boat, the boat's anchor and my favorite Sage fishing hat. With gear floating down the river all around me, I tried to avoid getting impaled or overturned by the branches, then using my single paddle awkwardly tried to get to shore. I made it out safely, but with a bruised ego and the loss of some of my favorite gear.
Take-aways: Don't try to take-out where the river's creating a dangerous situation. Get oarlocks that hold the oars in. And use very strong rope with an anchor.