Friday, June 1, 2012

The Stillwater Itch

So it’s first light and the fry hatch is in full swing and been going on for about 2 and a half months. My pal and I hit the water for cutthroat, the same water we hit last time, and not too many trips before that, a few times before…. and began to work line out in false casts that don’t dare touch the water.
To the left a boisterous boil erupts, throwing water mixed with 3 or 4 fry leaping for their lives, still swimming ‘away’ in terror. Before my back cast becomes a forward, my partner’s line covers it landing like spider web on a virgin’s soul. Had the chaser of them fry gone to the left, right, doubled back? It’s gin clear out there….. My cast lands to the opposite side, we have it surrounded.

Another boil erupts right between the fading rings, of our landed flies, and we begin to strip our personal best. I’m stripping sexy, soft and smooth, utilizing long slow continuous pulls punctuated by a sultry pause that just begged to be sucked on. My pattern is an immaculate deception of epoxy, natural, and synthetic confabulation that one can only declare, “It’s alive I tell you, ALIVE….” (a spray of spittle may or may not be included, depends on the company)
It’s a pretty wicked fly anyways and it’s worked well for the last while.
More than well actually

To cut the shit, we keep stripping, and nothing. 4 more fish roll and we cast to those we can reach and, nothing. A flurry of fry chasing action hits and we are getting our asses handed to us, I mean the fish are everywhere and they are just rolling and moving and we cannot buy a fish.  In fact at one point in 3 casts I had 2 fish jump over my fly, almost like it was in the way of what he was after, like if it had hands it would have thrust it aside.
“Too much food”, Randy said with a slow audible exhale putting his fly in the hook keeper. “This sucks, we need some Stillwater”.
Duck interlude, carry on

Randy’s always such a sensible soul, I think that’s probably why I like fishing with him best. Besides, those fry are going to run out pretty soon and in a few short weeks those fish will be begging me for a lopsided hare’s ear tied with my left hand.
Yeah, even that
I began fly fishing on lakes contrary to many who begin on the streams and rivers. This I think is why I can always get excited about trips to the interior despite the very fine fishing we manage to be blessed with here around home.
This year the first was a weekend jaunt early in April to one of the sure bets of open water and one Randy and I have had good success at in the past early season. It’s a typical seepage lake with 5 or 6 shallow areas along with some 60 to 70’ deep holes to allow fish to winter well for the most part. What this means to us as fishers is that we had a good chance of having bigger trout or at least a shot at one, and with still waters that’s all I require – good strong fighting fish with the chance at a big one. This will of course come right after I’ve consciously ignored a frayed or knotted tippet which will relieve me of the last fly that finally worked.
Our strategy was to find some moving fish (duh!) and see what was up. I have learned long ago that placing all your bets on a single horse just leads to either an every fly in the box tried tragedy, or a dry landing net or both. I seriously try to set out unwed to any particular method when I approach a fishery. Though spring time says; screams actually, chironomid the mood of the lake, fish and activity of insects dictate what will be the path to success. That and my trusty throat pump. All we need is a fish to get us started. Not too small either 14” or better for the pump, no squirts need apply. That’s feeding on something. Something we can match. Something that I have lots of and he don’t so he has to beg me for one or two patterns like last year with the olive micro leech with the gold bead. That was fun. In fact I was smiling when I typed that.
It was the typical spring thing where the water is flat like piss on a plate with no wind at all, the sky blue with a few clouds. Looked like an absolute perfect day ahead. We packed the rain gear. Like dogs that had their noses rubbed in pee we have learned well not to trust first impressions.
I still don't trust it
A tour of the lake showed us it was lower than last spring, low and clear. We wondered if the up shallow thing was going to be on considering the up shallow was now 2’ shallower than the year before judging by the water marks visible on the shore line. Moving around and not assuming anything is the first ‘rule’ we have developed taking care to poke around a bit before commitment, some probes around the pond.
We sounded fish out deep down in 40’ of water knowing if all else failed we could chuck type 7 lines and dredge some action up if we had to. After continuing up shallow as shallow as shallow was now, the wooded area showed the occasional fish in close to the fall down created by busy beavers along a shore line.
Since this was all the action we had seen the anchors simultaneously punched through the weeded bottom a scant 4’ below. A floating line a and ghost tip were chosen and our casts began to fan the water in pretty much a 360 degree area coverage of what we could reach with a keen eye towards the sticks and wood. The fish obviously were using it as cover from the flying hazards of above to get into the shallow water where all the bug action (hopefully) would go on.
After a time it was evident those fish were right in there and were pretty loathe to come out for very much, and a static approach was going to be the way to stay in the junk close for long enough to suck them in, so out came the indicators. It didn’t hurt that finally a few bugs were coming off, what looked to be 18s. We were right in the middle of switching up when this dude cruises in and anchors right behind us and chucks out an indicator. Before I can finish tying up he’s had a 4 lber and released another fish. On goes 18 green ribbed chromie and I lob it out there right next to a twig. I watch Randy cast and when I turn back the indicator is gone, raise the rod and a fish slips the hook.
One that didn't get away
That was the beginning of a really good rest of day with fish after fish taken one after another cast after cast. If you looked away, the float would be gone and often stripping in to recast for a better position resulted in fish. No really big fish excepting Randy had a really nice 3 pound chrome fish to hand the rest were from 12 to 17” and the area was dubbed the kiddie pool as we knew there were pods of much larger fish in this lake, we just had to find them.
The next day we hit it again and the weather was pretty much the same though forecast was to be even warmer. We fished in another area that we had caught larger fish in before but had observed no action at all the day previously such as detecting moving fish coupled with lack of production from a few casts taken by Randy as I hold and move the boat around. Looked and felt dead, seemed too shallow.
Saw a couple of bigger fish roll however, so we tossed out a couple of floats and Randy’s sort of swims away and down rather than tugs under the surface then a 3 lb bullet jumps 6’ in the air. Not bad for a first fish of the day! After a decent tug of war a nice fish comes to the boat and spits the hook. Cool!
Then it goes dead on us once more, clams up solid. The lure of a sure thing right across the lake tugs at us as minutes tick by on our last day fishing. Yep we ripped up them anchors and went back to the kiddie pool.
You know we caught some fish and had some action for the next 3 or 4 hours but the hatch never really did come off this time and the feeders were much fewer and further in between. After maybe a dozen fish each we’d had enough, and decided to pack it in as the Canucks were playing and we were going to catch it via AM on the way home. I said let’s give that other area a go on the way back. Agreed, we yanked up the leads and shot across the lake. My boat might not be much, but when you hammer it and get her up on plane she no longer touches the surface, she caresses it.
Pretty damn skinny
There’s a dude in there so we creep back past him deeper into the bay proper on idle. 50 yards away from him we drop our pyramids and cast towards the brush dotting the shore line. The wind was coming from every which way here swirling like a drunk, reeling first this way and then that. I have like this big belly of line between the rod tip and indicator so I flip this semi mend against the wind slowing the drift of the bobber for a few instants; it then swims into the wind and then goes down like a mini imitation of one of the barrels Quint spiked that big shark with in Jaws – it was just swimming down and away. Experience made me raise the rod in a slip strike allowing line to slide out between finger and cork even as I was driving the hook home and 6 lbs of solid trout began to try and see how much backing I might have on the spool. That’s what it’s about man, never knowing when or where it’s going to happen but latching onto a lunker is always a special moment.
We have a grand tussle the kyped male and I, with several runs involved including 2 right between the anchor ropes leaving me wondering here and there if a 5wt was a good choice from the weapon locker more than once.
This fish boated and released another cast handed me another fish over 4 lbs and a few more between 5 and 6. Randy wasn’t having much luck though he did get a nice chrome 2 lber and a couple of smaller fish besides, I just seemed to have the luck going on. At one point I said the Canucks can lose it without me the fishing was too good, but then it sort of shut off and it was indeed time to pack ‘er in.
Double header
You know we did this very same lake last year pretty much the very same day of the same month and it turned out to be a totally different fishing experience. Rather than chironomids being the order of things it was all about dragon flies and immature damsels. Not a single fish came to the wee bugs and they were tried numerous times. Rather than floating lines we used type 1s and 2s to ‘pop’ various imitations along the substrate very jig like using long casts. The fish would most often take as the beaded patterns settled back towards the bottom. This is how we started out the first day but seeing the fish activity – in this case right IN the cover dictated a different angle of approach to be in the game effectively so to speak. We could have caught a few fish keeping with what worked last year I’m sure, in fact Randy’s biggest fish of the outing came popping a leech but not to the degree we experienced I don’t think.
It was rather odd I thought suspending a pattern 2 and a half feet under and indicator fishing 3’ of water but when you get right down to it, it makes perfect sense for the criteria the fish laid out. Pulling anchor wasn’t much of a chore all weekend anyways.
Success is never guaranteed in anything worthwhile undertaking and the phrase nothing ventured nothing gained seems to have more and more personal appeal as time goes on in this pass time we call fishing along with life in general. Spring time in the interior is most certainly one of my favorite uncertainties in life. Only one thing I can be certain of; I’ll know on the way home how it was while I was there and wonder how it is doing without me while I’m not.
Some itches take more scratching than others I guess.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Fly Fishing ~ Stuff it!

  Ugh. Looking around me all I can see in every corner of my house is fishing something. Anyone who seriously fly fishes, knows you need a lot of "stuff". It's like a game of "whoever has the most stuff, wins", I swear. Especially if you tie flies. You end up with so much stuff you don't even use. Our house is filled with "stuff". Whether it be the fly tying materials all over our dining room table and area, to the front entrance, where you can't even see the stairs going down anymore to the nook because fishing tackle has just been "thrown" on the floor, to flies in my carpet,  it's everywhere I look. A constant reminder that I'm not even fishing, or tying right now that often for that matter, so I KNOW it's not all MY mess. And because I am feeling kind of like a "fishing widow" these days, it's probably bugging me more.  It will be spring sometime before my casting shoulder is good enough to fish with again and my back is good enough to hike. Where do I start? How about with the fact that a mere couple of months ago, Randy organized all of our fishing "stuff", and as we don't have a fishing room, we have been making do with our front entrance area and the dining room.  Here's what it looked like before: 

what the front entrance should look like
    Now Randy has been fishing like a madman since and suddenly, my house doesn't quite look like that anymore. It's an unbelievable mess. 
    Fly tying materials.  I can't threaten to get rid of the fly tying materials taking up space in my dining room.  Because I own half of the stuff.  Just because my shoulder is sore right now and I'm not doing as much tying, doesn't mean I won't be in a month or so after my next treatment on it, I go in "jags" right now of tying. Randy, however, is a machine.  He's been consistently pumping out at least six flies a day for the past month. So he doesn't want to clean his mess up every night, especially when the boys only stay with us half the time and half the time at their dad's place.  Besides, with all the other junk in the dining room, it really isn't the most pleasant room in the house to eat anyways. So unless it's Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas or someone's birthday, I guess this is what I'm stuck with for the next couple of years while we reside here or however long we reside here, in a 3 bedroom with no room for a fishing room. 
Newest pile of fishing "stuff" invading  the dining room
    Flies. Where do I start. I could fill a few fly boxes with just what I've found in the many areas of my house the past couple of years in the oddest of spots.  The fly right now that's stuck in the living room carpet by the bookcase (an epoxy minnow) has been there for over a month.  
Epoxy Minnow
Before that, one of Randy's ball caps was stuck to the bedroom carpet for two months until I finally got sick of vacuuming around it and got him to take it out.  Sheesh. There's been flies in the laundry, stuck in socks, underwear, and other pieces of clothing.  Flies in our bed. Flies on the coffee table and in the bathroom on the vanity. Flies in the catbox. (What?! I hope it didn't "come out" and simply got dragged in somehow?) Flies in the car, truck and Randy's work van. Flies everywhere.  Surprised I haven't found one in the food yet. We have these Styrofoam pieces that get the extra flies stuck in them when they are found:

    And this has been stolen from many times by both me, Randy and the occasional friend that comes over to visit, and it's still full of flies. This morning I saw a bare hook in my carpet, by my couch, no where even near the tying area. See, they are everywhere. 
     Fishing rods.  Every couple of months the rods all get put away nicely in their rod cases and put down at the bottom of the stairs where they belong, everything gets hung up nicely and put on the shelves in an orderly fashion. Then "Hurricane floonster" goes fishing for 8 weekends in a row and this is what happens to our "fishing" area.
Yes, these are stairs 
front entrance

  Absolute chaos and destruction. I can't believe a rod hasn't been smashed in the door (yet). I long for the day when we get a some sort of rod holder for the wall. He keeps promising to build one every time I say I'm buying one.  I swear one day I'll crack and just buy one, for my rods only.
     Miscellaneous tackle.  It's everywhere in our house.  Open any drawer, in any room in the house, and you will find something fishing related in it, whether it's some Phil Rowley indicators,  a giant cast-a-bubble from 20 years ago, a hook with some thread hanging off of it, or even the clothes we wear, with various fishing logos and such.
Kitchen drawer

 Even the car looks like a tackle shop. Stickers on it galore (including an old "Anglers West" one I refuse to take off), the car is recognizable by a few people if we take it fishing. When we got the Pathfinder we decided to refrain from much advertising on it, except to put a cutout sticker of the Loop fish on the back.  The inside, however, is the same as the car, maybe worse. You can fill a fly box with what you would find on the roof of the Pathy. Everything from Sturgeon feast in there to my dad's old orange fish bonker. (You never know when you might need that, especially when driving through Surrey).  
     When we first moved in the house, we had 3 bedrooms and 3 kids, so the two boys shared the master bedroom, and our daughter had the middle room and we have the slightly bigger middle bedroom. Now our daughter has moved out, and the one son took her room.  He's never had his own room so we decided that it was fair, because his brother has autism and quite frankly, likes his own space. We have a very peaceful household now, but no fishing room.  I keep waiting for one of the boys to mess up really bad so I can threaten to move them back in together.  Is that wrong? But no, they have to be angels, and so I am stuck with my dining room being our fly tying area for now, and the downstairs pile keeps growing and growing.
Dining room table, I know, you wish it was yours
Fly tying madness
  The landlord is building a new shed in the spring so I still have hope that some of this stuff will migrate out of my house, like the life jackets. Until then, it's me against Randy and the "mess". 
dining room not a china cabinet
  I don't know how non-fishing wives do it!  It must drive them batty. I fish and it's pushing me over the edge. The thing is, he just cleaned and organized this place at Christmas! 
 I've been to other people's houses and seen the same thing, so I know I'm not the only one. Between that, and suddenly becoming a fishing widow,  I never thought I would feel this way! I thought I would be more understanding.  Especially since if it were me in Randy's shoes, I would be out there doing the exact same thing. It's not like he's out chasing the "big ones" (ie. BC winter steelhead) either; most days, he's just out for 8-10 hours, in the cold, rainy weather, hunting for cutthroat, where anything over 15 inches is considered a fabulous size, and if you are really lucky, as I have been a few times, and Randy more than that, you will catch one over 20 inches - a trophy of cutthroat trout around these waters. 
cutthroat from a local estuary
cutthroat from a slough by Vancouver
    He's lucky I understand the thrill of catching these beautiful fish.  Some days you can travel all over to your favorite spots and not find a single one.  Other days, you can't keep them off your line. 
    Well, I'd best go pick that bare hook out of my carpet, before I forget about it  and get impaled in the toe or something.  
Tight lines, Deb.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Where are they?

Not here....

As a successful West Coast cutthroat fisherman I would have to say “where are the fish” is the biggest question asked. To be honest (for a change) I never tell anybody anything too specific and nor will any other cutty fisherman worth his salt. Let’s face it, the last thing anybody wants to do is head out and find ‘you’ in their spot. The reality is, a good cutthroat fisherman doesn’t ‘know’ where the fish are at any given time, though there are good indicators each day depending on season where the percentages are high to find concentrations of fish - and that is what dictates which direction they will point the front bumper of their vehicle.
Plenty of water to search.

It all comes down to the hunt. A true cutthroat fisherman will have put in his time, usually years worth, amassing together a network of places where they have had success at. This list of opportunity along with a journal (or incredibly cognitive memory) becomes a refined blue print of just where an angler might connect under any number of circumstances. As the year progresses (similar to steelhead fishing) these spots are continually prospected in all water levels and times of year to glean the secrets of the holding water such as underwater structure, depths and flow rates as the water rises and falls along with forage opportunities each location affords. Another good reason for revisiting suspected cutthroat holding water or places where you have had success with cutthroat, is often coho find the very same water palatable.
Coho in my cutthroat spot again.

Though cutthroat can and will inhabit nearly anything with water that has escapement possibilities to a main river or ocean, we can still break down the areas into 4 types:

The sloughs can be fantastic.

Fresh water caught salt cutthroat

Running river chrome.

Beach gem.

I’ll take some time as the blog progresses to break down each of these types of water in detail, but I just want to give an overview of what to look for to have some confidence when your wader clad and booted feet hit the ground. Though cutthroat are indeed ghosts (here today and gone tomorrow) most if not all areas meet criteria that draws them in, or causes them to hold in an area nearly continuously.
Notice the slack water the fish came out of vs the faster water in the background.

One prudent thing to look for first is stocking. Does the area have recent stocking reports? If so then a large part of those fish will become residuals or take up residence in the water they are put in for a time. Cutthroat though travelers rarely range too far from their ‘home waters’ and at some point even if they leave will be back - at the very least to spawn.
Male getting his spawning colours on.

Next (and possibly even before stocking reports) would be does the water hold salmon? If so where do they spawn or hold during their migration?
Fran with a coloured coho jack.

Next time you get a chance to visit a hatchery, bring some polarized glasses and watch for cutties. You might be astounded at how many harvest trout will be in amongst the spawners feasting on eggs and flesh. This is a staple food source for cutthroat – they use this protein to get some bulk on for the spawning period which usually takes place in late February and on into mid to late April.
Large Powell River cutthroat on the spawn.

Finding where the salmon tend to hold during their migration is also a huge asset. These areas get targeted by cutthroat for the eggs that fall out of ripe salmon on their way to their spawning waters. Often found in low water conditions, these are areas where salmon in numbers will wait out a lack of water in their run up river. In my experience if you’ve found pinks, chum, or coho staging in low water, you have also found a cutthroat holding spot. If there are salmon holding in there at that time, then the same spot will surely become a deep slow aquarium in higher water - you only need to get the fly down to it. I believe like the fisherman, the fish themselves will use a bunch of areas within the system they are in, and circulate them depending upon the whim of conditions.
The fish were here this day because of water height, tomorrow maybe not.

In the cooler fall through late spring months slack water is key. Similar to coho, cutthroat are lazy creatures and ideally they will hold in slack water especially in the cooler times when energy burned vs feed acquired is the key to survival. Even if there is faster water all around, the cutthroat will prefer to hold in the slowest parts thereof. As rain comes and goes during the year, spots will gain and lose viability with ups or downs in flow rates which are ever changing with water height. The very same holds true for sloughs, estuaries, and ocean - high tides and prolific rain will affect where the fish will habituate. Higher water means a few things like more area to forage, more and new bottom available to forage on, as well as creeks and rivers spilling much more bounty to the salt, along with sediment which will effect the visibility/viablity of your offerings. On the other hand lower water often means generally faster flows in otherwise slow water venues, and deep pockets and holes become the viable areas and if found competition will be high for food, room, and often a plain shack nastiness sets in and if the combination of corrrect fly, presentation and position of delivery is met, can be some of the best fishing of the year. An intelligent cutthroat fisherman will take all this into account before even finishing their first coffee, having been ‘on’ the weather reports during the week. Not only how much rainfall and temperature, but over all trends as well. Like any fish, dramatic swings in barometric pressure will affect feeding.
Stable long lived weather patterns bode well for success.

Insect hatches can often have profound effects on cutthroat feeding habits as well, even when seemingly more calorie rich food sources abound. As such weed growth should be put into the equation. Most often weeds are a good indication of life, they begat bugs which draw in foraging bait, which in turn can pull in cutthroat. Very often around mid day during the fry migration the cutts will turn onto a hatch themselves, becoming finicky. These times a soft hackle, hare’s ear, or perhaps mayfly imitation and superior drifting skills can be the ticket to success. Usually this is an indicator the fish are stuffed with fry and just feeding more out of habit and competition between school mates more than anything else.
Nymph caught Harrison cutthroat.

Let’s take a moment and discuss weeds in a flowing river situation like the Harrison for example. Answering the question why they are there in the first place gives us  the ‘why’ cutthroat will be hanging out near/in/around them. Weeded areas on a river bottom signify places where stuff gets caught up and held. Plant life requires nutrient to survive and as such they will grow in places where that nutrient collects on the river bottom. Basically they are in the eye of the perfect storm, areas where a continual stream of biomass is carried and deposited, add to that rarely the flow is too great to have a flushing effect else they would simply be washed away. This translates into a place where food will collect as well as hydro conditions which will allow for easy holding water for fish.  Also aquatic weeds rarely survive prolonged exposure to air so chances are if you’ve found weeds, you’ve found a spot that is wet most of the year – a good thing for bugs that rely on a yearly cycle and require wet eggs for survival. Find the weeds to find the fish.
Definitely weeds here.

The last thing I would like to touch upon is current, more specifically the back eddy phenomena. This applies in every holding area I have found success at in some form or another. From tiny 3’ in diameter eddies in streams, to long conflicting current seams in ocean or estuary. Like a weed area (and often the cause of) this is where the currents will create soft holding water off a general current direction (tidal or running water) and at the same time create a conveyor belt of food stuffs to be available as forage most likely in close proximity to each other. Look for places where the shore pushes into the flow obstructing the water path. As the water goes over/round it, a conflicting and often reverse of flow direction will occur – think of how the air in the box of a pickup truck rolls over the top of the cab into the box at speed.  Turn that on its side and you have a back eddy. The resulting conflicting currents create both places where food will amass as well as holding water for fish to laze around and eat in.
Finding success in a large back eddy.

Often these current differences are quite profound and as you move around them you may find yourself actually fishing the opposite way the general flow direction is heading. If you are in a tidal area depending on outward or inward ebb and flow, the eddy can be on either side of the structure you are fishing.

This time the tide was coming in and that told me where to ply the fly.

In closing I would like to say any of the above criteria can and probably will hold cutthroat trout at some point. It’s when you start finding more than one in a single locale that things start to take off. 3 or more and it’s a pretty good bet you have a well used haunt of fish that will still ignore your fly.

Have fun!!
Sometimes they do eat.