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.