Monday, July 20, 2009

"There are no shortcuts to spey casting" - Ron

I can hear Ron Lauzon telling me this in my head as I step into the Cowlitz with Athena. Ron is a fly fishing guide and instructor and I spent a day with my Mom, Dad and he learning how to actually cast a spey rod. I thought I had figured some of it out but after working with Ron I know better.

There are people who learn by watching, listening or through doing and Ron does all three. He showed me how to cast, he told me what I was doing right and wrong and even held the spey rod in my hands to make the movements. By the end of the day I had made one cast that was a "fishing cast" with a tight loop that unrolled straight out and settled gently to the water.

The single spey (reach way out like a waiter holding a tray), double spey (cross the heart and go around), c-spey (a slow setup cast) and the snake-roll spey (a very very pretty touch and go spey cast). All of this built on top of the switch cast, an aerialized roll cast.

Ron knew as we drove away that I wouldn't remember everything so I wrote as much of it down as I could. The last thing he told me, the spey waltz, lift 2, 3, loop 2, 3, cast 2, 3 at least reminded me to slow down. That's one of the keys. The other is trying to get the rod to do the work.

So on Sunday, at the Cowlitz, I got a couple of casts almost right. Enough that I did get one solid hit, but not right enough to be doing it right. So I could hear in my head Ron's voice telling me "Slow down, there are no shortcuts in spey casting." But not enough to remember what I'm doing wrong so I'll keep trying to remember while I'm on the water.

And I may find myself back on the Clackamas with Ron one day because a few hours with him were worth their weight in gold.....

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Livy and I go Bass Fishing

There is a lake not too far from here where there are a lot of bass. They aren't big bass but there are a lot of them. this is the lake where I finally learned how to catch bass on the spawn. Bass spawn each spring. The males go up into the sandy shallows and make nests, divots in the shallows and then hang out at the nests waiting to attract a female to his handiwork. If a female comes and they leave fertilized eggs then the male hangs out for a while to protect the nest. Kind of like salmon coming back to the rivers in fall, this makes the bass a touch easier to find. Unlike the salmon in fall, the bass become highly aggressive and well, chompy if you will.

The differences between bass and trout or salmon are as bountiful as the day is long. Bass like warmwater, trout like cold. Bass spawn in stillwater, trout need the flow of a stream. Bass are bony, spiny and built like a British bulldog. Trout are elegant and beautiful. The thing that makes bass fun to catch is that they can be aggressive and fight like demons when hooked.

The general procedure to catch the durn things is to take something big, noisy and borderline outlandish, throw it as close to the bank as you can and retrieve in as obnoxious a manner as possible. This sounded right up Livy's alley (plus she needs more practice casting) so I asked her to come along. She is turning out to be quite the consistently happy fishing partner. She doesn't complain hardly at all, loves casting, catching and fighting fish and most importantly brings a smile to her Daddy's face.

After listening to Livy's ipod on the way there (two renditions of Skater Boy at least) we dropped the boat in the water and did some pre-salmon fishing testing by firing up the gas motor. She took on the first try and cried out joyfully and Livy and I flew across the lake to the sunken logs and reeds where the bass live. I hooked Livy up with a small sinking Rapala and gave her instructions to cast towards shore and retrieve. We anchored off of a big spruce tree and started casting.

I had brought along Mikayla armed with a couple of bass poppers. Bass poppers are a special type of fly used for bass. In the finest fly tying tradition they are carefully crafted to look exactly like aliens complete with buggy eyes and tentacles. You drop them with an audible plop and jerk them back, usually creating more audible plops and generally making as much commotion as you can. It's a very delicate business, this fly fishing for bass.

Livy was casting parallel with shore and not terribly close to the bass but she was casting well and it was good to see practice. Her lack of patience makes casting and retrieving a lot of fun and before I know it she's hooked a fish. Not a bass but a wild cutthroat that probably made its way out of the beaver ponds further West and through the weeds into the lake to feed. His teeth are sharp and his body snakey, like he ran hungry during the winter. We let him go, Livy's smile cut into my memory like a needle into a gold record.

Later I'd catch a couple of small bass on the popper. Proof positive that they eat aliens on a regular basis. We'd run the boat fast back to the ramp and listen to "Gold Lion" and "Cruella Deville" cranking on the radio.

I love bass fishing....

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Better than Steelhead!

Livy has been my faithful companion through two fruitless fishing trips to a lowland lake in south Thurston county. The late winter kept the water too cold for the bite to come on and she toughed it out with me without a complaint. She's turning into a tough little fisher!

So a couple of weekends ago when the sun finally came out long enough for me to leave a sweatshirt at home we ran over to another lake and dropped the boat in. On the way there I asked her how many fish we would catch. "Seven!" she said. I asked her what if we catch more than that? "Maybe ten but I think seven."

I had just put new trolling motor alligator terminals (and a jack stand) on the Critter Getter so the trolling motor was pulling a nice steady current against the battery. Livy trolled a dick nite spoon, copper dipped in pink on the back. I trolled a small silver wiggle wart, an experiment for hatchery trout. Half way across the lake Livy took the first fish. A small, typical, 7in hatchery rainbow. We dropped it in our 5lb bucket and ate some gummy worms. Three fish later we were feeling pretty good, each of us had two of the hatchery rainbows in the bucket and so I decided to run the boat up the NE side of the lake where things turned a little swampy. That's when Livy looked up and said, nonchalantly, "I got one."

I smiled and started reeling in my wiggle wart when she mentioned that it felt like a big one and I looked over to see her rod bent double and heard the reel crying as the fish took line. I looked up and saw her fish jump. Hatchery trout are usually small rainbows. They're cloned, a bit dumb and don't fight that hard. They're fun for the kids and we usually smoke them if we keep them. The state stocks some larger ones here and there and once in a while you run into a "hold-over", a fish that survived last year's season to grow semi-wild over a hard winter.

I don't know if Giant (as Livy later named him) was a bigger stocker or a hold over but when he jumped my jaw dropped. Livy tried to reel in against the drag and I tried to stay calm while telling her that when the fish is taking line you should just let him run. My wiggle wart retrieved I killed the motor and turned the Critter Getter broadside to where the fish ran. Livy started retrieving line and as soon as the fish got close he ran again, 30 yards of line easily came off the reel and Livy calmly let him run. Twice again the fish saw the boat and panicked until tired and exhausted. Livy lifted her rod and I scooped him up in the net, terrified of losing her great catch.

She was proud and excited! Her fish was more than twice the length of any of the others that we caught, a good solid 17 inches long and FAT. From top to bottom he was as tall as my hand. My heart swelled with happiness for my oldest daughter who played a big trout with as much skill and excitement that I dream about when fishing for steelhead. I would trade this moment for all of the rest of the steelhead I may have had the chance to catch in my life.

As we left the lake after a couple more hours of fishing we peered into the 5 gallon bucket. Giant curled around the outside and six more smaller fish floated within. "See Dad, I was right, we caught seven!". That night we brined the six smaller fish for smoking and cooked Giant and some rice to feed the whole family.
From Drop Box

From Drop Box

From Drop Box

Life is sweet.

Monday, March 23, 2009

My Boat

The Critter Getter is a 15 1/2 foot MirroCraft built in 1973. Her heart is a 1984 Evinrude, 2stroke 25hp that will get her up on a plane and let her run between 25 and 30 miles an hour when she's flat out. Her lines are pretty with a deep V cut bow to carve through waves that flattens out to a planing hull aft. she has just enough freeboard to keep her dry in a chop but not enough to let the wind push her around.

We've run together up and down hood canal, off the Nisqually, past the ferry at Steilacom and all over the lakes around here. My daughters have caught tons of trout on her back and slowly but surely she's teaching me about salmon fishing in the salt. We've been lost in the fog together and stuck on mud off the Nisqually and Skokomish. We've launched in high and low tide off of Arcadia point and picnicked on Hope island. We've chased herring and chum fry searching for cutthroat trout and coho to catch on a fly. We've dragged spoons up and down Lillywaup and Bald Point for chinook and jigged herring for salmon. We've watched the fluorescent glow of bio luminescence boil in her wake before dawn.

Once after fishing in August for chinook in Hood Canal we started to pull out of Lilliwaup bay for the boat launch because it was time to run home. We'd both worked hard for one bite. The tide change was on and soon an outgoing current was arm wrestling with a southern wind, whipping up a wicked short steep three foot chop. I put her nose straight into it and lit up the Evinrude and she ran hard, cutting the oncoming waves with her bow and surfing down them after they passed below.

Sheets of salt spray and wind in our hair, I yelled for joy and kept her throttle open. She never creaked or stuttered or gave me reason to worry. The study fighter-plane roar of the Evinrude sang steady and strong until we got back to the launch and one step closer to home.

Today I got her out to take the girls trout fishing. Her tent carport accommodations were blown away over the winter (literally) so she has bee nearly bare to the elements. Her bilges were filled with water and the water was filled with spilled beer, fishing gear and engine oil. Her bow seat had broken off of her wooden front deck and there was mildew on her oars.

Each year I've promised myself that I'd take the decks out, sponge out the bilges, scrub down the decks and rewire her. This is the year. She's taken care of me. I have to take care of her...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Kalama River Therapy

The coffee kept me awake this morning as I drove South. Jack (my Toyota) knows the way so I just listen to the radio and my ipod once I'm too far away for the tuner to work. Timing is everything and I want to be on the water at morning twilight. I'm glad to see it rained a little bit today. After a couple of warm days the clouds hold the heat in so the rain will warm up the rivers and wake the fish up a bit.

Past the Skook, running chocolate milk brown, and stop at the HW12 exit for fresh sand shrimp and eggs. Then it's back on the road to run past Kelso and Longview. I remember my Grandpa telling me about he and my Dad driving down there for work. Grandpa once verified that Dad drove it while not quite awake. I guess Dad's truck knew the way too.

The Kalama is a many storied river named after a Hawaiian who married a Nisqually woman, moved to the river and took his last name from a village there. John Kalama sounds like a real character. The pools have names here. The Beginners Hole and the Red Barn Hole. Modrow and "up in the Canyon". Take the exit and pass Mahaferty's, looking into the water at the Beginners Hole and see that it's a beautiful emerald green. Clear enough to fly fish (although I left Patience and Athena at home) but not so crystal clear as to make the fish spooky. I drive on up to the Red Barn Hole and find myself alone there. That never happens so it's with much anticipation that I tie on a fresh leader and sand shrimp.

I wade into the pool and toss my rig upstream a little and start to sing to myself...

"Make me down a pallet on your floor"
"Make me down a pallet on your floor"
"I'm going up the country, cold ice and snow"
"I'm going up the country, forty miles or more"
"No telling, how much further I may go"

I work the pool from top to bottom. A few other fishermen stop by and look but nobody gets out. The pool remains mine for a short period of time. I watched a kingfisher chatter up and down stream twice and saw a bald eagle wheel high above. I started back up at the top of the run again and let a fresh shrimp drift through and at the end of the drift. The tap tap tap of my lead bouncing against the bottom was interrupted by a solid pull and I set the hook. For a split second my hook hung on something that pulled back, but only for a split second and I reeled in the now slack line. The fish took my shrimp. I was glad to touch him at least.

Later I would work back up into the run and hook a trout. No challenge for my drift rig but it was the first wild fish I'd caught in a long long time. Later I would check in at Prichards and Mahafferty's and hear that it's been off and on with the fish spread out and not stacked up anyplace in particular. I'd drift the Beginners Hole a little bit and watch two big fish roll and hear another fisherman talk of catching and releasing a five pounder.

At home I would staple the chicken wire to the frames of our chicken coop. I'm bushed, want a beer and best of all no longer have a head full of never ending cluttered thoughts. Peace...

From Drop Box

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Tonight I finally prepared for a winter steelhead expedition. The flooding and work have made it a rough year. My favorite rivers are blown or slow so I'll drive south tomorrow. It's been a long time so there were things to do.

  1. My drift rig needed new line so I spooled it up.
  2. I needed fresh leaders so I tied up six of them and stored them in a new "Pip's Leader" box. All with just the right amount of orange yarn.
  3. I dug up my waders and boots and threw them in the truck.
  4. I found my fleece jacket.
  5. I got my travel cup together next to the coffee machine.

Chelle tells me that there is nothing about which I'm more meticulous or detail oriented than fishing. That may be true. It's from fishing that I really learned the value of being prepared. Tying leaders on the river take time away from fishing. Old line breaks right before you tail a big Chinook. Boots get left behind when you are stumbling around for them at 5:00 AM and coffee keeps you off of the road if the cup isn't ready.

When you're prepared you get on the river and FISH right away. Then, even if you don't catch something you end the trip bushed and satisfied that you fished the water well. Sometimes really well. Besides, it's no surprise that every steelhead I've caught followed an evening of tying leaders, flies and putting the coffee cup out the night before.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Snowed In

Alas, no steelheading for me over the next few days. The snow has been coming down for a few hours now, on top of the snow that already fell over the last couple of days. I have however heard that the Nooch is starting to heat up a bit early this year. Athena lies resting in my garage...

From Winter and Xmas 08