Monday, November 30, 2009

I'm Thankful for Bobbers and Deep Fryers

It's been a tough year for a lot of folks. Which gives us all the more reason to be appreciative of our family, friends, and the fact that we're still here. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday; if not for the fundamental principles of it, then at least for the fact that I get to eat a ton of delicious food and sit on my ass watching football.

Christmas is so overloaded with consumerism and frivolous bullshit that it has lost much of its relevance. Valentine's Day was assassinated by Hallmark decades ago. But, ignoring that whole underlying association with the genocide of an entire native people, I think the ideas and practices surrounding Turkey Day are good stuff.

Unfortunately, living in Montana means that I only manage to make it back East to visit my family a couple of times a year. For the past several seasons, I've spent Thanksgiving with friends out West in return for Christmas with the family. It's worked out well...I've never starved.

This year, Jamie and I had been scheming on a trip befitting of Turkey Day for a couple of months. Jamie's surprising inheritance of a 1965 Airstream trailer this past summer made for a good road trip right about the time my transmission went in to full melt-down. When we got back to the Zoo, Jamie tracked down the perfect guy for fixing up such an asset, and the Hanta virus-laden aluminum fuselage underwent a major overhaul throughout the fall. Now that the sucker has been restored to it's former glory, it clearly represents an ace-in-the-hole for late season river debauchery.

With a gajillion fish in the Columbia system this fall, and given Jamie's newly-found passion for standing in an icy river freezing his balls off while not catching anything, a Thanksgiving steelhead trip seemed in order. The Salmon was bounced around as an option, but weather forecasts with highs in the teens gave us nightmares of chronically frozen tip guides...fourteen feet away. Highs in the 50's and solid overcast were predicted for northeast Oregon, however. Gotta love the high desert. Grande Ronde it is.

It's a long drive over to one of the prettiest rivers I've ever fished in my life, even without a 2-ton aluminum sausage trailered to your rig. Let's just say I'm too tall to sit in the cramped cab of a little Toyota pick-up for that long, and self-medication and good music only take you so far.

But then you drop down off the bench and start descending one of the more frighteningly scenic switch-back roads in the country, and it's all good. Down there, waaaaaay down there, below all the cactus, chukar, and cows (correction: the most hardcore cows on the do they get up there...and survive?), there's a little blue river winding it's way through a narrow basalt canyon. And there are steelhead.

Given our experience on the Ronde a few weeks ago (two days swinging=no fish. one day nymphing=5 fish), I unapologetically admit that I was committed to being a nymphing whore this go around. I know, it's far from ideal, but it's late in the season, the water's cold, and they wouldn't eat it swinging last time...soooooo. Being in all likelihood my last trip of the season, I just wanted to hang one, swing be damned. With Jamie and Conner (a metalhead virgin) along for the punishment, my meager experience held clout, and handfuls of bobbers and split shot somehow found their way attached to our leaders by the time we hit the water Wednesday afternoon.

Conner recently moved out West to bite off a little chunk of the dream and hang out with Jamie. He's new to flinging flies, but I'll give him serious points for enthusiasm. Given what he had heard about steelhead, he had himself convinced that not only did he not stand a chance of catching a fish, he also thought he wasn't "good enough" to even fish for them. Seems to me you can pretty much sit on your couch playing Xbox and catch as many steelhead as I do on any given day.

Fifteen minutes in to flailing around in his first steelhead run ever, Conner hooked a fish. Not a big fish, but a steelhead. Bobber down, fish on. I saw it roll up as the rod went horizontal, and just about the time Jamie and I registered what was happening and I started to call out, "Let him ru..." the rod snapped back straight and the fish was gone. Conner was ecstatic. Oops, we just f#$%ed up another person's life.

The fishing the rest of the weekend was, well, nymphing for steelhead. A lot of casting, mending, sketchy wading, and bobber-watching going on...for hours...with nothing. Then, the bobber goes down just like it has on the last fifty rocks, you set (half-heartedly), and feel life. Solid head shakes, originating from the business-end of an eight-pound slab of muscle that grew up in the ocean and wants nothing to do with your terrestrial dumb ass. The fish were beautiful and as strong as they're supposed to be. Humbling. It didn't help that I was using a 5wt because it's "easier to cast." Well, it's sure as shit not easier to land a steelhead with, so I may be reconsidering that move before next trip.

But the fishing this time around was an after-thought. We didn't come to catch fish; we just needed an excuse to trailer up the Airstream and drive somewhere pretty to spend time with good friends over Thanksgiving. That part of the mission succeeded beautifully. Jamie picked up a turkey fryer before we left, so the looming question of how to cook the bird in a tiny trailer oven was easily resolved. Let me just say, if you have never deep-fried a turkey, you may as well not know how to walk. Do it.

Thanksgiving dinner was beyond memorable. I've got almost 30 Turkey Days under my belt, but over all the good times with family and friends that I would never trade for the world, this one took the cake. Hard to beat a restored Airstream trailer parked on the banks of the Grande Ronde, the smell of a freshly caught buck on your hands, watching a turkey fry. Keeping an eye on the green-bean casserole in the Dutch oven while throwing a stick for the dog. Popping another PBR. Stepping inside the camper to a welcoming of warmth, Talking Heads, and Jamie cooking a turkey neck in gravy. When the feast came, it was destroyed, and our party was immediately comatosed for the rest of the night. Thanks.
Conner didn't encounter another steelhead for the rest of the trip. That's how it works. I was hooked long before I actually hooked a fish. I don't know if Conner will abandon what he previously thought of as "fall" in favor on numb extremities and questioning glances from non-believers for the rest of his days, but he's off to a good start.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Havre Meat Run

Serious windshield time the past two weeks as a sort of fall season/Turkey Day culmination. Charge 'til death, as Big Timber says.

I wanted to get back up to Havre one last time before winter to hunt with Brett and his dogs again, but schedules and weather were making it look like it wouldn't happen. When Brett called and told me his young stud Nash was sick and would need surgery the weekend we had planned to hunt, it seemed a wash. Brett and Lisa didn't need the distraction and added burden of me being up there while one of their two dogs was recovering from surgery.

But I underestimated my friend, again. Brett said Nash would be staying at the vet over the weekend, and that since it would be no "burden," I should still come. I got my ass off the couch, threw my gear and the dog in the truck, and hit the road.

We both had deer tags to fill, and Brett also had a cow elk tag for the Bear Paws, so he lined us up to hunt big critters on some block management Saturday, and little flying critters on some other block management Sunday. Having a buddy who is an insanely passionate hunter up in the sportsman's paradise that is the Hi-Line is not a bad deal at all.

We hunted gorgeous rolling ponderosa high-country on Saturday in nice weather, although it was a little warm and we dealt with a brutal, lean-in-to-it wind all day. We were in mule deer most of the day, including the decent buck that I farmed no more than ten minutes in to our day. Don't get Brett started.

Should've taken him, because it was the best opportunity I had all day. With no signs of the bigger things on Brett's list, and only does to be found after lunch, a little muley spike became freezer filler in the afternoon. It was an easy drag and we were headed home by sunset to eat homemade stroganoff (thanks Lisa!) and watch football.

For our Sunday ditch parrot pursuit, Brett took me to a piece of property in a creek bottom that I had not hunted before. It was the thickest, nastiest, Eastern-grouse-coveriest, birdy-looking cover you could imagine, and gotdam was it holding some pheasants. I bet we put 50 birds up that day, though many flew from thick cover to thicker cover with no shot. Still no excuse for some of my always inexcusable misses, although we did manage to knock a few'd be a safe bet to assume some of Brett's lead was in all of them. A great hunt nonetheless, with plenty of action in gorgeous country in the company of some of my favorite people and dogs...who can argue?

Good thing Brett accepts growlers of Cold Smoke as payment for his guiding services...I better shoot clays next summer or he's going to fire me. Thanks buddy!!

That deer will be at the processor tomorrow morning, minus the tenderloins and backstraps, which I think will be joining us for Thanksgiving on the Grande Ronde along with some of those roosters. Oh, how I love the fall.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Giving Chase

When you spend nine out of the last fourteen days sleeping in the dirt alongside steelhead rivers somewhere in the PNW, you don't exactly stumble across a lot of wireless hotspots. So I apologize for the momentary lapse in blogramming. I don't apologize for going fishing.

The Salmon slowed down for us last weekend. It didn't help that I apparently felt the need to screw up most of the grabs I got on the swing. Fought a swung fish in to the shallows one evening before he spit the hook, and hooked another under the bobbercator that I also botched. Other than that, I don't think I even saw a tackle guy with a fish on the rest of the weekend. But my feet sure were cold, so that was nice.

Undeterred in our psychotic gluttony for punishment, we turned right around and left for the Grande Ronde the next day. Spent three days over on that gem of a river with Seth, where we found steelhead that would eat...they just wouldn't eat on the swing. After two days of slinging the long rods around, and seeing a couple of dead hatchery mutants hanging from the stringers of nymph fishermen, the bobbers came out.

Weird, steelhead eat nymphs. We got 'em on Frami (plural of Framus...I think) and black stonefly nymphs, and Seth got the steelhead monkey off his back. It was a big-ass monkey too, let me tell you.

What an awesome's just gorgeous. I love it over there and feel even more strongly about the Ronde after this last trip. We had great weather (it didn't even get below freezing at night, meaning our wading boots were still in somewhat liquid form in the mornings), good company, and caught some bobs. Plans are in the works for another round over there on Turkey weekend with Jamie's Airstream in tow. But that's two weeks away...where are we going fishing tomorrow?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Skeena AMP Under Review Again. Speak Up!!

U.S. anglers who have any interest in fishing the Skeena system in British Columbia need to once again pay attention and speak up.

For the past year or so, the B.C. Ministry of Environment and Tourism has been drafting and reviewing a new "Angling Management Plan" for the Skeena drainage. Recommendations on the management plan, which is mainly supported by local guides and anglers, include guided-only rivers, limited-entry lotteries for individual rivers, time restrictions, and increased license and daily river fees. If passed, the plan would make it extremely difficult as well as expensive for non-resident anglers to fish unguided on some of the greatest steelhead rivers remaining in the Pacific Northwest.

Last year I signed a petition discouraging the ministry from approving the management plan. After much public input and opposition (nice work motivating the angling masses, boys), the plan went back to the drawing board for review.

Well, today I received an email from Mike Hendry, the author of the initial petition last year, letting me know that after considering public input for the past year, the ministry has just released the "Phase 2" consultation report. They are again taking public comment in response to the recommendations outlined in the draft, but only until mid-November! Not much has changed from the first draft, and the approval of this plan would still be detrimental to non-B.C. resident steelhead anglers.

Mike is once again spearheading the effort to let the ministry know the angling plan is B.S. We have a limited amount of time to tell the ministry that if they approve the Skeena AMP, we will not be spending our money in B.C.! Whether you have fished the Skeena system or not, this is a significant public access issue that is worth putting your two cents in to!!

Read the Management plan, status, and updates here:
Skeena Quality Waters Strategy, B.C. Ministry of Environment

Fight the Skeena Angling Management Plan!!
Oppose Skeena AMP

More information on the Skeena watershed, and an easy way to contact the Ministry and let them know what you think:

Voy a pescar en la mañana.

Work/school-wise, this has already been a kick-ass week, and it's only Wednesday. Gettin' A's and gettin' published makes for one happy journalism student. But we still have a problem.

Seems I can't get those ocean-mutant, leech-slurping rainbow trout off my mind. All week I've been sitting here at the computer scripting fascinating prose about DUI charges or city elections, while my mind is completely preoccupied with how many turns of purple guinea I'm going to use for the collar on my next bug.

I need to get down to the Salmon ASAP. I want to be southbound on 93 in a rig full of buddies, dogs, and gear. I want to spend more hours each day in soggy waders than out of them. I want to stand nuts-deep in cold, green water watching my line swing. I want the tug. Mostly, I just want to lounge on a gravel bar in an ecstatic, half-dazed stupor with a spey rod and my dog, soaking up everything that is a steelhead river in the fall.

I just remembered that I was planning on either fixing my increasingly leaky waders this week, or replacing them. That was tomorrow's project. Shit. I guess my feet are gonna be wet and frozen again. They'll thaw out on the drive home.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

New Wingshooter's Blog

Put this one in the category of "worth-while." Tosh Brown and Bruce Smithhammer have a new bird dog/wingshooting blog that's well-written, entertaining, and worth a look. Check it out:
Mouthful of Feathers