Addressing the Current State of Alaskan Fisheries; an essay by Ard Stetts. Created June 14th 2018
The title represents my thought process as I begin to write today, unlike Vice President Albert Gore’s film titled An Inconvenient Truth I won’t go so far to say this is a truth, more it is my studied opinion regarding salmon in Alaska. While there are 5 species of Pacific Salmon that return to the rivers where I live I am at this time moved to air my thoughts based on the worsening situation that our rivers are facing with regard to the King Salmon. In this part of South Central Sockeye and Silver Salmons are also teetering precariously on a year by year basis also.
I first came to Alaska in 1989 and needless to say this was a different place then. The population was hovering around 545,000 covering the entire state. The current numbers for just the City of Anchorage and Matanuska Susitna Borough is at 402,649 persons with 298,00 of those in Anchorage proper as of 2016 census. I think I’m safely on target saying that the bulk of population growth over the past 29 years has taken place in my specific region of Alaska. The current state wide numbers are around 733,000 with that in mind the change can be attributed to this area so to say. Bare in mind that the 1989 figures have fluctuated seasonally as some folks became disenchanted with the long winters and returned to from whence they had come.
This area has over the past 9 years seen a dramatic reduction in some populations though and those populations of which I speak of are salmon, most notably the King or Chinook salmon. The Pacific Silver and Sockeye salmons are not far behind in their inability to keep up with the increased pressure on their ranks. Now here’s where this comes to the opinion part. What I can present as a fact is that locally the King salmon numbers are at about 24% as of this day that they were just last year on this day. The alarming part of this fact is that last year these rivers failed to meet the “minimum escapement” number for the species. Allow me to describe what “escapement” means please. When salmon spawn their begins a game of numbers and percentages. Among the things one must consider are whether or not the completed nest itself will survive. There are many things that can cause total catastrophic loss to a completed salmon nest site. Among the threats are (to mention a few) a human a moose or bear walks directly onto the redd and disrupts the eggs where they have been deposited. The jet blast from the many river boats that prowl the areas where the fish have spawned can and will completely blow out the substrate where the eggs have been deposited also. Further threats include a sustained period of low water after the spawning which can desiccate or cause super warming of the substrate and the eggs during the critical time period of gestation within the eggs. Conversely a period of extensive rainfall and flooding event after the nest has been set can scour the beds or cause excessive silt to settle into the gravel and effectively suffocate the developing eggs there.
There are more threats but I think that will get you on track with the threat matrix involved just with eggs and alvin’s in the streams and rivers. Next in the ‘escapement’ game comes survival as a juvenal salmon. After you exit the nest site substrate you make your way to shore, it may be late October when you make this move and the waters may be cooling and dropping with the coming of winter. Over the long cold winter under the ice you will forage for whatever you can find to provide subsistence until the ice goes out in May. If you (the fry) have been counted among the fortunate you have survived the winter and are now approaching fingerling size come June of your first year. By summers end you may be a full 3″ in size but have spent the summer evading Kingfishers, common Merganser’s, Terns and Gulls as well as Salmon Smolt from previous years hatching and rainbow trout, char and etc. The list of threats is deep but I’m hoping the readers get the inference here.
Continuing along with the theme of being an “escapement” fish, by the second full year in the natal river the fish may be nearly 5 or more inches in size depending on how things went in the game of survival and all that. At this point the fish may leave for the ocean by fall or based on genetic predisposition etc. it may stay until year 2 when it can be a full smolt size at nearly 10 inches. If you’ve made it to being ten inches and have not yet been eaten or killed chances are you’re gonna taste salt water soon. In the salt begins another whole gauntlet that these fish must endure. I am not overly well versed at marine biology & zoology but I can name a few of the usual suspects when it comes to eating / killing a young or maturing salmon. Orca’s – Sea Lions – Spotted Seals – Beluga Whales – Sharks – and of course Commercial Fisheries enter into the threat matrix at sea. Then there are the ‘personal use set net fisheries along the shores near natal rivers as well as personal use dip netting that Alaskan residents are entitled to make use of. Those fish that survive everything I’ve detailed (and a whole lot more) and get to enter their natal rivers in the effort to reproduce are what the department of fish and game calls “the escapement fish”.
So here you are an ‘escapement salmon’ entering the river of your birth on a mission to procreate your species but it isn’t over my friend not by a long shot it isn’t over. Remember that population thing I opened up with? Let us assume that people don’t move to Alaska especially to the Matanuske Susitna Valley because of our warm beaches and fantastic weather trends, I’ll go as far to say many are outdoors types who want to sample the bounty of Alaska they have heard and read about since they were children. If they aren’t fishermen when they get here they will soon meet someone who is and that someone may very well spin the tales of King Salmon fishing to the newcomer. The size, the excitement, the battle involved in landing one and of course the fact that there are few fish available that make finer table fare than a fresh Alaskan King Salmon……….. needless to say the pressure is on if you happen to be one of the few, the proud, the escapement fish! It may be time to share another fact with you, South Central Alaska, The Mat Su Valley and The Kenai Peninsula actually account for a majority of Alaska’s road system. It is that road system that provides access albeit limited to what were once the most productive rivers and creeks in South Central Alaska for all five species of Pacific Salmons.
With the roads comes access points for river boats and there are plenty of those ranging from the 16 foot John boat with 25 HP motors to the Thunder Jets with 454 Chevy engines powering tremendous jet props. The remark I made about jet blast cleaning out a salmon nest isn’t some imaginary thing I conjured up in my paranoid subconscious it’s as real as night and day. In some stretches of rivers you can see the tracks on the bottom blown clean by jet blasts. So what do I do because I operate a jet myself you may wonder? I’ve figured it out that if I run with my motor at the maximum trim level that will still produce propulsion but that propulsion stream exits my tunnel almost perfectly parallel to the surface of the water and not directed at a 20 degree downward angle to or at the river bottom I do way less damage. Does that make me without sin? I can’t say for sure but I’m able to think it matters to some extent. I like to think that having came here from north Central Pennsylvania I brought a few decent traits along with me. My native state was ravaged by clear cut logging before my birth in 1954 and mining drainage that had left devastating effects well into the 1970′s in my part of the state. I did however live there to witness the rebound of the fisheries resources especially the wild trout fisheries. Coming from a wild trout background I understood well what spawning is all about and also tread very carefully when I know wild fish are about. I grew up in an environment on the mend and also an environment where we lived by the rule, ‘Limit your kill don’t kill your limit’. I realize that not everyone has come from my background and many see wild fisheries as a limitless resource. Sadly that is not the case, and to wit not the case in Alaska.
As we have collectively slid into this dark pit where the salmon become harder and harder to find the state has taken (in most cases) appropriate actions in that many of our rivers have been closed to retention of fish with all fishing being single hook artificial lure catch and release. Once a King salmon has been caught it must be released without its being removed from the water. As I write this article the whole of the rivers of South Central are closed to retention of King salmon and the World Famous Copper River and its drainage has been closed to fishing for Sockeye salmon as well as kings!
So what’s up? When you ask that question of 20 different fishermen you may get several different answers although some will be of a correlating premise put into different words and terms. In essence everyone I’ve spoke to over the past few seasons has something or some entity they place blame on for this break in the continuity of the Alaskan lifestyle. The majority of opinion I hear is that it is the commercial fisheries who are at the root of our collective sorrows. A few point to the seals and Orca’s as the possibilities. One fellow suggested that it is that they are literally starving to death at sea due to competition for food sources from other salmon species. Still another theory floated is that a combination of pH changes in ocean waters and climate changes are working together to affect the amount and quality of available food supply. That water quality theme also plays into the concerns over warming natal streams being unable to support the successful nesting sites. I could go on ad nauseam with more theory and opinion but I’ll move to another paragraph and tell you what I think.
So what is it, what do you think is happening Ard? This is where I suggest the ‘Inconvenient Possibility’
I think our transgressions are coming home to roost in a collective manner. To some extent I believe that every point of blame or reasoning I’ve had presented to me may be playing a role in the big picture. There is however one thing that no one has voiced to me when the lamenting over the lack of salmon comes to the forefront of conversation and I might add the conversation often goes to that point here at this time. The ‘thing’ that has not been mentioned reflects back to how I began this writing. Population growth pressure, harvest on all fronts but most especially those “escapement” fish. It is the escapement number of adult salmon upon whom the burden of propagating the future generations of returns rests squarely upon. It will help if the reader understands that any egg deposited in a gravel bed this year by a King salmon will not be returning as an adult fish for 5 years, that’s 2023 for the survivors to appear. With that in mind one may be better able to imagine how it is that this extreme shortage of adult numbers has been slowly dwindling to a from bad to worse condition over the past 8 years. Although common sense leads us to ask why wasn’t the limit reduced from 5 per year to just one or 2 ten years ago? Pressure, pressure on the department of fish and game applied by the tourist industry, by the residential fishermen, by the commercial guides association, all of these culminate in political pressure to keep things going as they have always ran. The King salmon is the 14 point Boon & Crockett Mule Deer, it’s the perfect ten point white tail deer, it’s the 24 pound Wild Turkey Gobbler, it’s the King of Salmon and the pressure on the King has been intense to say the very least.
Ever since I took up permanent residency here in 2004 I noticed a pattern. The Kings are the first of the salmon species to return to Alaska’s rivers each year. Private residents and guides alike prize them as do the thousands of anglers who come from all points of the globe to get their King or Kings. For residents and guides the hens were highly coveted. Why would that be? Wouldn’t killing the hen fish, if the female is a fully matured adult in the 30 pound and over class can produce as many as 5000 eggs be counter productive? Not to an angler or guide that intends to remove those huge sacks of potential salmon in the form of eggs and then brine them to be used as egg sack baits for the Pacific Silvers that will be entering the rivers in just 5 short weeks behind the early kings. It doesn’t stop there, all of the guides I know and a great many residents I have met then take the eggs from the female Silver Salmon, brine them and store them in the deep freezer to be used for King Salmon bait in the following years run. Are you getting a sense of a defeating purpose in all of this? Being a fly fisherman I’ve never had a use for salmon eggs. I decided ten years ago without any outside influence to return all hen salmon so that they can lay those precious eggs.
You see, salmon are like chickens or turkeys in that a few males can and will mate with as many hens as they can physically manage. In the case of Pacific Salmon they literally spawn till they die. With that in mind the retention of females has not made a lick of sense to me and I find the sad spectacle of harvesting the eggs of future generations of salmon to use only to kill more of the same to be unconscionable. Whatever you do don’t get the idea that I’ve never killed and eaten an Alaskan king Salmon. That would be dead wrong (pun intended) I have I did but once the hand writing came to the walls here I stopped back in 2011 when I took three. The limit was 5 and I may have caught and released another 20 or more but I took three that year and that was the last. Since then I’ve had a couple memorable days, notably one morning in 2015 when I was able to catch 13 kings in one hour and forty five minutes. Each and every one released in prime shape, you gotta figure that with only 1 and 3/4 hours to get that done I didn’t mess with them once hooked, I reeled them in popped the hook and was grateful for the experience. Those days at the present seem to be gone until further notice.
It’s us. It’s all of us but I have to say that there have been commercial fisheries since before I was born. There have been Sea Loins, Spotted Seals, Orca’s and Beluga whales since time immemorial. The climate has changed over the 12,000 years since the great glacial epochs and floods & droughts are as much a part of this species environment as the waters themselves. What is new and definitely different is that over the past 40 years the population and associated pressures on those precious escapement fish has exploded. We have loved catching and killing King salmon to death. It is us, the people who have been killing the survivors here in the natal rivers and creeks that have tipped the balance. The folks who talk to me about this situation seem to be so opposed to this thought that is is obvious. I don’t preach it, I make mention that I think we may have over-killed but I don’t enter into debates on the topic. I see this like a community with a limited aquifer to draw water from deciding that everyone is entitled to have a swimming pool only when the wells run dry they are desperately searching for someone other than the pool owners to blame for the dry wells.
What do I think should be done to preserve the species for the future, even possibly restore them in numbers? I believe a complete moratorium on the harvest of escapement fish (especially Kings but Silvers are also in danger) coupled with effective limits and enforcement on the commercial drift netters in Cook Inlet is overdue. The burden and penalty’s of exploiting the species should be shared across the fisheries as a whole. From where I’m at right here & now I don’t see any other course that would make sense. Five year fish need five years of protection to even regain a toehold over the current state of the Kings. This would entail South Central and parts of Western Alaska also. The Kings are in danger of becoming threatened all over the state. Some areas still have good silver numbers and kings aren’t as scarce but those rivers are accessible by float plane and lodges only. That is what is keeping the numbers up, not as many people killing them.
Addendum July 26th 2018; To the best of my understanding the Kenai River Sockeye fishery has been limited to one fish, (1) fish per day pre angler due to a very poor return rate.
The Dip Netting has been closed the cumulative run number is currently at 399, 500 fish which is far below the one million generally recorded by this date. The usual limit at this time is 6 per day. Things are changing fast.
July 29th, 2018; As if any further observations need be made I’ve noticed an interesting trend over the past 8 years. In a river local to me while 4 species of salmon have declined one seems to be thriving. When it comes to table fare or fish of commercial value most of us are aware that King, Sockeye, Pink and Pacific Silver salmon are preferred. That leaves the lowly Chum or Dog Salmon which to the best of my understanding is a species that few harvest for use at dinner.
So what’s interesting? Each year as our rivers have gotten closer to not meeting the escapement goals for 4 species the chum population is booming. When I consider that as a lay person of fisheries knowledge it gives me pause. As I said in the opening post there is a camp which theorizes that food resources in the ocean and Inlet may be responsible for the noticeable crash year after year of our prized game & food fishes. That’s just one theory being batted around but it leaves me wondering where are all those chum getting the groceries?
Meanwhile the Nushagak River which is a remote system in the Bristol Bay region experienced some 93,300 Kings returning this year while most rivers in populated areas remain closed to King Salmon fishing? I’m sticking with the ‘people killing escapement fish’ idea myself.
Friends and family have been wondering what I’ve been doing at the cabin all these years. Because of the remote location things go slow and I don’t live there so work gets done in bits and pieces. I made a short video after I had finished re setting some of the foundation posts so with no further ado here you go.
I have big plans for that property and it is fast becoming my fitness and exercise program. Over the winter there will be more interior improvements, furniture – maybe a new stove and I’ll deliver all the hardware components for a small solar array that I’ll erect first spring in the spring. If you snoop down through posted articles on this page you’ll find some pictures and text about freight sledding. That is how I get large items 75 miles off road, cement, gravel, lumber, you name it, if it’s big and heavy then it goes during winter on a freight sled.
Comments are welcome as always
Within a few days I’ll be launching the boat and begin searching for the tip of the king salmon returns. This is my favorite time because while there may be few or no kings far enough up river for me to fish the flies with Spey rods there will also be few to no other fishermen out. I’ve found them as early as May second and hope springs eternal with the salmon fisherman in me.
The flies I will use are all variations of a pattern I discovered within my first week in Alaska in 2004 as a resident. If you are planing to come to AK. to fish for kings it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have something like this with you.
The thing about doing the guide business was that I could no longer live in the Stone Age with regards to my flies so I changed with the times. I began making tube flies and tying on Shanks as well. Below is what the AK. Assassin looks like today.
I have a hard time tying identical flies so all of mine vary to some extent but they all possess the same basic shapes and colors. The fish don’t seem to notice the subtle variations and with that in mind just tie whatever you can make that looks similar.
All of these share some common traits, all are tied on Pro Tubes, all are weighted to some extent, and they all possess the chartreuse butt – white middle and hot pink front collar.
The materials I use are Arctic Fox – Burnt Goose – and Senyo Chromatic fibers wound into a dubbing brush. The collar is a mix of schlappeln and marabou with a small cone behind the feathers to support them. I add trailing fibers from Amherst Pheasant and dyed Rhea feathers too. There’s no right or wrong but I do believe in the color combo due to the number of fish taken with these flies.
The next article down the stack here on the blog page is about hooking and landing the fish who bite on these flies. I hope you will enjoy or benefit from some of the observations I describe in the article and as always, I appreciate you stopping by this website.
I was reading content on a fly fishing forum about hooks and lost salmon, the post led to an article which was relating hooks to lost fish as in type quality and etc. I read the article and began to write my own take on hooks and lost fish. Within a short while I realized my comments amounted to a thread hijack and were out of place on a forum thread so I ‘Cut & Pasted’ to here and then went on at length. Maybe it can be helpful to others, I should say that I do the same thing (hooking) with trout and steelhead as the salmon.
I feel compelled to add this thought for you before you would go on to read what I am writing here. Every time I try to share what I think I’ve learned I ask myself how this will come off to a reader. Will I sound to them like some guy who thinks he knows everything or will what I say bring some memory back to the forefront of the readers mind?
Regarding the hooks, although I’ve been in possession of doubles since the late seventies and have tied many a pattern to them I’ve not used any. That I would guess is a subliminal thing going on somewhere behind my eyes that can’t be explained easily. With single point hooks I’ve used a variety beginning back when the major supplier was the Mustad Co. and continuing into this century with many brands that were previously unavailable.
You folks may be surprised to hear from a fellow who claims he loses very few salmon. I believe there is a reason for this win loss record I experience and it may have to do with opportunity in numbers. Other than early trips to Canada’s Maritime Provinces for Atlantic Salmon my experiences with other species have been in locations where one could have the play going ten or more times per day. These days happened fishing for salmon returning to tributary rivers to America’s Great Lakes and then continued on to Alaska and Pacific Salmons. Having this chance at numbers of hook ups daily allowed me to figure some things out (possibly) that would be difficult were I hooking one or two daily.
I believe the landing or loss of a fish is related closely with how we react at the first hint of one on the fly. By on the fly I would mean the tap, stop, or pull felt transmitted up the line to our rods and subsequently our hands. When I was new to this I tended to strike with the rod when I felt anything that may well be a salmon. This striking resulted in many missed fish and some which were hooked only to come undone before being brought to bay. Like many techniques developed in fishing my own came through years of interactions with salmon but for those who would read and then risk trying something new they may cut their learning curve dramatically.
What I’m about to say may no doubt sound strange but I find it working year after year so I’ll continue. When I have a fly swinging across currents or nearing the end of its transit of the channel from entry point to the dangle straight below my position and I feel a fish, I do nothing more than to become more alert. Often times even large King salmon will tap a fly not much harder than a good trout. Of course there are exceptions but generally speaking I find the grab of a salmon to be slightly less than ferocious. When I feel a fish I hesitate before even slowly raising the rod tip, this allows time for the fish to close it’s rather large mouth and to turn back toward wherever it was prior to moving for that fly. If there is not an immediate explosion of activity as the result of the fish driving the point in by itself and feeling the tension of the line, I lift my rod tip while slowly pulling in a bit of line with my free hand. If that salmon has that fly (and hook point) in its mouth and the hook has already found a chink in which to lodge its point, I will feel weight on my line as I raise that rod tip. When you feel the weight you drop the tip and point it at the source of resistance. Next move is to (using that same free hand) pull slowly back on the line until you can feel the fish there. Once you’ve reached this point I’d say there is a very high likelihood that you will hook and land the fish. Now you pull again while raising the rod tip simultaneously, pull with authority but do not ‘jerk’ the line. The idea of the raised rod tip during this second hand set is to allow for some buffering in case the fish decides to move at the same time that you are trying to secure that hook pint.
The result of the above described exercise for me in a very high percentage of encounters with fish is a hooked fish. I don’t ‘miss’ them, if I fail to hook one it is because the fish didn’t hook itself or as I like to say, it missed me.
When a salmon is hooked, especially large salmon, I have found that it is in the best interest of landing the fish if I do everything possible to keep the fish calm. So how do you keep a fish calm you may wonder? You don’t put a huge amount of pressure on them early on in your engagement with the fish. Keep the line snug but not tight, I don’t try to control them too quickly. Of course there will always be the fish that bolts, the one that heads down river with no intention of stopping within eyesight. These situations duly fall into the Indiana Jones category of encounters because you make it up as you go. Most fish I get involved with want only to return to where they were prior to being distracted – attracted by the fly and then getting hooked on it. If I allow them to, they move back to the holding spot and then I can develop a plan for getting them to shore as quickly as possible.
Once the fish is calm and holding; remember that it is securely hooked because you made sure of that, you didn’t overreact too soon and hook it in the flesh at the edge of the lip, you have him hooked good……….. This is a good moment to consider your position, are you still in the water? Is there a decent shoreline for you to safely back out to? Can you move up or down the shore safely? Lastly but importantly is there an area of soft water near by either up or down stream? All of what I just posed as questions can be ascertained in a few seconds time and you then move into the safest and most advantageous spot to continue the business of landing the fish.
I like the ‘pump & reel’ approach with larger fish. This involves using the length of your rod combined with your height and arms length to lift the fish as near to the surface as you can get it. When I say surface I mean surface but close is better than its being deep. When the fish is near the surface it is easier to move, when it gets near the surface you quickly drop the rod and reel like a mad man gathering as much of the line as possible before the fish has a lot of time to react. Some fish will be battling right away and like the ones who bolt down river we must do our best to deal with unexpected outbursts of activity.
I must say that when the fish is at or near the surface this is a touchy time when it comes to your connectivity via the hook. We don’t want it there thrashing for long, rather we are using this lifting and reeling technique to shorten the distance between ourselves and the quarry. With each lift and reeling action some fish will begin to show signs to us, will they be about to go off like an explosion or are they lacking the crazy man gene? I find that the majority are manageable and that during this lift and reel repetition the fish are to some extent worn down a bit also.
Considering that I or you have moved to the most advantageous spot to work the fish from it is time to mention one other contingency plan. If at any time while you are dealing with a hooked salmon or other large fish, the fish is turned directly at you, you can see that it is either facing the rod tip or is actually swimming toward you it is time for quick and dramatic reactions to this posture of the fish. Fish, salmon and others are good at moving forward and at turning side to side in their medium of water. What they are not good at is swimming backward or better said, in reverse. If I find one coming at me this is the time to reel as said before, like a mad man and at the same time back away from the edge of the water with haste also. Once one (a fish) is coming hard toward the shore you have a chance to end the encounter way ahead of schedule. This often results in the fish being dragged into very shallow water and there will be considerable flopping and mayhem associated with a hoot and lively fish being nearly beached. This is also a time when hooks come loose so the angler has no time to waste. Find a safe place to lean the rod and try to run on the line until you reach the fish. Once there get control of that tail as quickly as possible and back the fish out into deeper water. You’ve got the tail and that means you’ve landed your salmon!
There are negative aspects to bringing a fish into the shallows as I’ve described, likewise there are negative aspects to playing a salmon to the point where it will float on its side nearly lifeless over a net. I believe the method I use could be the better of the two methods. If we don’t have the opportunity described above with the fish headed straight to you then we lift and reel until we can keep the fish close enough to the surface that we can see its positioning in relation to the current and our own position. If the fish turns and begins swimming down stream, ease up on the tension and hope it calms down and turns back into the current. If they go down than you must refer to the Indiana Jones method which includes all necessary steps to get that fish to hand…….
If you are fishing with a friend and there is a net, this can be good or bad. I don’t know if there is a fisherman alive who hasn’t seen a salmon who otherwise appeared to be ready to surrender bolt with renewed spirit when the fish sees the net or net man coming. Generally I gage situations based on the anglers ability to safely beach the fish verses my going after them with the net. There are times when the net is the only way and in those times both the angler hooked to the fish and the net man must work in concert for there to be a harmonious ending to the engagement of man and fish.
What I said early on about not reacting to the feel of a fish at my fly is something that goes way back in my own angling history. There was a time when fishing dry flies that I jumped like a startled cat with every rise to my fly. We often describe this at days end by saying “I missed a bunch”. Time was the teacher then just as it has been in this century, don’t strike. Let the fish grab the floating fly and turn back toward the bottom, a very large majority of trout, grayling and char will hook themselves and all we need do is to lift the rod and tighten the line.
Once you’ve got the tail under control, you’ve landed your salmon.
No fish were harmed during the various photo ops.
Ever since this website went online I’ve made mention of the cabin, in the past five years I’ve been busy as time and resources have allowed to make the place a little nicer. The building went up in the late 1990′s and I have been working since 2006 on it. The logs came from spruce that were cut from the 33 acre lot and it was my wife (before we met) who skinned the bark from them and hired help to stack the walls. My job has been to get a solid roof – insulate – install windows – build steps and otherwise finish the place.
A large part of why it takes a decade to get things done is due to the fact that the place is 75 miles off road. I don’t have a float plane so it’s 75 miles of grueling snowmachine travel or a very long boat ride just to get there. I’ve hauled loads of materials via jet boat and also hired barges and freighters to bring things out there.
Winter is the time to move heavy loads and four winters ago I finally had a man build me a freight sled. That’s what this article is about, freighting to the cabin during winter. Since I have the big sled there is no need to hire a barge during spring. The going rate for Bush transport is .32 / pound and believe me that adds up quickly. A 55 gallon drum of gasoline weighs 385 pounds and I need 300 gallons out there every year by spring to fuel the boat all summer and run snowmachines all winter. Add to the fuel transport fees all the lumber and assorted things needed to move a project along and it’s easy to see why I got myself a sled.
Lets get right to that, the sled. These are custom builds and each sled man has their pet design. I wanted one like legendary freight man Larry Heater used for years delivering things to me. Larry is now in his eighties and no longer running freight. His looming retirement was what prompted me to get my own and as they say cover my ass when it comes to freight. It isn’t something to take lightly, hauling a 2000 pound load over 75 miles of desolate frozen rivers and lastly crossing the 6 mile wide Big Swamp to get to the lake. Each trip cam end easily or there may be problems. Problems would include getting the sled stuck in deep snow, this is bad because you usually need to unload in order to get free. Those barrels can wear a fellow out and if it’s a load of railroad ties things aren’t much better.
Anyway, the sled; these things are built with 6 foot skis made from UHMW plastic. The ski itself is mounted on a type of armature which in turn mounts to an axle. Each ski can rotate on the axle independent of the ski opposite of it on that axle. They are constantly flexing and allow for a very smooth ride for whatever is on the sled. The long base between axles also allows for the sled to cross through some serious mogul fields caused by drifting snow.
Click Images to Enlarge
The front skis and the trailer tongue swivel to accommodate turning without a lot of resistance.
The way they are constructed is based on a design which came from Finland and it was Larry who had 2 of the Finnish sleds that were copied into the local market. They are incredible tools.
Here are a couple loads where I also was intending to stay out there for a while, note the dog crate. Boss travels back and forth whenever it is not a freight only run, on freight only runs I take the Mother Load which would be 3 or 4 barrels.
Sometimes I am joined by other freight runners or I join them, safety in numbers you know.
So what do I use to pull those loads? A Skidoo Skandic with a 600 cc E-Tech fuel injected engine and turning a 156 inch X 24″ wide track. The wide track provides the grip and the width of it keeps the machine on top of the snow. They are like a tank.
For light loads and general transpport to and from we have a Skidoo Tundra long track. These have a 550cc engine and an even longer track than the Skandic. The Tundra is the ultimate machine to go right out through the woods in 4 feet of snow, they too are amazing at staying on top of it.
What happens to all that stuff I haul out there? Some turns into boat docks while others turn into interior upgrades. The place needs to be pressure washed and re-coated every 2 years also and I just finished re-chinking the exterior in summer of 2016. It’s a job out there believe me but I relish those rare days when I just sit and listen to the sound fo silence.
Here are some photos of recent projects, loads of sanded thin plywood, 2X6 lumber and 4×4′s all put into the place.
The layout of the building is 24X24 inside but the second floor was only 24X16 because it has a loft with a stair. This left a wide open area between the two large windows in the front gable and the floor. I decided to build a bridge 8 foot long X 12 foot wide to utilize the space. Working with log construction is a challenge but I succeed and this is what the second floor looks like today.
The ceiling is insulated and then covered with 366 3.5″ X random length firing boards. I did that back when I was still using a hand miter box and hammer & nails. Since then I graduated to a nail gun and power saws. It took a long time to do the ceiling and then sheet the walls of the gables. The end result came out nice considering what I had a few years back and I’ll haul carpeting out for the second floor this winter.
Downstairs I have things wired and finally a ceiling there also. I built a small storage room in the back corner where there is a little of everything.
Once I had some headway inside I went to adding a new dock section. I built it up where the land is level but quickly realized it woulld be too heavy to transport when complete. So, I utilized 2 small freight sleds and a Suzuki King Quad and after framing things and securing the corners I skidded the whole thing down to the lake.
With all the planks pre-cut and the frame at waterside all I had left was driving nails and fixing flotation to the underside.
Under the supervision of Boss I finished the addition and got it anchored.
Every bit of work done out there as well as all my fishing is watched over by Boss and he approved of the addition to the dock.
Summer of 2016 saw the dock and re-chinking of the exterior and that wrapped up the year.
I use a pressure washer to clean loose finish and grime from the logs every few years. Things are always looking bad after a cleaning and this year I stripped the old chinking and redid the whole place, what a job!
Just three more sides to go including the high work and you’ll be done. It was a good time to reseal things because winter came on with plenty of -20 degree temps and quite a lot of snow for 2017.
I have to get up and shovel the roof every year because the ice and snow load are right over the stairs. I did it just a few weeks back when I stayed out there for a month. That was beautiful, after clearing that land of roughly 75 large trees which I cut and split for firewood every year I was able to hang out and burn some. No major projects except trying to make headway on a writing I’ve been at for years.
Now you’ve seen some of what life is like for me, I don’t just take as many people fishing as I can trying to make money. If I did that I’d have to spend every penny I made hiring someone to do all my work. There’s a home in Wasilla that constantly needs my skills and energy aslo and nancy is always working up a list for me there.
Many people have said to me, “I dream of having a cabin someday, it must be so cool”. I guess it is but be careful what you wish for because they are like a second job, beautiful yes but always in need of attention too.
I’m considering buying a second boat and setting it up specifically for Pike fishing. I’d like to just leave a boat there all the time and have it ready for people who may want to spend some time in a quiet place chasing Pike.
Not all the Pike are small like the one on my home page here. Many can be found in the 36″ class like the one below with 24 – 30 quite common. I’ve (of course) lost a couple monsters, one just last summer right off that boat dock! Fish & Game netted a 24 pound 46 inch right in front of the cabin 3 years ago, they are there but it’s a big lake.
I hope this was entertaining and gave a glimpse into where I am if I don’t answer an e-mail promptly.
I know that this isn’t a forum where you can post a question and receive answers from a multitude of sources but I thought I’d try this anyway.
Whatever you may be wondering about various species – salmon run timing – probable weather conditions – tackle, whatever, post them as a comment and I will attempt to answer you.
Although I am located in South Central AK. I have some experience in other parts of the state so I may be able to point you toward your best chance to get the best Alaskan fishing experience possible.
Here in the Greater Mat-Su Valley we have adequate snow for the first winter in 3 years. What that can mean is an open question. If we have a cool spring this means that water levels will be sustained well into the season as the runoff will come gradually. If we have warm weather by late May early June this can mean that we will see high, colored and challenging fishing conditions during the King Salmon run which occurs mid May through June. Aside from runoff considerations the balance of the year and our water levels will be dependent on rainfall like many other parts of the country.
In the years since I took up residence here I’ve seen the best and worst of fishing conditions. The Best would include medium flows with clear water and if you are fortunate to have this the fishing is generally great. The worst, at least the worst I’ve seen while doing the fish guide thing was just last season. My first two pairs of fishermen had good conditions and between them they caught several hundred salmon. One fellow managed 4 species catching everything except a sockeye. We also caught a few nice trout during those two weeks. The worst came as two more fishers came to the same came only things had changed. It had been raining steadily for 4 days in advance of their arrival and continued to rain hard for the next 26 days.
The water was high and pretty colored; although we were consistently fishing in – over and through thousands of Silver & Chum salmon there were very few fish caught. During that period (5 days) I tried every trick I’ve learned to entice salmon onto hooks while attempting to crack the code for my two guests but alas these efforts failed. With that in the back of my mind I would encourage folks to ask as many questions as they can think of prior to heading to AK. for salmon because when it’s good it can be off the charts good but when it’s bad, well you gotta love fishing because that’s what may be left.
I’m headed off on Monday March 6th to haul a load of fuel to the cabin. If any replies / comments come in whille I’m away I’ll be answering as soon as I return.
Quite recently I posted a brief answer regarding articulated patterns and hook location / number of hook points to a general fly fishing forum. In hindsight I felt it should be repeated here for visitors to this page.
I use both trailing hooks (stashed in the flowing materials) and tube flies with the hook tucked in an extension tube which is the same concept but the tube keeps the hook stationary.
If I were to give advice for using a trailing hook pattern it may sound like this; when you feel a fish tapping or doing anything except slamming the fly, do not react. The do not react part will take some self control but I believe you’ll find out that what I’m saying is true. When you feel a fish tapping away at the fly, that fish is not hooked. It is doing exactly what it feels like, tapping at the fly. If you react by instinctively striking back with the rod you may not hook anything. What you may very well do is to rip the fly away from a very interested fish. In ripping it away there are 2 negative possibilities; number one is you prick the fish not solidly hooking it. This usually results in the fish returning to it’s holding spot or lair and ignoring any further appearances made by artificial flies. Number two negative possibility is that you do not prick them but the rocket like reaction of the fly to their curious taps and experimenting with the strange item swimming in their environment will sufficiently startle & alarm the fish to produce the same result as number one did.
When the fly is swinging and you feel the fish you do nothing, the fish taps and taps until it gets hooked. You will know when one has gotten the hook, and doing the Bass Master’s hook-set will not be necessary. You will catch way more fish this way because those who do not hook themselves will come after subsequent casts and swings of the same fly.
Does that make sense? I offer this based on some thirty years of streamer fishing focus. I have “missed” some very fine trout due to my lack of control. Likewise, once I figured things out I have caught more trout – salmon and steelhead by using self control than I ever did by chance of the strike. When you feel a player you get to know that if you rest that fish then come back to cast and swing its area again in ten minutes you may very well catch it or at least get a second chance. I’ve heard these fish called ‘come back fish’. I like to think that it is me who comes back as well as the fish. Whether you wade to shore and find a seat or just move upstream and then work back down to the fishes location, giving them some time before showing the fly again is often helpful. I’ve had many hit and get hooked on a follow up cats after they were playing with the fly ‘tapping’ but I’ve learned to limit the immediate follow up casts to one or two. Repeated casts can spook them so we could think of pounding the area as negative number three………… I like to rest them for 5 or ten minutes then show it again. If I have any inclination that I an dealing with a large fish I give a ten minute break at minimum.
These are all come back fish from last season.
There were many more but those should help in making my case for patience and thoughtful self control. Once I know where the players are at what’s the hurry?
I had nothing to do with the production of the first video video program but if you are curious about the area where I live and work it will give you a perspective. Will it really happen? I hope not.
I do intend to dedicate some time to producing a few shows of my own in 2017 and hope you’ll be coming back to check them out. There is an instructional video produced by my team and I located here also and text articles to provide further details on the blog page but for now…………
Video #2 My take on Fishing Streamers;
The real story is probably not what you may have assumed.
I’ve never written in general regarding this strange turn of events that led to my being a guide for visiting anglers. I’m going to try to lay this out so that it makes sense, I think you’ll get it.
Right up front people need to know that I do not believe that I am somehow the genetically superior fisherman, nor am I over endowed with the Hunter Gatherer gene. I also fell way short when they were passing out ego’s because I feel like a normal guy every day when I wake up and every time I rig up a rod. One other thing that deserves mention is that this was never about money it was an accident. So this didn’t come about the way you might expect.
I’ve been fishing since I was a kid, I won’t go into how I got started because that is the bulk of my ‘About Me’ on the profile page here. As I progressed through my own personal Life On The Line experience I was fortunate in that I often caught fish. I faced many challenges when I tried to transition to fly rod only fishing just like many others have. Somehow I made the right choices and through determination and selfish use of my free time I progressed from a thrasher to someone who fished using more of a transcendental approach. I spent a lot of time just watching everything that was happening both in and out of the waters where I spent my time. Somehow that seemed to enhance my previous good fortune at catching fish.
During the late 70′s – 80′s – 90′s and right into the 21st Century I fished in Pennsylvania and traveled in what I could call an extensive manner with the intent to fish at the destinations. During all those years I never hired a guide although in hindsight I would have been well served to have used such services in many places I visited. There was a mental block that came from experiences on my home waters and that block was rooted in my belief that those people who worked as guides were bringing people who otherwise would never find places where I fished, into those spots. They were the enemy and I knew I would never do that, it just wasn’t right! I actually had an active dislike for the whole concept of guiding because of what I saw happening in my home range.
I came to Alaska back in 1989 and stayed for 6 months and returned to stay in 2004. When I made this my home for good I dove into the fishing. I found my way because I live here and I had time for trial and error trips. There was however a big difference between my situation and that of someone visiting here for 5 to 10 days, I was here 365 days a year and had time to figure this out.
By the time that I discovered fly fishing forums I had gotten married and moved from my home in Anchorage out to The Valley. That same year I bought a boat because out there you needed one unless you wanted to be relegated to fishing at road access points with a hoard of others. So I began exploring rivers, I drove the boat, I drifted on rafts, and I hiked. With each passing year my knowledge of where and when to fish grew, but remember, I live here so a bad day was quickly forgotten when the 20 silver salmon day rolled around. I caught all 5 species of salmon, rainbow trout – steelhead trout – grayling and char, I was on a roll.
Through out the years 2007 and 2011 I was there on fishing forums forum posting technique threads and occasionally I would see a thread titled “Going to AK.” or “Advice On AK. Trip” and if I recognized the posters name I would send a Private Message to them. In those messages I offered to take them fishing. I explained that I had a boat and several rafts and that I go fishing all the time so having them along wouldn’t be a problem. I made those offers to quite a few people on forums. Only one person ever contacted me and took me up on the offer. He got in touch on the last day of his trip and I directed him on how to find me and then went to meet him at a parking lot in town and had him follow me home. We had a quick dinner and got him into the truck and took him to a river where we fished until almost midnight. The next morning we left at 5 AM. for some more fishing, his flight was leaving at 5:30 PM. so we had to knock off at noon but he was able to catch a bunch of salmon and a couple trout, the salmon had eluded him over the first 6 days of his time here so he was very happy.
I continued to extend invitations for a while but no one else took me up on the offers. There were however members who when they got home posted reports about their trips, some went to fish the Kenai & Russian Rivers while others went to very expensive lodges. Even the guys who went to the Kenai & Russian stayed at lodges and hired guides in most cases. Some knocked the spots off the fish and some didn’t. One thing I knew was that I didn’t go down there to fish during summer because of the combat fishing environment that is unavoidable on either river, guide or no guide. Heck, I have heard stories about guides getting into fist fights down there, OMG. There is one case where I had offered a guy to fish here with me that sticks in my mind. He never really got back to me until he informed me that he was booked into a lodge out on the Katmai Peninsula, it turned out that things didn’t go that well out there but here at home I caught and released over 40 king salmon and kept 3. The total weight of the three I kept was over 100 pounds. This picture is from that season…………
You’ll never know how I regret not shaving and choosing a different cap that day
I stayed out here in the valley basically slumming it but I continued to look for places where crowding was minimal and I continued to catch a lot of fish when fish were available. Finally after a guy from a forum stood me up even though he was within 22 miles of our home but never called; I ask my wife Nancy………… What do you think? You think they figure I’m an axe murderer or some other kind of crazy man trying to lure them away into the bush? I don’t get it. Why would anyone turn down an offer like that only to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars for basically the same thing?
I was only joking when I said, “I should look into getting a guides permit because then people would line up to pay for fishing trips”. I was kidding but I was also serious. I guess I had hurt feelings, I knew that when I fished in New Brunswick – Nova Scotia and Newfoundland if someone had offered to show me where to fish so I could have a better chance at salmon I would have jumped on the offer. Sadly no one did and I had to gut it out trying the best I could. I continued to think about the guide thing until summer of 2011 then I took action.
It wasn’t an easy thing and it wasn’t cheap and still isn’t. I spent over twenty three hundred on all the training and licensing, insurance etc. in that first year and had zero customers. But that fall I threw down another 800.00 and had a website designed and bought business memberships on several forums. I also paid to have my name on the top of the Alaska Fly Fishing Guides Directory. Guess what? The first year the site and advertising was up I booked so many trips that I began fishing clients in May and finished in late September. I had not worked so hard in years, very little sleep and 18 hour days were the norm. In the second season I had to turn people away because I’m just one man, no lodge, no staff just me. This past season I turned more down than I took, I just can’t handle being busy the entire summer any longer. When I started I had trips back to back for 40 days and that was enough.
I’ve read plenty of threads about guiding over the past 9 years on several forums. The ones posted by kids still in school who believe they will finish school and then go into fish guiding, the ones about how much to tip, the good guides the bad guides, I’ve read them all. I don’t comment often because I don’t want people to think I’m like a Barker on the old Circus Midway letting everyone know I’m a fish guide.
I’m still the same guy who offered the free trips via PM’s to people and if any of those folks ever read this they know who they are. I can’t make fish bite. I can’t make it rain or stop raining. I sure as hell can’t predict how many salmon will come into these rivers next year either but I will go fishing whether someone hires me or not. I’ve had about every type fisherman with me in the past 5 seasons. There have been those who were absolutely great and a few who were measuring the experience solely on what they caught. There has been learning and laughs, I’ve enjoyed the time with people and this has really kept me in shape to a great extent. It’s a lot of work because I do camps a lot. I don’t see this going on much past the 2017 season because I want to return to just going fishing. Once I do that the PM’s will go out again but I’ll be going fishing and not guiding and I’ll take people along if they come here and want to go.
Being a guide here is not a thing where I get paid to go fishing, usually I don’t fish. During king season I am not allowed to fish when I have clients on the water with me, that’s the law. During the other seasons I spend most of my time watching people fish, offering advice and tying on different flies for them. I net fish I cook meals and every now and then I get to fish for an hour or so. When I have any time between trips I should be out there scouting fish but sometimes I’m so burnt out that I just stay at camp and relax. Seasons over now, I just came home from a 3 day fun trip where I just went fishing. It didn’t matter whether I caught anything or not but if you visit the other articles here you’ll see that I managed to get a few.
It gets harder every year, changing weather, drought, flooding, low abundance of target species, it’s tough. I still can catch fish but it is harder and harder to get them onto other peoples hooks. Remember, I do this every season. I know exactly where to cast and how to handle that line to put the fly right where it needs to be. It’s hard to transmit all that to a guy who just got here without browbeating him and I try to avoid pushing people. I offer so they know I’m there and ready to micro manage if asked to do so. If they ask I push them until we get hooked up.
I don’t think I’m a normal fish guide, I take this way too seriously. When someone doesn’t catch fish it nearly ruins me. I feel like a failure, I feel like the environment itself has let me down. It was never about making money, I just wanted to take a few people fishing with me. When I peel those permit stickers off my boat things won’t change all that much but I won’t feel responsible for whether or not someone catches a fish or not anymore.
I won’t miss the $800.00 I spend on Commercial Land Use Permits each year. I won’t miss the $700.00 dollar liability insurance policy I carry every year. I won’t miss the State business license, the MatSu business licenses which total 200 more. I won’t miss the Commercial boat launch fees I pay because I am a guide which equal another $635.00 each year. There’s a reason that I charge to do the trips and it’s clear to me that this is barely a break even thing every year. It’s been fun, I won’t ever say it wasn’t. And when someone asks about being a guide I can at least tell them what I know about it albeit admitting I’m not the average guide guy.
That’s how it happened,
I can only tell people ‘what I think I know’ about almost any topic. One thing I will not do is to tell you that what I do is right or correct, it’s just what I do. I’m just some guy who fishes and has done it for a long time. I’ll soon be placing an article here on this blog page that will explain how I became a fishing guide, it may be worth the read because my course wasn’t planned here.
I do have to admit that it is kinda cool to have your own website where you can share what you think you have learned so I’ll do just that right now.
We all started somewhere, for me the starting point was North Central Pennsylvania and when I went whole hog into fly fishing things were different. Different to a certain extent that is, there were rods and lines, there were reels and waders, but no where near what is available today. There were dry flies and nymphs, there were streamers and wets. And if a young fella wanted to be a genuine fly fisherman then he learned how do use all of the various types of artificial flies in their traditional ways.
Of course I went with dry flies first because it was just so cool. I followed the dry with wet flies and nymph techniques but streamer flies were like a freight train just getting started in my mind. The process was slow leaving the depot but gradually gained speed until I wanted to learn how and I was as serious about it as anything in fishing has ever been to me. By the late 1970′s I had been tying them for a while and was getting good at about every style of classic. By the early 1980′s I had taken them to the streams and began to concentrate on how to use them effectively.
I actually have streamers I tied in 1980 because I had made so many it was inevitable that some would survive for decades without being used.
That’s a Supervisor circa mid 1980′s from one of my storage wallets……… I started my fly tying with streamers and flies like the one pictured were the result of ten years of practice by the time the 80′s arrived. Please don’t get the idea that I’m presenting all this based on fly tying, just because I can make cool flies doesn’t mean I know anything about using them. I’ll try to provide enough detail in the body of this article to help others to understand how I’ve developed what seems (to me) to be a style of fishing streamers that works OK.
With time on the waters and a load of low fish days I gradually improved my methods. A key to improvement was observation of both the streams and the fish. I guess I learned where to expect them to be and was able to up the number of encounters that way. The refinements in my techniques can be found detailed in other articles right on this blog page simply by scrolling down through the entries. In short I figured things out and I do take credit for whatever successes I’ve had because I did all this before there was an internet, you tube videos or any of the advantages we have to share information today. heck, back then there weren’t even dependable & affordable video tapes on the market where I lived so you had to rely on practice to work out the bugs.
Whether we talk dry fly, nymph or wets, there is one bug that is universal based on all my reading of questions posted to fly fishing forums. The bug is ‘How do I set the hook”? My answer to the universal problem faced by many anglers is that it is easy. With a little practice to give the technique a fair trial you may agree that I just might have this figured out. All fish are different and from species to species they go after or take a fly differently as well. In the end though they are all fish and they all grab a fly with their mouths. Some fish take more time from the angler before you’ll even feel one and others seem to flock to the fly. If you can fish somewhere that they are grabbing the fly every other cast you can cut your time way down when figuring out the best way to get them on the hook.
First let’s imagine you are fishing for steelhead, it doesn’t matter if you live near a steelhead river or have traveled to try your hand at it. One thing can happen in either scenario, you “miss” fish. When I hear a guy tell me that he missed a fish it doesn’t compute for me. If the person was fishing a plastic bead suspended beneath a bobber (commonly referred to as an indicator) I guess I’d get what he or she were saying. I’ve been with people who do that and basically it’s a game of watching the floating plastic ball until it bobs underwater, thus the bobber thing………….. When the bobber goes down the guy holding the rod has to react and react quickly because the fish has the bead / egg imitation in its mouth and you gotta rip that hook into place quick before the fish senses the bead isn’t a real egg. I get that part and I get the “I missed one” part too when it is coming from someone fishing the method I just described. I might as well get it said now before you figure it out on your own, I quit using any sort of bobber when I made the decision that I was going to become a fly fisherman. I used to drift crickets under those clear plastic bobbers shaped like a long cone and it was deadly on trout. But I wanted something more from the time on the rivers and creeks than just a body count, I wanted to be like those old guys that I admired so much because of what they seemed to know about catching fish on artificial flies.
Now where was I when I went off track to poke the indicator people…………? Oh yeah, got it, missing fish, or setting hooks. What I have evolved into is a guy who fishes streamers of one kind or another 100% of the time spent fishing. The biggest reason for that is that where I live and fish now and have been for the past 13 seasons is that there are no appreciable dry fly opportunities here. Oh you see may flies and caddis as well as stone fly hatches but not very many rising fish so you stay sub surface with the offerings. You cast, you mend, you steer and swing those streamers to where you suspect there will be a fish to see them coming and going.
I’ll try to wrap this up quickly and simply, when I feel a fish it is usually one of two feels. Either it wails my fly so hard that it is immediately hooked up or I feel tiny light taps as my fly is swinging toward the end of the cast and going to soon be dangling downstream. Scenario number one is a no brainer but situation two requires some self control and I’m about to tell you why I think that is. Fish can be curious of a fly and when that is the case they are following it because the movement has triggered their instinct recognizing something swimming or fleeing across the currents and they give chase. When they close the gap I believe some get a better look or are just a bit more hesitant than the ones who hit it like it has done something wrong. Those ‘thoughtful types’ they are curious and I’ve watched them pursue and repeatedly tap away at a fly. I’ve felt a lot more than I’ve had the chance to actually see but the results are the same in both cases. As long as that fish doesn’t prick itself on the hook point it will continue to be curious of the streamer. If they get pricked often they will also get hooked but not always. The more lively the tapping and experimenting with a streamer on the swing is the more likely the fish will hook itself.
Self control is the key because as long that the fish is not pricked by the hook or frightened by you in reaction to the feel you are still in the game. The more pressured the fish as are many in heavily fished rivers the more likely they will not come back for a second go at the fly if you have jumped and struck with the rod as if this were a Bass Pro Tournament. I have found again and again that if I just remain cool and wait, that fish has an 80% chance of being caught. If it gets pricked by accident and not stuck well enough to be on the hook the chances fall to 0-3% that it will come again. Likewise, when people jump and strike when the fish is not actually on the hook the chances of that same fish coming a second time fall into single digit percentiles.
What really dulled my nerves was dry fly fishing on Spring Creek and others in Pennsylvania. I learned that if I ripped a fly when a fish rose one of three things could occur. The absolute worst was that I popped my tippet and lost the fly in the fish ouch! Next was that I “missed” the fish and it would not rise to my artificial again. The third was the most infrequent and that was when you caught the fish. I learned to watch calmly as a fish rose and took my fly. I figured it out the a large % of them hooked themselves as they changed directions with the fly in their mouths and all I had to do was gently lift the rod to tighten the line a little. This lesson was quickly adapted to fishing streamers since I was never a strip fisher type, I was the “wet fly swing” type streamer fisher. Once I learned not to react until I had a fish on the fly my catch rate shot way up and has stayed there for over 30 years.
Adapting all the lessons from trout fishing to salmon and steelhead fishing was simple, you do the same things. There seems to be a mindset, a sort of mystique surrounding salmon and steelhead in that people are ready to believe that “this is different”. Yes it is because they are a different species. They are different because many of us must travel hundreds if not thousands of miles to try our hand at them. But one thing that remains a constant for me is that there are still 2 types of fish that come after my flies. There’s the one who hit’s it like a freight train and the curious type who more or less experiments by tapping. In either case I don’t react, the hard hitter makes things simple but if I play the tapper right he’ll end up hooking himself and I’ll get to take the credit.
I could just go on and on with the fish pictures but only hoped to make the point that while it is what I say, it is also what and how I do.
Now what about a tapper, [Tapper: the fish who is there but not hooked, tapping at the flies trailing materials] whether it’s a trout, a salmon or a steelhead I have a suggestion. You could just flail away and keep hammering the line and fly back to the same zone in an attempt to raise that fish a second time. Or you could use some strategy, I like choice number 2 here and I’ll tell you why. Remember, we’re not talking about the crazy fish that just hit so hard it nearly pulled the rod from your hand, no no, we’re talking about curious Carl the fish here. And he already had doubts about that fly or he would have pounced on it like a wild dog on a cooked steak. So what do you think that fish may do if you just hurl another cast right back at him? What if he didn’t go back to exactly the same spot in the river after he abandoned his probe of your fly? Seriously, that fish could be anywhere unless you were able to see it and see right where it went after it left the fly and that isn’t always a good thing either. I mean that if it is that low and clear there may be other reasons the fish didn’t take the fly but that’s not the topic so………..
I’m hoping we are agreeing on what I put forth above, not knowing where that steelhead went, I chose steelhead for this just because I could. The way I deal with this is another test of a persons stubborn willpower. I start walking or wading upstream and I go at least 90 feet, 30 yards. Then I begin fishing all over again as if nothing has happened. I fight the urge to hurry back downstream and I work on my technique. I fine tune the swing, the speed, I mend I steer and I slowly work back down to where I know there is a fish waiting. If I do it right this all will take at least 15 minutes of more and all the better for Curious Carl to forget my line and that fly.
Because I don’t know where the fish has set up shop now I need to study the telltale surface indicators of current seams and varying speeds. Bulges made by unseen boulders or gravel shoals a couple feet deep, he could be around any one of them so I approach fresh as if I have no idea there’s a fish there or where. I do this without hesitation because it is the actual case, I don’t know where or if it is even still in this part of the river. Many times I get what I am after by taking this approach and maybe you’ll remember this laborious read one day and say, “I think I’ll try what that guy Ard wrote about” and it just might give you the same feeling I get when I do everything right. People often say to me when they know I’m headed out fishing, “good luck”. I always smile and say “thanks” but you wanna know what I really think? I think that luck is for newlyweds and gamblers, luck is not falling into the river while I wade. I like to think that when I have caught a fish it happens because I have learned everything I can about their behavior, what they like and what they are afraid of. It’s about determination and using every trick I’ve learned but it’s seldom about luck at least not for me. If I were lucky I would have won the Lottery back in 1986 when it was up to 30 million dollars in PA. That would have meant I’d have a nicer boat
I’ll write more soon, all of these articles are subject to editing as I re-read them but I hope this made some sense to you.