About this blog

This blog is all about fly fishing for native trout. On it I cover trip reports, fishing tactics, conservation, the latest news about native trout species and much more. This site provides a companion to my web page nativetroutflyfishing.com.

Gary

Monday, May 4, 2015

Long overdue update - fishing for science



The last few years for me have been marked by some of the best and busiest times of my life. During this time, I finally started my career as a fisheries biologist for the Washington Department of Wildlife, met my wonderful wife and started Graduate School at the University of Washington. To a large extent fishing has taken a back seat during this time, as has my search for native trout. However this is not to say that I haven't been working with fish. Since starting my Masters degree program, I have been very involved with native trout and currently I am right in the midst of a project looking at the interactions between native coastal rainbow trout and steelhead. As these are two life history forms of the same species (Oncorhynchus mykiss), this will help to tease apart the relationship between these fish.
Research time
A native coastal rainbow for the study

The project is occurring on two rivers Olympic Peninsula rivers that have seen precipitous declines in their steelhead returns in the last two decades, with lows in the 10's of fish (lowest years had 3 and 6 fish respectively). Due to this a restoration program was initiated 1998 (http://www.lltk.org/rebuilding-populations/hcsp/summary) leading to some improvements in steelhead abundance. While steelhead returns have been relatively low in the watershed, the resident rainbow trout population appears to be healthy, making unclear what role rainbow trout may play in the success of the restoration.
Study River A
Study River B
As both watersheds have natural waterfalls that bar all anadromous fish from the upper reaches where resident fish are the sole inhabitants, we are interested in a) if the these resident fish are passing downstream over the falls b) whether they still may have the ability to migrate out to sea and c) the food web interactions and growth patterns of fish both above and below the falls. To do so we are using a mark recapture study where we are catching fish via hook and line and electrofishing, tagging them with PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) Tags, which allow us to identify individual fish and detect fish at antenna arrays near the mouths of the rivers. This allows us to see who is staying and who is going.
At the PIT Tag Antenna Array
While tagging the fish we also collect a fin clip (for DNA analysis), a scale samples (to determine age and growth patterns), a diet sample (food web interactions) and length and weight.
Stream side sampling gear

I am aiming to wrap up work on this project in late spring of 2016, so updates will be forthcoming. Needless to say this post is long long overdue, and I hope to most more in the future.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Back in Business...

To say that this past year has been busy is a major understatement and to say the least when compared to everything else in life, fishing and blogging for that matter dropped down the priority list. However after a long break in things I finally got back after some sea-run cutthroat at one of my favorite spots.
The estuary

I arrived at estuary at low tide, in hopes that the cutthroat would be pushing into the river mouth behind the salmon. As it would have it, while the salmon weren't moving in quite yet the cutthroat were waiting for them. I started out with a prawn pattern and within a couple of casts I got my first cutthroat, a chunky 12" trout that fought valiantly on my 6 weight. I spent a good half an hour in this spot and landed another three cutthroat before the fish seemed to wisen up. I decided to head upstream. I switched to my one of my ever dependable sea-run buggers on the way upstream and in the next hole up I missed another decent cutthroat, then hooked into an even nicer one that looked to be about 18" to 20". However I didn't get a very good hookset after a few jumps he got the better of me.

Salmon season is underway (spawned out summer chum)

As I got upstream the cutthroat were tucked along the undercut banks seemed pretty interested in the sea-run bugger. Even when they were already full of salmon smolts they were still couldn't help themselves, such as this beauty below.

Still hungry...
 Gotta love cutthroat, they just don't know when enough is enough

By the time I was working my way downstream, the tide was flooding in earnest and sure enough the salmons started pushing. Working my way down a side channel I would see a wake coming upstream toward me as a school of coho worked its way over a bar. I cast my sea-run bugger downstream and gave it a couple of twitches just in front of the school and as fate would have it, one of the coho broke away from the pack and grabbed my fly. This coho was big, and seemed to use its brute strength to its advantage make several good runs and putting my 6 wt to a real test before finally coming to hand. This definitely felt quite rewarding as last year I hooked 7 or so without landing a single one and the year before I went one for thirteen. One for one, not bad!

 My first coho in two years.

As luck would have it right as I got my fly out of this coho and got him on his way, another school pushed through the shallows. As fate would have it, the previous situation replayed itself, this time the coho was a little bit smaller, but what is was lacking in size it made up for in fight and put up quite an aerial display. Luckily I got a good hookset on it and after a few minutes of tug of war, I was able to bring the beautiful 26" buck in. With the tide in at this point the coho seemed to be done push and I needed to get out before being stranded. So I cut my losses (or gains) and got out while I still could.
2 for 2!! Great way to end the day!
Time to head home!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

First fish of 2012

After a long stretch without any fishing, I got out for my first outing of the new year with a my buddies Craig and Bob. To say that the weather was beautiful would be a vast understatement as it was as nice of a bluebird day as the Evergreen State has to offer.

An unseasonably nice day on the water

The nice weather meant that the river was fairly busy, but there were still some fish around, they just required some work. Craig hooked into the first fish of day, which took as he was retrieving his fly but popped off almost immediately. Nymphing seemed to be get the best reaction from the fish it was just a matter of persistence and keeping them on once hooked. The honor of landing the first fish of the day went to Bob, it just wasn't the steelhead that we were hoping for. Whitefish are fun too though.
Also found this little guy...

With day growing short and after personally losing two steelhead in a row I finally made it happen and hooked into a very hot 10 or 11lb steelhead. This fish seemed inclined to spend as much time in the backing as possible, but after chasing downstream for a good 1/8 mile we were finally able to bring it to the net. Being a hatchery fish it became a guest of honor for dinner too.
Not too bad for my first fish of 2012

We didn't touch another fish after I was lucky enough to get mine, but it was one of the more beautiful days on the water that I can remember in a long time.
A great day on the water

Monday, December 19, 2011

A false start

Not to long ago, my buddy Craig and I got out to the Olympic Peninsula for to try for the first of the winter steelhead returning to the area rivers. Unfortunately so did everyone else. In fact on the river that we had decided to fish, there was a rig in nearly every pull out and easily over three times the amount of anglers that I have ever seen there. Also unfortunate is that fact that it hasn't rained in any significant amount for sometime, leaving the rivers low and clear and severly limiting our options on some of the other waters that I know.

However if there is a will there is a way and hitching a ride with a logging crew we found our way into the upper part of the watershed above the reach of most other anglers. The water up here was a bit skinnier, and the river worked its way through a bit of a canyon so it looked like we were comitted to a spending a good portion of the day up here. However the water looked pretty good, with plenty of holding water so we got too it. The first few holes looked great and Craig and I took turns covering the prime lies, but didn't see any sign of fish.


Craig working a good looking pool

However before long we came to only of those spots that just screams steelhead and sure enough Craig spotted some. We worked this pod for a good while and I managed to get one fish to take before we lost sight of the ghostly steelhead that seemed to vanish from the hole.

Steelie holding water



Once we figured that the fish were either gone or spooked, we decided to move on and explore a bit more of this part of the river. However a great deal of hiking and exploring this part of the river only yielded one more decent looking spot, which in turn showed no signs of fish. At this point we were already starting to wear on the already short window of winter daylight that we had. So we decided to work our way out of the upper watershed and into some more familiar water.


Once we had worked our way into some waters that were a bit more familar for me, we made a stop at a corner where a nameless tribuatary joins the main river. The hole had treated me well in the past a low flows so we figured we would at least take a look. To say the least it didn't take overly long to spot some fish, as their was a good pod of around 10-15 steelhead holding in the tailout. Craig decided to act as the spotter and I made my way to the far side of the river where I would have a better approach. My first drift went right through the fish with no reaction whatsoever. My second drift got a bit more attention. While I remained out of sight and started it well upstream of the fish as soon as my fly got in range it looked as though a bomb had gone off with the affect of steelhead scattering in every direction. We wondered a the spookiness of these fish until we left the hole and found the remains of several fish in the next run downstream.


Working the pod of steelhead before the bomb went off.


At this point we had one more shot at try to find some sort of fish and found another promising spot downstream a ways. I a little long jam that had newly formed this season, I finally got a solid take from a sizeable fish, but after one initial tug the fish tossed the fly and I was out of luck.


Or so I though, however just downstream I got another take and this time actually got a good hookset on the fish. Right away I could tell that this wasn't a steelhead as my switch rod quickly over power it. However a beautiful native cutthroat fresh from the saltwater was just as good to me at this point and was a great note to end the day on.

As steelheading goes I would have to consider this trip a success, as anytime you can spot some fish and a least get a take or two you are doing something right. Plus it doesn't get much better than exploring some great water with a good friend.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Redbanded Metalheads

Several weeks ago now, my buddy Jonathan and I made a long day trip east of the Cascade Mountains to search for some redband steelhead. With fall rapidly progressing towards winter the morning started off rather brisk and a bit drizzly, but the river was in perfect shape so we were on the water shortly after sun up. Our first spot was a run that had treated Jonathan well over the past few seasons, however after a few hours of fishing I hadn't had a bump and Jonathan had found a few whitefish, but no steelhead so we decided to relocate.
The river

The second spot that we fished had a nice deep slot on the far bank and we decided to start out swinging flies. I started with an intermediate tip and little size 6 October caddis toned fly that I came up on an and within a handful of casts I got subtle take, but couldn't get the fish to come back. After that things slowed for a bit until we got to the tailout, when I got another but much more viscous strike, however once again it didn't result in an actual hook up. We covered the water for perhaps another hour, switching flies and sink tips but had no more interest.

Even though we had already cover the slot for several hours without any fish to hand, we knew there were fish there and decided to try something a bit more effective. With that we switched to nymphing rigs and what would you know within three or four casts I got a take and a solid hook up. The fish immediately came up and did a bit of thrashing and put on a nice aerial display before deciding to take off. Luckily for me the river was fairly free of obstructions for the fish to hang me up on and although I had to chase steelhead a good hundred yards downstream we finally managed to bring it to hand.
Me with a beautiful native Columbia Basin redband steelhead
Another look at the fish

After a couple of quick photos, we watch as the fish sped off into the current again. Although I love to swing flies, this was just another example at the shear effectiveness in nymphing in comparison - 4 casts vs. several hours... A fact that was more evident when about a half hour later I got another take down. Although it was evident right away that this was a fish due to a couple good head shakes, it didn't seem to want to budge for the first minute or so and I was really starting to think it was a Chinook salmon or possibly a big bull trout. However finally the fish discovered that he was hooked and finally decided to show himself as another steelhead. After a couple of leaps, it was straight into the backing for this steelhead and once again I had hurry in pursuit and finally caught up just downstream of where we landed the first fish. After several more minutes of battling the fish, we brought another beautiful native steelhead to hand.
Another beautiful steelhead

We gave the spot a little more time, with Jonathan getting another whitefish, before we decided to try another spot a little further down stream. When we arrived at our next spot things looked great as there were maybe a couple dozen salmon holding and/ or spawning, which usually means a few steelhead are likely to be around. However after putting in a good amount of time we had only managed to donate a several flies to the boulder strewn bottom.
A salmon on its redd
Jonathan checking out a huge spawned-out Chinook, this fish was well over 40".

Even though the salmon were entertaining to watch, the lack of steelhead lead us to once again relocate. Although we were starting to view daylight as a commodity at this time, there were fish around at this spot and Jonathan and I managed to have a double screw up, where we both hooked and lost steelhead shortly after arriving.
The last spot of the day

After losing a decent steelhead, I got a sort of consolation prize in the form of a good sized whitefish that decided that it wanted a stripped egg imitation. This whitefish even thought it was a steelhead and jumped several times before coming to hand.
My only whitefish of the day

I hooked one more whitefish, that popped loose before the lack of daylight finally made us start to think about the long drive home and we decided to call it a day.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Belated creek post

Although this post should be a month old by now, I finally have found some time to get back to the blog. Per my usual fishing traditions for the end of the general Washington stream season I did a bit of searching for sea-run cutthroat fresh from the salt water in my home creek.
The creek

With the first hard rains of the fall drawing coho and chum salmon in to even the smallest coastal creeks, the cutthroat are never far behind. This seasonal migration of salmon and cutthroat provides some amazing Alaska style fishing close to home fishing. However it is surprising under appreciated and it is rare if ever that one would run into another angler... A fact that you won't find me complaining about.
A wild coho salmon (under the log)

This year although the creek was a bit lower than usual, it had some of the better coho returns I have seen in years and I literally had to tip toe around salmon redds. With a 6mm or 8mm egg imitation though the cutthroat proved rather willing.
A native cutthroat

Due to the small waters short leaders are the norm and as with typical sea-run cutthroat a slightly unnatural presentation tends to get results. So swinging or twitching an egg imitation often leads to better results than dead drifting. However as usual the end of the season comes too fast and as fishing is just getting into its stride the season is over and it is time to think of salmon and steelhead.
Another look at an egg eating cutthroat

Friday, November 11, 2011

A little eastern brook fishing

Although I have done a bit of travelling around the west coast I had until this last week never been east of the Rocky Mountain states, so when the chance arose to join my Dad and sister on a trip to the east coast at the end of October, I jumped on it. The trip would see us heading to several states and while it wasn't a fishing trip per-say, I did make sure that I would at least get a little time in on the water while there.

As fishing went I planned on checking out some smaller streams in Vermont where we would be staying for some native brook trout. So after flying into JFK in New York and driving across a few states we found ourselves in Northern Vermont on the edge of the Green Mountains. As this area was completely foreign to me I made one of my first stops the local fly shop. However it was a slightly depressing visit as, I don't think I have ever been in a shop were they were less excited about the fishing. The main reason was Hurricane Irene which had swept through the area over a month prior, but combined with the fall rains had still left the rivers high and swollen waters. Luckily the smaller waters sounded to be at least slightly fishable even if the staff didn't sound so interested in them, so I picked up a few flies and headed on my way.

The next morning I got up early and headed on my way to check out some of the local waters. The first stream that I fished was a beautiful freestone river, but was still so chalky from run-off that I didn't spend much time there before moving on to something smaller. Although the next stream that I picked had picked was more of a random choice than anything, with I stumbled on one of the more beautiful places on the trip.
Fall colors on the road to the creek

With the fall colors in full effect the road with was a tunnel brightly colored leaves and the short hike into the creek was a different experience from any in the rain socked Pacific Northwest. The stream was a still high, but definitely fishable so I rigged up my 1wt with a nymph and soft hackle dropper and started working my way upstream.
The stream

The fishing was definitely not lights out and after working my way upstream I had only caught one small brook trout that I failed to get a picture of and have missed a handful of others. However the experience was more important than the fishing and the stream had a unique character compared to those I am used too. The land also had an older more settled feel a about it, a fact made more apparent by the random rock walls that had been built a long the stream in days past.
One of the walls along the creek

After cover a mile or two of stream I started my way back downstream and while drifting a nymph through a pocket spotted a decent brookie inspecting my fly. Although the fish didn't take on the first cast, I made another allowing the soft hackle trailer to swing across the pool and hooked the fish. Which ended up being a beautiful brook trout of perhaps 8".
A native brook trout
Another look at the stream

With that fish I called it an end my day on the water and figured I might as well call it a successful and enjoyable outing. I didn't get another chance to hit the water on the the trip, but had an enjoyable week taking in the sights and history on the other side other country.