Germs, Guns and Steelhead...Covid 2020 It was a good season by all accounts guides seemed to be dispersed on the rivers of the O.P. The weeks passed with regular celebrations of fish landed and fish lost.
The day prior i saw a buddy and fellow guide and we both shared the same news with each other...rivers are closing do to the Virus. Almost telling each to make we were all going to following this new rule the state was handing us guides on the Washington states O.P. The morning of the closer driving into the launch about 7 am my clients and I are greeted by a man in a truck asking if we know if the river was closed. We said this was my last day guiding and before I could finish he starting calling me a fucking "flyhead" asshole from Seattle bring clients infected with the virus... I did'nt know what to say so we drove away to launch and he turned around and followed us. Another boat and guide were at the launch asking if we met the guy in the truck...yes we met him, so did they. Next thing we know the guy is out of his trucking yelling at all of us and taking pictures of us and our trucks boats etc. all the while saying were fucking assholes, fucking up all his rivers and spreading the virus.
Finally I turned around and said get that camera out of my face and shut the fuck up! Thats when he very matter of fact went and retrieved his revolver and walked up and said he was defending himself. Looking at his shaking hands and red face I slowly tried to defuse this out of control ass hat. Looking at the wrong end of a gun aint no fun. Then a client from the other guides boat approached saying he was committing a crime, he started yelling again, slightly retrieving towards his truck, as myself backing up towards my truck. I reached my open drivers door about the time he made his way back into his truck I had my pistol in hand. My clients were still hiding behind my drift boat as the Ass Hat almost rolled his truck on its side as he drove off. Funny thing was looking at his truck leaving with a big peace sign sticker on the camper shell...
Wow, would have guessed this is my 6th time getting guns pulled on me while guiding the public waters of the PNW.
This winter was a test of will and character. Some days the snow came down so hard I could barely see my clients slowly casting their way through a piece of water. The next day would be bright and sunny...just a wild weather year in the great pacific northwest. In any case it paid to be prepared and ready for anything, not only good gear but also little comforts on the river like Hot soup and coffee fresh from the JetBoil. The fish on the OP this season seemed to be in good shape and decent numbers throughout the river systems. That being said the rivers are all in need of some help, less guides(increase the fees) more conversations with the Tribes on the upper left coast. And maybe a place where Fly fishing guides can hang out and connect with like minded folks and discuss issues and river conditions.
My trip to the Yucatan was scheduled right in the middle of winter Steelhead season but was a needed retreat. The lodge I use the last 10 years has been sold to a nice young guy from my home state of Colorado named Alex. Improvements will be made and I look forward to continued relationship with Alex and the best flats fishing anywhere! My next offering will be Nov 24th to the 1st of December. I have found that the tarpon fishing is really good as well as all other target species this time of the year. As always I have room for 12 anglers , and non anglers are always welcome with incredible snorkeling right in front of the Lodge.
Finally this summer I am ready for a solid month on the Methow river trout fishing. Last year was so good and if you have not fished this amazing little river you owe it to yourself to do so. Dry fly fishing is the game to be played for lots of rainbows and some very nice Cutthroat trout. Floating from Winthrop to Twisp and from Twisp to Carlton and some days from Carlton to Mcfarland. The area offers a lot of other activities so book several days to explore the valley.
It was a summer of bad news, the PNW was breaking all kinds of record temps and drought. The news for Salmon and Steelhead runs for the Columbia and Snake rivers were no better forecast. The damn counts were at all time lows and river temps were at a all time high in the upper 70 in areas.
As I booked my season with great concerns and down right fear of finding no fish I thought what will we do? Casting a spey rod is always a great lesson learned and how to read water, take observations and get a real good grip on the sport that boast a fish from a thousand casts, this year we will all be tested. The first trip was difficult with only two hooked and none landed, this set the stage for what was to come...or did it. That week in September the entire Columbia river systems including the snake river got a blessing from the great Fish gods...Rain and cooler temps. This set the damn counts on fire and in as little as a week we had Steelhead and Chinook in the river, almost 300 miles from the mouth of the mighty Columbia. The fish shot into our system and for the rest of the 2017 season we had amazing fishing. Mostly we had great surface action as the temps were perfect...51 and steady.
The season also offered me new friends in the form of Eric and Hayden. These two Alaska guide vets proved their worth with helpful hands and contagious smiles. I feel very blessed to have them coming back for my 2018 season and I look forward to my clients being in their capable care. Tight lines...
The Damn counts did not lie this year or any year for that matter...2016 had a huge hole in the form of few "A" run upper Columbia and Snake river/ Tribs Steelhead. If you fish the Clearwater or Salmon or Grande Ronde you will work hard for Steelhead tugs this year. Predictions were made back in June as the lack of one salt Steelhead never crossed the fish counter windows of all Columbia and Snake river damns. Look up the DART web site and keep track and know what your in for by staying current.
So most of the Steelhead GRA landed this year were ass kicking and bigger then normal "B" run fish! Yahoo! We had a client, Treg almost get spooled by a nice fish on our specialty...a skated dry fly! We had several first time anglers get the tug and the grip and grin with some very healthy fish.
Over all it was a solid year with minimal damage and happy clients that some caught and some did not...but ALL learned, laughed and became true Steelheaders. Thanks mostly to my wonderful host the Grande Ronde river! Also a big Thanks to Dec Hogan , Gus Julian ( Muddy Puddles) Lori Ann Murphy, Greg Colby and Karla!!
I really can't believe how quickly July just went by! Well, hello August here we go...the local beaches are seeing great surface action on both high and low tide cycles. Mostly resident Coho that are around 3 to 5 lbs. The nice thing is how aggressive they are to the surface presentation. Poppers that resemble bait fish about 3 to 4 inches long are doing the trick. Retrieve them fast and short as you strip, and if one starts to boil or follow ...strip faster! Pt. No Pt., North Twin spits, Eglon are all seeing these fish right now. And with any luck within the next few weeks we start to see the ocean run Coho.
Also it's Hopper season on the Yakima. Washingtons Blue ribbon trout stream. I am working through out the summer doing day floats for 2 guests. I work and float the Cle elum sections and this makes it a easy days commute from Seattle.
Tight lines and Good times
Rick got some really nice sized Bone fish , and a Huge jack, but more important that the entire trip went without a hitch.
This is my 21st year taking people into the Yucatan and for the complete package its hard to beat Excalak . The flats , back lagoons , between the worlds second largest reef and the lodge are all super fishy places to fish each day.
The program is to fly into Cancun Sat. night , Sunday, Van down 5 hours to the end of the Mexican border to Excalak , a small sleepy fishing village on the Belize border. Fish Monday to Friday , drive back to the airport on Sat. and now with the direct flights from Seattle to Cancun , we can fly out on the 5 pm flight and be home before midnight on Saturday and have Sunday to get it together for your week ahead.
The cute little hotel offers a great restaurant , Bar and very comfortable suites. WiFi is also available here. Food is local and fresh , staff are amazing with Ed at the wheel .
The guided days are from 8 am to 4 ish each day and most days you can order any fishing situation you desire. Like ...Permit in the morning and Bones in the afternoon ? The fish are Snook , resident Tarpon , Bones over 5 lbs , Permit , Jacks , Cuda , Snapper and other odd species. Fishing can be done by walk and wade or from the boat , taking turns on the bow sight casting to fish targets all day ! I like to book the group and then request my guides for the week according to individuals needs and abilities . Its the kind of trip you book again and again . I am headed out to the O.P. for steelhead season and I am excited...but can not wait to return next November and again in February ! Tight lines and good times
Things have started to change in the PNW for anglers and wild fish. No longer on the O.P. in WA state are you allowed to harvest a wild steelhead. Other changes include no bait , no barbs and in a very small section of the upper Hoh river , no fishing from your boat. To me as a guide and a wild fish advocate I am very excited to finally see the changes made into law. This might help recover the dwindling runs of wild Steelhead on our beloved Olympic peninsula rivers. It is a very good start , but , we really need the native tribes on board as well...no more netting the last of these majestic icons of the PNW . We all need to be involved in a comprehensive plan to protect wild fish , wild people , and at the same time work towards a mutual goal...healthier runs of all fish on the O.P. !
If sportsmen are going to have a future catching wild fish in the PNW we HAVE to work hand in hand with the native peoples. My idea is to create a new treaty with our friends to enhance our fisheries and other natural resources that can be sustainable for future generations. In other words show them the benefits of tourism , heritage tours , wildlife tours , fishing charters , cultural classes and maybe even small scale casinos ? Trying to do something that highlights their culture and traditions without long term destruction of the natural resources .
As I write this its mid January 2016 and I feel that for me personally this might be the last year guiding the O.P. for wild winter Steelhead ...just wrestling my own demons that haunt me when land a big native fish , and then well...when I don't . My enthusiasm has not faded for wild places and wild faces , but now I see too many faces and not enough wild places .
I am always looking up river river around the next corner for the perfect run...lets make 2016 a year of conservation and exploration !
Another fall season on the Ronde has come to a close. October is over, and winter is settling in. As the water temperature drops, the steelhead slow down and the floating line fishing tapers off. Through the cold months the fish will still take a deep swung fly, but to me, the surface oriented fall fishing is what makes the Grande Ronde magical. And we had some awesome surface fishing this season! The warm weather stayed with us until about the end of October and kept fish aggressively chasing waked or skated flies almost the entire month. We got to see some heart-pounding steelhead antics: high cartwheeling jumps, fast runs into the backing and one feisty steelie who attacked a waking fly more than a dozen times in six casts.
Thank you to everyone who came down and fished with us this season, I had some great guys and gals in my boat! I got to enjoy watching several friends old and new land their first steelhead, their first on a surface fly, or better yet, both at the same time. I love seeing the excitement those first few fish give a new steelheader. Every time another one darts out of my hands and disappears back into the river, I stand up and realize I just had as much fun as the angler who landed the fish.
I also want to thank Dec Hogan, Lori Ann Murphy, and Pat Gaydos for helping make our 3 day trips an awesome experience. Dec has a true gift as a casting instructor. Every year I'm amazed how much I learn observing him during these trips. Lori Ann is the most experienced, authentic fly fishing character you'll meet, and a hell of a lot of fun to fish and guide with. Pat rows our big heavy gear boat, sets up our big, heavy camp every day, and does it all with a huge contagious grin on his face. He's also one of my favorite people to fish with on a day off. Declan, LA, and Patty, thanks a bunch!
See you on the water, hopefully this winter- Gus
In the 1980s we, a small group of fly fisherman from LaGrande failed to stop the state and Feds from constructing and dumping hatchery made Steelhead into the Grande ronde river and its tribs. The effect was instant as 1.2 million mutant hatchery, genetically inferior Steelhead smolts were set loose to make their way to the pacific ocean some 300 miles away.
The goal was to hope that 10 percent would return as adults and the rest well...they would be destroyed by natural causes , Dams and a percent would stray into other systems that did not have hatcheries , like the John Day river.( A side note: the John Day has no hatcheries and has the biggest return of wild Steelhead in the lower 48 states around 25 thousand return to this amazing system). When you start to compare other totals of wild Steelhead this is a huge run of fish ! The Hoh gets under 5 thousand wild fish a year , we are fishing about 2 to 5 percent of historically robust runs. Makes you stop and think ? A great case study right here in our NW backyard...Hatchery VS. Wild and Nets in the rivers , Dams etc...
As most Biologists agreed, there are many unknowns...what about strays , the impact on the runs of wild fish as smolts trying to survive while dumping millions of factory smolts on top of them...food source and habitat...genetics. Hatcheries have created a genetically inferior fish that has spread its mutant seeds all over the PNW rivers... bad for wild fish...No shit!
As a fly fishing guide since 1990, this is going to affect me and friends directly in terms of making a living . So the answer , no more wild Steelhead can be kept in any drainage. Also single barbless for all , no bait , re-address the needs and economics of the Native fisheries , and educate the anglers just getting into the sport to be river stewards . Also increase guide fees / general licenses and limit the number of guides on a given river . Increase out of state guides fees and limit how many can guide in WA. Need an example... Look at B.C. taking control of their rivers and resource.
Bill McMillian told me 20 years ago that we all need to stop angling for at least 10 years and let mother nature take over...I think I might need to start booking more Bass trips !
Pictured . I leased a huge ranch on the lower John day river for 10 years as I was a permitted guide for almost 20 years . The largest run of wild Steelhead in the lower 48 states !
November is usually a wet month here in the PNW and this year was'nt much different. While the rivers on the O.P. had record numbers of salmon mostly Coho returning for the big dance, the river levels had us fishing from the trees. When the rivers were in shape the fishing was amazing with fresh salmon for all !
My thing as far as being a guide is all about sea run fish . I spend most of my efforts fly fishing and guiding for Steelhead and SRC (sea run Cutthroat). I think they are just so special , their life cycles , environments they live and die in , the mind blowing power and sky high leaps . Not to mention the beauty of these fish, and the freedom and quality of life they represent for us all ! Without quality waters and clean environments we might as well take up golfing and sneaking a cast to those pond bass on hole 4. Thats not the case if you live anywhere in the PNW...and if you live by the largest city north of San Frisco , the options to throw a fly are endless. ( Yes...I have played a round of golf just to make a few casts )
Seattle , more importantly where i live, Kitsap county host miles of beaches. With the basic understanding of tides and flies, this offers fly anglers a unique fishery year round . With not much equipment , 6/7 wt rod and some waders, and a few flies ...your ready to start casting off the beach for SRC. A good idea is to grab a map and locate public beaches and access .Then, I like doing this drive by style of fishing off the beach. Fish hard and move around the beach for a half hour if nothing is going on ...no fish jumping no bait being pushed or too much shit in the water (grass etc) I will move and drive to another beach. This way you will find a beach that hold SRC and you then can start to focus on that area and start to understand feeding times witch are directly connected to the tides and seasons.
I have been guiding for over two decades and have found those beaches...and the SRC are just getting bigger and more of them ! Its a single barbless , catch and release fishery thats open year around in Puget sound. So the next time the rivers are in the trees and things are looking like you can't go fish...think again and hit the beach !