Resident Coho: First Fish of the Year

It had been a while since I’ve been fishing and I knew it was time to get out. Yesterday’s afternoon ebb seemed like the perfect opportunity so off to the Narrows Park I went.

I chose to leave my waders home as I was really looking to see how the Clousers I recently tied would work; a few I had tied and cast several years ago fell apart on the first cast or two. But I had put a lot more emphasis on technique this time and I was hopeful they would work as well as commercial flies – if not as elegantly tied.

It was a nice day on the beach with high clouds, some sun, and relatively warm temperatures. And there were only a few dog walkers and one solitary fly fisher walking opposite to the direction I was heading.

I watched as a couple of harbor porpoises worked their way up the Narrows, surprisingly close I thought. They were only a couple of hundred feet from the beach – something I had never seen.

I made a number of casts with both flies and except for some worn-off eyes as they bounced through the shallows, they were in excellent condition.

As I was casting I noticed a number of resident Coho jumping well away from the beach; even wading they would have been too far.

But I thought I might still attract one as several were moving in.

Tug. I had one.

I thought it might be a searun cutthroat trout given the easy take But as I reeled in the line the fight increased and I saw the bright shape of the body and knew I had a resident Coho and a good sized one at that.

Bringing it to the beach I estimated it to be a 14-incher; that’s the largest one I’ve caught! Removing the hook, I cupped it gently in my hand until it regained its strength and then shot back out into the Sound.

That capped the day and I determined that was enough for the first trip of the year.

Chauvinist Flyfishermen

Amanda Monthei is an outdoor writer, flyfisher, skier and a wildland firefighter.

In her latest blog post, she describes her experiences representing The Flyfish Journal at fly fishing shows in New Jersey and Atlanta.

In particular, she describes her encounters with men who didn’t believe she actually fly fished; wanted her to work as housekeepers at their lodge; wistfully wished they were younger so they could chase her; and since she was working a booth asked if she gave out kisses.

Reading her post made me cringe.

I think it’s long past time for men of whatever age to think it’s still the 1950’s. While I think there’s a vast difference between asking a woman for a telephone number and sexual harassment, I’m not sure there’s any difference when men treat a woman like an object.

Amanda did point out the vast majority of the men she met were respectful and interested in what she’s done in fly fishing. But it only takes a few jackasses to point out how far there is to go.

You can read Amanda’s post here.

Remembering Vasili Arkhipov – One Person Can Save the World

We live in an age of cynicism and desperation, beset by crises that appear insurmountable. Whether it is political strife, economic upheaval, climate change or tensions with other nuclear-armed states, the problems appear to be so large that no single person can make a difference.

And yet, there are times when one person can change the entire course of human history.

Vasili Arkhipov was one such person. Born the child of peasants on January 30, 1926 near Moscow, his life was service to his country and ultimately the human race.

Arkhipov began serving in Russian submarines soon after World War II. Rising through the ranks he was executive officer of the Hotel-class K-19 in 1961 when it had a leak in its reactor core; the entire crew was irradiated and all members of the engineering crew died within a month of the accident. His bravery during the accident was recognized by his superiors. The 2002 film, K-19 Widowmaker, dramatizes the events of that accident.

A year later, he was commander of a flotilla of four Foxtrot-class submarines that deployed to Cuban waters before the start of what came to be known as the Cuban missile crisis. He was onboard the B-59, which was detected by US destroyers. Signaling depth charges were dropped to force the sub up to the surface.

The stress of the depth charges; the loss of the air conditioning system; the high levels of carbon dioxide due to being unable to surface; and having no communications from Moscow created what could only have described as hellish conditions. The captain of the sub wanted to launch a nuclear torpedo.

The decision to launch nuclear weapons required a vote of the sub’s captain, political officer, and Arkhipv due to his being on board as flotilla commander. The other two voted to launch – only Arkipov dissented.

By some accounts there was screaming as well as punches thrown. In the end, his arguments that the depth charges were missing them and less explosive than ones meant to sink them, combined with his reputation from the K-19, led to him convincing the captain not to launch. Then due to their batteries being nearly depleted, he convinced the captain to surface and then return to the Soviet Union.

One can only speculate, but it’s impossible to believe that once the first tactical nuke was launched escalation to general nuclear war could have been avoided – resulting in what we know now as nuclear winter with hundreds of millions dead and the destruction of all modern societies.

In his later life, he commanded submarines, rose to the rank of admiral, commanded the Kirov Naval Academy, and retired as a vice admiral in the 1980s.

Arkhipov died August 19, 1998 at the age of 72, the victim of kidney cancer that was caused by the accident of the K-19.

The shy, humble man embraced his humanity and saved the world that day by looking at the facts and not letting emotion carry away his judgement. That is a lesson that should be remembered by all those in positions of power.

Think about everything you have done and seen in your life. Then realize without Vasili Arkhipov you would have not lived the life you’ve had.

Etiquette and Fly Fishing Maniacs

Fly fishing. at least in the United States, has evolved in both perception and practice from many decades past when it was considered by most a small sport of rich elitist white males wearing tweed and fishing with custom bamboo fly rods and creels. While the reality was more complex, it was a time of limited numbers of fly fishers when class decorum as well as the norms of society produced an etiquette for stream-side behavior.

Now, the gear has gotten significantly better at lower costs – though many high-end graphite rods are approaching the costs of custom bamboo rods; fly fishers are now both men and women of all races and classes; and most storied fisheries can be crowded at many times of the year.

And unfortunately, behavior on streams has begun to reflect the coarseness of modern society.

Mike Lawson, founder of Henry’s Fork Anglers, recently posted an article on boorish behavior on the river – specifically the Henry’s Fork. Mike commented that last year was the first time he heard music blaring from drift boats as they floated past him when he was fishing. He posted a question on his Facebook page as to how people felt about it – the self-selected respondents were against it about five to one.

At the same time, some of the respondents said it wasn’t a big deal and he should just deal with it. Others agreed and also pointed out all the other bad behavior they witness on some streams: people leaving trash on the river; fly fishers stomping through when another fisher is stalking a trout; boats carelessly pushing through an area where others are wading.

Now I’ve not witnessed any bad behavior on the Henry’s Fork. I’ve gone there in autumn when the crowds have left and I have a favorite spot below the main area of the Ranch.

But I’ve seen where this can lead on a lake on the Olympic peninsula. I had friends whose family owned a waterfront cabin on Lake Sutherland. It was a beautiful location and at times of the year was quite peaceful where one could sit outside and listen to the birds.

But the summer was another story. Other homes surrounding the lake held people with personal water craft. During those summer days, the roar of the water craft started soon after sunrise – sometimes before, and lasted well into dark. They too were just enjoying their time on the water, at the expense of everyone else who might just wanted to have spent a quiet day outside reading a book. It got to the point that going there in the summer was something to be avoided.

Thoreau, in Walden, raised the essential issue: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Fly fishers in the main go to rivers, streams and coasts for much the same reason. Bringing in the coarseness and noise of the self-absorbed consumer culture – even by a minority – destroys that chance for finding the essential facts of life for everyone else.

You can read Mike’s post here.

The Longest Silence – Protecting What We Love

Tom McGuane, for those who may not know of him, is an American writer. He has written ten novels, five screenplays including Rancho Deluxe and The Missouri Breaks, and numerous short stories and essays. And he is a fly fisherman – recognized for his contributions to the sport by the American Museum of Fly Fishing.

I was recently reminded of something he wrote in an essay published 17 years ago in The Longest Silence: A Life in Fly Fishing:

We have reached the time in the life of this planet, and humanity’s demands upon it, when every fisherman will have to be a riverkeeper, a steward of marine shallows, a watchman on the high seas. We are beyond having to put back what we have taken out. We must put back more than we take out. We must make holy war on the enemies of aquatic life as we have against gillnetters, polluters, and drainers of wetlands. Otherwise, as you have already learned, these creatures will continue to disappear at an accelerating rate. We will lose as much as we have already lost and there will be next to nothing, remnant populations, put-and-take, dimbulbs following the tank truck.

It is long past time to adopt that ethic if we are to protect what’s left of our natural world. And it applies whether we are fishers, hunters, hikers, or just urban types who walk in the park.

Sturm und Drang 2018

Is it any wonder nearly everyone is exhausted by the first year of the Trump presidency?

The ongoing tweets from the Orange Man combined with incoherent foreign and domestic policies; a Republican party that looks more all the time like a death cult with little agreement on anything; the echo chamber of the majority of mass media outlets breathlessly reporting every real or imagined transgression; and the Democrats cynically embracing it all as the path to victory in 2018 and 2020 – without offering anything of substance and certainly nothing that offends their rich donors.

I’ve avoided lowering myself into the swamp of the 2016 election and the first year of Trump. But the start of a new year seems like a good time to take stock.

I’ll say only about the 2016 election that it was a choice between a depraved corporatist and militarist, and a boorish infantile narcissist – and in either case the lesser of two evils was still demonstrably evil.

But it’s important to state Trump won the election fairly. It wasn’t the Russians, little green persons (to be politically correct) from Mars, or some astrological event. The 2016 election results were based on two factors. The first was a protest against the last forty years of bipartisan neoliberal policies that benefited the rich at the expense of the majority of our citizens.

The second was the Democrats ran an arrogant, inept and lazy candidate in Hillary Clinton who couldn’t get off her ass and get out to the Midwest in the last weeks of the campaign. And I don’t care she won more votes – we don’t elect Presidents on the popular vote.

The electoral college may be an anachronism but I wonder how an election on popular votes would go. I suspect less than ten states would determine the election. What that would mean for the citizens in all the other states should probably be discussed before jumping into a change.

I’m skeptical of the Russian hacking of the DNC servers.

First, if the NSA had evidence of a penetration over the internet they would have said so. Second if the FBI believed the Russians had done so they would have seized the servers. Does anyone really believe the FBI was stopped from an examination because the DNC wouldn’t let them? And finally, there was a group of former intelligence professionals who said a forensic examination showed the files were copied to a local disk – likely a thumb drive.

Once the hacking storyline faded earlier last year we moved into the collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign.

Of course there’s Russian money floating around DC. There’s also a great deal of Saudi money and Israeli money floating around – and everyone in Washington knows about it. All of that money is intended to buy influence – none of which is intended to benefit the citizens of this country.

That members of the Trump family and others in his orbit went after it is without doubt. They have enough shaky finances to grab any infusion of cash. If there was opposition research, they were doing the same thing the Democrats were doing. In the end I think Mueller will get prosecutions based on money laundering and obstruction of justice rather than nefarious shenanigans related to the election.

I’m guessing this byzantine investigation is going to go on for the rest of 2018.

I’ve heard the empty-headed talking heads say how all the alleged (and that’s a word that responsible news organizations used in decades past when discussing yet unproven allegations) Russian interference imperiled our democracy.

Give me a break.

The United States has a long and dirty history of direct involvement in other countries governance. To name only a partial list: Iran, Guatemala, Vietnam, Chile, Afghanistan, Iraq, Russia, Ukraine, and Syria. I suppose democracy – and a faux one at that – is only important when being discussed here,

And in terms of what the Russians supposedly did in 2016?

Facebook ads? If that’s all it takes to throw an election – along with some emails that revealed the depths of corruption within the DNC and the Clinton campaign – it’s time to turn out the lights.

To all members of the pussy-hatted “resistance” who eagerly cheer the removal of Trump via either impeachment or the 25th amendment – be careful what you wish for. Waiting in the wings is Mike Pence, an avowed theocrat.

Maybe it would be better to try to get the Democrats focused on economic justice and clear out the neoliberals and finance whores; then win back both the House and Senate this year and find a good candidate for 2020.

For the most part, the impacts of a single term of Trump can be overcome.

Except for one thing – North Korea. I am not a Trump supporter and while I think his border wall idea is pure idiocy his childish actions related to North Korea are truly terrifying (in that, except for the tweets I doubt Pence, or Clinton, would be any different). Miscalculation or error could lead the world into a bloody war that could involve the use of nuclear weapons.

Even without a terrible war it’s clear that climatic change is happening now. Last year’s firestorms in British Columbia and hurricanes in Texas and Florida, and the recent winter storm along the east coast are all part of the “new normal” – as I’ve heard it called.

Climate change is, except for nuclear war, the only real existential threat to life on Earth. If massive changes aren’t made in the way we live, and it may already be too late, our children and grandchildren may curse us all.

So, Happy New Year – and here’s hoping a year from now we’ll have managed to make it through the year as a society and a species.

Industry News: Tom Morgan Rodsmiths, Simms

A few interesting news items from the business side of fly fishing.

Tom Morgan Rodsmiths is opening a shop in Bozeman Montana. The new owners, who bought the company from Tom and Gerri Morgan before his death in June 2017, plan to continue the dedication to custom craftsmanship that Tom Morgan Rodsmiths was built on. The shop will be next to the north Bozeman River’s Edge Fly Shop. You can read more here.

I plan on visiting it on my next trip to Bozeman – hopefully next year.

Simms has announced that Bart Bonime, who led the fly fishing marketing at Patagonia, will be joining the Simms team. He joins former Patagonia CEO Casey Sheahan, who is now Simms’ CEO. Read more here.

It will be interesting to see what this means for the next couple of years of product releases for Simms.

No More Fly Fishing Barbie Dolls

The New York Times has an article on how women are the fastest-growing demographic in fly fishing. And like most other things in our society the growth of women participating in fly fishing will be good for everyone.

Manufacturers such as Orvis, Patagonia, and Simms have increased the promotion and offerings of clothing and gear designed and built for women – not just having small and extra small sizes. Greater numbers of women will provide opportunities for more sales based on growth and not just replacement sales. Women will travel to destination fly fishing locations just like the men.

But this growth and promotion is not just about gear sales and travel dollars. It’s about acceptance and respect.

Women guides will offer different perspectives and means of coaching and instruction that will benefit all their clients. Women will be respected for their skills in fly fishing and accepted as full participants in the sport, not just as bikini-clad models at shows and in advertising – “no more Barbie dolls” as April Vokey calls them.

Reading the article made me cringe in terms of how women have been treated by fly shops, fellow guides, and even clients. As a society we should be long past that behavior. But as in most struggles for acceptance there is a long wade ahead as older ideas give way to younger ideas and young women.

You can read the article here.

Memory and the Return of the Chum Salmon

Donkey Creek Chum Salmon

Distractions abound in contemporary society with the increasing depravity in most aspects of public life – think big time business, entertainment, politics, and sport.

And now that it’s December, the endless ads for luxury cars, snooping servants masquerading as home electronics, and Christmas music that has been playing in most malls and stores since August have driven out the joy of the season. Even Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Present has said enough already.

In all of the above, there is no past or future – there is only the Now for only the Now has commercial or political utility. But even the cynical use of the Now as distraction can not, and must not, destroy memory: memory of cherished past; memory of history, and memory of one’s self.

And there is another type of memory. That is the memory of the natural world and its cycles that stretch back farther than human memory.

All it takes is looking outside.

Here in the Northwest, the annual salmon return is one such cycle. December brings its own gift with the return of the chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) to Donkey Creek.

The name of the creek has its origin in a lumber mill. After the nearby Austin mill was built in the early 1900s, a donkey engine transport system was used by loggers to move timber downstream to the mill. The building used for the engine was demolished in 2002 but logs from the building were salvaged and used in the siding of the restroom constructed in 2004.

Today, the park of the same name joins by a path to the Harbor History Museum. The path allows easy viewing of the creek. And it is in the creek in late November and December where there’s the best chance of seeing a returning chum salmon.

On their return and out of sight of the public, the fish are captured, bucks and hens are separated, and milk and eggs are extracted – the fish are dispatched with a quick bonk on the head. And then the life cycle of another generation of chum salmon begins.

Their life journey begins in the Donkey Creek Remote Site Incubator System (RSI). The RSI was installed by local fishermen in 1974 in cooperation with the State Department of Fish and Wildlife. The purpose was to restore the chum salmon run that had been severely depleted by road building and urbanization.

The RSI processes 1.3 million eggs every year — 1 million eggs are planted in Donkey Creek and about 300,000 are divided up between Meyers Creek and Purdy Creek.

The eggs and milk are mixed together in incubator buckets, with incubation lasting four months until about mid April. When they hatch they are called alevins. They spend six weeks maturing in the incubator buckets before losing their egg sacs. They then leave the barrels through a small pipe and go into a bigger pipe that runs in Donkey Creek. When they enter the creek they are called fry.

The fry slowly move into Gig Harbor and out into Puget Sound – finally reaching the open ocean in late summer. They move northward along the British Columbia coast until they reach their destination in the Gulf of Alaska, where they will remain for at least three years, with most returning in years four and five.

Their journey out and back means a journey of over 2000 miles plus the miles spent in the Gulf of Alaska. It is an incredible journey out of sight to us except at the very end when we can watch a salmon swim with all its remaining strength fight to reach its spawning ground for the singular purpose of creating the next generation. It is truly awe inspiring to watch.

Standing along Donkey Creek also provides an opportunity to see the cycles in our own lives – particularly when we understand that others stood where we are now.

The S’Homamish band of native Americans spent winters in a village known as Twalwelkax meaning “trout” at the mouth of Donkey Creek. The chum salmon migration was a source of food during the long cold winters. While they spent their winters along Donkey Creek, it’s probable the band migrated during the summer months to Vashon Island for there is archeological evidence of them there.

Little is known of the S’Homamish, except they were one of the bands that signed the Treaty of Medicine Creek in 1854, which exchanged 2.24 millions of land belonging to nine Indian tribes and bands to the United States for three reservations, cash payments, and recognition of fishing and hunting rights. By all accounts it was a swindle, just like all treaties signed with Native Americans.

The fishing rights were in dispute for over 120 years until the Boldt Decision of 1974, which reaffirmed the rights of Indian tribes and bands to act as co-managers of salmon and other fish as well as continue their harvesting according to the original treaties. By that time, the S’Homamish appear to have disappeared as a distinct band. Hopefully they joined another larger tribe and their descendants live to this day.

If they do, they preserve the memory of the life cycle of the chum salmon – as we should for it is a reminder of the great cycles of nature and our own place in it. I take comfort in that when the Now attempts to crush all memory.