Steelhead: As Hatchery Fish Go Up, Wild Fish Go Down

I came across an article about a presentation last December by Dylan Tolmie, sponsored by Emerald Water Anglers, about the threat posed to wild steelhead by hatchery steelhead. Dylan Tolmie is an environmentalist, Patagonia sponsored athlete, and former guide, who lives north of here on Bainbridge Island.

There’s been a lot written about the threats to wild steelhead here in the Northwest. Given the magnitude of the problem, it’s nowhere near enough. Tolmie introduced his topic by saying, Are you guys ready to get pissed off? Because I’m pissed about this. The more I’ve found digging deeper and deeper, the more upset I get.” The specific incident that drove that question was the closure of the Nooksack River due to lack of hatchery steelhead eggs needed for production quotas.

As in everything, economic needs, e.g., “production quotas” drive everything.

To those who would ask why protecting hatchery steelhead poses a risk to wild steelhead, Dylan has the ready answer. A wild steelhead is an example of survival of the fittest – even those smolts making it from their spawning beds out to the ocean have gone through a natural selection process. Hatchery steelhead have not faced the same challenges, being raised in production facilities. The sheer numbers released means they out compete for food.

The hatchery system is paid for by taxes – taxes that could be used for better purposes; certainly better purposes than reducing fragile stocks of wild steelhead.

You can read the article here.

How Fly Shops Price Gear

MidCurrent had a short article on how gear prices are set in fly shops.

Except for a brief discussion on markup, most of the article focuses on the reasons for the lack of flexibility in retail pricing. That basically comes down to maintaining brand reputation and protecting fly shops from the big-box stores and discount online retailers.

As I noted in other posts, the fly fishing industry is tiny ($750 million revenue in 2012); compare that to Trident gum that had sales of $3.32 billion the same year. So the sales of all the rods, reels, waders, flies, and so on was less than the sales of one brand of chewing gum.

During that same year (2012), the average annual sales per shop was $314,789 – with shops in the West leading with sales of $431,294.

Out of those sales, a fly shop owner has to pay for building rent, utilities, taxes, salaries for employees, carried inventory, and finally take home enough to feed one’s family.

Now think about going into a fly shop. All those shiny rods, reels, waders, and clothing were all bought at wholesale prices, paid for by the shop’s previous sales. Until the inventory is sold, the fly shop is operating at a loss – the fixed costs (e.g., utilities, taxes, salaries) continue to accumulate.

Let’s have a little fun with numbers using the 2012 data and applying it to the present period.

The number of fly fishers was estimated at 3.83 million. Based on the total industry revenues, each angler would have spent an average of $195. For the sake of argument, we’ll assume the numbers hold true to today.

A fly shop owner has to do everything possible to get a customer into the shop because that shop needs roughly 1,600 sales transactions per year to generate the average annual sales of $314,789. Each day, every day, a shop needs over four sales transactions, averaging $195, Granted, there are peaks periods and slow periods, but the inexorable calculus is that a good deal of daily foot traffic is needed through the shop, and a percentage of that traffic must be converted to sales.

Looking out the window and hoping someone will stop in is a path to going out of business. If your local fly shop isn’t actively promoting the sport and itself (except perhaps in destination locations), it’s on at best a slow spiral on the same path.

Conversely, every time you go to a fly shop, at the end of the free information exchange about the hot fly or what’s fishing well today, buy something. That fly shop can’t do anything about the price of the Scott Radian or the Simms G4Z waders; all they can do is sell at the established price.

What they can do is share their knowledge of an activity we all love – if they can stay in business.

You can read the article here.

Resolutions

Early January of every year brings the human interest story on New Year resolutions by bright-eyed but seemingly empty headed talking heads on local television news. This year was somewhat more muted but present nonetheless. Perhaps, real news, or more likely sports reporting, crowded it out – as was certainly true in these environs with the late season performance of the Seattle Seahawks.

I don’t subscribe to the idea of resolutions as public spectacle – most apparent in the inevitable follow-up News at Ten report later this month or next when the clever answer is sought as to why someone’s resolution has already been tossed onto the trash heap marked “too hard.”

And yet, I think there is value in doing a reset on a present course of action (or inaction), a situation, or even a way of thinking about certain things. Any opportunity to take stock of where you are and a resolve to make a change is a good thing. I simply think that loading down the first days of a New Year as a poor choice of timing.

Nevertheless as this is the first post of 2015 there is some sense of synchronicity that compels me at this time to at least think about what I should be doing or looking to achieve in the now 359 days that remain. And as this is nominally a fly-fishing blog, some of those reflections should be related to that theme.

As I get older, I have more of a sense of time. I’m completing almost four weeks of time away from work (using vacation time with the company Christmas/New Year holiday). And while it has been great, it has sped by with a pace that has been almost incomprehensible. So, perhaps the primary focus of the remainder of the year and the years left to me on this rock should be to learn to better treasure every moment with everyone and everything I value. There should be no lost moments.

As much as time-focus outward, there should be time-focus inward. To find inner peace in world gone mad with electronics, a societal neoliberal mindset gone insane with impossible schedules, contingent employment for too many, and a predatory owner class, requires a turning inward for quality time with one’s own mind. And there is no better way to do that than meditation. Spending even five to ten minutes daily turned inward is important for the body and soul.

Combining the above two thoughts leads to the fly-fishing reflection for the new year. Fly fishing in itself can be a form of meditation if properly approached. The cast is zen-like its ability to impart peace as one works line from forward to backward (remembering of course that if actually fishing hopefully sooner than later the fly must be presented). Standing on the shore or in the water provides serenity – even if civilization is not many yards away. It is a time for self reflection and self awareness – and that is meditation.

Oh yea. I do have some other things one might call resolutions for 2015. I need to actually plan for moving behind the corporate job I’ve been doing for too, too many years. And finally, this is the year I get a migratory salmon on the fly.

Northwest Steelhead Primer

Steelhead

Leland Miyawaki, former Fishing Manager of Orvis Bellevue, has written a terrific piece on Northwest Steelhead. Leland discusses how Northwest steelhead are categorized by the years they spend in the ocean before returning to spawn and what gear is needed for each year group. He also discusses fishing tactics and emphasizes the need to be able to cast 80 – 100 feet on the bigger Northwest rivers – a polished double haul is mandatory.

You can read the article here.

Hood Canal Bridge: A Steelhead Deathtrap

The Hood Canal Bridge connects the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas in Washington state. It is the world’s longest floating bridge that exists in a saltwater tidal basin (7,869 feet in length). A vital link between those peninsulas, daily traffic flow is over 16,000 vehicles daily. Made up primarily of pontoons, it’s anchored at both ends by fixed bridges.

But it is those center sections that may be acting as a deathtrap for Hood Canal steelhead – and potentially salmon. At low tide, the pontoons cover 95% of the canal’s width. Steelhead, which swim in the upper layers of the water column, may be held up by the 12-foot deep pontoons, making them easier prey for predators (eagles, seals). Or the complex water flows around the bridge may be confusing the fish.

Fisheries scientists don’t fully know yet what’s going on. But it’s clear this is another adverse impact on increasingly vulnerable fisheries.

Read more here.

Chasing Salmon

Narrows

This is our second autumn on the west side of Puget Sound and after only focusing on SRC and resident Coho last year, this is the year I’d go after the migrating Coho (pinks will be next year).

First time out I went down to the Narrows on a cloudy cool morning and worked the beach casting both a Miyawaki popper (surface) and a woolly bugger (sub surface). I got no grabs and only saw a few fish jumping well off the beach – likely around 120 feet out (well beyond my casting range).

I didn’t expect much as this was a day for growing comfortable with the bigger ten-foot eight-weight rod, and I wasn’t disappointed. The view of the bridge and spending time on the water was enough – for that day.

Climate Change: A Time to Act

I came across a timely article in Conservation Hawks. Called “A Time to Act”, it was written by Yvon Chouinard (Patagonia), Craig Matthews (Blue Ribbon Flies), Tom Rosenbauer (Orvis), and Todd Tanner (Conservation Hawks). Conservation Hawks is a non-partisan group of hunters and fishers united by a desire to pass on a healthy world for sportsman.

The authors add their voices to the millions of others that see the impact of climate change on our planet. For every one of us, whether as fly fishers or fellow travelers on planet Earth, the time to act is now – both at an individual level by our daily actions as well as by working together to force change.

You can find the article here.

Greetings and Departures

My nephew Matt and his fiancee Jen left yesterday morning for a return to St. Louis after spending a week’s vacation with us. I drove them to the airport and we said our goodbyes in the drop-off area.

There was a quiet but very apparent sadness as we hugged and bid farewell and I had a feeling of emptiness as I drove away. That contrasted to the anticipation and feelings of happiness as they arrived a week earlier – I hadn’t seen Matt in nine years and this was our first meeting with Jen.

And as I thought about all the things we had done and places we had taken them (as an aside, if you’ve not visited the Glass Museum in Tacoma – you should go and watch the glass blowing), I started to think that the week’s individual activities were a blur of events but the bookends of greeting and departure stood out.

I’ve often thought that airports are the best places to go when one has a dim view of the human race. In spite of the crowds, lines, and noise, if one looks, there is drama that can remind us of the best in people.

No matter who they are, what they’re wearing, or where they come from, watching the anticipation of arrival followed by the joy as family, friends, and lovers greet each other touches on the shared humanity we share with those strangers.

Similarly, watching the desperate hugs and last looks is a reminder of the losses we all experience. And in departure there is something more profound that haunts every goodbye – the uncertainty of seeing each other again. In that, there is the reminder of (hopefully) distant final loss that we all face.

We have dogs, and dogs may provide the best daily reminder of how we should all treat each other. As we prepare to leave the house, one of our dogs jumps on the couch, curls into a ball and takes on his sad contemplative look; one of the others watches out the window as we drive away. That same dog will maintain a watch out the window all day – both as a guard for the pack and waiting for us to return.

Then when we return – whether minutes, hours, or days – each greets us as if we had been gone for months. The sniffing, licking and jumping remind us that we are important to each of them – as they are to us.

Dogs take nothing for granted.

Maybe that’s a lesson we should all learn in our daily contacts with others. And the next time you need a reminder of the good in people – watch what happens around you the next time you’re in airport.

Fly Fishing and the Zen of Bathroom Fan Repair

Fly fishing and the repair of a bathroom exhaust fan may seem to be unrelated. But if fly fishing does present each of us with lessons for living a better life, then perhaps those same lessons can be applied to something as mundane as fixing a bathroom exhaust fan.

We have been having problems with the exhaust fan in our second floor hallway bath. First, the fan motor was replaced by an electrician as part of troubleshooting a problem with the timer that controls the fan’s operation; in addition to venting the bathroom, the fan operates on a daily cycle to ventilate the entire house (to reduce humidity and mold). Subsequent to the motor repair, we noticed the fan was running noticeably louder, to the point of increasing annoyance. This past weekend, I figured it was time to pull it out and see what was going on.

Of course, this would come after a morning trip down to the nearest beach (about 3 miles from my house) to fish for sea run cutthroat trout (SRC).

I got to the beach and started gearing up. I’ve gotten to where I understand this is part of the ritual and not something to be rushed. That putting on waders; stepping into wading boots; rigging up the rod; and finally tying on the fly – all are essential elements in reentering the world of fly and water.

Similarly, hours later when I was preparing to investigate the fan, I paused in the garage to assemble my tools. I first thought about what I was going to do. Then, I put the following into my tool bag: screwdrivers (both Phillips head and slot); needle-nose pliers; and some paper towels to wipe fan components. I also grabbed my small ladder that is handy for work inside the house.

When I got to the water, I started as always at the edge and made short casts. Nothing hit and after a few casts I made my way slowly into the water. With the falling tide, the tidal current was more like a river. Stepping carefully to maintain balance I continued blind casting, increasing the length of my casts to get to the seams out in the deeper water.

As I moved through the water I started to notice casting problems. Casts were falling short and my double hauls were not working as well as I would have liked. I stopped and took a deep breath. And it was clear: time to slow down and not rush my casts. That made all the difference.

After some work, I was on the ladder trying to put the fan into the box in the ceiling. The fan assembly is held in place by three screws and requires some careful work to hold the fan in place with one hand while trying to use the other hand to place the screw in a hole and tightening it. I was having problems and my body was tensing from frustration; with tight shoulders and sweat dripping into my eyes, the assembly dropped out several times.

And then I remembered how I slowed down and my casting improved. I set the assembly on top of the ladder, took a deep breath and stopped for a moment. I looked up toward the mounting holes. Rather than seeing than as problems I recognized they were just how the assembly mounted. I shook out my shoulders, took another deep breath, and mounted the assembly with only a few issues.

The day was getting warmer, the sun was shining on the falling water, and I wasn’t having much luck. I caught one sculpin, hooked one trout but it popped off the hook and saw what must have been a Coho jumping under the bridge. So I decided to call it a day.

I knew coming down to the beach it was probably not going to be a prolific day. August fishing is slow. Many fly fishers take the month off as the warmer water temperatures drive the fish off the beach into deeper waters. But I knew coming down it was more about getting into tidal water and watching the day start than about catching a dozen sea runs.

Similarly, after completing the repair on the fan, I realized the noise was caused by a dynamic imbalance in the plastic squirrel cage impeller. I did what I could and the noise had been reduced, but over time it will increase again, and that will mean having to go into the attic and replace the unit. But that will be after summer ends and the attic will be cooler.

And that in the end was the lesson for the day for both: acceptance of the situation.