Saving the Heron Forest

Great Blue Heron

There is a 2.2 acre tract of woods at the foot of Olympic Drive in Gig Harbor, across from the Tides Tavern, that has been home to a heron rookery and the occasional homeless person.

The State of Washington designated the forested tract as a nesting area for great blue herons in 2011. At least eight heron nests had been identified on the wooded lot, with two other potential nests spotted.

The great blue heron is listed as a “state monitor species,” which means the state Department of Fish and Wildlife monitors the birds and manages their populations to prevent them from becoming endangered, threatened or sensitive.

Last year, a developer had reached agreement with the property owner to buy the land with the intent to clear the forest and build a gated community for 35 townhouses. That plan fell through as it would have required a number of deviations from the city’s municipal code. Another developer then stepped forward to buy the land and would have built 12 houses; that plan would have been allowed per the city’s planning department.

Some studies indicated there had been no active nesting after 2014, which apparently eliminated the main obstacle for the proposed developments moving forward.

However, the citizens of Gig Harbor were up in arms about any development of that property. Letters were written, protests were made at council and planning meetings, and the organization Citizens for the Preservation of Gig Harbor worked to buy the property.

And sometimes, there is truth in the saying that elections have consequences.

An election last November saw a new mayor elected – one that replaced a mayor considered, unfairly or not, strong on development and weak on preservation.

Almost immediately, the new mayor began efforts to have the city buy the property. On March 6th, the city council agreed to the discounted asking price and the purchase/sale agreement was signed on March 10th.

Now there is a 60-day period that will include a formal appraisal; an environmental assessment; a tree survey; and due diligence.

It’s heartening to see that people working together can create the future they want to see in their community.

Sometimes the bulldozers can be stopped.

Thomas and Thomas Avantt – Shop Casting Review

Thomas and Thomas Logo

I had been looking for a special fly rod for the last year.

My medical adventure of late 2016 through early 2017 provided me with a good amount of time to think about what’s important in life. I came to the conclusion, as Thoreau wrote in Walden and Other Writings, that it had been far too easy for me over the years to be “frittered away by detail”, and I needed to “simplify, simplify.”

In fly fishing, I decided I wanted to focus more on the essentials of the fish, the flies, and the contexts of time and place – rather than the too familiar path of being gear-compulsive.

For those who don’t fly fish (or any other gear-driven preoccupation – such as golf), it’s ridiculously easy to be caught up in the release of new gear. Fly rods in particular can drive an almost obsessive longing for the magic rod that can turn a poor casting stroke into perfection, or the rod that allows the fly fisher to target species from just beyond the rod tip to the next county in a howling gale. And I had been susceptible to that in the past.

To be fair the latest generations of fly rods are spectacular. Whether from Loomis, Orvis, Sage, Scott, Winston, and others – they are lighter with great tapers and with better materials and manufacturing than was possible in previous generations. I’ve cast many of them and they are all superb.

But I wanted a special rod – one that was not a custom rod but that had custom-rod attributes and was made by a small company of craftsman.

To that end, I started seriously looking at Thomas and Thomas (T&T) rods. I had been reading about them for several years and they seemed to fit the bill.

I emailed Dave McCoy, owner of Emerald Water Anglers (EWA), and one of T&T’s new ambassadors, who said the new Avantt was a better choice as a beach rod rather than the saltwater-specific Exocett. That sounded great to me as the Avantt would also work on the windy rivers of southwest Montana when we go to visit my son and his family in Bozeman.

I made the trip up to EWA in West Seattle to cast the nine foot six weight with the full-wells grip and the fighting butt.

I’ll briefly mention that this is one great-looking rod with superior cork, a matte blue finish, and some of the most impressive guide-wrap work I’ve seen – some rod makers use too much epoxy on the guide wraps; there was none of that on the Avantt. The craftsmanship is impeccable.

Dave brought three lines out for me to cast: an Airflo beach line (seven weight), an Airflo Xceed (six-weight), and a standard six-weight line. The alley behind the shop was good place to cast, except for a passerby who didn’t appreciate the backcast whipping out in front of him. Some people have no sense of humor.

After rigging up the rod, I observed how light in felt in hand and I noticed how the shape of the cork full-wells grip fit naturally into my hand.

I started casting with the seven-weight and worked my way down to the standard six-weight line.

The seven-weight line felt great. I started with less than ten feet of line and began working the line out. As the length of line increased, I began to see this was definitely fast-action rod that had a firm tip. But I was surprised how easy it was to cast and how light the swing-weight felt.

Moving then to the Xceed and finally to the true to weight line, as expected the response was a bit quicker. But the more I cast it with each line, the more I found myself thinking this was a very versatile rod that could handle any number of lines. Dave asked me which of the lines I preferred with the Avantt. and I had to think as each one worked well, but if I had to choose one it would be the Xceed.

Also it seemed to me that the more I cast it the more I was able to stop focusing about the rod and was just focused on the line and cast. Typically, I can feel a fast-action rod in my elbow and shoulder when first casting it. There was none of that with the Avantt.

I was liking this rod a lot.

Lefty Kreh, Tight Lines and Fair Winds

I read that Lefty Kreh died today, March 14th, 2018 at the age of 93.

Lefty lived a remarkable life – from combat veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, to tropical saltwater fly fisherman, to an innovative instructor who taught countless numbers how to fly cast.

I only knew Lefty through his videos and books, and his appearance on the Buccaneers and Bones series on the Outdoor Channel. And yet, I feel as if I’ve lost a friend today – a friend I never knew.

You can read more here.

Day Zero and Hook Choices

Hooks

Look at the two hooks above.

The top one is a TMC800s; the one below is a Daichi X452. They are both excellent size-six saltwater hooks. If it’s not clear from the photograph, the TMC is a thicker-wire hook than than the Daichi.

Now, which one should you use?

The answer may be dependent on which fish you are targeting.

In Puget Sound, we spend most of the year fishing for sea run cutthroat trout and resident Coho. In general, most of the fish are smaller than around 14 to 16 inches and do not need a large thick hook to land them – making the Daichi a better choice. Now, for migrating Coho I’d go with the thicker hook.

I had noticed that when I started using the Daichi hook, with its thinner wire and much sharper chemically-sharpened tip, that I was drawing less blood from the fish and the hook was easier to remove – releasing the fish quicker and with less damage; giving it a better chance it will be around for the next fly fisher.

And perhaps a choice of hooks reflects the choices to be made in the larger issues facing us today.

It’s become clear to me that it’s long past time to stop using the term “climate change”, which is a euphemism to avoid inflaming those clinging to dying industries or outdated political ideologies.

The correct term should be “climate crisis.”

The hurricanes, forest fires, and mudslides of last year, and this winter’s storms, have demonstrated that the sometime-in-the-future climate change is here now – constituting an existential crisis.

Elsewhere on the planet, the effects of this crisis are even more clear.

American television does a poor job reporting things happening elsewhere in the world,except for terrorism, wars, and royal weddings.

That’s not the case in other countries. The CBC had an excellent report a few nights ago on the drought in Africa that’s impacting the future of Cape Town – the second most populous city in South Africa.

The drought has reduced the water in the city’s reservoirs to the point that city leaders now speak of Day Zero – the day when the municipal water taps run dry. There will still be water from deep groundwater, requiring people to walk to the 200 distribution points, and there has been a rush to build desalination plants.

And there have been conservation efforts. Residents of Cape Town have been ordered to use no more than 13 gallons per day. That may sound like a lot of water, but in the US the average daily use per person is estimated at between 80 and 100 gallons. Think about how you would get by on 13 gallons of water.

The exact timing of Day Zero is a bit unclear; it was originally thought to be April of this year. Due to conservation and augmentation efforts it has now been pushed out to 2019. Read more here.

But until the drought ends the residents of Cape Town will be living this particular climate crisis.

As with Cape Town, people everywhere will face a Day Zero.

It might be the day when there is no more skiing due to snow levels rising above the tops of resorts.

It might be the day your favorite sports fishery is permanently closed.

It might be the day having an oceanfront house might not be possible no matter how much money you have.

It might be the day the electrical grid drops as severe storms destroy large segments of the transmission and distribution system.

It might be the day there are no ocean fish to be caught for consumption.

It might be the day there is no water to irrigate the lands used for grains and vegetables.

For any of these, and more, the problems may be unsolvable – and our future grim.

But we each have to do what we can. It is about the choices we make regarding our impact on the environment and in the places we live. And hopefully that may be enough to give us time to rethink and rework how we live on this planet.

It starts with conserving water – and using the lightest hook we can.

Reflections on a Ferry Ride

Fauntleroy Ferry

I drove to a fly shop in West Seattle to test a fly rod a few days ago – more on that in a future post.

After leaving the shop, I turned on the navigation system in my Outback to give me the route home – hopefully to avoid the traffic that builds up around Tacoma in the afternoon. It directed me towards a street I hadn’t expected and soon realized I was on the way to the Fauntleroy dock, where a ferry would take me to Southworth on the west side of the Sound.

I thought it would be a nice change of pace and make for a much shorter drive home once I got to Southworth.

Even better, the ferry was there getting ready to load when I arrived. Now I know, or at least believe, the navigation system could not have had the ferry schedule, but it sure felt like more than coincidence.

And what a day it was for a ferry ride.

The temperature was in the mid forties; much warmer than we had during the previous week. And the sun was out – no gray skies; no biting winds; and no rain or snow.

As the ferry pulled away I had time to sit and reflect.

I see the Sound nearly every day. Though we live a bit over two miles inland from any view of the water, I make it a point to get to where I can see Puget Sound any time I’m driving somewhere.

As the ferry pulled away from the dock, I was struck by the idea this was going to be a special trip.

The deep blue waters of the Sound complemented the azure sky that held white clouds to the east. And between them – the land. From the water everything looked forested. Beyond those trees were the houses, roads, people and all the other issues of modern life.

While Gig Harbor is comparatively an oasis from many big city problems, living here doesn’t allow one to escape all the problems of modern life.

Many of the roads are much busier than we moved here five years ago; rush hour backups are common; reports indicate property crime is increasing; and the homeless population seems to be increasing along the highway.

It seems as if every patch of trees is being removed to make way for new houses. The loss of a heron rookery downtown appears inevitable to make way for new luxury homes. And we have a family friend whose wife now appears to be in the final stages of her struggle with cancer.

As Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote, wherever you go – there you are.

So where was I?

I know that most problems go away on their own, or we learn to adapt to them. We all have suffered tragic losses – or will someday – from which we will never recover. And as I learned a bit over a year ago we are all mortal and death haunts each of us.

The ferry itself reminded me that its passage, while a small and temporary thing, does impact the waters and life beneath it. It is the same with each of us. Our actions while small and temporary do add up and impact the natural world we inhabit – the loss of a heron rookery; the decline in returning salmon; and the loss of Arctic sea ice, are all but examples.

I had a moment of awareness as I looked back toward the now distant ferry dock and the large house on Brace Point. At best, they were little more than tiny shapes – without form or definition. Out in the middle of the Sound, everything human-scale appears inconsequential and small.

And watching the brilliance of the light and the beauty of the Sound and distant land it seemed to me that this was about as good as it gets. I live in a place I love. I have people I love and who love me. I do my best to tread lightly on the Earth, sometimes with success; often not.

While not exactly a profound thought it was just a reminder of what I already knew from having left footprints on Earth for over six decades.

And maybe that was the lesson of the trip. Taking a few minutes whenever possible to appreciate whatever we have and wherever we live.

Resident Coho: First One 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 decided that one today was enough.

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.