Let’s Kick the Habit of Plastic Fly Containers


Do you ever think about how you add to the waste stream when you buy flies?

I’m talking about those little plastic containers used to hold the flies you buy at your local fly shop.

It may not seem like much, but you’re part of a big, big problem. The American Fly Fishing Trade Association (AFFTA) estimates fly shop retail sales use bout 3.5 million plastic containers annually. That’s a lot of plastic that’s eventually going into landfills.

Now AFFTA has announced new initiative to reduce that waste stream by offering recycled paper fly boxes for sale to its members.

Your local fly shop can do its part.

And we can do our part as individual fly fishers. We can use old containers the next time we go in to buy flies rather than use a new container – whether paper or plastic.

May the Rivers Never Sleep

Book cover

Many people – most perhaps – see time as linear. A year begins; months pass; and then the year ends. It then recedes into the past, remembered only as an incrementing number on one’s decrementing life journey. Infrequently, a year will be remembered for some significant achievement or tragedy.

Fly fishers, hopefully more wise than most, have evidence of the cyclic nature of time as seen in the annual hatches and return of treasured species of fish. And to be fair, evidence of the cyclic nature of time is shared certainly with hunters and others that chase fish with plugs or bait.

Depending on the river, fly fishers eagerly await the Skwala hatch, Mother’s Day Caddis, hopper season or October Caddis. On other rivers, autumn is the time for brown trout. Fishers, both fly and spey, on the coasts wait for the return of salmon and steelhead.

Whatever the month or season, it is a time for being outdoors with a fly rod in hand; an occasion to reflect on fond memories of past outings as well as look forward to the possibilities of the next hatch or the return of salmon or steelhead.

There are a few, a relatively small few, who put aside fly rods to look for the deeper revelations of fish and the world they inhabit. Once such person was the deservedly revered Roderick Haig-Brown. Among his books is the enduring A River Never Sleeps published in 1946, in which he uses the calendar year to write of his experiences on rivers, streams, and estuaries – using the calendar year to mark his journey.

Haig Brown

Now following along in the writing of Haig-Brown are the father/son team of Bill and John McMillan. Bill is well known in the Northwest for his writings on salmon and steelhead and was one of the founders of the Wild Fish Conservancy. His son John leads the Trout Unlimited Wild Steelhead Initiative.

Their book, published in 2012, is May the Rivers Never Sleep. Their river calendar takes place on the salmon and steelhead rivers of primarily Oregon and Washington.

Similar to Haig-Brown they’ve often traded rod for snorkel and mask. This is a large format book with plenty of photographs of salmon and steelhead taken underwater as well as surface photographs of well-loved streams.

Their prose is full of reflection and insight.

There are surprises, such as when the McMillans observe male rainbow trout mating with female steelhead on Olympic Peninsula rivers. They also cite recent studies that indicate that male rainbow trout may father more than 50% of steelhead in both Oregon and Washington in some years.

Their writing also reveals the extent of what has been lost. Whether due to loss of habitat due to logging and dams or the impact of climate change, populations of salmon and steelhead are in decline.

They observe the Grande Ronde river in Oregon. It was once considered one of the most prolific salmon and steelhead rivers in the Columbia basin as late as the 1940s and 1950s. Now those fish must traverse eight Columbia and Snake river dams to reach their natal streams. Further, many are confused and unable to find their natal streams; as juveniles they were collected and barged 200 miles downstream.

But this is not a book of pessimism. They see hope in the adaptation of pink salmon, whose number have increased, to warmer North Pacific temperatures. They note the depletion of char in British Columbia, but note the Skagit River holds sizable numbers of bull trout, one of the three species of char found in North America; the other two are Dolly Vardens and Arctic Char.
Given bull trout are nomadic they could spread to other river systems in Puget Sound if water temperatures are conducive and if salmon recovery proceeds – the bull trout feed on salmon eggs and fry.

This is a book to be read, and then reread a second time, with the second reading occurring over the months of a year – one chapter for each month. Each month of the river year then provides an opportunity to reflect upon the wider (and deeper) perspectives of what it means to chase salmon and steelhead.

Smolts, Safe Journey

Today was a reminder of why fly-fishing in Puget Sound can be a source of awe and perspective.

I had gone down to fish the beach at Purdy. The large falling tide meant strong ebb current and a good chance to find a cutthroat trout. I got one strike. Unfortunately, it felt like the fish spit it out or couldn’t get a strong bite in the heavy current.

But that wasn’t the reason today was a day of wonder. The Coho smolts were heading out to the ocean.

Everywhere, there were small salmon jumping as they moved out of Burley lagoon into Carr Inlet and then on into Puget Sound on their way to the Pacific Ocean. Most I saw looked to be three to four inches in length, with a few somewhat larger.

Near and far, they were jumping seemingly for joy as their big life adventure had begun. While I continued to cast and strip line, I found myself doing it just for the chance to share my small bit of water with these magnificent fish.

Their future lives started in late summer or early autumn of 2014, when their parents returned through Burley lagoon to Burley Creek or Purdy Creek, which are the natal streams for Coho. Their parents in their final act of life deposited and fertilized the eggs in the creek gravel.

This generation of Coho then emerged as fry in late winter or early spring of 2015. They spent all of last year in the slow moving water of their natal creeks. Then sometime this spring they began the process of smoltification, where their physiology changed from living in fresh water to living in salt water.

And now they are on their way to spending the majority of their lives in the Pacific Ocean. Most will stay out for two to three years before returning to their birth streams to start another generation of Coho salmon on their way before ending their lives.

The majority of smolts I saw today likely will be returning in 2018 or 2019.

In all that time, they will live their lives forgotten or unknown by the majority of people who live around the shores of Puget Sound.

And the concerns of these same people over these two to three years – the 2016 election, football seasons, urgency manufactured by marketers and bosses, the daily drudgery of life and work, and the minor tragedies and comedy of being human – will for the most part be forgotten by the time these fish return to Burley lagoon.

The fish will have a much more real urgency and that will be to propagate the next generation of their species and then finish their life cycle.

And maybe their departure today is a chance for us to remind ourselves that our great life cycle should be focused on the important things.

No Coho Salmon Fishing in 2016?

The Seattle Times today is reporting the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) will decide whether to close the Coho salmon 2016 season at its April 9-14 meeting.

There is alarm at the dramatically low rate of Coho returning for spawning. For example, last year only 242,000 Coho (out of the expected 700,000) returned to the Columbia River system. As the PFMC stated on their website, “…but expectations for wild coho runs to the Washington Coast and Puget Sound areas can only be described as disastrous.”

Commercial fishers and guide services will suffer economic loss to be sure. Recreational fishers of all equipment types will miss out on the annual chance to hook a fighting Coho. But it is necessary to give the Coho stocks a chance to replenish if it’s not already too late. At the same time, temporary bans do not solve the problems of urban runoff, industrial pollution, over fishing, and climate change. All those factors have, and will continue to have, impacts on the survival of all life in Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean.

I hope the PFMC receives universal agreement from the tribal managers and state fisheries managers (California, Oregon, and Washington) to make the hard, but needed, decision.

Washington residents may submit comments to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife here.

The Blob and Coho Salmon Runs

The Seattle Times reported on the fall 2015 Coho salmon run on the Skagit River. The news is not good.

The Skagit 2015 run was 12 percent of the average return for the last decade. Beyond that, those that made it to spawning weighed only three to four pounds – half of the normal range of six to eight pounds.

Fisheries scientists put the blame on what they call “the blob” – an area of warmer water (up to 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer) that has been in place off the Pacific coast since 2013. This blob has been responsible for the winter weather patterns seen over the last couple of years.

There is a strong debate as to whether the blob is a result of climate change, but whatever the causes last year’s Skagit run suggests a similar pattern for Coho runs this year – there is no indication the blob has dispersed.

Pink salmon venture farther out into the Pacific and are not impacted by the blob -as evidenced by last year’s Pink Salmon run. But if the blob is a result of climate change, then sooner or later the Pink Salmon will be impacted.

I fear we are seeing the beginnings of a new normal – and a future that will become increasingly grim.

Read article here.

Ten Seconds for Survival

The Columbia Basin Fish & Wildlife News Bulletin reports that a new study adds to the increasing literature on the fish mortality caused by catch and release practices. The study adds recommendations to further ensure we as fly fishers are not contributing to delayed mortality of the fish we target. The key recommendation coming from this study is that no more than ten seconds of air exposure should elapse from capture to release. Even this may be too much for a significantly stressed fish.

Three factors to consider are exhaustion, water temperature, and air exposure.

As I had written earlier here, fly fishers need to use tackle that brings the fish in as quickly as possible to minimize exhaustion. The days should be gone when fly fishers exalt over using very light tackle that requires long fights to land fish. An interaction with a live wild animal, even with a short fight, should be the thrill.

Fly Fishers should also refrain from fishing when water temperatures exceed the normal for the target species. For trout, that means no fishing above 68 degrees – and lower for some species (read here).

And finally, air exposure leads to a cascading set of conditions that dramatically increase mortality for the fish: Rainbow trout in particular have the highest mortality when exposed to air after the struggle to be landed. The fish should be kept in the water – even for a photograph (see here).

We have a responsibility to the fish we love and that we seek to bring to net. Each fish must be thought of as a link in a chain, with that chain leading to the future of the fishery.

You can read article here.

Angler, I (Probably) Don’t Feel Your Pain

I am far from the only angler who’s been asked whether fish feel pain when hooked. While having no definitive answer, my feeling has always been the answer is no. Now a study at the University of Wisconsin, and reported in the scientific journal Fish and Fisheries, has attempted to put the question to rest.

A team injected acid or bee venom into the jaws of rainbow trout. They reported little effects on the trout, suggesting at the same time a human similarly tested would have experienced significant pain.

While a test of a single species may not be considered by some to represent all species of fish, it is a strong data point. And some might argue, as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals do, that fish exhibit other behaviors that represent pain.

So the debate likely will continue.

At this point, I think the best approach is to treat fish, like all other animals – and people for that matter, with respect. Fish hooked should be landed quickly to prevent the buildup of lactic acid; if sport fish they should be left in the water and quickly released; and if a fish is to be killed, it should be done quickly.

You can read the article here.

Trout At Risk – The Canaries in the Coal Mine

Two recent reports have provided an alarming view of the future of trout in this country. Taken together they should also serve as a warning to us about our future.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the last week released a report (Climate Change in the U.S. – Benefits of Global Action) on climate change that concluded by 2100 there will be only one small trout population east of the Mississippi River (and that in the northeast corner of Vermont). In addition, with unmitigated climate change there will be an overall 62% decline in cold water habitat across the country.

This report follows another recent study by Trout Unlimited, called the State of the Trout. This study was not limited to climate change, but included looking at the impacts of energy development, non-native species, and water demand (other uses).

Consider the following highlights from the Trout Unlimited study.

The United States historically had 25 native trout species. Now, three are extinct. Of the remaining 22 species, half occupy less than half their original habitat. Each of those 22 species also has at least one moderate or major risk factor.

Those are looking at the overall patterns. The regional patterns – in terms of the areas that might interest here in Washington are as troubling.

The Pacific Coast region, including western Oregon and Washington (and roughly half of the eastern parts of each state – and western California faces threats in climate change, non-native species, and water demand. They classify the coastal cutthroat population – near and dear to us in Puget Sound – facing only moderate risks in climate change and water demand. Other species including Dolly Varden and bull trout are classified as having major risks in multiple categories.

We should not be smug in western Washington. As this summer reminds us, high heat can impact our streams and surface waters too, and forest fires destroy habitat for all species, including salmon.

The northern Rockies, including the hallowed ground of fly fishing – Montana, face risks to their native populations (e.g., western cutthroat and bull trout) in terms of non-native species and climate change. I suspect that many people don’t recognize that the prized trout of Montana – the brown and rainbow – are non native species.

While their future was not examined in this study as they are non-native, other Trout Unlimited studies in the past looked at the risks of stream warming. As might be expected, they are in trouble too.

Combined these reports add to the growing list of publications and studies that highlight the threat of climate change. For climate change is happening in spite of the efforts of the fossil fuels industries, their paid agents, and useful idiots to deny it.

And water demand – and supply – is not an issue for only fish.

Forks, Washington – on the western coast of the Olympic peninsula and one of the wettest places in the country – has imposed water restrictions this summer due to the water levels in the wells dropping. Water rationing may become a future we all will learn to live with.

Denial of the problem may be easy for some; thinking those problems will occur long after they’re pushing up daisies in some boneyard.

But no one knows when exactly the tipping point will occur and rapid climate change commences. Beyond that, it doesn’t matter if we are alive when the apocalyptic events begin. We have children or grandchildren, or know of people who are younger than us. We owe it to them to fight the future that appears inevitable if we do nothing.

You can read the reports at the following links:

EPA Report

Trout Unlimited Study

The Lucky Molecules


Yesterday was Earth Day 2015.

It passed, with the expected of flurry of speeches by politicians “demanding action” on climate change – who will now do absolutely nothing to push such action.

I expect little from self-serving political cynics such as Obama (co-conspirator with the one percent) and Kerry (member of the one percent) who talk about climate change, then work to push through the Trans Pacific Partnership.

ABC News, in keeping with the primary duty of the “major news networks”, to serve business, ran a story on the Earth Day “freebies” and deals available to consumers. FOX News continued its role as propaganda ministry for the lunatic right-wing of this country by reporting everything is just dandy and there’s no need to worry about anything related to the environment – so let’s just go bomb another country.

Contrast all of that to an essay written by Robert Parry (Consortium News). Robert Parry is an independent investigative reporter; the type of journalist so desperately needed in a world self-promoting court jesters passing themselves off as reporters and anchors.

He writes of the vast reaches of space and the unknown numbers of molecules that result from the novemdecillion (10^80) atoms in the observable universe. And in all of those untold numbers of molecules – a relatively few came together as life on Planet Earth.

It is the Pale Blue Dot that Carl Sagan spoke so poetically of so many years ago. And now, only in the last 25 years of the Hubble telescope, we do know how much larger the universe is and how unique our Dot seems to be.

I recall from Cosmos when Sagan reflected on whether other civilizations in other star systems or other galaxies had come to their own existential crisis point and failed to pass through successfully – whether due to loss of control of their technologies or failings of what we might call their value systems. We have time left – only barely I think – to avoid that same failure.

Near the end of his essay, Parry recalls a speech John F. Kennedy gave on June 10, 1963: “For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.” Enough said.

You can read Parry’s essay here.

Fish Fundamentals and Responsible Angling

This spring has been slow in the South Puget Sound for finding Sea-Run Cutthroat (SRC) Trout. Even my nearby beach, which tends to be prolific on an outgoing tide, has been barren this year. The last three times I was there I caught nothing, with not even a hit.

I was discussing that with the guys down at the Gig Harbor Fly Shop – and one of the guides mentioned that he’s noticed in the relatively few years he’s been around here that the SRC population appears to be much less than it used to be.

There may be many reasons for that; my opinion is that the fish are sensitive to the growing pressures on them from the urban and industrial pollution and runoff that surround Puget Sound. That is only going to get worse as the impacts of climate change bear down upon them – and us humans.

One may argue cause and effect, but one thing that seems inarguable is that anytime we come in contact with fish in our sport activities we should do whatever we can to protect them so we, and others, can continue to enjoy our sport.

Patagonia’s The Cleanest Line has an article by Andy J. Danylchuk, PhD on how to properly handle fish – whatever the species.

He recommends the usual practices: matching rod and line to the species; using a barbless hook; and keeping the fish in the water as much as possible.

Other recommendations may come as a surprise to those who have sought “hero shots” in the past. He recommends not lipping a fish (holding it by its lips) as that can put undo torsion on the head and vertebrae. Even holding a fish in a net (in the water) is to be avoided, as it’s a risk to the fish; much better to keep the fish totally submerged and use a forceps to reduce the hook.

Underwater cameras, as Andy points out, are becoming mainstream. One hopes the new ethic for fish handling and the “hero shot” is that of the fish kept totally submerged, underwater held only briefly until the shot is taken and the hook removed by a forceps.

The “new normal” may mean treating sport fisheries as the precious resource they are.

You can read the article here.