The Kelp of August

Kelp Under Tacoma Narrows Bridge

Fly fishing in Puget Sound in August often means high temperatures (as has been true the past weeks) and hazy skies from distant forest fires (as was true last year). But there is another consistent issue in parts of Puget Sound in August and that is the kelp forests that often cause casting from the beach to become a source of frustration due to frequent hookups of the bull kelp floats.

For some time, I had been thinking a sinktip line would work from the beach in the deeper waters under the Tacoma Narrows bridges during the high and low slack periods. I wanted to get the fly down to fish that might be lurking several feet down in the slack waters.

I had looked at a number of sinking and sinktip lines and bought the Rio Intouch 24 Foot Sinktip in 200 grains (for a six-weight rod). The line has a 35 foot head with a 24-foot sinking section. I thought the line would work both here and as a streamer line in Montana. In comparison to other lines, once I started casting it in the backyard I recognized it was also easy casting. But casting in an actual fishing situation is really the only way to see how a line works.

Wednesday mid morning there was an extra low slack on the ebb, meaning I could get out before the day turned hot. I brought my net along just in case some fish – hopefully a coho salmon – decided to jump on whatever fly I was using.

As expected, there were fields of bull kelp along the majority of the beach up to and past the Narrows Bridges. But I was there and I decided to look for places I could cast between patches of the kelp under the bridges.

The line worked perfectly. I found none of the kick I’d found in other lines. With the heavy sinking head, shooting line was effortless. About the only problem, as is typical of Rio lines, was the running line tangled. I had brought my stripping basket, so that might have eliminated at least some of the tangles. Unfortunately, there were no fish – well at least none that were interested in my chartreuse and pink woolly buggers.

Then as I started working my way back to Narrows Park I found no patches of clear water and decided to call it a day. Along the way I did catch one empty plastic water bottle (with cap on) that was floating in the tidal current. Someone must have been careless. I tossed it into a trash can.

As I looked back down the beach, I knew it would have been a good deal more fun if the kelp hadn’t been there.

But then I remembered reading an article about how bull kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana) in Puget Sound is in decline. Scientists are concerned because the kelp provides habitat for juvenile salmon, rockfish, sea urchins and other species. It is an annual plant – meaning it starts fresh every year. Starting as a microscopic plant in spring, bull kelp can grow to 30 to 40 feet tall by mid summer. The bull kelp then begin to decline and disappear in early to late autumn.

The causes for its decline are the same many of the other threatened species in Puget Sound – warming water temperatures and toxic pollution. In addition, changes to the shoreline and sedimentation are also suspected.

The bull kelp is another reminder that the chain from microorganisms to humans is long and complex. Disturbing the kelp imperils the salmon, which as can be seen in local news, imperils the resident Orca population.

Ultimately, it will be humanity that pays the price for its actions.

You can read more about efforts to restore bull kelp here.

EWA Fly Fest

Last Saturday I drove to Me-Kwa-Mooks Park in West Seattle for the Emerald Water Anglers (EWA) Fly Fest. This was the first time I’ve attended – and wound up driving as waiting for the ferry up in Port Orchard would have taken longer than driving.

Me-Kwa-Mooks, meaning “shaped like a bear’s head” was what the Duwamish tribe called the West Seattle peninsula when the first European-American settlers landed at Alki in 1851.

Park

The park is across the street from Puget Sound – the view from the beach is incredible. While it’s an undeveloped park with only a porta-potty, it was enough for a group of enthusiastic fly fishers.

The EWA Fly Fest is about seminars, casting fly rods, and a guide’s cook-off. For me, the main thing was to cast fly rods. A number of fly-rod companies had their reps there with rods for casting: Hardy, Loomis (Tom Larrimer), Reddington, Sage,Scott, Thomas & Thomas (Jon Covich), and Winston.

Casting

I got to cast a number of rods, including the one I was very interested in: the T&T Exocett. While much more powerful than the Avantt (which I really like, as can be read in my previous posts), it was still easy to cast while having tremendous line speed.

One of the best things about events where there is shared interest is that everyone is friendly. While waiting to get some lemonade, a young father in front of me was filling a glass for his very young daughter. He turned and asked if I’d like my glass filled.

I had to leave before the guide cook-off, and all the free food. While I hadn’t gotten to attend all the seminars I wanted or sample the free food, it was a fun and worthwhile trip. I’ll add it to my calendar for next year.

And hopefully with a bit of better planning I will be able to cut down on the driving by riding the ferries.

Thomas & Thomas Avantt – First Fishing Report

T&T Avantt

I’ve been fishing the Avantt on local beaches over the last month and I wanted to provide a first report on actually fishing the rod.

I knew this was a phenomenal rod from the casting I did at Emerald Water Anglers and in my extended casting in my backyard (read here).

There are rods that are excellent casting rods in the parking lot but do not always meet expectations as an actual fishing rod. I am happy to say the Avantt was exceptional as a fishing rod.

The Avantt has a very light swing weight. In addition, the shaped grip felt very comfortable in my hand. Together, they made it easy to forget about the rod and focus on the line and where I wanted to cast it; that’s not true of every rod I’ve cast even in light trout rods. The Avantt is remarkable.

I was getting the same tight loops I had gotten in the backyard, even on some windy days where I was getting winds from both and up down beach.

At the distances I was fishing (30 – 60 feet), the rod provided great feedback on the casts I was making. It definitely has a stiff tip but that didn’t prevent it from letting me feel connected to the line. I was using both clouser flies and chum baby flies; both types were primarily sizes 6 and 8.

I’d like to say I caught a big cutthroat that allowed me to assess the rods fish-fighting ability, but that wouldn’t be true. The fish were all small cutthroat and few baitfish that were easily brought to the net before release.

So I’ll continue fishing the rod and hopefully the next report will be on the big one that tested the rod.

Fly Line AFTMA Standard Explained

Fly lines

Fly lines are one of the biggest sources of confusion and debate in fly fishing.

Confusion is not just limited to beginners. Walk into any fly shop and there can be a bewildering number of choices. Fly fishing forums often have lengthy debates on various lines and arguments about one-half weight differences. And it’s true that many fly rods seem to cast better with some lines than others.

So where to begin to break through the confusion?

I think it’s understanding the terms and reference points. Rio has a great video that explains the standard and grain weights.

In addition, to breaking down the differences between grain weights and line ratings, the video discusses the effect that even subtle differences in grains, head lengths, or line diameter have on line ratings. And, you’ll not think about a business card the same way again.

You can see the video here.

Thomas and Thomas Avantt – Backyard Casting Review

Avantt

As might have been expected from my last post on the Thomas and Thomas (T&T) Avantt, I ordered one in six-weight with fighting butt and aluminum reel seat.

Once I got it from Emerald Water Anglers (EWA), I looked over the rod and saw the fit and finish was even more impressive than observed in the casual inspection in the store.

The rod is delivered with plastic covering the cork and a silver T&T cigar band. I know of only one other rod maker that covers their cork like that – Scott, and no one else that has a band on the cork. Protecting the cork may be a small thing but it certainly speaks of craftsmanship and pride. The unlocking reel seat is a wide band with the T&T insignia, classic and very refined.

Reel Seat

This rod is so beautiful it could be mounted on a wall for display. But that’s not why I bought it.

I wanted to get a bit more of backyard casting to better understand the rod – this time with lines I was familiar with and had actually fished.

I used a Rio InTouch Gold, Rio Coastal Quickshooter (CQS), and a Rio InTouch Outbound (OB) Floating – all in six weight, along with a 7.5 foot Umpqua practice leader in 3X.

I’ll say right up front, this rod cast well with all the lines I cast – both up at EWA and in my backyard; that’s not something true of every rod. At this point, I’m not sure what I’d say was my favorite – might depend on where I’m fishing, so more on that in a future post.

Given I wasn’t taking anyone’s time but my own, I used my standard approach in casting a new rod. I’ve grown wiser and no longer strip off line almost to the backing and try to cast for the bleachers.

I set up my soccer cones in the backyard at distances of 24, 32, 40, and 48 feet, all of which, perhaps not surprisingly, correspond to my fence posts; those lengths represent casts from a bit over twenty to almost fifty feet where most fishing is done on the beach (or chasing trout on rivers).

As I observed when casting with Dave McCoy at EWA, this casts nicely off the tip with about five to six feet of line out. With this amount of line, casting was more about watching the tip and varying casting speed to see how loops were forming. Very nice.

At 24 feet, I found I was accurate with all three lines, though only the CQS and OB had enough mass out to let me feel the line loading. I had to watch the Gold to see how my cast was doing. At the distances beyond 24 feet out to 48 feet, casting was easy with good line feel and I was accurate all distances.

Transition down the taper was smooth as the casts lengthened, but most of the loading is in the upper third of the blank as would be expected with a faster action rod.

In addition, I was looking for any tip collapse with the heavier shooting lines at distance, and that included casts beyond 48 feet. There was none, as I suspected given the stiff tip, making this a great rod for casting heavier lines and flies in the typical conditions on Puget Sound beaches; this rod will also work on windy afternoons on Montana rivers.

I spent some time casting the Gold with different speeds and stroke lengths to see if the rod favored any particular type of cast or under what conditions a cast would fail. From beginner-type overpower casts to slow and easy casts (with a double haul) the rod was accurate and I was able to hit the target area I set up.

This is one sweet rod.

The next step is to take it fishing. I’ll report on that in a future post.

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.

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.

A Tatoo Remembrance and A Class Act

Sage Leg Tatoo

People get tattoos for any number of reasons, too many perhaps to articulate or even understand. As someone who has no tattoos and has no plan to get one, there is at least one purpose for a tattoo that I can understand – and that is for remembrance.

I came across the following post on the Sage web site. For those who have not heard of Sage, it is one of the top-tier fly rod companies.

An individual named Douglas Derrick contacted Sage and related his story of growing up with a brother and sister (Dustin and Kristen). The two traveled to Nepal and Peru in 2006 to join their father who was working with Doctors Without Borders. After the father returned to the States, they then attempted to climb Mount Artesonraju in the Peruvian Andes. Someone slipped on the climb, and both and another climber all fell to their deaths on June 27th, 2006.

Before they left for Nepal and Peru, Dustin had left Douglas his fly rod – a Sage TXL fly rod and told him to keep track of the number of fish he caught with it. After their deaths, Douglas attempted to return the rod to the now grieving father who lost his only children.

The father told him to keep the rod as Dustin wanted him to have the rod. In 2008, Douglas moved to Portland, Oregon. Sometime after, his home was burglarized and the rod along with other items were stolen. To continue his homage to his dead friends he got the tattoo shown above.

Someone from Sage recently saw the photo on Instagram, which also had the background story attached.

The Sage repair department staff were moved by the story and decided to make an exact copy of the rod to send to Douglas. The TXL model was introduced in 2005 and is no longer in production – so Sage went out of its way to build a custom rod; including adding Dustin’s name and the date of his and his sister’s deaths.

I have a number of Sage rods – each is outstanding for its intended purpose. This story also reminded me of the outstanding men and women who people Sage.

You can read the original post here.

Sage X Fly Rod: More Casting

I had previously discussed that I had gotten to cast the Sage X (see here). At the time I had commented that I thought the rod was subtle, i.e., it wasn’t a rod that one picked up and either liked or disliked.

As it was, that comment seemed to reflect what I was reading in a number of forums. The Sage X is a fly rod that needs to be cast with varying strokes, power, and fly lines to find the magic for an individual caster. It takes a while to establish the relationship.

Since then, I’ve had a number of opportunities to cast the Sage X – particularly in 6 weight. And I will say unequivocally it’s a brilliant rod. It throws tight loops with little effort – I’ve noticed even my back casts get tighter with it. And I’ve not shot a cast over 75 feet with no hauls before.

Casting with both Intouch Rio Gold and Intouch Rio Perception, as well as the SA MPX, I think the Gold is the best all around match for it – if tossing only streamers I might lean to the MPX.

And it got me to thinking I should go back and cast the five weight again.

I’m thinking the X might be coming to me soon. Just need to sell a rod or two.