Land of the Free

Buffalo Skins Pile

I’ve lived and traveled in the western United States for over 40 years. In that time, I’ve traveled parts of the Oregon Trail and the Lewis and Clark Trail. I’ve been to the areas where Indian wars were fought and the mountain men trapped for beaver. And along the way, I’ve learned a good deal of history of the region – mostly from reading.

The West is the mythos of the land of the rugged individualist. Whether it is the free trapper working alone in the high mountains to trap beaver; the small rancher struggling against both hostile nature and hostile humans; or the miner digging deep or working a stream to strike it rich – all were supposedly able to take just enough from the land to give them the freedom and independence they sought.

However, those myths are mostly false. The true story of the West is one of big government and big business, with individuals reduced to economic pawns supporting a much darker reality: one about destruction of land; extermination of wildlife and native peoples; and the poisoning of rivers and streams.

And by the end of the nineteenth century, before the myths had been developed and enabled by popular culture, the truth of what had been done in the West drove the American people to demand that lands and streams be protected as public lands.

Unfortunately, cynical politicians of today, working for the modern versions of those corporate interests, are trying use the myths to undo the protections put in place so long ago. In doing so, they want to return lands once held in the public trust to private ownership where exploitation becomes inevitable.

Hatch Magazine has a well-written article that details the movement to protect our natural heritage and the threats they face.

You can read the article here.

Montana FWC Rejects Madison River Proposal

In a recent post, I wrote of a proposal to limit the number of commercial guiding operations on the Madison river as well as limiting use of boats on some segments of the river.

Yesterday, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 4-0 to reject the proposal.

The outfitters who would be impacted were most outspoken in speaking against the proposal. One of the valid points made by the outfitters was that the majority of fly fishers on the Madison are non-commercial anglers who would not have been impacted by the proposed rule changes.

In addition, at least one of the commissioners noted that the proposed plan was not fully vetted as other rivers’ plans had been.

Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks will watch for public reaction to the decision before deciding on how to proceed with a revised plan.

You can read more here.

Save Bristol Bay…Again

Bristol Bay Salmon

Bristol Bay is the easternmost part of the Bering Sea, and is north of the Alaskan Peninsula. It is home the world’s largest salmon run, and includes all five species of Pacific salmon (King, Coho, Sockeye, Pink, and Chum). And it is again threatened by the Pebble Mine proposal.

The Pebble Mine is an exploratory project in the Bristol Bay watershed. The project is funded by the Rio Tinto Group and Mitsubishi. The ore deposit of the proposed mine is rich in copper, molybdenum, and gold, and is thought to be the second-largest deposit of its kind in the world.

Due to the size of the required operation, there has been opposition due to the downstream risks to the watershed, salmon, and other fisheries. Much of the efforts to stop the mine has been through grass-roots efforts, including members of recognized Native American tribal councils in Alaska.

Every apparent victory in stopping the mine is met by a new challenge. And now the mine has filed for one of the permits needed to proceed with mining. Public comments are now being accepted.

You can read more about the Pebble Mine project here.

You can submit comments on the latest proposal here.

Wisdom of the Guides

Wisdom of the Guides

The path toward competence in fly fishing – or any craft requiring knowledge and skills, is helped along by mentors, individuals acknowledged for their mastery of the subject and their ability to teach others.

In fly fishing, these individuals are primarily guides and casting instructors.

Joe Rotter, one of the partners at Red’s Fly Shop in Ellensburg, has talked in his podcasts about how one book became a reference work for his learning the craft of guiding: Wisdom of the Guides: Rocky Mountain Trout Guides Talk Fly Fishing.

The book was written by Paul Arnold, who interviewed ten of the top fly fishing guides in the Rocky Mountain area when the book was written (1998). A few of them have passed on since the book was published; others remain active in the industry if not actively guiding.

For me, getting to read the insights of people such as Mike Larson and Craig Matthews made the book a must-read.

The interviews all follow the same structure: a bit of background; casting tips; fly selection; playing and releasing fish; getting the most from a guided trip; and common mistakes and how to correct them.

I found the interview enlightening for a number of reasons.

First, the interviews were done at an interesting time in the growth of fly fishing.

Only six years after A River Runs Through It, interest in fly fishing was growing rapidly. But it was still a simpler time, with most communications done via telephone; no over-commercialization; and no social media. Fisheries research wasn’t as far along as it is today; a number of the guides spoke of catch and keep fishing (something almost unthinkable today).

Only one of the guides was a woman, Jennifer Olsson; she had some interesting things to say about the role of women in fly fishing back then. Sadly, 20 years later, while there is more women-specific gear and there are many more women guides, many of the problems she speaks of still exist, as I’ve noted in a few of my posts.

While some of the information and practices may be dated, much of the words of the guides are timeless.

The importance of short accurate casting was emphasized by every guide. Most emphasized the importance of longer leaders. All spoke of the importance of knowing where the fish are and how to approach, catch, and release them. All provided meaningful insights on fly selection. And almost all were emphatic about wanting clients who asked a lot of questions and were there to have fun; guide stories about obnoxious demanding clients are legion.

And in some of the points made, the guides were visionary.

One of the guides (Paul Roos) spoke about the day when fly fishing for carp would become part of the sport. That has become reality with various local fly shops holding carp tournaments. Others spoke of the growing importance of catch-and-release fishing; one even spoke of limiting the day’s catch to allow fish recovery time.

And Mike Lawson had maybe the most timeless recommendation: take 10-15 minutes out of every hour to just sit, watch – and enjoy where you are.

Highly recommended.

Proposed Rules to Limit Guided Trips on Madison River

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) has released a draft plan for the Madison River that would limit the number of guided trips outfitters can run each day as well as cap the number of outfitters licensed for the Madison.

The proposed plan runs from Quake Lake to the Madison’s confluence with the Jefferson River, which includes many of the most storied locations on the Madison.

The intent is to improve the recreational experience by reducing fishing pressure that has grown dramatically. FWP reported there were 179,000 angler days on the Madison in 2017; in addition, commercial outfitter use has grown by 72 percent since 2008.

Anyone who has visited Montana and traveled along the Madison in summer can’t help but notice the crowds that exist around certain areas of the river. Combine that with the pressure of large numbers of guided boats floating past and Montana doesn’t feel as wild as imagined – which is one of the draws of Montana fishing.

At this point, this is still a proposal. A meeting will be held in the next week to determine whether the proposed plan will be open for public comment as part of the review and approval process.

You can read more here.

Social Media, Ambassadors, and Hero Shots

I came across an opinion piece in the Sweetwater Now, written by the owner of the Wyoming Fishing Company in southwest Wyoming. I’ve not read an opinion piece related to fly fishing so pointed in its criticism of a specific individual. And that’s what I think makes me uncomfortable.

The author’s comments begin with a pertinent observation about the abuse that results from some brands providing incentives to anglers for use of fishing photos. His concern is that this practice may push some anglers into doing whatever it takes to get a heroic shot – even if there is damage to the environment, such as spawning beds.

He comments that he has seen much of this over the 14 years he’s guided, and has, in apparent frustration now called out one abuser.

Citing the cover of the December 2017 issue of American Angler, he goes into specific detail about the incident that caused his reaction. He had very pointed things to say about the Colorado guide involved and his prominent display of brands in the shot, including a Hatch reel and a Thomas and Thomas fly rod. (The author does believe the brands were poorly represented, with which I agree).

The fault it seems to me lies with American Angler magazine that published a photo showing a brown trout with a tail that reflects recent spawning activity. They should have known better.

There is more background on the incident and the author provides additional photos where this same guide has apparently done the same in past years.

I don’t know the guide. So it’s difficult to assess whether this was an apparently repeated case of ignorance, poor judgment, or casual indifference. I think a guide’s job is to educate not only on casting or how to catch fish, but more importantly on the preservation and respect of the fisheries. One would hope he would have been better mentored, if only judged by his behavior in this incident.

I have no quarrel with the concerns the author has expressed. I agree that whether brand ambassadors or everyday fly fishers it can be too easy to make poor choices to get a heroic shot or video of a trophy fish; we should all be abiding by an ethos of take only memories – leave the fish in the water.

But I think the author would have been better served by contacting the brands involved and laying out the points he made in this editorial. Attacking an individual online means both the author and guide will be forever linked, and perhaps tarnished.

In the end, I guess I’m most concerned that this is just another example of the corruption commercial interests can have on everything – including fly fishing.

You can read the editorial here and form your own opinion.

Salmon Canaries

The Seattle Times had an article on laboratory research and field study conducted by NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center on the effects of human drugs on juvenile Chinook salmon in Puget Sound. The drugs, ingested and eliminated by humans, then flow through the wastewater systems, treatment plants, and finally into Puget Sound where aquatic animals including juvenile salmon swim through the tainted water.

While there is some extrapolation of data from the laboratory to the field, it appears that juvenile salmon are swimming through a soup of 81 drugs and personal-care products, with levels detected among the highest in the nation. Drugs included Prozac, Advil, Benadryl, and Lipitor. Worse, it appears that while pollution is worse near some rivers flowing into Puget Sound – the Puyallup in particular, fish tested positive for drugs even in rivers where there are no treatment plants like the Nisqually.

The drugs are resulting in stunted growth rates and disrupted metabolisms of the juvenile salmon. The study did not include an evaluation of the long-term survival of the affected fish and their ability to go out into the Pacific and return for spawning. Nor did it look at how their consumption by animals higher in the food chain – specifically seals and resident Orcas – would result in concentration of the drugs in those species.

Salmon populations are threatened by climate change, plastics in the ocean, and now chemical poisoning in their home waters. Perhaps the question will soon be who eats the last salmon?

And even for those not concerned about salmon populations, the bigger question is what are all the drugs and other products entering the environment doing to the humans exposed to them?

Think about this.

Visit any location downstream of a major metropolitan area; any bathing, showering, or drinking water there means ingesting or being exposed to the outflows from the upstream source, including all the common drugs (and more) discussed above.

The juvenile Chinook salmon are just another canary in the coal mine – as if there haven’t been enough already.

You can read the article here.

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


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.