It’s a strange year to be a person who swings flies for steelhead around here. Most strangely, there aren’t really all that many fish at which you’d swing. I won’t get into it. If you have any awareness of the inland Northwest steelhead fisheries, you know what’s happening with the upper Columbia and Snake tributaries.
The grim news started coming in this spring, when fish began to trickle over Bonneville. Record-low counts, then even lower. The worst was the projected wild-fish return: about 1,000 native fish to the whole state of Idaho, to split between eleven or so rivers. In case it’s not obvious, that is AWFUL. A few years of this in a row could send some of the smaller-river strains on a straight, short path to extinction.
Due to the present reality, I did a lot of thinking this summer. I conclude it’s time to have conversations about limiting our effects as fishermen, whether fly or spin. In the interest of putting my money where my mouth is, I came up with the plan to just not fish this fall. Not that I’m a particularly deadly force, but we know that there can be unintended mortality associated with catch-and-release practices. I’d never get over it if I hooked a wild fish and unintentionally fought it to exhaustion.
I almost made it. I sat out all of October, swung up some trout, did other river trips and cut firewood. When my buddy Ian invited me to float one of our favorite sections of a local river the other day, I broke down. I decided it was unlikely I’d hang one anyway, and thought I’d make sure by not bringing a sink tip, and just fishing dry. The water temp had been hovering in the lower 40’s, what could possibly go wrong?
It’s an entertaining, though useless, exercise to think at least briefly about what the odds were that we’d hook a single steelhead. Then, what were the odds that we’d hook two, on dries? That the one landed would be a native fish? What were the odds we’d get grabbed in nearly every run we stepped into? There’s one answer to all these musings: the odds were, inexplicably, 100%.
If there’s a moral to the story, it’s got to be this: if you truly deep-down don’t want to catch anything, don’t go fishing.
Rods: 13’7″ Onyx 7Wt., 12’6″ Platinum 6Wt, 12’4″ Platinum 8Wt, and a couple other randoms.
Lines: AeroHead 510, Scandi 400, and a home-chopped hybrid.
Flies: a purple Muddler, a foam-backed October Caddis skater, and some freestylers.
Dogs: 4 black ones.
Boat: Juuuust barely big enough.
The Fish: A zippy little hen with translucent, white-tipped fins. Perfection in a summer steelhead.
Thought you threw in the towel for a sec. Nother day for now. Can you build me a Beulah bueat. Dh 11’ish 7 for mid/smaller rivers. Only turn half 82 once. Thanks
Dan Withers says
Thanks, Mark! It is rewarding to read how perceptive people manage their expectations.
I grew up as the son of a Federal Game Warden on Chesapeake Bay, and came to an understanding that resource management is all about people management. If your discretion leads to your becoming the Don Quixote of Western waters, I’ll be watching for any observations you pass along.
By the way, my earliest experiences (pre-graphite) included flicking ice from the snake guides while catching rainbows on Betts poppers in December… I don’t try to tell fish how to behave.
So it may be a nice gesture to fish dry flies in the 40’s with the intention of doing no harm, but a hungry fish is not inclined to tea and philosophy in my experience.
I’m afraid that the growth of the human poopulation(sic) crowds the waters with lots of trouble even when people are not actually on the water themselves; letting the waters “rest” is an exercise probably best reserved for times set aside for memory enjoyment… Perhaps the best you can do is try to educate or guide the people around you while you set appropriate expectations for the sport.
So please fish anyway, anytime you can and be as careful as you can with the fish.
By the way, I’m down to my very last Harrington blank to build up, and this is a moment of some import for me as the Harrington glass blanks are the only rods I’ve ever used that actually kill fish… I learned not to play fish out on these blanks!
Please keep posting notes.
Thanks again, Dan