“Look at that baby!” Bob Jacklin exclaims as the foamy waters of Montana’s Madison River churn steadily around him. Elegantly draped out of the net he’s holding is the tail of a now-famous 30-inch brown trout—a fish that Jacklin had caught before. “You talk about a fish—that is a big boy!”
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I thought I was still buzzed from the night before when I first saw what appeared to be a person lounging in a yellow pool-floatie on the water. “Only in Vegas,” I thought. Some drunk idiot ends up using Lake Bellagio as his personal swimming pool. But looking closer, I could see that the person was a man moving his arm back and forth a few times before bringing it to rest. “Is he casting?”
None of us guessed what was coming. Within hours of our leaving the river, the county would close all boat ramps and Oregon’s governor would implement stay-at-home guidelines. We were fishing on the last days of winter steelhead season 2020 and we didn’t even know it.
Until January 4, I’d never even heard the term “float-n-fly.” It sounded like a kid’s ride at the fairground, or the street name for some illicit new drug. But I Googled it that day—the same day Oroville, California-based flyfishing guide Ryan Williams, and his partner, Logan McDaniel, won the Shasta Lake Wild West Bass Trail tournament.
In April 2019, Congressman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, gave a somewhat stunning keynote address at an environmental conference hosted by Boise State’s Andrus Center for Public Policy. His comments were thoughtful, educated, and encouraging. But mostly, they were surprising, particularly his thoughts about what might be necessary to save Idaho salmon. Rep. Simpson and I discussed the topic in mid-December, and his quotes below come from his keynote and our conversation. Can Idaho salmon truly be saved? No one knows. But the Congressman has been down a similarly daunting path. In 2015, Mr. Simpson’s 15-year effort to broker a seemingly impossible deal resulted in the creation of Idaho’s Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness. (Which Mark Menlove covered in his 2014 feature, “A Fisherman’s Monument.”) If wild salmon and steelhead can indeed be saved, then Rep. Simpson is providing these essential fish the best shot they’ve had in decades.
I think that Ingrid would want you to know—as she stands in her waders, stands by her weir, looking down at a dark mass of grayling that were trapped in the night—that there was a time when no one would’ve thought fish would ever need to be counted. But she’d also want you to know that these don’t have to be the last wild days. She would want you to know that not everything has been lost, and that there is still the hope of unknown waters.
My first tarpon on a fly was a stout, laid-up fish that ate my worm and broke me off an hour later. I was a teenager at the time, and fortunate to have a father who took me on an annual spring trip to the Keys. But as I grew older and started achieving some success on the bow, my focus shifted to permit. Like many permit anglers, my trips often ended with a long flight home, followed by a long-winded explanation to my wife about how I could spend three days fishing, catch nothing, yet still feel the trip was “a step in the right direction.” At the height of my addiction, I was focusing more on the seconds ticking away on my watch than I was on scanning the water. I’d lost the mental game before even stepping on the skiff.
Wild Steelhead are not corn, wheat, or cattle. They are not oranges, apples, or anything that we can control with expected specific outcomes and pounds delivered to market. Put them in a box and they will swim right out of it.
Even among anadromous fish, steelhead are the least predictable of any salmonid swimming the North Pacific. They are never a species of multitude, like Kings, Coho, or even Pinks, that come home in a rush of biological delivery to the rivers spanning the West Coast. They cruise along the edges, arriving to their natal rivers in fits and spurts, with dozens of life histories across each watershed. In short, there were never that many steelhead to begin with.
Before first light hit any of the famed pools along Oregon’s North Umpqua on the morning of September 8th, the Archie Creek fire had already begun.
The whole trip was Forrest’s dumb idea. But for Forrest, enthusiasm overcomes all obstacles. In his world, “Rad” is always capitalized. As in, “Dude! It’ll be so Rad to go fishing right now!” But Smithers over Thanksgiving? Not Canadian Thanksgiving, mind you—on October 12, a perfectly reasonable time to be fishing in northern British Columbia—but American Thanksgiving, a month and a half later.
Minnesota’s Mississippi shoreline bounds the “Southeast Blufflands” region, or what anglers know as the Minnesota Driftless. All five of us fish it: A magical world of pastoral valleys, each drained by a spring creek, mostly brimming with wild fish.
If you’re unfamiliar with flood-tide fishing, imagine your grassy front yard that your kid was supposed to cut three weeks ago but hasn’t. In the West this might attract crickets or hoppers, but in the coastal Southeast, when the right moons and weather combine, the grass floods, attracting snails. The snails attract fiddler crabs, the crabs attract redfish, and the redfish attract us.
For Brianna Proctor—a lead helicopter crewmember based in Swan Valley, Idaho—learning about and working near rivers all over the country has become a major benefit of her firefighting career. She’s been a wildland firefighter for 15 years, working primarily in the air attack and helicopter realm as a member of what’s called a “helitack” crew—a group that works alongside helicopters to facilitate water drops, fire recons, and the shuttling of crews into remote areas of the fire.
It was a brisk and beautiful morning, the sky cloudless, the sunlight sharp. It was the kind of day that under different circumstances would have you looking forward to the coming seasons of warmth and splendor and carefree fun. We began packing the car. I’ll never forget the looks on some of my neighbors’ faces as I took the bags of groceries—canned goods, pasta, rice and yes, even some toilet paper—to the car. Those faces betrayed thoughts. Wait, should I be doing the same thing? Fear may be the only thing more contagious than this virus.
“Judge Sharon Gleason, U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Alaska, ruled last week that the Forest Service violated federal law by approving future logging in the 16.7 million-acre Tongass National Forest.”
I pay my bills here in Southeast Alaska, at least in part, by having short and intense conversations on airplanes. I help wedge wadered clients from all over the globe into DeHavilland Beavers, then drop in on some of the planet’s most spectacular temperate rainforest
Spending more time at home lately? Fancy yourself a writer? Could you use $2,500? Then consider entering a submission for the 2020 Robert Traver Fly Fishing Award, sponsored by the John D. Voelker Foundation and the American Museum of Fly Fishing (AMFF). Here is the link to the awards page: https://www.voelkerfoundation.com/traveraward/ and below is the winning submission from 2019—”A Wet World that Burns” by Jimmy Watts (photos by Carson Artac), which first appeared in the summer 2018 issue of The Drake
Survive, is what an angler does the first few minutes after hooking a striped marlin. My friend Nick and I shout with joy, accompanied by excited words in Spanish from our new friends. We watch a reel getting emptied and watch the fish leap, flip, and dive. Thirty minutes later and it’s the post-release chatter,…
riter and historian David T. Courtwright calls them “limbic capitalists”—people or companies that target our limbic system, the part of our brains primarily responsible for emotion, especially as it relates to pleasure, motivation, and survival. Courtwright is author of The Age of Addiction: How Bad Habits Became Big Business. “Biological evolution shaped the limbic system,…
As a lifetime Oregon resident, angler, and guide, I spend 40-60 days a year on the rivers of the Southern Oregon coast. I interact with anglers that use all types of methods, and every one of them I’ve talked to has noticed a significant decline in encounters with wild steelhead. How can this be explained?…
It’s late February and I stumble out the door to grab another beer kept cold by winter’s free refrigeration. If it was anything but the high-octane variety, it would’ve frozen from a lack of alcohol. I pop the cap, drain it, and unzip my pants, melting as much snow as possible when I piss—anything to…
Every year, a small number of striped bass winter over in the bays, marshes, and salt ponds of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. We call them “holdovers.” They’re not big, they can be tough to find, and by the middle of the winter, they look a little haggard. Their flanks, once polished a gleaming silver by a…
In this episode of the DrakeCast we meet two characters with similar pasts who have ended up in very different places. They both love steelhead, but in very different ways. We’ll also hear from Trout Unlimited Steelhead Biologist John McMillan as we attempt to understand how we can prevent loving these fish to death.
Marijuana cultivation’s impacts on our rivers Chris and James stand on the lawn behind Indian Creek Resort, stomping their feet against the cold while passing a joint back and forth. Recreational pot has been legal in California since January 2019, so the two aren’t breaking any laws. Tomorrow the three of us will be rafting…