Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Compassion For the Cockroach and Other Matters From the Heart

La Cocuracha

The word cockroach comes from the Spanish word from the caption above.  The word translates to english as crazy bug.  It's a highly effective species dating back to the dinosaur era over 200 million years ago and it lives in just about every part of the world preferring warmer climates such as the tropics.  Since I'm on a roll I'll throw down a few more facts about this leviathan of insects. The cockroach can squeeze into a crack as thin as a quarter and enjoys the sensation of being touched….therefore enjoys being petted.  The cockroach breathes oxygen through tiny holes called spiracles and check this out….they can go for 40 minute swims.  Yes that's right 40 minute free dives!!  Nice.  Now you may see where this is going.  After spending the last six weeks in Northern Thailand with my fly tying crew,  I have encountered a number of these terrestrials in a number of locations throughout my journey.  They are actually quite a shiny and colour co-ordinated bug with twitchy legs and huge antennae.   If you were to tie a pattern to replicate the bug a size 2 would be about the average.

As I watch one work a crumb on the floor while waiting for  my meal, I have started to  think how much different we'd feel if these beasts of the insect world inhabited the banks of our favourite streams.   There's no way a trout could resist a meal of this size, especially crawling along the bottom.  I started envisioning a size 2 cockroach caught in a bank seam after falling from it's perch.  The violent splash from the attack of the trout would be heart stopping,  like that of a cicada strike.  It would take a big fish to ingest a bug of that size and I started wondering if I would welcome a cockroach migration on the river large enough to cover my boat.  In that situation I probably would invite the critters on board and bask in the glory of a new abundant protein source for the trout of the river and  I would imagine there have been trout somewhere not too far away that have had the pleasure of dining on the prehistoric critters as they do inhabit many of our urban areas.  

For now though I'm hoping that once this lil' bastard finishes downing the crumb that he doesn't have plans on joining me footside once my meal arrives.

Some New Additions to the Menu

Attractors are a key part of the arsenal of any fly fisherman and guides especially love foam terrestrial patterns because they are easily fished from the boat.  Some of the key things to look for in a pattern is a fly that will land upright or recover from a reversed landing with a slight twitch.  I've been working with the tying team here on foam patterns and after many years of resistance, the tiers are embracing the foam and are re producing some great patterns all of which have this upright quality.  It's enjoyable working with the Thai's.  My command of the Thai language is abysmal and they speak little to no english but most of the tiers have been at this for over 10 years so we can communicate easily enough through visuals.  They spend most of the instruction days laughing at me for reasons I'm not to sure of but I'm a big fan of laughter so I suck it up and roll with it and join in with the laughter as I add my two cents of fragmented Thai phrases.  It's going well and I'm stoked on the new patterns I will be adding to the catalogue this year.

I'm done here in a few weeks and will be going back to the Kootenays to take care of some biz there before heading to South America in the new year to get some angling time in.  Really looking forward to chasing the Browns of the Andes and Patagonia's.

After last year's flood on the Elk, the fishery took a hit and the fish never really got settled until the fall, which at that time I was entrenched in the pursuit of trophy rainbows on the Columbia.  Spencer, Blair and Jonny were on the Elk regularly and had some epic days in October on the Elk.  Blue Winged Olives were in abundance and although the days are shorter, the peak activity of feeding makes for a full day of hookups.  Over in the West on the Columbia it was  nothing shy of jaw dropping on the days when it really turned on.  Hooking up with healthy, fat rainbows in the 20 to 25 inch range is a river anglers dream.  Lots of nymphing but big ugly shit was also getting good reviews from the brutes of the 'jurassic'.  

Fall Rainbow on the Columbia

Next year we are strongly recommending our loyal customers to pick this period to book trips on both Rivers.  Nelson at this time of year is about a three and a half hour drive as RV traffic which slows hwy 3 has vanished.  Spending a few days on each river is a nice way to close out the season and the angling pressure on both streams in October is pretty much non existent.  Big dries and blue wings on the Elk and a bit of everything on the Columbia at this time will bring up the gems of the river who dig into the prime lies with aggressive posturing to ensure their fat reserves are plentiful for the winter.

For early season (early June to mid July) we will be in the Nelson BC area on the Columbia.  We will also be adding the Kettle River as an alternate float after June 15th for some variance from the surging mass of water in the Columbia drainage.  Caddis and ant hatches will be the staple diet for the rainbows and dry fly fishing at this time is as good as it gets on the Columbia.  Due to the current trend of late runoff in Fernie, we feel it's best to offer the prime angling possibilities available in the region and the Columbia is definitely where it's at.  The fishing there is better than those of us who fish it have ever seen.  There are very few anglers on this river which is remarkable considering it's current yield….may not last forever.  We will be adding a jet boat to the fleet in order to cover the water more effectively although the drift boats will still have their place at certain times.

I will be following a current issue that has potential to harm our beloved Elk River.  As many of you know the coal mines of TECK have been releasing an alarmingly high amount of Selenium into the water over the last few years.  They have put a water management plan in place in order to reverse the trend and are trying some new technology that could have some positive results which would ensure the health of the system.  But like any company they are profit drive and because they feed a lot of mouths in the valley, they are well supported often at the expense of the environment.  We are committed to seeing that there promised efforts are being met and I will keep you updated on this as much as I can.  The fish and this river have given us so much joy and love over the years it's time we gave something back.   Pray for the river, burn some incense, offer a chicken….whatever it takes.  Let's save the finest cutthroat fishery on the planet from the demise of over industrialization.

Sabaa dii friends….hope your winter is a prosperous one.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Ending the Drought

Its been a long time since the last entry and I apologize for a lack of river update but I really haven't known what to write.  The Elk and surrounding drainages got hammered by a heavy rainstorm and a flood that eclipsed any recordable events in the area.  The sudden surge in the water ravaged banks, ripped apart forests, ate some roads and rail lines and flooded some houses in the Fernie area.  Nowhere near as bad as what Calgary witnessed but certainly an impressive rally of rain from above.

I finished planting trees a few days after the flood and since then have been doing a lot of fishing and guiding.  After your guiding drainage gets flooded, as a guide your put on the spot to find new spots and Spencer, Jonny and myself were hard at work looking for tribs that recovered quickly enough to hold feeding fish.

William Shawler on an Early Season Elk Trib

We found some in both BC and Alberta and began our guide season in waters that are now dried up.  Was nice to find some new spots and we were both amazed at the damage the high water did to almost all of our water.

All is Not Dead in the Fording With Michael Poulin

Couldn't help but think we lost some fish with that as well and I'm sure we did but after walking miles of forest where the bank had been breached I saw nothing dead.  What did happen was the creation of many new spots.  Gravel got pushed, forests were dropped and a shit ton of top soil was tossed into the river which made the Elk the colour of poo....that's right, poo!  And it's been that way for most of the summer as thousands of pounds of silt moved it's way down river, too light to settle.  Heavy rain storms have hit throughout the summer and the Elk has turned muddy several times and has been slloooow to clear.

It's been a tough season for sure, and nymphing has found it's way into the daily program on the Elk and I'm actually using various patterns and rigs on a regular basis.  The lulls in action on the dry fly have been excruciating to say the least so dredging for meat has been an amiable solution.  And some of the pigs we've been scooping off the bottom are impressive to say the least; the fish have been making a good living on the bottom.  Lately the dry fly has been good and the indicators have been bobbing around in my boat bag instead of on the river which is damn refreshing

Kevin Lamey With a Healthy Lodgepole Cutt

The Elk Valley's human population has long been dependent on income derived from the coal mines in the Rockies.  To say it's harmonious is a stretch.  All you need to do is look at google earth and see the mountain clearing that's been done and you know there has to be some ramifications to that.  There is no way that much industrial process can be healthy for an ecosystem.  I do have great faith in Mother Earth's ability to morph and adapt in miraculous ways and the Elk system has long sustained the runoff of the mines.  The latest issue surrounding the health of our river has been the levels of selenium that have increased to levels considered toxic.  The government put an order on TECK that restricts them from opening other mines until they can reverse the trend of Se release into the watershed.  They have responded quickly with a Selenium treatment plant and only time will tell if this an effective way of handling the leaching.

More From the Fording

Our fishery is certainly not what it used to be and I don't believe it's the mine that is causing it.  I do feel the mine is in the process of wiping out the ecosystem if they continue there practices unabaded so I welcome the ordinance of the government and TECK's quick response.  I'm not applauding TECK either; truth is they've known about this for years and haven't done jack shit about it until there future expansions were threatened.  The company makes me sick at best but I realize they have their place here and we need to work together to sort this out.  The high water years of the last three summers have been the cause of the declining fisheries.  Our tributaries and neighbouring watersheds which are headwatered by pure water runoff and springs are also not producing as they used to.  Hatches are down due to scouring, not Selenium as far as I can tell.

Yes!  That's an Elk River Cutthroat Compliments of Dennis Poulin

The Fording River; which hosts three mines in it's drainage, was quoted as being dead in Drake Magazine but it still puked Golden Stoneflies in huge numbers for weeks. The Golden Stonefly being at the top of the aquatic invertebrate food chain is an indicator species.  I guided the system and hooked some nice healthy trout in there and I believe the system will recharge if spring runoff can just backoff for the next few years

Overall the Elk fishery is still an amazing destination.  The cutts that have endured the runoff beatings and are fat and healthy.  I caught fish of all sizes this year and noticed that more fish were willing to come to the top as the water cleared; which didn't happen until mid-August.  The fishing has remained good since then for dry flies as terrestrials and some mayfly hatches have the trout looking up which is a relief for those of us who honour the world of dry fly

The Nite Mayor of Kansas City, Dick Adler

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Feathers and Fly Forecasting

I'm currently in Vancouver waiting on my new truck to arrive.  After years of debating as to whether or not I should dump that F350, it recently blew a few more injectors  It ended up at the Ford service center and after throwing up in my mouth when I heard the repair estimate,  I decided to trade it in for a fraction of what it cost and move into something new.  The sales guys at the Ford dealership were super keen on the sale (almost to a fault) but pleasant to deal with.  But car salesmen are similar to real estate agents I've met over the years.  They tell you every thing you want to hear in order to get you into one of their vehicles/homes and crank out their  commissions.  Everyone needs to make a living but I just don't think I could ever pour the sauce on that thick when it comes to selling shit.  I always find that if I put the energy into the businesses I have in a positive and directive manner, results bounce back almost instaneously.  Since selling me the truck and getting the down payment I haven't heard shit from anybody there as to where the $%# my truck is and it's approaching two weeks.  Not a peep, no offers for a loaner...nothing!!! Not impressed and I'm gunna let the cheese balls know it when it finally does arrive.  The fake smile is uglier than the frown.

The fly business has been my biggest struggle lately.  This is the production time of year for my tiers and Getting grizzly hackle (feathers) from Whiting Farms has been nothing short of insane.  That feather hair extension fad still has it's effect on the supply of those and I've been scrounging around trying to get my hands on feathers for the last week or so and the outlook is grim.  Whiting has been doing their best to keep me in the game and they are so far behind on orders now that they have opted to handle all their incoming calls via voice messaging.  They tell me it's about 6 months to a year away from being caught up and I'm looking forward to ending the scavanger  hunt and getting my hands on good hackle again.

The fact is NO ONE raises a better feather bird than Whiting.  My fly tier in Chiang Mai insists on them and she's likely going to be disappointed when she receives the next shipment that will include Howard Hackle and Metz.  They are both good quality hackles but the bronze grade and up of the Whiting birds are pieces of art.  These are the feathers that wrap those tincy lil 18's and 20's.  

Cree Saddle From Whiting

After getting all this stuff then comes the arduous and expensive task of shipping the feathers and hides across borders with the proper documentation which is now required and often times the proper documentation for foreign customs is in the form of currency--extra fees/bribary.  Everyone needs to survive and the struggle to get ahead over there is large compared to here in North America so I do empathize with their situation.... but it still sucks.

Then there's the whole point of sale thing with the fly shops.  Every shop owner wants a quality fly at the cheapest possible price which is understandable but shit is getting expensive out there.  Fly shop owners need to carry a lot of  inventory.  Think about it for a second and you understand why fly prices are what they are.  In order to fill the 400 + slots in the average fly shops bins you need a shit ton of flies to do so.  So the start up cost to fill the bins is often in the 10's of thousands of dollars.  Then as slots empty out you need to fill them up again; you can't have your bins run dry, empty slots look bad. So the fly shop is constantly carrying an expensive inventory---an almost neutral position.  At seasons end, a lot of shops start dropping prices to close to cost to empty the bins but is this really worth it.  I've often wondered this myself.  I mean I can sell them off for a small profit but if I just need to replace them again for the following season at a potentially higher price, then in the end I'm losing money.  It's a tricky one to play and in a shops inaugural years it's key to sell enough flies to cover that bin stocking inventory.  That's why a lot of these shops go down quickly and close their doors within the first year or so even though they appeared at one time to be busy.  

The average cost per dozen  for a quality fly is anywhere from $10 to $20 per dozen for a fly shop.  Due to increased costs of shipping materials, purchasing of materials (hackles and hooks primarily) and labour costs, I am anticipating retail prices to go up even more than they have this year.  I keep hearing from the fly shops that orders from Raineys, Montana Fly Company and Idelwylde  are going up rapidly in price.  This may cause the seperation of bins in shops in order to keep prices low on the basic patterns while getting fair markup on a more detailed pattern.  For example, a parachute adams costs about $10/dozen whereas a really cool intricate pattern like Morrish's Fluttering Stone by Idelwylde comes in close to $20.  And why shouldn't it!  That pattern is a bitch to tie. 

Morrish's Fluttering Salmonfly

 I spoke with Ken Morrish (designer of the fly) the other day and his comment was the Phillipine tiers must hate him for that type of detail.  I bought that fly for one of our freestones here that has a good cranefly hatch on it in the fall and I was looking for a skittery, leggy creature that would bring up some bigger fish.  I remember tying that thing on and thinking FUCK!!  if this thing goes to work I only have two and if we lose them I'm gonna have to tie some up as the fly shop I bought them from is 400 km's away.

Sure enough twitching and moving that super sized 8 creature around brought the meat up and of course the patterns were lost so I had to contend with tying that thing and it took me 45 minutes to complete the fly.  I have since modified it to something that is much easier  and as effective, but hats off to Idelwylde for putting that thing into production.  It looks good and works really well.

Montana Fly Company and Idelwylde are kicking ass out there.  They have the most talented pool of guides and fly designers out there and have a hip and contemporary marketing program that is compatible with the new generation of fly fisherman.  I respect what these guys have done and I use my patterns along with theirs to fill out my shop bins.

So this might be something we see in the future, split bins to make ends meet on the retail end of things. To make it work you have to be kicking out some volume or marking your product up enough to cover your inventory cost which means a minimum of 100% markup.  So if you notice your local shop has jacked it's rate on flies, don't think they're getting greedy, they're just responding to the rising costs in the industry.

Columbia River Rainbow Release

Been doing a fair bit of tying myself and have some new foam patterns to chuck around this year as well as some pretty awesome stonefly nymphs and streamers.  Been booking quite a few trips lately which is always nice.  Mix of late July and August.  I'm highly recommending late June and early July on the Columbia River near Nelson this year as that fishery may be the best it's ever been.  There are some HUGE rainbows in there.  Ken Colson (bull trout guru) has moved to the West Kootenays and has been putting some time in with the lines and reported hitting a fish he guesses to be about 10 pounds.  He measured it about 28 inches and said it was full bodied which seems to be the case for most fish in that river.  The size range in that river has been good an we're catching some absolute pigs in there along with a lot of 12' and 14's as well.  Sign that there's a good juvenille population moving up the ranks.  The fish get big hear fast so I'm confident we have some good years ahead of us on that monster of a river.

Without the vehicle I've found myself spending time around the abode tying and keeping myself in the game reading fly fishing forums and watching trailers etc. for the Fly Fishing Film Tour.  I also purchased a streaming video called Only the River Knows which is a wacky film documenting a couple of young Swedes taking on the trout of New Zealand.  Not a lot of fishing footage in the flick but what is there is quality and I enjoyed watching it. Give it a shot, Here's the link:

I've spent $10 on worse things, that's for sure.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

De Los Andes!!!

Getting out of bed at our sweet little hostel to a bright spring day in Bariloche that morning had me buzzing.  Spencer and I had been here now for 5 days and had yet to cast a fly.  We hit the road around 10 am for San Martin de Los Andes and had an adrenalin shot as we crossed the Rio Limay (which is a gorgeous piece of water btw) as tens of thousands of sulphur looking duns where fluttering over a bridge.   There version of a PMD I imagine.

The landscape is quite barren on the drive, similar to that of the eastslope of the Rocky Mountains or the Okanagan area of BC.  There are virtually no trees in the foothills except where there is water.  Rows of willows are a good indication as to where the river is.  Driving over the Collon Cura river I looked down and in behind an old stump there's a large rainbow sipping in the foam line.  We get the feeling we're here on time as the water is considerably low for this time of year and the weather is turning to spring.

Street Signs in Junin

You know your in trout country when there's a coarse statue of Mel Krueger playing a massive trout  as the welcome post of the  town.  This is Junin De Los Andes, trout capital of Argentina and home of the Chimehuin river.  The street signs have wood engraved trout on them and the roads are dry and dusty.  There's not much to this place but we know at some point we'll be back here to work the sorrounding waters of the town.

We arrive in San Martin and find a humble little hosteria with a beaten down Bavarian theme and we rest for  a little while before heading into the local fly shops to talk business and get some info.  The first shop I head into I meet the owner and there happens to be a couple of local guides in there at the same time.  It's the start to their season so they have some time on their hands and are grazing the shop for whatever tying materials (foam) they can get there hands on.

We introduce each other and then go to one of the guides places (Tommy) to look at flies, talk shit and have some beers.  The other guide Herbie decides  that tommorrow would be a good day for us to float the Chimehuin together so the plan is made.  Our first day of angling in Argentina will be a float on the Chimehuin.  The winds are supposed to howl to 80 km/hour (and they do). but Herbie and Tommy know the river well and take turns rowing the two boats and sticking some nice fish.  Throwing mostly foam patterns--red bellied Fat Alberts and Card's Cicada's, we hook a good mix of browns and rainbows.  The water although fast is really clear and the willow lined banks and deep boulder runs are giving up the bigger fish of the day.  It's nice to see some new water, even though it's similar in character to what we have here at home, there are some distinct differences.  Mostly the presence of willows hanging over and into the water as well as some geological distinctions.

Spencer, Herbie and Mr Brown on the Chimehuin

It occurs to me on this day that I need to spend some time angling as my cast is faultering in the extreme wind.  After a summer of guiding and not much fishing, my casting stroke has become weak and is need of repair/practice and I feel blessed to have the time afforded to me to do that.

At days end we head back to San Martin and enjoy one of the many sweet restaurants in the village and make the decision to move to Junin which is much closer to the action.  Meanwhile somewhere out in the plains of Argentina,  a shaken and recently river dunked Jim Carter is heading north with the same intention.  We wake up and head out to grab supplies from the well serviced San Martin and one of the first people we see is Jimmy.  Easy to spot  that bright white mop of hair flying in the Patagonia wind, we're happy to have found him and we eat some food before hopping in our vehicles, following him to the Rio Dorado Lodge in Junin which becomes our second home.

Day one of our self guided venture has us on the Majello River, a walk and wade gem that is full of rainbows and browns.  A small creamy, white caddis clouds the willows on the bank when we arrive but Jimmy isn't buying it.  He's fed these fish a lot and as Spencer and I stand above a break in the willows rigging up; Jimmy hops in, wades out about twenty steps and begins throwing a Card's Cicada at the opposing bank of willows.  Third cast brings up a large rainbow and he buries the hook in it's jaw and we know he's enjoying this moment.  Showing us how it's down Texas Style. 

Root Straws of the Chimehuin Willows

We have a chat and then take our seperate routes.  I take the first run and let Jimmy and Spencer head upstream.  This is a really cool river and I'm feeling myself  in the act of angling.  All the shit I've been carrying around in my cluttered head for the last few months is vacating and I'm dialed into the task at hand.  I'm not convinced that the trout won't eat the abundant Caddis so I'm throwing a 16 cream cdc caddis and it's getting the odd fish, but definitely not unlocking any great mystery.

I head up a tight braid  that is accessed by climbing a small waterfall over some rocks and as I climb over I notice there's a really nice pool right at the tailout to the falls.  There's a partially sunk willow bush that is trailing a thick band of willows that lines the upstream shore.   A slow foam line tails below the willow band and gets split by the smaller partially submerged willow.  There's a  slot  about 3 feet deep that runs on the bank side of the small willow leaving   a 12" wide lane that a 16" rainbow is making a good living out of.  The bugs are pumping through there...mainly caddis and the rainbow is working hard on the surface.  I love his lair, it's an excellent choice and I begin delicately trying to feed him caddis.

A few flail shots and a couple of nice drifts over the trout tell me that caddis is not on the menu.  I begin to notice a smaller dark mayfly (size !8) as I examine the water surface.  I have already made the switch to a size 18 curved shank pheasant tail with the hopes of him eating it as a caddis pupae, but I figure if I grease the tippett with floatant I can get enough float on that short  drift to bring him up to the fly.  So I do and the results are instantaneous.  Even though I placed the cast 6 inches left of the seam, as soon as the fly hit the water the trout locked in and hammered the flashy offering.  He wrapped himself in the smaller willow about 4 times but I was able to wrestle him from the branches and let him go.  It was truly one of my favourite fish ever; definitely not the biggest, but what an excellent choice for a place to live.  It was a fine piece of aquatic real estate.

Guerilla Angling

I went all guerilla style shortly after that, hunkering down in the willows as rainbows rose in the narrow corridor between the two lines of willow.  I had to laugh when I looked upstream and about 30 yards up, Spencer was in the same motion.  Looked like we had crossed enemy lines, found the bunker and were in the early stages of   laying waste to the batallion.  The overhang proved to be too much as I fed a keen trout the floating nymph and he gave one solid run into the branches that severed the line between myself and him.  SNAP!!!   We let go of the Guevera style angling and looked for a pool which we found shortly after.

Jimmy had headed somewhere else...said he had to "re-acquaint"  himself with the area (which we soon figured was code for--go hit something way cooler than the shit I'm showing you guys).  Pays to play and Jim's done lots of that down here.  The pool we have found is as idyllic as a pool gets.  Deep and slow with a rocky point that allows a back cast.  There is a massive scum line, looks like an island of vegetation debris and trout are picking out the bugs trapped in it as well as plucking fresh ones out of the centre lanes.  I'm perched above the pool as Spencer is trying to feed them caddis.  There's three big rainbows working and none of them are having any of the Trichoptera patterns Spencer is offering.  I continue to watch, he continues to put nice drift after nice drift overhead of the trout.  Changing after every four or five drifts. 

It was fly change 4 that was critical and changed the way the trip would go.  Downsize and darken is often the route to go when stalking large, selective fish.  So on went a size 18 small black EC caddis (which he threw as a mayfly imitation) and on it's first drift, it connected with a 19" rainbow.  This is one of those key moments in fly fishing, where you work a group of tough fish and after countless rejections you pick wisely and solve the mystery.  These to me are the great flies out there....the ones that hook the tough fish.  For the rest of the trip this fly caught almost every difficult rainbow we encountered.  Our stock was limited so we would throw small black para ants and carlson's purple haze to hook a lot of the fish we caught.  But any time a larger fish decided to be particular, it's tune would change when offered that fly.  They ate the shit out of that thing.

Rainbow and Panda Hat

Other top performers on the trip were the black/red power ant w legs, the red thread fat albert, the Card's Cicada, the FB Pheasant Tail nymph and the Kauffman's stonefly.  Overall it was an excellent trip and their fishery altough different in many ways shared some amazing resemblances.  I am happy to have found the area and owe a lot of my decision to getting down here to Jimmy Carter and Ralph Clasby.  They both have had numerous good things to say about the fishery and my expectations were definitely met.

I will see you next season my new Southern friend.  For all those interested in trips to this area and others in South America consult my website for packages that we have put together after our adventures down there.  We are confident that we can provide you with a better price with the same level of service as some of the other outfitters from the US.  Visit for a look at what we are offering.