Wednesday, December 16, 2009

To go to great lengths...

I once came face-to-muzzle with a huge black bear while fly fishing a little-known stream for Dolly Varden in the rainforest of southeast Alaska, and I honestly believe my heart stopped beating for a split second.

We were both fishing--I was working upstream and the bruin was wandering downstream. We met on a gravel bar at a bend in the stream, and, for a brief moment, we both stood frozen in place. The bear recovered first and quickly disappeared into the cedars at a quick clip while I exhaled and thanked the fishing fates for helping me keep control of my bodily functions.

Aside from a sketchy encounter or two with some stubborn moose here in eastern Idaho, that's largely the extent of my wild animal encounters while fishing.

So, I read with interest the tale of Tim Smith and his near-death encounter with a Nile crocodile while fishing for the unbelievably impressive Nile perch in Uganda this fall. Fishing, to the truly smitten, tends to take over the soul, and Smith's love affair with angling is palpable--why else venture in the remote African bush rife with man-eating crocs and boat-tipping hippos in search of fish?

I've often prophecied that I and others like me will die with waders on, likely swept away by some swift current we can no longer fight. I wonder if Smith believes he'll eventually succumb to a Nile croc while battling a 300-pound Nile perch from the stern of a fiberglass motorboat...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Gotta have feathers, right?

Just read Bruce Smithhammer's essay on his recent chukar-hunting adventure to Nevada ... it's a thing of beauty, and I highly recommend it. Couple words of advice for the chukar curious: lung capacity. Don't leave home without it.

Great job, 'hammer... Gorgeous photos (yes, I stole this one--but my motives are pure). Keep up the good work, brother.

Power Bait, baby...

Scott Sandusky of Arnold, Mo., pulled in a new state record brown trout last month (28-plus pounds) from Lake Taneycomo near Branson using the spurge of the Western trout stream--Power Bait.

Hey, no offense taken here (I just hope he didn't throw the jar over the side of the boat). Good on Scott. I've taken my share of lake-bottom rainbows and browns on all sorts of canned bait while sitting in a lawn chair, generally hungover and more often than not, alseep (college, remember?).

Scott's big brown is one of many believed to thrive in the fertile depths of the artificial reservoir. In fact, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the lake is home to a cult-like gang of anglers who faithfully search out browns like the one Sandusky hooked last month.

"She was three feet long, and her back looked like it was six inches wide," he told the newspaper.

That's a huge fish, one most of us who chase browns with flies in the U.S. would happily declare the fish of a lifetime.

Congratulations, Scott. Now go wash that Power Bait off your hands.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sportsmen and apathy ... a deadly combination

I just read Dave Richey's blog post on sportsmen apathy, and you should, too. Pretty simple message--if you're not willing to get involved to protect the rights of sportsmen to fish and hunt, and to protect fish and game habitat to ensure a future for our pastimes, then get out of the way.

Of course, the best way to ensure a future for fishing and hunting is to simply get out in the field and participate. Be aware of the various regulations and the frequently changing political landscape that is often skewed against sportsmen and women, and put yourself out there once in a while in a letter to your elected officials.

Folks, we can't count on anyone else to protect the places we fish and hunt or our continued access to them. This is a fight we must enter on our own. Read Dave's blog--he nailed it.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Chris Hunt's book ... 20 percenf off!

For friends of Eat More Brook Trout, we're offering Chris Hunt's acclaimed book, "Shin Deep: A Fly Fisher's Love for Living Water," at a 20 percent discount. Simply go to and enter discount code YBXAJ7LD.

Smoked brook trout patte'

Thanksgiving is behind us, but a few holiday feasts remain, and there are still some great ways to put those smoked brookies from the summer's catch-and-kill adventures to good use. One of my favorite ways to used up smoked brookies is to put them in a fantastic patte' that goes great on chips and crackers, with a little sharp cheese.

Here's what you'll need:

  • Four cups chopped smoked brook trout--put it in a food processor and puree it for best results. Do your best to remove all the bones.
  • Three cups cream cheese, softened.
  • One teaspoon garlic powder
  • One-half teaspoon red pepper
  • One chopped yellow or purple onion
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Simply mix all the ingredients together in a food processor, and blend together nicely. You can shape the final product into a "cheese ball" and even coat it with good chopped smoked almonds, or you can simply put it in a bowl. The smoky flavor of the fish, combined with the garlic and onions is excellent, and the red pepper gives it a bit of a kick. Enjoy...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Wild steelhead or a hatchery clone?

Moldy Chum, the popular fly fishing website, is seeking input from Washington state steelhead anglers, asking fly fishers how much they value wild fish vs. the hatchery steelhead now diluting the waters of the Northwest.

The state has placed a priority on managing for wild steelhead over the hatchery clones that, sadly, make up the bulk of the steelhead catch in the Northwest these days. Most steelhead anglers love to catch any fish, but the chance to catch a wild fish is what keeps a lot of die-hard steelheaders going.

Add in the problems hatchery fish cause to wild populations (undue competition, lack of genetic diversity, increased likelihood of disease) and it makes perfect sense for the state to manage its ocean-going runs for wild fish.

Take the poll at --the results will be shared with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Strengthening wild fish--wherever they swim--should be a priority for all fish and game management agencies.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

From father to son ...

For clarity, let me just say I'm not much of a hunter. In my house, we have a grand total of three "firearms," one of which is a .177 caliber air rifle (and that's the one we use most). I do enjoy bird hunting, but mostly I'm a fly fisherman--a gift handed down to me from my two grandfathers, who stood over my shoulder as I caught brookies, browns and rainbows from black-bottomed beaver ponds high in the Colorado Rockies.

A few years back, as I got the itch to join friends of mine here in eastern Idaho in the fields and on the waters each fall in pursuit of upland game birds and waterfowl, I asked my dad if he'd send me his old shotgun, a Remington 870 Wingmaster. He'd stopped using it, and I figured I'd be able to put it to good use.

After a couple years of fruitless bird hunting--remember, I'm an angler by preference--I finally came home from a hunting trip with a couple of ducks. It was my second duck hunting trip of the fall--the first ended as I watched trout rise on the South Fork of the Snake, and cased the shotgun in favor of the fly rod. This last trip, though, I made a commitment to stick with it, and work my way through the Snake River bottoms with the shotgun at the ready. A couple hours later, after jumping a few dozen birds, I managed to hit a couple of mallards that foolishly remained within range.

While the success of most of my outdoor pursuits can be credited to two old men who reveled in the idea of their grandsons taking up fishing, the first two ducks I shot with that old shotgun can be credited to my dad.

Just wanted to say thanks, Old Man.

Friday, October 9, 2009

And you think we can fly fish ...

As adept as many of us become at chasing trout and salmon with the long rod, we've got some serious competition from some of Nature's more charismatic creatures--dolphins.

Take a look at the photos in this story from The Sun in Great Britain. Amazing. Goes to show you, no matter how good you get, there's almost always a better fisherman out there able to bring a little humble pie to your angling ego party.

In the British Isles, where Atlantic salmon fishing is a long-standing tradition, and where salmon runs are significantly depleted, it must be driving a few of the more die-hard fly anglers nuts to see a pair dolphins enjoying a game of catch with the prized game fish.

The photos are incredible ... enjoy.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Foaming at the mouth over otters...

My friend Brett Prettyman, outdoor writer for the Salt Lake Tribune, posted a blog today about the fervor over otter reintroduction on the Provo River--one of the West's best trout fisheries (my humble apologies to Brett for not even giving Utah a nod when it comes to the real Top 10 places to cast a fly in a recent blog--the Middle Provo belongs on that list, as does the Green).
Otters eat fish, so it's not surprising that a vocal minority in Utah are threatening deadly action against the native critter, even though the fish they'll be dining on are actually non-native. What the foam-at-the-mouth crowd is missing is that introducing otters to the Middle Provo will likely improve the overall habitat for trout, native or otherwise.

How so?

Otters will take a bit out of trout numbers. Literally. But, like any predator, they're opportunistic. They'll feed on the fish they're able to catch, and weed out the weakest and sick. By trimming the numbers of fish from the river (something the catch-and-release ethic has made almost non-existant--and, largely, that's a good thing), otters will improve fish growth rates, meaning those who fish the Provo will likely see bigger fish... and more bigger fish.

And let's a bit wholistic about this. Anything we as humans can do to make the ecoystems we fish less ... um ... human, is probably worth doing. Yesterday, for instance, I visited my favorite fall fishing haunt on the South Fork of the Snake, where I knew I'd see lots of rising fish and that I'd probably hook into at least one trophy cutthroat or brown trout while I was there. Predictably, the fishing was excellent--nice trout on top virtually all day long. It was amazing.

The highlight of the trip, though, wasn't the fishing. In early afternoon, as I was casting to a pod of working trout, I heard a noisy splash behind me. I turned around only to see a massive bull moose stepping into the river. I was downwind of the big animal, so it didn't know I was in the water, a scant 20 yards away, until it stepped out of the willows and into the river.

The moose stopped and toook a good look at me. I turned, and kept my eyes on him, just to be certain he wouldn't do something unpredictable. Apparently, deciding I was no threat, he slowly worked his way across the river channel and up to the opposite bank. I watched his antlers disappear into the fall foliage.

I can imagine that seeing a rare northern river otter while casting to a pod of rising trout on the Middle Provo would be just as exhilerating, if not moreso. Maybe the message is this: For most of us, fishing truly isn't about the fish. Keep that in mind before you poopoo the idea of bringing otters back to their rightful place on the foodchain.

Monday, October 5, 2009

A "Top 10" world...

It was only a matter of time before Forbes Magazine came out with its list of "Top 10 Fly Fishing Towns," seeing as how the magazine has resorted to this kitschy technique to drive online readers for the last decade or so.

I remember, as the former editor of the daily newspaper in Pocatello, Idaho, a few years back, when Poky made the magazine's list of top small cities in which to do business. It's an honor, certainly, and Pocatello is perhaps the most underrated small city in the Northwest. But after the city appeared on the list a few years in a row, I caught onto Forbes' gimmick. By naming Pocatello and other small cities across the country (Sioux Falls and even Duluth) as great places to do business, the magazine essentially assured itself of some free advertising (which chamber of commerce president ISN'T going to put that in the relocation guide?) and tons of regional web traffic. Lists are gold mines in the Internet Age. Simple as that.

So back to the latest Forbes list--the best fly fishing towns in America. It's pretty predictable, but also a bit wacky. Sure, Missoula and West Yellowstone made the list, as they should have. So did Glenwood Springs (I'm sure the folks in Aspen are PISSED). Then there's Grayling, Mich., which the magazine incorrectly identifies as the "birthplace of Trout Unlimited--TU was founded in Traverse City--and Roscoe, N.Y. Also appearing on the list is Asheville, N.C., and State College, Penn. Redding, Calif., made the list, presumably because of the Sacramento River running through town. Mountain Home, Ark., thanks to its trophy tailwaters, is on the list, and then, in a tip of the cap to our Canuk friends, Calgary made the Top 10.

So, two in Montana, one in Colorado, two in the South, one in the Midwest, two back east, one in California, and one in Canada.

Folks... this isn't a Top 10 list. It's a geographically skewed advertising ploy performed deftly by a savvy media machine--Forbes. While places like Rosco and Asheville have their fly fishing charm, should they really rate in the Top 10? Think about the 10 places on your list of "some day" fly fishing destinations in North America. If Asheville's on your list, your priorities are whacked. Granted, there are native brookies (and you know how we feel about brookies, right?), but if you'd rather fish near Asheville than, say, Gunnison, Colo., or Idaho Falls, Idaho, or even Reno, Nev., then you need to get out more.

And the list is skewed completely toward trout. There are great places to fly fish for other species that will put a deeper bend in your fly rod than trout--how about Islamorada? Corpus Christi? Cabo? All are officially in North America. Oh, and there's that one place ... up north ... Alaska.

Don't be fooled by Forbes and its lists--they're great for the towns on which they shine light, but if you're itching to make travel plans, you have better options.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Where brookies belong...

Here in the West, where brook trout are something of a scourge, we take their presence for granted. In fact, we often turn up our noses at plying cold, clear streams for these non-native fish that, in many cases, have spawned themselves out of habitat and rarely grow to exceed 10 inches in length.

On the East Coast, however, brookies are revered, and rightly so. Efforts are under way to protect existing populations and to hopefully reintroduce brook trout into waters that can support them. Unfortunately, on the highly industrialized Eastern Seaboard, finding that habitat can be quite the challenge.

Trout Unlimited, along with its partners in the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture, is sending its minions into the hinterlands in search of brook trout strongholds. Hopefully, in addition to finding hidden populations of brook trout, the group and its volunteer army will also be able to idenifty potential reintroduction sites for the East's native fish.

Don Lehman of the Glens Falls Post Star describes the effort to discover these off-the-beaten-path brookie populations and the challenging work finding suitable habitat for reintroduction.

Next time you're cursing the little brookies that have overtaken some backcountry trout stream in the Rockies, remember the fish that hit your fly is the progeny of the once-great brook trout runs that used to course up and down the rivers and streams of Appalachia. Sure, they don't belong here--but where the do belong, they're in dire straights.

Friday, September 25, 2009

When browns and brookies get it on ...

OK, so it's probably a pretty rare feat in the wild, given that the stars would have to line up just right, and a horny little brookie would have to convince a ripe hen brown to drop her eggs for him rather than for a mate of the same species, but the sterile offspring of these two coldwater salmonids is a pretty cool product. Granted, most of the tiger trout found these days are planted by ambitious fisheries managers looking to either, a) remove rough fish, like chubs and suckers, from a fishery, or b) offer a unique angling experience to fishers looking for something different.

One such fishery, of the latter variety, is found high in the Pine Forest Range of northern Nevada. Blue Lake is a great high-elevation destination (and it IS a destination--you'll need a four-wheel drive vehicle, good tires and a bit of nerve) for tiger trout. Given that the lake never held a native trout population, all the fish in the small alpine lake are introduced, so tigers aren't taking a bite out of any indigenous population.

Never caught a tiger? Imagine the surly disposition of a big brown, coupled with the opportunistic nature of a brook trout, and you're pretty much there. And, since the hybrids don't spawn, they're generally interested in only one thing--eating. In fact, the first 10-inch tiger I managed to hook on a recent visit to Blue Lake was actually chased down and torpedoed by a tiger twice its size. By the time I landed the fish, it sported a fresh wound on its tail, where the bigger fish tried to take a bite.

Check with your local fish and game department to see where they're putting aggressive tiger trout, and give them a shot on a fly rod. I think, like me, you'll determine that creating tiger trout in the bowels of a fish hatchery is a pretty beneficial use of brook trout in places where brookies don't really belong.
For a better idea of what you're in for, should you want to visit Blue Lake, check out this video, produced by Trout Unlimited's Sportsmen's Conservation Project.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Introduction: The venerable brookie...

Native to the Upper Midwest and the Appalachian Mountains of the East Coast, and ranging from Labrador to northern Georgia, the brook trout might be the best-traveled fish native to North America--these days, thanks to stocking and transplanting efforts begun about 125 years ago, they can be caught in just about every state with coldwater habitat.

In its home range, the brookie is revered today, after centuries of persecution due to habitat degradation, industrial development and the resulting pollution (acid rain). Efforts are under way to restore native brook trout habitat and improve opportunities for anglers seeking to make a connection with arguably the most beautiful coldwater fish native to this continent.

But here in the West, the brookie, while deeply appreciated by something of a cult following (I include myself in that subversive bunch), is hardly more than a pest. Their aggressive nature--they have a life force unequaled by the West's native cutthroats and rainbows--works against them in many cases. In small, upland habitat, brookies tend to outcompete native fish, and then reproduce beyond the resources of their habitat. They quickly stunt and overpopulate, becoming undesirable popualations for anglers, and very difficult to remove, even with best technology.

For this reason, the adjective "little" is often attached to brook trout in the West, even though healthy populations of these fish in their native range (Labrador, for instance) can produce giant specimens up to eight or even 10 pounds.

Now, of course, all this bad news comes with some good news, especially if you're a fan of willing fish chased gamely with a fly rod. Brookies are downright delicious, and keeping your limit is not frowned upon in most areas where the fish have taken root outside their native range. In fact, I encourage it. You won't find better shore fare, and if you have the means and the patience, brook trout on the smoker are delectable.

This blog is devoted to catching and killing brookies in the West, and, should the opportunity present itself, protecting these fish in their native range throughout the United States and Canada.

Enjoy, and thanks for stopping by.