fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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Sportsmen Descend on DC to Save Bristol Bay (guest post)

Though I’m taking the offer lazy way out and throwing up this guest post by Trout Unlimited on the Outdoor Blogger Network, please put in the effort to click the link below. It’s more than worth our time to fill out the form and pass along our desire to Save Bristol Bay by Stopping Pebble Mine.


The following is a guest post available to all outdoor bloggers who have an interest in the Pebble Mine/Bristol Bay issue. Please feel free to you use it on your blog.

Photo by B.O'Keefe

Photo by B.O'Keefe

Starting Monday, April 16, more than 30 sportsmen from around the country are traveling to the nation’s capitol to let their elected officials and the president know that protecting Bristol Bay is a top priority for hunters and anglers.

This is an important week to show the folks who have the power to protect Bristol Bay that sportsmen are in this fight. We’ve got folks from Alaska, Montana, Michigan, Colorado, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Texas, Wisconsin, Washington, North Carolina, California, Missouri, New York, and Virginia representing this great country and the millions of people who want Bristol Bay to be protected and left just like it is today–pristine and productive.

A recent report by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation shows that there are 34 million hunters and anglers in the U.S., and we’re a powerful constituency. Every year, we pump $76 billion into the economy in pursuit of our passion, through our spending on gear, licenses, gas, lodging, meals and more. All of that spending and activity directly supports 1.6 million jobs in this country.

We are also an influential group because 80 percent of sportsmen are likely voters – much higher than the national average. And, we also contribute the most money of any group toward government wildlife conservation programs. So, hopefully if we care about an issue and show our support, the decision makers will listen to what we have to say.

In just a few weeks, the EPA will be releasing a draft of its Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. This huge scientific assessment will likely guide future decisions about large-scale mining and other industrial development in the Bristol Bay region. If they find that disposal of waste from the mine would adversely harm the surrounding clean waters or natural resources, the EPA can deny or place restrictions on a required dredge and fill permit. If warranted, we hope the Obama Administration would take that step to protect Bristol Bay.

You can support the fight for one of planet Earth’s finest and most productive fishing and hunting destinations by taking action today. Fill out this simple form that will send a letter to the President and your members of Congress asking them to protect Bristol Bay. Let’s carry our sportsmen into D.C. with a lot of momentum.


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fly fishing, faith, and “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”

While fishing in the Eastern Sierra last year, a buddy more spiritual than I commented that he had no worries about missing services that Sunday, figuring he was closer to God when casting a fly. I figured he was simply commenting on being outdoors and close to majestic and magical natural wonders, though he might have been thinking that we were closer to heaven at 9,000 feet in elevation.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen: Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor

A most romantic gesture by a fly fisherman: presenting a fly named after the woman who's caught his fancy.

At one time or another, those who fly fish have come across references or realize themselves that fly fishing can be a journey of faith. In some respects, this faith — call it unrestrained optimism if you wish — is reflected in the everyday of most fly fishermen. This is a central point in “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” with two of the main characters (Ewan McGregor as an English fisheries expert and Emily Blunt as a representative of the Yemeni sheikh played by Amr Waked) overcoming everyday problems such as loneliness, anxiety and lack of direction. Though tagging a movie as one with an uplifting story may be akin to damning with faint praise, it is; just as much as it offers a real view of fly fishing as a part of life, as I’d think it is for many of us.

I don’t think it’s a reach to call fly fishing a sport of faith, albeit with a side of skill involved.

Faith that the fish are where we think they are. Faith that the right fly is on the end of the line. Faith in our presentation. Faith that all those hours and all those casts will lead to something. And this year, in California, faith that already stressed trout will survive what’s shaping up to be a dry year.

Faith is quickly spelled out in “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” as Sheikh Muhammad (Waked) equates his belief that salmon can be introduced to a country with no permanent rivers when asking reluctant fisheries expert and fly fisherman Alfred Jones (McGregor) how many casts he’s made before hooking a salmons. Jones’ answer of “hundreds” illustrates the faith held by the sheikh.

Even fly fishermen — part of a relatively conservative bunch in terms of techniques and fly patterns — who ‘break the rules’ do so on faith. Most fly fishermen start out utilizing the practical experience of others as a foundation, but it seems to me, that at some point, the confidence in the knowledge that one is doing everything properly gives way to a faith that allows departure from the norm and tradition. However outrageous this change might be, it may offer a crucial adjustment that will turnaround an otherwise fishless day. I’d go so far as to posit that the fly fishing of our grandfathers — a sport of rules mandating only upstream casts and high-riding dry flies — has shifted, for better or worse, to a more inclusive and adventurous pastime that only demands a little bit of faith.

Sure, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” is a soft love story about people brought together by a common interest, and while the fly fishing is peripheral, this story reminds me of the connections, relationships and little things that bring people together, as fly fishing so often does. (The book by Paul Torday offers more pointed satire.) The laughs are easy because the actors lend realness to the characters they portray. The film doesn’t have the same sharpness as the book, and a subplot disrupts the main storyline, but I walked out of the theater glad for the experience.

P.S. As for the fly fishing displayed in the movie, it’s okay and only tangential to the story. I’ve not fly fished for salmon, but one scene did leave me scratching my head.


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can calling it a native fish make it so? or: how you can learn to stop worrying and love the fish that eats a fly

This week, I might be stepping into quicksand. If nothing else, it’ll be entertaining for the rest of you to watch.

While a good many local anglers applauded the California Fish & Game Commission’s decision at its Feb. 2, 2012 meeting to strike down proposed changes to striped bass regulations, changes that, at the very least, would degrade the quality of a fishery that supports considerable segments of the local economy, there was a curious footnote to the proceedings.

A desire to declare striped bass, introduced from the East Coast, as a ‘native’ California species.

California Fish & Game Commission’s then-Director Daniel W. Richards summed up the issue:

Another great comment that I heard today was this issue of what is native. [California Department of Fish & Game] Director Bonham and I had great conversation just yesterday about this. We are regularly, and just several months we were being challenged with a frogs and turtles matter of non-native species…it’s controversial and there’s both sides to it, and these striped bass have been here for 130 years. At what point in time do we…and some of the analogies we gave I thought were terrific, especially when you take it down to the human level, who’s a native Californian and who’s not. I thought it was really very apropos. I mean, they’ve been here 130 years, that’s, I don’t know, what is that, that’s three or four generations I think you’d probably call that. [Striped bass] starts to be fairly native to me.

After that, then-President Jim Kellogg, after pointing out that he worked on the first pump station on the Delta (1966-’69) and saw the numbers of fish those unscreened pumps dumped into the canal announced in his last act as president:

…because nobody’s got an answer as to how this is done, or who declares it or something like that, I’m going to declare the striped bass a native species in the state of California.

Central to the proponents of the new regulations painted striped bass — asking it be considered an invasive species — as largely responsible for the decline of the state’s salmon stocks. Opponents cited striped bass’ long history in the California Delta (declared a sport fish in 1935) and its coexistence with salmon and Delta smelt over that time. (The definition of ‘coexistence’ may be considered ill-defined in the absence of any hard, long-term, historical data.)

While most will agree that these proposed changes to the striper regulations was a thinly veiled water grab, it does bring to light a conflict that can arise between native and now wild populations of introduced fish, particularly without a firm scientific understanding that can overwhelm any argument from either side of the debate. And while the predation of introduced species changes ecosystems, there’s no scientific model to predict the consequences of eliminating such a long-entrenched species.

In the short span of our lives, does ‘native’ becomes anything that was here before us? Big brown trout and competitive rainbows have so well supplanted Lahontan cutthroat trout — it and the Eagle Lake Rainbow were once the only trout in the Easter Sierra — that rarely does one hear of an angler landing a decent Lahontan, expect those in Crowley Lake and the Upper Owens River. And it’ll be a shame when Lahontan cutthroat no longer exist in California, which is likely to happen.

But it’s hard to label the non-native trout that provide us so much recreation as ‘invasive.’

In any case, might these naturally reproducing fish populations better fit a status similar to that of ‘historical (living) landmark?’ Is there an appropriate measure of time before anyone can declare an introduced species to be a ‘naturalized citizen?’ And will the difference between native and naturalized fish populations eventually become indistinguishable, legally or otherwise?

Regardless of the answers, I’ll be the one overlooking the illegal immigration status of the trout that eats my fly.


If you’re interested, the video recording of the meeting can be found here; click on the link for Feb 2, 2012 and fast forward to about 1:35:00 for the start of the striper discussion.


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hopefulness of fly fishing reflected on celluloid

I have a confession. I didn’t see “The River Why,” despite the claim that fly fishermen would flock to see Amber Heard’s décolletage the movie and that I can be a bit distracted by most things that entail fly fishing.

Sometimes it’s all about presentation. Doing everything, just so, being subtle, to sneak up on your quarry. Too many false casts or slapping the water will draw initial interest, but soon desensitize those who you most want interested in your offering. The same can be said of the latest and greatest fly fishing film; long before it’s screening in my neighborhood, I reach saturation through trailers and highlight reels, and articles and blog posts.

Liam Neeson Fly Fishing

Obi-Wan Kenobi’s mentor Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) fly fishes in real life; Ewan McGregor does so in “Salmon Fishing in The Yemen.”

Subtly is lost in the clamoring for attention. There a lack of attention to presentation; something done well will have the fish audience wanting what you have to offer. Regardless of the effort, it can all boil down to that presentation.

There’s the stumbling through the muddled, pre-dawn darkness and the tentative stride, the missteps on mossy rocks. Stooped in a half effort to conceal my profile, I’ll select a fly. The selection is a combination of a modest understanding of entomology and gut feeling. And not every cast, particularly that first cast of the day, will offer the perfect presentation of the fly du jour. It takes me some time to work up to even a decent cast.

My first cast, tinged with too much expectation, sets the fly down too far away. I judge subsequent casts unacceptable or unworkable long before my line falls to the water. Often, it’s too long since I last wet a fly; but slowly, and with effort, a rhythm is rediscovered and precision returns. (Admittedly, my version of “precision” is plus or minus eight or nine inches or so.) Once again, a renewed focus on my cast displaces all that comes with everyday life.

That (almost) perfect always seems to sneak up on me; perhaps the result of not thinking about what’s being attempted. Simply, it feels right. The fly settles on that one current seam suspected to be a conveyer belt delivering bugs to an as-yet unseen trout.

The fly slips downstream, held steady by hope. A nose emerges. The fly disappears. Often, I’m more surprised than the trout.

That’s a bit how I feel about the trailer for “Salmon Fishing in The Yemen,” a movie based on the book by Paul Torday. It snuck up and surprised me with its upbeat hopefulness. Unlike “The River Why,” it was bandied about as the next version of “A River Runs Through It.”

“Salmon Fishing in The Yemen” has some star power and apparently some respect on the independent film tour, and seemingly is without the focus-group formulation that sucks the soul out of anything. There’ll be no admission to somewhat of a man crush on Ewan McGregor. See “Long Way Round” and you’ll understand — he comes across as a guy who’d saddle up the adventure bike for a day of fly fishing, followed by a friendly evening at the local pub.

Though always risky, judging by the trailer, the plot of “Salmon Fishing in The Yemen” echoes the hopefulness that’s all too often required of fly fishing without directly being a film about fly fishing. It’s got Mr. McGregor (as the fisheries biologist hired by a fly fishing-obsessed Yemeni sheikh to bring salmon to the wadis of the Yemen), Emily Blunt (as the Sheikh’s representative), Kristin Scott Thomas (as a British government spokesperson promoting the project to draw attention away from the government’s latest blunder), salmon, English charm and wit, and fly fishing. While it might benefit from a more mainstream title, I like the title; it’s likely to keep the riffraff out of the showing you know I’ll attend.

It’s nice to have a fly fishing flick to look forward to while waiting for Ms. Olive (the Woolly Bugger) to make it to the big screen.


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cruising Alaska, part four: Skagway

There’s something about getting off the beaten path that brings about a certain type of inventiveness. That’s not to say that city folk don’t have their fair share of ideas. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that when left to employ natural resources, interesting things happen. Skagway’s just such a place. The ship docked in Skagway that morning under overcast skies. The ocean astern was steel gray. A later departure time for our shore excursion allowed for a lingering breakfast.

Our decision on a Skagway shore excursion was predicated on setting aside time for walking around town. So, to ensure we’d have the afternoon to explore, we chose the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway summit excursion, a 20-mile ride to the 2,865 foot high White Pass summit. The WP&YRR was built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush — ironically completed after the Gold Rush was finish — as an alternative to the trails climbing almost 3000 feet in just 20 miles. The narrow gauge railroad was a cooperative project that brought together American knowhow, British money and Canadian labor.

Headed toward the summit.

In a vintage coach car we passed through the east side of Skagway and began a climb that would take us past Bridal Veil Falls, abandoned trestles, Inspiration Point, Dead Horse Gulch and broad vistas looking back on Skagway and down to the Skagway River. The trees and bushes were painted with a blush of fall colors. Leaving the forest behind, we entered the alpine zone and arrived at the summit, our halfway point and the only point of the trip that entered Canada. The hard beauty of the summit was accented by trees dwarfed by a short growing season and heavy snow. Summit Lake seemed to kiss the edge of the railroad bed.

Fall color in the railway bed.

Then it was time for the “Summit Shuffle.” We were instructed to stand up, grab the back of our seat and pull it towards us, reversing the direction of the seat, then move to the opposite side of the aisle, guaranteeing that everyone would be have a new view for the ride back to Skagway. A neat trick. Just as remarkable was every passenger’s good natured approach to switching seats.

It was clear that on this trip we’d be laying groundwork for a return, as we soon accepted that our trip on the WP&YRR would one of those excursions that’d be repeated. Now knowing that Skagway isn’t a large town, next time I’d opt for the full-day 67½-mile WP&YRR trip to Carcross, Yukon.

The first sight to greet us after disembarking near town was that of pink salmon, stretching from bank to bank and filling the Skagway River. It’s one thing to see a few salmon heading upstream, or someone else’s video, but it’s another to see enough fish, hundreds of salmon, give reality to the old timers’ expression that “one could walk across streams on the backs of salmon.” I spent some time in awe of this sight, so stunned that I didn’t once wish for a fly rod in my hand. …well, maybe once.

The main part of town is a bit of a walk past what is probably one of the smallest immigration stations I’ve seen, the WP&YRR station and WP&YRR rotary snowplow #1. Downtown Skagway still has that small, frontier town feel, albeit with the obligatory stores focusing on cruise ship passengers (jewelry and souvenirs). If you ignore those tourist traps, there are some interesting local shops, including a yarn store that required a stop for the wife for a gander at qiviut (kee-vee-uh’ t) yarn. However, the price of this qiviut — the soft wool lying beneath the long coat of the Arctic muskox — made me wonder if it was laced with some of that Yukon gold (nearly $100 for 1 ounce!).

Skagway Brewing Co. appetizer.

But well within the budget, down near the end of 7th Street sat Skagway Brewing Co. Now, I’ve been scoffed at for usually refusing to drink, much less pay for, relatively flavorless beers. It’s a principle that serves me well and often leads to pleasant surprises. Skagway Brewing’s signature ale, Spruce Tip Blonde, was one such surprise.

We decided on lunch at the Skagway Brewing Pub, and started with an appetizer flight of the only-available-in-the-Pub beers: Prospector Pale, Chilkoot Trail IPA, Boom Town Brown, Blue Top Porter and the only outside beer, Alaskan Brewing’s Amber Ale. All were good, but absent from the flight was the Spruce Tip Blonde. Told by the waiter, of course, that Spruce Tip Blonde was worth a full glass, it would be the beverage accompanying some pretty awesome fish ‘n chips. Brewed with hand picked Sitka Spruce tree tips, Spruce Tip Blonde offers an experience that begins with an almost flowery aroma of spruce but tastes of a unique sweetness akin to a fruit and/or spice.

If you’re ever in Skagway, the Skagway Brewing Pub is worth a stop for lunch and beer. Or two.

Rotary snow plow #1 of the WP&YRR.

The steam engine of the WP&YRR at the dock.


The Picasa album with all the photos.


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cruising Alaska, part three: Juneau

Juneau, I’ve been to Alaska… (Commence rolling of eyes.)

Perhaps familiarity dulls one’s perception of what’s seen every day. Perhaps this is why the colors of Alaska amaze me; and Juneau did not disappoint.

It’s fascinating that a state capital would, to this day, only be accessible by boat or plane. But that’s Juneau, a city that will fine a person who doesn’t secure trash cans properly — because of bears — before putting them at the curb. Though much more of a metro area than Ketchikan, Juneau, obviously, is still affected by the wild surrounding it.

Soon after the Sea Princess was secured dockside, we hopped on an excursion bus heading north out of town. The urbanity that is downtown Juneau faded into suburbs, which in turn dissolved into a thick rainforest. The forest soon gave way to a view of Mendenhall Lake and its source, the Mendenhall Glacier.

Mendenhall Glacier.

My first visit to Alaska a few years ago entailed flying into Anchorage, over waters tinged teal, almost turquoise, by glacial silt. Mendenhall Glacier displayed similarly dramatic coloration, though for a different reason. The blues associated with glaciers arises from the compression of ice over time, its melting and refreezing, which eliminates air bubbles and allows the ice to absorb the longer wavelengths of white light, resulting in shorter wavelengths (blue) being transmitted. Mendenhall was no exception.

The Tongass Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center offered a great overview of the glacier and surrounding area, in both informational and visual aspects. The viewing of a short film and the visiting of various exhibits (and my wife’s visit with a fellow knitter) was followed by a walk near the iceberg-dotted Mendenhall Lake and along Steep Creek.

Beaver dam on Steep Creek.

Wildlife’s a big part of the Alaska experience, whether one purposely seeks out the wildlife or happens upon it. If my wife hadn’t pointed it out, I might have stepped on a small porcupine waddling on the visitor path. Small and unconcerned, it crossed the path and proceeded into the tall grass. Salmon, with the last slow movements of their life, edged upstream. Though unseen, beavers announced their presence with a network of dams.

Then there’s the bear, signaled by the “oohs” and “aahs” and crush of tourists to one side of the elevated walkway. Hidden beneath the leaves of streamside bushes, it waded upstream and swung from side to side, eyeing the water. Slowly, patiently, quietly it slipped upstream, unmindful of the cluster of people above. The sockeye was also oblivious…and soon was the bear’s lunch.

Bear stalking salmon in Steep Creek, near Mendenhall Glacier.

The next stop was one that began with concerns that it might be tourist trap: the Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure. (The “adventure” part is hyperbole.) Our group met near the base of a mountain among plantings of nonnative plants and unique “upside down trees.” While it’s a touching story of how this botanical garden was as much labor of love as it is a commercial nursery, it wasn’t quite what one would expect on a tour of an Alaskan rainforest.

In only a few minutes, however, we gained 300 feet in elevation and, with the commercial nursery far behind us, entered an untouched and lush rainforest. The drive was ably narrated by our knowledgeable and affable guide. Streams trickled under fern fronds. Rain dripped through the canopy. A walkway on the ridge offered a view over Juneau.

Alaskan Brewing’s Smoked Porter.

After lunch back on the ship, we spent time in Juneau as tourists, visiting various stores (focusing on those operated by local families), and stumbling upon the Alaskan Brewing Co. store. It was quickly learned that — and we took advantage of — a shuttle would soon depart for the brewery, where a tour and tasting were offered.

If you look up reviews of the Alaskan Brewing tour, they skew toward the positive. Don’t get me wrong, though the “tour” doesn’t entail walking around the actual brewery, the humorous tour guide did cover the entire history of Alaskan Brewing, brewing, and process by which the company develops new beers. I think, however, that the largely positive reviews may be slightly influenced by the generous size (see the photo to the right) and number of free samples.

I ended the day with a quick, late-evening walk into town to pick up an Alaskan Brewing glass for the oldest son. The sun set, the evening’s entertainment was enjoyed, and the ship set sail for Skagway, perhaps my favorite stop.

Sun Setting Over Douglas Island (West of Juneau).


The Picasa album with all the photos.


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few words, some pictures, more to come

We’re back after travelling from San Francisco to Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, Alaska, and back again in 10 days…leaving at the end of August and returning to the start of September.

I’d say our trip when by fast, but the ship rarely exceeded 21 knots and the days were packed with the history, wilderness and the people of Southeast Alaska.

There was amazement that two of our ports o’ call can only be accessed via plane or boat. Pink salmon crowded the rivers and brought out the bears. We tasted beer that can’t be found anywhere else.

Pictures for now; words later.

https://picasaweb.google.com/s/c/bin/slideshow.swf

(You can directly access the Picasa album, with captions, by clicking here.)