Fly Fishing


I know January for the best of all winter steelhead months…  the steelhead , with the brightness of the sea still on him, is the livest of all the river’s life.  When you have made your cast for him, you are no longer a careless observer.  As you mend the cast and work your fly well down to him through the cold water, your whole mind is with it, picturing its drift, guiding its swing, holding it where you know he will be.  And when the shock of his take jars through your forearm and you lift the rod to its bend, you know that in a moment the strength of his leaping body will shatter the water to brilliance, however dark the day. -Roderick Haig-Brown, A River Never Sleeps

On my local rivers, January signals the last of the winter hatchery fish and the real beginning of the snowboard/ski season.  However, the snow hasn’t shown up this year which makes me tense about the money I spent on a season pass but it also means the rivers are low and clear.  So the rivers were easy to fish but there weren’t many fish around…

Given no snowboarding distraction, I managed to get over to the Olympic Peninsula a few times in January and even got the feel the ‘shock of the take’ a few times but the only fish landed was on a centerpin setup, not the spey rod.  This was my first try at fishing the ‘pin and it’s very easy to see the attraction.  It’ll never be my preferred way to fish but it will open up options when conditions don’t support swinging classic spey flies.

Borderlands Rendezvous  Jim Raincoast Hatchery BuckForest Take Out Hoh Dawn Hoh Dusk A good spot Winter Drought? SONY DSC



Fly Fishing

Summer update

Wow, I haven’t posted an update since April.  There is a very valid reason for the lack of posts…


I keep telling myself “you’re gathering content and incubating ideas” and I guess I am, sorta.  But the real reason is plain old laziness.  It’s a lot easier to think about writing than it is to actually sit down and write something, even drivel that’s not worth reading.

So… instead of belaboring the point with additional self-flaggelation, I’ll just post a bunch of photos from the summer.  I did do a lot of fishing, more than in the last two summers, caught a bunch of nice fish and generally had a great time.  Now that winter is coming, it’s time for the two-handers and serious steelhead fishing and hopefully, some of the post topics kicking around in my head will make their way to this page.

Started the summer on a great note with a nice trip to a small stream with Aika while she was home for a short break from college:

Aika hooked up Aika & coastal cutthroat


Followed it up with a fantastic trip to Idaho:


Some local action with my ‘bro Matt visiting from Vermont.  We had a beautiful thunderstorm roll through.  Made me feel like I was back in Alabama:

Thunderstorm Before the storm Middle Fork Mountain rainbow

A little more local small stream action including a cougar encounter!

Cougar last 2013 trout


I made more trips to the Olympic Peninsula than I had in previous years.  Unfortunately I caught a lot less summer steelhead (as in none…).  I did catch a bunch of beautiful cutthroats, bull trout and one silly jack Chinook.

Summer Hoh Hoh Elk Nice Bull Jim hooked up Calawah Blacktails Farlex S-MGP

Time to gear up for the cold, wet days of winter…

Fly Fishing

First try for trouts…

A strangely dry and mild late March spurred me into trout action several weeks early.  Conditions were perfect on a favorite early season stream but the fish weren’t interested.  I only saw one active riser all day and he was barely dimpling the surface.  Fishing partner Adam thought it was a just a riffle but I assured him it was a fish sipping the emerging red quills.  After enjoying a nice sandwich and a sip of Adam’s rye whisky, I proceeded to prove it by hooking the lone riser.  I landed one other very nice cutthroat a bit later blind casting to likely spots but that was it.  It was easily the slowest fishing I have seen in this section of water.  My guess is that the water temps were still a bit too cold to wake up the trout even though there was a good amount of insect activity.

This was also my first chance to use the new (to me) Valentine 76, a very nice American reel, kind of a Pflueger Medalist on steroids.  It was a great match to the Riverwatch 4wt bamboo.

Of course, the rains have set in now that I have some time off from work and the Olympic Peninsula rivers that should be my destination are running brown…  :-<



Fly Fishing

Birthday presents to myself…

Life being what it is, I think I’ll probably get one last shot at winter-runs on the Olympic Peninsula.  Once we get into spring, I’ll be spending more time chasing troots with little bugs and shifting away from big steelhead speys to smaller flies when targeting summer run steelhead.  Maybe I’ll actually catch a fish.  I think I remember how but it’s been so long, who can say?

Late last month, I just purchased a wonderful little fly wallet from Olaf Kundrus in Germany. He’s a helluva craftsman, from bamboo rods to leatherwork ( Almost the same day, I received a small Dunhill Shell Briar pipe that was made in the year of my birth, a ‘birth year pipe’.  I’ve never actually smoked a pipe and I really have no need for one but my grandfather did and the smell brings back a lot of muted but very comfortable memories.  I may or may not smoke this one but I think I’ll carry it around with me for a while.  It feels good in my pocket.

So two small birthday presents to myself that I’m looking forward having on my next run across the Hood Canal bridge which is the divider between real and fantasy for me. I just can’t decide which is which…


pipe_flies2  pipe_flies3

Snowboarding Steelhead Patterns

Back slidin’ around…

First – I posted a new fly pattern called the Pamplona.  I’m really pleased with this one:


On to current events…

Up until about 4 years ago, I spent a lot of time trying to stand up on various flat things while they were sliding on water, snow or wheels.  A broken thumb that left me using my left hand for ‘mousing’ convinced me that I was too old to continue skateboarding but I still spent a lot of time and many $$ on gas chasing waves on the Washington coast and snowboarding the mountains.

About 4 years ago, it became very apparent that my oldest daughter had a late blooming gift for wrestling which she wanted to pursue at the highest level.  So all that time I spent slidin’ became time spent supporting her athletic goals by coaching, taking her to work with the best professional instructors and travel to various practices and tournaments.

Unfortunately, this left her little brother (not a wrestler) out in the cold, so to speak…  I always promised him that once his big sister left for college and had someone else to act as coach/mentor, that we would resume slidin’…  Well, that happened this season.  We bought our passes, dusted off the old gear, added new stuff where necessary and started driving to the hill every time there was new snow.  There are only so many days for a weekend warrior like myself so this means less fishin’ but it’s been a helluva good time riding with Angus.  Of course, during our talks on the lifts, I am selling our next fishing trip to Idaho or the Olympic Peninsula… (!)

A quick rest after a run down a deep pillow line and Angus getting ready to shred:  Angus.12.16.12

Best of all is our ritual of stopping at Rhodie’s BBQ on the way home for a Carolina Trailboss BBQ pork sandwich.  Soooo good!

Fly Fishing

Well shite… I guess it had to happen sometime…

This is what happens when a nice Hardy reel hits the road at 50MPH…  I never, I mean never put my gear on top of the car after a day on the river.  Except when I did and this carnage is the result.  Lesson learned.

Other than the dead reel, I had a couple very nice days fishing the coastal rivers around the Olympic National Parks the last two weekends.  The weather was very cold and very clear.  The water was low and the steelhead were spooky which meant none ended up on the end of my line.  Disappointing but it was still a good time.  The first trip was a ‘steelhead workshop’ put on my guide extraordinaire Jim Kerr.  I took my son Angus so that his first winter steelheading experience would give him some real knowledge instead of the bullshit that I tend to come up with…  He had a good time but was clear in our drive-home-discussion that he was more a ‘dry fly man’ and that swinging flies in mid-winter for non-existent fish wasn’t his bag.  I took his meaning as ‘wasn’t his bag yet…’.

Angus looking like a hardman winter fly angler.


Doing awsome on his first try with the two-handed spey rod!  He’s getting a great D-Loop here.


Jim showing that being a top fishing guide means you must be a outdoor culinary genius as well as a coach and a river biologist.  Cooking ‘meat on a stick’ what could be better?

Maybe his fishing and casting…  This guy knows every rock in every river.  It’s amazing still and I’ve known him for a while now.

The morning was cold and clear, the perfect time for the fly with the perfect name “Winter’s Hope”

Winter's Hope

Here’s a shot of my ‘winter bugs’, I’ve made a promise to myself to only fish classic patterns or my variants of classics this winter.

Winter Bugs

Of course, I must post a shot of my new Kingpin reel.  I’m glad this one didn’t go bouncing down the highway!


Finally, Angus took this cool shot as dusk as I was getting in a couple last casts…

Fly Fishing

Happy New Year! What’s up for 2013 and a quick review of 2012…

2013 should see a lot more activity including more fly patterns and gear reviews, probably a few videos.  My personal fishing goals for 2013 will be the same as 2012 (more on that below).  2012 was a pretty tough year and honestly, I’m not too sad to see it go even though there were some really great moments, especially seeing my daughter make a spectacular transition to college both in athletics and academics.  Just as great was the same transition made my my son going into high school.  Less wonderful was the dissolution of my marriage of 20 years…  But even in that, as difficult as it was is, there are nascent opportunities and new paths to be explored which makes me very excited for the new year.

So how did I do in 2012 and what am I shooting for in 2013?  Here’s what I wrote last January:

1)  Fish more than I did in 2011

Nope, I was 8 days short.  I fished 43 days in 2011 and only 33 in 2012.  For 2013, I’m really going to try to hit the 52 day mark or averaging one day a wek.

2)  Have a net decrease in my investment in fishing tackle

I think so but it’s close.  I sold a bunch of valuable reels getting myself down to ‘fishing reels’ only but I also picked up a few rods and such.  Call this one a push.

3)  Continue to help beginners or newcomers whenever possible

Yes, goal met.  Introduced two people to fly fishing, both are hooked!  I’ve already got a line on a couple other unsuspecting future fly anglers for 2013…

4)  Contribute both time and money to conservations efforts

Another push.  I did make several charitable contributions but was very selfish with time.  Need to improve on this in 2013.

Oh yeah, catching a big native winter-run steelhead on the OP wouldn’t suck…

Success! Actually caught two and hooked two others!

It’s been my tradition the last 4 years to fish on New Years Day regardless of conditions.  It was very cold and the water was low on my local steelhead river.  The result was a predictable skunking.  Even so, it was a rare blue-sky day and being on the river at dawn as the sun broke over the Cascades for the first time in 2013 was a special experience.

I’m a lucky guy.  See you on the water in 2013…

Fly Fishing Steelhead Patterns

Winter’s Hope

“The Winter’s Hope has a wide color spectrum that can stir faith under a broad range of weather, water, and light conditions… Even on the darkest winter days the purple/blue hackles give off a “neon” glow.  While much of this attraction is simply in the angler’s eye, in chill flows that can be an absolute necessity.  If the pattern isn’t attractive enough to the eye, it won’t stay in the water long enough to provoke that eventual, well earned strike…”  -Bill McMillan, Dry Line Steelhead and Other Subjects

Never has there been a fly pattern with a name more apropos of its purpose and environment than the Winter’s Hope.  The quote from McMillian’s seminal book really sums it up.  There are so few steelhead in our rivers these days, it is very difficult for the average fly fisherman to get a lot of positive reinforcement (=hooking fish).  We are left in this state of hopeful optimism that our infrequent encounters with steelhead are due to something we are doing rather than blind luck or the odd angry fish…  I know that when I tie on a proven (and pretty) pattern like the Winter’s Hope, I can fish through a run or even a whole day and not be constantly second guessing the effectiveness of my fly.  I’m pretty sure most steelhead really don’t give a damn whether the wing on my fly breaks tradition for spey flies and extends beyond the hook bend or whether the floss is orange instead of yellow.  However, if there is the slightest doubt in the angler’s mind, he will either (1) keep changing fly patterns or (2) fish in a disconsolate, sullen state unable to let go and achieve the alertly-unalert state that is so rewarding.  You know… the ‘think like a fish zone’.

Here’s my ‘fishing fly’ interpretation of a Winter’s Hope.  I diverge from Bill McMillan in several ways, not because there is anything wrong with the original, rather just out of an inability to follow directions.  This is tied to sink fast and be very durable.

Winter's Hope variant

Digression >>  Wow(?)  More than a month without a post.  I wish I had an excuse other than sheer sloth but I don’t.  Now back to your regularly scheduled program…

Unlike my posting prowess, I have been doing a lot of fly tying in November and so far in December.  I have even gone fishing a few times when the late fall torrents permitted.  No steel to hand so far but I’ve been enjoying myself.  In addition to the new fly pattern noted below, in upcoming posts I will do gear reviews on the new Kingpin Spey ReelPatagonia River Crampons and Anderson Custom Rods 1237-4 Scandit spey rod (a gem).

Here’s a new step-by-step for a new pattern that I recently developed.  I call it simply ‘Green & Copper’ although there really isn’t anything green in the materials list.  The bright green butt section is actually translucent pearl mylar tinsel over black floss.  Something about the prismatic color shift properties of the tinsel results in a really bright shimmering green when placed over black.  Definitely something that warrants further investigation!

The pattern has been well received on Speypages and a variant tied by a member of that forum has already hooked a steelhead!

Green & Copper Step-By-Step

Green & Copper

Steelhead Patterns

Steelhead Shrimp


Beware what you wish for!  The rain has begun in earnest, the rivers are blown and I’ve been successfully avoiding housework by tying flies…

Here’s a new pattern and step-by-step.  I call it the “Steelhead Shrimp”.  it’s nothing innovative, just my update on traditional Irish shrimp patterns like the Agivey Wye Bug, etc.  There is a great page with lots of photos of these patterns here:  Salmon Shrimp Flies

There is also a very nice book: Flies of Ireland by Peter O’Reilly that is loaded with photos and recipes.

Here’s a link to my Steelhead Shrimp Step-by-Step

Steelhead Shrimp

Fly Fishing

Indian Summer…

We’ve had a very long, dry ‘Indian Summer’ here in the Pacific Northwest. It’s really stretched the trout dry fly season but hasn’t been good for the fall returning anadromous salmon and steelhead. The low flows and warm water have kept those fish out of the rivers for the most part. It seems that the Columbia returns have been very slow compared to the past few years. For better or worse, I think that is all about to end. As often seems to be the case here, our seasons shift in the matter of a day or two. This week, we’re going from sunny 70’s to our more normal rainy 50’s in a day or so. The NOAA forecast for Friday:

Rain likely. Cloudy, with a high near 58. Chance of precipitation is 70%.

It’ll pretty much stay like that for the next 9 months…

…which is just about awesome if you’re a steelhead fisherman. We thrive on cold, rainy weather when only the hard men are on the river. Or so we tell ourselves. I usually tell myself that while sipping a triple whole milk latte and reading about fishing on internet websites like Speypages or Washington Fly Fishing

I’m running a little behind my ‘days fishing’ rate for previous years but I’m rapidly catching up. Since Aika is now wrestling in college and doesn’t need me to pretend to be her coach, I should be able to get out a lot more this winter. I’m looking forward to tussling with a few more Hoh river natives this winter. I have a silly idea that I may limit myself to Sid Glasso-inspired classics fly patterns. Self induced masochism, sure, but tying them gives me something to do at night more productive than (insert sketchy activity here). I may even get off my lazy arse and post step-by-steps like I’ve been talking about forever…

…or maybe I’ll just make another latte and pretend I did.

A few pics from our rapidly departing Indian Summer:

Hoh Dawn  Signs of Fall

Decisions  Ritual

Bougle & Hoffhines  Last Cutt