Monday, September 1, 2014

A Perfect Storm

This has been one of the worst North American salmon seasons in history.  Facts are facts and can not be sugar coated or embellished or made favorable by desire.  This has been one of the worst.

For the longest time, many hard working enthusiasts and conservationists have bridged the gap to keep the runs alive.  Always hoping that some day the magic bullet would be found that could open the door to dramatically larger sustainable returns.  To think that a natural resource as the Atlantic Salmon was being harmed by certain singular events was too simple an approach.  Today we know that conservation and seeding of rivers was but a small finger in the dike that has greater influence.

The Greenland buy out is one such finger, or even a few fingers worth.  When runs started to increase, during some of the last ten years, the buy out became the reason why.  When we think of the reasons that have be associated with poor salmon years it is always the same.  First Nation Netting, Seals, Clear Cutting, Dams and Pollution.  Certainly these factors have an effect on the numbers of returns.  Yet in general they have very little to do with the number of smolt that go to sea.

A set environment, in this case a certain river, has and exacting number of young that can be supported.  This number changes from year to year based on weather patterns over the course of the young fishes in river life.  But in most years these numbers are constant.  For example a river with a usual return of 5000 fish creates an exacting number of eggs that then hatch and over the next two years creates smolt in numbers that the river supports.  That same river in a poor year might only have 3000 fish return and the number of smolt ready for ocean travel will be exactly in the same relative numbers as the good year.  Biologists call this the escapement level as it pertains to returns.


Producing numbers of eggs greater than the number of smolt going to sea is an every year cycle event.  There are many natural predation and environmental factors for this yet it happens.  Why then would it matter?

During times gone by there were bad years.  Not just over the past fifty years but bad years that occurred before Greenland buy outs, before netting, before seals were so prevalent and way before the dams and pollution were in effect. Rivers all over Canada that have never had these factors and still experienced light returns.  Naturally bad years.


This year the low returns are not river specific.  The numbers reflect the entire North American profile and that can only place the cause in one place.  The winter feeding grounds.  If you have followed my writing over the last number of years you know that The North Atlantic Oscillation has had a prominent place in my thinking.  I have now had more than a few years experience watching the winter charts and predicting the following spring and summer returns.  The situation shifted this year and what we have experienced is the lowest returns of adults in recent history.  


Returns of Grilse in the two pound range and thin fish that are larger have been seen.  What can be concluded is that the food supply was disrupted and made scarce.  The NAO chart for the winter of 2013-2014 explains this in simplistic detail.  The oscillation was in a positive position for the entire period.  In a typical year there will be fluctuation.  Some storms travel east below the feeding grounds and some directly through.  But this past year it was almost a continual battering in the North Atlantic.  Salmon winter in an average of fourteen feet from the surface.  When seas are high and rolling the bait is scattered and the salmon go hungry. Naturally there is die off and experience lighter weights.


With all the factors of man in full effect this became the year when all parties wanted their share.  The Greenland buy out is no more.  Many fish were harvested.  First Nation rightfully took theirs.  Fish farms in estuaries produced sea lice, and The North Atlantic Oscillation could not have been of much greater detrimental effect.  All the other ocean issues of seals and pollution have not stopped.

Sad to say that we, as anglers, then continued to harvest and live release.  Harmful to the totals and all contributing factors.  The Perfect Storm was in full effect this year and we can see what happens when all the factors of man and nature take hold.  


As I said in the start of this posting, the number of smolt that will go to sea from this years November spawn should be the same as last years and the same as if the river were chocked full of adults.  A river can only support so many and nature has that survival covered.  What we as anglers and conservationists can continue to effect is of the greatest importance.  We, with our efforts and money have sustained the survival and in some cases replenishment to many rivers.  Yes, some are lost forever as the gene pool is gone.  But what happens this winter is still unknown.  Perhaps the powers that be will come up with a solution to the netting.  And an even greater possibility will be that the NAO will be negative all winter long and Salmo Salar can be fed without working too hard.    

This has been one of the worst salmon seasons in history.  Yet if nature has it's way the North Atlantic Oscillation will move winter storms south and intelligent heads will prevail and the buy out will be re-established and a dramatic change could happen.  I am still hopeful.

Friday, August 22, 2014

This Is A Fish To Remember

A late start had me jumping up to get the coffee brewing.  Emily forgot to set the alarm and in a daze I was moving faster than I should.  After coffee delivery to help get her day started, my next duty was to get the dog out so all could be complete before we were to leave for her half hour commute.  Her to work and me to deal with a car situation needed for the weekends Spey classes and fishing.

My phone rang.

Still half asleep, I was being asked by Leo to make a drive north.  Snap, Crackle, Pop and my mind was issued that little spark of adrenaline needed to say let's go. Leo and I have fished together many days.  Not many of us can fish shoulder to shoulder and cover the same water together like we can.  Crossing lines, perfectly timed synchronization in casts and drifts and a whole lot of fish.  The kind of team work that some would not be able to mentally accept.  Kenny knows exactly what I am talking about as he has the same ability and tempo of calm character.  We fished away the day.  Leo took a nice salmon early and all was well.

There are certain fish that we remember and most that we forget.  They have the ability to live with us for a long time and today I would add another to the mix.  This sole fish I landed today was not the largest Landlocked Salmon in the pool but one to ponder.

I had been alternating all day between swinging with streamers or cut shanks and nymphing.  So far the only action, for me, was to the nymphs and it was three fish on and three fish gone.  All dropped hooks as runs and jumps made for some long line releases to safety.  Then about four o'clock the indicator went down hard and I could immediately tell a decent fish had taken my #12 Red Head Prince as I raised my rod quickly. The first move was to sulk but only for a moment.  Then the search for escape sent my line humming up river and through the rapid that enters the pool.  A continual thrashing back and forth with one big jump and burst of speed brought the fish back to center stage.  Then the long run all the way to the farthest reaches of the back eddy under some hanging willows.  What I fear most with these crazy fish started to happen.  They are notorious for exiting down river and not stopping.  Using the strong current below the pool wanting to go back to the lake and fining their nose at you as they do.

As the down stream movement started to take solid hold I said over and over "no, not down, please, no, not down'"  and I simply didn't wait for the fish to get below me.  I ran along the open area of the bank till I was locked up against a big rock that blocked my movement.  The fish was still moving down.  Immediately, and I mean instantaneously, I threw line off my reel letting the swift current of the tail out set a bag of tension as if the danger was now coming from down stream.  The salmon was so close to spilling over and out of the pool and thankfully responded to the tension and began swimming back up river.  I have used technique many times on big fish.  Never has the hook dislodged as if slack were being introduced into the system.  A few more runs away from Leo holding the net and heads up it was over.

I just love fall salmon fishing.  Everything is changing yet there is this constant beat of the river.  I don't remember many fish but this one gave me something to cherish.  Hard to explain what, I just accept it as truth of feeling alive today sharing a day with a dear friend and I remember those days that have a complete story to tell.


Friday, August 15, 2014

A Match Made In Heaven-Choosing The Fly First Will Help It Happen

One of the hardest things to have dialed in is that perfect matched system.  Where fly, tippet, leader, line and rod are all perfectly coordinated to our personal ability for one exacting set of circumstances and conditions.

Today in order to try a line we must buy one.  Put it on the rod we think is right and will more than likely be wrong.  I am having to deal with this dilemma all the time.  Let's try to get a bit more familiar with how we can make some better choices.

The Fly
Most of us will go to the store and buy our first fly rod prior to knowing and understanding what it will be used for.  I see it all the time.  "I have a", seems to be the constant first three words out of everyone's mouth.  A fly rod is a lever that we then manipulate to act as a spring by moving the lever in a way that transfers energy from our body to the rod.  Not just any energy as if I took the rod and shook it vigorously back and forth.  No, not any transfer but a controlled transfer of energy in a way that will most effectively continue that transfer of energy to a fly line.  Then in turn continue a smooth transfer to the leader and tippet and then that precious of precious lures at the end of the system.  The Fly.

So, it is that projectile that dictates the requirement of necessary transferred energy to present it in a way that is most pleasing to the target.  If the target were two pound bass yet the required stimuli was a deer hair mouse, would the size of the fish determine the correct lever as spring and be the appropriate delivery tool, or would it be that big, heavy and wind resistant fly?  Does the fish require an ulta light tippet?

This is why the fly comes first in our equipment choice as matching and correctly using the fly is the key factor in making the catch.

The Knot
When this topic comes up there is always one angler in the crowd who says, "I have been using a clinch knot my entire life and it has always worked just fine, I have no reason to change knots".  And I then say, "the reason you think it has be just fine is because you don't know better".  And then I catch myself and realize that that angler had no reason to change.  His choice met the requirements for all his needs.   But that said, given the choice would you use a knot that had 70% strength or one that worked in the same way at 100%?  One that lets you fly pull straight on the swing or cantor?  One that offers movement or restricts movement.

Learning many knots is a critical part of how we fish.  We must ask the question of how do we need our fly to swim in order to get that strike.  Fish have impulse triggers and knowing how and what they are including how they eat will be helpful.

The Tippet
Now we start to have some additional choice.  If we think the fly is right, for a certain target and condition, and we know the knot that will offer the best presentation, then the tippet is of great importance as to how that perfect morsel will be presented.

Most of us think it is all about the X factor.  Well, that might be a good part of the story but the Y factor is far more important.    Lets take a size 32 CDC midge dry.  The river is crystal clear and has moderate flow.  You can see the trout and if not careful the trout can see, feel, hear and smell you.  Now let's imagine the trout is in the five pound category.  A size 32 is going to require an 8x tippet or a 7x depending on what brand you choose.  The difference in tippet strength between these two choices is a very big percentage.  First, you need to do your homework and research tippet material. They are not all made the same and I use certain brands down to certain rivers.  Mono-filament, Fluorocarbon, co-polymer, coated, abrasion resistant, limp, firm, floating, sinking, clear and opaque. Knowing the Y factor as to "why" and when you would choose a certain tippet will be determined by the target, fly and condition.

Leader and Line
For me, the leader will be a seamless connection to my fly line.  What leader I choose is directly associated to how and why I have chosen my fly and tippet.  I use the word seamless because I try my best to deal with the transfer of energy from line through leader as science.  Having a butt section that is too large or too small has consequences.

Today we have so many options to make for this important connection.  Many lines come with fused loop to loop ability so Poly and Versi leaders can be used. Dry fly angling with a 2wt will require a different approach.

Matching the diameter of the butt section of the required leader will offer some reasoning for your line choice.  I ask the basic question as to what is needed to fuel the front end to determine my line choice. Then only then can I decide on the style of line.  From Double Taper through Skagit there are more decisions to make than most of us can imagine.  Think how enormous the range of capabilities can be. Mountain streams to steel-head in the Pacific North West to Sailfish in blue water.  Endless, isn't it?

The Rod  
Now it becomes final decision time.  My question is always going to be "What rod will cast the system with ease, efficiency and accuracy and at the same time effectively handle the target".  Fast, medium, slow, tip flex, through the grip flex, single, switch or two hand as well as length and weight are all determined by the fly, target and condition.  What would over or underlining do in a small river setting? At this moment we realize that the starting point in your next rod purchase needs to have greater thought.  It is an exacting science that starts at the beginning. A fly rod is not singularly a casting tool or a fish playing tool.  It is more than that as it is a fishing rod that can complete the task start to finish efficiently .

I realize that I have not given any conclusions as to choice.  I didn't teach you how to tie one knot.  My goal is to put it out there that we have choices that can be made with learning.

I am not standing in your river or ocean and looking at the conditions.  I have no idea what you require. But I can tell you that the more you learn about all the possibilities and have the knowledge to make these choices, your casting will improve and your catch will increase.  Anglers study their environment and locations intently so when fishing the only thing necessary is exercising our instinct, acquired skill and prowess to make the catch.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Dream Is Over

For a period of six years, I made the Merrimack River the challenge of my angling life.  My reasoning was, sooner or later the Atlantic Salmon restoration program would be successful. The Merrimack and Pemigewasset Rivers, with their substantial volume of quality tributaries, would become my home waters.

Each of the years starting in 1984 the numbers of returns was looking promising.  I was certain that the thrill experienced in Maine and Canada would be mine a bit closer to home.  This was Atlantic Salmon fishing, after all, and each and every reasons for not making the catch was in play.  The water too high, too low, nope they are not here yet or the proverbial, "you should have been here yesterday".

So for six years I traveled to down town Lawrence, Massachusetts in the shadow of the Essex Dam.  The very thoughtless obstruction that killed the run in the first place.  Many hours were spent hanging around and looking.  Park the car near the tracks and walk the train trestle in order to get a glimpse.  A window and a little sun.  You know how that works.  Yes?

I would stand looking and my mind would wander to what that first spring must have looked like as I peered down from the bridge facing the dam wall.   I just can not imagine the sight of all those different species trapped below the dam.  I'm sure that some who saw and smelled the remains were saddened.  But as more dams were built on other rivers, they were erected with the same lack of regard.   Blocked, and begging to continue, the migration was halted.  There must have been millions of fish.

By far, Lawrence is the strangest environment I have ever pursued the King of Fishes.  Paper mills, fabric mills and shoe manufacturing companies lined both banks from the dam down river for a full half mile.  The canals on both sides of the river, receiving their flow from the dams impoundment, forced the water through the sluice ways running under each building and turning the turbines to drive leather belts and fly wheels that the young grease monkeys would keep well oiled.

And so it was just another one of the many days on the Merrimack.  I arrived at the river early in the morning of June 6.  The flow was moving in a very moderate way for early June.  I made the decision to concentrate on river left about fifty yards down from the base of the dam.  The flow sweeps under the route 28 bridge then under the train trestle and straight down river past the boat ramp.  I have seen fish tight to the steep bank before as they moved up the edge.

As I jockeyed about from pocket to pocket, a very strange thing happened.  The water coming through the dam slowed down substantially.  I was fishing a brown bomber dry fly, and casting up stream when all of a sudden a bright flash swirled under the big high floater.  "That was no shad",  I screamed it in my head a second time.  Immediately, I decided that I would change to a wet fly. I moved away from the river out of sight or vibration. Marking the location on the bank and moved quickly to get ahead of the fish. I call this the bait and switch.  I learned this trick years before on the Miramichi River while following anglers fishing the dry fly in our down river rotation.  It was like they were my spoters and would get fish to show that I could target as we made our steps.  

This day I moved up river and started with a shorter line and would work slowly down to the position where I saw the fish.  This way if the fish was higher up and followed the dry fly you would be covering the water of an up river lie properly without lining the fish.

On the fifth cast a fine Atlantic took my size 8 Coburn Special.  I always thought this to be a green river.  What a total delight as the fish jumped repeatedly and took me down river below the boat ramp.  Brought to hand, the hook removed with ease, and then a moment of reality.  At least twenty five people of all walks of life had gathered and witnessed the catch.  Not many Merrimack Atlantic Salmon had been angled that I knew about but for a few that fell to Shad darts.

Then I heard someone say, "do you want your picture taken"  I said yes and am very happy to have the photo in this story.

It's now twenty four years since that season.  I never fished another minute for returning salmon on the Merrimack  It seemed that two was too many and six years was enough.

Fast forward to today and we know the program has not worked and is scheduled to end.  I have heard talk of private money.    Who knows?  The original genetics were lost.  I believe this factor has proven the bitter pill.  The effort that all involved made has been gallant.  Each and every person who made that effort has my deepest admiration and appreciation.  I wish the excitement of a few years ago would have lasted.

But nature will always rule.  No mater how modern we think we are, the cycle of life is not a malleable environment.  Perhaps the genetic engineers of present and future, will create the Souhegan River strain as well as a few other tributaries.

I still have an emotional connection to our great river.  I love every time I see it.  I teach some casting classes on the the rivers.  Places where students and instructor will sometimes gaze over the pool and hope to see one boil.   Hope that one day we might feel the pull of a big Pemi Salmon on it's way to the head waters. You just stop, stare and dream and the words "imagine what it must have been like?" will trickle past your lips as you shake your head slowly side to side.

Sadly, for me right now, the dream is over.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Never Tell A Lie

For a number of years I have been using The Measure Net system.  Why, you might ask?  Well the quality and function of the item is exactly what you would expect.  In my opinion far better than the price paid.  What is most important is the fact that I know exactly the size of my fish without removal from the water and with the shortest amount of time.  I just received my third and will put it in action first thing in the morning.  It's Landlocked Salmon time here in New England.

Here is the link to a wonderful product.   The Measure Net 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The FlySpoke Super Bug

3/0 Black Heron Natural Amherst Embellished

I'm a great lover of the Syd Glasso tying style.  It keeps in place all the wonder of flow and composition of those old Spey classics yet offers just a creative rendering that makes them fresh.  This variant, tied on an Alec Jackson 3/0, of Syd's Black Heron is a beautiful as I can offer to do justice to his craft.