Monday, October 21, 2013

The Perfect Fish, A Story With Three Parts

I spend many days in search of perfect fish, on a perfect day and with a perfect plan.  The fish that are healthy and strong and have the most brilliant colors possible.  New England with all it's wonderful charm played out in a thought process that puts me in the right place at the right time with the right angling choices.  To that end most people would say I carry the game too far..  

This spring I have had a substantial number of these days with large and beautiful fish as an added bonus.  Mostly Rainbows with some spectacular Landlocked Salmon.  We fish hard, barb free and work to do our best to analyze what is happening at every moment.  This Saturday was one of those days to remember for a long, long time.

Archie says this one is perfect
I started out the morning at three dark o'clock and hit the road for the one hour drive to my first location.  I would be meeting Leo for a few hours of landlocked Salmon angling before heading to a favorite Trout and Salmon hole.  The fishing was not easy and we each managed a few fish with only one that Leo had on that could be called perfect.  The fish managed to snap him off and was not brought to hand. I was just down river at the time and when I saw the fish jump it was truly impressive.  To see a big silver fish fly three feet out of the water is the magic of Salar.  For that brief moment the snow stopped and the wind was not howling any more.  For being the end of April the weather was normal in the North Country.  Normally unpredictable.

Upon arrival at stop number two,  the first connection for both of us came within ten minutes.  Leo took the  big fish of the day at  twenty one and a half inches.  I then had a bright and perfect nineteen inch beauty that fits the heart and the inspiration of this story.  Then everything just stopped.  As we continued to fish there was no movement, no takes and no insect activity.  The wind was still blowing hard and the temperature only ticked up a bit.  My guides were freezing and hours were going by without a sign of possibility.  This is the time when every fly in your box will be tried.  Leaders will be lengthened and shortened.  Weight will be added and removed.  Tippet size will be dropped at the risk of breaking off the big one.  Nothing works because nothing works.  Nothing works.

As the day continued, Leo and I stayed with the plan.  We were there until dark no matter what and would make sure that everything possible was considered.

1:30 Nothing

2:30 Nothing

3:30 Nothing and we moved up river to give the pool a rest.

4:30 Nothing

5:30 Nothing and we headed back to the pool.

"Hey, I just saw a fish swim right past me," I said.  "Maybe they are moving up to the rapid to feed", said Leo.  Then in a matter of moments, Leo had a fish take up in the head of the pool, I had one in the middle, Leo had another in the head, we switched and I had two in the head and then another toward the middle.  It went on for about one hour and was done.

There was one theme to this explosion and that was all the fish were taken on an Early Black Stonefly nymph.  This has been the go to fly for some time and was tried all day long without results.  As the feast was happening we bantered about Little Stony this and Little Stony that.  In a very clean environment where the water stays cold the Early Black Stone will be seen.  This little stonefly is effective in sizes 16 and 14 and is a true emerging insect. The activity will last as long as the water stays cold.

All I can say about this day is that it was perfect.  The fish, the river, the fly, and most of all the company and friendship.  Perfect.........


Friday, October 4, 2013

North Atlantic Oscillation, Woods Hole, NOAA, And What It Means

For a long time we anglers of Salmo Salar have been coming up with every reason possible for reduced returns. Clearly, the Atlantic Salmon rivers of the North Atlantic have been in decline.  My observation is that the further south the river mouth, the greater the decline.  In the United States the greatness of a revolution for wealth was a dagger in the heart of many fish species populations.  Now global warming, if natural or for man made reasons, continues the negative effect on southern waters.

In Canada, where there are many rivers without the blockage of dams, we have seen major disruptions in populations due to other reasons.  Netting, clear cutting, heavy metals mine spills, acid rain and greater angling pressure have all taken a toll.   In Europe the south was hit hard in the same way as the US.   Further north to a lesser degree, but over all declines have been evident.

My simple point is that you can look region by region and river by river and find a great number of reasons for decline.  I am now under the belief that there is one major factor that transcends all others.  One so clear in science it is hard to deny.   It's called The North Atlantic Oscillation(NAO).

Studies by The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute as well as The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Association(NOAA)  have both been done on this subject.  My writing is but an attempt to understand the information gathered.

Most anglers I talk with about the NAO have no idea what it is.  When I mention El Nino everybody then has a reference.  Although they are not the same, the concept of this Earth phenomenon of open ocean effect on migrating species and weather patterns is understood and more important believed.

Wickapedia defines the NAO as follows:  "The North Atlantic oscillation (NAO) is a climatic phenomenon in the North Atlantic Ocean of fluctuations in the difference of atmospheric pressure at sea level between the Icelandic low and the Azores high. Through east-west oscillation motions of the Icelandic low and the Azores high, it controls the strength and direction of westerly winds and storm tracks across the North Atlantic. It is highly correlated with the Arctic oscillation, as it is a part of it".
During the 1960's and early 70's Atlantic Salmon fishing was having some of the finest years possible.  This continued into mid decade of the 70"s but the decline was noticeable and having a sharp impact.  By the early 1980's things were very different and many fishing regulations and daily limits were changed.  We still had all the river specific effects of man's doing but an overall world wide decline was taking hold.  At this same exact time there was something else that had happened.  The North Atlantic Oscillation moved from a narrow or negative difference in barometric pressure to a wide or positive difference. 

Over the past number of years information has been gathered.  Part of this puzzle has been the need to understand the numbers of smolt going to sea.  Counting wheels and down stream shock counts have proven that the numbers remain strong.  The conclusion has been to look to the ocean for the issue.  Again, lets for a moment agree that man made problems like fish farms and sea lice, acid rain and natural issues as predation have effect, but don't allow us to look at the big picture.  This big picture is in the ocean and what is happening to the Salmon while at sea and the availability of food to eat.  Food availability is the key ingredient to a healthy Salmon population.  This will be especially noticed in the numbers of multi winter, multi spawning very large fish.

If we examine the current NAO history we will find that a positive or large gradient difference has been the pattern for the last thirty five years.   This effect brings strong westerly winds, warmer Southern North Atlantic Ocean temperature and colder Northern North Atlantic Ocean temperature.  When the NAO is in a negative pattern the winds are held to the south of the salmon feeding grounds off Greenland. 

Positive equals a decreased area of feeding or a band of ocean that is battered by high winds and rough seas further north and into the winter feeding areas.  A negative pattern creates a larger feeding ground or wider band of northern ocean that is calmer.  Salmon survive in an average of fourteen feet below the surface while at sea.  A harsh and rough environment means the disruption of the food source.  Can it be that the major populations of salmon thought to winter off Greenland and the Farrows Islands can be directly impacted by the weather conditions of those locations?  Is it also possible that certain river populations do their winter feeding in different locations that are effected more or less?  Are the salmon of the Kola feeding in the same winter areas of those from Scotland?  Do the Inner Bay of Fundy salmon that have been the hardest hit feed in a location not conducive to survival?   Can it be that the salmon of a single river will disperse to different feeding areas for the survival of the species?  

Nature will feed the strong to survive only to the degree of ability.  Should the ability be decreased by food deprivation, the weakest will continue to die until a level of survivability is met.   This is called the Balance of Nature.  Should critical mass be eroded to a tipping point the result will be catastrophic. 

Over the last five years it has been possible for me to predict the size and quantity of the salmon returning to North America.  Food and the availability of food in the ocean alone is the key factor. What man has done to harm the fish has been somewhat countered by all the good that has been done over the last thirty years.  We are now in the up cycle of this science and the next ten years should prove to be a very positive time for an angler of Salar.

So I don't leave this only to the Atlantic, you steelhead fans on the West Coast need only follow the Pacific Decadal Oscillation for your answers.