Thursday, August 31, 2006

Fishing the Metolius with TU Blogger Luca; Navigating Olympic Ntl Park

It's been a while, haven't updated in about a week, but I've been all over the Northwest and it's been a wild ride. Starting last Thursday, I drove north east, out to the blue-green, freezing Metolius River to meet up with Trout Unlimited's blogger, Luca Adelfio -- the luckiest guy in America.
From MattStansberry

Luca and I ate a fresh Deschutes steelhead at the Allen Springs camp site before hitting the river, looking for bull trout. They're an endangered species in the states, but if you were going to find them somewhere, the Metolius is where you'd be most likely to hook into one. They're a big, lazy, green trout, a super-predator. You fish for them most often in the winter with giant streamers.

Luca told me a few tales from the road, but we spent most of the time whippping the river to a froth. It's supposed to be one of the toughest rivers in the state to fish, and it lived up to that reputation, skunking both your humble narrator and the luckiest guy in the world. Check out Luca's post here.

Navigating Olympic National Park
The next day I shipped off to Seattle for a work event, following which Katie and I took the ferry from Seattle to Bremerton. The drive from Bremerton to Olympic Ntl. Park wasn't particularly stunning, but once we got there...
From MattStansberry

Also, I picked up my first GPS unit before I went there. I was mostly playing around, but there was one feature that I tried to use. It has a Sunrise/Sunset feature, but I didn't expect to have to set my GPS unit's clock. The Garmins are set on Central time. I assumed they worked like a cell phone, got their cues from their locations. I found out the hard way, when the unit said sunset was at 10:00, stranding me and Katie on a dark rainforest trail, frequented by cougars two hours after sundown.
From MattStansberry

From MattStansberry

From MattStansberry

From MattStansberry

From MattStansberry

Needless to say, we made it back. I've stayed busy since, setting up a Web site for my local Trout Unlimited Chapter 678. I'm headed out with the crew from TU this weekend for a high lakes trip, finding some remote lakes that were stocked long ago, trying to see if there are still any wild populations.

Also, I've been Geocaching. It's harder that it seems. You read these logs online and it's all these kids and families. But I've only found one, and I've been looking for them for days. That's why it's fun I gues.

Dove hunting tomorrow at Fern Ridge. First day of bird season. I'll probably site my rifle in too. I've had the trigger fixed at Mazama's. Maybe look for some grouse that afternoon.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Coyote hunting at Fern Ridge

Thanks to the guys at Predator Extreme magazine, I managed to secure hunting rights for coyotes at Fern Ridge Wildlife Refuge. In turn, I get the chance to learn the area, gain some favor with the people running the show there, plust get to try my hand at predator calling for the first time.
From MattStansberry

I just picked up the magazine, and in the editorial letter the guy said game preserves were his secret for getting access to fattened up coyotes and other animals. Fern Ridge hosts a month-long fee hunt for farm pheasants and the coyotes have done well cleaning up the birds that don't get shot. So when I offered to come help out at Fern Ridge before the fee pheasant season got underway, Director Wayne Morrow had me in his office writing a permit 30 minutes later.

Hunting is legal during deer and gamebird seasons in Fern Ridge, but I managed to secure a pass for the rest of August, so I can carry/shoot a shotgun between now and the regular season.

My first night out there was Monday. I met with Morrow, he took me to a few spots where the crew had been seeing signs. Then I went to Mazama's and picked up a predator call. It's a dying jackrabbit call, sounds pretty good. But I don't think that rabbits make up a lot of a coyote's diet in this area. It holds too many birds, deer, other stuff. And I think these jack rabbit calls are made for rodent-eaters out on the prarie, not marsh coyotes. So I don't have a lot of confidence in the call.

I tried it at dusk Monday and again last night, but it didn't bring anything in that I could see. I wore head to toe, scentlock camo with a mosquito net over my face. I spent a lot of time scanning the fields, checking out the patterns of the Canada geese (Sept. season starts 9/9).

I did find some prints and some scat, so I'm on the right track. Going to try to find a different call today. Probably pick up some good decoys as well.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Trout of the living dead; A long hard slog in Jasper

Wednesday night I worked for fish. I busted out the inflatable kayak again to tackle the steelhead stacking up just outside of Dexter Dam. The fish were still jumping, but since I got there pretty early in the afternoon, the meat-stickers weren’t out in force yet. Just one cool older dude that said nobody was really catching anything lately.
From MattStansberry

This was my second trip to the dam. Both times giant fish were leaping out of the water, making my knees weak just watching them. But today the sun was high in the sky, the dam wasn’t releasing water, and I could see the fish a lot more clearly. And they were pretty bad off. Huge white rotting chunks covered their heads, like fishy lepers. The giant fish were milling around in a circle in front of the dam in the weak current and it was a pretty sick sight.

NOTE: Some people have said these fish are salmon, others said they’re steelhead. I really don’t know what they are. Which would probably explain why no one is hooking into them -- aside from the guys with the weighted treble hooks and surf poles.
From MattStansberry

I paddled out to the middle of this salmonoid soup, looking down at all of the lumbering giants. I was dragging a bunny leech behind me, not really fishing, but trying to keep the line from snarling around my kayak paddle and limbs. As I was sitting there, I looked up on top of the dam at a guy who looked official (he was in all green and might have had a uniform hat of some kind). He was giving me the stink eye. Not actively pursuing me, or even gesturing at me, but I had a bad feeling I was being watched and was on shaky legal grounds, floating in front of the dam release with a poll in the water. So, I paddled toward where there was some current and slid downstream and away from the dam.

I hadn’t worked out where I was going to pull out or how I was going to get back when I did, but I assumed I’d figure something out. I sort of half-heartedly cast my bunny leech around the middle current on my way downstream, randomly hoping for dumb luck to take over and land me a fresh steelhead. But I got sick of that pretty quick and when I found a spot that looked good about a mile downstream I got out. And then I took off the leech. I just didn’t have the heart to fish it. Big ‘ol bunny leech on a sinking line.

But I did have the sense to downsize and hope some bigger trout were in here. The water looked really good, deep runs, sharp bends, etc. I grabbed a heavily weighted size 8 woolly bugger and started working the runs from shore. Tap. Tap. Tap. Zing… got it. The most respectable trout of my Oregon fishing career. Nice looking redband, wild trout.

I made my way down to another bend, another nice run, and that’s when I backed into exactly what I was supposed to be looking for. A steelhead -- big and lively, no rot at all -- was in the pool, and it was popping the surface for dries! I didn’t have any dries! Who the hell would have thought to bring dries? Well, it didn’t matter. About two seconds after I spotted it I lost my footing in the current and basically belly-flopped on top of the pool.

I’d spooked the fish of a lifetime. A fresh steelhead, actively attacking bait in a secluded pool. And I rolled on top of it. But it didn’t set me back as much as you’d think. I cast at the empty pool a couple times, just because, then headed back up to my kayak.

On the way back, I cast a run I hadn’t probed before. I pulled a couple times, did the bop method my brother likes. Tap tap tap and then wham. A big boy slammed me, not a steelhead but a fish close to 20” pounded the streamer, jumped clear out of the water and was gone.

That was all I could take. Good times for sure, but I still had an inflatable kayak to get back to the car. Rowing back was out of the question, walking it back was beat too. No trail. So I stuck one end of my kayak oar in the front between the two inflatable chambers, put the other end under my armpit and pushed it back up the riverbed, one mile to my Civic.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Fern Ridge car break in; Skunked on the Siuslaw

So Sunday I went to REI, I bought a Garmin GPS unit and USGS topo mapping software of Oregon. I had it about 45 minutes before someone broke out my back window and stole it, along with a bunch of long underwear, socks and two backpacks (one of which had all of my steelhead flies in it).

I was parked at the Fern Ridge Wildlife area, literally a stone's throw from the highway. Katie and I walked out into the marsh to check out some birds with our binoculars. We were out there maybe 45 minutes total. On the way back, a couple told us that our gray civic had the back window smashed out.
From MattStansberry

We ran back to the car to find that they'd stolen the two packs, but had left Katie's purse (I can't believe it), the fly rod and a case of wine in the trunk. Must have been in a hurry. I probably lost about $500 on the deal. And in case you're wondering, my insurance agency, LeDoux Insurance Agency here in Eugene, didn't cover any of it.

My deductible was $500, but they don't cover any of the items in the car. Also, unlike other policies I've had, there isn't a separate deductible for glass, so there had to be $500 worth of glass damage. Which there wasn't. Just to note, I could have had a $100 deductible instead of a $500 deductible, for a mere $12, but no one at LeDoux mentioned that when I got my policy. Also, no one told me that my claim was worthless when I reported it to SafeCo on Sunday night, so even though I didn't get a cent from the insurance policy, there is a mark on my insurance credit for filing the claim. So needless to say, when I need to re-up my policy in six months a few hard questions are going to need answering.

But this blog isn't about insurance. It’s about the Oregon Outdoors. But I'm going to stay on this subject for another minute because I'm pissed off. Why aren't people doing a better job patrolling these areas? From what I've gathered, Eugene is rampant with property crime, but nothing gets done. A large transient population and major meth problem translate into theft for Eugene area outdoorsmen. You know what Lane County Sheriff's Dept did when I called? They mailed me a form to fill out. I feel like the Dude from the Big Lebowski when his car gets stolen. I'm not going to hold out for the tape deck. Or the Creedence.

In a slightly less frustrating experience I went chasing sea-run brook trout yesterday. The Eugene Register Guard said there were fish in the system, so I thought I'd try my hand. Unfortunately, I had no idea how far away the piece of river I wanted to fish was. It took almost an hour to get to a spot I'd never even seen, one I picked out on my recently replaced Topo map of Oregon. When I got to this boat launch on Rte. 36, I pretty much had to turn back around and drive immediately home because I promised Katie I'd go to the Lane Co. Fair that night. I did find the place crawling with baitfish, but it didn't look like it would hold any sea-run trout. I might be looking in the wrong place, or I might be chasing Bigfoot here. Sea-run Cutthroat Trout sounds a little too squirrelly a fish to have much consistent success with.

On the upside: I checked out the other fly shop in town, Home Waters Fly Fishing. I talked to the guy that was running the place for what seemed like a long time about the rampant crime. Nice place, but I'm sold on the Caddis Fly still.

I also checked out two new really productive spots: Dexter Lake Dam and the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette. Dexter Lake dam has salmon and steelhead trying to get up it right now. It's crawling with fish and fishermen, but I could get to some really prime spots with the kayak. Plus, it's the first place that's legitimately a half hour away. Unlike most of my other spots, which I say are a half hour away but are more like an hour.

The North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette is definitely an hour away, but is one of the most beautiful places I've ever fished, just second to the Umpqua. Definitely a place to explore further. Didn't get to catch anything there, but did see a lot of rising fish.

Also, I'm tying better, now that I'm stuck replacing all of my steelhead flies. Nice wooly buggers and egg patters. Going out tonight to try my luck at the Dexter Lake Dam.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Target practice in Marcola, tiny trout in Oakridge

Thursday night I took KP, my .22 and some targets out to some BLM land outside the town of Marcola. The .22 was sighted in about right and I was shooting pretty well. We might have been growled at by something, I want to say it was a cat, but we never saw it.

Friday, I made it out to Salt Creek for the first time since May when it was blown out. It’s a little tributary off the Middle Fork of the Willamette River, just east of Oakridge. The drive is really long. I never noticed. I keep thinking it’s short, but it’s close to an hour outside of Eugene.

The other thing I seem to be misjudging is my ability to catch fish. I mean, I am catching wild trout on every trip [Skinner Butte notwithstanding], but I’ve missed so many fish it’s embarrassing. In fact, I’ve missed/lost so many tiny trout that I’m nervous to imagine what’s going to happen if I catch a real fish.

Salt Creek was nice, full of tiny fish -- still had their adipose fins. I think they were “cutt-bows” a hybrid between native cutthroats and stocked rainbows. But I’m not sure if that’s the case. All of the little fish I caught looked exactly the same, like a generic silvery trout, sort of had spots like a cutt, but still had the feathery band that could mean it was a bow. But some had cuts and some didn’t. So I couldn’t tell you what they were.

When I parked at the pull off, there wasn’t a path heading down to the water. In fact, the place was overrun with those goddamn blackberries. But, hell. I drove an hour. So I stomped through the prickers in my crocs. Didn’t buy new wading shoes yet. Dumb move.

On the list:
  • Kayak paddle: I could probably get around a lot faster with that.
  • Wading shoes: Still picking thorns out from under my toenails.
  • GPS unit: Depending on whether I can download maps for my area and mark up fishing/hunting holes.

    Also went to the Caddis Fly yesterday and learned how to tie egg patterns. Got the lowdown on where to catch some steelhead. Moving to catch something bigger than my hand. The guys say you gotta be there before 4am. Not into that. But maybe. I also heard that it’s important to fish higher on the McKenzie.

    Saturday we made a run to the coast. Went to Bandon, but wasn’t impressed. It was freaking cold for sure. People crabbing, but we didn’t get into it because it was too cold. We decided to head inland. I’d originally headed for the coast because I was into trying for some sea-run cutthroats -- the Eugene Register Guard said they’re in the Siuslaw River. The river looked a little tough to fish though, shallow, wide silty.
    From MattStansberry

    Instead, we made our way up the Umpqua. It’s the most beautiful river I’ve ever seen. Katie and I pulled off the road on 138 and pitched a big purple wooly bugger sucking on a pink egg. That was pretty beat. I’m still not sold on the big nasty fly technique for West Coast fishing. But the river was gorgeous, big water roiling into giant pools. No fish.

    We moved upstream after about 30 mins, and I switched over to a small, black wooly bugger. And I don’t think I’m ever going to switch back. It’s a great fly. In fact, 3 casts after switching up I pulled my first fish out of the Umpqua, a respectable redband trout.

    Maybe early steelhead tomorrow. On another note, I should probably take a notebook with me on the stream. I can’t catch all the details here sitting in the house, hours or days later.
  • Thursday, August 10, 2006

    Mazama's sporting goods; stranded on the McKenzie

    Lots happening the past few days. We’ll start with Wed.

    Wed night I made it out to Mazama’s Sporting Goods in Valley River Center and picked up some Leupold binoculars and some information. The binocs were pretty slick, there was a nice view of the Coburg hills, several miles off, that made for a cool place to test the view from the shop.

    The guys at Mazama’s were great. They had a couple local hunters in there hanging out, one was a local legend from what I understand. He told me a story about shooting a cougar at arms length that was trying to get at his dog, just last year.
    From MattStansberry

    The guys at the Caddis Fly highly recommended Mazama’s, but said they might be standoffish. And I could see that the guy that runs the place probably doesn’t have a lot of patience for morons. But luckily he hadn’t figured me for one, so we got on great.

    In fact, they sent me right down to the Bureau of Land Management to pick up a map and then they marked it up for me. I’ve got more hunting spots than I can even cover this year now.

    The main thing I took away from that day was that if I can find deer now, they’ll likely be right back where I found them when it’s hunting season. So I’m headed out scouting tonight. I’m also going to site in my .22.

    Yesterday was sweet. Headed out on the McKenzie, following the path I took with Jeff (guide from Caddis Fly) and my brother when we camped here in April. Katie dropped me off around 3:30 at Hayden Bridge. I rowed out and immediately stopped just on the other side of the ramp at a spit of gravel I’d fished the first time. The water was a bit lower, but not too far down that it changed everything. I had a couple taps but didn’t hook up. Unfortunately, in my rush to catch fish, I forgot to stow my phone and completely drowned it. My only method to call Katie (who I was supposed to call when/where I needed picked up), and I don’t know her new Oregon phone number.
    From MattStansberry

    I didn’t let that daunt me though. I fished the area for about 25 minutes and moved on to a bend in the river that was a real honey hole last trip. The spot was recognizable, but significantly lower as well. A sharp bend in the river and a place where another waterway dumped into the McKenzie. It formed some weird eddies and a big hole, just on the protected side of the bend. I was fishing my nymph-partridge system and picked up two small cutthroats, one small one on the partridge and a bigger fish on the nymph.

    Just about then a couple guys rafted by and told me that I was about two and a half hours from where I’d planned to pull out, Armitage. So with no phone, and hours away from where I needed to be, I moved on, but not before I dumped my digital camera in the drink trying to take a picture of one of the trout. Two for two with the electronics.

    Despite the anxiety I was feeling about the lack of a phone and long-haul, it was one of the more pleasant river floats I’ve ever been on. I saw a blacktail deer fawn, half a dozen osprey (I can’t see how there are any trout left with that many around), a red-tailed hawk (guessing) and a bunch of college chicks in bikinis on a raft. Sadly, I left the binoculars at home.

    I closed the distance to Armitage in under two hours. Borrowed a phone and made a series of calls until I reached Katie. She came and picked me up, and then I busted ass to get to the Trout Unlimited meeting I was supposed to attend.

    Irony: Man misses trout club meeting because he’s stranded while chasing trout.

    I did make it to the meeting, though a half hour late. I caught Mike Beagle, TU’s Oregon Field Coordinator, who was giving a presentation on the Copper-Salmon project on Oregon’s Elk River, in the southwestern portion of the state. He also turned the meeting on to a couple other outdoors groups that band together to support issues that TU cares about, like the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and the Oregon Hunters Association. Both of which I’ll likely join.

    A guy isolated on the West Coast needs hobbies. I’ll stop at four clubs. I promise.

    Lastly, I met Al Avey, president of the McKenzie/Willamette chapter of TU. They have some really cool projects going on, including fish/water assessments with the state and a project to improve habitat on the upper region of the Middle Fork of the Willamette for Bull Trout. Al and I may be working on a Web site for the chapter this week. Stay tuned.

    That’s it for now though. It’s time to go scout for deer and shoot these guns. Good riddance Boston.

    PS: Thursday is still the new Friday.

    Tuesday, August 08, 2006

    Fishing in Skinner Butte Park -- Eugene, Oregon

    Today I drove down to the local fly shop, the Caddis Fly, and picked up materials to tie my new oregon go-to rig. I learned how to palmer a partridge hackle and bought a loose bag of feathers. I also bought yellow floss for the soft hackle flies and some bead heads for the possy-buggers -- the heavy end of my one-two punch, nymph with wet fly trailer.
    From MattStansberry

    I told the lady running the shop that I was going to try to fish the Willamette in town. There are two parks, one on either side of the river going through Eugene, Skinner Butte and Alton Baker. I asked which park she preferred, but she didn't have an opinion either way, never fished either. I didn't take that as a good sign.

    I opted for Skinner Butte, the closer of the two parks. The park was right on the river, clean and full of people. A trail ran along the bank with access points to the water, but there was a lot of trees hanging over shore -- nowhere to cast. There was no bug activity, topwater or nymphs. And there was a nasty silt on the rocks. Plus, no structure. It was big, slow and flat.
    From MattStansberry

    My girlfriend KP was with me and she made the best of it, picking enough blackberries to make a pie and posing in a tie-dyed, ceramic hippy whale. Other than that though, the place was a bust.
    From MattStansberry

    I also found out that the Caddis Fly offers beginning fly fishing classes. I think I'm going to sign up for the September round. It's $55 for three nights: Sept 13, 14, 15 Wednesday, Thursday, Friday 6pm-8pm. Classes are supposed to take place over on the other side of the river, at Alton Baker. Maybe it's better over there, but I probably won't be back to fish Skinner Butte.

    Monday, August 07, 2006

    Moving to Eugene, Oregon

    It's day two, on the heels of a 7-day saga from Boston to Eugene, OR -- and I've hit the ground running. Since leaving Boston I've signed up for the local Oregon chapters of Ducks Unlimited and Trout Unlimited, bought my hunting licenses for the year, bought a watercraft and caught my first wild Oregon trout unassisted.
    From MattStansberry

    The first DU banquet is coming up -- it's August 19 in Eugene. The first TU event isn't as clear, the TU site is hard to navigate so I'm going to have to get back to you on that one. There is a Willamette/McKenzie chapter though, so I've got a home.
    From MattStansberry

    When I bought my hunting licenses yesterday, the girl ringing me out said she'd never seen such a high license charge before. I had to buy non-resident tags since I haven't been here six months yet. A general license, a deer tag, upland bird, migratory bird and federal stamp -- totaling $400.
    From MattStansberry

    I headed out to the Middle Fork of the Willamette River this afternoon around 1pm, pulled off just east of the Shady Dell campground and put my boat in. The water was warm enough to wet-wade, so tried the bank with a Parachute Adams before shoving off into the river. No fish in close, I slid into my kayak for the first time. I was in about 8 inches of water, but had plenty of clearance. I moved downstream a lot faster than I thought I would, couldn't seem to keep it straight. I'm using a canoe paddle and not a kayak paddle.

    I noticed a lot of nymph activity, but nothing coming off the water. There were a lot of big rock-cased caddis nymphs and even bigger stonefly nymph cases all over the rocks. I also saw some deer sign on the second pull out.

    There were some different birds in the area: an osprey, something that might have been a grouse, a vulture. I'm going to need some binoculars and a field guide so I don't shoot something endangered this fall.

    The water was moving suprisingly fast, but there were productive pockets. I was looking for a certain flow, that fishy spot between the banks and the current. And I worked my way down about a mile to a bend below a riffle. I'd switched over from a dry to a prince nymph with a soft-hackle trailer. That's when I started picking up fish. I caught a couple small rainbows on the soft hackle. Nothing on the prince.

    A little later I switched over to a coachman stimulator dry, just to see what happened, and I got a couple rises at it, but didn't hook up. Such a weird fly. Eventually I brought my boat around to the road side of the bank, deflated it and stuffed it in my bag. The walk back to the car with the pack over my shoulders wasn't bad. But the trucks were coming a lot closer than I'd have wanted them too. Nice blackberries on the way back.

    Review of the boat: It's a 97" Sevylor Rio. It has three chambers, one on the bottom and one on each side. It's very sturdy in the water, you could cast, shoot or do almost anything while rolling down the river and not worry about falling out. On the downside, it's pretty tough to control. In fast water, you can generally get where you need to go, but don't count on accuracy or boat control.

    Review of my wading shoes: So, I've been an advocate of Crocs as an all purpose outdoors shoe for a some time, at the risk of ridicule from my friends. I've always said they are a great general summer shoe, perfect for surf fishing and wet wading. But I'm giving up on that. Crocs suck for fishing. Bottom line. I'm buying wading shoes next chance I get. I slipped off of every rock, twisted my ankle every five seconds and got more sand between my toes than you could imagine. Forget Crocs.