Monday, November 5, 2007

Fishing beautiful water, well.

I stumbled across this video teaser for a film coming out called "Drift." This steelhead segment was filmed on the lower Deschutes, where I just returned from (read "The Myth of the Steelhead.") There's a line in here which really sums up steelheading for me, and for that matter, all trout fishing.

"Fishing beautiful water, well."

That is all we can expect from fly fishing, and exactly what I strive for: fishing beautiful water well, and thoroughly. It's not just about the fish, it's about the place and the experience. If the fish are there, and they're happy, you may hook up. But if not, you move on to the next beautiful piece of water, and fish it. Well.


A day of fishing on the Strawberry quickly turned to a day of watching the brown trout spawn. There were a lot of empty redds, so it looked like we missed the main event, but some of the redds were really happening.

These were some LARGE fish, not the size you would normally see in the river. At least not the type I usually see. So my questions are:

Where do these fish live during the year, when they're not upriver getting some lovin?

And more importantly, how do I catch them?

que the Barry White...

Combat Fishing: Middle Provo River, UT

This is not a term we often use to describe the conditions on the rivers here in Utah. Alaska, sure. I actually enjoyed this experience in Alaska, standing shoulder to shoulder with dozens of anglers at the Sheep Creek Slough, shooting the shit while you wait for a tug. But bring this to the Middle Provo, and you have the potential for serious conflict. For one thing, this is trout fishing, not salmon fishing. And this is a relatively small river, not a huge Alaskan slough.

When you go to the Provo on a weekend, you've got to expect some crowds. But I have never been to the river when I simply couldn't find a decent reach to fish. This is incredible, seeing as how the Provo lies within an hours drive of over a million people. And the fishery seems to be doing remarkably well, despite the amount of pressure put on the resource. But my experience this weekend has soured me to this river, and I can hardly imagine returning any time soon.

Follow me back to this past Saturday...

After spending the evening at Bob's cabin in the State Park above Midway, I drove into town and found my way to the River Road access at the bunny farm. Several cars were already parked there, but such is to be expected. I was rigged and ready to go when I arrived, so I moseyed up river past several anglers until I reached an empty run, with Everett dog sauntering ahead through the fields. I began fishing the tailout of the run and managed to pick up a nice 10-12" Brownie on a midge nymph, just as I began to see the splashy rises signaling an emergence of some sort. I stopped to tie on a small befus emerger, and that's when the rodeo began.

As I was tying on my tiny fly, three men, led by a conspicuous guide-looking fellow weighed down with what looked like a combat vest, pockets bulging with tackle, approached the run I was working. They gestured and discussed their options. In my head I thought "they wouldn't...would they??" But the thoughts turned to utter disbelief as they waded across at the head of the pool, and positioned themselves within casting distance right in the meat of the run I was working.

The guide-looking fellow rigged what I thought to be his client's rod, and demonstrated an appropriate cast and drift (no use in mentioning that he was casting across a large back-eddy current which produced a nasty line drag scenario on each "demonstration" cast.) At this point, since my drop-jawed look of utter disbelief had failed to register a reaction from the other anglers, I proceeded to confront them.

"Hey, are you a guide?" I asked of their leader. (To me, what they had done would be completely inexcusable behavior for a professional guide and a significant breach of etiquette, and I was hoping to find out who he was working for.)

"No." he exclaimed.

"OK, then, do you know anything about river etiquette?"

"What is your point?" he replied shortly, obviously annoyed with my implication that somehow he was in the wrong. "I passed you wide and waded across, up-river."

"Obviously not." I uttered, answering myself. "You cut me off! You waded right into the run I was fishing!"

I don't remember what he said after that, but I was so pissed that I simply muttered "Asshole" as I walked on upstream in search of a quieter piece of water.

But, already my day had been ruined by the encounter. My mindset was shot. Instead of tuning into the river and enjoying myself, I found myself reliving the encounter over and over in my mind, stewing over it, and becoming increasingly frustrated. No way to fish.

At this point I had fished through the tailout of another run, and had made my way right into the meat. Fish were rising to emergers all around. I had hooked & "farmed" (to borrow a term from steelheading) a couple nice fish, but I had forgotten my bottle of floatant so I was struggling to keep my size 22 befus on top of the water. I was about to leave, when it happened again. I was, for the second time in so many hours, cut off from finishing out the run. This time by a young guy who came out from the bushes within casting distance and began pitching lures into the shadowy depths of the run. The rising fish were instantly put down. And I just didn't have it in me for another confrontation. So I spooled my line, whistled for Everett, and sulked back to my car.

When a river receives as much pressure as the Provo, those who visit it need to be respectful of other users, be they anglers, bird watchers, or anyone else. And while you can not expect to have the river to yourself anymore, you certainly don't need to bully your way into it either. Give each other some space for gods sake! If someone is fishing a run you'd like to fish, talk to them. Communication can go a long way in these instances. Ask if they mind you dipping in BENEATH them in the run, as most trout fishermen fish up-river (unless you're steelheading, then you would enter the run above, as you most often fish for steelhead down-river.) Or patiently wait your turn.

When this happens to me again, I hope I have the fortitude to use it as a teaching opportunity, instead of making it into a confrontation which ruins my day and probably the other person's as well. But to the folks on the Provo this weekend, if you are reading this (you know who you are): For Shame! Learn the rules or don't play the game.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Myth of the Steelhead

I've heard stories of ocean-going rainbow trout that every year return to their home streams in the northwest to spawn. Stories are told of fish reaching 20 or more pounds, and 30 or more inches. Fish that will take a skated dry fly, or a carefully swung offering of marabou or rabbit fur. Fish that will run up and down river and leap acrobatically. Fish that will destroy fly rods and reels.

But I still don't believe they exist. Not until I catch one for myself.

This was the second year I've ventured to Oregon in October to chase Steelhead as they make their epic migration from the open ocean to the rivers and streams of their birth. And for the second year I came home empty handed, which is pretty much what I expected. This, I've been told, is how steelheading works. You have to put in your time. Which is exactly what we did. One day I hope to be rewarded, but until then I'm having a great time learning a new aspect of a sport I love.

Last year was the North Umpqua, this year the Deschutes, John Day, and Grande Ronde rivers. We fished our asses off for 5 days and didn’t catch a thing. But seeing that country was a real treat. Incredible rivers, and I can’t wait to return.

The Deschutes near Maupin was just begging to be floated. Sweet daily sections, some class IV peppiness. Sweet dory float at or around 5500, which is what it was running while we were up there. But no place to take lightly. This was big water, and hard to fish. People were hooking steelhead while we were there, we just didn’t manage to hook up.

The John Day at Cottonwood Canyon is a classic desert river. Unbelievable scenery, and just a beautiful river. The water was low. Would have made for a bony float at this level, but with some spring runoff, this is also begging to be floated. Supposedly an incredible small mouth bass fishery in the summer months when the water is warmer. In the fall and winter when the water is colder, it gets a strong run of wild steelhead. We fished for a few hours with no luck. One guy we talked to from Steamboat got a powerful hit on a marabou leech fly. The fish took about 3-4 inches of Marabou off the end of his fly, but didn’t manage to find the hook.

We ended up on the Grande Ronde near Troy. A more beautiful place to fish for steelhead I can hardly imagine. But once again we didn’t manage to find the fish. People were hooking fish all over, we just didn’t get on them.

Steelhead fishing on the fly is an interesting pursuit. Get up at the crack of dawn, and if you're me, put on leaky, cold, frozen waders and wet socks from the day before. Wade into 30 deg. water up to your balls, cast out as far as you can, and hope for the tug of a lifetime, all the time fighting frozen appendages. Over and over again. It’s a very slow game. But the slight possibility of hooking up a fish that could melt your face just looking at it, is enough to make me want to come back. I can’t wait to go again.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Dory building on the cheap

Brad Dimock, Colorado River guide and author, along with his good friend, Dan Dierker, built a drift boat to the lines of the original McKenzie using plans in the book "Drift Boats and River Dories" by Roger Fletcher ( The hull was built in six days. Yes. Six days. Brad then took another couple of weeks to design and complete the interior, all designed with camping in mind. He oiled the hell out of it using a gallon of pine tar, linseed oil, turpentine and Japan drier. He writes, "The boat drank the whole dang thing. Smells good and looks great."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


After floating the "A" section on the 21st, I had to highball down to Moab for a weekend retreat that I was helping to facilitate for the Young Democrats of Utah. They asked SUWA to help with the campsite logistics, set up a service project, and brief them about our work on behalf of public land wilderness. They agreed to bring food and cook. Everything was fantastic, except for the Folgers instant coffee. But we'll forgive them.

It was an interesting weekend. We camped at a beautiful site above Hell Roaring Canyon, at the edge of the Labyrinth Canyon proposed wilderness. The Young Dems received a crash course in both the beauty of the wilderness, and the fickle nature of it's weather patterns.

Saturday morning was beautiful. We spent a few hours reclaiming illegal off-road vehicle tracks off the Spring Canyon road.

In the afternoon, we attempted to hike down into Hell Roaring to check out a Barrier Style rock art panel, but our route proved a bit ambitious for some of crew members, including a couple of the dogs. So we brumbled around the rim (well...I brumbled, the others were mostly just hiking) and made our way back to camp in time for the rain to begin. That evening, the heavens opened up and spewed several inches of rain overnight. A certain SUWA staffer (who shall remain nameless to protect his ego) was flash-flooded out of his tent after pitching a little close to a wash. He was overheard mumbling "I gambled and lost." But the next morning, we were treated to an incredible double rainbow.

Sunday, we cleaned up our campsite and drove into Moab to drop off the groover and some garbage, grabbed a bite to eat, and headed to the put-in on the Moab Daily. So the dory was introduced to the Colorado River. It was a gracious meeting, and there was plenty of water ( 5000cfs +/-). It felt great to be boating on a muddy, red river again.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Wild & Scenic Rivers

Utah has many wild and scenic rivers, but no "Wild and Scenic" rivers. The latter, a federal designation under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. The law states:

It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States that certain selected rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. The Congress declares that the established national policy of dams and other construction at appropriate sections of the rivers of the United States needs to be complemented by a policy that would preserve other selected rivers or sections thereof in their free-flowing condition to protect the water quality of such rivers and to fulfill other vital national conservation purposes. (Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, October 2, 1968)

Wild and Scenic designation is a powerful and dynamic solution to river protection. W&S designation affords river segments protection from dam building, diversions and development, while allowing the public to utilize the river for boating, fishing, and other uses which don't harm the river. A perfect candidate for this designation is Utah's Green River, including the Red Canyon section below Flaming Gorge Dam ("A" Section), Desolation Canyon, and Labyrinth Canyon.

On Friday, Sept. 21st (after spending the night at Dripping Springs listening to the elk bugle) I had the privilege to float the "A" Section below Flaming Gorge as part of a publicity event and press tour in conjunction with the Utah Rivers Council ( Wild and Scenic Rivers campaign for Utah, as an adoptee of the Green River through URC's "Get Wild with a River" program. We were joined by several staff and board members from URC, Denny Breer (owner of Trout Creek Flies in Dutch John), members of the press, representatives from the Dagget County Commission, the Governor's office of public lands planning, and the Ashley National Forest district ranger. We took turns speaking to one another as we floated through the serene canyon, and traded our views on the benefits and drawbacks to protecting a river.

Hard to say what will come of this. Already there is stiff opposition to any form of federal protection for rivers in Utah. Some land managers and local government officials feel their hands will be tied by any sort of new management framework.

I feel like we are rapidly losing our wild and scenic rivers to development. Some, like the White River, are more threatened than others. But all of these rivers deserve protection. Whether its W&S, or Wilderness, or something else. We need to think of our wild and scenic rivers as resource, not to be impounded and drilled and scarred by off road vehicles and motorized use, but to be shepherded and stewarded for future generations.

Press Links: Updated 10/3/07

Salt Lake Tribune, October 3, 2007
Wild & Scenic Green River - Multimedia

Salt Lake Tribune, October 3, 2007
In the name of rivers

Deseret Morning News, September 26, 2007
Wild & Scenic Green River,5143,695213194,00.html, September 21st, 2007
Group Wants Utah's Rivers Federally Protected

Rock Me On The Water

Before today I had never heard of Renny Russell, but now I feel like he is somehow my cosmic doppelganger, add 30-40 years. Today I got an email from a coworker, letting me know that this dude was going to be speaking tonight at Ken Sanders' book store, about Desolation Canyon and building dories and other things that sounded interesting. So I wrote a message to myself on my left hand: 7 Ken Sanders, meaning go to Ken Sanders at 7. Well, Ray called me at about 7 and said he'd be drinking in the garage and did I want to come over and drink in the garage too. Of course I did. So I left to go to Rays. But when I got in my car, I looked at the clock and it said 7:14. Something clicked. I looked down at my left hand. 7 Ken Sanders. So I turned west and went to Ken's book store instead. Glad I did. (Sorry Ray.)

If you grew up in the sixties, maybe you've heard of this guy Renny. He wrote a book called "On the Loose" which I'm told was a cult classic. But I was more struck by the story he told of the tragedy of his brother's death at Steer Ridge on the Green River in Desolation Canyon, when the boat they were in flipped. Renny walked 75 some odd miles out of Deso to the town of Green River and basically disapeared off the face of the earth. His brothers body was found in the eddy above Florence Creek a few days later.

His new book "Rock Me On The Water" tells the story of "a life on the loose," the loss of his brother, and of Renny's return to the river by way of building dories. I can't wait to read it. He read some passages, and showed some unbelievable slides from a life of river running. One incredible picture caught my attention, of a dory guide in the Grand Canyon posing in front of a mangled wooden dory, missing half it's bow. Literally, the entire right-front panel of the boat (where the name is painted) was literally blown out, gunnel and all. The missing piece, proudly being displayed by the guide. Big smile on his face. It turns out, the boat had been flipped in Crystal rapid, and had become pinned in the rock garden below, with the guide underneath entangled by his life jacket. He escaped. The dory was recovered, and to my amazement, repaired! I am told it is still in use today. The boat's name was "Wooden shoe." I would love to see it on the river some day.

I must confess, I picked up a copy of his book from Ken's, and after speaking with Renny for a few minutes and having him sign the book, I walked out of the store without paying for it. Sorry Ken! I'll be in first thing tomorrow to settle my tab.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Genesis in Pictures

Dave Inskeep Photo.

Dave Inskeep Photo.

Dave Inskeep Photo.

Dave Inskeep Photo.