Sunday, September 25, 2011

Dropping like flies

Just a couple weeks back I was talking with a friend and follower of this blog and we were joking about what a great job I was doing of reaching my goals for the year.  At that point with 8 out of 10 months gone I had crossed off a grand total of one out of ten.  It wasn't looking good.

Last week I headed out to find some sea-run cutts so I could at least cross one more goal off before the year came to a close on me.  I did succeed, although I didn't tell you all.  The pics I took either turned out way too dark or way over-saturated.  Such is the life of a poor photographer.  But at least that makes it 2 of 10.

Since I was on a roll I figured it would be a good idea to go try for some salmon on Saturday.  The entire Portland fishing area is new to me, so I stayed with one of the few rivers I have been to:  the Wilson.  It was a little more popular than last time I went out, which isn't surprising since then it was very rainy and this time it was nice a sunny.  But eventually I found a spot to park and fish.

The first thing I saw when I got down to the water was a nice big fish 20 feet out from the bank.  I couldn't tell if it was a small salmon, a huge sea-run cutt, or a stealhead but who really cares.  It was a big fish.  The section of river was moving very slowly and the surface was glassy....not the best condition to make a stealthy cast.  I gave it a go anyway and managed a number of casts near the fish before he took off.  No luck yet.

For the rest of the afternoon I worked my way downstream hole after hole with no luck besides a bunch of little fish chasing my streamer around and nibbling at it.  When the sun began heading down the canyon walls I decided to move upstream and work the water above where I had started the day before calling it quits.

Finally I struck gold fishing a fast moving riffle.  There was a strong take and not long thereafter I got a glimpse of what I was in for.  Light glimmered off a huge silver side in the seam of the riffle, and I couldn't help but say "holy $#!T!"  It was on!

Right away the fish turned in the current and headed downstream.  Line spun off my reel and I tried to move down quickly with him.  Luckily for me the fast current was short and he dropped into the big pool just 25 feet downstream.  From there he was easier to control, but I was still somewhat regretting adding some 5X to my 4X leader.  Reliable knots sometimes elude me.  When I had tied this one I wasn't all that happy but I tested it and was too lazy to redo it.

That knot was all I could think about as the fish came up to me then turned and swam back down into the deep pool.  Over and over again.  Each time the fish came up near me and I tried to get down to him he ran.  A number of times his turn involved me getting a splash of water in the face.  I pulled my net out of my vest and got that close to him once too before realizing it would be of no help.

I've seen it done in the movies and apparently you can just grab big fish by the tail.  I have also always thought it was made to look way easier than it was.  But that was my only choice, so I kept fighting the fish to tire him out.

Finally after an hour in fish-fighting time, or 15 minutes in real time, he came in close enough for me to attempt the tail grab.  I grabbed his tail, put my rod down and picked him up.  As easy as that!  If someone had been watching they would have been fooled into thinking I had done this before.  With a better look at him I became a little confused.

I had assumed I was catching a nice Chinook or Coho, but it looked more like a steelhead to me.  The only information I had to distinguish were the few things I read in the past week or two.  What I remembered was something about spots on the tail and that Chinook have black gums, Coho have white gums with a black outline and steelhead gums are all white.  This guy's gums were solid white so I am left assuming he was a massive steelhead.

I set the camera up for a quick self portrait and took a couple pics to make sure I got a decent one, then got him back in the water.

My best guess is he was somewhere north of 30" in length and weighed however much a fish that big weighs.

Also notice the adipose fin still in tact, which means he's not from a hatchery.

And that crosses two more goals off my list.  One for catching a steelhead not on accident, and another for making a new notch on my belt for my new largest fish.  Congratulations to me!

Now I just need to bag a Salmon...

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Unpossible

I was out on an Oregon coastal stream this weekend to chase some sea-run cutts and ended up stumbling upon some salmon.  They were ominously out of place in the small stream, and actually startled me when I saw the first one.  Then I started to get excited.  There were a few of them cruising around in a pocket of slowly moving water.  I'm not good at estimating size/weight, but my best guess would be in the 30"+ and 15+ lbs.  One of them could easily have been 34" and 20-30lbs.  Ginormous by my standards.  And probably uncatchable on my 7/8wt with a 4x leader.

And then I saw one of the monsters porpoise, presumably to eat something!  I stopped tying on the big ugly streamer I had just grabbed and instead pulled the biggest hopper pattern I had out of my box.  No, I didn't expect this to work, but just imagine if it could!  With my camera in place I snuck out into the river and gave it a few casts.  Here's the video, sorry I'm not in the frame but you should be able to see the casts and you will also see the fish...

I gave up after that and moved upstream to catch some cutts.  Later I came back down here and gave a big ugly streamer a bunch of casts.  It swam right by one of the smaller salmon's mouths a number of times but no bite.  I even accidentally snagged the streamer on the fish's dorsal fin without it noticing, but I didn't want to hook the big fish that way so I gave a couple soft pulls and it came loose.

Maybe next time.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


As you know if you read this blog, I recently relocated to the Portland area.  And now you know how classy the area in which I live is.

Let's just hope the fishes drink as much as the locals so they are dumber and easier to catch.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Minam River Headwaters - Picture Edition


The Minam River Headwaters

For those of you who don't like to read, the next post will be a picture-book version of this.  It should tell a similar story, but with no words.  For those of you who do like to read, read on.

As the last few posts highlighted, I took a trip last weekend to the Wallowa mountains to do some fishing and backpacking.  After a short 6 hour drive and well after dusk I made it to the trailhead and set up the tent.  I got a good nights sleep and was up at 6 the next morning to start walking.  The trail was a long but easy hike, about 6 miles up to Minam Lake, all along the Lostine river, which provided ample temptation to stop walking and fish along the way.

But self determination and will ruled the day.  I didn't stop all the way to the top.  After those 6 long miles and up and over a saddle to head down the other side, the Minam river was a tiny trickle and was picking up small amounts of water every few hundred yards.  After another mile or so the river meandered through a nice sunny meadow.  It looked like a fun, albeit not terribly productive place to fish, so I gave it a go and pulled a teeny brookie out with just a few casts.  It was a good start to the trip.

I moved on a bit farther downstream and set up camp right on the river.  I fished the afternoon and evening near camp where the river was still pretty small but fishable.  As always I did a poor job of counting, but I pulled out probably 15 or so brookies all 4-8 inches.  Part of the goal for this trip was to live of the land, so I kept two tasty fishes for dinner. 

Day 1 was a good start, but it also made me realize that I was going to have to hike to get to some bigger water and thus bigger fish (hopefully).  My best guess is the flow rate near camp was something south of 10cfs.  There were fish and they colorful and they were easy to catch, but they were also all small.

 On day 2 I hiked downstream a couple miles until I found a relatively easy way down to the river.  The trail was annoyingly a couple hundred yards uphill from river and the forest was nearly impassable in most places.  I was lucky enough that the spot that was easy to get to also hosted a large hole just under a sweet waterfall.  As I approached the hole with my usual lack of stealth I noticed two large fish sitting right beside a boulder in the center of the tailout.  I was stunned that they didn't see me or spook, but luck was on my side I guess.

I had on a big grasshopper that I had had luck on the day before so I gave it a toss upstream.  The first float didn't go where it needed to, so I adjusted and gave it a second go.  It floated directly down to the two big fish.  One of them looked up and started to rise as the big ugly hopper neared.  The water was slow and fairly glassy so I expected him to see the leader and pass, but to my surprised he sipped the hopper right off the surface and it was game on.

The fight was probably the oddest struggle I've ever had with a fish though.  When I first hooked him he splashed around like normal, then got back down under water and went to his spot.  And just sat there.  I gave a couple tugs and moved him a bit but he just went back to where he had been sitting.  I was able to move him a couple more times but he really didn't fight, just sat there.  It was as if he didn't even know that he was hooked I was pulling at him.  Finally, though, I was able get him out of the deep and into the relative shallows where I was to land him.

It was my first Bull trout ever, which was both disappointing and really cool.  It was disappointing because I couldn't keep him for my dinner, but cool because it was a new species for me.  Overall it was definitely a positive experience.  You just cannot complain about a wild 18" fish from a small mountain stream that has probably never been caught before.

I tried to get a self portrait, but did a poor job.

The rest of the day was full of a bunch of smaller fish although I did manage to spook one more big Bull.  I also stumbled onto an elk hunters camp later in the day farther downstream.  There was one guy there and I stopped to talk to him a bit.  They hadn't been seeing much, but this guy said he used to bring his fly rod up with him and that there were often salmon farther downstream this time of year.  Interesting thought for tomorrow.

Back at camp I cooked up a couple smaller fish I had caught, relaxed by the campfire, and thought about tomorrow.  I had my small dog with me and he was showing signs of serious fatigue.  Another 4-5 mile hike tomorrow down to salmon, then 4-5 miles back to camp before an 8+ mile hike out the next day could very well be out of the cards.  I would either be left leaving him for the wolves or carrying him out.  With that in mind I had to make the painful decision to forgo the potential for salmon.  The original intent had been to try out Blue lake, just uphill from Minam lake on the last evening to minimize the hike out.  So I decided on that and went to bed.

In the morning I packed up camp and started hiking back toward Blue lake.  It wasn't too far and I made it before noon.  When I got to the lake there were fish sporadically sipping bugs off the surface everywhere.  It wasn't a feeding frenzy, but enough action for me to set up my gear.  I started out with a BWO sz 16 tied on with 5x.  After 15 minutes of no action, I decided 5x on the still water of a lake was probably not the best decision.  So I reeled back in and tied on some 6x to 7x to a sz 18 BWO and cast it back out.  That seemed to be the ticket because very shortly I started getting bites.

The action came and went all afternoon.  Catching trout in a lake is quite a bit different than in a river too.  To me the fish can be a little tougher to control in a lake because there isn't a predictable current to use against them.  That actually makes it a little extra fun.  And it was nice to sit on the bank and rest at times because I was a little more run down than I realized.

In all I ended up with about eight fish from the lake before heading down out of the high mountain area to some lower meadows to cook and sleep.  When I got down to what looked like a good place to set up camp I couldn't help but go check out the meandering creek that flowed out of Minam lake.  There were some fish sipping an evening hatch of midges, so I grabbed my rod and tossed my small BWO in.  Instantly I got a bite.  The fish were so small they were pretty difficult to hook, but I did manage to yank a couple out of the creek.

And that's pretty much my story.  It was a fun trip and my first solo backpacking/fishing trip ever.  And I get to cross one of my goals off my list for the.  That's a good thing because I haven't done too well with them so far.

I'd like to do something similar again next year, and as improvements the dog stays home and I intend to pack a little farther in and fish farther downstream.  Salmon and bigger fish, here I come!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Minam River It Is

I have made my decision.  I want to hike in a long ways to get past all the weaklings, but I can't go so far that it takes a full day to get there.  With that in mind I'm going to stick with the original plan with a small tweak.  My coworker suggested to hike in along the Lostine river up to Minam Lake and to fish the river along the way.

I will be hiking in probably about 8 or 9 miles up past Minam Lake and down the other side of the basin to fish the Minam River.  Word has it holds some serious fish.  I'm hoping to add a new species to my list: bull trout.  But don't tell the authorities because they're protected and you're not really supposed to target them.  I won't target them but I might get lucky anyway.

Of course there will be a post-trip posting coming to you all next weekend probably.

Hopefully everyone else out there has some similar fun plans for the holiday weekend. Enjoy!

Who needs planning?

So I'm going on a solo backpacking/fishing trip over the long holiday weekend.  This trip will give me the much needed incentive to update my goals list, which I haven't updated for quite some time.

My destination?  The Wallowa mountains.  This is on a strong suggestion from my coworker here in Portland.  He tells me it's a beautiful area with good fishing.  I'm all packed and will be leaving in about 4 hours, but I still don't have a destination nailed down!  The Lostine River was suggested to me and I was planning on that until I read online last night that it's heavily trafficked and best avoided on weekends.  I can't imagine what that means for Labor Day weekend.

I'm now trying to find a reasonable way to get to the Minam river inside the Eagle Cap Wilderness.  So far my best route is going to be a 12 mile hike.  That's a little farther than I was hoping for, but it will at least mean the river/trails shouldn't be busy.

I'm going to continue thinking about this and I will have to talk to my coworker when he gets in (yes I'm at work), but I'll update you all on my way out the door where I'm headed.

If I don't post something by Wednesday evening next week you'll need to get Search and Rescue out to look for me!

OMRO is moving

No, no, don't worry.  I wouldn't want to inconvenience all 17 of my loyal followers.  This blog is not moving, the not so old man himself is moving.  In fact I already moved last weekend.

All my adventures will now be based in and around the Portland area unless I travel somewhere...which will also happen.  The first river I intend to attack is the Clackamas.  I recently had a work lunch with some people overlooking the river and it looked like a great place to fish.  Plus it's fairly close to my new place.

Anyone from the Portland are who stumbles upon this blog and is looking for people to fish with, hit me up!