Thursday, September 16, 2021
Thursday, September 16, 2021
Washington state’s Upper Columbia River landed on the fly-fishing landscape a couple decades ago, and the first man on the spot was Jack Mitchell. Mitchell is well established in the Evergreen State, having built his empire on the Yakima River and other locals, including the Klickitat River and the Olympic Peninsula. But he’s never been one to stand still. He’s always looking for more—more killer fishing, more emerging fisheries, and the places to offer great trips and accommodation. What he found on the upper Columbia was an overlooked trout fishery with some monster rainbow trout included in the mix. In addition, the massive Columbia, flowing out of Canada and into northeastern Washington—about two hours north of Spokane—offered stellar aquatic insect hatches, trout that fought as hard and leapt as high as any others, and nearly nobody was working the water. I.e., this was an untapped fishery just begging for infrastructure.
Before Kamchatka and Jurassic Lake landed on the fly-fishing travel landscape, their was no better place for really big rainbow trout than southwest Alaska’s Kvichak River. This was “the land of the midnight sun,” “the great land,” Russia’s blunder and the United state’s major coup. Fifty-bazillion acres of natural resource wonderland that included the most remarkable wild salmon runs on earth, including Bristol Bay and all of its legendary rivers—the Naknek, Nushagak, Togiak, Egigik, Ugashik and Kvichak. While you could catch salmon and rainbows on all of those rivers, the Kvichak stood out for what its rainbows were not—very few resembled the classic, heavily colored and spotted “leopard” ‘bows that Alaska fishing became most famous for. The Kvichak’s fish, instead, spent their time in Lake Iliamna, living an existence like that of their sea-run cousins, the steelhead. The Kvichak rainbows fed heavily on Iliamna’s bounty—smolt and lamprey eels and other protein-rich edibles—before migrating out of the lake and into the river each June. They were bigger than rainbows found elsewhere—up to 20 pounds—they were chrome-bright coming out of the lake, they were silver-sided, extraordinarily muscular, and they posted up at the heads of islands and other ambush points, sites set on massive salmon smolt and lamprey outmigrations from Iliamna.
There are many things we love about international travel. Seeing new places, experiencing new cultures, seeing fisheries we’d never get a chance to explore if we just sat at home. Alongside that dose of adventure, however, comes a new set of logistical challenges. International travelers must juggle a passport, additional cash, tickets, and a variety of other documents on each trip. Managing the security of passports and paperwork while traveling abroad can require a bit of forethought, and a good dose of awareness. Knowing how to keep documents secure—and what to do in case something goes missing—is a good thing before you actually have to deal with a problem. I was recently at a lodge where a rogue wave hit a snorkeling boat (the snorkelers were already in the water) and the boat flipped over. Everyone was safely rescued, but several of the travelers had their backpacks in the boat, complete with wallets, phones, and passports. Divers were able to rescue the packs later that afternoon, but the incident brought to mind the question: What if the packs were lost? The snorkelers had no back-ups of their passports or driver’s licenses; no copies stored in the cloud or filed away with family in the States. Without their packs, they would suddenly have been ID-less in a foreign country.
Mexico is a varied country with great culture, astonishing monuments of Mayan and Aztec antiquity, gorgeous sandy beaches, national parks, and even snow-capped mountain ranges. Besides breathtaking scenery, fascinating history, charming people, ubiquitous tequila and spicy Mexican cuisine, this easily accessed country offers some of the best permit fishing in the world. If you are a keen on permit, Mexico should be at or near the top of your hit-list as I learned on a recent trip to Ascension Bay. Bay is known for its extraordinary permit fishing, and great populations of bonefish and tarpon. This is Grand Slam water at its finest This area’s shallow flats are endless and your only restriction will be how far you can sensibly travel in a day. The town of Punta Allen is located on the northern tip of the bay and offers easy access to the flats. I stayed at Ascension Bay Lodge, owned and run by Daniel Marquez, a passionate fly-fisher from the US who fell for a local girl and stayed. I enjoyed the company of a group of charming young Texans who are regular visitors to the lodge, as much for the apres-fishing as the fishing itself. The lodge is situated on the beach and built by anglers for anglers. Rooms are cool and comfy and the home-cooked meals are delicious. Huge cocktails welcome guests as they return from fishing each day—head-spinning margaritas and pina coladas, as good as I’ve ever had.
Hurricanes and a relaxing Caribbean getaway don't mix well. High winds, low light and lashings of rain are hardly the idyllic combination you may have pictured when you booked your flats-fishing trip. Guides don’t like those conditions either. If nothing else, a guide’s duty is to make your vacation memorable and passionately share the environment with you. Trying conditions make this an uphill battle. However, I can tell you that some of the best fishing of the year takes place between early July and the end of November, right in the heart of hurricane season. The Caribbean hurricane season spans six months, beginning in June and ending in November. Practically, half the year we have chance of incurring hurricanes and/or tropical storms. In recent years several hurricanes have caused significant damage to parts of the Caribbean, along with Louisiana, Florida and Texas. Over in the western Caribbean, we don't usually see destructive storm systems passing through. This is due to our geographic location. Most storms tend to curve away from the Yucatan Peninsula, as opposed to crossing right over it. In addition, the western Caribbean usually doesn’t see a shift in weather patterns until September, and those systems are usually gone by the end of November. Essentially, that makes our hurricane season about half as long as you might find elsewhere in the Caribbean.
It’s an hour till dark on the Olympic Peninsula’s lower Hoh River. The aquamarine water and neon greens of this temperate rainforest are currently bathed in a muted blue as Shane Anderson takes in the Pacific Ocean. It’s the end of the river and an end to the last steelhead fishing trip for the year. He takes what’s left and stays anchored near the takeout, a hopeful fool like every other angler, but fortune grabs his line and runs it out the reel. The steelhead is unquestionably large. It’s a fight nearly an hour long, or feels that way at least, before Shane brings the fish to the boat. Shane’s entire body shakes with exhaustion and adrenaline, as he observes the size of this fish (maybe 30 pounds or more) and its brilliant colors hiding within the patina of chrome: pink, blue, purple and gold. Healthy and strong. Too strong. The line breaks before Shane can reach below the surface.
Great Lakes weather can be unforgiving. Driving snow, howling gusts, and brutal wind chills tempt even the most ardent anglers to put the rods away at times. But, the opportunity to pursue brown trout that are truly measured in pounds as opposed to inches isn’t commonly found in many fisheries. Anglers often venture to South America, New Zealand, or Iceland for this level of fishing results. But runs of large brown trout have made their way up some of the Great Lakes tributaries for nearly a half-century. The returning adults are typically beautiful fish sporting golden-yellow hues adorned with pronounced black spots. Males sport deep jawlines that project the distinct image of a top predator. Brown trout exceeding 10 pounds occur with some regularity and fish exceeding 20 pounds are possible.
I’m sitting in my living room reading an archived Sports Illustrated story on my iphone (google “he’s got a very fishy look si”). Though written in 1979, it tells of a time when something resembling an iphone wasn’t even the stuff of Star Trek reruns . . . because the series wouldn’t appear for another five years. The story features a former intelligence officer who used to sit at the bottom of the Madison River, breathing through a length of shower hose, watching insects and trout. That man was Charles Brooks. I never saw this story when it was originally published. I was in ninth grade, and my trout fishing was limited to one weekend each year when my father would take me to Loon Lake in the British Columbia interior to troll flatfish and worms for pan-friers. But one trip I saw a fly-fisher, and knew someday that’s what I would be.
Monsters of River & Rock is the new book by Adrian Smith, who just happens to be a songwriter and guitarist for the hard-core band Iron Maiden. It turns out he’s also a pretty serious angler, and he’s been lugging his tackle around on world tours since the 1980s. So, rather than pen a tell-all about those wild Maiden world tours, for his first book he decided to write about fishing. But you didn’t really think I was going to launch into a review of a rock n’ roll n’ reels book without a little mood music did you? Not a chance. So here’s your homework: pop over to YouTube and search up any of the Iron Maiden songs listed below to get a feel for how Smith rolls. Then join me back here and we’ll have a little chat about this fishing book.