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Mark Stangeland - NUFlyGuide
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Taking Lies for Steelhead

Posted by Mark Thursday, September 24, 2015 0 comments

Have you ever noticed that when you fish your favorite waters you catch fish consistently in certain, specific areas of that run? I certainly have and have become interested in the how and why of it all.

The last few days I have been in sitting in continuing education classes for work and I had a chance to day dream a little while listening to the various speakers drone on about a host of tree related topics on the agenda.

The thoughts that came to mind more often than any was the idea of holding water, holding lies and taking lies for steelhead.

Lets get a few definitions out of the way

  • Holding water-  resting water that often holds steelhead due to the water speed, structure and orientation in the run(head, middle,tail out)
  • Holding lies- specific places within the holding water that may vary in depth from quite shallow to depths in excess of 6 feet. Generally found around some sort of structure or seam that breaks current speed and does not require the fish to expend much energy.
  • Taking lies- even more specific places in a run where fish are holding and are exposed enough to visualize and actively move to a properly presented fly. These are places where fish consistently seem to come from.
 Now these are general observations and steelhead being what they are, can and will blow any of these theories away at any time so bear that in mind. That's the fun part of all this, we try to figure things out, we analyze, we obsess but at the end of the day the mystery remains and we still know so little about these fish and why they do what they do. This is my feeble attempt to make some sort of sense out of it, if for no other reason than writing it down and working it out in my own mind.

After many years fishing the same waters, I have gathered some very valuable feedback on both holding water, holding lies and the actual specific taking lies in dozens of runs.

Holding water and holding lies can be taking lies for fish but not all holding water and holding lies are necessarily taking lies. Let me explain further.....

When I look at a good piece of water on the river I fish, I know there can be fish holding in many parts of the run at any given time. I am fishing the run because it is good holding water and may have many holding lies but only a few taking lies.

I have spotted fish in several key areas in, on, and around structure and have noted their location when I fish through the run. These fish are in what I would call holding lies. Sure I have hooked fish in almost every location where fish sit in many of these runs but it is more the exception than the rule. 90 percent of the fish I hook come out of specific areas of these runs, what I would call the taking lies.

What is it about these taking lies that seem to bring fish to the fly?

Is it only structure,water depth and water speed that make these taking lies produce?

There are many factor involved I would say, some known and many unknown. The known factors are things such as water levels, water temps, time of year, number of returning fish in the river, angler pressure, type and size of fly, the fishes feeling of exposure or comfort due to the depth at which they hold.

I know of runs where the consistent taking lie is heavily structured, fast moving water and over ten feet deep. Conversely I fish many runs that the taking lie is in 3 feet of water or less, slow moving with very little structure. The depth at which fish hold does not always determine their willingness to move to a fly or limit the fish as a taking fish. Fish can consistently come out of any depth of water at key taking lies. 

I believe one of the most important things that separates the taking lies from just a mere holding lie is the anglers ability to slow the fly down and show it to the fish by covering the lie properly.  The fishes ability to see the fly is obviously a key to getting a take. If the fish cant see it he cant eat it. There is a reason that fish consistently hold and then take flies from a given spot in the run. They can see it and are in a position to take a swipe at it.

I fish runs on the NU that I can spot the fish before I fish it. When looking into these runs, if I see a fish in the taking spot I am confident that I will get the fish to move to the fly. As an angler I fish much more precisely when I get into that taking zone knowing the fish is there. This fish eats the fly a lot. There might be 3 other fish in the run but this fish that sits in 2 feet of water in the tail out is a day in day out taker when he's home.

I have various thoughts on why I think the taking lies consistently hold aggressive fish to the fly. On many occasions I believe the taking lie holds the most rested fish. This would relate back to the idea of holding lies. These taking lies are often the best holding lies as well, but not always.

These taking lies can be the first places to hold fish in the early season. I look into a lot of runs and watch diligently when fish start to enter the river. I look at runs day after day and make keen observations when I see the first fish in the run. There are no other fish in the run and many great holding lies but the early fish on one particular run always seems to gravitate into the tail out position and the key taking lie.

Lets talk about short and long term holding lies and preferential spots in the run as they relate to taking lies. .  

Some more definitions...
  • Long Term Parking- holding water that fish will stay in for longer periods of time
  • Short Term Parking- moving water, choke points, pockets etc
  • High Rent District- the best holding lie in a given run, the preferred holding spot if there are fish around.
  • Low Rent District- secondary holding lies that will be filed as fish are pushed into these spots by fish already holding in the High Rent spots 

 There are many runs on the NU that I consider "moving" water. These are places that fish move through quickly as run timing,weather patterns and water levels change. These are places that also fall into the short term parking category. When I know fish are moving due to one of the above mentioned factors I fish these runs looking for a taking fish that is going to be aggressive to the fly. The fish will move into the run and hold briefly maybe as little as minutes sometimes. If they settle and hold for even a brief time these are taking fish. They are already in moving mode and have little trouble striking a fly that comes through. These are active mobile fish. They come into the high rent taking lies in these short term parking spots and can light you up if you are in the right place when they are there.

Generally speaking again, long term parking holding water has many holding lies but fewer taking lies. Long term spots will generally have some deeper water and deep structure that will hold fish for longer periods or through periods of warmer or colder water. Many of the high rent spots in long term holding water are not easy to get a fly to. taking lies can be fewer. Just because there are more fish holding in these runs does not always mean that you will get fish from where the majority of those fish hold. That's when the low rent spots come into play. These are secondary holding places that may bring the fish closer to the surface and put the fish into a more conducive taking lie.

Secondary holding areas can also be places where fish can be seen,sometimes better seen than fish in the primary lies. Fish can be pushed into the shallows or up off the bottom onto side shelf's and ledges exposing them to the angler who can now get a presentation to them.

This is a very basic look at some of this stuff and there are a hundred different approaches and thoughts on this. This is all based on my observations over the last thirty years in the game.  I would like to think I know a few things about these fish but they constantly challenge and humble me and that's OK. I wouldnt have it any other way.

The point of all this is to make you aware of these factors when you are out there fishing. Ask yourself Where is the best holding water? Where are the best holding lies in that holding water and where are the taking spots within those holding lies?  Keep track of where you are hooking fish and make notes on those specific areas. Fishing more diligently through key and consistent taking lies will increase your success. Knowing where key taking lies are helps you edit water and focus on getting a fish to grab your fly more often.

Get out there and pay attention to some of these things, its fascinating to observe this behavior and may make you a better angler.

Speaking of holding, thankful to know the one who holds all things together.......

Isaiah 41:13 

For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.”

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Posted by Mark Monday, August 31, 2015 6 comments

There are many milestones along life's way, we recently hit one that will be forever in all our memories......

 It was a gorgeous late summer day. I was with the family and we were having a great time camping,fishing and spending quality time.

My wife is becoming quite the fisher woman and after many steelhead on a single hand rod on the North Umpqua, she has taken up the two handed rod and has started to master it. She knows the runs and the technique and needs little hand holding ( just ask her). Sometimes I get a little too vocal when I see her miss an anchor placement or stop her rod too low. She does best when I shut up and leave her alone! I'm slowly learning! I knew she did not need me to show her anything about the run so I concentrated on my son and made sure he was set up in a spot he could cast in without being swept away,and might have a chance at a fish.

I put him up in the head of the run and showed him where the fish usually lay and what he needed to do to get a good swing through the bucket. He listened intently and I could see the wheels turning hard in his head. Once I knew he was in a safe spot, I wanted to leave him on his own.

As I was walking away he said "Hey Dad!" He then flips his hat around backwards on his head, flashes me the shaka brah "hang loose" hand sign and says "Old School Baby!" I laughed hard and walked away shaking my head, what a crack up!

I turn and leave him on his own and walk down to where my wife was swinging through the lower part of the run, admiring her left handed Snap T and probably firing comments about rod position and anchor placement and giving her "casting pointers" which, as I noted above, never works out well for me. Maybe its my delivery.......

Then the silence is broken

My wife and I were fishing down lower in the run and we heard the cries of  a very excited boy into his first steelhead. Sweeter words have not hit my ears in a very long time......

"I got one, I got one!"

He's yelling, we are yelling, the dog is barking, the reel is screaming and we are all on instant high alert. I run from the lower end of the pool upriver towards him as I yell "keep the rod up, keep it tight, let um run if he wants!" and other unintelligible gibberish as my mind is blown that he has actually hooked a fish.

"He's pulling hard Dad!"

The reel pays out line fast and bucks hard as the fish dogs around on the ledge on the far side of the run. I can tell by the way its fighting its a big buck. We never see the fish as it stays deep and swims where it wants, barely aware of the hook in it's mouth. It would swim upstream as my boy continues pulling as hard as he dare on the 10lb Maxima. We scramble down stream and I have a hand on the back of his waders ensuring he doesn't go down in the swift water.

"You are doing great son, lets move down a little and get an angle on him and see if we can land him"

We move down stream, straight across from the fish and all the while he is pulling hard on it trying to move it off the ledge on the far side. He gains line onto the reel a little then looses it in the deep, rod bending slow run of a large fish. Its been a few minutes now and we are in a stand off.

Every one is yelling and the excitement is high. Mom makes it up where we are and shouts encouragement as I spy a tear of joy in her eye as she is hit with the overwhelming weight of the river tradition that is being transferred from father to son at this very moment.

My daughter joins in shouting and screaming at her bro as he fights his first fish. " Don't jack it up" she yells ribbing him mercilessly. We all are still amazed at what has happened and time stands still as we all realize, Wow dude, you are really hooked up!

The dog is going bananas as he knows what each of my reels sound like, the Daiwa 812 purrs and functions flawlessly. as K2 fights the fish hard and perfectly, never giving slack to the line and always having a good rod position.

This fish wont move!

I fight every bone in my body not to grab the rod away and try to budge it off the ledge. I think to myself, this is a big fish and may need some old tricks to get him landed, I know I can get him in if I...........

I am snapped back to reality knowing I can't do that. It was HIS cast, HIS drift and HIS hookup, it's HIS fish, lay off you knuckle head DON'T TOUCH THE ROD! I resist the urge knowing what ever happens will happen. I continue to try and relay information on how to fight this fish, telling him about rod position and side pressure, trying to get the fish to roll or turn by pulling on him at different angles.

He pulls the fish away from the ledge, the fish swims right back over and hunkers down. Again and again this game is played out until..........the hook comes out and the fish is gone.

Now we all wanted to see this fish but it was not to be this time. I tell K2 that almost no one lands their first steelhead. He understands and is ready to catch another one almost immediately.

The awesomeness factor on this experience was off the chart, landed or not this was a big deal for everyone. His whole family got to witness his first fish on the North Umpqua. To say I am proud at his accomplishments thus far in his young career are an understatement.

This river can make a grown man cry and a young 8 year old boy can become a man just like that. The torch has passed and he is running hard with it............

Continue to grow and learn and above all teach well my friends

2 Timothy 3:14 

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

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Showplace for Wild Fish

Posted by Mark Saturday, August 15, 2015 0 comments

Next Generation Skating a Dry Fly

The North Umpqua should be held up as a showplace for good management practices. Common sense regulations favoring wild fish are important, and they are in place and working on the North Umpqua. Thanks to some of the early conservation minded pioneers of the river like Frank Moore and later the Steamboaters and others, the fishery has maintained itself in a healthy way  Eliminating hatchery fish in the fly water was a major victory for wild fish and this river. The etiquette and history also still remain making it one remarkable place.

The protection of a deep water sanctuary for fish in summer by eliminating weighted flies and indicators was probably one of the most critical regulations for wild fish on the North Umpqua in the summer. The no kill rule for both winter and summer has obviously also done a lot for wild fish protection. These rules ensure no wild fish are killed and a lower percentage of fish are repeatedly hooked and a higher percentage will make it to spawn every year. 

The initial logging destruction in the early days did have negative effects for sure but since then, the river corridor and its tributaries have been managed fairly well. Logging regulations and required stream buffers have gotten better for the most part with regard to maintaining vegetation and stream side habitat. This along with the protection of the fish in Big Bend pool up Steamboat Creek and all its tributaries has been the key to this rivers success over the last 50 or so years. If we can get the Frank Moore Wilderness designated permanently it will be a huge win. Spawning habitat is key to these wild fish surviving for the future.

River closures were never part of the management practices and should not become the normal emotional reaction to having to “do something” for the fish. Especially on a river already so regulated. These fish are resilient and have adapted to the warmer water times of summer by staying down in the deeper pools where it’s cooler. When its hot they are hard to catch, period! I don't see any fish being saved right now by the ruling and closure. Yeah they are getting a break for sure but at what point do we just close the river altogether? 

Fishing is a blood sport people weather catch and release or not. We are predators when we fish and we always have the potential to kill a wild fish accidentally even with the best and most responsible practices.If the North Umpqua isn't a river that can show by the return numbers and the rules in place that these fish can handle pressure and still survive, even thrive than I don't know what river can.

If we are having that much impact on the fish, we should just close all rivers and not fish anywhere there are wild fish ever again. Think about that for a minute. Do we want to regulate ourselves right out of fishing? We need to be careful or it could happen. Look at the Skagit river. Yeah something needed to happen for sure but on the track that river is going with the ESA listing, it may end up being a wild fish sanctuary, forever closed to fishing. Sold down the road by groups that you thought had your best interests in mind. It can happen that fast......

Back to the NU. In fact it is my opinion that more fish are actually being hooked by people using sink tips in these low water conditions. A sink tip in these low water conditions is breaking into the deep water sanctuary ( hey, there isn't much deep water out there right now) that the no weighted fly in summer attempted to protect. I will say that instead of a 2 pm closure, a much better rule in the warmer water of summer is a no sink tip rule. Keep the river open all day and no sink tips, that will save some fish from being hooked for sure!

The NU can’t and shouldn’t be lumped in with other rivers struggling along trying to maintain a healthy fishery. 70 years of data shows that this river and its fish are special and are doing as well as any wild steelhead run in the world for its size. Its a world class fishery that has been maintained  and regulated for exactly that, FISHING! Its a healthy river for wild fish and the regulations are in place to see that trend continue.

We should hold the river up and show case it as an example of what good management for wild fish looks like. The North Umpqua is unique and should always be managed that way. It has worked well so far. I don't want to see the ODFW broad brush this gem in with other rivers with major problems. The North Umpqua has already addressed and many hurdles, it is standing the test of time as a strong and healthy river with a vibrant wild fish population.

That being said, as much as I disagree with the current closure I will always respect the fish, the fishery, the rules that are in place and the river and do my part to ensure that generations can enjoy this river in the future.  

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Passing the Torch

Posted by Mark Friday, July 24, 2015 0 comments

So fun watching my son fish one of the most famous runs on the river the other night. He crushed it and he's only 8. He was sending out off shoulder Snap T's with authority. He skated his fly as gracefully as anyone I have seen. A natural for sure. Very cool to see.

This river gets a hold of everyone, no matter the age. I have high hopes it will continue to be a place he can come to often, and then bring his kids. We need the next generation to fall in love with this place, to steward and love her as those that have gone before.

Grateful for my son.......

Psalm 127:3-5
Yes, sons are a gift from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb is a reward.
Sons born during one’s youth 
are like arrows in a warrior’s hand. 
How blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!

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Posted by Mark Tuesday, June 30, 2015 0 comments

Dave Kalinowski photo

 Paramount-coming before all others in importance.

That's what I always think about hooking the first fish of the year. Its important only in the fact that you want to get it out of the way, get it done, put it behind you. Move on with the year. It stands to affirm that you can still swing and present a fly well and that fish do indeed like to eat a swinging fly. Sometimes I wonder.........

That first fish can sometimes set a precedent or pace for the year or it can be the kiss of death. It can establish new found hope in old patterns that have fallen out of favor. It can be the proving grounds for new patterns and dressings that have been rolling around in your head for months, sometimes years.

I am fishing a lot more traditional flies lately and enjoy the feeling of fishing blind again. After fishing skaters and surface presentations it's good to just let it swing sometimes without working or watching the fly. Fishing skaters has taught me a ton about what my fly does out there in the currents. It has shown me the subtle nuances of different runs and when to mend and when not to mend.  In short,fishing dry flies has made me a better wet fly fisherman.  Now, when fishing a wet. those factors come into play as I know how my wet fly will react to any line manipulation I give to it.

Now to our story............

........The wet fly dropped with a small splash at the end of a downstream angle cast. Landing right in the foam line, it came under tension immediately, the head of the fly came to the top, drawn up by the riffle hitch right behind the eye. The fly arced through the chop for 20 feet, the riffle hitched head cutting a path and leaving a small V wake.Then I saw a smallish, almost imperceptible  rise just to the outside of the fly. A fish had just broken the surface with his nose only, coming up to check the waking bug that caught his eye. I let the fly continue to swing hoping that his interest was not yet piqued. I lost the fly in the wave train of the mid-tail-out. The fading rays of the day casting glare that I couldn't  see through. The fly ripped through the tail-out, accelerated by a line belly that I did not mend out. The fly was now smoking through the last third of the swing.....

The grab comes as a shock to my brain and my gear, the fish eating the fly and turning for the tail and back door in a flash. The Farlex reel payed out line in the highest RPM mode it has. The fish left the pool and headed for the next. I stood my ground and fought the fish as hard as I possibly could. After 45 seconds, I get the fish back into the run. It's a big early fish, over 10 lbs. It swam upstream of me and I saw how beautiful it was. Wild as the river and absolutely silver/white with not a mark on it. Again, I pulled on the fish as hard as I dare and he reluctantly came close. I start to look for a deep place to land him and he has none of it, scurrying from the shallows as soon as his belly touched a rock. Back out the tail in an instant, far into the next run. There is no chasing this fish and again I made a stand. Its land it or break it off. The fish chooses first and he wrapped the line on a rock and severed the leader in a split second. The whole battle might have been 4 minutes.

The first fish is out of the way, it was not a landed fish but I could care less with these early fish. Sometimes you get beat, its OK.

Please be mindful of low flows and high water temps this summer. Get a thermometer and use it. Everyone has their personal limits. Some won't fish if temps are over 65. That's great! Know your own personal limits and also the upper limits that prevent safe fighting and handling of fish. When temps approach 66-68 in the afternoon you  may want to go up Steamboat Creek and have a swim, or snorkle through a favorite run. Landing fish in the upper 60's can be fatal to a fish even with a short fight and good handling skills. Fish in the mornings and be careful in the afternoons. To avoid the high temps of evening fish higher in the river where temps may be a bit cooler. Think about it and do the right thing please. This is paramount for these wild fish while we see these high daytime temps.  Thanks, its gonna take all of us being responsible and setting a good example to limit harm to wild fish.

Good fishing to you all this summer!

Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast -- unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:1-4 RSV)

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Fishing Clean

Posted by Mark Friday, May 22, 2015 1 comments

  Zack fishing clean on the North  Zack Williams Guide site

Ok, I admit the title of this post was stolen........

My buddy Zack Williams did a casting  demo at the Sandy Spey Clave with that title. I wanted desperately to see his presentation but they moved it up an hour and I showed up just as he had finished. You see, Zack knows a few things about casting and fishing clean. He has been at the Big Show in San Francisco the last few years, battling it out with the best casters in the world.

I truly believe he is one to watch in the next few years as he further hones his long distance casting skills. I am excited to watch the progression of a friend as he takes the competition game on full force.

You can't compete on the world stage without proper turn over of the line and leader. In competition this can be the difference between a top 5 finish and being at the bottom of the list. In a fishing situation it can make a huge difference in the number of fish that are able to see and then grab the fly. Zack has taken what he has learned about distance casting and transferred that knowledge to his steelhead fishing. Zack catches fish and he often catches fish a long way from where he stands. He does this primarily by casting precisely, consistently and getting full turn over of the entire fly line, leader, and fly almost every time. Is he perfect? No, of course not but his turn over percentages are high and this translates into more hook ups. Yes its that simple people.

When you see hookups at distances of 150 feet or more you will become a believer in complete turn over. Why cast it to those distances if it ain't gonna fish for the first 40 feet because the line is not straight?

I have thought about this topic many times and Zack got me thinking about it again.

So now ask yourself these questions. Do I get consistent turn over of the fly line, leader and fly every time?  Do I make large mends to straighten line that did not turn over all the way? How do those mends affect the subsequent swing of the fly? Am I missing crucial points in the swing arc because I don't get get full turn over? Am I casting at an angle that allows my fly to swing instantly when it does turn over?

Face it people, steelhead fishing is a numbers game. When I say numbers, I mean numbers of casts and not numbers of fish. Most of us have limited numbers of days or times that we can fish. Learning to consistently turn the whole line over all the way to the fly is crucial to showing the fly to as many steelhead as you possibly can. It's simple math people. When you make hundreds or thousands of casts in a week of fishing, make good ones. The more consistently you get your fly to fish the better off you are.

Rivers that allow for a step and swing approach like the Deschutes, Grand Ronde, Clearwater etc. are rivers that can require long casts. With all the new rods and lines out there, casting far has become easier to some degree. But if you can't turn all your junk over at long distances you may be selling yourself short. You are leaving a lot of potential grabs on the table if only 50-60 percent of your casts are turning over all the way to the fly. Fish hold waaaaaaaay out there on many of these rivers but if you have inconsistent turnover you are not gonna get those grabs.

Practice consistent turn over at the distance that is within your limits. If that's 60-90 feet so be it. You can rest assured that you are covering water well when you have good turn over. You can leave the run knowing that it was worked well. Distance and consistency comes with days on the water. Fish within your limits.

I see a lot of people that can "cast" far but have inconsistent turn over. Generally speaking, a fish is triggered to eat by the consistent speed and placement of the fly as it covers the swing arc. A fish is sitting, watching, waiting, and can usually see the fly long before it gets in front of him. He is tracking speed and swing and is waiting for the fly to get into his grab zone.

A fly that does not turn over in the critical grab zone will not swing right. You are blowing it! A fish that was keyed to pounce is now put off by a fly that does not do what he expected it to do.The angler will either mend to straighten out the line or let the fly go without a mend, Both of these cause a problem with the consistent speed at which the fish was watching the fly. The big mend to straighten out the line moves the fly too much and it may be pulled out of the grab zone at the wrong time. Letting the cast go when the fly and line lands in a pile will then accelerate the fly unnaturally causing the fly to move too fast through the grab zone.

Another thing I see, especially on smaller rivers is proper turn over at short distance. No one talks about this factor. On the river I fish, I  catch fish every year in several spots with barely the leader out. Be mindful of those close fish. They are there and will eat if you give them a chance. Pulling a bunch of line off the reel to start the run misses uncountable fish. Become familiar with casting that leader and small amount of fly line. Its clunky and weird on a short line but can produce fish incredibly close in if done cleanly.

Are there exceptions to all of this stuff? Sure, we have all caught fish on bad casts that were perceived to be either too fast,too slow or where we are sure we have pulled the fly out of the zone with a big mend. Also,there are a number of scenarios where we can purposefully put extra pace on the fly in certain situations to elicit a strike. Conversely there are also times when we will slow the fly down radically with rod and line manipulation. These are particular actions in particular situations, for particular fish.

Another time I break a lot of rules as far as getting tension to the fly quickly is with skaters on the surface but that's another story for another day.

We can't over think this stuff too much because we all know that steelhead can make a liar out of us on any number of occasions if we become to rigid in our thinking.

 The point is, whatever distance you are fishing, fish it as cleanly and consistently as possible!

Fishing clean on the Big River   John Barlow Photo  John Barlow Photo Arts

Thankfully there is one who is always consistent and unchanging despite the inconsistency and sin in my own life. My need for God is great. I fall and He picks me up. On Christ the solid rock I stand all other ground is sinking sand........

James 1:17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.

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Good Grabs and Why We Like Them

Posted by Mark Friday, May 1, 2015 0 comments

 Darcy Bacha Photo All Rights Reserved Used With Permission

Think about the best steelhead grabs in you life........

What made them great? Was it who you were with? Was it the way the fish took the fly? Did it come after a long dry spell? Was it on a especially memorable trip or day on the river? Was it in a favorite pool? Was it in a place you didn't expect?

There are many ways a steelhead can eat a fly. I have not seen them all yet I know. They are all good however they come we can all agree, but some are just better than others.

Most of these will be in reference to a dry or waking fly or subsurface wet fly on a dry line

Let's examine a few different types of steelhead grabs and see what exactly makes a good grab and why we love them so much.

Here's just a few I have come up with, no wagering please.....

Short Line Surprise- The grab comes with no warning with 20-30 feet of line out. The fish is on and taking line before you even start to get in the groove of the swing. This one is always a welcome grab due to the early payoff.

Mid Length Meltdown-This is that fish in the heart of the run, sitting in the prime rent district. The fish is well rested and feisty and this grab comes where you expect it to but you are never really ready. Solid grab followed by line burning run. This one is good because you are ready for it.

Long Distance Devastation-You have a ton of line out and the grab comes on a spongy stretched line. You are instantly in your backing and things can get ugly quick if you can't chase him down.We all like these because its always fun to hook and land one from way out there.

Dead Drifted Drilling-A great and rare grab that comes when you toss a dry fly offering upstream and let it drift down a seam or riffle line. The take can be violent or very trouty depending on water speed and structure. These types of takes are great because they are usually very visible. The fish is generally across from you and fairly close and you can often see the entire rise and take.

Tail-out Tug-O War- A grab that comes at the end of the tail-out. You are always surprised at how far down they will hold. Now its time to try and keep them in the pool. I love these because you are always testing your skill and tackle and knots if they leave the pool. A challenge to land them when they do.

Skater Slam-A fly mauling that can occur almost anywhere and often comes without warning. Head and tail out of the water, vicious full body commitment. Very visual, very violent and most often the fight is much the same. A fist fight in a phone booth.

Wet Fly Whack- One of my favorites, wet fly just under the surface, fish hits hard on a tight line, pandemonium ensues. These are great because there is often a visible rise to the fly as the fly is just under the surface. A moving aggressive fish that chases the fly on top or just sub surface is the fish we are looking for.

Deep Swing Swat- Another personal favorite, the slow tightening of line on a deep,slow winter swing followed by a series of monstrous head shakes leading to a hot winter buck that leaves the park. These grabs are often very aggressive once it goes tight due to the weight and water tension of line,sink tip and fly so deeply sunk. These are those hang on to the rod grabs!

"Watch This" Whammo- When you know its gonna happen. You have a player up and you know he's gonna eat. It is a seldom occurrence but can happen and it's cool when you can turn to a buddy and say "watch this" and the fish eats! The more you fish the better you become at reading the fish and knowing when to make this call.

First Cast Ferrari- You take the fly off the hook keeper, pull out enough line to make a cast on a short line and get a hard grab as soon as the fly hits the water and swings two feet. Always takes you by surprise and these fish don't usually disappoint. They are in close and have room to run. The hook sinks quick on a short line with very little stretch and the fish is often just as surprised as you.

Last Cast Crush- This usually comes when you are in a sweet run and you know you are in the zone but timing or fading daylight has you leaving before you can finish the run properly. You know that "Just let me make one more cast" and it happens! These are always cool and serve to show that sometimes you can just feel it before it happens.

Far Off Farming- That far off take that you never can get tight to due to the elasticity and slack that occurs in the line and leader when fishing at long distances. The grab can be feel subdued or very soft at those distances .Sometimes they stick but we all know that "start up the John Deere" feeling when they come off in a tail walking aerial display 100 feet away.

Tight Line Tornado- Similar to the Wet Fly Whack this one is also on a dry line with either a waking fly or wet fly, a great yank followed by a fish  that spends more time in the air than in the water. These are the hard ones to get a hook into as they never let the line get tight with water tension. This is a great grab because the fight is so visual. You can see you quarry and you are working hard to get him to stick. A lot of rod angle things going on trying to get tight to this fish.

Line Wrap Train Wreck- You know this one, Cast after cast you are in the zone, you are not paying particular attention to that loop of line that has wrapped around your reel handle or bottom handle of the rod after the last cast. The fly swings undaunted, the take is heavy as your reel has no line to give, sometimes you can keep them on by freeing your line but most of these end in a quick separation of you and the target species.

Toilet Flush Take Down-Huge boil under the fly, no visual sign of the body of the fish, then the reel is instantly paying out line. Again, this is a very visual grab, the surface disturbance gets our hearts racing immediately no matter who you are. We are left to wonder in those few seconds after the boil, ":did he get it'? The answer comes quick with a reel burning run that scares you.I love those

The Sip and Zip- A barely noticeable surface disturbance,sometimes just the mouth or lips of the fish break the surface to take the fly down. This is a very casual take until the fish feels the sting of metal and bolts from his lie. The casual sippers become active rippers in a heartbeat.

Its getting close to time for some summer fishing, I am looking forward to a great season ahead.

Hope to see you on the river


Psalm 24:1

The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
24:2 for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.

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A Time For Everything

Posted by Mark Friday, April 10, 2015 0 comments

The end.......and a new beginning.

That time of year has come again. At least on the river I fish. Everyone must come to their own decision on when to quit fishing for winter fish. Each river is different and each angler must take into account several factors like run timing and the presence of spawning fish in the system. Using your best judgement, and taking into account the various indicators please make an informed decision. Do whats best for the fish.

Stay off spawning redds, in fact stay away from them entirely as the area of egg deposit is not always concentrated in the zone that looks most disturbed. Many thousands of eggs can lodge or settle in areas downstream of the main redd. When in doubt stay out!  Be aware of this for trout and all anadromous fish in all seasons.

In addition, many redds will be very visible for a time and then become less easy to see because of dirt and debris that can cover them caused by fluctuating water levels. Just because the redd is not visible anymore or you don't see active spawning doesn't mean the area is safe to walk in.  Be aware of the type of ground you are standing in at all times. When you suspect fish may be spawning in the area, you may want to just wind it up and go play golf.

On a year like this last one, I believe many fish spawned early due to the favorable water temps and flows. The fish that are still coming in are ready to spawn and are going straight to the beds. Again, I cant tell you when to quit fishing, that is up to you. But, think about the effect you might have on potentially thousands of fish just so you can catch one more.

The greatest tragedy that can occur at this time of year is catching a prime hen or buck that spills eggs or milt when you bring him/her in. Don't let it happen to you!

For me, this time of year is a time to recharge my battery, hang with the family, tie some flies and stock up some fly boxes. It is a time of rest, growth and rebirth. It is a time that needs to happen in the cycle of life.

Hope you had a good winter season and summer is just around the corner!

Enjoy your rest and get ready for a new season to come!

Ecclesiastes 3:1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

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They Are Where You Find Them........

Posted by Mark Saturday, February 28, 2015 3 comments

Yes, its true, after all these years on the river I still find new runs. Knowing the river at every flow in every season really makes it about a half dozen rivers, maybe more. Fun to try new things, fun to see that this river hasn't come close to giving up all her secrets.  Amazing to think that there are still so many places fish hide that never get touched. I am humbled every time I set foot on her shores.

 The wade out to the newly discovered run was tough, and probably not real smart......

The water is fast and pushy, testing my wading skills to the maximum. Several times I look longingly toward shore not fully sure of the task at hand. Past the point of no return, I am committed now and I stagger on. Water is flowing hard around me waist deep, pulling me and pushing me. My feet slide crazily across shelf rock and thankfully grab hold. I walk the tightrope between control and foolishness. A dangerous chute waits far below me, taunting me, haunting me with the possibilities should I make a mistake. I usually don't get scared much on the river anymore, mostly because I don't put myself in the position to be scared. But, I am scared now and it feels good. Its a healthy and respectful kind of scared. All of the sudden, I feel like a kid again, a major dose of adrenalin spikes through my veins. I spy my path through the current and lunge for the high spot that will put me in a position to cast.  My cleats dig hard as I lean into the small wave train and find purchase in the nick of time.

I have made it! Now what? It doesn't look nearly as good now that I am here. Why oh why do I do this? What I thought would be a slower inside seam races along, really too fast for a good swing. I scan the water looking for tell tale signs of a dish, a piece of structure, a flat spot, anything. I see a flat spot down in the run, near the limit of my cast. It's not much, but if there is a fish anywhere in here he will be there. I start to cast and swing. I am throwing a big upstream mend and pointing the rod straight out in front of me, even a bit upstream to try and slow the fly down a little. Very slowly dropping the rod and following the fly after the mend, really reaching out there. The swings are fast but as I near the flat spot I saw earlier, I find a 20ft wide slot that starts to feel pretty good. Its a narrow swath but the swings are slower. I am maxed on my cast so I start to slip line into the drift trying to reach that flat spot and keep the fly swinging slow.

After several drifts slipping a few feet of line in each time I am at my limit. With the extra line slipping, I am fishing my fly over a hundred feet away from me now. I make one more drift and the fly line catches some puffs in the current and does not respond to the mend that I try to put in. The fly is smoking through the sweet spot, much faster than I like. I hang on and hope and am met with a vicious take, the big buck coming out of the water instantly as my fly was probably cruising at about a foot under the water.  The take came the only place it could have. The little flat spot at the limit of my wading and casting ability. I could never have anticipated how the fish would respond to a fly with that much pace.

He liked it and so did I!

A new fish in a new place, what could be better?

Ezekiel 36:26- And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

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Fish Move!

Posted by Mark Tuesday, February 3, 2015 2 comments

I met up with my buddy Marty on the river the other day and we had a great time fishing and just hanging out. As is always the case when guides get together, we exchange stories and observations of the rivers we fish and how the steelhead behave in our particular waters. We both shared experiences guiding where clients have hooked fish behind other people.  It got me thinking, why are we as steelhead fisherman so adverse to fishing second pass through a favorite run? I mean we all like first shot at a producing run but that isn't always possible. Just because someone has fished through a run first doesn't necessarily mean they fished it well. And even if they fished it perfectly there is a factor that we often forget. Fish Move!

Fish are constantly on the move. Maybe not running hard up the river covering miles but many times they are moving around in a particular run. Fish are lazy and are always searching for a place that they can hold where they can expend the least amount of energy. When they find that temporary spot they may stay for a short time, like as little as a few minutes, to maybe an hour or so. Some will hold for hours or days, even weeks in some conditions. We are looking for the moving aggressive fish not the dour fish down in the trench. I have watched fish come into a holding lie that is a long term parking spot and sit for awhile and then move out within minutes. Why did that fish move from that perfectly good spot? Everything was perfect but he got antsy or something and moved. Steelhead are on a mission and even though they stop in places to rest, their instincts keep them in a state of almost constant movement. These are the fish that are grabby, the ones that are used to moving more, the ones that have no problem moving to eat your fly. These are the fish that move around in a run and are in a taking position when you fish the run. The guy before you fished it well but the fish was not in position or of an attitude to eat a fly.A fish can become aggressive to a fly in an instant if he is in a position to do so.

A number of things will make a fish move around in a run, rising or dropping levels, clarity, water speed, numbers of fish in a run,structure availability or the need to find a mate to name a few. We as fisherman need to realize that this constant movement can work in our favor. We need to fish every run with confidence knowing full well that any swing of the fly through a run may attract a fish that was not in a taking position just minutes before. I see it constantly with the people I fish with. We fish some of the same runs on the same day at different times and we hook fish  behind each other all the time. These are our peers who know the lies and the water as well as anyone.

Bottom line is, it doesn't always matter who got into the run at first light. It's the person that is in the right place at the right time when that fish settles into a taking lie and eats your fly. You could be second person through or the tenth person through.

Fish move, so fish with confidence every time you step into a run. Don't let the fear of someone else fishing the run in front of you get you off your game.

Thanks Marty for hanging out with me. You always inspire me to think about these fish in new ways.

Genesis 1:20- And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life........
Tight lines

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Its Better to Have Hooked and Lost..........

Posted by Mark Saturday, January 24, 2015 1 comments

...........than to have never hooked at all.

The grab was nothing out of the ordinary. Good solid pull followed by a squealing Hardy. A couple short runs then the fish came straight at me. I reeled to keep tension on the line as the fish moves upstream. "its a big buck" my buddy said to me as we both kind of recognized by the fishes behavior it was probably a boy. I still had not felt the full weight of the fish as it had been a highly erratic fight so far. As the fish moved upstream I put the wood to it and tried to roll him over or change his course. Not happening. My 7wt was bent to the cork and I was pulling as hard as I dared with 12 lb test. That's pretty hard. The fish was not phased in the least and just kind of did what he wanted. Another good line ripping run downstream and then more of the same. As I reeled and pulled, he just sort of swam and meandered his way back upstream. He got even with me and then went around a mid river shelf and sulked on the other side.

The line was over or under or around the shelf in such a way that I lost connection with the fish. I know he's still there but can't get an angle on the line or the fish with the current and structure hampering my efforts. My wise buddy says " Get downstream of him and pull him off backwards" This seemed counter-intuitive to me as it looked like the line was around the front of the rock and the current was keeping it down. The fish was on the far side. But, I was ready to try anything at this point so I slowly walked downstream, getting below the fish a ways and pulling the whole time. Finally, as I got below him I could again feel the throbs of a heavy fish still on the line but still around the rock somehow. I moved a little farther down and the fish came to life, surging and thrashing at the surface, throwing his massive body side to side and raising a ruckus. Still around the rock I staggered through the rocks reeling and pulling hoping to free the fish from its predicament. I stumbled and fell in, putting an arm down and feel the cold North Umpqua water pouring in by the buckets. I wobble to my feet colder and wetter. The fish makes one last thrash on the surface and saws the line off and we part ways. We both see the massive body and tail of a wild winter steelhead bolting for its new found freedom and he is gone.

The chances at these truly huge fish are fleeting. To get them to eat a swinging fly is one thing, to land them is another altogether and always a gamble. Everything must go perfectly and gear and knots must be perfect. That may easily have been the biggest fish I will see this year, maybe for years. I was privileged to encounter it and feel blessed to be near and know a river where these fish swim.

Remember, landing the fish is not always a  possibility. Be thankful for the encounter and be ready for the next one.........

Proverbs 21:13 The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD.

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What the Frack?

Posted by Mark Saturday, January 17, 2015 1 comments

 If You Love These.............

The Jordan Cove Project has kind of flown under the radar but now is crunch time. We need all your comments to deny the permits needed for this project. This is a bad idea in every way. There is a huge potential impact to our native fishery watersheds in Southern Oregon if this goes through.

Below is a sample letter that can be used that covers the basics. Also listed is the three agencies that these letters should be sent to. 

Thanks for all your help!

Protect Southwest Oregon’s Rivers From Fracked Gas Export

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) are currently asking for public comments regarding the impacts of a proposed gas export terminal and pipeline across the salmon watersheds of southwest Oregon. Both agencies are responsible for evaluating required Clean Water Act permits and protecting our public waterways. If these permits are denied the Jordan Cove project is dead in the water. Now is the time to let the agencies know you value clean water more than dirty energy and to deny these permits!

These permits deal with the proposed 230-mile pipeline to transport fracked gas from Malin to Coos Bay, through the watersheds of the Klamath, Rogue, Umpqua, Coquille and Coos Rivers. The project would involve a 36” pipeline crossing 400 different waterways, clearing important streamside forests and dumping sediments into clear water streams. Additionally the terminal site would require extensive new dredging in the sensitive estuary of Coos Bay. All told this would result in 5.8 million cubic yards of fill dumped into salmon strongholds throughout southwest Oregon.

TAKE ACTION: Send a letter to DEQ and the Corps describing how you consider the project not in the best interests of the public, and your concerns that the project would harm water quality and salmon habitat. Your voice matters and now is the time!

Please personalize your letter and let the agencies know how you personally value clean water and salmon, or how this project would affect you and your quality of life.

Sample letter
Letters should go to these three:

Please deny certification or permits for Jordan Cove and Pacific Connector NWP-2012-441

Dear Governor Kitzhaber, Director Pedersen, Director Rue, and Colonel Aguilar,

I urge you to deny all permits or certifications for the proposed Jordan Cove LNG export project and associated 230-mile pipeline (NWP-2012-441).

Salmon are an iconic part of the Pacific Northwest and an important part of our regional economy. The proposed more than 5.7 million cubic yards of fill into 400 waterways throughout southwest Oregon would harm the habitat these fish depend on. The threatened watersheds, including the Klamath, Rogue, Umpqua, Coquille and Coos Rivers are known for their salmon and steelhead fishing throughout Oregon and the US.

Salmon depend on clean cold water, and many areas of southwest Oregon already face problems with warming waters and sediment. In fact, substantial money is spent by state, federal and private entities to restore clean water and improve salmon habitat throughout the region. Dumping fill into our streams and removing important streamside forests to make way for a gas pipeline would not only make conditions worse in these important watersheds, but would squander the public investment in salmon restoration.

The extraction, transport and eventual burning of fracked gas cannot be considered a bridge fuel. The gas in question – methane – is 86 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and recent studies from Stanford to NASA point to the lifecycle of gas being as bad for the climate as coal. Once Boardman coal plant shuts down in 2020 the Jordan Cove project would be the single largest greenhouse gas source in the state of Oregon, if we allow it. Exporting gas to new markets would accelerate fracking in the Rockies and would damage the State’s efforts to halt climate change.

The pipeline route threatens 300 Oregon landowners with eminent domain – the condemnation and theft of their property – for the exclusive benefit of a Canadian gas company. Not only would their land be possessed, but lower pipeline safety standards in rural areas raise the risk of accidents for a pipeline company that has seen three explosions on their gas lines this year alone. Landowners and rural emergency responders are simply not equipped for the risk of any accident or intentional attack on a pipeline or facility involving more than 1 billion cubic feet of gas per day.

Finally, the U.S. Energy Information Administration tells us that exporting gas and bringing American consumers into competition with the world market for this gas would raise rates in Oregon and throughout the U.S. Higher gas prices would harm ratepayers and domestic manufacturing, shipping more jobs overseas.

This project would harm Oregon’s clean water and the people and species that depend on it. It is clearly not in the public interest, and I urge you to protect the people and watersheds of Oregon from exploitation by denying all permits and certifications that your agencies are evaluating.

Thank you.

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For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse.(Rom 1:20)