As the foxgloves fade and the salmonberries ripen, our coastal rivers are settling into summer. The rainforest has grown into a full-blown jungle, almost impenetrable. Spring chinook have found refuge in cool canyon pools. Summer steelhead are tucked into comfortable bubble curtains, reverting to trouty habits, tempted by summer hatches. Sea-run cutthroat are making their way up the estuaries, blasting schools of small anchovies and candlefish, as well as baby salmon and steelhead. Meanwhile, coho and chinook rip voraciously through our offshore waters, putting on weight and counting down the weeks before the big autumn dance. For the handful of anglers who fished hard through the spring and early summer, it’s time to sleep in, catch up with friends, and stock up on flies for September. It’s a fine time to reflect a little on a season full of excitement and pseudo-revelations…
During a particularly grungy incoming tide, my line tightened to the steady thumping of a fish. The jolts were hard and quick, and my first thought was that I had foul-hooked a salmon by the tail. Seconds later, an aquamarine summer steelhead leaped and thrashed, and a long-standing dream of mine finally came true. Hopefully it won’t take another 20 years to find the next one!
Caught in the Act
Ever trained your lens on the water’s surface, determined to get a photo of a salmon or steelhead mid-jump? I’ve done it plenty, as have my pro-photographer buddies. The Law of Jumping Salmon, section 4, line 11, states: “Salmon will stop jumping when cameras appear, and resume when cameras are stowed.” So imagine my surprise when I clicked the shutter JUST AS a spring salmon blasted the surface! I’ll admit it was a little anti-climactic, as the picture is only moderately compelling. But it still qualifies as a first in my book.
Oysters on the Campfire
There is no better camp food than fresh oysters. Grilled spring chinook is a nice side dish. Beer is the vegetable.
Cracking the Crab Code?
After cutting the day’s fish, Miguel and I stood on the camp dock, sipping micro brews and watching the algae bloom. Our neighbor in camp, now referred to as “Random Camper Guy,” wanders over and exclaims when he sees the fillets:
“Holy cow, where did you get those beauties?” he asked.
“Just down river,” we replied.
Then RCG sees the fly rods.
“Good Lord, you got those on flies?”
We suspected by the way RCG phrased it, that he knew a thing or two. He walked over to the rods and inspected our flies.
“Oh, you’re using crab larva flies!”
Miguel and I looked at each other sideways. We had no idea what he was talking about.
“Uh…what’s that again?” I offered.
“These flies,” he pointed at a #8 Zebra Tail, “are yellow and red, just like late-stage crab larvae. That’s one of the primary foods of chinook in the ocean.”
He shared a few more factoids, then shuffled off to his RV. Miguel and I stared at each other, gears turning, communicating without words.
“Let’s tie up some crab flies for tomorrow!” I said. And with that we cranked out 13 new flies and split them up among our crew.
The next day we rocked the chinooks, and every time someone hooked up, the refrain echoed, “Crab fly!”
Pink Zebra Tail Magic
Last year’s unqualified ‘nook killer, the Pink Zebra Tail, drove the spring season right out of the gate. The flashy little critter brought multiple limits to the net, and lead to speculation as to the secrets of its success. As it happened, Random Camper Guy nudged us in another direction, and over the following two weeks, my buddies and I developed tighter and tighter facsimiles of megalops Dungeness crab larvae. Those flies performed well, and led to other innovations. But some of our crab larvae experimentation failed. For instance, we all tied itty bitty versions of our crab flies, attempting to better match the naturals. The small flies didn’t pan out, primarily because the smolts would not leave them alone. As the season wound down, the magic of the crab flies seemed to wane. But the Zebra Tail proved itself time and again, up to the last grab.
That final hookup came after 14 hours of swinging–almost perfectly in line with the season average of 13.8 hours per fish landed.