Monday, November 9, 2015

WHERE HAVE ALL THE STEELHEAD GONE?

OK!...seriously if I don't jump in right now and try to establish some semblance of reality in a non-realistic world of "trending now/social media instant gratification, political correctness and all the other scary BS that technology is bringing us humanoids to 'dumb it down' and keep it simple, I don't know who will- please feel free to jump in by all means, but I'm scratching my head for answers and hope I will have some for you.

 Concerning a migratory fish we: guides (/lodges/fanatical steelheaders etc. are starting to act like panic stricken chihuahuas with diarrhea because " we are not catching/seeing the numbers we saw in the past-the world is crumbling! - this crap has to stop!- it's only fishing and has and will always be. Like everything else in life , we have gotten a little too damn seriously preoccupied  about  only good shit and instant gratification  going our own way- not trying to preach!.

Steelhead fishing  has and always will be tied very closely with the natural world of fish migration cycles, weather,and a fish that doesn't have to eat for 12 months if it doesn't want to !- It strikes our fly/bait whatever out of aggressive foraging predator profiles instilled through millions of years of survival- not because we decide to go fishing!  and not because our Iphone 6 S needs images to post ( yours truly to blame!- being a facebook whore of self admitting guilt ) . 

Lodges, guides , fanatical steelheaders that plan destinations etc. to the Great Lakes are all freaking out out because 'three years ago/last year/5 years ago ' etc. we crushed them!!! 

WELL!....this year its bloody, painfully tough-FACTOID!. The lack of  $$$$  generated and increase insatiable appetite in our disgruntled guides and clients are "trending now". 

After guiding for 20 years for steelhead,  having fished for them since a little boy and most importantly trying to shed some theory, method, science and madness to the elusive chrome migratory beasts by having written 5 books and several hundred articles about the subject...
 ( Cautionary PC note:. ...not trying to narcissistically self indulge my accolades or shamelessly self promoting - just a fact!), I will try to shed some light and reality to the subject- if you don't like it?...- don't read it!- SIMPLE. I'll try to lay out without belaboring the point the basic concepts you need to embrace as simply as possible if you want to continue being a migratory fish chaser.

THE NEW NORMAL-"THERE IS NO NORMAL !"
Global climate change/ whatever the hell you want to call it, has wreaked havoc on our weather for the last two years more significantly than anyone can remember in their lifetimes-fact! The impact of the Great Lakes freezing completely over - two concectutive years in a row in the last century is unheard of.
 After trying to plant this seed with the Great Lakes biologists that "this is a big deal", they are finally embracing it and studying its impact. Think about a dark lake , ice covered for months , no sunlight penetration to create plankton- which feed bait fish/ which feed steelhead/salmon etc...."aka rain makes corn, corn makes whiskey ".
 Fact is we just don't have enough research and money to fund a Jacques Cousteau  Calypso style boat to cruise the Great Lakes 24/7-365 to find out what is actually happening in the Great Lakes.
 So we just end up diagnosing  manage the fisheries with 'knee jerk decisions" based on old and outdated data before it is released and comprehended. 
SO!...looking at our calendars and saying" the peak fall steelhead run is usually late October/November first two weeks just doesn't cut it anymore".

LOOK AT THIS YEAR'S WEATHER/CONDITIONS-2015 ALONE-INSANE!
One of the coldest winters on record- Great Lakes froze up again completly. We had spring steelhead on the Muskegon until June 19th- insane For the fisrt time in our 20 year lodge existence the Muskegon turned to total ice up slush- never seen that ever!!...YES , chrome winter steelhead spawning in June... and May was our best month- usually March/April.
The fabulous summer Skamania steelhead which I have been guiding for for 19 years on the St. Joe/Indiana and Manistee- Lake Michigan tributaries, which normally show up in mid to late June/July, didnt decide to show up until late August/and September's end in any decent numbers- two months late. Salmon were late, but at least the Muskegon had a good run to excellent run- I cant say that about the other rivers were it was abysmal - including the world famous King salmon runs of the Salmon River in New york, where there are plenty of alweives- NO ANSWERS THERE?

Here is a biggie trending now!.We had the coolest July and August on record- 50 F days in end of July for a week was ridiculous. August was cold and had frosts. THEN!, we end up having one of the hottest September/October's and early Novembers in history- last week I was wearing tank tops, going skin and shorts as temps were in the upper 70's F in November?...seriously???
Also the amazing lack of rain is leaving all the Great Lakes and east and west coast rivers dry and ridiculously low most of the time ( can anyone say 'California's trout streams this summer?). Except for epic flooding in the spring, our North American rivers run low and clear most of the time. Development/fracking/Nestle /Perrier water bottling are pumping groundwater our of our  river aquifers from Pennsylvania to the Great Lakes- I was on the Letort Springs in PA last week and it was beyond bone dry after a heavy rain event. 

SO...to migratory fish like steelhead that depend on "stability and normalcy overt time", there is none! Water temperature and flow variations wreak havoc on a fish that has surviveed by measuring more weather and ecological variables than all the NOAA scientists in the world- called " life survival strategy for evolutionary success"- its in my Selectivity book. You could have all the newest bad ass fly patterns and rods, top guides booked, but baby if you don't have the "right and suitable" ecological variables to support your A game, it all means shit! - go golfing!
FORAGE BASE -SAME OLD STUFF- NO ALARM HERE IMHO
SO!...in a year class ( note year classes have been going through heavy variations since the exoctics came into the Great Lakes)  when the Alewife forage base collapsed and " dome and gloom" was predicted for the salmon run, the Muskegon had one hell of a good run of slamon that were not supposed to be there???
If any fish will prosper from low alweives its steelhead/atlantics/brown trout that are multi- foraging predators and will eat the blossoming gobies/shiners/perch/deep water sculpins- anything!- just like brown trout- old saying: a lake brownie or steelhead will eat anything that doesn't eat it! - Pacific salmon Kings need and have to have alewive  sardine like creatures - OR DO THEY?-is that myth ready to be debunked.

THE COMMERCIAL FISHING INDUSTRY- aka CALLED 'SPORT FISHING" IS NOT GOOD IF YOU LIKE RIVER STEELHEAD-ALSO A 'THREE FISH LIMIT ON WILD STEELHEAD IS BARBARIC AND PRIMITIVE"-WTF!

ok...topic pretty much answered the question. But if you can imagine how many steelhead were destroyed by charter fleets looking for easier salmon targets that were nowhere to be found- at least not with cold lake temperatures having them spread out everywhere, you woulkd be amazed. So the $$ equation was  to resort to slaughtering 'big time' steelhead this past summer, tears! Logic will  tell you a dead steelhead out in the lake doesn't make it back to a river that is low and hot to begin with! 
And the epic eternal fight to get a "one fish steelhead limit" makes no sense to any logical rational fisherman or biologist especially with the tremendous lack of steelhead these days- another insane conundrum!...$$$$$$ is the culprit again.

OUR GREAT LAKES CULTURE: WE ARE GREEDY SPOILED BASTARDS WAITING FOR THE GOOD OLD DAYS TO COME BACK

Could we have loved these fish to death?- could our insatiable passions for them sent them on the edge of extinction and the end from the Great Lakes legacy?

Unless mother nature has other ideas- and yes it totally throws us for curveballs, it ain't gonna happen unless by miracle . WE HAVE TO LEARN, PROTECT AND APPRECIATE WHAT WE HAVE RIGHT NOW! Unfortunately if we don't learn from histories mistakes, like the collapse of the west coast steelhead fishery in the 80's/90's and even today, we are headed- or even more scary, "already down" that dark rode of decimation of the steelhead fishery- in that I can say " welcome to the new normal"!

IMMEDIATE FUTURE- NOT ALL DOOM AND GLOOM-ACTUALLY I SEE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL THAT COULD BE HERE TOMORROW AND
 MORE SURPRISING THAN EVER!


Please don't misread what I'm gonna say here. But the fact that nobody , even the 'guru" biologits know what the hell is going on with the Great Lakes steelhead  and salmon fishery is a very very good thing!-  stoic, bureaucratic/cronyism biologists need to be a little more open minded. Have a piece of the humble pie we steelhead guides/ fanatical steelhead fisher lovers eat everyday in trying to explain to the clients or spouses, freinds etc why we are so unhappy and depressed we aren't seeing the numbers- maybe its even affecting our desires to go and fish- thats sad!
There are a few cool, hipe progressive thinking young  biologists out there that get it!- several are close friends. They realize two very, very important things:

1. We are going to have to focus on the ecological management "right things to do" as our evolving ecosystems  spin away from us faster than the worm tunnel  of a dark hole , rather than $$$$ monetary bureaucratic, political way of  "old school crony" thinking about the Great Lakes fishery we are currently stuck in, if we are to save our legacy

2. The fact is we have no facts!!!!- and by the time the data and facts are in from the last study, computed and analyzed, nature has already changed in a new direction- the "old dead knowledge versus the live knowledge gig"- we need to be more progreesive and proactive in thinking- we have been stuck in retrocative/knee jerk reactive thinking .

 Here is the last bit of excellent news I can leave you with.

* The fact that we have and will continue to have a mild fall bodes well for steelhead migrations- rember the "window -of -run opportunity" I always talk about in 'Steelhead Dreams"- we got it!- lake and river temps are perfectly aligned for a big push of fish. If it were snowing and cold as hell, we could forget it it until spring!

*Everything "IS AND HAS" been running late this year!

* There are still tons of steelhead out in the big lake thinking its early September by all the hot fall weather we had

* Steelhead dont need alweives- 'they will eat 'em if they have em', but dont need em!

* Late Novembers and December's have been always epic steelheading when the run on certain years was slow in starting- that is a fact!- it is only gonna get better and its gonna be soon!

* The lack of salmon will take the steelhead and lake run browns and graduate them to Apex predators- a promotion

 * This could be the start of a whole new fishery- and Atlantic salmon and more lake-run browns- even cohos will be a big part of it

* Appreciate your local resident trout populations- after my guide trips I have been enjoying watching brownies sip midges and blue-winged olives, or watch big aggressive fall brownies slash streamers... and have been taking advantage of these beauty creatures- other states would die to have the trout fisheries we have!!!...big migratory fish aren't everything if you call yourself a true fly fisher!- WE ARE SO F'ING SPOILED!!!!!
( One from yesterday- November 8th/15- when nobody caught anything - or were supposed to!)


Finally- everybody just chill!!!- have a sense of humor, stop all the serious PC crap- everyone I see on the river these days look so god damn miserable...seriously???- is that why we are out there- you could be laying in a hospital bed wishing you were just by a river- amen!

Enjoy the gorgeous days- I love them even if fishing is tough-especially when I think back to the blizzards of the last 
two winters. 

If you catch a fish- love it to death! Learn to become "better and more intelligent" fisherman and women! 
Read a new book, gain some knowledge take your game up a few notches .The quiet and gentle sport has always and hopefully will continue to be a "thinking man/women's passion. When I was a little boy I checked out from my local Niagara Falls  library 'Selective Trout' -( Swisher/Richards )- I never gave it back and read it to death, until my European mom Natalia found out by a call from the library and grabbed my ear, the tattered book and waltzed me down to the library in tears like a criminal on trial. She and the librarian  made me do a whole month of weekends at the library cleaning floors, taking out garbage and anything hard labor could bring- felt like an inmate in a concentration camp. Such was the price for my passion for knowledge. 
Today there are so many fun options: watch a new DVD ,go to fly fishing film festival, study a master tie a fly or make a bamboo rod, go to a Spey Clave and study casting masters- this fly fishing world is so vast on  information like the universe it is scary- we only use 10% of our fly fishing  individual potential. Maybe its is time now to rediscover, reinvent ourselves - I'm trying everyday.
Try something new: maybe spey fishing, dry fly minutiae, become a Euro Nympher- streamers are the bomb!- center pinning long drag free drifts?..I dont know- I'm a fly fisher but trying to be kind to all others. This is not " Bassmaster.Monster truck pull " fishing- it is chasing an elusive chrome unicorn with a passion- wouldn't want it no other way.  

Take your spouse/kids/family fishing- someone you think would never like it!- not just the old fart good ole boy clubs!.

In the Great Lakes we have been possessed by the dark side of 'dumb down fishing'... of numbers/chumming/trolling/spawn bags/same old fly style- vary it up!- explore options. Often we are fishing like creatures of habit- sheep with fly rods doing the same damn thing- fishing the same holes, same style, go with the crowds and internet bullshit talk- look at how much happier we were before the world wide web tainted us- think about it!

The fish will eventually come.We are predicted to have a warmer winter- thank God!  Enjoy every minute you have- nature  will continue to baffle us and adore us with its mysteries and beauty- I think that is the"VERY COOL" part about why and what we do.

 If I have helped you understand what is going on..my pleasure- if I make no sense- press 'delete'!!!
Cheers/ Na zdrowie!

Note:  I personally still have an opening November 11th from a cancellation and still have a few Atlantic salmon dates- everything is just starting so you haven't missed anything- that's the good news!