Haystacks, Needles and Chrome

No pictures needed for this piece, read on and you'll agree!

by Jake Hood (CFB Pro Staffer)

Guide days. First light days. Raft in the water pre-dawn. Cooler is full. Thermos is full. Rods in the holders with flies at the ready. Eating breakfast in the café with waders on as though it were an everyday occurrence because here it is. Guide day.

The air is crisp and cold. These Septober mornings all start the same , frost on the raft early but you’ll be checking for sunscreen before the day’s over so your neck and hands don’t burn.

This morning there is light fog hanging over the water as it rushes by. It holds a quiet beauty and an almost mythical atmosphere of mystery and solitude, and in reality a touch of mortality with the ice it leaves on the rocks. Those foot tractor wading boots that grant you so much nimble security in the water betray your every step on black ice. It’s far from a dancers grace in these conditions.

Customers must be warned of this peril as you make your way through the launch to board the raft. You see the momentary confusion cross their faces as they consider how wading boots could be the opposite of their intended use. Not the last dichotomy they’ll have to digest in the next few hours.

It’s a father and son today. Sam, a restauranteur from Seattle and his 22yr old son Ryan, a newly enrolled freshman at WSU. Sam is my age, mid-fifties, and breakfast gave us ample reasons to connect in conversation. Ryan is friendly but detached and aloof, almost to the point of distraction. I take this as a measure of his youth. Their first steelhead fly fishing trip and they’re excited and apprehensive in nearly equal measure. I don’t know about other guides but I prefer this attitude to start the day.” I don’t know if I can do this” goes a long ways towards getting this. We pull away and float just a short distance to the first run to get our first real taste of what getting this means. Switch rods are distributed and explained as the familiar litany of questions are fielded.

“Why are they called switch rods?” asks Ryan.

“The switch rod moniker is in reference to your ability to use them either as a short two hander or as a single hand rod” I reply.

“Why not just use a single hand rod then?” Sam queries, more than a little pensively. “We took casting lessons with single hand rods “, he added.

“Short answer, I doubt you can cast fifty feet with your single hand rod,” I offer. “And while I can’t guarantee you’ll do it today with the switch, I will bet you’ll have a better chance.” I go on to explain that their apprehension is normal and the rods feel cumbersome to everyone at first.

I put them through the paces of the rudimentary steps of casting a switch rod and patiently wait for them to discard the awkward first attempts to achieve a measured semblance of a cast and swing. As the morning passes they both progress steadily but it is obvious that Ryan has internalized the fundamentals at a deeper level. Soon he is laying out casts that defy his lack of experience just a few short hours before. I am struck by the way he not so much steps thru a run as he stalks it like a heron, alert and intent.

At lunch Ryan casts off his earlier distant demeanor and literally pummels me with questions around bites of salami and cheese. He is, quite obviously, on Fire for steelhead fly fishing and seeks every bit of information he can possibly get out of me. I welcome his enthusiasm and give as much as I imagine he can absorb.

He listens as I explain that the fish are holding facing upstream in the runs and our goal is to show the fly to as many fish as possible as we swing down through it, cast after cast. He looked at me somewhat puzzled and asked, “Are we looking for a needle in a haystack?”

That’s a question I’ve fielded many, many times over the years, I suspect every guide has. I’ve also adopted a pat answer to said question.

“No Ryan, I replied. We’re hoping the needle in the haystack finds us “

To my surprise and delight that metaphor visibly inspired him!

Sometime later that day and much further downriver, Sam came to sit in the boat and chat while we both watched Ryan continue to progress and improve as he swung through yet another run. I offered some more salami that we had shared at lunch that Sam had particularly enjoyed and while he ate and watched his son fish he began to talk. Some of you may not know the fringe benefits of being a fishing guide that are somewhat unexpected. You become a confidant at times inexplicably. This would, for me, be one of those times. Sam talked of Ryan for quite some time as he sat watching him cast, swing, and step over and over. He spoke of his high school years and how much of a struggle it was for him to even finish, let alone graduate. I divided my attention between servicing gear and politely listening but in spite of that I nearly missed the crack in Sam’s voice when he mentioned Ryan’s A.D.D.

That octave change snapped my head around and gained my undivided attention. I noticed now that even though Sam was sitting quartered away from me, I could see tears on his cheeks. He fought through the emotion as he explained how they had spent most of the past 4 years seeking anything that would offer relief for his son’s severe attention deficit disorder. I’ll offer only that I know more about this young man’s trials than I have any right to know. His enrolling in college that fall had been a major hurdle and represented spectacular progress, Sam continued to share.

Then he turned to me and said point blank, “But nothing we have done for Ryan has come close to what you have done for him today.”

“In his life I have never seen him take to anything with anywhere near approaching this measure of concentration.” Sam added “But even more than that, nothing has ever brought him this much peace”

It was now my turn to be awkward and unsettled. I know how to row a boat, cast a switch rod, tie killer knots, tie flies and tell a good joke. All qualities that lend to good guiding. But I’ve no market cornered on finding or providing peace. Trust me. But I’ve been here before, and expect I’ll be here again. Guiding very seldom has anything to do with the fish. The luckiest guides get to be witness to the real reasons for being out there. We get fed, big man size portions of the thing that sustains us.

Henry David Thoreau said;

“Most men fish their entire lives without knowing it is not the fish they are after”

Sam and Ryan learned that lesson on the first steelhead fly fishing trip of their life.

Steelhead Spey Casting / Fishing Classes, Skills for the Chase!


C.F. Burkheimer is proud to announce the addition of One Day Steelhead Casting/Fishing Classes.  Designed to bring your game up to the next level.  Whether a rookie, intermediate, or advanced you’re sure to come away with a new understanding for the art and soul of Steelhead fly fishing and new skills for the chase.  Classes take place in the heart of the Oregon Coast range on the scenic Nestucca River, one of the most reliable steelhead fisheries I the Northwest.  You will float the river with Burkheimer instructors Peter Gadd and Joshua Linn, two of the best instructor’s around.  With a combined experience of over 45 years of Steelheading, they have a wealth of knowledge to impart.  Pete and Josh have taught hundreds of people not only how to cast but the finer points of pursuing one of the most sought after fish in fly fishing.  When done for the day stick around and enjoy the excellent dining and accommodations of gorgeous Pacific City.  We know this will be a learning experience not to forget.

Contact Pete at 503-720-3268 or the rod shop at 360-835-1420 for more information and available dates.

SKAGIT CSI Swinging for steelhead amidst a salmon scam by Geoff Mueller

Despite a continent lying between them, Atlantic salmon and Northwest steelhead share some commonalities. There’s the basic biology. Both are anadromous fish that migrate from freshwater to their respective oceans, where they journey far and eat hard until nature calls them home. But there are more to the parallels. Both fish are revered by anglers. They’re both considered imperiled across much of their native ranges. But of course, those ranges are far enough removed that these two distinct species rarely cross paths in the wild.


Oh, how things change.


Washington’s Skagit River is one of the most important salmon and steelhead fisheries in the state. It flows more than 150 miles from its headwaters in British Columbia, Canada, to where it meets the Pacific at Skagit Bay, in Puget Sound. It’s a hulking river, and so are its wild steelhead. Over the years its fish have been hammered by hatchery competition, commercial netting, and habitat degradation. In 2007, the feds listed all Puget Sound steelhead—including native Skagit runs—as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Shortly thereafter, WDFW dead-bolted the spring fishery. Currently, the river has a highly abbreviated steelhead season that stops on Jan. 31. After that, the Skagit’s returning fish are left to do their thing, unmolested by you and me.


The Skagit’s mandated spring break has helped its fish. Since the closure was implemented, there’s been enough of a steelie rebound that we’ll likely see the reopening of a spring season—in some way, shape or form—either this year or next.


That’s encouraging news. The stranger news comes from something entirely alien to the system. Remember that lunar eclipse back in August? Remember how some crackpots said the temporary blackout would bring the world to its knees? Well, the doomsday prophecies never materialized, unless you were the owner of a certain Puget Sound net-pen operation that housed hundreds of thousands of farmed Atlantic salmon.

The now infamous lunar jailbreak at Cooke Aquaculture’s Cypress Island facility (which had less to do with higher-than-usual tides and more to do with company negligence) sent a stream of these freedom-chasing fish into the Sound. And on a wet January day, a couple weeks back, my fly danced over the edge of a mid-river shelf on the Skagit, where it found purchase in the maw of a very out-of-place fish.


According to a joint report authored by the departments of Natural Resources, Ecology, and Fish and Wildlife, of the 263,000 Atlantic salmon that escaped Cooke’s net pen, about 186,000 remain at large. The number of those fish now waddling up the Skagit, waiting for a solid rock shampooing, is anyone’s guess. Enter Skagit CSI. Back in August, former fish biologist Bill McMillan poked and prodded more than 60 Atlantic salmon carcasses. In an email he wrote that the fish had large amounts of fat buildup from their confined net-pen diet, “even greater than that typically found in summer steelhead when they have been examined—or any other fish ever examined.” The implication is that the interloping ’lantics can live for the better part of a year in freshwater. In other words, they’re not going away anytime soon.


I’ve always dreamt about travelling to Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula to swing for its high-leaping salmo salar. Maine still has a few notable runs. Iceland is on the list, and so are its spotted fish. Norway has the mega-size salmon of the Guala River. And Scotland and Ireland are great places to immerse oneself in Atlantic salmon lore. But the Skagit River, for chrissakes, is for steelhead. For pink, chum, coho, and chinook salmon. For sea-run cutthroat and bull trout.


Friends landed and dispatched several more of Cooke’s Atlantics leading up to seasonal closure. During those final days of January, it rained hard. The river swelled to 20,000+ cfs. And we heard of one steelhead landed, a megatron fish pushing 18+ pounds. A fish so incalculably savage, I hope, that it just might scare a farmed salmon back into the net from which it came.

[Earlier this month, Wash. Gov. Jay Inslee endorsed a bill to phase out net-pen farming of Atlantic salmon in the state, for good. The bill was passed by the state Senate and now heads to the House. Read more, http://bit.ly/2o8mK35]



Ignore the title; it’s simply a literary device to draw you into this blog by getting you to perhaps think that I am writing about making waders sexier.  It’s not.  That’s the subject of my next blog post.  This post is more Malthusian, hence the title, although this post is not a cookbook for children. [Go to Wikipedia.  Look up Jonathan Swift.  Get the joke.]

My middle name is Irony; not that it's ironical, like having Sobriquet for a middle name, a word that is a name for a name.  No, my middle name is actually Irony; Jason Irony Renfro, and that is totally apropos, because I'm gonna write about a technique you should master that will allow you to catch fewer fish. (BTW, I’m also a liar: my middle name is Steve.)

In case you didn’t know, wild steelhead are threatened in most places and endangered everywhere else, except for those places where they no longer exist.  And also, ironically, the sport of steelhead fly fishing has, in the past century, become logarithmically more popular.  We’ve now got several publications devoted to the pursuit of this most majestic of all game fish with the fly rod.  The sales of two-handed rods, used almost exclusively for the pursuit of this quarry, have exploded.  There is a ballooning market for both vintage and new versions of the old noisy reels that devoted steelhead fly fishers prefer. And we’ve got fewer steelhead.  That’s bad.  And ironic.

So next year, when we are looking back on what caused wild steelhead to disappear off the face of the earth, we may point to the clear-cutting of timber. We may point to genetic degradation from the hatchery system.  We may point to dams blocking spawning territory.  We may point to the fact that dumping huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere for a couple of centuries has in no way whatsoever had any effect on the climate, and that the increase in global temperatures we are currently enjoying conveniently is purely accidental and has nothing to do with us. We may and probably will point to a good many things.  We may even point to ourselves as anglers and cite the impact that we had as being significant to the disappearance of steelhead.  And just on the Glass House Principle we should do this.  By participating in our noble sport we impact fish in the same way as participating in driving a car in no way impacts the climate.

So, since I plan to not give up fly fishing for steelhead, what then should we do?


Here is my sure-to-be-very-unpopular proposal:  We need to mandate that the only acceptable way to pursue steelhead is by swinging flies.  Before you skewer me through the wishbone with a junkyard pitchfork let me flesh out my proposal to its full redolent and coruscating glory.

Firstly, swinging flies requires commitment from the angler.  It is hard to do.  Unlike having a guide use his drift boat to drive your bobber down a promising foam line, swinging a fly requires that you to learn to cast.  And as a fly fisher you should embrace this. Because, contrary to modern usage, fly fishing is a casting sport.  Otherwise, it’s hard to explain all the time, effort, and expense, that goes into designing the best rods for this very purpose.

 Secondly, swinging flies for steelhead continues the grand historical tradition of aristocratic British Atlantic salmon fishing. And who doesn’t want to associate themselves with the traditions of the upper-class of Old Albion?  Well, maybe me, but in fact, we have our own great and rich West Coast fly fishing history and traditions that only owe their genesis to the English, not their substance.  We’ve got the great flies of our history: the McGintys, the Bosses, the Hiltons, the Red Ants, the Skunks, the Brad’s Brats…the list is as huge as my hands.

We’ve got the great masters of our steelhead fly fishing history.  We’ve got the Roderick Haig-Browns, the Alec Jacksons, the Karl Mausers, the Wes Drains, and on and on.  They didn’t fish bobbers.  They swung flies.  They crafted beautiful flies meant to be swung.

 Thirdly, and probably most importantly, the technique of swinging flies for steelhead isn’t about catching the most steelhead possible, it’s about catching a steelhead in the best way possible.  It promotes what is best and most important about our sport.  It promotes the attempt to master a difficult and artistic skill that lies at the core of what we do, using a weighted line to propel a relatively weightless lure.  It promotes respect.


It’s already been done.  Look at the regulations on the North Umpqua.   The regulations there promote good fly fishing.  And limit impact.   Or, conversely, look at the Rogue.  Twenty-odd years ago the fly fishing season there, September and October, meant, among other things, that you could not fish from a boat.  Due to the lobbying of some pernicious local fishing interests, and the unfortunate advent of the Almighty Indicator, that particular regulation, the regulation of not fishing out of a boat, was redacted.  Now during the “Fly Fishing Season” on the Rogue, conventional tackle guides drive bobbers down the runs under which “flies” that weigh more than a Daredevil spoon dangle.  Not really fly fishing.  Furthermore, and on good inside authority, many of those guides are instructed by their employer to, when encountering an actual fly fisher swinging through a run, anchor their boat in the run just below the angler to prevent that angler from continuing to fish the run!  This is not hyperbole; it has happened several times to me and to my friends.  So, if you think about it, a steelhead fly fishing special regulation that allows bobbers to be used actually promotes bad etiquette in addition to bad fly fishing technique.  A special fly fishing regulation needs to promote actual fly fishing technique. Now, that’s all I need to say, but let me continue.  The next time a fellow angler says, “I landed 13 Steelhead today”, your response should be “I’m sorry.  That’s a shame”, cause he probably did something untoward to do it.

Ultimately, this discussion may be like arguing about which head of Cerberus, the three-headed dog guarding the gates of hell, you should feed first: Cerberus is a mythical beast and so to may become steelhead if we don't start doing something now.  I propose that the least thing we can do is to only swing flies for steelhead.  If that goes inordinately well, bring a few flies cut at the bend of the hook and keep casting.  

THE ONE by John McMillan

Fall is darn near gone.  In fact, it was pretty much non-existent in my area.  It basically went from summer to winter on the Olympic Peninsula.  65°F afternoons with some high clouds to 6” of snow in two weeks.  Now it’s raining, and raining some more.

Shifting seasons, shifting gear.  Like many anglers, I will now move on from the summer rods to the winter ones. Several Burkheimer two-handers sit in a stand in the corner of my office.  A rod for this. A rod for that.  A backup for this, and for that.  Which rod to start the season with? It is a choice that could include a litany of variables, such as river size, fly size, casting distance, wind, line, and whatever else might come to mind.  Debates actually do go on, sometimes at great length, about the importance of those types of factors. In other words, a lot of thought usually goes into selecting a rod.

I don’t begrudge an angler who prefers the more complex approach to rod selection.  Do you some you.  We all enjoy different aspects of angling.

My selection sits five-feet to my right during summer and fall. No variables needed. Its three pieces, and it stands tall amongst shorter four-pieced peers in the rack.  Like a huge Sitka spruce. A beacon of winter. 

The 9143-3.  Purchased in 2000, it is my personal rainforest old growth. 

The rod has spanned the film-digital divide in camera technology. This photo is a scanned slide from the early 2000s.

The rod has spanned the film-digital divide in camera technology. This photo is a scanned slide from the early 2000s.

Outside of the time I lived in Corvallis and fished the Oregon coast – where I mainly used the 8133 – the 9143 has been my winter rod. 

Why that one rod?  First, I fish in a particular way that requires a bit more length and reserve power, plus the stout stick puts the wood to larger fish and helps me land them with more efficiency.  Wading deep and casting for the far bank taxes all rods, especially when fishing a sink-tip and larger-sized winter fly.  The 9143 not only covers that base, but it is also long and strong enough to make all the necessary mends.  Its classic American muscle. 

Extra length and power have always been the strengths of the rod, both of which allow me to have better control over larger fish.

Extra length and power have always been the strengths of the rod, both of which allow me to have better control over larger fish.

Second, longer was the rage when I started fishing with two-handed rods.  A length of 14’ was common, and my first double-hander was a 14’ 9-weight.  Basically, I’m using a rod length that I became accustomed to. So much so that nearly all my winter rods are between 13’ and 15’.

Back to the rod.  It has been fished, a lot.  One rod, fifteen winters on the OP, excluding the two winters on the Oregon coast.  Before I was married and lived in Forks, I tried to fish at least a couple hours each day.  I would work at night or early in the morning to make up the time.  Whatever it took.  Additionally, unlike most, I did not take summer vacation. I took mine during winter. I saved it for all those perfect times when the river was dropping into steelhead green.  I basically scheduled all potential free time around the need to fish.  

It was not until recently that I reflected upon how much I actually fished the rod.  I keep a detailed journal, which includes data on fish and river conditions.  That would seemingly be the first question. How many fish did I catch with the rod over that period of time?

My answer is: That doesn’t tell the story.  Trust me. There are people who catch more fish, and less fish. Larger fish, and smaller fish.  It’s caught its fair share.

I will say this, though.  I have caught my largest winter steelhead on the rod, and my smallest.  

Alas, its also caught its fair share of smaller bucks, including the occasional winter fish on the waker.

Alas, its also caught its fair share of smaller bucks, including the occasional winter fish on the waker.

Fortunately, I don’t just keep notes on fish. After reviewing my journal I realized there were other numbers that conveyed the rod’s story so much better than a simple summation of fish.

Case in point, I have fished the rod for over 5,000 hours in pursuit of winter steelhead and early spring Chinook, and I don’t count drive time. This is in the river, fishing-time.  It’s been through hell and back, a couple times, like a repeat spawner. 

Despite logging more hours than a pimp on Broadway, I have only broken the rod once.  Two years ago. I have replaced seven guides, three of which were lost to raking the tip across overhanging limbs on different occasions. The other four were ripped off when a large fish made a mad dash on a cold day, the frozen guides simply disappeared into the river.  Everything else remains original. Its cork is like leather on the seats of an expensive sports car. Perfect to the touch. More comfortable than it should be.

Burkheimer 9143 cork sml.jpg

Well-worn, and a survivor. It’s damn near outlasted every piece of outdoor gear that I own.

For example, during the fifteen-year period I have went through 42 pairs of waders and 38 pairs of boots.  I don’t have a boat. I bank-it, which is why I destroy waders.  If the waders cost an average of $400 and the boots $120, I spent about $20k on that stuff.  Clearly one is a better investment than the other. I should have worn seal dries and tennis shoes and bought 20 more Burkies instead. An investment.  I’ll run that by my wife this week.

Fifteen-years is a long time in the fishing world, and indeed, there has been great change in lines and rods. When I bought the rod the Mid-spey and Windcutter were reigning kings, integrated running lines and all.  Longer-bellied lines and a longer rod were a nice match. People even still used the double-spey technique quite often, rather than rarely. Rods are now shorter, lighter and fine-tuned for casting short heads, so it makes sense for lines to change accordingly.  Integrated running lines are nearly, and many anglers don’t even have a long rod in their quiver.  Twenty lines later and after numerous flirtations with other rods, the 9143 remains. It casts anything, long or short, though it prefers to flex its muscle.  That’s what draws me back every time.  The adaptability.

It has also maintained its mojo through fads in fashion. I have worn through one vest, two chest packs and three backpacks. Imagine a younger angler: What’s a vest, dad? Yep, people still wore vests in 2001. I had a vest that I occasionally wore, then stopped in 2002. I saw the writing on the wall. Chest packs and fanny packs were in, and more useful, as were waterproof backpacks.  Vests are no longer cool, but the 9143 still is.

What about reels? Sure, the 9143 broke once, but it’s been more durable than my reels.  I started with a Teton and a Galvan, then tried two different Lamsons, a Hatch, a Hardy, a Nautilus, and a Danielsson.  In almost every case the drags failed, some within a year, others after two or three.  The rainforest is really hard on gear, especially if you fish it hard every day. Perpetual moisture eventually finds a way into anything claiming to be sealed.  On the other hand, the moisture and fish have not impacted the rod at all.  Perhaps the varnish is a bit faded. There are several scratches.  It ain’t as pretty as it once was. Still, hand-rolled soul out-beefing aluminum. Not much else to say.

The list goes on. Six raincoats, five cameras, three pairs of sunglasses, three trucks, three jobs and two underwater housings.  Some cameras were dunked in the river, then I shifted from film to digital – a technological divide the one conquered with aplomb.   I put almost 170,000 miles on the trucks during those winters, traipsing from one river to another depending on the week or day.  One engine blew, another came close.  I changed employers and went back to Graduate school.  The only common thread? The 9143, like Ed Abbey said, outliving the bastards.

This hen was caught a few years ago and the picture taken with a digital camera. All of those technological changes and I’m still using the same Burkie.

This hen was caught a few years ago and the picture taken with a digital camera. All of those technological changes and I’m still using the same Burkie.

I did not set out to rely on a single rod.  It just happened. Every year I still try a new rod or two, yet none seem to approach that magical balance between power and grace, along with a trunk full of brute force when needed – at least in the rivers I fish.  The closest is the 9138-4, though as I mentioned, on the Oregon coast my rod choice was different.

The only slight drawback. It is a heavy stick. It requires a heavier reel to balance. Each winter I wonder, will this year be its last? Maybe there is another rod that can fill one of its weaknesses? I crept that way a little bit last season. Stream flows were so high that the long rod had little advantage, and much disadvantage in close quarters. So, I tried the 9135. Perfect for those conditions. And I used it more than I have used any other rod since acquiring the 9143.

Ultimately, I wonder what would have happened if I stayed in Oregon and did not return to the Peninsula? Would I have written his article about a different rod? Or, maybe I would have relied on several rods? Would there even be one? I don’t know.

What I do know is that I don’t have to think about what rod I will use. I already know the one.

Regn, regn, regn, Og hagl. by Pete Gadd

As the Norwegians say: Det kjem inkte steikte fuglar flugjande i mun. - Birds fly not into our mouths ready-roasted.

B W Cast.jpeg

The Gaula River is the perfect example to prove this proverb. You don’t go in the first week or two of June expecting to catch many fish, but instead to pay homage to fly fishing history, socialize, enjoy the epic scenery, and with a lot of effort, hopefully catch a beast. 

The Gaula River cuts through central Norway amid fertile cereal fields and wooded hills. Long regarded as a top sport fishing river in Europe, it is a destination steeped in fly fishing history. The lodge I stayed at, The Norwegian Fly Fishing Club, sits on the original lease given to a group of Englishmen in the 1830s. The lodge in its current incarnation has been open for 25 years and holds the rights to 7 miles of river and 25 pools. Wherever you choose to go, definitely choose a lodge that holds plenty of private water beats. The beats are stretches of river leased from local farmers. Because of the near continual daylight that blesses the Norwegian summer, fishing is allowed 24 hours a day. Each beat is split into 6 hour blocks, 2 anglers each. Having a variety of beats to rotate though means you’ll find amenable water somewhere, whatever the conditions.


Conditions, especially early season, can be unpredictable, but the payoffs immense when everything falls into place.  The feature that looms largest on the Gaula is a long narrow gorge called the Gaulfossen. The 800m long rapid results from the wide deep river above, funneling into this bottleneck, speeding the water up dramatically. Due to the difficulty of traversing this passage, only the biggest and strongest fish attempt it. That’s what you came here for, right?


Conditions like these call for 14’ or longer rods, full-sinking Scandi lines from I/3/5, 2/4/6 and 3/5/8s. While some people use Skagit lines, they don’t go as deep, and anyway, when in Rome! Opt for fly sizes from 3-5” (sometimes strung together) heavily weighted and short stout leaders - sound like winter Steelheading? That’s because it’s really quite similar: long arduous days of casting and, you know, counting birds in the trees or whatever you’re Zen-self dictates. Be the fly: are you deep enough? Are you cute enough, are your JC eyes on straight? The only thing you truly must not do is crack a beer. There is absolutely no tolerance for any blood alcohol content whilst driving in Norway. Save it for when you’re sure you’re done for the day or night, the Englishmen or Germans who are sure to be there will happily join you! 

I said this last year, explaining it with some Russian proverb probably, but I truly can’t say it enough: get yourself a 5-piece rod if you’ve booked the trip of a lifetime like this, as it will probably entail three plane changes including a micro, budget airline that is trying to pay their staff solely with baggage fees. My desert-island choice: the Burkheimer 10148-5, it’ll stand by you even when the weather is surt (literally, sour). It does everything you need it to, floating lines to mega depth charges with three Willie Gunns strung together.


Did I have a great time? Absolutely. Was it easy? It never is.  Will I go back? Well, that’s in litigation with my better half. In all seriousness, NFC runs a fantastic program and it’s worth it. If you’re looking for quality over quantity, in the first weeks of June, with a legitimate shot of the fish of a lifetime, it’s absolutely worth it.


Tiger's Anyone!

Do something different this summer.  While Northwest Steelhead are predicted to be on a doom and gloom course this year look to other fisheries to fulfill that angling need.  One of them that Mike Sturza from Lost Creek Fly Shop shared recently got us jazzed beyond belief.  He’s been working a Burkie 10wgt on these bruisers and having some awesome success!  In Mike’s own words:

“This Burkie 10 wgt has a lot of depth, soul and hidden personality.  Once you develop a relationship with the rod it does everything and does it well.  For our fishing we us a Scientific Anglers Titan Taper floater or the Wulff Ambush clear intermediate.  Either line but especially the Ambush is a match made in heaven!  Sweet for those short quick shots, but doesn’t leave anything on the table when stretching a 70’ cast.  All in all a soulful selection!”

For those of you looking for something different and a great fishing opportunity contact Mike at the Lost Creek Fly Shop in Onalaska, WA (360-520-9855 or tigermuskie00@hotmail.com).  We’re headed up to fish with Mike ourselves very soon!  

"Elitist" by Jason Renfro

Sitting in my richly paneled study, enjoying a contemplative smoke from my antique Savinelli pipe, and sipping a cut tumbler of peaty 69 year old Glen Disdainful, an unbidden thought arose, disturbing my musings of whether the purchase of a 1923 antique Hardy red agate Perfect, or a 1912 check Perfect, would more impress my angling companions.  The strange unbidden and clearly absurd thought was this: “Are fly anglers guilty of being elitist?” 

Pushing aside such a banal, pedantic, and obtuse consideration, I returned to my aggrandizing acquirement activities, but the intrusive thought somehow persisted, so I strategized that I would give the idea its’ head, and with icy analytical logic skills force its withdraw in submission back to the cloudy murk from whence it came. 

Ugly truth be told, I didn’t grow up into a long heritage of fly angling.  In fact, other than one or two failed attempts at bait fishing as a kid, I really didn’t grow up fishing at all.  I did grow up, (disregarding certain in-laws’ claims), and upon reaching adulthood and succumbing to the urban norm of office work and the overall loss of freedom and soul, I found myself seeking an activity that satisfied a few requirements.  First, the activity must take place outdoors, as I feared additional time under fluorescent lights would perhaps result in behavior likely to end with an incarceration.  Second, it must be something that is possible to do alone, because negotiating with people about money as a daily routine isn’t conducive to gregarious altruism. Lastly, it must not be too expensive and pointless, or involving seasickness, like golf or sailing. 

8 years and literally $150,000 worth of gear later, I found myself a card-carrying fly fisherman, with a decoder ring, flannel shirt, trucker hat, and a juvenile predilection for the use of fly fishing related brand-name bumper stickers on my fishing vehicle, not to mention a closet full of top-of the-line rods, reels, fly boxes, and other expensive accouterments. 

I found a passion for the artistry and skill of the cast.  I also found that the methods and tactics within fly fishing I find most enjoyable are all essentially functions of that skill.  Perhaps that is why I most enjoy pursuing persnickety trout with a dry fly, or swinging a classic Steelhead fly with a two-handed rod.  I enjoy the history of the sport and its characters.  But the dedication and skill it takes to achieve greatness within this sport, these things I find possibly attainable, but never quite perfectible or completely mastered.  Whether it is exploration, tactics, fish behavior, entomology, or learning specific watersheds, there’s an endless supply of challenges to be found in fly fishing.  And that satisfies me.  Gives me my soul back. 

I can’t say whether these things are lesser or greater than other forms of fishing.  I can say it is unlikely I’ll exhaust the intrigue of our hobby and find out.  I suspect others share, in part, my sentiment.  I don’t love fly fishing because it is more or less than; I just love it.  

So my analysis wasn’t icy, clear, or even analytical, for that matter.  Then, for the purpose of formally providing a conclusion to the afore-listed enthymemes -- [That is a joke; enthymemes are hidden premises; if they are hidden, how can they be aforementioned?  I wonder if this ramble is the result of too much peaty Glen Disdainful. …I digress]. 

Let me again attempt a conclusion by saying that I have a friend who did grow up fly fishing.  He had only a Sucrets box with a grey hackle yellow, a Parmachene Belle, and a black gnat, and he had a drugstore fly rod.  With only that gear he learned to love fly fishing so much that he made it his vocation, poor fellow. 

So, Q.E.D., fly fishing isn’t necessarily elitist. 

Now I shall go back to deciding which antique Hardy Perfect would best esthetically and physically balance out my newly acquired creek Burkie.

Don't Be "That" Guy by Jason Renfro

For the sake of political correctness, and because of statutory obligations here in the state of California, let me first state for the record that you don’t need to be a guy to be That Guy; ladies, you have the ability to be That Guy as well as the next man does, even if you are That Girl. But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

Who is That Guy?  If you are not a completely solitary misanthropic solipsist angler, you’ve probably fished with That Guy and will recognize my descriptions thereof.  That Guy is a person who manifests while on a fishing outing one or both of two common, yet unpleasant, personality traits: “one-upperism”, and/or “whinerosity”. 

One-upperism is exemplified by statements of self-aggrandizement regarding fishing prowess or the results of said prowess.  For example, while witnessing a perfectly adequate or even excellent cast, a “one-upperist” might, without invitation, say, “If you just stop your rod a little more succinctly you’ll get another 5 feet out of your cast.”  When this statement comes from a “one upper”, it is not meant to actually help you with a cast that needs no help.  Its understood intent is to make it clear that the person stating it has a superior knowledge of casting and you should be grateful that you brought him along on your fishing trip to help you out.  (Now this statement if in a different context, such as one where you are on a lawn and had paid this person to help you with your cast, and this person was actually a caster of a great enough skill to actually help improve your cast, would be warranted and indeed welcome.)  This statement while fishing and coming from a caster who only imagines a superior skill level, can only come from That Guy. (Really, even if that statement comes from and excellent caster, when it is un-asked-for and during actual fishing, is really pretty annoying.) 

Another version of the “one-upper” is the excessively competitive angling companion.  That Guy is the one who, no matter what angling results you are having that day, is either having better results and makes sure you are aware of that fact, or has had many days of angling with far better results than those you are currently enjoying, and also lets you know that fact. 

Now I enjoy a good playful jab as much as the next ‘Merican.  The art of the subtle friendly undercut is a skill for which a lifetime of practice is an enjoyable activity, (like a lifetime of practicing the accordion isn’t).  For instance when your companion catches a nice fish, an appropriate comment might be that the fish would be a bit nicer if it only had fewer lesionous spots, or could somehow seek treatment for it’s apparent anorexia.   This kind of repartee is good-natured and in no way gloating or an attempt to elevate one’s sense of self-worth by denigrating another’s.   It is therefore acceptable. 

You probably can already guess what “whinerosity” might be.  This version of That Guy definitely bugs me as much if not more than the “one-upper”, who bugs me a lot. This That Guy is also known in some regions as The Pouter.   

We all have tough days on the water.  Whether it’s because your normally exceptionally elegant and adroit casting has become artlessly spastic and epileptic, or you’ve gotten water in your waders twice, urine even once, or you caught ten beautiful trout that last trip here but only two mudskippers today, etc., none of those things qualify as justifications for not enjoying your time on the river.  And even if you have a bizarre pathological need to feel bad on a fishing day, don’t compound your sociopathic tendencies by inflicting them on your companions.  Don’t do it.  Bad form. 

Either one of these personality traits result in an internal dialogue that goes something like…”Note to self: “never again!" 

Finding a fishing partner who shares your pace and vibe is ideal.  That said, some of the best days on the water I can recall weren’t necessarily those where the fishing was the best.  The interaction with those around us can be equally and often more enriching.  I’ve been blessed to fish with a lot of different people and hope to continue receiving that blessing.  If I’m ever lucky enough to fish with you, don’t be That Guy.  

It’s hard not to sound like a bitter, mean-spirited turd when describing these versions of That Guy, which brings me to the third version of That Guy, the “Mean Spirited Turd”…

Fly Fishing Perils of the Inter-Web by Jason Renfro

Has the Internet age damaged our beloved hobby?  (The irony of the medium on which you’re reading this isn’t lost on me, by the way.) I consider myself an above average consumer of digital media; I am not an old, crotchety luddite who longs to travel back to a history where information was mostly found at the local library, back to a time where America was great again.  I am still barely a relatively young techno-gen-Y-millennialist, looking to find the latest and greatest technological development in fly fishing gear, and mostly looking for that information online.  But I can’t help wondering how my experience of fly fishing and the fly fishing culture differs from previous less tech-empowered generations? 

The benefits of the Internet to the pursuit of our hobby are obvious and widespread.  Conservation efforts have been given a larger voice and the ability to share crucial information efficiently has been a boon. Information has likely never been more accessible for a new fly angler to learn and advance in skill and knowledge.  For those of us who choose the conventional worker bee life, either by inertia or lack of forethought, (my choice being the latter), the gift of video, pictures, etc., keep us excited and partially satiated until our next outing.  And it is easier to be a well-informed fly angler because of the information available online:  we can now view a photo map of our fishing locations; we can look up the flow of the rivers we fish to see how high the probability of drowning is the day we intend to fish; and we can often find out what some expert, or self-styled expert—“I’m the best at fly fishing. I’ve never much done it, but I’m the best…”—thinks the best flies and techniques for a given piece of water are.  Certainly the benefits aren’t limited to just the above.

Bog 3.jpeg

Now that I’ve completed the obligatory view of the half-full glass, what does the empty portion have to say, (besides “drink me and pour another)”?  I think it would say we’ve lost some of the romance and mystery that fuels us in fly fishing.  Isn’t a part of our enjoyment the pursuit of the obscured? The discovery of the unknown?   Uncovering the secrets ourselves as if we are the first to ever discover such things? If we lose the mystery of discovery, do we lose some of the magic of fly fishing?

In my desire to produce hero shots, like those seen continuously on social media, I’ve at times lost track of why and how I enjoy to fish.  And I’ve noticed that I am no longer as impressed by the hero shots others post.  If it is true that familiarity breeds indifference, I for one don’t want to be so familiar.  I want to uncover the mystery of new water on my own.  The mystery of the novel makes the experience better.  You see, fly fishing is just like sex…never mind; I don’t really mean that; it’s not like that at all.

Fly Fishing isn’t the easiest hobby to in which to endeavor.  The fact that it takes study, practice, exploration and experience to gain proficiency is one of its greater values.  I’ve conversed with many anglers who after reading a forum, article, or opinion, have mentally abandoned personal trial and error for what they now perceive as gospel.  What happened to a past when the average angler had the great pleasure of figuring out new water on his own?  That is how we make something ours.  I suspect the answer is those generations of fly anglers without the gift of the Internet in many ways had a richer overall fly fishing experience.  The process may have been slower, but more rewarding in the end.

[Should I fear that the Internet will eventually bring about a dystopian future where we no longer need to actually go fly fishing, preferring instead to enjoy our fishing experience through the eye of an “expert” who posts his angling to an online game where we can enjoy his exploits as if our own?  After all, don’t kids these days enjoy the experience of Grand Theft Auto, forsaking the actual stealing and mayhem of a life of crime like we did back in the good old days? No, I don’t think I’ll fear that at all.  I’ll stick to fearing more reasonable things, like fearing trans-fats and gluten.

So what’s the moral of my musings?  Read the Burkheimer Blog and then turn off your computer. Go fishing somewhere new without reading all about it on the Internet. And don’t panic.

Adequate Sized Fish by Jason Renfro

I like to catch big fish.  I do so far less often than I’m willing to let others believe, but I like it when I do.  Most fly anglers do.  Perhaps because I understand how rare they can be, or how they may be more wily than their more diminutive counterparts, or just because it makes me feel superior to my fishing partners without having to vocalize it specifically and overtly at the time.  My psychological motivations may or may not be those of other anglers; read on and find out.

I’ve read the predominant view of the angler’s progression, and you probably have too, it being a common theme of angling writers’ hackery.  You know, the one about wanting to catch one fish, then many fish, then… blah, blah, blah.  It often ends with a BS description of a non-sensical, quasi-spiritual motive where fishing without having to catch any fish at all becomes the goal.  Perhaps this theory accurately reflects others experience, but I doubt it will ever be my own.  If I stopped catching fish after some period of time I deem far beyond the wildest stretches of cold spells, I’m near certain I’d stop bringing a rod along.  I might become one of those backpacking types, who goes out in the wild without any stated or intelligible reason.

I’ve been thinking recently about one of my most beloved trout streams, because that is what fly fishing bankers do while sitting behind their desks.  I won’t call it my favorite stream because I inordinately pride myself on consistency, and don’t want to paint myself into a corner I’ll likely carpet over later.  This stream may contain big trout, but I haven’t caught nor seen one yet.  I like it because it’s beautiful, rarely crowded, full of bug life and full of wild fish.  It also lends itself to the pursuit of said fish with a dry fly.  Part of me may like it a little more than I might otherwise if it weren’t a lesser known, but I am unsure.  I am sure the experience it provides epitomizes fly fishing as I like to see it; there is no preoccupation with measuring the fish or with trophy shots of any kind--even the good ones where the angler leaves the fish in the water; and there is no preoccupation with second guessing which technique will get the biggest fish--nymphing down deep with lots of lead, hucking a monster streamer-lure—because this is a dry fly stream.  Just the joy of the cast, rising fish and quietude.  The quiet provided is more than the lack of sound; it is the peace of angling to merely adequate-sized fish.

Lucky 7's by Steve Perakis

My lucky number has always been 7.  Very cliché, but it works for me.  It stands tall, with a list to one side. It is odd, and prime, the perfect counterbalance to “Even Steventendencies.  It is also my favorite weight of two-handed rod, perfectly matched to Oregon steelhead and the rivers they inhabit.  Hope in a number. 

The anticipation started to rise as my rig piled on the miles … 50,000 … 60,000 … 70,000 … 77,000 … 77,700.  With my drive to winter steelhead waters around 100 miles round trip, I knew the magical mark was coming:  77,777.  Would the day bring good luck?  Hope and superstition spring eternal among anglers, and I had to conjure some more.  I dialed up the studio version of Sonic Youths “Stereo Sanctity” from my younger rowdier days, and heard a resounding “7” tumble into cacophony, propelling me along winding ice and snow covered roads to my first winter steelhead trip of the year. 

I strung up my favorite all-rounder for these tightly hemmed coastal rivers, the C.F. Burkheimer 7127-4. This sweetheart is a light but capable 7 wt that fishes floaters and sunken lines equally well. With the cold high water and low air temps, I was expecting little more than some casting practice, a chance to relearn the groove of swinging sinktips and sunken flies.  It was the perfect day to fish water from top to bottom, to feel the soul of the rod and relish each cast as it soaks through the flow.  It was also a day to reacquaint with many boulders and ledges concealed by greasy slicks.  Find them under gentle tension or they’ll trick you into a rock-hard hookset.

I stood at the head of The Funnel in hard pushy current, casting over fast seams for a broadside swing in quieter water.  As I etched the river’s contours in my mind, the fly stopped hard and cold.  Honestly, I thought it was a boulder, and immediately a downstream belly started to form in the line.  Damn boulder.  A gentle tug to free it.  The boulder tugs back.  Huh?  The boulder then headshakes and I realize my good fortune.  With the line’s belly pulling steadily downriver, the fish swims slowly upriver against the tension, acting like it isn’t even hooked. Everything seeming as calm as can be, I take the opportunity to wade to safer position, but just as I start to move the fish responds with a surge.  I’m halfway turned away when the pool lights up in a fury of leaps.  Fighting the cold water, the current, and the drag of the reel, the fish soon tires and comes quickly to hand.  What a rock!  This one has sea-bright scales and translucent fins.  An ingot of silver etches permanently in my mind’s map of the pool.           

This is only the beginning of improbable day that turns out far better than I’d ever expected.  By day’s end, I’ve hooked five fish and landed each of them - all bucks.  What did I do to deserve this?  I pack up early, leaving time for icy roads.  On the drive home, I glance down momentarily, and the odometer flashes back the only explanation that makes sense.



Is a 4 Weight the New 5 Weight? by Jason Renfro

Late summer in Southwest Montana promises Tricos and the last few weeks of good hopper fishing.  The crowds are still present in some watersheds while others begin to see a respite from the height of the season.  2016 has been exceptionally kind to me as an angler as I find myself in Montana for the second time with one more visit planned before year end.  Those Montana trout had thus far been accommodating and plentiful, even if I have yet to return home with a hero shot of a salmon-sized brown or story of gargantuan fish of questionable authenticity.  I did however return with a familiar appreciation for God’s creation and an ever growing longing to be where it feels most genuine to me.

As a self-admitted fly rod junkie I brought a somewhat absurd number of 3, 4 and 5 weights on my visits. As the days went on a trend began to appear.  With the exception of specific small stream fishing, I found a 4 weight in my hand nearly every day.  Thus arose a thought, “Is the 4 weight the new standard for all around trout fishing?”  For many years the 6 weight rod was perhaps the most popular go to trout rod, with the 9 foot 5 weight being the current standard.  Today many anglers reach for a 6 weight only for streamers, heavy sinking lines, and larger wind resistant flies.

In thinking back to my last 5 years of fishing I realized I can’t recall the last time I fished a 6 weight single handed rod.  I reach for a 5 weight only when I expect the same conditions or requirements previously mentioned as 6 weight material.  All other times I find a 4 weight in my hand.  A moderate action 4 weight has served me well for dry flies size 8 and smaller, nymph fishing those same sized flies and streamer fishing all but the most absurdly sized offerings.  Am I alone?  Is this a result of advances in rod material and design?  Are rods just too fast these days? Or are they just that good?

I’m not sure of the answer to the first question but I can offer my thoughts on the latter two.  There are some very sweet, soulful and capable 4 weights being made with today’s materials and with an ever-increasing refinement.  Rods relying on artful design and recovery speed for a capability not historically found in a 4 weight rod are now becoming the norm for high-end offerings. That said, true greatness lies in subtle detail.  There is no shortage of inappropriately or carelessly designed trout rods on the market.  With the reality of distances at which trout are most often caught, rods that don’t provide feel and load at 20 feet or so are simply not good trout rods.  Too often our judgement before purchase is reliant on overly esoteric analysis, or on so called “shootouts,” that are tainted by subjective opinion, personal relationships, and business interests. (Unless, of course, you fish mostly with monster indicators; then you can use any old stick to do the job, like maybe a spinning rod.)

Before I go so far as to offend the masses, I think I’ll grab my “Burkie” 489-4 DAL and go fishing...

Why May the Rivers Never Sleep?

by: John R. McMillan

I never thought of the question until now.

Randy Stetzer asked me: What was your inspiration for May the Rivers Never Sleep?  How did it come about?

Great question, I thought. Easy enough. 

But, after sitting down to the computer to punch out a quick response I realized it was not so straight forward.  So I let the question rattle around in my brain for a month or two, pondering the answer while fishing and hoping it would collect some of the mental residue lying around from past ideas.

Alas, I was never able to recall the exact moment that sparked the idea for the book.  And for good reason. I came to realize that there was no specific impetus. Rather, the idea had been drifting around in our family for some time – like a caddis circling the gyre of a back-eddy – before becoming a daily thought that necessitated an outlet.

The sinuous path to publication started long ago, probably with my grandfather and his brother who were raised on the banks of the Willamette River near Oregon City.  Their love for fishing was passed to my father and then to me. Given my family’s history of living in the Pacific Northwest and our long connection to fish, it just seemed the natural thing to do.

I was raised as an angler and budding biologist with a dad who was struck by the curious life of rivers and fish.  Maybe there were other things I would have done if my father had been different. Maybe there were other things I wanted to do as a boy – like become Dan Marino and a football star.  Regardless, the path was blazed and for the life of me – while being a professional quarterback would have been incredible – I don’t think there is a damn thing I would have changed.

I digress, which is why my answer to the question is so obtuse.

One thing that is clear is the motivation. My father and I both loved one book in particular that was written by Roderick Haig-Brown. Haig-Brown was a remarkable observer of nature who lived on the banks of the Campbell River on Vancouver Island.  In our view, his writings represent the benchmark of all other fishing literature thereafter, largely because he was not just a fisherman.  He was also a pioneering conservationist that paid as much attention to the rivers and their life as he did angling, and his stories beautifully conveyed a complex understanding of nature’s patterns and the ecological relationships underlying the steelhead and salmon.  The stories were read and re-read by my father too many times to count.  I most frequently read them under the dim light of winter in a bedroom that overlooked the Washougal River.  We wanted to pay homage to Haig-Brown and his book A River Never Sleeps that captured our mutual passion for rivers and fish.

I also wanted to write something with my father. I love him dearly, and we have done a great many things together.  But writing was not one of them.

And this is where things begin to stray.  Although we modeled our book after A River Never Sleeps, it was actually another book that planted the seed for collaboration: The Monk and the Philosopher. 

The book is essentially a conversation between a father, a scientist, and a son, a former scientist turned Buddhist monk.  The back-and-forth dialogue uniquely highlighted the difference and similarities between spirituality and science, but in our case the roles were slightly reversed.  My father is more the philosopher, though also a field biologist, while I have worked professionally as a fishery research scientist for most of the past twenty years.  We initially wanted something similar, but eventually realized that the format was inadequate for our purpose.

My father and I had several discussions about this over a one-year period before approaching Frank Amato about publishing the book. After a few meetings with Frank and his team, we agreed to a basic template that combined the two books in a way that would allow the reader to see the different perspectives of father and son.  To do this we settled on a concept of what we call “river time.”

The concept is that we view nature as our calendar, and that the shifting concept of calendars across human history has been fundamentally linked to nature’s patterns – or those based on agriculture.  Regardless, the point being that the need for understanding and measuring time is founded in the seasons and the biological patterns that follow.  A life spent on rivers is intrinsically linked to these patterns, but there is also a fabric of life overlaying that template. This is what we wanted to focus on. Both the rivers and the life therein.

To capture our perspective of river time we focused on the twelve months of our annual calendar and divvied the months equally among father and son – each of us selecting the months that most strongly resonated with our experiences in angling and biology.

This is the core of the book, a story about the seasonal changes in rivers and life.

On the surface, the river calendar represents a shifting mosaic, a biological tapestry overlaid on physical changes in climate and stream flow.  More deeply, it is an instinctual anticipation derived from decades spent on rivers. Owing to this connection, I no longer think of December as Christmas or January as New Years. I anticipate those months as winter floods, ice and steelhead. They are about the song of the winter wren and the drenching rains of rainforest storms. They have nothing to do with snowy mountain peaks, skiing, holidays, Christmas parties or any other shit like that.  They only represent the start of winter steelhead season and the close of the salmon’s fall run. 

In the same vein, I don’t think of July as Independence Day nor do I associate June as the beginning of summer, because as anyone who grew up on the west side of the Cascades knows, summer always begins sometime around the second week of July – before climate change at least.  Summer is not about bikinis, surfing or vacations to Disneyland. Those are all likely very fun things, to others.  No, summer to me is about fishing for trout, steelhead on surface flies, and snorkeling rivers.  It is about drought, unexpected thunderstorms and massive evening caddis hatches.  It is the time of nature’s bounty, or nature’s bust if you live in a warmer and drier region.

Fall is uniquely dichotomous in the river calendar, salmon spawning and dying on the coast while summer steelhead are just coming to life in the interior Columbia as temperatures cool and river flows rise.  It is not about Halloween or football season, it is a contrast of death and deserts, the stench of rotting salmon versus the sweet smell of sage.   On the other hand, spring is the gift of life, horny steelhead and birds caught in the throes of reproductive desires.  It is not tax time nor is it about any specific date representing the onset of spring. It is a gradual change, the time when plants rise from the dead and the fragrant cottonwoods begin to tease the nostrils about the upcoming warmth of summer. 

That is my river time: the ever changing theater of birds, fish and plants. The end of life, and the beginning, all in a calendar year. 

The hope in writing the book was that other anglers and biologists start to recognize their own internal calendars, those based on their local rivers and fish.  Each of our calendars has been sculpted by a lifetime of experiences, and as such, observations and patterns likely differ strongly among regions and individuals.  Every river is different, every population of salmon and steelhead unique.  Our calendars should reflect this diversity.

And that brings me to the real reason for writing the book.  Rivers are only alive as the life within.  Yet, the only reason we know what we once had is through reading the observations and study of others – people like Haig-Brown.   We need those guideposts if we are ever going to fully appreciate, and potentially recover, our rivers and fish.  Without them we are at the mercy of the Shifting Baseline syndrome, where undocumented losses accumulate such that each generation – not knowing what formerly existed – comes to accept the diversity and abundance in their lifetime as the new norm.  This is a very real and big problem in fisheries conservation.  It is hard to fix something if the person does not know what was broken, and as a result, it is nearly impossible to define what recovery looks like.

Our book leaves behind a documentation of what we have and what we have lost in the places and populations that my father and I are familiar with. But our knowledge is limited geographically.  It is incumbent upon others in different areas to leave behind similar knowledge of patterns and place. All we ask is that next time you are out on the river, closely observe something and parse out a bit of effort to keep written notes about changes in rivers and fish.   If we can do that, cumulatively we can leave behind what others have left for us.

While it may seem we are on the losing end of the conservation war, remember, nature always bats last. There is hope for the future. In the closing chapter of the book I reference my experiences working on the Elwha River during and after dam removal.  It was something to observe the first steelhead make it above the dams, to see the dippers feasting on salmon eggs and realizing that sooner than later, some person will be fishing the river. 

It is amazing to see how much the Elwha’s river calendar has changed over the past four to five years, and it is continually evolving. Just a few weeks ago a close friend, James Starr, was snorkeling the upper Elwha and documented four wild summer steelhead.  We were lucky to see any wild summer steelhead prior to dam removal, and James saw four in just four miles of river. 

We can’t relax though. We need to strive for greater change. Our book is a prayer that the change continues – that The Rivers Never Sleep – and that the coming generations of anglers have opportunities to fish and snorkel rivers that we did not.

That won’t happen with a book. It won’t happen overnight, nor will it be easy. But it won’t happen at all if you don’t get involved.

It will only happen with each of you making a very small difference.

You can purchase a copy of the book at: http://www.amazon.com/Rivers-Never-Sleep-Bill.../1571884807

You can see John McMillan’s underwater photography at: www.instagram.com/rainforest_steel/

Kharlovka Atlantic Salmon Trip with Pete Gadd

I’ve always wanted to go Atlantic Salmon Fishing in Russia. Always. Well, ever since they first really opened it to outsiders circa 1990. It was 15 years ago that I became aware of the ASR - Atlantic Salmon Reserve and to be honest I never really thought I would be able to go. Too far, too expensive, too exotic, but every now and then in life, things align. I found myself with a booking for the last single-rod available on the first week of the season.

In what was a dramatic case of surge pricing, closely tied to the probability of success, my week at Kharlovka was about 1/5th the price of the folks’ booking three weeks later. So a bit of gamble, but like I said, the stars were aligning in favor of this trip.

Going somewhere like that, especially with the burden of practically life-long held dreams, there was a fair amount of anxiety. Spring run Atlantic Salmon are considerably larger than the later fish, 25% are over 20 lbs with a legitimate possibility for true monsters. They’re fresh from the ocean, chrome bright most with a few sea lice still attached, in snow-melt-swollen-rivers.

Plus you’re in the tundra, a helicopter ride from your cabin, a sat phone away from civilization and getting it right counts. So I agonized.  I even had a nightmare. Vladimir was stealing my fly reels at customs.  He just loved my lovely old English fly reels! Nothing could have been further from the truth in reality but, which turned out to be a good message from my subconscious because I was happy I packed my nice modern fly reels instead. Speaking of packing, I brought one 5-piece rod and I wished repeatedly that my 4-piece was similarly divided. As the Russian proverb goes: seeing it once is worth hearing it a thousand times, note to self: buy a 9144-5 and a 9136-5 to match my 10148-5, it’ll be worth there purchase price in saved luggage fees.

Most importantly your tackle needs to be in perfect working order, no light tippets, no old backing, I fished 30 pound tippet the whole time. Your loops on your lines can have no frays considering its possible to hook a fish with a weight higher than your fly line cores breaking strength. Honestly fifty pound running line and 300 yards of gel-spun backing, fish leave the pools here often. A shameless plug is in order for Helsinki Spey Clave, they delivered lines, hooks and extra tippet to my hotel room FOC, that kind of customer service is rare. Their knowledge of the Kola Rivers is worth a email for tackle advice if you’re headed there.

Given my standing as a fishing bum-dog sweater salesman (although judging by my reservation date and accompanying bargain pricing, I am no hedge-fund manager) the ASR is as marvelous a camp as one could hope. The fried cod-tongue, the reindeer charcuterie and open bar. They made a chocolate birthday cake in the middle of the tundra for our friend Ulrik from Copenhagen. My guide Volody, a twenty five year guiding veteran, who at 60 sprang up and down the rocks like a mountain goat, cigarette dangling beneath his quintessentially Russian mustache, was so familiar with the river I felt sure he could navigate the whole thing blindfolded.

The tundra was wide and rambling, scrubby with a even green wash of reindeer moss and above, a vast ever-changing, always-lit sky. The wind was fierce and restlessly shifted up and down stream all through the canyon. It was early still and felt like late winter in Oregon, with a moist crispness to the air. That sounds like early in the season right? Remember how I mentioned the stars aligning for this trip? Well maybe that was the case here. The snow-pack was light last year and the the water was 50F when it was typically closer to 40F during this time. It was like I was there at peak-price time, catching a couple fish every day. While I didn’t break the 30 lb mark, I came very close once. Full sinking scandi lines, nope half of my fish came on floaters and unweighted flies. I was hitching tubes my last afternoon fishing. I have had enough of heavy tips and flies by the time I arrived.


So did it live up to my decades of dreaming? Was the fishing all that I hoped for? I can say it comfortably surpassed them, especially when I take into account aspects that I hadn’t thought of - , the breadth of knowledge of my guides, the excellent appointment of the camp. Most importantly there were fresh fish in the river. That’s the biggest part of the trip and there were fresh fish coming every day. I am already scheming for new avenues to make money and surveying the garage for treasures to sell. Would a Costa Rican yoga retreat for my wife convince her that I could go again? I will be back, I'm sure the first week will still be in my price range next year. Thanks Justin, Volody and all the employees of the camp. If you are interested, you can email them directly at khalovka.com.

Proper Catch & Release By John McMillan

Doing what we can to minimize catch-and-release effects and maximize survival of steelhead

John R. McMillan

There is no worse feeling than bringing a steelhead to hand and seeing the gills pumping blood.  Such experiences are one of the reasons that anglers have created flies that reduce deep hookings.  Still, fishing is a blood sport, and despite our best efforts, we ultimately cannot eliminate the potential for some mortality.

While we can’t control where the fish is hooked, not every fish dies because it was mortality wounded.  As I have learned from firsthand experience, fish are also needlessly harmed and die due to poor handling. 

Fortunately, we can control how we handle the fish and there are steps that can minimize our effects.  This should be the goal for every angler practicing catch-and-release (C&R) on wild steelhead.

In fact, reducing our impacts is not only important to our state of mind, but also the sustainability and future of our fisheries.  There is a reason nearly all wild steelhead seasons are strictly C&R. Most populations in the lower-48 are either listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act and/or severely depleted from historic levels.  The causes are many, but one thing is for sure, the population of humans is growing and there has been a surge in the coolness of steelheading.  The combination of factors means that there are now more anglers sharing fewer open rivers for lesser numbers of wild steelhead than ever before.  

Given that more new anglers seem to be trying steelheading than I can previously recall, it seems imperative to outline some basic practices to minimize the effects of C&R.

The effects of C&R are generally delineated into two types: lethal effects, which occur when the fish dies, and sublethal effects, which harm the fish to varying degrees but do not cause mortality.

In general, mortality associated with C&R and steelhead is pretty low. Most studies have found the lethal effect to be 2-7% or so, with mortality rates increasing once water temperatures exceed 70-75F. That is generally good for us because it means that sport fishing has a pretty low mortality rate, but, let’s also remember that most published studies on C&R were done by experienced anglers and scientists. Further, it is likely that all anglers were on their best behavior because they were being closely observed by scientists.  So, it is possible that mortality rates are higher under normal circumstances, such as when people drag the fish onto the bottom of the boat and let it flop around for a minute. Or when someone drags the fish on bank, lifts it up by the gills to remove the hook and then throws it back into the river.  I don’t see these behaviors as much as I did 15 years ago, but they are still prevalent enough that I would guess mortality rates are probably a few percentage points higher.  Doesn’t matter really, the rates are still low.

Far less is known about sub-lethal effects on steelhead. We know that more exhaustive fights result in increased cortisol and lactic acid levels, and elevated levels of cortisol can have negative effects on the physiology of the fish. Otherwise, we have to look to studies on other species – like Atlantic salmon – to understand potential sub-lethal effects. For example, recent research on Atlantic salmon indicates that reproductive success of females that were C&R’d was reduced after they were exposed to air compared to fish that were not exposed to air.  It is hard to say what this means to steelhead, but I think we can all agree that minimizing air exposure is probably a good thing for the fish.

The body of research, and my personal experiences as a steelheader over the past 35 years, suggests there are a few important practices that can reduce both lethal and sub-lethal effects.  First, make sure and cut the leader if the fish is deeply hooked. Don’t go fussing around inside its throat to retrieve the fly. That only makes matters worse.  Not all of those fish that are pumping blood will die.  I have participated in a number of studies where I observed fish survive instances when I thought they would succumb to blood loss.  It is not many, but some do survive deep hookings. 

Second, fight and land the fish as quickly as possible, which means putting the wood to the fish, rather than letting the fish play itself to complete exhaustion. It also means using the appropriate size rod, reel, tippet and fly.  This will reduce the cortisol buildup in the fish and allow it to reach stasis sooner rather than later, and it also reduces the amount of energy the fish expends. The latter could be particularly important to summer steelhead that rely on their fat stores to survive for prolonged periods in freshwater without restorative nutrition.  I fully appreciate the challenge of landing steelhead on light gear, and that is completely fine for hatchery fish and in populations where most of the steelhead are small in size.  But those normal 2-4 salt wild fish are too few to be hooked on 4wts with 4lb test.

Third, there are a number of safe ways to land the fish.  The best way for the fish is to simply grab the leader and unpin the fly while standing a few feet from shore in knee deep water.  That ensures the fish won’t slam its heads on rocks or beach itself.  But that is not always possible depending on the size of the fish, length of the rod and features of the river.  If fishing with a partner, have them either tail or net the fish (using a knotless net).  If fishing alone, as I do the vast majority of the time, it is sometimes easiest to slide the fish into the 6”-12” of water near the shore, remove the hook and then release the fish.  Any of these are generally acceptable, though the latter requires more practice and experience to ensure the fish does not go ape crazy when it does enter the shallow water.

Fourth, minimize handling the fish, period.  Their slime is a protective layer, which is why handling a fish with wet hands is better than handling a fish with dry hands.  Don’t squeeze the fish too hard either, as C&R studies on other species have found that hard handling near the pectoral fins can bruise the heart and squeezing too tightly on the wrist can damage vertebrae.  This is why it’s best, if possible, to not lift heavy fish completely from the water. We have all tightened a death grip trying to hold onto the tail of a struggling steelhead, but avoiding that tendency on our part if important to the fish’s health. 

Lastly, if you want a photo, and I take photos myself, then do your best to keep at least part of the fish’s head in contact with the water.  This can be accomplished by holding the fish sideways in the water, allowing the current to wash across one sides of its gills.  It can also be done by keeping the bottom 1-2” of the fish submerged.  If alone, and this is the most difficult time to get photographs, make sure and keep the fish’s interest in mind.  I try to slide the fish into 5-8” of water where there is clean gravel, not mud or silt. I then remove the fly so the fish can easily right itself and swim away if it desires. I pull out my camera and snap a few photos while the fish is lying on its side, then gently guide the fish back into the main part of the river.  It seems about half the fish I do this with end up swimming away before I can ever get a photo, which is fine with me, and highlights why it is key to remove the hook first. Although I would suggest trying to not lift the fish entirely from the water for a photograph, if that does happen, make sure the fish is not out of the water for more than 10 seconds.  That is plenty of time to get a couple shots and reduce possible sub-lethal effects from air exposure.  

In summary, the goal of C&R is to not only have the fish survive the encounter but also swim away without extensive sub-lethal effects that may reduce its spawning success later in life.  Taking the steps outlined above will help minimize the aforementioned effects.  It may seem like the loss of a single fish is small potatoes in the scheme of things. But, there are lots of anglers fishing for steelhead and in some populations we are C&R’ing the entire population of steelhead.  Further, it is often a small proportion of the steelhead population that produces most of the offspring for the next generation, which means that we never know if the fish we are handling is one of those lucky individuals that will be critical to the future of the population. 

C&R is the future of steelheading, but that means the future of angling opportunity partly depends on how we treat the fish. I think we all agree that wild steelhead are a precocious resource, and no one wants to experience that sinking feeling of having such a beautiful animal die because of something we did. 

If you are interested in further details about landing and handling steelhead, please watch the online video I did with Trout Unlimited. It can be seen at (https://vimeo.com/131466898).

"It Only Take's One" By Chris Andelin

They all count, some just count a little bit more. Trout that you really have to work for, the one's that truly define the saying "it only takes one", a term used widely here in Henry's Fork country by accomplished anglers and weathered guides alike. A reputation as having the toughest trout on the planet isn't easily earned, but this river certainly holds the title, housing the most hard-nosed trout known to man. That's why we work endlessly on these fish, because the reward is so great when you finally put "one" in the net.

You never take "one" for granted, that super picky trickster, the one laid up way back under that shade tree, nearly impossible to see, let alone reach with a fly. You send cast after cast into its lair, covering the feeding lane with countless perfect presentations as the trout continues to eat everything, within inches of you imitation, seemingly taunting you with an almost acute sense of your ulterior motive. You persevere, re-positioning multiple times and pulling out all the tricks. Dead drifting the fly by both sides of his mouth - in case he's missing an eye -getting way above and wiggling out an appalling amount of line with a flawless down-stream presentation, changing flies and casting more times than you'd like to admit. Hoping and praying the beast greets your fly with an open mouth, or better yet, a violent toilet bowl flush explosion of an eat. But no, the fish ain't givin' in, it has a serious attitude problem. So you finally reel up, tuck you tail between your legs, pull the anchor and float on down in hopes of sniffing out another.

You waste a good amount of time that night pondering strategy on how to feed this onerous fish before your return the next day. You anchor up high, a safe distance from his lair and you're quick to notice a familiar disruption in the water.  A closer look, and contrasting light, reveal the healthy size of the trout, a true brut. Chatter in the boat is minimal, the only noticeable sound is the subdued clicks of a reel releasing enough line for a cast. A bomber double haul drops the fly a comfortable, but dangerous distance above the fish. It's eerily quiet, you could hear a pin drop. The fly drifts flawlessly, covering the target area and continuing on toward the back of the lie. Just as you hear "nope, he ain't having it".......again, you detect a small disruption and the fly disappears. Your smile widens as "one" leaves the water to show you its utter brilliance.

After the release, you laugh and mutter under your breath "it only takes one".

Brought to you by: C.F. Burheimer fly rods and TroutHunter leaders and tippet.

Kola Penisula - Fishing Atlantic Salmon with Markus Leivo

I had dreamed of fishing the Kola Peninsula since I started fly fishing at the age of 10. Now, after over 20 long years of waiting, I was able to experience this every spey fisherman's dream. I had extremely high expectations about the coming fishing adventure due to one of the best early season fishing there have been at Kola River. When I arrived and heard fish were not running in numbers they usually do this time of the year I was wondering if my dream was turning into a big disappointment. Normal numbers for daily incomers have been 100 to 150 fish and now it was 20-40, wasn't very encouraging.

Kola River is a fairly big river and I was anticipating the need for my heaviest gear. However I ended up using my Burkheimer 8134-4 ninety percent of the time. I have played 40lb fish with it and it is amazing how much power there is in it. On the other hand it's still a very fun rod to fish grilse salmon. Nowadays I have been using it with "S" tip and Guideline shooting heads in range of #9/10. I am pretty sure anybody could feel as a rock star with this rig!

First two days I fished Kola River tributary Kitza. It is a river that is very easy to cover with light spey rod. Kitza is famous for huge salmon. It is said all the biggest Kola river salmon go to Kitza. One of my fishing buddies had a monster on the second day but he lost it. I had also a fish on but I broke my line. That is extremely rare for me when fishing Atlantic salmon. After my second day and about 30 hours of fishing I was naturally enjoying the fishing but at the same time I started to feel little restless. Little monkey started to climb on my shoulder.

On the third day I fished Kola River with a guide and Seppo Muttilainen, the CEO of the company that arranges fishing trips to Kola River and all over the Kola Peninsula also. Seppo has been arranging these trips over 20 years with his company Lapin Ekspertit. He has accommodated people from all over the world.
We had quite a lot of action on that day. I managed to land two beautiful fish and lost couple more. We used float boat and fished 7 different pools from boat and bank. I couldn't have had better teachers for how to fish Kola River. On the following day when I was solo fishing upper beats of Kola I was able to land three salmon in range of 81 cm to 91 cm. I also had couple nice fish on but lost them. Kola River salmon are wide shouldered thick fish that are blessed with strength and beauty. Probably the most beautiful Atlantic salmon I have seen.

Last two days were very hard. Weather was weird for the whole week but it became almost absurd at the end of my trip. Hot t-shirt weather to snow rain and thunderstorms. This just strengthened the idea of successful salmon fishing requires. There are so many variables that can mess up our game. The best part was having Seppo as my guide for the last day. At the end I had a fish biting my fly at the other end of the line every day and that is something I can only dream of on the rivers I have been fishing in Finland, Sweden and Norway.

Our cabins were nice and clean. Food was ok. Before the trip I was advised to have a following mind set during my trip: "Nothing works but everything is possible". What can I say, it was spot on. Considering the tough conditions and not so many fresh fish running into the river I was still so impressed about the fishing itself that I am already looking for the next trip to Kola Peninsula.

Greg Bencivenga Joins the Burkheimer Team

Long time Berkheimer Pro-Staffer, FFF CI & THCI Casting instructor, and a no holds barred, get it done angler.  Greg is well known and highly respected throughout the fly casting and fishing world.  His knowledge on lines, rods, rivers, techniques, and fly casting is second to none and we’re extremely excited to have him on board.

Greg is one of the best two-handed casters around, regularly placing in the Spey O Rama casting competition and teaching others in all aspects of spey casting.  He is known as Sensei by the other competitors.

Greg will be responsible for blank production at the shop, starting with preparation and cutting of prepreg graphite material to rolling, baking, sanding, coating, ferruling, and inspection.  As you can see we plan on keeping him busy.

If you need a casting tune up, a specific line to rod match question, what rod to consider, or just want to talk fishing you can reach him via email greg@cfbflyrods.com. 

Early Spring in Montana by Jason Renfro

Northern California has received a much-needed wet winter.  While I am grateful for the outlook of a summer and fall that accompanies this more adequate water supply, the blown-out local streams have further limited winter trout options for the wading angler.  I count myself lucky to have recently benefitted from a generous friend and an understanding wife.  I thusly found myself in Southwest Montana for 5 full days of indulging my addiction for fly fishing for trout.  This trip also afforded me the perfect opportunity to break in a recently acquired Burkheimer 489-4 DAL. 

My time in Montana was filled with exceptional fishing, hatching baetis, rising fish and too many delicious cheeseburgers.  I also emerged with an even greater appreciation for my new Burkie.  As an angler and caster who prefers rods with feel and easy loading, I was pleased to find that 489-4 DAL capable of pinpoint accuracy, great delicacy and at the same time, when called upon, line speed to defeat the wind and deliver larger flies.  I am fortunate to have an excessively large quiver of rods, numbering more than I care to admit, but this luxury does not come without hazard.  Deciding which rod to bring to the stream can become a silly, but real dilemma.  The 489-4 DAL has now made that process much easier. 

As my time in Big Sky country came to end, I left with the all too familiar longing to return.  While the quality of fishing plays into that longing, the connection with the natural world, and the rhythm of life it suggests predominate it.  My heart yearns for a life lived simply.  As a twinge of melancholy threatens my return home, I am reminded of an excerpt from a recent book I read: 

“…These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire… yet they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”   - C.S. Lewis