Friday, July 6, 2018

Steelheader's Reunion on the Situk

Tony and Kristen from Kodiak Custom Fishing tackle, and Ty Wyatt, Glacier Bear Lodge's halibut captain took me along with them for a fun trip walking along the banks of the Situk. While wandering upstream in belly-button deep water, I hooked a hen early in the morning that caught the attention of a large otter that swam across the river to steal it from me. I found a small perch tucked into some willows where I could get out of the water and try to quickly land the fish. As I was leaning down to grab it by the tail, the otter popped it's head up only a couple feet away to my left. I tried to kick it in the head to send a message that I wasn't giving up my fish that easy. It showed it's teeth like an angry dog and lept back into the water, swimming upstream. I managed to land the fish downstream and safely release it away from the otter, but it was definitely humbling to know I was meddling with the local wildlife's territory.
In the evening, we headed back to tidally influenced water, and on my first cast, I landed my first ever tidally influenced steelhead on a bead, a mission I had been working at for some time purely out of curiosity how soon the feeding instincts of steelhead kick in and they begin viewing eggs as a food source.
Shortly after, Ty and Tony, who happen to be lifelong friends from Philomath, Oregon, doubled up on a pair of bucks fresh from the salt.
Tony's fish was a redeeming note to end his visit, having been out-fished by his partner Kristen most of their time in Yakutat. As we continued to push the limits of the rising tide and a hot bite, we eventually turned around to notice the ground we were standing on was underwater, and so was our gear, so it was time to head back to the lodge.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Writing Resume

Randall Bonner
Personal Blog/Published Work Archive
Member: Northwest Outdoor Writers Association

The Alchemist Weekly
Alt-Weekly Print Publication
Freelance Contributing Writer
July 2009 - January 2010

Corvallis Weekly Independent
Alt-Weekly Print Publication
Staff Writer/Advertising Sales/Board Member/Co-Owner
October 2011 - August 2012

Got a chance to see the internal workings of a print publication with a large staff of volunteers. Worked as a team with other investors to create a marketable product to consumers. Learned the basics of a print publication business that was eventually absorbed by a larger publisher I worked for the next several years.

Corvallis Advocate
Alt-Weekly Print Publication
Staff Writer/Delivery
September 2012 - March 2015

Contributed articles periodically and developed delivery routes for efficiency.

Northwest Sportsman Magazine
Monthly Print Publication
Freelance Contributing Writer
January 2015 - Present

Contributed seasonal content periodically and learned the value of high resolution photography. Debuted in first issue with a cover feature.

The Good Men Project
Freelance Contributing Writer
August 2014 - January 2016

Trained to use wordpress and encouraged to write creatively, covering a wide variety of topics. Content mostly aimed at conservation and environmental issues.

Wide Open Media
Staff Writer
October 2015 - February 2017

Met strict deadlines for prolific writing quotas, writing over 300 articles in two years. Due to my payscale being directly determined by web traffic, I learned to use multipe social media platforms to increase web visibility. Received monthly training on strategies to continue increasing traffic. Also developed company strategies to drive traffic internally by networking with other writers within the company to hyperlink to each other's work to keep readers in a loop of clicks that is mutually beneficial. Became proficient with wordpress techniques as well as the use of google sheets. Named writer of the month (high traffic numbers) several times, including consecutively for several months and consistently in the top percentile of the company's contributors.

Carbon Media (See personal blog for archive/links)
Freelance/Staff Writer
July 2017 - Present

Focused on more quality than quantity with in-depth and timeless content that could be continually recycled on an annual basis. Appeared as a guest on CarbonTV with N.O.D.R. leading a morel picking excursion.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Settling In and Making Friends at Glacier Bear Lodge

I caught a ride with some friends to the boat launch and explored the river on foot. I hooked some of the biggest steelhead I've ever been witness to, and lost them to snags at my feet struggling to keep them under control. I redeemed myself by shaking hands with a few fresh fish later on, as well as my first dolly varden and a rare resident rainbow trout. I continued catching fish until the sun began to fall and it got too cold for comfort, and stood at a popular river crossing asking other anglers for a ride back to the lodge. The first two anglers were camping near the river, and although they weren't headed to the lodge, invited me back to their camp for a beer. However, I was eager to return to the lodge (where there's a roof, heat, and a bar), and the next angler politely obliged me and my canine companion with a ride.

Back at the lodge, I met Tony "Famous" Davis and Kristen Dunn from Kodiak Custom Tackle. They were headed out for a float trip the next day, but were staying with a couple friends Shannon and Kate that wanted to stomp the banks and indicator fish with beads. They offered me a ride to the river the next morning, where Shannon started the day with a couple beautiful hens right out of the gate, including one that broke the handle on her net. We mozied upriver and settled in at the spot where I hooked most of my fish the day before and we landed several more, using just the basket of the net, which was an awkward and exciting experience. The amount of wood snags is intimidating, but with every fish, I seemed to get better at keeping them pinned and getting them close enough for pictures.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Day One, my arrival at Glacier Bear Lodge in Yakutat, AK

Having never visited Alaska, Glacier Bear Lodge in the small town of Yakutat has left a lifelong impression on me. Traveling solo with my Australian cattledog "Wrangler," I booked the trip only a couple weeks in advance without a plan and flew by the seat of my pants. I've always thought of steelhead anglers to often be a bit of a grumpy bunch, but with the plentiful numbers of the Situk River, the atmosphere of the community and it's visitors is a different story. Drivers of every passing vehicle wave at each other in this relaxed rural environment, yet there's still a few flights a day that come in and out of the small Alaskan Airlines airport daily.

After getting a ride from the lodge shuttle, I had a couple drinks at the Glacier Bear Lodge bar, where I ran into Jared Cady of Get Em Dry Jigs and Lael Johnson of Bait Ballz, who were preparing to fish the tidally influenced lower end of the river and invited me to tag along with them. Speckled belly geese flew overhead, as bald eagles towered over us in the trees, and greater yellowlegs roamed the gravel shorelines, a welcoming scene of abundant wildlife that set the tone for our evening quest for chrome.

Lael and Jared hooked a couple fish swinging flies, and I brought in my first Alaskan steelhead on a spinner. Having thought I was just going to have some beers at the lodge, I had only been in Alaska since lunch and only been at the river for an hour before smooching an oryncus mykiss hen and sending her on her way upstream to spawn. A brown bear ran across the road in front of us on the way out, as if it was chasing our report and heading to the river. A sign at the ramp warned visitors of an aggressive bear in the area recently, so seeing my first grizzly from the safety of the vehicle was satisfying. I was in awe of the beauty of this place and the diversity of wildlife species. Being my first day in Alaska, I felt as if mother nature rolled out the red carpet for me.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Pheasant Hunting as a Hangover Cure

It didn't take long for it to become abundantly clear that killing my first pheasant wasn't going to be easy. Determined to better understand the behavior of these birds and hopefully bring one or two home for myself, I purchased a few tags for some state managed pheasants at nearby EE Wilson Wildlife Area. After a few unsuccessful hunts, fellow outdoor writer Troy Rodakowski offered to take me out to DK Wildlife Ranch just outside of Brownsville, Oregon. Hunting with us that day was Kevin Highland, a friend of Troy's who is manager of a local sporting goods store, and Porter, Troy's German short-haired pointer.

While I was familiar with Troy, it would be my first time meeting Kevin, and I had told myself when I went out the night before that I wasn't going to party too hard because I wanted to make a good first impression. But it was Halloween weekend, and local country artist Junior Raimey was playing at the Meetn' Place in Philomath that night. Needless to say, I was living in the moment, and not concerned about our hunt, which wasn't until that Sunday afternoon. It had occurred to me that doing an extensive amount of walking would be a good way to burn off the empty calories from the beer I drank at the show, and sweat out the white lightning from Monroe that I had been nipping with some fishing buddies on the Alsea earlier in the day. I woke up early the next day after being out pretty late, then went to Interzone, my favorite local coffee spot, and waited for the fog of my inevitable hangover to slowly fade away.

As I met them in Brownsville, we ventured along the upper Calapooia, an area I had only been familiar with during the summer while fishing for rainbow trout. The fall colors were in full effect, and the river was alive with whitewater, a stark contrast to the low, clear, trickle that was more familiar to me during the summertime. The Crawfordsville covered bridge stood in the foreground of the natural landscape as we ventured past the Holley Market and further along rural backroads to an oasis of shooting ranges, ponds, and upland bird habitat at the ranch.

As we stood outside our vehicles and geared up for the hunt, Porter began vocalizing his eagerness to begin hunting as I pulled my shotgun from it's case. At the age of 2, his seemingly infinite energy was worthy of admiration, especially considering that it didn't take much walking before I started to feel like I was sweating whiskey. My concerns about being hungover in mixed company quickly subsided when Kevin leaned over only 20 minutes or so into the hunt and upchucked the McGriddle he had on the way there that morning. Now, I would never recommend that anyone abstain from imbibing alcoholic beverages, but I think it's fair to say that eating fast food as a hangover cure is a roll of the dice. In spite of facing this adversity, we all continued on hunting, and it wasn't long before Porter got "birdy" and went on point. The first bird that flew was in close proximity to a residence, so we withheld a shot. It wasn't long before we got another chance, this time all three of us shot, nearly simultaneously. The bird never stood a chance, and we considered it a team effort and trekked on.

I spotted another bird on the move in some shorter grass, and it just didn't feel sporty to take a shot at it while it was on the ground. Troy, confident in his dog's abilities, pushed us up to where the bird had taken off into the taller grass and let Porter do his job finding it. Again, the bird flushed, multiple shots rang out, and b-b-bang, flop, we dropped it. It would be a while before we found another, and it was clearly evident that Kevin and I were in the same boat, paying for the night before. Luckily, the ranch has a few strategically placed lean-to's with gun racks and a cooler filled with bottled water that reminded me of trail magic left behind for hikers to enjoy. We rested on a bench and hydrated, swapped some stories from the weekend, then resumed hunting. Unfortunately for Kevin, either the water didn't agree with him, or his body used it as a vehicle to remove the remainder of his McGriddle from the morning. Luckily for me, my experience working on a charter boat made me pretty well conditioned to seeing other people vomiting, so it didn't become contagious. Porter put us on a bird shortly after, and in a scenario where we were sure it had no escape from us, it wound up flying behind the area we were pushing into, catching us all by surprise and not leaving us with a shot good enough to bring it down. Positioning and pushing into areas where the dog is throwing us hints, and the birds are throwing us misdirection fascinated me, and I felt like with every bird that flew, I was getting better at predicting their path, at least in a way that we could work as a team to make sure they didn't get far once they flushed.

Of course, one of my favorite things about bird hunting any species is that just when you think you have them figured out, that's when they end up tricking you. We had walked an area along a creek, where Porter was picking up enough scent that it almost it difficult for him to pinpoint and locate a bird between a pile of brush, and the edge of the creek. Pacing back and fourth, the bird finally flew across the creek in the opposite direction of where we had set up to take a shot at it. Once it had passed through the treeline along the creek, we lost sight of it quickly, and Porter seemed as frustrated by the missed opportunity as we did. A young dog with lots of energy and enthusiasm, he probably put in twenty times the mileage running circles full steam ahead until he picked up a scent for us, but never showed any signs of letting up.

While walking around, we all took a short stop to snack on some apples from a tree in the field that was mainly there as a food source for deer. "These apples are delicious, man these deer are spoiled!" said Kevin. It wasn't long before Kevin was leaned over heaving again, making applesauce. In spite of not being able to keep anything down, he hung in there for the hunt. Walking nearly the length of the ranch, we doubled back towards the area where we began, and Troy spotted another bird running in the open near some of the ponds in the distance. We approached the ponds and spread out, pushing the bird towards the water. Porter went on point right near the edge of the water, and Kevin put just enough shot in the bird to let it cross the pond, where Porter finished the deed.

Part of my learning experience was comparing my knowledge of turkey behavior in relevance to water acting as a boundary for ground movement. With a well executed shot from a hunter that was struggling to feel a hundred percent, we decided it was picture time and maybe if we got home a little early, Troy could get in an evening deer hunt. But as we were snapping away, Troy picked up on the sound of a rooster not far away. After Porter posed for a few pictures with us, he went right back to work, and surprisingly enough pointed on the bird less than 50 feet from where we had stopped to take some snapshots. When the bird flew, Kevin and I shot simultaneously, and a cloud rained feathers from the sky for what seemed like several minutes, leaving feathers littered on the ground like confetti from a pheasant pinata. The well placed and well timed shots that Kevin and I shared seemed as sobering and energizing as a cup of coffee. Adding to our renewed enthusiasm, Troy heard another rooster in the distance, and agreeing there was no sense in leaving until we found it, we gave chase in it's direction.

This time, Porter caught scent in some thick brush in a ditch we had walked over, and we set up on both sides of it, ready for anything and not leaving any lane for it to escape. The bird flew up perfectly into my lane, and I swear I missed the first shot just because the beauty of it's colors in flight struck me with awe. Then I quickly gathered myself for a second shot that knocked it down. I was grateful for it being such a well intact bird, and started daydreaming of using it's hackle to tie flies and catch redband trout as we trekked back to the truck to give Porter his bacon rewards for putting us on birds all afternoon.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Finding Late Season Pressured Steelhead on the Alsea

With the final hatchery stockings on a pair of small streams ending in 2013 as part of the Coastal Multi Species Plan and a bridge being out in the Siletz gorge, the Alsea River has received a lot more fishing pressure than usual this season. Factor that in with a stretch of bank access historically known as the "tree farm" becoming restricted to a private fishing club with hefty dues a couple years ago, and it makes more sense to see why the North Fork is still crowded as hell in spite of very poor returns. The South Fork flows into the mainstem on that property as well, contributing a lot of runoff and silt, staining the water in the lower river. When the water is high, what's left are some private stretches of land, a few scattered access points, Clemens Park, and Hatchery Rd.

Clemens Park is a well kept and cared for area with nice trails and lots of bank access. A portion of the tail end of the park trails are now Weyerhauser permit access only as well. If you decide to sleep in, chances are you'll be targeting water that's already seen quite a few different anglers and presentations during the course of the day. With bead fishing being the predominant go-to method of most anglers, fish get wise to the one-trick-pony, and it can create a real challenge to give them something they haven't seen before.

As a general rule, when the water is high, fish higher in the river. However, given the current state of the public access, sometimes you just have to have to get in where you fit in. With high flows, it helps to slow down your presentation. This could mean using more weight as usual, or fishing right at your feet and staying out of the main channel. When you're fishing the seams, a bobber dogging yarnie/bead presentation will grab a fish's attention that might ignore a single bead. Where shallow water near the banks slows down, you'll find a lot of fish taking those routes, sometimes swimming at your ankles while you're standing in the river. If you can help it, stay out of the water. Any grassline or edges that soften the flow will be good holding points for fish to rest and move upstream. Jigs and plastic worms suspended in eddies will often draw a bite when more subtle/common presentations are ignored. Adding a bead trailer to a jig or worm also has a similar "attractor" quality to it as the yarnie/bead combo. Any combo with a loud presentation that grabs their attention followed by a subtle trailer that draws the bite will bring results.

Low water is a different story all together. Start dialing down with the hooks, then everything else above it. Subtle colors and small presentations draw bites from fish that have largely ignored the louder, larger presentations. Towards the end of the season, the typical forage egg is that of another steelhead, rather than a larger salmon egg, so matching that size is also key. Blood-dot patterns, mottled beads, and 50/50 patterns produce better later in the season.

As the season continues to progress, you'll notice few and fewer anglers on the river as the meat-seekers have filled their freezers and other anglers have shifted towards early spring chinook fisheries. This time of year, there are still late returning hatchery fish, and wild fish around. While you might have to sort through them to find a keeper, it can be a lot of fun, and that's what it's all about.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

ODFW's Wild Broodstock Programs

Published on OutdoorHub:

With all the obstacles and adversity that our salmon and steelhead populations face, hatcheries are a necessity in order to have sustainable populations that allow for harvest. In order to have the best genetics possible for hatchery production, the capture of wild broodstock is also a necessity. Capturing wild broodstock is done by two different means. Ideally, the wild broodstock are line-caught and collected by anglers. Supplemental wild broodstock are collected when they are caught in hatchery traps and fish weirs.

Assistant Hatchery Manager Eric Hammonds prepares to collect a wild broodstock fish caught by an angler​

The hypothesis being tested at the Oregon Hatchery Research Center in Alsea, Oregon is that using line caught wild broodstock develops the genetic disposition for their offspring to be line caught as well. Wild broodstock are caught by anglers and placed in tubes for pickup by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife hatchery personnel. The tubes are placed with the fish facing upstream so that a constant supply of fresh water flows through. The tubes themselves are somewhat constricting to the movement of the fish, but this also prevents them from injuring themselves. The enclosure also reduces stress on the fish by acting as a visual buffer for environmental disturbances. "The fact they can't see anglers or potential predators makes them feel safe and keeps them calm inside the enclosure," says hatchery worker Eric Hammonds.

Once they arrive at the hatchery, they are placed into a small container with an anesthetic that makes the fish easier to handle without causing physical damage to the fish. Once the anesthetic has taken effect, the fish are given an antibiotic injection to prevent them from picking up diseases or fungus growths while being held at the facility. This precaution is taken because the process of handling the fish removes some of their protective slime layer that defends them from these infections. They are tagged and placed into circular tanks and held until they are "ripe" to be spawned with a paired mate at the hatchery, and then released back into the river. The program typically shoots for a goal of 40 pairs of wild broodstock fish, but rarely reaches that goal due to the combination of low returns and lack of participation in the program.

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Traditional hatchery broodstock tend to have muddy genetics. Because they are spawned from the same pool, they lack the genetic diversity of a first generation wild broodstock fish born from wild parents. The theory behind the OHRC "Biter Study" is that decades of spawning hatchery fish that return to the trap has evolved that stock to become less likely to be angler caught, because most hatchery fish caught by anglers are harvested, rather than spawned. 

An ODFW volunteer places a wild broodstock fish in a tank on a truck bed for transport to the hatchery facility​

Traditional hatchery broodstock and first generation wild broodstock (or "F1" fish) are marked with an adipose fin clip, and separated by maxillary clips that differentiate returning hatchery adults as traditional broodstock or F1. Unlike the collected wild broodstock fish that are returned back to the river after being spawned, the returning traditional hatchery broodstock bucks are typically killed when they appear in the trap, while the females are stripped of eggs and returned to the river to swim back to the salt and return again. This practice ensures that the two groups of fish are less likely to spawn with each other in the gravel.

Opponents of the program argue that wild steelhead populations can't sustain being farmed to create hatchery fish for harvest. It is also undeniable that there is room for human error in this process. While the success rate for wild broodstock collection is extremely high (in the upper 90 percent range) there are accidents that happen. Adult fish left in collection tubes are susceptible to theft by poachers. Reporting the collection of a wild broodstock fish to hatchery personnel as quickly as possible is the best way to prevent these kinds of incidents.

This fish was phoned in by guide Ryan Beck 20 minutes prior to arriving at the next boat ramp at Farmer's Creek on the Nestucca River. The fish is being placed in a larger livewell in a truckbed for transport to the Cedar Creek facility.​

Some wild broodstock collection programs employ the use of livewells complete with battery operated water circulation to aerate the water and keep oxygen levels high during transport. However, battery failures, or contamination of the livewell can also create problems and cause casualties. Even still, such incidents are extremely rare and represent less than 1% of the wild broodstock adults collected.

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Wild broodstock programs are typically funded and operated by volunteer organizations. The Alsea Sportsman's Association provides the collection tubes for the Alsea Hatchery and the OHRC biter study project. Tillamook Anglers and Nestucca Anglers provide livewells for the Nestucca River and surrounding Tillamook rivers that participate in the Wild Broodstock programs. While personnel from the Alsea hatchery handle collection during business hours, the Cedar Creek hatchery on Three Rivers (a tributary of the Nestucca where hatchery operations are conducted) has a self-service option for wild broodstock that are collected and brought to the hatchery after hours. There, they are placed into a raceway and marked by quantity and sex on a self-service report form. 
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The Nestucca wild broodstock collection program quota is 65 pairs. Fish that are placed into the raceway are given Parasite S (Formulin) 5 days a week administered by a flow-thru treatment in order to keep fungal growth at bay. The raceway is fed through an up-welling system, rather than fed from one end to the other. This prevents fish from following their natural jumping instincts, and reduces physical stress. When it's time for pairs to be spawned, the fish in the raceway are collected by the use of a "crowder" which essentially functions similar to a seine net that allows personnel to net the individual fish for spawning, and pass fish that aren't ripe back over the crowder and into the raceway.

Guide Ryan Beck pulls up to the Cedar Creek raceway to drop off a ​wild broodstock fish

The quotas for wild broodstock collection are determined by the number of required adults to produce the required amount of eggs to produce the required amount of smolts for release within a margin of loss during the process. These quotas of adults collected for the program are determined to be 1-2% of the wild population, mostly by historical data from redd surveys.

A clipboard displays the date, sex, and quantity of wild broodstock fish that are placed in the raceways by participants in the program​
While the survival and success rates are high at the Cedar Creek Hatchery program with less than 1% of wild broodstock adults lost, (most and most of those by angler error) the Alsea Hatchery program has endured some challenges in recent years through equipment failures. The chillers that keep the water at necessary temperatures to prevent loss of eggs failed two consecutive years in a row before being upgraded and replaced with new wiring and equipment. New collection cages for wild broodstock collection were installed at boat ramps on the nearby Siletz River, where the Alsea also handles wild broodstock collection and spawning at their facilities. Several adults were lost at the hatchery due to complications with the sharp, abrasive edges on the metal inside the cages at collection sites, which caused severe physical damage and unnecessary stress to the fish that were collected. The cages have since been sprayed with a material used for truck bed-liner to prevent future complications and casualties. Unlike the Cedar Creek facility, the Alsea hatchery uses a circular PVC tank system that is intended to cause less harm by using smooth surfaces and removing the concrete corners that are typically standard with the construction of rectangular raceways. In recent years, additional circular tanks have been added to the facility in an effort to reduce crowding of the fish.

Circular holding tank used by the Alsea Hatchery​ for holding wild broodstock fish

As of a week prior to this story being written, the number of wild broodstock fish being collected by anglers at the Alsea Hatchery pales in comparison to the numbers at Cedar Creek's facility. At a recent Alsea Sportsman's Association meeting in Waldport, a hot topic of discussion was the lack of angler participation in wild broodstock collection due to mistrust in the handling of the program by the Alsea Hatchery in recent years.  Even with upgrades and equipment repair, the wild broodstock programs that operate at the Alsea Hatchery are still trying to repair their public relations. Hopefully learning from some past mistakes will help the program continue to improve, and regain the trust and participation from local anglers and guides. In the meantime, the program is trying to portray a positive image in negative time.