Thursday, July 27, 2017

8 Travel Tips for Visiting the Lower 48’s Largest Salmon Fishery


The Swimming Dead - Zombait


This year at ICAST, Zombait made it's debut with a unique gadget made to be inserted into dead bait to bring it back to life with a natural swimming action. Made from corrosion resistant materials that operates at depths of up to 200 feet in fresh or saltwater, the Zombait's battery life lasts about 3 hours.

Ideal for mullet, ballyhoo, ladyfish, mackerel, and other common saltwater baits, you can spend less time fishing for fresh bait and more time fishing for your intended target species. Being able to bring your dead bait back to life also makes it less hassle to keep your bait alive.

The Zombait is inserted into bait seven inches or larger and a small peg on the end of the power cell wiggles back and fourth at the tail, producing a natural movement that will make your fishing excursions more like a Weekend at Bernie's.

The Zombait retails for $69 and includes a battery, USB charger, and a carrying case. If you're planning on fishing for extended periods of time on the water or running multiple Zombaits, the premium pack includes 3 zombaits with batteries, USB charger, and a carrying case for $159. Following the ICAST event, they expect to be sold out of their current stock by the end of the month and increasing production to meet demand.

The batteries are AA sized, but they're actually a 14500 rechargeable cell with an integrated power control module that provides a higher voltage for stronger motion with the Zombait. The outer casing is made from a durable polycarbonate plastic, similar to what is commonly used on underwater cameras and football helmets. Because it's a significant investment, you can attach a secondary leader from the end of your Zombait to your mainline to prevent losing it in the case of a snag or fish that takes your leader.

While the current design debuted at ICAST is more ideal for larger baits and offshore fishing, the company intends to produce a smaller version of the Zombait for inshore anglers. You can find out more about the product at

Friday, July 7, 2017

Environmental Concerns of Rainbow Gathering at Malheur National Forest

One can only fully understand what this event is about by being fully immersed. Outside perspectives are constructed by conclusions drawn from hearsay, as well fragments of information dispersed by the media and other outsiders. I fully acknowledge that my own experiences are merely another fragment of that truth, but this is not my first time attending this event. However, it is the first time I have attended this event with a press pass and an open mind.

I have seen and read the gripes from locals, hunters, and ranchers about the potential environmental impacts of the Gathering. For every valid claim, another is sensationalized. There is no doubt in my mind that human interaction on that scale does have some impact on the immediate environment. Ironically, the same areas where concerns have been expressed regarding water quality being affected by the digging of latrines, human waste, as well as soil compaction from foot traffic are also the same lands that have been the source of controversy over permitting free-grazing cattle. Concerns about using small streams as water sources for the gathering are minuscule by comparison to massive irrigation operations to maintain grazing forage for nearby ranches. With that being said, I don't dismiss those concerns. These are without a doubt delicate habitats, and gripes from opposing ends of the spectrum are valid.

Inside the gathering, I witnessed a great deal of care that went into burying not only human waste, but pet waste as well. The spread of diseases from one canine to another, as well as canine predators in the area is taken seriously, and the community polices itself with these ethics. "Bury your shit" was scrawled everywhere, and made very clear that this was not only commonplace, but the standard. If someone was walking their dog by our camp, and it took a squat, they were told to bury it. If they did not have a shovel handy, one would be provided to them. The latrines are everyone's personal responsibility to maintain. The sanitary threats that they create are very real. Signs with cartoon poop, flies on cartoon poop, and flies on cartoon poop on a plate carefully illustrate that not covering your waste means it will draw flies, and those flies will then travel to food, creating health hazards. Latrines were constructed far from water sources, and hand washing was the standard before using water stations. The phrase "Don't touch your thing to the thing" was muttered constantly, mostly in reference to canteens and other containers not touching the spout of the water station.

Cow excrement was visible everywhere
On the other hand, while walking the woods, I witnessed massive cow patties everywhere. They were as much as part of the landscape as pine needles and twigs. In May, there was a story in the Oregonian about roughly a dozen dead cattle floating in the nearby Owyhee Reservoir that had died from lack of forage during the winter. Every low-lying wetland in the surrounding area was occupied by cattle.

While I have little doubt that 20,000 people traveling to the area will impact the land and water quality, efforts have been made to minimize that impact. Wetlands and creek areas were clearly marked as off-limits, not by the Forest Service, but by other members of the Rainbow Family. Camps, kitchens, even pets and foot traffic were encouraged to stay beyond 200 feet of all streams in an effort not to disturb nesting birds and spawning fish. While not everyone follows those rules, there was a great deal of respect for those areas. I saw woodpeckers feeding their young inside holes in trees only a few feet off the ground in busy areas, and adult trout swimming in Wickiup Creek, which runs along the gravel road where the parking areas were at the entrance of the gathering. I also saw Mule Deer and Antelope a few miles outside the National Forest area. I had heard concerns prior to the gathering about big game being driven out of the immediate area, but I also did not find it a coincidence that the big game I spotted was not within site of any cattle either.
Trout in Wickiup Creek

Having left with a majority of the participants on the 5th of July, I was not witness to the cleanup efforts, although I have many friends that stayed behind specifically to break down structures, remove trash, and restore the area to it's original condition. Soil compaction is unavoidable with that much foot traffic. The dust was unavoidable as well, and much of the vegetation from the immediate area will without a doubt suffer from the occupation of that many people. But for how long?

Gatherings have mixed reviews from public officials, but many have complimented the clean up efforts. The Salt Lake Tribune published an article after the 2003 Rainbow Gathering at the Wasatch-Cache National Forest that provided insight from several public officials. "The Rainbows did a good job of cleaning up the site and following through with their commitments to restore the site," said Stephen Ryberg, district ranger for the forest's Evanston and Mountain View districts.
"Things went well from a resource standpoint." Bob Swensen, Environmental Director for the Summit County Health Department concludes, "My opinion is, it looks as if no one had been there. I'd have to give them an 'A' for their cleanup."

The following letter is from a district ranger in nearby Prineville regarding the 1997 Rainbow Gathering was printed in an ad-free publication called "All Ways Free," which distributed without charge at the gathering.

Big Summit Ranger District
33700 Ochoco Ranger Station
Prineville, OR 97754
File Code 2720
Date July 28, 1997 
Rainbow Family of Living Light 
Dear Rainbow Family Participants, 
We have been extremely pleased with the Cleanup and rehabilitation efforts by the Rainbow Family volunteers following the 1997 Gathering on the Big Summit Ranger District. Your commitment to caring for the land is recognized in your thoroughness and attention to detail and the District appreciates your hard work and cooperation in meeting the resource objectives. 
When the number of Rainbow gathering participants rapidly decreased from some 15,000 to about 500 between July 8 and July 15, kitchens and camps were dismantled and activity areas were cleaned up very quickly Garbage was centralized; recycling and trash removal efforts were initiated and continued, until completed. 
Evidence of trails disappeared, water bars were constructed where necessary, and slash was scattered. Rocks were effectively dispersed from fire rings, circles, and ovens. Latrines, grey water, and compost areas were backfilled, kitchen structures were dismantled and little to no evidence remains of their locations. Compacted areas, particularly around the kitchens, were spaded and slashed and the heavy traffic areas around Welcome Home and drum circles were reseeded. In many areas, vegetation was recovering within two weeks following peak of the gathering. Fences were spliced and repaired. Abandoned vehicles were identified and towing was coordinated with the Forest Service and the Rainbow Family participants. 
Cleanup efforts and rehabilitation were thorough and occurred mostly within two weeks following the peak of the gathering. Our post-gathering walk-through inspections showed that the cleanup volunteers had high personal standards for completing the job.
Those of us on the Big Summit Ranger District enjoyed working with you before, during and after your gathering. Thanks again for your commitment to leaving Indian Prairie in excellent condition. 
District Ranger
The same publication that printed the above letter also includes images of the regrowth from the 2016 Vermont gathering site as it appears only a few weeks later, rich with green vegetation. While the environmental impacts and concerns are certainly significant, so should be the efforst to restore these natural areas to their original condition.

Friday, May 26, 2017

RE: Spokesman Article on Harvesting Columbia Smallmouth

I fully understand both sides of this issue and have had this debate with both sides regarding the best possible scenario for an ideal plan to manage the bass population on the Columbia. There is scientific evidence that supports my arguments regarding the matter, which are as follows:

1. You will never rid the Columbia of bass species. They are here to stay, regardless of angler retention limits, or any other form of removal endorsed or funded by the state(s).

2. Reasonable slot limits are the most scientifically feasible way to positively impact the population in a manner that will likely reduce the consumption of smolts.

If the matter truly interests you in finding a solution, I would suggest studying some of the research that has been done in areas where the strategic eradication of smallmouth has been attempted through more extreme means. Over the course of five years, 48,000 smallmouth were removed from an Adirondack lake via electrofishing, an average of 300 per trip, which would be difficult for any angler to match that CPUE. If you want to read the entire study, I'll leave a link at the bottom, but here's a summary of what the researchers discovered during the course of the study, which can be found on the bottom of page 10, and continued on page 11:

"The optimal harvest strategy is highly dependent on the control objective. If the goal of the harvest is to reduce the
overall population abundance (regardless of demographic structure), then in situations in which the population’s reproduction rate at low spawner abundance is large, harvest will not be effective until very high levels are achieved. In such cases, it may not be beneficial to remove any individuals unless it is possible to remove nearly all of the population.
In other situations, the structure of the population may be of greater importance. For example, increased abundance of
large smallmouth bass (>200 mm) in Little Moose Lake has altered food web linkages and has had a measured impact on the abundance of other littoral fish species (Lepak et al. 2006; Weidel et al. 2007). Therefore a key management
goal is to minimize the impact of large bass (and reduce the total biomass of the bass) rather than simply reduce the
overall population abundance. In such cases, a management tradeoff exists between a reduction in abundance of one life stage and a potential overcompensatory response in another. In this scenario, continued regular harvesting may be necessary to maintain a reduction in adults. If it remains impossible to eliminate all bass from the lake, the best Little Moose Lake smallmouth bass management strategy may be to reduce the proportion of adult fish (>200 mm) that are harvested. The sensitivity analyses showed that removal of adults caused the largest increase in yearling and juvenile abundances. Because we do not have annual population abundance estimates, it is difficult to determine exactly how many adults should be harvested to both achieve the management objectives described above and not produce an overcompensation of yearlings or juveniles. However, some reduction in the harvest of adults would likely mitigate the observed overcompensatory response without producing large increases in adult abundance, as well as reduce the effort necessary to maintain the positive affects of the removal."

If you made it this far, thanks for taking an interest in being informed on the best possible management strategy, which also just so happens to be an ideal compromise for anglers of both fisheries. The most effective plan to significantly reduce the population of bass is one that specifically reduces the retention of adult-sized "trophy" bass. Compare this scientific data with the statements made by the biologists in the spokesman article:

"walleye and bass –notably the younger ones – take a lot of young chinook in the two-inch range as they hold in shoreline rocky areas, said Anthony Fritts, a department biologist who’s conducted research on smallmouth predation in the lower Yakima River."

^ This statement further supports evidence that an ideal strategy is to specifically target smaller bass (and walleye) for retention in order to reduce predation of smolts.

A reasonable approach to preserving a trophy bass fishery while maintaining retention of the abundant population of smaller fish in the system is a win-win for everybody, and all the fish species that inhabit the Columbia River.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Looking Beyond the PDX Sportsman's Expo

The Portland Sportsman's Expo was bigger than ever, and it's just impossible to soak everything in and do it all during the 5 day event. The sheer size of the event brings in people from every avenue of the outdoor industry and is a great meeting spot to put faces to names, and shake hands with people I've networked with over the past year. I got to see a lot of new, innovative products up close and personal for the first time, and put a few in my bag to try out and review. I also found some of my favorite products in new styles and colors, as well as some killer deals on dependable gear.

However, looking beyond the PDX expo, I've got a few more on my radar that are a little more personal events that grant show-goers the opportunity to slow down and absorb a little more from each vendor and presenter. A downfall to the larger shows and events is that it's easy to get pulled away and difficult to focus your full attention on any given person or thing at any given time.

The Willamette Sportsman Show is Saturday February 18th from 9am to 6pm and Sunday the 19th from 9am to 4pm at the Linn County Expo Center in Albany, Oregon.

Even though Scott Haugen gave multiple presentations during the Portland Expo, I seemed to find an excuse to miss all of them while attending CCA events, Warmwater Seminars, and simply losing track of time networking with industry professionals and catching up with people I hadn't seen in a while.

The Willamette Sportsman Show is planning on having 6,000+ attendance this year. Admission is $6 (Kids under 12 are FREE!), parking is free, and Best Western is offering discounted show rates as well. Concessions will be available on-site, but there are also convenient dining opportunities near the expo center. The affordability of the event (as well as the location) offer a unique opportunity for those who couldn't make it to the Portland Expo to see some of the seminars and gear they may not have had a chance to see.

Beyond the Willamette Sportsman show, I'm also looking forward to the Saltwater Sportsman's Show in Salem, Oregon on February 25th and 26th, as well as returning to Albany for the Northwest Fly Tyer and Fly Fishing Expo on March 10th and 11th. The two events cater towards a more specific audience with less of the distractions of the larger shows. Hope everyone can make it!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

PDX Sportsman's Show ODFW Commission Meet & Greet Becomes a Spectacle of Hecklers

My first day at this year's Portland Sportsman's Show started with realizing I hadn't brought any raingear and was wearing tennis shoes for my 1/2 mile walk to the front door through a torrential downpour. After being soaked, I thought a potentially heated discussion at a meet and greet scheduled for the members of the ODFW Commission might be a good way to warm things up.

Crowds formed outside a conference room where the ODFW Commission Meet and Greet was scheduled to take place (Photo by Grant Scheele of Linn-Benton CCA chapter)
As the organizers realized that a divider between two conference rooms would have to be removed in order to sustain the crowds, they made an announcement that there was a miscommunication about the start time of the event and that it was at 4:30, not the advertised time of 4pm. The room was filled with several conservation groups, including Northwest Steelheaders all wearing green hats with the organization's logo, and CCA members wearing red hats sporting their logo as well. Stickers and signs that said, "No more broken promises" were passed around.

The crowd grew restless, and by the time ODFW Director Curt Melcher made the introduction for former gill net strategist Bruce Buckmaster, hecklers made their thoughts known as shouts from several members of the crowd were followed by a call from Bruce Polley of CCA to show some respect to the commission for taking time to meet with the public. You can view the interaction during the beginning of the event, including a call for Buckmaster's resignation here:

Just before the event, buzz about a letter to Michael Finley, chairman of the ODFW commission from Oregon governor Kate Brown began to circulate. Brown asked the commission to reconsider it's decision about the gill net reforms to align the administration. You can read more about that on the NWS editor's blog:

The full text of Governor Brown's letter to the Chair:

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Perfect Storm (Nestucca River Trip) 1/12/2017

With the winter filled with storms that almost seemed to come and go in waves with the changing tides, each one would pass through as the snow from the prior storm would just begin to melt. "The big one" hit Portland like Nolan Ryan tossing an over-sized snowball and taking out an unsuspecting toddler that never saw it coming. The metro area was crippled by the record snowfall, forcing anglers east of the coast range to sit out the thawing period while coastal rivers were dropping into shape.

Fortunately, the storm landed just north of me. Jacob Mikoleit called me up from Newport to head up the 101 in search of winter steelhead. On our drive up the coastline just prior to daylight, the full moon reflected off a calm ocean filled with commercial crab boats running through the night.

Jake wanted to drop into the Nestucca for a float while the crowds were as thin and the fish were thick. Temperatures just below freezing combined with the heavy snowfall to the east of Tillamook deterred a lot of out of town traffic and limited the boat traffic to a couple local guides that were still pretty spread out.

At first light, the boat below us hooked a fish at Foland Creek just as we were pulling away from the ramp. Soon after, as we were floating through a bend in the river, there were two big submerged boulders that disrupted the flow of water perfectly for a resting area where I hooked into the first fish of the day. As the line tightened with the hookset, the fish tailwalked like a marlin, then deathrolled like a nile crocodile before deciding to wave goodbye and take off downstream before popping the hook loose. It was a rude awakening for both myself and the fish that early in the morning, but there was a lot of water ahead of us. The next day I landed a small wild fish in the same spot that was probably around 20 inches.

As we neared Beaver Creek, Jake told me to cast behind the boat as we went by and hit the seam between the creek and the river. As the float hit the water, he was directing me where we would target fish downstream. Looking the opposite direction of my float, I turned around to notice it wasn't above water. I gave it a light tug to see if I was caught in an eddy or on the gravel, when I felt something gradually begin to give way and felt the slow headshake of a nice chrome buck.

The fish must have held onto that bead for a while, which I attribute to Pro-Cure's Anise Bloody Tuna Super Gel. I don't know how much time actually passed between the fish taking the bead and me finally setting the hook, but it didn't seem to notice anything with the first few seconds of pressure, giving me enough time realize what was going on and bury the hook home.

After a good fight, the fish came right to the boat and Jake was there with the net. In the middle of the mayhem of untangling, unhooking, bonking, bleeding, and tagging, Jake noticed another fish roll. He quickly got a small pink worm on a blue jighead into the water while I was doing my paperwork. A feisty hen drained the bobber, and as Jake set the hook. It was almost as if he turned the fish on a dime and brought it racing towards the bow faster than he could pick up line. As the line got tight again, the fish put on an acrobatic display that would have put Mary Lou Retton to shame. I steadied the net as Mikoleit said, "Hold on, she's probably going to freak out again." Much like Olympic gymnasts, it seems like the smaller they are, the more flips and somersaults they can do. Finally we trick the fish into the net and start moving downstream in search of the next one.

Just downstream of the same area, I hooked a bruiser of a buck as we were about to drift through an area that's split into three routes. While we had been moving towards the center chute, the fish made it perfectly clear it wanted to go clear across to the bank, peeling drag to the starboard side. This redirected Jake's course at the last moment through a long set of riffles with little opportunity in the current to anchor up until we reached the end of the island.

Keeping pressure on the fish, we went for a ride, nearly a hundred yards or so free-drifting along with it. The fish seemed as if it couldn't decide if it wanted to sit in the slackwater to our left and be towed, or keep pace with the boat in the current. The few runs it made underneath the raft during this time were a memorable experience as Jake calmly rowed downstream to a point where we could get out and net the fish on the island. By the that point, all of us were tired from the battle, but exhaustion had taken it's toll on the fish. With our adrenaline still in high gear, it accepted defeat and submitted to the net.

Even as the sun starts to get above the trees, the temperature is still in the twenties. Line freezing in the guides made fishing a challenge all morning, and as we continued to drift downstream, finding a patch of sunlight to warm ourselves started to take priority over finding more fish. As we nestled into a decent drift where we could catch some rays, we dropped anchor and he began to offer a buffet of presentations to the hole on the port side of the raft.

After fishing with Jake on several occasions, one of the things I admire most about his fishing style is his determination and the versatility of his presentations. I personally tend to get locked into fishing a bead under a float, and as effective as that may be, I have a difficult time thinking outside that box, even when the tactic isn't working anymore. It's educational at times seeing Jake bat cleanup and hit home runs on a regular basis throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the fish.

After fishing beads for a good 10 or 15 minutes with no expectations other than to warm our fingers and toes while anchored in that sunny bend in the river, Jake switched to something similar to a bobber dogging setup with a yarnie and prawn with a bead leader tied to the hook. When that didn't work, he tried the pink worm again. When that didn't work, he tossed one of his home made spinners usptream a couple times, running it through the hole like a wrecking ball. Then he took a few casts 45 degrees from the boat and swung the spinner below us.

"I don't think anybody's home," I said. "...but I like this spot anyway. It's sunny." Finally, Jake pulls out a rod rigged up for float fishing bait, with a very small piece of hollowcore on the leader that slides down to get the bait into position. "There's still one part of that seam I haven't combed over really well because of the way those cross-currents meet," he says.

While his preferred method of fishing is prawn-tipped jigs, the weighted glob of eggs seemed like a good way for the bait to get into the zone and make itself known in the steelhead green abyss. After getting the drift he wanted, the bobber did a stutter drop and he must have pulled back just as the fish let go because all the rigging came flying back at us. "I got something for ya," he says while adding a fresh bait. After adding a few drops of ProCure's Squid Oil to a fresh bait of eggs, he launches them back into position, and goes right over where the fish bit the first time, but nothing happens. As he extends his drift another 15 or 20 feet, the bobber drains and line starts peeling off the reel.

A good 7 or 8 minutes into the fight, we still haven't seen the fish or gotten much line back, and are beginning to wonder if maybe a late fall chinook had taken a liking to his eggs. Then we finally get the egg-wagoneer within sight but she doesn't come in easy. Using the boat as a break in the current, she camps out underneath the bow, doing everything that gets most lunkers back to freedom. After a few tries getting the fish within netting distance, I leaned out over the bow and in some miracle of a Stretch Armstrong Go-go-gadget yoga pose, manage to get the fish into the net and lift the hefty hen from the water.

After tagging his limit in a hole we had spent over a half hour fishing a half dozen presentations, he made it clear once again that stepping outside the box is an effective method of putting fish into the box.