Hunting Bulls

Posted on November 24, 2013


Actually, a color image.

Soultending in the Heart of the Cascades

I’ve been working too much, driving too much, and not tending enough to my soul. Times like these make me quixotic. My latest quest is the bull trout, a large native Western char that runs to sea and is called a Dolly Varden.  They follow the chum salmon runs far, far up into the mountains, and perhaps that alone is the allure for me right now. I put together the vaguest of plans, recruited my very good friend and fishing-photo buddy Tavish, got up on a clear cold morning and headed to the hills.

I love scouting new water. It’s not often productive, but the sense of exploration more than makes up for it. The only way to do it, barring some great luck, is to go as far up river as you can, spotting likely holes along the way, and then knocking them off one-by-one on the way down. When I fish like this I fish fast. You can cover an enormous amount of water by casting, taking three steps, and casting again.  And while I never want to blow by any likely or unlikely lie, I really want to find the most productive spots and put my partner on to some fish.  I’ve pulled fish out of inside seams, outside seams (particularly bulls for some reason), standing waves, fast water, slow water, seemingly structureless water, in front of rocks, behind rocks. My one criteria however, and one I’ve never heard any other fisherman confirm or deny, is that the water has to be perfectly flat. I’ve never, to my knowledge, caught a fish on a gradient. And sometimes I will fish a pool or a riffle for a long time before  I realize that slight tilt to the horizon that gets me to pack up and move on.  Even in such pools sometimes you will find a little flat spot, what I call “rooms,” and if you can put the fly on it and get a drift, that is where the fish are. You would think this makes fishing hard, but it actually simplifies things a lot:  the fish are in the rooms,  you just have to find them.

In the Cascades the rivers are short, steep, and swift. They blow out fast and the drop back into shape fast. The weather was perfect, the rivers were low,  the chums were in, and I had a few ideas of places to go. That was enough. Late Friday I called Tavish and told him my intentions, even though I hadn’t even looked at the map, packed my gear, or even found my gear. I stayed up late and finished building a 7wt for the trip. We got up, meandered to the river and I pulled my brand-new, fresh-off-the-lathe-still-epoxy-sticky rod out of the car, only to find it was missing a tip.  Fortunately, Tavish had an extra rod which I lined up with an old Spey reel, and we got to fishing. That will give you an idea of how quickly we threw this together. Unfortunately, discounting one fish Tavish lost and one that came up and gave me a vicious hit when I only had 6′ of line in water and was watching Tavish extricate his fly from a tree, we did not find the sweet spot and fulfill our quest. Later we debated why over appropriately name Bifrost (Norse for the bridge between words) ales. I claim we didn’t go far enough, Tavish claims we passed up all of the good water.   I guess we’ll just have to settle this like gentlemen – on the river.

In the meantime, we spent the day surrounded by hoarfrost the likes of which I’ve never seen. At first I thought the valley was fogged in it was so white from above.  While I was covering water and waiting for Tavish I snapped a few photos, including one of a massive beaver holding place in the tumultuous run below, and some DOF experiments.  So, while there are no fish in the story, I was still in the mountains, with a good friend, seeing things I’d never seen, feeling myself come back to me. And that is what any good fishing story is all about.

As always, kicking myself for color, but enjoying the monochromeness of the day. Still baffled at why some macro shots are perfect and others blurred. This is an ongoing issue with that lens. Mouse over to see captions.