Alpenglow Bamboo

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In this day and age, things keep getting faster, lighter, and stronger.  In some ways that makes what we do a whole lot of fun.  At the same time, though, it's important to understand the roots of our sport.  The history of fly fishing is filled with fun characters, epic locations, and some downright phenomenal gear.  San Franciso alone has had its share of historic fly fishing stories.  From the early days of west coast salmon fishing and pioneering steelheaders to rod companies like R. L. Winston and Scott, the streets of San Franciso have plenty of big fish stories to tell.  Today, we have a great local fly shop (Lost Coast Outfitters), one of the states leading conservation agencies (California Trout), and the historic Golden Gate Casting Club still attracts people from across the country.  

If you look deeper into the surrounding fabric of the Bay Area, you'll find a few other interesting personalities.  A few months ago I met a rod builder named Tony Bellaver out of Oakland.  I'd seen his bamboo rods at Lost Coast Outfitters but always thought they'd be way out of my price range or just for the local lawyers and finance guys from down town.  

So...when I bumped into Tony again at Spey-O-Rama this year I made sure to give a few of his cane rods a shot.  After a little introduction to the bamboo scene, he mentioned I should stop by his workshop and pick up a few rods to take on my summer trip to Montana.  To say I was interested, would be an understatement!  When else would I get to use bamboo rods and test them out while fighting fish?

When I showed up at his house in Oakland, we walked out back to his workshop and he gave me a tour.  Tony is clearly a student of the sport and knows every name and historical point of significance in rod building.  Although he had a stash of older graphite rods tucked away in the rafters, he's fully dedicated himself to fishing cane rods.  Each year he spins up 10-15 rods to his personal specifications and sells them at trade shows, through his website, and at a few local fly shops.  He's a craftsman through and through.  During the day he's a full-time maker and artist  and when he has free time he's either on the river swinging wet flies for trout and steelhead or crafting his next bamboo rod.  In addition to rods, Tony makes some beautiful nets, rod cases, and he's even dipping his toe into the reel making game.  It's all remarkably beautiful gear.   

As we spoke, it became pretty clear that Tony loves his craft.  From selecting the bamboo to cutting, sanding, and gluing, he takes pride in every step of the process.  He even has a little fly tying desk tucked in the back of his workshop.  As an avid fly tier myself, we spent a good deal of time talking about feathers, old-school wet flies, and the upcoming steelhead season.  After a few hours of talking shop and watching him make some progress on a rod he's building, Tony handed me two aluminum tubes for my summer trip.  At the time I was pretty nervous to take these works of art out on the river.  I've been known to destroy fly fishing equipment pretty quickly!  Just under the nerves, however, was an eager little kid ready to try out a new toy.

Once in Montana, I had the chance to take the rods for a real-deal test drive.  I spent a few evenings tossing green drakes to eager Westslope Cutthroat in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.  I was more than impressed with how the rods felt in hand.  The slow action made for easy, beautiful loops.  The rod was accurate, supple, and poetic.  It was hard not to smile when casting!  When fighting fish the rod bent to the cork and made every fish feel as though it was a trophy.  I'm not exactly sure what I was expecting from a bamboo rod, but my expectations were more than exceeded.  

I never thought I'd have a bamboo rod on my list of "need to buy" equipment, but it's on the list now.  It's a completely different experience, one I hope to have again soon.  This Fall, I may be knocking on Tony's door to get a shot at using one again. 

If you'd like to learn more about the work Tony's doing with Alpenglow, be sure to check out his website, give him a follow on Instagram (@alpenglow_tonybellaver), or take a closer look at one of his rods down at Lost Coast Outfitters.  You won't be disappointed!

Historic Fish

Some rivers have a little more name recognition than others.  I'm sure most of you have heard of the Madison River in Southwestern Montana, the Green River in Utah, and the Lower Sacramento in California.  They're all amazing fisheries with historic hatches and huge fish numbers.  However, one river stands head and shoulders above them all, the mighty McCloud.  It certainly doesn't have the highest number of fish per mile or the massive size that some other rivers have.  However, the McCloud has had an influence on the sport of fly fishing (and fishing in general) that reachers further than any other river I know. 

The McCloud is one of the three major tributaries to the Sacramento River, which runs through the delta, into the San Francisco Bay, and under the Golden Gate Bridge.  Historically, the McCloud had significant runs of steelhead, salmon, and hosted a healthy population of Bull Trout (last seen in the late 70's on the McCloud).  As with many rivers in California, the McCloud has changed over time.  Dams, logging, California's water demands and habitat degredation have altered the McCloud in a significant way.  Those once legendary runs of anadromous fish are long gone along with the elusive Bull Trout. 

The McCloud runs just north of Redding, California, a solid six hours from my home in San Francisco.  Needless to say, I haven't spent a lot of time on this river.  I'm still learning about its hatches, riffles, and big brown trout.  This summer was only my second trip to the famed banks of the McCloud and I had high hopes of getting into some great fish. 

Tim Harden of The Venturing Angler and I took the weekend to try some new water.  With a Euro rod and a box of streamers, I approached the river with a bit of a scattered plan.  We walked down the path from our campsite into the Nature Conservancy section of the river.  Since 1976 the Conservancy has worked to monitor water quality and aquatic insects on the McCloud.  The section of the river we fished (and most of the river in general) is breathtaking.  Large boulders, deep green pines, and riverside flora all make for a scene out of a movie. 

With my scattered approach, I spent way too much time changing rigs and rods.  Throwing a streamer in one section, then floating a bobber rig, before coming through the run again with a tight-line approach.  The fishing was good, but not what I was hoping for.  My guess is that changing weather conditions and my unfocused approach to the river left a few fish to be had. 

Although I didn't bring big numbers of fish to the net, the ones that did find my fly were beautiful and healthy, precisely the reason the Conservancy is protecting this two and a half mile section of the river.  It's also the reason the Red Band Rainbows of the McCloud have been used to stock rivers across the country and the world.  If you've landed a stocked fish, its genes probably came from the emerald green waters of the McCloud. 

As we left, I couldn't help but feel a little melancholy.  On one hand, it's great that places like this are being protected.  With all that's going on in our country, it's important that we, as a community, continue to advocate for the protection of places like the McCloud River.  On the other hand, it's sad to think about the potential of a river like this.  I could only imagine driving to the McCloud with hopes of landing a steelhead or harvesting a Salmon for a campfire dinner.    

Although it was only my second trip to the McCloud, the fishing, history, and beauty will certainly pull me back north in the coming months.  There are some great trout in the river and I'd love to find them next time!

For more information on the McCloud River take a look at this video that Cal Trout put out a few years ago.  It sheds a little more light on the significance of this river and highlights the importance of protecting the rivers, sensitive habitat, and public lands we're lucky enough to still have. 

Redington Butter Stick Review

Originally posted through the Lost Coast Outfitters e-mail list. 

Summer time is in full swing and the fishing is only going to heat up in the coming months.  To make things even more exciting, the small stream action of the high Sierra is a blast this time of year.  Small stream fishing is one of my favorite ways to pursue trout.  Whether it's local streams or high mountain destinations, there's something special about seeing wild, native fish come up for a dry fly.   

If you follow my Instagram feed (@baetisandstones) you know I'm a bit of a gear junkie.  Over the years, I've amassed a good number of small stream rods in the 2wt - 4wt range.  Today, most of them sit in my closet collecting dust.  The culprit for all the dust collection is Redington's Butter Stick.  Any time I reach for a small stream rod, the yellow fiberglass stands above them all.  The Butter Stick is a slow action, fiberglass rod that comes in 2wt through 5wt.  When casting, the rod loads well at short distances and can punch into the wind with surprising accuracy when you're on bigger water. 

Over the last 18 months, I've used the Butter Stick in just about every possible situation.  It's performed well during small stream dry fly action in the Sierra, throwing dry dropper rigs in Montana, and even launching small streamers in Yellowstone Park. The Butter Stick finds its way into my hands more than I ever thought it would.  Every time a friend asks what rod they should get for small streams or which rod they should get to build out their quiver, the Butter Stick gets the nod.  It's an absolute blast to cast and will bend in 1/2 when you're fighting fish.  Coming in at only $249 with Redington's life time warranty it's a no-brainer.  

If you're going to pick one of these bad boys up, I'd suggest getting a model one size smaller than you were planning on.  The 3wt I've been using is extremely versatile and comfortably handles fish up to the 16-inch range.  A 2wt would be perfect for smaller fish on creeks you can jump across where the 5wt could be a really fun rod to play around with on the Pit River or McCloud. 

The Butter Stick also doubles as a great rod to teach with.  Recently I've started teaching my girlfriend how to fly fish and the slow action of this rod is perfect for beginners.  Fiberglass is also super durable, so if you're teaching your kids or your fumbling husband how to throw darts with a fly rod, this is the perfect stick!

This probably isn't going to be the rod you throw articulated streamers with or heavy Lower Sac nymph rigs with, but that's not why you're buying this rod anyways.  Dry flies, dry-droppers, smaller streamers, and lighter nymph rigs can all be used with ease.  My only real gripe is that I didn't get one of these sooner!  

If you have any questions about the Butter Stick don't hesitate to reach out to the guys at Lost Coast Outfitters or shoot me a message on Instagram (@baetisandstones)!

Coastal Wanderings

Lately, I've been getting a lot of questions about surf fishing.  I've posted a few photos from some recent trips and have run into a few toads in the process of learning how to fish the surf.  I have to admit though, I'm not an expert when it comes to this style of fishing, not even close.  Most of the time I'm out there fumbling through the process, learning as I go.  I get skunked a lot too!  

With that said, I have learned a few thing about fishing the tidal zone this year.   The gear matters quite a bit, as does your ability to read the water.  So...when you head out, learn from my mistakes!

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Rod, reel and line:

This one's pretty important in my opinion.  I started by taking out my regular 7wt rod, the one I use for Steelhead from time to time.  It worked alright, but it had some pretty major limitations.  

I currently use an 11'6" Redington Chromer (6wt) which gives me the few extra inches I need to make longer casts and get over any waves coming my way.  I've paired that with a Redington Rise reel which can take a beating in the surf.  With a quick rinse after being immersed in salt water, it's ready to head out for the next trip.  This is the exact same rod and reel I use for stripping flies on Pyramid lake too. 

The last element of the rig that's really important is line choice.  I've used a few different lines and sink tips with varying success.  The line that's brought be the best luck has been the Rio InTouch Outbound.  It's the line with the Striper on the box, so it's got to be good right?  This line shoots well, especially paired with the Chromer, getting you the extra distance you'll need for the surf.  Most importantly it gets down quick, even in saltwater or faster currents. 

Flies:

Surprisingly, I keep this one really simple.  My surf box is NOTHING like my trout boxes.  When I'm trying to come tight on a big perch or some striped bass, I stick with three patters.  For perch, anything orange.  I tie a lot of my own flies and I usually just use some lead eyes, buck tail, and marabou.  If it's orange, it will get the job done.  I'm sure there are a lot of great flies to use in the surf but this is a good starting point. 

I also use a good old-fashioned clouser or deceiver.  Basically, any solid bait fish pattern will work just fine. 

Typically, I'll run a two fly rig in order to cover the bass and perch at the same time but you can easily stick with one fly and be just fine. 

Clothing/Waders:

When I first started fly fishing in the surf, I wore my waders every time.  I've been using the Sonic Pro HD Waders by Redington.  These things are really great and I use them for still water and trout fishing year-round.  The one drawback to the waders, is that sand finds its way into your boots really quickly and you may have to empty them out from time to time.  If you have waders with integrated boots, those will work better. 

I've also had success with using a pair of simple board shorts.  If you're not afraid of getting a little wet, this allows you to take a few more "risks" in the waves without the fear of filling your waders with salt water.  Most Northern California beaches can be a little chilly to use this tactic though. 

My current approach has me using a wetsuit.  Yeah, that's right, a wetsuit.  I've been able to get substantially more aggressive in the surf with a wetsuit.  Instead of getting knee-deep and watching for waves with a nervous eye, the wetsuit allows me to get waist-deep (or deeper) and just jump over the waves when they come in.  If a bigger set rolls through, I can just duck dive and come out the other end unscathed.  It sounds a little silly but I've had some of my best days using a wetsuit!

The one drawback to using the wetsuit is that I don't have any storage for flies, my camera, or any other gear I might need.  This problem can be solved pretty easily with a dry bag that you leave on the beach.  I use the Tillak Dry Bag.  Not only does this bag fit just the right amount of gear, the company gives back to conservation organizations in some serious ways!

Reading Water:

This one took me awhile!  I'm sure you'll figure it out more quickly than I did.  Once you get the details down, your catch rate will go through the roof!

If I can, I start by getting a high vantage point to see as much of the beach as I can.  This gives me the opportunity to see any deeper sections or cuts in the beach that fish, or bait, might be holding in.  What you'll be looking for is a section where a wave crashes, then flattens out before hitting the shore.  The area where the wave flattens out is usually a pocket of deeper water.  Spend as much time as you can fishing the buckets and troughs.  That's where the fish will stack up on a high tide.  

You can also look for current seams taking sand from the beach out into the waves.  This typically means there's some bait (usually sand crabs) being pushed out to sea too.  When you find the bait, you'll find the fish!  

Another thing that's  worked well for me is just flat out covering water, especially if you're on a bigger beach.  In my experience, the fish usually pile up in more concentrated areas and will hit a fly properly swung/stripped through their zone in the first few casts.  So...if you haven't been hit, move on to the next likely holding water.  

Like I said, I'm no expert when it comes to surf fishing.  The few things I've learned have been through lots and lots of trial and error.  You've got to be patient and persistent and the best way to get into some good fish is to put in time on the water!  If you're just getting started, Lost Coast Outfitters is a great local shop to pick up the right rod, reel, lines, and flies.  George and the boys down at LCO will get you on the right track for some fun in the surf!

Return To Abundance

As an avid outdoorsman, I'm deeply committed to conserving the remaining natural resources we have.  Whether you're an avid angler, hunter, or just enjoy hiking, camping, and breathing fresh air, I'm sure you can relate. It's an amazing experience to walk through the hills and run into wild turkey or spend time in a river and find a big push of fresh steelhead moving up river.  Those experiences take effort, though.  We need to be intentional about protecting and restoring those wild habitats that support the experiences we love. 

I want to invite you to join me this year in learning more about the conservation of the public (and private) lands.  Throughout the year, I'm going to share more conservation focused content on the blog in addition to the stories you're used to.  It's my hope that writing about conservation will help me (and possibly you) better understand the issues we face as a nation.  

With that said, California Trout has come out with a new video highlighting the work they're doing to restore the historic runs of salmon and steelhead to the beautiful Eel River watershed running through California's north coast. 

Over the years, the Eel has suffered setbacks.  From pot farms and increased water demand to estuary degradation and dams, the Eel's prime habitat has taken its licks.  However, the fish continue to come back.  They're amazingly resilient, yet we need to ensure the habitat they rely on for spawning and rearing is kept intact.  Check out Cal Trouts new video Return to Abundance below. 

If you want to learn more about the work Cal Trout is doing to protect salmon and steelhead in the Eel River watershed, come join us at Lost Coast Outfitters (555 Montgomery Steet, San Francisco) next Thursday (2/9) at 6:00.  We'll have some beverages and you might even walk away with a new spey rod from Redington!  We're giving away a 12' 6" 6wt Chromer.  

Come celebrate the fish that frustrate us most!

For more videos and information about Cal Trout's Eel River project, check out their website!

Snow Bows

With one of the biggest storms in recent memory pounding the whole of Northern California, most of our rivers were running high and dirty.  That's not a good situation to be in when you have an itch only a trout can scratch.  After a some back and forth, Aaron and I decided to head east, over the snow-covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada to find fish willing to chase a fly. 

After a long icy drive, we parked stream-side and piled layers of flannel, nano-puff, and cotton under our waders to keep us warm in the single-digit morning temperatures. The night before we had connected with a few locals (Jim Stimson and Sam Vasily) who we were going to join us over the next two days.  Neither Aaron or I had met these guys but we'd both been following their fishing exploits through Instagram for awhile.  It was clear to us that they were both fishy guys and had pinned some serious fish, but you never know what you're getting into when you decide to spend a day on the river with someone you've never met.  Were they going to be down to earth? Arrogant? Easy to talk to? Who knew, only time would tell. 

Just as we clipped our waders in and finished tightening our knots, Jim rolled up in is truck.  He hopped out of the cab with an easy smile and the energy of someone half his age.  After pleasantries, we trudged through the knee deep snow on our way to likely holding water.  Before we made it to the river, it was clear Jim was going to be a great guy to spend a day hunting big fish with.  He was personable, funny, and had a deep knowledge of fly fishing and photography, two of my passions.  The three of us fished through the day and landed a number of good bows.  Nothing to write home about but solid fish to ease the discomfort of numb toes.  

We called it a day with cold beverages under and even colder sunset in one of the most stunning places I've fished.  A perfect closure to a day well spent.

That night was early though.  The effort of grinding it out in the snow along with the long drive had sapped every last bit of energy Aaron and I had.  

We woke up early to catch the Sunday morning sunrise and a text from Sam was already lighting up my phone. "What time are you guys planning on heading down to the river?"  Really Sam?  It's negative 15 degrees out there and you're chomping at the bit to clear ice from your guides already? Truth be told, Aaron and I weren't much less enthusiastic.  With a few sunrise photos under our belt, we met Sam at the river and were headed down the same snowy road towards some solid fish tucked under a blanket of snow. 

Sam was fishy, real fishy.  The second the temperature warmed up and the bugs started moving, he was tight to his first fish of the day.  With only a few hours to fish before heading to work for the day, we made our way through the most worthwhile holes.  Sure enough, Sam was bent deep into the butt of his rod and running down stream. 

Before Aaron and I could make our way through the snow, he'd come un-buttoned but was quickly back into another fish.  Once to net, it measured right at 22 inches.  

Soon after releasing that fish, we could see Jim working up river.  The four of us fished util the early afternoon before calling it a day.  Two days filled with fish, new friendships, laughs, and lots of learning from the local boys had Aaron an I riding high. 

As per usual, we were up early Monday morning for our trip back home.  Always reluctant to re-join the hustle and bustle of city life, we drug our feet up highway 395 and stopped for a little more fishing before aligning our bumpers with the throngs of families coming off the mountains.  The long trip back to San Francisco gave us plenty of time to reflect on the weekend and plan for our next foray into the wild. 

No Going Back

To be a good angler, you've got to be a bit of a scientist.  You're always making observations.  River conditions, weather patterns, bug life, and fish behavior all play into your ability to catch fish.  Science also goes a long way to protect the resources we've damaged through the altering of natural processes like river flooding.  The miles and miles of canals built to help irrigate California's Central Valley have systematically reduced salmon habitat and the landscapes that salmon fry once used for packing on weight before heading to the Pacific Ocean. 

California Trout has invested in some really interesting science and is coming up with unique solutions to complex ecological problems.  The Nigiri Project they're working on is turning salmon fry into flood plain fatties!  Check out their latest video, No Going Back, to find out more about the science behind fattening up salmon fry before they head to the delta (hopefully avoiding striped bass) and eventually under the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Enjoy!

Yellowstone Cutts

Stretching nearly 3,500 square miles, Yellowstone is the 8th largest National Park in the United States.  Largely known for its diverse wildlife and geothermal activity, it also has strong fisheries.  From the Yellowstone and Lamar to the Gibbon and Soda Butte, there are countless miles of pristine river to fish.  With two years exploring Southwestern Montana under our belts, Courtney and I decide it was time to stray from the endless riffles of the Madison River and head east to Yellowstone.  

The size of the park didn't make it easy to narrow down the options so we stopped in at Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone for some insider knowledge before weaving through the tree lined roads of the park.  Traffic jams are just about as common in Yellowstone as they are in San Francisco, but they're caused by bears and bison rather that texting hipsters on their way to the Mission.

Although the wildlife in the surrounding meadows was awe inspiring, we were on a mission for one thing and one thing only.  We were after the fabled Yellowstone Cutthroat trout.  With it's main diet being insects, even as adults, they tend to come easy to the fly.  We settled the car into its dusty resting place for the day and set out over the ridge in search of the river.  After working up a bit of a sweat, we found ourselves resting on the river's grassy banks as it snaked it's way through a massive meadow who's only residents weighed in at about 1,400 lbs.  

Without even stringing up our lines, we were watching fish actively move up and down the banks taking insects off the surface without a care in the world.  My only thought was, "This is going to be easy."  I took out the camera, it was stunning in every direction.  Courtney got started casting.  As his fly drifted overhead, the trout just kept making their rounds up stream, then back down,  running laps in search of their next meal.  He had a few trout inspect his offering, but they thumbed their noses at his fly.  Usually, cutthroat are overly surface oriented and eager to take a dry fly.  We pressed on and only had intermittent luck as we worked our way through the meadow, hugging the high banks looking for active fish. 

We spent the good part of the day throwing dry flies.  The gaudier the fly, the more it seemed to work.  It was almost counter intuitive.  With grizzly tracks authoritatively etched in the sand bars, we knew that leaving before dusk was a requirement.  We'd need just a sliver of light incase we needed to aim our bear spray on the way out of the meadow.  The sun was beginning to lower in the sky and the trout were making circles in the surface of river with greater frequency.  We couldn't quite leave yet, it was just about to get good! 

As Courtney typically does, he fastened a streamer to the end of his line and began working back down stream, lacing his casts between rising trout.  Before long, he had the fish of the day on the end of his line.  I still wasn't convinced and kept floating my foam near the banks.  "On!", he was tight to another fish and my surprise was turning to interest.  After three fish to the net with his streamer, it was time for me to change tactics.  It was time to channel my inner Kelly Galloup!

The golden hour was spent working our way through the meadow in the company of massive Bison as we splashed Wooly Buggers up against structure, through runs, and against the high banks.  The cutthroat weren't shy.  When they wanted the streamer, they hammered it hard and made their presence known.  It was my first time having a truly successful streamer session and I was changed.  Forever. 

After we each landed a good number of fish we decided to start our haul back to the trailhead.  It had been a long day filled with great fishing for one of the more beautiful salmonids I'd seen.  As we sweat our way back up the ridge we were chased out of the park by what felt like 10,000 mosquitos.  A good reminder that we were only visitors in a place built for the wild.