Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Anatomy of a Steelhead Shit-show... version 1

I look forward to posting some more of these as the season progresses.  The winter steelhead guiding game is a roller-coaster of highs and lows. Heart-pounding adrenaline rushes while frantically pulling (or pushing) on the oars to get the fish away from the boat, or pulling your hair out after fishing a dozen spots where you regularly catch them without a tug. Sometimes the greenest anglers rope the most fish and the best sticks you could ever have in the boat catch nothing, all while working prime water in normal conditions. We theorize on flies, methods of fishing those flies, boat-work, where fish will be based on the tides, weather, precipitation, changes in snow level, the list goes on. A good steelhead guide is constantly thinking, analyzing, theorizing. The rewards of this lifestyle come in so many forms, but the bottom line is the ability to put my hands on many steelhead each season and successfully release those fish back to the river, then shake hands or high-five the angler who caught it.

One of my favorite parts of this game is the shit-show moments that come from hooking some of the hottest fish found anywhere in the world, the wild winter steelhead. We hook many of these fish just hours after they enter fresh-water. With white bellies, dark backs, and sea-lice... to say these fish are ass-kickers would be a severe understatement. This brings me to the point of this post and a story that happened earlier this season.

Brent and Jim Hardy are a father-son duo that are hardcore about two things, waterfowling and steelheading. I've had the pleasure of fishing with these two out here on the coast several days as well as the Methow and Klickitat for fall steelhead. They are great anglers who have each fell victim to the steelhead shit-show on multiple occasions. Perhaps the best I've seen this season involved a joint effort by all three of us to land the fish. 

Brent's bobber went down on the upstream side of a shelf in pretty heavy current. At first I thought he had snagged the shelf like every other angler I've had continue the drift late into the zone. Only this time, Brent set the hook hard and knew right away by the heavy headshakes, "FISH! FISH! FISH!" 

The fish bombed upstream at mach 12, while the heavy current took us downstream at the same pace. I swear the water on Brent's reel was evaporating as it screamed for mercy. Brent went into panic mode as he realized the fish was still running upstream and he was easily 100 feet into his backing. I yelled back to not worry about it but be ready for the fish to come back downstream towards the boat. Sure enough, now approaching the 100 yard mark on the backing the fish turned and came down through the heavy rapids towards the boat. Brent did his best to stay on the reel as I pushed like mad away from the fish. When he realized cranking the reel wouldn't work he went to stripping the backing but it was too late. A pile of slack in the backing wrapped around Brent's rod tip several times, now making it impossible for him to strip as the fish came back towards the boat. 

Somehow the barbless hook stayed pinned, mainly due to the giant downstream belly and heavy current. I jumped up and untangled the mess from the rod-tip, but the pile of backing in the bottom of the boat ended up in  a giant knot. As I tucked into the beach several hundred yards below where we initially hooked it, the large fish passed the boat on its way downstream. Brent bailed out of the boat and sprinted down the gravel bar with a pile of 100 yards of backing in a giant knot, unable to clear the first guide down the rod. Now the only method to fight the fish was truly on foot, due to a giant rapid below the bar we stood on. Jim followed Brent about 80 yards to the end of the gravel bar carrying the pile of backing. 

Our only hope to landing the fish was to work it into a soft pocket at the bottom of the bar. For another ten minutes, Brent ran back and forth across the tip of the bar chasing the fish as it ran out towards the current, with dad right by his side carrying the tangled mess and me standing waist deep with a net screaming at him to put the pressure on the fish. The father-son duo did a hell of a job and we finally nursed the fish into the slack water and got the net under him. It was Brent's largest steelhead to date and one of the most exciting battles I've seen in many years of living this awesome lifestyle. I can't wait for the next shit-show, but it will be hard to top this one. Congrats again boys!

The shit-show comes to an end...

Happy Brent
Big dawg with sea-lice
We currently have some last minute cancellations for prime space in March. Dates are March 9-13 and 17-23 space for two to four anglers depending on the date. Our normal rate is $475 per person per day for guided angling and fully hosted lodging with 5 star meals and all inclusive wet-bar. Our cancellation rate for the space advertised above is $375 a day for the full show. Both dates are as prime as prime can get for winter steelheading. Give me a call at 509-460-9519 or send an email to and lets go hunt chromers!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Pullin' oars in the rain... back to work hunting chromers!

Well my guilt of getting lazy with this whole blog thing has finally caught up to me. I'm finally settled in out here on Washington's Olympic Peninsula in a lodge operation I work for under the umbrella of one of the top guide services found anywhere, Brazdas Fly Fishing. The Bogy House is a small-scale operation with four of us guiding daily trips for winter steelhead. The food is great, compliments of chef Annie... and the fishing program is as intense as any I've been apart of.

I spent the first week out here on my own living under a bridge, just like old times when we used to come out on long trips back in high school and college. It was a bit strange being in those old places again without the company of a bunch of buddies and too much whiskey! I thought I was tough and imagined myself guiding this way for the entire season, returning to my rig each night... sleeping in the back of the truck. Coincidentally on the last day, I stepped in over my waders taking a fish picture. The constant pounding of rain/snow mix and temps in the mid to upper 30s didn't catch up to me until right at the take-out just before dark. It was then I realized I must be getting older and smarter, thank God we had a hotel for the next four days!

We've been fishing and working hard for several weeks now and are currently almost finished with our first week of operations here out of the Bogy House. Fishing continues to be very good with lots of big ones around! Here are some a few photos from the past couple weeks. We've had a cancellation for March 19th for the 24th for two anglers if anyone is interested. I will keep the blog rolling here now that we're rocking out here on the coast!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The day the world ended (for the geese)...

We got in late last night after a long 16 hour drive back from eastern Montana. The trip was about as good as any I can remember. With wonderful hosts, great company, and lights-out hunting, it really was one for the books.

Compared to most of our goose hunting here in eastern Washington... well it really didn't compare. Our birds in the Columbia Basin are hunted hard from top to bottom. Greater Canada Geese, or "honkers" are now a bit tougher to find with the large increase in numbers of Lesser Canadas spread throughout the Basin. Lessers are a fun bird to hunt, but they're very finicky and on many days, tough to finish into the spread. Honkers have a reputation for being big and dumb but they wise-up quickly when the hunting pressure is on.

The birds we found in Montana were big, unpressured honkers, and as our buddy Rex put it flock after flock, day after day- "They came to die."

This was hero-hunting at it's finest. Kill limits in the morning, pull out of the field and go scout the afternoon. Our biggest problem each day wasn't finding fields with geese, it was deciding which one we would hunt the next morning. Our trip finished with a hunt in a field we nicknamed "the silo field". We had seen 1000+ birds using it each morning but were unable to get permission to hunt it until Mark received a call and the go-ahead the morning prior to our last day. We didn't have time to scout it again, but we knew it didn't matter. The birds had been using the field for the past week and were comfortable feeding in a zone close to the edge on a fenceline that would provide an easy hide for our layout blinds.

We set the spread and brushed our blinds just in time to watch the Montana sunrise. As I pulled my camera out to take a few photos, I was interrupted with our first incoming group of birds. They were 150 yards out and already cupped and gliding. With a bit of light calling, the bird finished perfectly into the hole just 10 yards in front of the blinds. After the volley we high-fived and cheered with excitement. What followed in the next hour was heavenly. Group after group finished beautifully on the X, some coming in quiet, others honking and moaning excitedly as they glided into the hole. We finished with limits in about an hour and watched the birds still piling into the field as we drove off. I will forever remember the famous Apocalypse, December 21, 2012- the day the world ended for all those geese!

I hope you enjoy some photos from the trip. I'm now winding down the waterfowl season and gearing up for my winter guide season for steelhead on the Olympic Peninsula. If anyone is interested in booking a trip, please contact my via email at or on the phone at 509-460-9519.

Rex picking up after a good shoot
The pile

Stackin' up the natural sleepers next to fake ones...
Headed for the truck at the end of the hunt...

Brushed up good in the wheat stubble...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Adventures Continue...

"WTF mate?"
We rolled out of town early enough to fight ice on the lake if need be. Little did we know, word had gotten out about the high numbers of birds in the area and there were about eight other rigs at the boat-ramp that had already put in prior to our arrival. With plenty of room for hunters in the area, we weren't a bit discouraged and continued on with our plan.

We rode the GPS trail to a cove that was holding over 500 mallards just a few days prior. We were pleased to see a lack of ice and made it into our spot after a quick 20 minute run. We strategized our setup and began setting decoys and brushing up the blind. With just a few minutes until shooting light, I took off around the point, stashed the boat and made a mad dash for the blind before the magic hour started.

The view out front and right of the blind...
Unfortunately, we were given a harsh reality check and the magic hour never happened. A half hour into legal shooting time and not a single bird flying had us a bit confused. As daylight replaced darkness, I looked behind us and saw a boat stashed about 150 yards from our blind. Disappointed, we through our hands up in the air after seeing a wall-tent set up just up the hill from the boat. The tent was army-green in color, and we hoped it would blend in with the hillside, but that was wishful thinking at best.

What you don't want to see 150 yards behind your set...
What few groups came and looked at our spread were flared off over 100 yards out at the sight of the camp behind us! With not enough time to spare for a quick move and second set, we were forced to stick it out and hope something would come in low enough to not notice the camp behind us. We had to laugh about it, because otherwise we would drive ourselves nuts. We pulled our spread and headed for home with our tails between our legs!

Today we regrouped and headed to Tri-Cities  for a quick goose hunt with a good buddy of ours. Brent found a pile of birds last night using a field they have leased rights to just above the Snake River. We met Brent at six and started the process of brushing our laydowns and setting up the spread in the headlights of our idling trucks. Waiting for the birds to fly, reminiscing about previous hunts only added to the anticipation!

The birds began flying around 9 and we had our first group commit about an hour later. We let 5 birds land in the spread in an attempt to finish the above flock of 30 or so geese. Unfortunately, they were all Lessers and behaving as such, clucking excitedly as they circled pass after pass just out of range. After four passes they bugged out completely and we were left with the birds that had landed in the decoys. We jumped them out of the spread and dropped the pair, we were on the board at last!

All in all, the morning progressed in a similar fashion with lots of groups of Lessers coming in cupped and committed but unwilling to finish completely. We adjusted a few things with our spread but determined the conditions were to blame, with a 20 degree increase in temperature from the day before and most birds unwilling to finish to the grass field we were in. Maybe they were back on the corn today, hard to say. Such is life as a goose hunter! Overall we had a blast and Brent couldn't have been a better host. We worked a few groups, missed a few and shot a few and couldn't have asked for more.

Twilight on the spread

The closest thing I have to a pic of the super goose dance

Making adjustments

Looking forward to our next hunt with Brent and company! We're off to eastern Montana in the morning for a week of chasing honkers. Will have reports after the trip!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Window-time pays off...

We've been hunting and scouting hard nearly every day in an attempt to really hammer on the birds here in the north Columbia Basin. Overall, we're quite pleased with the numbers of ducks in most areas we're hunting. Some of our zones hold more birds historically this time of year, but we just haven't had the cold weather to bring new ducks to the areas. Most of the birds we're hunting right now came down with early cold snaps back in November, creating the all-to-common challenge of trying to decoy birds that have seen just about everything hunters have to offer.

We've done well using two main tactics here in the north basin- chasing desired conditions and putting in our time scouting. With good numbers of birds in many areas, our only hope for having a really good shoot comes with hunting in conditions that makes the birds fly beyond the quick flurries of action in the first half hour of shooting light. This could be as little as a 5-8 mph breeze versus dead calm, or finding places with large fluctuations in water levels on the river. It has become so important to find whatever we can for conditions that keeps the birds flying throughout the day.

Our recent success the last two days has also been due, in large part, to our scouting. By putting in time running around checking spots in both the boat and the truck, we've been able to locate several areas that are holding birds but not being hunted. I think this really comes with the warmer than average conditions we've had for the past three weeks. The spots we've found are normally worked over pretty hard by weekend warriors this time of year, but the warm weather seems to be deterring most dedicated waterfowl hunters. 

We're crossing our fingers and praying for colder weather. Once we get our new birds it's going to be a lights-out show for several days running! Until then, we'll keep working our tails off chasing the birds, or could that be chasing our tails?

We're rolling over to hunt eastern Montana for a week here soon so I should have a pretty good trip report with lots of photos for you gawkers. In the meantime, I'm tying quite a bit for the upcoming winter season and trying my best to keep my head in the steelhead game, but these birds are really messing with that whole mindset!

Hope you all are enjoying the hunting, fishing, or spending time with family as we approach the holiday season! More to come soon!


Jeff and Rex with a pile-o-green
Jessie has an insane nose, hide the salami!

A mid-morning spread in less than ideal hunting weather...

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Chasing green... our waterfowl season is officially underway!

Gotta love the green...
To start this post I gotta admit- Life has been a bit hectic lately. After finishing up my fall steelhead season with numerous banner days down on the Klickitat, I headed home in a rush, packed a bag and hopped on a plane with wife and family bound for the east coast. We had a very special visit for about 10 days in northern Maine, where my mother's side of the family is located.

The whitetail hunting season was in full swing over there, and being out in the woods and hearing stories of family members chasing bucks around really helped me shift my focus from hunting steelhead to hunting things I can shoot! After returning home, I've spent the past couple days putting away my guiding equipment and gearing up for waterfowl. It's always fun to shake the dust off the decoy bags and check the layout blinds for mouse nests!

My waterfowl season kicked off today with a wonderful opportunity to hunt with two very good friends of mine from the Tri-Cities, WA area. I grew up chasing birds with these guys most days of the week back in high-school, and they've continued their obsession with killing ducks and geese since our younger days. It's always a pleasure to get back to my old stomping grounds with guys I grew up hunting with. Some of our special "honeyholes" hold so many memories from previous hunts over the last 15 years, we can't help but laugh and tell stories from years past!

We currently have good numbers of birds in the Basin pushed down by some early cold-snaps back in late October. I was very impressed with the flights of both mallards and geese  observed today, and it seemed like there was always birds in the air this morning. Unfortunately, with bluebird weather and temps in the high 50s, many of these birds fly so high it makes it a bit tough to get them to come down and pay our spread a visit.

Our first 3 flights of the morning came in within the first 20 minutes of shooting light and weren't able to make it back out of the spread. This was the story for today, with our three guns shooting 11 for 12 birds, only leaving a lone Teal to make it out of the decoys unharmed! It's always nice to work the birds close and kill everything that comes into the spread!

Today's hunt was nothing to complain about, but we were constantly adjusting our spread in an attempt to make the birds more willing to commit. The reality is, the majority of the birds just weren't interested in hanging out on our pond. It didn't take long to recognize the all-too-familiar scenario, but we adapted accordingly- adjusting our calling and our spread until we found what worked best for us today. We came to the conclusion that the birds had been hammered on several times in this spot. All we really need to make the hunting gangbusters again is some fresh birds who aren't savvy to our program.

I was excited to see the geese so responsive to the call. Unfortunately, a several mile hike back into the pond prevented us from even considering bringing any goose decoys. Next time we'll bear the burden of the extra weight and deal with it! We had many flocks circle and look hard, only to recognize the lack of any goose decoy on the water.

We're excited for some weather to come our way and more excited about the birds it will bring. We finished today with 10 beautiful mallards and a full plumage drake widgeon that I wish I would have taken more pictures of. We worked our tails off for the birds we killed and did well despite the tough hand we were dealt today.

Miah looking hard for birds...

First light and a pretty spread...

An accurate look at our weather conditions today... nice but a bit tough for hunting...

Brit with her glory-pose...
It's going to be an insane waterfowl season up here in the Columbia Basin! I will do my best to keep the blog updated with reports and photos... I hope you enjoy. If anyone is interested in a hunt, please send an email the or call me anytime on my cell at 509-460-9519.

Happy hunting,


The Nomadic Angler

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Photographic Inspiration

This post is short and sweet because I don’t want to distract from the photo. I took this shot last week on the Klickitat River, a tributary of the Columbia River in Washington State. Aaron O’Leary (Angler’s Obsession), Jeff Brazda, and I had a rare day off and did some scouting and goofing off. Once the hangovers wore off a bit, many nice fish were hooked, and we landed a few in some new little pockets each of us had been wondering about. 

This is a photo of a fish Aaron landed and it was the very last image of the set. In fact, the session involved a series of normal grip and grins, then AO went to release the fish as I was putting the camera away. The buck’s gills flared in the current with each breath and Aaron proclaimed, “Wow look at that cheek-patch!”

I turned around to see the late afternoon sunlight beaming on the fish’s head. The scarlet cheek-patch, though not as large and defined as that of some of the other steelhead we land, was highlighted with brilliant hues of pink, purple, red, and orange. The fish’s eye, full of life and ready to be released back to the river, complimented with teal colored “eye-shadow” as we call it. The image was inspiring enough to take my camera out of the case once again and snap a few quick close-ups. I hope you enjoy this photo as much as I do.