Dennis Zimmermann, a Yukon fisheries advocate and consultant presented to a impressive turnout of anglers and fisheries stakeholders in October. Dennis partnered with Keepemwet Fishing to share a wide range of catch and release science, tips and discussion. The overarching message of Keepemwet catch and release principles and education was warmly received.
Big news with our friends in the saltwater community as we begin an exciting new partnership with @bonefishtarpontrust and their 6th International Science Symposium. Follow along this weekend with live reporting, interviews and presentation articles by our own Sascha Clark Danylchuk. Big thanks to Ed Anderson for providing the rich and stunning artwork to accompany this exclusive reporting.
At the core of both Bonefish & Tarpon Trust and Keepemwet Fishing is the belief that recreational anglers are a key component of fish conservation and that science-based approaches to education and outreach can help create healthier fisheries
BTT and Keepemwet Fishing are teaming up to make the science presented at the BTT Symposium accessible to a wider audience. A selection of the science presentations from the symposium will be summarized and “translated” into non-technical language that is easily understood by non-scientists. These summaries will be available on multiple platforms, highlight pertinent findings, and contain actionable items that anglers can use to help in conservation efforts.
Born and raised in rural New Zealand Nick has had a chronic fur, fins and feathers addiction since he was consciously aware.
NZ provided ultimate freedom in chasing a dream of working and living in the kiwi outdoors. As an eighteen-year-old in pre internet times Nick took his first guiding trip and 28 years later comes up with a blank page when trying to think of any alternative career.
Having been the temporary custodian of a number of the South Islands big brown trout, he has come to understand the benefit to all of the quick, gentle and wet mantra when it comes to these decade old fish. A thoughtful handling of these resident fish living in low numbers waters, hands a gift of hope and fulfilment to the next angler.
New Zealand’s fishery is a fragile as they come and as his home waters have become a discovered destination Nick is involved with fisheries managers in trying and solidify future fisheries schemes in order to benefit the environment, the fish the people of the country and all other anglers of the globe that travel to experience these islands in the south pacific. Respecting the fish is one aspect of sustainable fisheries and keeping them wet is a key to successful and healthy release of New Zealands sports fish.
Photos and text by Keepemwet Fishing Ambassador Josh Udesen
I packed my bag (six or seven times), made lists for months, spooled reels with new line, strategized grain weights, read airline baggage restrictions, learned how to use a new camera, imagined fly crushing hook-ups, plotted strategies for throwing massive flies, lost sleep dreaming of what was yet to come, spent nights on airport floors, spent a small fortune, bounced on the back roads of Mongolia and rode rowdy horses to the Russian border, all for what? A fish… A mythical fish, a unicorn, a taimen.
The lengths anglers go to actually fish is mind boggling to those who don’t fish, but the stuff of dreams for those who do. We live for the chance to explore unknown rivers, to feel the hook set on a fish we’ve worked hard for, to experience new cultures and create the stories we will tell for a lifetime. For anglers the Mongolian backcountry is the stuff of dreams and taimen live in the land of myths and legends. “Bucket list”, trip of a lifetime, a true adventure are some the superlatives used when I told people I was embarking on a headwaters expedition of the river know as the Delger Moron in Northern Mongolian.
By the time I threw my first cast I felt like I was in a dream. Although jet lagged and worn out from days of planes, Land Cruisers and riding feisty Mongolian horses, the dream was elicited by anticipation not fatigue. The lengths to get so far from anything gave the impression of being on another planet. Throwing flies into a river few ever wet a line on, searching for 30-year-old fish capable of reaching 60” skewed my perspective, along with the unrealistic anticipation every angler possesses. In my dreams I imagined years of fishing experience, the lack of pressure and voracious, mean and hungry fish meant there was a good chance of getting regular hook-ups and landing my fair share of fish.
Boy was I wrong.
Experience, lack of pressure and targeting an apex predator do equate to unbeatable fishing, but there is nothing easy about it. If a steelhead is a fish of a thousand casts, the taimen is the fish of a thousand casts with flies as long and heavy as my forearm. Beyond their primary diet of abundant lenok trout and grayling, taimen are known to eat large rodents, ducks and whatever else may be protein rich and unlucky enough to float by. With such large prey, they don’t eat often, but do so with ferocity and purpose. Eleven hours a day of arm searing, hand clenching and seemingly unproductive casting is easy when a hungry taimen is imagined.
More importantly and far beyond the act of fishing, the taimen is a species to be reckoned with. It is a species worthy of garnering earned respect and wonder. With seeming impossibility, rivers such as the Delger Moron support a fish of epic proportions. For comparison, imagine fishing a river like the Big Hole, the Upper Gunnison, the McKenzie or South Fork of the Boise with the chance to hook a 35, 45 or 55-inch trout. Taimen live in landlocked rivers, meaning they do not migrate to the sea, as a result, they prowl relatively short stretches of river during their impressive 20 to 30 year life span. Much of the river is frozen solid in winter, forcing them to hunker into the handful of deep holes for months at a time. The rivers themselves are pristine mountain outlets with little or no human alteration, at least for now. Certain organisms on earth earn respect simply by their existence, and the taimen is one of them. The bottom line, within a short period of time I came to realize the unbelievably fragile nature of both the fish and fishery I was now exploring.
I’ve never felt guilt about fishing but I quickly began to ponder whether or not fishing, at least for a species like taimen, is a selfish endeavor with consequence. Other than a hatchery steelhead headed to my grill, for most of my fishing life I’ve done everything I can to make sure the fish is returned to the river healthy and in good shape. With the taimen I began to wonder if fishing for them was a good idea. Furthermore, hooking, fighting, landing and “documenting” the catch seemed an added pressure the taimen may not need. I was caught between the magnificence of fishing for these beasts and simply respecting their existence without casting a line.
I was not alone in my dilemma. My trip was organized and arranged by the outfitter Fish Mongolia, and they clearly understand the paradox of fishing for a species that is both unique and potentially threatened.
Their efforts to preserve the fish are profound and clearly not motivated by business alone. First off, I was astounded by the almost fanatical reverence and respect for the fish by both the Mongolian and western guides. In conversation and action, it was clear protecting the fish was part of their psyche. Every fly, no matter the size, was limited to a single barb-free hook. Each guide carried a ridiculously monstrous rubber net the entire time we hiked, fished, floated or otherwise had the chance of catching a fish. The minute a fish was hooked the guides sprinted (not hyperbole) to the river and immediately began the process of netting the fish. There was no standing by to watch the fish run or wear it out. If the fish could safely be netted, it was. The guides often doused their waders and ended up soaked to their toes with no second thoughts just to get the fish in the net. The largest fish I caught was hooked, fought, landed and released in about 5 minutes. Before anything else happened, the fish was measured and documented for data purposes. All the data is collected and collated to keep tabs on the numbers, size, distribution and particulars of each fish landed on the Delger Moron. Rarely, if ever, did the fish leave the water. In the end and only if the fish was clearly doing well was there an opportunity for a photo, but a photo was not a given. The guides, who I commend, were not obligated to allow for grip and grins. In one case, a fish I caught was netted, revived and released with little more than a glance because it appeared fatigued. Even with the opportunity for a photo, the angler is asked to keep the fish submerged and release needed to be done in short order. By the time it was all done, the experience was often a blur, as it should be.
I came to realize fishing for, promoting and reverence for this fish is the only real way to make sure the habitat, watershed and fish are protected. After discussion with the other anglers and guides, there was consensus about how little it would take to quickly diminish or completely eliminate the species from the last few remaining watersheds they are found. It seems one of the only ways it is not going to become a declining species is getting the recognition it deserves. As is stated by the Fish Mongolia website:
In an era when biologists struggle to assign financial value to endangered species—and nature’s blessings have been re-branded as ecosystem services—people who like to catch fish with bits of foam and feather represent a rare demographic.
Nobody has to convince this group that native fish, clean water, and pristine landscapes are precious commodities. In fact, some might rather fore-go the word commodity altogether, given its association with prices and markets, to argue instead that the world’s finest fly fishing destinations are holy places, shrines, temples in which humans have both rights and duties. The right to worship. And the duty to protect.”
In Mongolia, the taimen is revered but certainly fragile. As a result, there is a concentrated and remarkable conservation effort developing. As of right now the Delger Moron is designated as a “sanctuary” river and is both regulated and supported by the Mongolian government. The government should be commended for being so proactive in designating wilderness status for a river that could be developed for resource extraction. Additionally, the awareness brought by people who fish, practices like “keep ‘em wet”, the efforts of companies like Fish Mongolia and intrepid anglers willing and able to key in on a species using these methods, there is a tangible motivation for both fishing, reverence and preservation. The “Keep ‘em Wet” mentality and practice is actually accounting for the preservation and continuation of a species, and that is a good thing.
Continued from part 1 via the Instagram account of Keepemwet Fishing Science Ambassador John R McMillan. @rainforest_steel
Here we have a very simple statistical model that evaluates the relationship between variation in annual run size and the total number of life histories in each species. Of note, I changed the juvenile life histories from one to two to include yearling coho smolts, which I assume exist to some degree in the Skagit, based on a suggestion by @fisherfreak. Thanks! Someone else raised that same point to me about a year ago, in which case the total number of life histories for #cohosalmon increases from 3 to 6. I needed to standardize the variation in annual run sizes so I calculated the Coefficient of Variation (CoV) for each species annual run sizes over the period of record, which is represented by the 1-100% scale on the bottom (x-axis). The CoV tells us how much run sizes disperse from the mean run size. The higher the percentage, the more variation in run size there is from year-to-year (think pinks). The lower the percentage, the less the variation. On the vertical (y-axis) scale is the total number of life histories for each species. I used a simple regression model that allows for non-linear relationships (which just means the association does not have to be straight, or linear, and can curve). The solid black line represents the best fit of the model, and it was a very strong fit, with total number of life histories explaining 85% of the variation in run size. All this means is: Life history diversity among salmonids (in this data set at least) in the Skagit is strongly linked to how much run sizes vary from year-to-year. The theme is pretty consistent with steelhead, diversity matters, a lot. It is their evolutionary calling card, just like home runs were for Barry Bonds, steals were for Ricky Henderson, and 100 mph fastballs were for Nolan Ryan.
Wrapping up the first part of the discussion here on steelhead life histories. As mentioned previously, they display the most life histories of any salmonid. Up to 32-38, and that does not even include repeat spawners. As smolts, most steelhead spend 1-4 years in freshwater before migrating to the ocean. However, they have found fish as old as 7 migrating to the ocean! It suggests that some fish are maturing as rainbow and then going out to the ocean to become a steelhead. Shape shifters. And once they get to the ocean, some fish spend only a month or two, while others may spend up to five consecutive years. The result of this diversity is an incredible array of ages at maturity. Some steelhead will mature by age-2, others not until age-9. Consequently, we have mature steelhead ranging from little ones as small as 2lbs to huge fish that tip the scales beyond 40lbs. Given all this diversity it is not surprising that biologists and anglers were long confused about what a steelhead actually was, and the delineation of species was further muddied by the inclusion of resident rainbows (which I have not yet touched on). Steelhead have so many choices in life history they are basically like a Baskin Robbins or a Costco. Options, options, options. Or, think of them like a leatherman tool, while species like pink are a phillips head screwdriver – not many options with the last, and if the environment in a given year requires a flat head screwdriver, the pinky phillips won’t do as well. Steelhead populations on the other hand will not fare as badly, while their phillips head won’t work well, they can simply pop open the leatherman and choose the right tool. This is what helps them occupy the greatest geographic distribution of any Pacific Salmon, all the way from Russia across the Pacific Rim down the Baja California. No other species of salmon comes even close to matching this. They are not leathermen.
Decided I can’t just walk away with figures and tables. I will continue the presentation tomorrow, until then, here is a small summer run steelhead. Nothing is more rewarding than spending all day snorkeling to finally capture an underwater photo of the most difficult species to shoot. I love these fish!
From the Instagram account of Keepemwet Fishing Science Ambassador John R McMillan. @rainforest_steel
Let’s begin! Steelhead are a species of #PacificSalmon, which includes sockeye, coho, chum, pink, chinook, steelhead and cutthroat trout – in addition to cherry/masu salmon. They all descended from a common ancestor millions of years ago. Despite the shared genetic heritage, each species has evolved a unique set of characteristics, such as optimal range of temperatures, metabolisms, age at smolting, time spent in ocean, size at maturity, and whether or not they go to the ocean. These attributes differentiate the species, in addition to a variety of other features. The challenge with steelhead is that they are often managed in the same way we manage salmon such as coho, sockeye and kings. In those management schemes we tend focus almost solely on abundance, aka: How many fish do we get back each year? Though an important metric, for a species like steelhead their abundance does not exist within a vacuum, it is partly – and sometimes strongly so – a function of their diversity. The question is then: What is the big difference between steelhead and salmon?
The Skagit River in Washington state provides a good starting point for comparing salmon and steelhead because it has so many species of salmon. I start with #pinksalmon. Here we have the total annual run size of pinks, the number of fish for pinks is on the axis on the right. Below we have #chumsalmon, and their abundance is depicted on the axis to the left. I separated pinks from other species because they are incredibly abundant and make it almost impossible to see the variation in lesser abundant fish. In any case, wow, that is a tremendous amount of variation from year to year in both species. In some years you have over 1.5 millions pinks, in other years you have less than 100k. Similar variability with chum. In some years over 500k return to the Skagit, in other years it is less than 20K. The point is we see a lot of variation among years in terms of run size for these two species. This is probably not a surprise to most anglers. Chum and pink – and sometimes sockeye – have evolved to rely heavily on their abundance as a means of sustaining themselves. Next post I focus on the other species of salmon, and then finally, steelhead, before we get into looking at the diversity within the diversity.
Day 2 of the presentation. Here we have all the other species of salmon and steelhead for the Skagit. The abundance of #cohosalmon, #kingsalmon, and #wildsteelhead is found on the left axis. We can see there is more variation in coho annual run sizes than there is for kings and more variation for kings than there is for steelhead. For instance, coho run sizes have exceeded 400k fish in one year, but are lower than 10K in others. For kings we run sizes from about 7k up to 25k, rarely more, while steelhead are basically going from 3k up to 12k. Essentially, steelhead display the least amount of variation year-to-year in terms of population size. The big question is: Can we attribute any of this variability among species to some aspect of their biology? That is what I will cover in the next slide.
time to look for potential explanations. Life history diversity is one feature that could help explain such variability. For example, in recent years scientists have coined the term “Portfolio Concept,” which basically means that different life histories survive at different rates at different times and places. Such diversity can potentially help dampen annual variability in run sizes by spreading risk across time and space. To determine if that is one cause, we first must identify how many life histories each species displays. Here is a table that describes the number of life histories found in each species. First, I have freshwater life histories: the number smolt age classes in each species. Steelhead have four because smolt ages range from 1-4 years old – though one-year olds are rare in the Skagit. Kings have two, yearlings and sub-yearlings. There is only a single strategy for all other species, sub-yearlings for chum and pink, and yearlings for coho. Next I considered ocean ages, which ranges from 1-4 years for steelhead. For kings we have 2,3, and 4-salt fish, though historically there were also 5-salt. Chum and coho also generally have about 3 age classes for adults, though they tend to be younger than kings. In contrast, all pinks do the same thing – go figure! They are putting all their eggs into one basket each year. Last we have run timing. There are two for steelhead, summers and winters. Same for kings, summer/spring and fall, while there is only one run timing for coho and chum. I gave pinks two run timing because while most are odd year fish, there are a few even year. I was being generous. I think multiplied freshwater life histories by ocean life histories, and then that number by run timing. The result is a total number of potential life histories for each species, excluding repeat spawners for steelhead. And what we see is that #wildsteelheadhave many many more life histories than the other species. Back to my original question: Can this diversity help explain the variation in annual run sizes? I dive into that tomorrow, until then, may the diversity be with you.
Keepemwet Fishing is an honored recipient of support from the American Fly Fishing Trade Association Fisheries Fund. Thank you AFFTA!
Here’s a bit about the missions we’re supporting:
• St. Bernard Parish Government (SBPG) and Nicholls State University (NSU) forged an informal partnership last year to initiate a Black Mangrove Planting Program in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana.
The program is focused on increasing black mangrove (Avicennia germinans) habitat along the eastern outlying islands of the Biloxi Marsh Complex in St. Bernard Parish for the purpose of: (1) restoring/creating essential fish habitat; (2) increasing the overall health and resilience of the coastal ecosystem, including providing habitat for a number of threatened and endangered birds and (3) reducing risk to life and property.
• The mission of Keepemwet Fishing is to minimize the impact of catch & release (C&R) angling on fisheries by uniting conscientious anglers, organizations and companies to promote science based practices for handling fish that are released. The age of social media has made photographing nearly every fish standard practice, resulting in extended handling times and elevating impacts to C&R (catch & release) fisheries.
“Keepemwet C&R 2017” is an outreach program aspiring to educate angling communities with science based facts, empower individual anglers to make positive change, and unite a culture of conservation.
Shannon Bower is a fisheries researcher and PhD candidate in the Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology Laboratory (Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario) and a passionate advocate for freshwater conservation. This advocacy was born out of decades spent discovering, experiencing, and enjoying wild spaces. As a researcher, Shannon studies the growth of recreational fisheries in developing and emerging economies, an undervalued and understudied sector with enormous potential for both benefit and impact. In this research, she uses a social-ecological systems approach to understand the biological, social, and economic dynamics of catch-and-release fisheries using a variety of methods to provide fisheries stakeholders with the information they need to manage these target populations sustainably.
Shannon believes there is a pressing need for study of recreational fishing that adopts transdisciplinary and participatory research approaches to address key issues in the sector. Issues such as conflicts situations, concerns regarding fishing rights and subsistence harvest needs, cultural norms related to catch and release practices, and data deficiencies surrounding species-specific responses to typical recreational fishing activities need to be addressed to support sustainable management of fish populations and benefit fishing communities.
I've been fishing since I was little. My grandfather was a reporter who had a column called Rod and Gun in the local paper during the 50's, where he advocated for catch and release of trophy fish. He taught my dad to fish and my dad taught me. I love learned new tricks and techniques from people and learn something new from everyone I fish with. I love all kinds of fishing, but small rivers and streams are my ultimate favourite.
I took up fly fishing about four years ago, but am still pretty terrible at it. Rumour has it sucking at something is the first step to being great at it, so I expect to magically turn pro any day now.
I'm in love with my study species and the rivers of India. Mahseer (of any species) are really cool fish, and it's been amazing to have the chance to get to learn about them and work with all of the fantastic people involved with recreational fishing in India. This is a fish that should be on everyone's bucket list, and India is an incredible country to visit. I'm super excited to be the Director of Recreational Angling for the Mahseer Trust, a UK-based charity working towards mahseer and river conservation in mahseer countries across Asia.
Rec Fish Reels is just an FB page I use to talk about recreational fisheries research (and associated topics). Most of the people who follow it are from South Asia, so I try to post content that's relevant to that area and I'm excited to introduce #keepemwet over there.
Photo- Raja PK, metaphoronline.in
Aaron is the Director of Science and Conservation for Bonefish & Tarpon Trust and a Senior Scientist at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute of Florida Atlantic University. He received a bachelor’s degree from St. Mary’s College in Maryland, a Master’s degree from the College of William and Mary, and a Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts Boston, and also holds a Coast Guard Captain’s License. He has lived, worked, and fished on both coasts of the US, as well as throughout the Caribbean, where he has been conducting fish research for more than 25 years. His pursuit of effective fisheries and habitat conservation are rooted in his years growing up near Chesapeake Bay, where he witnessed the decline of the Bay’s habitats and fisheries.
His scientific focus has been on conducting applied research with conservation implications (from coral reef to recreational species), with a particular interest in fish habitat ecology. As Director of Science and Conservation, Aaron is responsible for formulating and implementing BTT’s science and conservation plan.
In addition to his duties at BTT, Aaron is also an avid angler, and spends considerable effort translating fish science into fishermen’s terms – including authoring three books and contributing to numerous other books.
River Watchers Description
Riverwatchers week started in 2015 with the purpose of fostering an appreciation and understanding of healthy rivers for our community by encouraging an ethic of stewardship that incorporates the conservation of fish and healthy rivers. Through hands on activities and science, including fly-fishing, art, fly-tying, exploring Backoven Creek, dissecting fish, and floating the Deschutes River. Students will increase their knowledge of river ecosystems and gain a deeper ownership for fish and wildlife, and the watershed in their area. In partnership with the Maupin Summer SLAM program, Mia Sheppard, a local fly-fishing guide and outfitter will lead the group through daily activities and coordinate community volunteers to give kids a quality learning environment and experience.
Why Summer SLAM and River Week
Maupin is part of the South Wasco School District and Maupin Grade School that overlooks the Deschutes River. The Deschutes River is a Mecca for recreation including, hunting, fishing and boating. In 2014, the median household income of Maupin residents was $37,917 and 13.2 percent of resident live in poverty. One significant issue Maupin school faces, is that they predominantly serve students from low-income families. Because many families do not reinforce educational learning in the summer months, the students lose reading and math skills over the long summer vacation and families don’t have the financial means to enjoy recreational activities close to home.
When Mia and Marty moved to Maupin in 2015, they enrolled their daughter Tegan in school. They immediately discover that a number of Tegan’s class mates had never played, swam, or floated the Deschutes River, in their backyard. They then started to discover locals have a tremendous fear of the river and the fear has been passed down from generation to generation. The perception is; the river is too dangerous and kids are told “they can’t play by the river.” This was heartbreaking to hear and discover that most Tegan’s class mates feared the Deschutes River and didn’t know about the fish, or the watershed that brings economic value to the community and makes Maupin, the gateway to the Deschutes River.
Highlights of 2016
2016 marks the second “River Week” at the Summer Slam Program. This year’s program was a huge success. With 27 eager students, this was more than double from 2015, for many of the kids; this was the only week of the 8 weeks of camp, they attended. On day one, we gathered at Maupin City Park on Bakeoven Creek, a spawning tributary for steelhead and identified Conservation Opportunity Area. Volunteers were; ODFW biologist and local parent, Jeremy Calvert, local resident Dale Madden, and fly shop owner, Joel Lafollette. Kids collected and identified macro invertebrates in Bakeoven Creek and talked about the importance and link to fish and water quality. They also dissected trout and learned about the life cycle and learned about the importance of clean water and how the earth naturally filters our water. At the end, we picked up trash along Bakeoven and talked about the principles of “Leave No Trace.” This day was packed with information and exploration, and the students gained a greater understanding of the watershed in their backyard.
The second day, students learned to tie flies with community volunteers, Marty Sheppard, Chase, and Joe Ringo. The students were extremely proud of their creative buggers, and each got to take home their fly. They also learned to cast a fly-rod and practiced accuracy and painted river art.
The third day we went to Sandy Beach, a local beach about 6 miles downriver from Maupin. For about 10 kids, it was their first visit to the Deschutes River and some kids didn’t know how to swim and still got in the water with their life jacket.
The kids enjoyed swimming and playing at the beach and took turns learning to fish at the boat ramp down river from the swimming hole. There were 5 volunteers – Joe Ringo, Marty Sheppard, Chase Jackson, Phil Black, and Nenette Cole helping kids fly fish, and appreciate the concept of “not catching fish.”
The fourth day we rafted from Maupin City Park to Blue Hole with local companies, All Star Rafting and Little Creek Outfitters. This day 18 kids joined us, the numbers were lower than the rest of the week because kids during the week expressed fear of rafting and water and didn’t know how to swim (this is the barrier that we are working to break through. ) One student, Justin, who attended the camp last year and was terrified and would not float last year, this time, joined us, and even jumped out of the boat and floated down the river. At the end he said, “I want to do this next year!” Before launching, Silas of All Star Rafting gave a safety talk and talked about boat safety. Some students took turns rowing. Many of the students had not been actually on the water, and were thrilled to have their first rafting experience. It was a wonderful conclusion, to an incredible week.
"Although catch & release fishing is a valuable conservation tool that can lead to more and bigger fish in the fishery, just because a fish swims away doesn't mean that it lives to be caught another day. The tips below for increasing the chances that a released fish survives are based on scientific research focused on experimental angling for bonefish. Be a responsible angler - use Best Practices for Bonefish Catch & Release." Click here to view the full article.
Being on rivers is not always about the fish, nor the river. Just like a meal is not always about the main course, sometimes its about the salad or the desert. In this case, it was about an #americandipper, or the #waterouzel as I prefer to call them. It seems a day on the river never passes without seeing one of these little critters. They live what appears to be a very consistent life. Incessantly bobbing in a way that implies each movement is absolutely fundamental to its existence; flitting from boulder to boulder; excitedly chasing one another and splashing down into the shallows to search for insects and fish. This little fellow found himself quite the gem, a fresh #cohosalmon egg, which he relishes for the briefest of moments before it is swallowed. While it is not uncommon to see, this little bird was likely experiencing his/her first salmon egg -- ever. This photo was taken in 2011, the first year we relocated adult coho salmon into tributaries above the former #Elwhadam. Perhaps it was lucky enough to find a small trout egg in previous years, but certainly this was its first taste of true ocean-running goodness. That is why I could not help but think it was relishing the moment, maybe even showing it off to me -- before gulping it down. Like Gollum with the ring. My precious. Fortunately for this bird, there were lots of other "rings" in the river, but not hoards of orcs chasing it. And such is the new life for these birds as the salmon have started to recolonize their old haunts. Formerly cold and relatively sterile streams that supported one to three dippers now support two to four times as many, seasonally at least when the salmon are running. Their offspring carry the isotopes of those marine derived nutrients. A signature of dam removal, a bit of ocean in a bird that will never see the ocean. #science #biology #ecology #rivers#damremoval #pnwonderland#explorewashingtonstate #fish #salmon#steelhead #trout #nutrients#salmonrecovery #pnw #fishing #flyfishing#birds
What do dinosaurs and king salmon have in common? More than you might think. 66 million years ago an asteroid hit the Gulf of Mexico. The subsequent climatic changes eliminated all of the large-bodied dinosaurs. Today, the only remaining direct descendants are birds, though more distant relatives like snakes, lizards, and crocs are present. Regardless, bird or reptile, notice anything? They are all much smaller than the dinosaurs. During childhood I was awestruck by the concept of dinosaurs, but thanks to a damn meteor I never got to see one. Instead, I made do with illustrations and plastic toys. So, what does this have to do with kings? Parallels. The gal in the photo is around 40lbs, large for this day and age. But she’s small fry compared to the 70-100lb fish that once roamed the ocean. Why are those big specimens, the dinosaurs of the salmon-world, now so rare? Because in order to get huge, a fish has to live a long time – six to seven years. To do that a king must make 4-6 laps around the Alaskan Gyre without being caught by a troller or gill net. It is simply too difficult for many fish to make that many laps without being killed. As a result, maximum age and size has decreased. For example, in the Pacific North West 5-year olds are as common now as 7-year olds were in the 40s and 50s. The decrease in age helps explain why our fish are now so small, and has likely reduced their fitness. From an evolutionary standpoint, large size is the king’s calling card, just like abundance is for pinks and diversity is for steelhead. Larger kings carry more eggs, can dig deeper redds to avoid scour, and have more fat to help them make long freshwater migrations. Kings need to be large to be productive, without question. The saddest part is that some kid in 100 years may be fishing for 15” kings, thinking they are large. He will only have photographs and videos to remind him of what once was, just as I had to live vicariously through a toy T-rex. We are the meteor. The kings are the dinosaurs. Something has to change.
From tagging Giant Trevally on the scorching salt flats of Christmas Island to taking blood samples from Golden Dorado in the dense jungle of Argentina, Dr. Andy Danylchuk is on a personal crusade to understand and conserve fish across the planet. Equal parts scientist and fish bum, Andy is driven by an unrelenting desire to mitigate society’s impact on fish and their essential habitat.
As a professor of fish conservation at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Andy focuses his research on the development and implementation of best practices for handling and releasing fish. A strong advocate for experiential education, Andy uses video media as a mechanism for sharing information and empowering stakeholders to make better decisions when it comes to fish and what he likes to call 'responsible angling'.
With one foot firmly planted in the research world and the other in wading boots, Andy works to bridge the information gap between the fishing industry, conservation organizations, the scientific community, and anglers. This focus has enabled Andy to take on roles such as Patagonia Ambassador, research fellow for Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, board member for the Indifly Foundation, and Science and Policy Committee co-chair for the American Fly Fishing Trade Association.
“I first met Steve in the Bahamas when he came down to visit the field lab where I worked. After a week on the flats and countless Kaliks, a group of us hashed out a plan for a multi-year project on bonefish. Steve quickly became a mentor and friend, and we have since spent many hours talking about fish, going fishing, doing science on fish, and taking our kids fishing. Steve not only has an amazing grasp on the science, but also the ability to apply his work – to get it out of the ivory tower and into the rivers, lakes, and oceans where it can do good.
Today, Steve is one of the world’s foremost experts on the science of recreational fisheries. His lab at Carleton University contains a 40’x20’ room called ‘the fishing cage’ which is full of fishing and research gear, including a baitcaster that no one but Steve is allowed to touch. It is an honor to have Steve as the first official Keepemwet Science Ambassador.”
-Sascha Clark Danylchuk
Keepemwet Science Liaison
Dr. Steven Cooke is the Canada Research Chair in Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. He is an integrative biologist, conducting fundamental and applied research on the ecology, physiology, and behavior of wild fish. Much of this work is focused on developing strategies to ensure the sustainability of recreational fisheries. His research covers freshwater and marine systems and spans the globe with active collaborations in over 15 countries. To date, Cooke has over 500 peer reviewed publications on topics such as environmental policy, human dimensions of fisheries, stress biology and natural resources management, among others. He co-authored the UN FAO technical guidelines for sustainable recreational fisheries. Cooke holds leadership positions such as Chair of the Sea Lamprey Research Board of the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission and Chair of the Science Advisory Committee of the Ocean Tracking Network. He is Past President of the Canadian Aquatic Resources Section of the American Fisheries Society and President Elect of the International Section of the American Fisheries Society. He is a Subject Editor for the Journal of Animal Biotelemetry, FACETS, Fisheries Research, Environmental Biology of Fishes, and Endangered Species Research, and is Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford University Press journal “Conservation Physiology”. Cooke has received a number of awards including the Award of Excellence in Fisheries Management from the American Fisheries Society, the Medal from the Fisheries Society of the British Isles, an Early Research Award from the Ontario Government and the NSERC E.W.R. Steacie Fellowship. Cooke was recently selected to be a member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists. Cooke is an avid angler who enjoys spending his money on fishing gear and his time chasing fish with his kiddos.
By April Vokey
Originally published in Fly Fusion Magazine Fall 2012
It’s another one of those nights; quiet, cold, late and lifeless. Angry rain releases its fury onto the tin roof of my small guide cabin and wind-strewn branches scrape the thin glass window that looks out towards the vast, dense forest bordering the Dean River.
To my left, Colby snores heavily into his blanket, his whisker-clad nose and thick-furred shoulders twitching furiously as he sleeps through the storm. I smile at him; yes, it seems these nights have the same effect on us all.
The welcome flicker of a dancing flame livens up even the most ordinary of glass jars and the yellow glow illuminates the paper rested on my lap, allowing my eager pen access to the crisp white paper. I gaze at the two; so unremarkable yet so capable. The irony doesn’t escape me, and I am reminded again of why at an early age I was drawn to the comfort of such tools. As pen and paper merge, a literary intimacy begins and a message is born.
In the past I have been confined by the simplicity and politics of strict editors and conservative publications. “April, perhaps a light-hearted piece is in order? Maybe one on gear, or presentation, or even seasons…? Perhaps you can let the pot settle for a little bit before stirring it again?”
The plea is fair, for many an angler thrives on such articles, so I succumb to the unpleasant thought of stifled opinion, lingering on the edges of boredom while differentiating between dead-drifted glo-bugs and current-swung streamers.
In truth, there are only so many ways that this twenty-nine year old mind can phrase what has already been so rigorously explored and defined by men nearly three times my age.
Respectfully, I try to leave the technique-jargoned “how-to’s” for the mechanically inclined professionals — those who thrive off the vagaries of weather data, hydrometric charts and the latest and greatest in gear technology.
While relatively versed in those things, I prefer the quiet satisfaction of reader’ contemplation and the occasional bout of reflection.
I have been well behaved in my last two columns and would like to redeem my “get out of jail free” card before commencing with my next dice roll in the columnist’s game of editorial monopoly.
Defining the Grip & Grin…
The eeriness of the night has always been a cruel friend of mine. It does to me what it does to Colby, and my brain ticks and twitches with overwhelming ideas, thoughts and dreams.
I frantically jot down my impulsive flashes and try to guide the ink across the page in the blindness of the black room. It was a night much like this nearly one year ago that was the impetus for this article. I had been lying in bed below the same tin roof, sore and satisfyingly fatigued from a long excursion upriver with fellow guide, Steve Morrow. It was the end of our season and the two of us had trekked into a long flow of water in the upper stretches of the fabled Dean River in pursuit of adventure. Steve and I had spent the last sixty consecutive days guiding other anglers and assisting them with the stalking, hooking, landing and releasing of hot steelhead that were making their migratory journey to the Dean’s tributaries.
Through wind, rain, heat and horseflies, the two of us had landed more fish than we could count and the mantra of the grip; cradle; lift; smile; click; “give her a drink;” release, made our personal fishing days all the more relaxed when it came time to land our own fish.
As an unspoken rule, if we were within talking distance we would assist each other with a speedy release, but the camera played shy, emerging only for the occasional fish thats girth extended our splayed fingers more than usual.
That night, as I lay listening to the soothing pattering of rain, I replayed the day’s events and closed my eyes to envision the metallic green and gold flecks that shone brightly around the fire in one of the wild hens’ eyes.
To do her justice there was simply no need for a camera. I saw her clear and vivid on the inner dark screen of my rested eyelids; she had made an impression on my mind and her beauty had set itself in the depths of my memory where I could visit whenever I so inclined.
I’m no stranger to participation in the classic “grip-and-grin” photo; I had the pose down to a science. Four of my fingers lightly cradle her slick, white belly while the other hand closes a firm grip around her sturdy, spotted tail. Together my hands lift on cue, allowing the light to accentuate her bright silver scales, the water droplets rolling and teetering on her soft edges before plunging back down into the river around my knees.
The fish, safe in my grasp, awaits the greedy click of the shutter, and I turn my face to the camera with a trophy smile, entranced by my jewel.
The paradox here may not be obvious at first. To be honest, I had always softly lingered on the minor contradiction that posed-photography raises. You see, for some, in that chaotic instance of camera-bag digging, electronic fumbling and verbal communication between photographer and subject, it is inevitable that a moment of pure intimacy between the angler and his prize is lost.
In a circumstance where 30 seconds is the appropriate amount of time to be shared between the “gripped” and the “grinned”, 28 of those seconds are often spent concentrating on the camera’s black dials and glass lenses, rather than on the fish.
It’s an ironic trade off; an unconscious sacrificial exchange between the moment of mental imagery and the moment of distracted, hectic poses. Both result in a stored image; one in remembrance and one in pixels.
While I most certainly will not speak for others, I eventually found myself dreading the sloshing footsteps of an encroaching photographer.
In the 30-second allotment that I had to spend with my surrendered beauty, even the smallest of distractions became an annoyance to me, and I longed to be left alone to indulge in the uninterrupted silence where my eyes could etch a permanent picture in my mind.
It might be wise for me to clarify myself further. Occasionally I wholeheartedly delight in having a remarkable steelhead documented for my photo collection. There are some photographs I desire for future reflection and gratification; an early season buck with extra-hefty shoulders, the flawless and perfectly slender doe, the dainty downturned eye above small, sharp teeth.
In such instances, whether captured by the shaky lens in my phone or by the calm fingers of a courteously hushed photographer, I’m granted my quiet moment, free of direction, poses or displaced attention. The result is ideal: mental imagery paired with captured digital images, both of which are romantic, relaxed, natural, and true.
Some of the resulting photographs focus on the most unique characteristics of the moment: the glint in an angler’s eye, the small grin of satisfaction, the blushed cheeks of both exhausted fisher and fish, the caring lift of a surrendered steelhead over a protruding rock, the splashing water from a flailing tail, each a natural marvel caught in time.
The grip-and-grin argument is not a new topic in the world of angling. In states such as Washington it is illegal to fully lift a wild steelhead out of the water before releasing it. I’m sure there are some who object to such limitations, but the argument that a fish is safer in the water weighed heavier on the conservation scale, and the law was implemented. While the science of such impacts is still controversial, it is an undeniable that if given one of two circumstances (in or out of the water), it is the circumstance of leaving the fish in the water that causes the least risk to its health.
By minimizing damage to the fish’s vital organs due to inexperienced, unpracticed handling of fish, the state of Washington justified their legislation in the eyes of many avid steelhead anglers and activists.
Whether or not I can support this regulation with scientific evidence is a moot point, but from a purely photographic perspective I find this prohibition of grip and grins quite refreshing, as some of my favourite streamside photographs are the subtle and organic shots of half submerged lateral lines, upstream-turned snouts and healthy flared gills steadied as a conscientious angler prepares a steelhead for release.
It was one year ago under that tin roof in the middle of the forest that I questioned my integrity and my reasons for striving for that perfectly-posed photo.
I asked myself with all honesty, was it really for my memory? If it was, surely there are better ways to remember a fish than with extended arms and a static smile. Was it for a new Facebook profile? For Internet marketing? For the cover of the next magazine? Why was I wasting my time in a state of vanity with this perfect steelhead?
While my guilt danced alongside the flickering candle, I made a decision that I am determined to keep. I’m blessed to have caught plenty of steelhead over the past decade, possess enough grip-and-grin photos, and certainly had more than enough desktop backgrounds to keep me enthusiastic during the slow seasons. So in the dim light of that cabin I made the choice that I was no longer going to personally contribute to the plethora of posed steelhead photos in this sport where industry standards have established the glorious grip-and-grin as the ultimate in fishing memorabilia.
Of course, my clients and friends are free to do as they wish. Many wait all year to bring home that trip-of-a-lifetime photo of them with an ear to ear smile, and rightfully so. My mission is not to judge others who don’t agree with my reasoning, but rather to judge myself and put forth a personal commitment to something I believe in.
Earlier this spring I took the plunge and made an announcement on the Internet of my promise to alter my ways. The response was unlike any that I could have predicted.
A large majority of responders were supportive, a few were confused, and while I pointed no fingers at anyone other than myself, some were downright offended.
There were more than a few people who assumed that giving up steelhead “hero shots” meant that I had given up steelhead fishing itself. This made me chuckle as the confusion simply fuelled the fire of my point. Is that truly what the ultimate goal has become to some anglers? A photograph? If I can’t showcase a photo, is it implied that I will no longer be fishing?
There were some who were genuinely concerned and even a few who kindly reached out to me to ensure that I was well and that I hadn’t been hurt by someone prior to my post.
The conclusion that sums up this contentious viewpoint is a simple “to each his own” shoulder shrug and a short reflection of one’s personal beliefs. For me, I now prefer to keep the majority of my steelhead images stored internally, yet still thrive off watching my friends glow behind the raised silver gleam of a strong and healthy fish.
I will continue to grip and grin my next few permit, tarpon, fifty-plus pound Chinook and twenty-five inch thickly spotted brown trout that I manage to land, and will do so proudly until I have caught enough of each that I can see them in the same light I see my beloved steelhead in.
I will be true to my beliefs, a fan of my integrity and a foe of my insincerities, a woman who relishes the moment, and an angler who sees more than just a fish. Come the day that my experience on the water holds less clout than how impressive my Facebook profile is, I will put away my rods, stow my reels, whiten my smile and seek the “best in show” award from a hobby more fixated on the brilliance of my teeth.
I can assure you; it won’t be any time soon.
Wow, long time without a post! Probably because it has been the heart of winter #steelheadseason and I have been doing field and office work. Trying to fish, keep the wife happy and work is not always an easy balance. Sometimes I get to combine things, which is great. Last weekend I went fishing with @jdarrfishing down in Tillamook. Josiah and I don't necessarily see eye-to-eye on all aspects of steelhead management. But, we both love fish. We both grew up in the PNW, him in Scapoose and myself in Washougal. So basically we are a couple of dudes who love to fish for steelhead and want to keep fishing for these magnificent fish until the day we die. Josiah invited me to share his boat with his girlfriend, who is smart and a kick ass angler. I couldn't turn it down. Now, I almost solely swing a fly for steelhead at this point in my life, though I still sometimes enjoy fishing a spoon. But, I have tried nearly all methods at some point in my life. That day we basically bobber-dogged our way down the river. It was fun. I managed a wild hen, the fish in this photo, while Josiah and Lindsey kicked my butt by hauling in 5 hatchery steelhead. All in all, great weather and a great day on the river. What struck me the most is while we may never agree on all points about steelhead management, inside we are both a couple of 12 year olds who love fishing for steelhead. Like Josiah, I see value in hatcheries too. I enjoy killing fish to eat and took home two of the hatchery fish to share with the family. But I also see value in having our best wild populations of steelhead remain wild. Somewhere there is a balance to be found for wild and hatchery. We didn't get into that very much. Instead, we soaked up the sun and caught some steelhead. I learned a new trick or two from Josiah and got to experience the broodstock program in the Wilson. All in all, a great day and a good time being on the water. Ultimately, all of us need to reach across and talk to one another. We all want to keep fishing. The more we find common ground, the better off our fish and fisheries will be. Thanks Josiah!