Thanks to all my supporters

Dear Friends and Anglers,

I have officially shut down all aspects of my fly fishing business. This blog will remain up as an archive and for when I feel inspired to discuss fishing and fishing related issues. I want to thank everyone who has supported me through this adventure. My clients are incredible people that I really enjoyed spending time with over the years, dating all the way back to 1994 in Colorado. I hope to see many of you out on the river. Feel free to email or drop me a line anytime!

Jason Cross

For local guiding and lessons, please contact my good friend Ed Megill @ cascadesfly.com.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

CCA Discussion

I received a great dialog from a reader that I thought should be brought to the main blog and not left in comments. Thanks for reading.

Jason,

I just wanted to let you know that I'm enjoying your blogs, particularly your reports from the river. Like many others, I enjoyed an up and down year on the Nooksack. You've noted some of the more interesting aspects of the season up there although I'd be curious to hear you expand on a couple of topics:
1) The color/silt in the SF. It sounds like you'll be doing some investigating on this. That fork seemed all kinds of f'ed up this year.
2) Your take on the NF hatchery steelhead.

In regards to the second topic, I found it "interesting" that the river was restricted at one point due to a lack of fish at the hatchery. I thought the closure was premature strictly based on run timing. I'm not sure why they didn't try to wait another couple of weeks to really know if the fish weren't going to show up? You seemed to indicate that it turned out to be a good year for the hatchery fish. Does this just mean the fish were late?

On a related subject, if the hatchery fish are inferior (which I think is clear even if broodstock is used,) their only stated purpose is to be bonked by fishermen. If that is the case, why EVER close a hatchery run? If they DO have to limit fishing, isn't it incredibly difficult to justify the continued money thrown at the hatchery especially when the results are so varied and the run timing isn't what they think it is (I caught 2 hatchery fish in the lower river the last week of Feb)?

I suppose this leaded into the CCA topic. I have mixed feelings about them and will not be joining until they can better state their positions. I know that many say I should get involved now to help direct the group's priorities but I have a hard time believe they will EVER come out against hatcheries because it would upset too many of their existing members. Unfortunately, this is a major problem that has and will continue to divide sportsmen. In the mean time, I certainly wish the CCA well with their efforts to reform commercial practices. Maybe, at some point, that will be enough for me to join them.

Again, thanks for the effort with the blogs and with the positive work you've been doing to help the Nooksack.

-Aaron (said "hi" to you once out of a blue 2-man pontoon boat)

March 20, 2008 4:40 PM

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Blogger Jason Cross said...

Hi Aaron,

Thanks for your post and contribution to the topics. I will try to answer each item that you have brought up.

1) I called Skookum Hatchery today and had to leave a message. I called for two reasons. The first being that I am involved in the Liam Wood fly fishing course for high school age students this summer and I thought it would be interesting for the kids to get a Native biologist's or hatchery worker's perspective on the fisheries in the Nooksack and learn of their efforts towards fisheries conservation. Second, I am thinking that they must be concerned about the silt load being carried in that river, especially with their pointed efforts at restoring native chinook runs. This will be the third time I have left a message there in the last year. I hope for a call back.

A friend of mine, Josh, mentioned an interesting possibility. He heard that logging operations in that basin had built a new bridge over a tributary and that this may be causing the discoloration. This is a distinct possibility because the clarity didn't completely deteriorate until February. We did start seeing warmer temperatures which could have caused some clay bank cave-ins or a big mud slide. I definitely going to go check it out in April.

2) The closure on the North Fork was a complete cop out for the WDFW. It seemes to me that with their lack of proper funding for enforcement they couldn't close a shorter portion of the river. I talked to one field biologist that was complaining how people get right up close below the hatchery and snag or floss the steelhead out. I said, "why don't you close this small braid section that is mostly Kendall Creek?" He told me it was too hard to enforce and that if it is completely closed then nobody has a reason to be there.

I completely agree with you that hatchery fish are for the taking. In fact, I hope you harvested those two hatchery fish you caught in late February. However, I can see arguments for both sides. I will get to this later.

The bulk of the hatchery run seemed to come from just before Christmas through the first two weeks of January. Now, hatchery fish are known to just move upriver pretty fast and WDFW might have been tipped off as to there presence in the system. Some fish might sit below the hatchery for quite a while before going in so it is hard for us to know when they were actually in the North Fork from Mosquito Lake down. By looking at the numbers and the fish we hooked on my trips I would say the bulk of the fish were there for us to hook on the North Fork below Mosquito Lake Rd.from December 23-Jan 7. If you fished the lower river more, that was smart.

Here are the numbers. You may have them already.
Dec 12 3 fish returned
Dec 19 no report (oops, were they to busy getting the first of the fish?)
Dec 26 73 fish
Jan 2 102 fish
Jan 9 127 fish
Jan 16 151 fish
Jan 30 159 fish
Feb 6 159 fish
And that's it. They quit. What happens to those stragglers like you caught? Left to spawn with the native runs? Did you know that some of the biggest runs of wild steelhead were in the fall, November and December? We wiped them out!

159 fish isn't a lot. 2006-2007 saw an escapement of only 66 fish and 87,000 egg take. These numbers do not give me a good outlook on next years return numbers. The smolt release numbers for 2006-2007 are not available yet on line. I will have to call.This is what the WDFW said in the end of December when they had 70 fish, "We need 250,000 eggs, which translates into roughly 83 females .
Returns so far include only 31 females." Here is the contact if anyone wants to ask more questions.

Brett Barkdull
P.O.Box 1100
LaConner, Wa. 98257
(360) 466-4345 x 270
barkdbcb@dfw.wa.gov

They most likely got there quota. maybe I talked about this earlier in one of my blogs. Hatcheries had to reform slightly this season to show that they are viable. It took the WDFW until 2007 to realize that "best science" tells us that we need to need to have hatcheries be self-sustainable and that the Nooksack should no longer use eggs from the Hoquiam because these fish need to genetically adapt to conditions on there own river system. Duh! So, in order to continue getting state funding, which comes from the license purchases of sportsmen, the Kendall Creek Hatchery needed to show that it was a viable hatchery. End of story. maybe we will see an increase in hatchery numbers over the next ten years with this new plan. Is that good? If you like to eat steelhead it is.

hatchery vs. Wild. We have ourselves in a pickle now. I think I can try to answer a few of your questions at once here. I support the protection of wild fish. If WDFW could be convinced to do away with hatcheries on many rivers that would be great. We would not be able to fish, but I would be willing to make that sacrifice and go to BC along with everyone and their cousins. My question is where are the wild fish counts for our rivers. What do we have left to protect on what river system and how when are they all there. We can only theorize the effect hatchery fish have on wild stocks because we have no proof or do we? I believe there are some dead river systems. These should be put and take, such as the Cowlitz. I asked Matt Kayser, the Executive Director of CCAPNW, what CCA's position was on hatchery and wild fish. He said that if it were 20 years ago and we still had many strong stocks of wild fish throughout the Northwest, get rid of the hatcheries. But, we don't have those stocks on all rivers. CCA needs to take one battle at a time. If CCA comes out and against hatcheries, they are going to have lots of enemies right away. There are a lot of sportsmen that think fishing is solely for food and the fun comes with it. I am member of the Wild Steelhead Coalition and I like what they are doing. They have been here since 2000 and have less than 500 members. CCA already has 10,000 members in the Northwest. Strength to win fights in the political arena comes in numbers. CCA needs everyone and everyone, especially sportsmen, need CCA. Don't you think that if CCA wins the battle of changing non-selective commercial netting regulations (1st in the Columbia River basin, which sets a precedent) that this is aimed at protecting and preserving wild fish runs? First we get the fish back and then we fix the habitat. I don't think we will ever get rid of hatcheries completely, especially tribal hatcheries. The best we can hope for is hatchery reform and better methods of selectively harvesting the fish runs in the rivers. I would love to see the hatcheries disappear on the Nooksack, but it isn't happening anytime soon. I understand where you are coming from but I don't think we can sit back and wait. It would be kind of like saying i am not going to vote because the candidate doesn't have exactly the right platform I want. It is time for action and it all has to be done, one bite at a time. I will keep trying to convince people to help make change. Are there any other groups that have a track record like CCA in fisheries? Shrapnel and feater tossers unit, bonkers and conservationists unit. We get to decide what CCA fights for. Our chapter has a voice especially if it is big. We decide what CCA goes after. I know that CCA has habitat on their agenda. Think of all who that benefits and all the existing entities it will take to win that fight (logging, forestry, pollution, auto industry, state, federal, county and city, etc, etc.).

Aaron, thanks for the conversation. I enjoy hearing others perspectives and I see the huge battle we have ahead of us. I hope that an organization like CCA can join hands with other non-profits like the Native Fish Society, American Rivers, Wild Steelhead Coalition and more.

March 20, 2008 11:12 PM

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sauk it to me!


After spending most of the winter steelhead season on the Nooksack, it is a pleasure to lay my eyes on the beauty of the Sauk River. All morning long on my last two floats the male ruffed grouse drum quietly in the nearby forest. It is a low and progressively faster thudding noise that sounds like an old tractor starting up in the distance. Your ears aren't sure what or if they are hearing the sound at first. The other birds that remind me of spring on this river are the winter wrens. This tiny song bird belts out a melodious trill that warbles up and down echoing through the river bed. White Horse mountain pokes through the clouds and reveals its snow covered rocky crags. Sauk mountain lays low to the north covered in a down blanket of fluff.

What more can you ask for when your fishing? This is the reminder, the reason we fish for this elusive streak of silver. A tug would make my toes warm you say.....

..... on Wednesday Jason and his son Nick got seven tugs, six fish on and four dollies landed. Just dollies you say? That's awesome I say! I love dolly varden, they are so special and so beautiful. I can't believe they used to throw them up on the bank. Ever thought about hooking one of those 15-20lb. Skagit dollies? Would you turn up your nose at that? That would make my year, my fishing career maybe.

The Sauk was busy from the 530 bridge to the Government bridge. We lay back and targeted the "lesser" water letting other boats race ahead to grab the big runs. The water was so low and clear fish had to be hiding in the ripple water. That is what we fished, rocks and faster water that was 2-3 feet deep. No chrome, but they might have been there.

Nick, who is nine, did great. He rowed us down through the "rapids" as he called them with all the muscle he could find. His dad Jason took a fun video of this "guide in training". You can watch both videos here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQ2g3lDf3VE

Nick and Jason made the day a great one, thanks to both of you. I can't wait to get back to that river again. It is too bad everyone else is missing out. Oh....what fly were we using? It's a secret! Whoops...you can see it.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Gary Loomis' Talk and Matt Kayser Executive Director of CCAPNW

There is truly so much to discuss and I can't get to it all in one entry. I would like to encourage people to send me their comments. I can post them anonymously or not. Thanks to all of you that came and showed your support.

I was slightly disappointed in the turnout last night. The group of people that showed were a great mix. There are so many people that said they were coming and didn't. Too much nice weather, I suppose.

The next meeting will be even more important because we will build the foundation for our local chapter and decide what the issues are that we feel are most important. We were donated a spot by Semiahmoo Resort but that might be too far out to draw the crowd we need. The members in Burlington, Mt. Vernon, Oak Harbor and Anacortes may want to join us until we are large enough to split. My goal is to get Matt Kayser to return and lead us through our initial setup.

Keep posted here or drop me an email. April 17 is the date we have set for now.

The Bellingham area was built on commercial fisheries. How many of those families are still in it? How many of those fishermen, fish here? Probably very few. There were some people there last night showing concern for the economy, the jobs and the livelihoods at stake that our fisheries have supported for so long. I am a relative newcomer to Washington and cannot say that I know the whole picture yet. I spent 2 hours on the phone with a local who has commercially gill netted and seined the Copper River near Cordova, Alaska for 30 years. He was interested in CCA but had a completely different picture of the problems. Or at least he weighed the problems in a different order. He said "habitat". Not that he is wrong and we know it is a really big problem, but we have heard that one a lot. He said that because they are strictly regulated in area E (where he fishes) he claims they have had virtually no bi-catch in all his 30 years. In fact, he claims that the runs are getting better and better. As we heard last night, Alaska just had the largest harvest in history. Bill said it was the large pink run last year. My question is, even if the runs are getting better there, should we be harvesting more and driving the price of wild fish down to where we are selling the majority overseas at $1.95 a salmon? No. Let these fish thrive and use a simple theory of supply and demand. Alaska is really a different kettle of tea and CCA knows that.

We need to embrace and include the commercial fishermen, but they need to do the same for us. We have to have everybody working together to make changes. We can ask nicely for help a couple of times, but if there is no cooperation from the commercial side then it is going to be "no more mister nice guy!" We have to remove some of the variables in the salmon and steelhead cycle and see where the populations are failing in the Pacific Northwest. If 80% of the Puget Sound salmon runs are being harvested in the ocean, then we need to remove some of that variable and see what happens. 120,000 chinook incidentally caught be polluck trollers is certainly a significant bi-catch. It may not happen in area E or M but it is happening out there.

A question I received was "okay, the man is drowning in a pool, has a sprained ankle, and has prostate cancer. If we are supposed to save him from drowning and we feel that a large percent of our fish are being non-selectively harvested in Alaska, shouldn't CCA be aiming its targets at Alaska?" This is a valid question. I would really like to see the numbers for harvest up close. I will see if Gary can send me some of those graphs. Hypothetically, if CCAPNW says "Alaskan harvest is the only problem", everyone is going to laugh at us. Look at our habitat degradation and logging practices, look at our population along the coast (do you think we might have a little pollution killing some salmon fry?), look at our commercial netting practices, look at our hatchery science for the last 100 years, look at all the dams, look at our farming practices, look at how we take care of our lawns, and look at all the ghost nets in the Puget Sound and coastal waters, etc etc. We have to fix the leaks on our own plumbing before we can go out and put the wrench to someone else's pipes.

So, you ask, what is CCA doing. Their first order of business is to change the way fish are harvested to make it more selective. People have asked what CCA's position on hachery vs. wild fish is and I think this plainly shows it. The most selective form of harvest is done by sportsmen. Members of the wild steelhead coalition are sportsmen (I am a member). We take care of the wild fish we catch but we still catch them. If netting practices are made more selective and the wild fish can be set free unharmed, does this not show that CCA is pro wild fish? CCA is working first on the Columbia River basin because that is where the largest number of CCAPNW members are from right now. Hey what about my river you say? If they win on the Columbia, that sets a precedent and allows easier and further wins on Puget Sound Rivers. Don't think that aren't a lot of CCA members in Seattle/Tacoma area. As Gary and Matt put it last night, you can't eat an elephant in one bite.

Hatcheries? CCA is not taking a firm stand on hatcheries at this time as far as I can tell. Matt Kayser, who is the right, very smart man for the job, pointed out that if this were 20 years ago and our wild stocks were still good we might be able to do away with many hatcheries and save those wild runs. We can still do that on some rivers we have but not many. Do you like to fish? We may not be able to fish for completely native run rivers. I think we need to have a few of these rivers, do you want to volunteer your river? Let's look at the Cowlitz, dam after dam, hatchery after hatchery. Are there any pure native strains left in that river? It is probably a good candidate for a continued hatchery put and take fishery. We need some of those to. Not everyone gets satisfaction like fly fishermen do.

Whew!!!!!! Where am I, what next? Anyone else going to ever comment on my blogs or just let me ramble and through it on the table?

Something has to be done and CCA has the proven track record to make it happen. I want to end with a plug for an article by Patrick McGann in Salmon & Steelhead Journal Winter 2008 Volume 5 Issue 1. Titled "Tide Turns on Northwest Fishing Advocacy". Pick it up and read it. The writing style is a little harsh but it smooths out after a page or so. Yes, you fly fishermen, buy it even though the steelhead on the cover has one of those pink worms hanging from its mouth. We just wish we could find a fly that successful! Anyway, Patrick points out a piece of journalism on the Gulf Coast fisheries that won a Pulitzer for public service and work. Check out the link: http://www.pulitzer.org/year/1997/public-service/works/6-2/
McGann quotes a Louisiana gill netter from the paper "I mean, it was no contest. Sudden, complete dominance. This is a rare thing in politics." That's CCA. He continues to talk about CCA's winning track record and its four part formula: "1. Get people, lots of them....2. get money, lots of it...lawyers and PR firms don't get paid in righteousness...3.Communicate, lots...4.And finally, advocacy." Pick up the article and read it. And join CCA. Now.

Nooksack Season Wrap-up


So, did you catch all the fish you wanted this season? I didn't, but I sure love the Nooksack and I saw some beautiful fish this winter. This is just one of the reasons that I am getting involved with CCA. Here is my plan with my two separate bloggs. This blogg "Classes and Outings" will be reserved for information on fishing, events, classes, outings and will be the place to come and find the "calendar". My other blogg, Angler on the Fly, will be the platform for discussion on fisheries, Coastal Conservation Association, and local fisheries related issues. Right now I am writing a report of last evenings talk by Gary Loomis and the CCA. An honest report. I hope to have it posted by this afternoon. Thanks to all of you that came last night.

Back to the Nooksack. The season. When were the fish around and where were they? I can't give it all up but I will tell that December was a good month. The hatchery steelhead run was good as was predicted. The hatchery got their numbers and then some. So, the hatchery on the North Fork will stay viable for more years to come. I know there are many opinions on this subject, but hatcheries are not going away and we need to embrace the need for them on certain river systems. Without them we not have a fishing season for salmon and steelhead on many rivers, especially with the ESA listing for Puget Sound steelhead. I will beat this subject up some more on my other blog. The coho came from September through February. Sounds crazy doesn't it. I have been told that there are coho in the Nooksack year round. So next year, don't skip those back eddies. The bulk of the run from the south fork came in October. The North Fork run was late and came mainly throughout December (remember the NF is only open for Salmon in October, which was funny this year because there really weren't any then).

The steelhead at times held in interesting places. Often tucked so far under root balls that a fly fishermen had no chance to get them out. This is partially because the water was so clear for so much of the winter. The first person to head through a run, if they didn't hook the fish, may have spooked it into hiding. A tactic, I have seen a few jet boat fishermen use to get steelhead out of shallow water (fly fishing water), into their water (deep water). I witnessed this, unfortunately, but it is very effective (I am not making a generalization on gear fishermen here because I know lots of great gear fishermen). It was a good year to be on the main stem with great clarity all the way down to Lynden for much of the season. But then something happened on the South Fork. Even at low flows of 300 cfs the South was pumping chocolate. I have talked this up with many people that have never seen it this bad. I am going for a nice hike soon to figure this out because I am concerned for this river. We should all be. We don't want another Deer Creek situation do we?

The bi-catch on the Nooksack was pretty slow this season until February when the lower North Fork started to see some more dolly varden hanging out waiting for the alevins. The dolly varden population is still rebounding from the 2003 and 2005 floods that happened right during their spawn. This has been a pretty good year for their spawn and salmon spawn which is great. There is a big snow pack out there and hopefully the weather can hold for the wild steelhead spawn in March/April. Winter steelhead pick a tough timing window. It would seem that the fry need to get out of the gravel before the summer high water comes. I do need to check the science on this...I will. Where were the whitefish this winter? It seems to me they were around early right below the chum and then they showed up in late February right above the highway 9 bridge. You ask why this is significant? Where there are whitefish, there are dolly's.

I want to thank everyone that came out with me this winter and all of the wonderful people I met on and off the river. The steelhead catch was slightly down this year, even according to the gear fishermen, but it was a great season with good clarity, great water levels, and lots of "swingable" water (even on the North Fork).

Local Information

Nooksack River

The Nooksack is our most Northern Puget Sound river. From the flanks of beautiful Mt. Baker and the Mt. Baker Wilderness the Nooksack River travels 75 miles to Bellingham Bay through diverse terrain. Three forks make up the main stem that locals say starts in the town of Deming. The North Fork provides most of the water in the drainage right off the northern side of Mt. Baker and parallels the Mt. Baker Highway often unseen. The Middle Fork is smaller and faster tributary with a steeper gradient and deep plunge pools. The South Fork, although some 50 miles long that stretches into Skagit County, is only fishable for 14 river miles before it closes to protect endangered Chinook spawning grounds.

The North Fork Kendall Creek hatchery provides a decent fishery for winter steelhead and October salmon fishing. Chinook and coho hatchery returns are mainly from the Native hatchery on the South Fork at Skookum Creek. Salmon fishing opens on the Main Stem in early September and stays good through a healthy chum run well into December. Both forks open in October for salmon but can be fished for sea-run cutthroat trout in September. Thanksgiving brings about hatchery steelhead season which carries through into January. Wild steelhead start trickling into the system in December and really show up in good numbers in January and February. Sadly for the fishermen the river closes in the end of February.

The main stem is a true spey rod river with some beautiful classic steelhead runs that will remind you of other nice places you have fished. The forks are smaller and lend themselves more to the single handed rod or a switch rod. The North Fork Nooksack is a wild and scenic river and boasts an incredible population of bald eagles. The river shifts quite frequently throughout the vast channel as the waters rise and fall with rain. Tree roots and log jams make up much of the excellent fish habitat on this fork. The south and middle forks are more defined channels and runs and holes remain more consistent. Wherever you are on this river the backdrop is spectacular. Around one bend you will look back and see The Sisters and the next bend will offer a pristine view of towering Mt. Baker.

Resident trout and anadromous dolly varden are found throughout the system in small numbers with the latter being off limits to target. The North Fork Nooksack above the 100 foot Nooksack Falls can be fun summer trout fishing with light weight rods and surface flies. Some open tributaries such as Canyon Creek can be great fun on the dry fly in July through September for small to medium sized trout. These tributaries of crystal clear cascading water sooth the sole and bring you smiling back to the roots of fly fishing.

Puget Sound Beaches are fun relief from the river and Stillwater settings. Sea-run cutthroat are available for the catching along several nice cobblestone reaches. The shelter of bull kelp beds provide a great feeding grounds for this fun anadramous salmonid. Late summer sees the arrival of solid hatchery coho fishery easily within reach of shore.

Come on up and get away from the crowds. You wont believe how beautiful it is and you won’t regret it. And, oh yeah, you might catch some nice fish!