Spring is a magical time for so many reasons. The trees are blooming, song birds are speaking their language of love, V shaped migrations of geese heading to their northern nesting grounds and anxious gardeners putting seeds of future nourishment into the ground. Spring is also the season of baby salmon descending their natal streams. Millions of these tiny fish, pink and chum salmon fry, are flushed out with the current into tidal estuaries where they feed on the rich bio-diversity of the brackish waters. These one inch long fry are a smorgasbord for others to come and have a feast. Herons, kingfishers, and predatory fish to name a few. It is the time that a fly fisher can target a legendary and unique species, the sea run cutthroat!
When I was a child we used to frequent a small creek that flowed into the ocean near my hometown. Washer Creek had been devastated for a century by industry, erosion and up-land logging. A once bountiful creek that had salmon and steelhead one could "Walk across", a stream so productive that my dad once commented that a friend of his had fed his family from the steelhead he used to catch from it's waters. In my time, I never saw any of these numbers of salmon. Logging in it's headwaters and a dam on a lake that was perfect nursery habitat for the salmon fry led to the decline of fish in this creek. When I was small we would spend time at the estuary, and often see small fish jumping. My grandfather would describe these fish as "Sea runs", and that is all I knew of these fish. It didn't seem like a big deal to me until learning more as and adult. Sea run cutthroat are actually a remarkable species!
The other anadromous salmonids in the Pacific Oceans streams are well known, the big 5. Chinook, Coho, Sockeye, Pink and Chum. These fish are the staple of our commercial, traditional, and sport harvest in Cascadia. Tens of thousands rely on these fish for their livelihoods, and survival. Many folks aren't aware of our other anadromous fish, two trout and one char. The steelhead is well know, a sea-running rainbow trout. Steelhead will range far out into the ocean, similar to the salmon, and grow to great sizes. Unlike salmon, the steelhead will spawn in the spring. I am not sure how many times a steelhead can spawn, but I believe it can do this cycle several times. The char is the Dolly Varden. This fish is quite rare close to civilization. They are very sensitive to habitat destruction and water quality. I often catch them on the North Island while fishing pink salmon. Little ones will hammer a half ounce zzinger in ankle deep water, nearly launching themselves on to the beach!
Our sea run cutts are special. They are anadromous, and follow the cycles of the salmon and take advantage the bounty of either body of water. When there is little for food in the streams, like spring and summer, the cutthroat will spend most of it's time in the estuary feeding on salmon fry, sculpins, shrimp, and other small minnows. Estuaries are the most bio-diverse of all waters, the edge of fresh and salt water creates abundance, and grows huge amounts of life. As the cooler days of fall come, as do the salmon returning to spawn and the cutthroat will move back into the river to feed on eggs and dead salmon flesh. Fattening themselves up for their own spring spawning ritual. As opposed to cutthroat that live in the nutrient deficient lakes on Vancouver Island, which are often lanky and thin(in general, not the rule), sea run cutts are thick, deep and strong. Their bodies are strong because of the vast variety of foods and the nutrition available to them. Fish who eat other fish grow up to be beautiful specimens of the species.
Because sea-run cutts are fish eaters, it makes them a wonderful quarry for the fly fisherman. They are solitary fish, not often running in schools, so one must watch the water and be prepared to place your offering near a swirl. A well placed salmon fry pattern at this time of the year will all but guarantee a strike! A hard strike. Be prepared. I used a 5 weight rod in the past and I wonder if it is a little under sized for the task. I have heard of cutts breaking the 4 pound mark, and I am sure they can get even bigger than this. Wade in the shallows of the estuary and look for swirls, or v-wake patterns in the water. This will tip you off. Cutts in the ocean will sometimes jump too, so be on the look out for that as well.
Spring is an amazing time of the year. Get out of bed early and discover this beautiful pastime. Early morning fog, silence aside from the waking birds, the fresh sunrise on your face, the energy transfer of the estuary and the company of a legendary fish, who we shall respect and admire. I encourage you to give it a try!
I have a good friend is spending sometime out of town, in a large city, for work. He is involved in a home construction company and there is a home show in this city that he needs to attend. With time away from the family, my friend the budding archer, took some time for himself and visited an archery range in the area. His comments made me laugh. His comments about the fellows at the range, who were shooting their compound bows, indoors, in full camo. Super geeked out about their compund bows, all the gadgets they had on these bows, their latest high tech sights, rests, releases. Poly(plastic) apparel with the latest innovations, camoflage patterns, scent elimination, and super star hunting spokesmen and women behind the awesome products. I could only imagine his dis-taste in this situation.
As someone who has witnessed the evolution of the hunting wear, I can speak to some of the insanity behind this industry. When I was young it was common to hunt with plaids, greens, tans, earth tones that could help blend a hunter in, not to make them disappear. Why would you want to disappear, you might get shot! Duck hunters would wear woodland patterns, blotchy greens, blacks and browns. You could imagine Elmer Fudd wearing such attire. Effective for sure. Lots of hunters would also don ex-military garb. Thick wool that would keep you warm, quiet and somewhat concealed. Blue jeans, work boots, and your favorite ball cap or wool toque completed the assemble. Off to the woods. Did they harvest animals? Abso-friggen-lutely! On Vancouver Island the heydays for deer hunting were in the 70's, before all this high tech business came out.
I first become aware of modern camo in the late 80's. My uncle, an avid hunter, was wearing some new innovative gear. Polar fleece was just catching on. And so was something called RealTree. It was so cool! Soon images of this new apparel was showing up in Cabela's catalogues, something also new to my eyes. I believe that Real Tree, Mossy Oak and TreBark all appeared on the scene around the same time, and lit the hunting world on fire. Along with advances in synthetic materials, hunting apparel changed very rapidly.
Years and years after these products hitting the market, there is a problem. Companies are always seeking growth. It is how our system of economics is set up. Something always must grow, or it is in decline and might go away. Because of this fact the apparel industry must up their game, and bring new products to the market. Now these fabrics and patterns are licensed for everything and anything. Vehicle accessories, bedding, dog jackets, gun stocks, cell phone cases, if you can imagine it, it probably exists in camouflage! I used to be a big fan of camouflage clothing. I liked the image of it. I could show off my passion, in the woods and the grocery store. My evolution is now coming full circle. I no longer want to be associated as a "Bubba" hunter. I feel like a jackass walking around in any camo, unless I am in the field. I visited our local Cabelas a while back and was appalled. It was my first time in a Cabelas store, the company who's catalog I used to pawn over for days and days. It was like walking into a department store, but instead of fancy clothes, it was chocked full of camouflage. Every thing you could imaging is camo, and it is mostly cotton or plastic. Not impressed at all. The marketers in the industry are flogging this very expensive "gear" with promises of bigger bucks, more ducks and easier hunts. Gear, gadgets and gizmos have replaced common sense, woodsman-ship and knowing your prey. Like most things in society, we feel like we can buy our way to success, instead of hard work, dedication and study. Sorry this just isn't the case.
I am not trying to say that camoflage apparel doesn't have a place. I do believe that it can help, especially for turkey or waterfowl hunting. Those suckers can see color and can pick out the whites of your eyes. In areas where there is crazy hunter pressure, blending in can make a difference between tag soup and back strap. As a hug fan of merino wool for all outdoor pursuits, I have to stick my neck out and say that First Lite is by far my favorite brand. They have two patterns, to my eyes, don't look too "Bubba". The ASAT and the Fusion. Fusion is a First Lite proprietary pattern, created in house. It doesn't look like a tree, but I believe it would be wonderful at removing the hunters silhouette. ASAT is a licensed pattern that reminds me of a blackberry bramble. And it looks cool! I think one could wear it around town, and it would remind people of snowboard wear instead of hunting wear. G Fred Asbell of Hunter Image Productions sells wool garments designed by his wife. They are all in plaid or solid colors and are huge in the traditional bow hunting community. One of these jackets is certainly on my list of wants. There are many other fantastic wool products out there as well, made by some of the larger companies like LL Bean, Icebreaker, Fillson, Pendelton, and Silent Predator. I am not in love with any synthetic apparel, aside from rain shells, but that is for another post.
While camouflage is here to stay and is often a nice to have, it is certainly not a necessity. I would offer that instead of spending potentially hundreds of dollars buying hunting apparel, save that money, take a day off of work with the savings and spend a it in the woods. Adding to your knowledge of your prey, practicing walking quietly, and shooting your bow will give you a leg up over the camo "Bubba" in his truck with the camo seat covers and full camo suit who never leaves his bench seat and heated cab.