Article Cispus River Fly Fishing Aug 2016

#1
I was able to fish the weekend before Labor Day and wanted to share my blog. You can find it here, but I've also pasted it below. More pictures at the link though. Hope you guys like this.

http://weston-ochse.blogspot.com/2016/08/my-masters-degree-dissertation-in.html

Sitting at The Bridge restaurant on the Kris River in Oradea, Romania back in 2011, drinking Leffe Blonde Beer, I could only dream of wading into the cold Carpathian runoff with a rod in hand. Wide and dark, the water ran from the heights of northern Romania into Transylvania, a region stained red with blood from Vlad the Impaler’s thirst for violence. What sort of fish ran in this river, I wondered? How could they be caught? Who before me had fished in this very spot?

So it was only right and proper that when me and the boys pulled up to the Cispus River to fly fish for Coho Salmon on an early August evening towards the end of 2016 that we began the enterprise with a toast of Leffe, remembrances of old, promises of the new. Kurt (repeat offender in my fishing blogs), Brad, Justin and I clinked bottles and laughed, nothing but expectations and promises of salmon grandeur before us. I joked, “Isn’t this how all backwoods horror movies begin… four friends, drinking, merry, alone, out in the wilderness?” We laughed even more, just as the doomed characters in a movie would have laughed, right before they were picked off one by one. That was a moment… a certified moment. Then we got serious, attending to our gear, preparing, readying ourselves, now individual fishermen keen to conquer the river and its progeny, as much hunters as we were fishermen.

I had never fly fished for salmon before. In fact, I could count on one hand the number of fish I’d caught on a fly rod; all small rainbow trout. So my desire would have to rise above my lack of experience. I could have spin fished. God knows I’d earned several Master’s Degrees in that over a lifetime, but I was determined to fly fish. I was determined to learn the old sport, elevate my skill, and become someone who could populate a Norman Maclean or Ernest Hemingway tale without feeling guilty for being there. So, with my 4-piece Echo Solo rod in hand, I trod upriver, searching for a likely spot, whatever a likely spot looked like.


I’d never seen Salmon in a river before. While I’d fished and caught salmon on the Columbia River, that revered body as wide and as deep as a good woman’s soul, I’d never seen them near the surface. The only way I saw a salmon on the Columbia was when I’d been able to land a twenty-five pound monster in a boat (thank you Chuck). So when I turned a corner of the Cispus, the sun falling behind me, turning the tips of the waves and rivulets into silver daggers, and beheld half-a-dozen salmon laddering up some rapids into a pool, by heart caught in my throat. And as much cliché as that sounds, that’s exactly what happened as you of the salmon river fishing brother and sisterhood can attest.

Busy with laddering and spawning, they ignored me even as I approached, more goggle-eyed school boy than experienced fisherman. After a minute of reverence and confusion as to what I should be doing, I selected a fly with red, green, and black coloring. I don’t know what it was called, but Kurt said it was tied by a local guy who knew these waters. Assured the knot was perfect, I unloaded some line, then tossed the fly above roiling salmon and let it drift.

Bam! My father had told me over the years about his experience Steelhead fishing in Wisconsin when he was in college. He'd often reminisce about how the fish would strike and then take off like a freight train. This was another cliché proven true, because that salmon grabbed my fly and headed up river like the Chattanooga Choo Choo on methamphetamine chased by an angry battalion of highway patrolmen. I kept my left hand grabbing the line, so the fish was unable to engage the drag. The line grew taught, then stretched, then snapped.

Oh - Period - My - Period - God - Period.

I immediately realized what I’d done, but that didn’t do much to fill the hollow that grew in my gut.

That fish… that salmon… well, it was immense.



I shook my head to clear it, then with shaking hands, opened my gear and selected another fly, this one green and black. I’d thought that maybe I might find a salmon or two, but was really here to fish for cutthroat trout. That I’d stumbled into a mess of salmon was beyond anything I’d ever dreamed, standing there just moments ago, Leffe in hand. I had trouble controlling my breathing. It didn’t help that out of the corner of my eye I could see their backs breaking the water as they slashed back and forth, eager to reach higher elevations to spawn and fertilize. My eyes were having trouble seeing, even with the magnifiers I slid onto the bill of my hat. My hands were still shaking. I closed one eye, then the other. Sweat beaded into them. I was like a blind man trying to slide my tippet through the eye of the fly. It took twenty minutes that was really five and three miss-ties to get the fly ready.

Five minutes later I was into another fish. For fourteen minutes I fought the damned beast. I learned more about drag and playing a big fish in those fourteen minutes than I had the entire time I’d been fly fishing. One moment of not paying attention and it leaped, gave me the same dour look I’d seen from my former mother in law on too many occasions, then shook free of my fly.

Damn. That was two. And during those minutes, I discovered I had a problem. My tackle was too light. I was trying to catch fifteen- to twenty-pound salmon on 5wt tackle. That was no less true on the next salmon that took the fly. For forty-four minutes we fought… well, that’s perhaps an exaggeration. I tugged and held. It moved a few inches right or left. And we stayed that way. My tackle wouldn’t move it. God bless my rod, but it didn’t have enough power. Then the Salmon decided it had had enough fun playing with me, surged forward, and even with my drag, it moved fast enough to separate me from yet another fly and yet another fish. Where the first two salmon were lean and thick, this hog was a beast and my gear was no match for it.


Earlier I’d mentioned that I’d learned more in those fourteen minutes than I had the entire time I’d been fly fishing. Well, during those forty-four minutes with that beast, I'd received my Master’s Degree in Cispus River Coho Salmon Fishing Cum Laude and now was the time to prove it.

But the sun was going down. It shone just above the horizon of the trees, blinding me when I looked that way. In the golden shade of some great trees near by, the water dappled with spears of the dying day with caddis flies swarming above. I selected a #12 Caddis. Big for a trout, but it seemed about right for these immense salmon. I moved down to the lower pool. I cast once. Twice. And on the third cast, a salmon sucked down my fly. When I set it, the fly lodged behind the armor of its hinged jaw—true a hook set as ever was.

Ten minutes went by. Ten minutes of my dissertation in Cispus River Coho Salmon Fly fishing. I was tested on drag, on rod tip placement, on when to load line and when to unload. The river asked me question after question and I answered them. I heard honking in the distance, then shouting, then loud music. My friends wanted to go. It was time to leave.

“Sorry boys,” I said to the universe. “I can’t come quite yet,” my own replacement for the song Beth-- made famousby Kiss on their 1976 Destroyer album. “Beth, I hear you calling. I can’t come home right now. Me and the boys are playing, and we just can’t find the sound. Just a few more hours and I'll be right home to you. I think I hear them calling. Oh Beth what can I do.

Had this fish been my first, I would have lost it. The same could be said with my second and third. But I’d been schooled by the river. The salmon were harsh masters and had given me hard lessons. Five minutes later, I netted the top half of the salmon and grabbed the bottom half. In one heroic heave, I brought the scarred and lithe beast to shore, fell on it, then lay there for a transcendental moment as I became one with every man, woman, and child who’d ever caught a massive salmon on a fly rig.

Eventually I stood, shaking. My diploma lay before me, gasping, covered in dirt and slime, dimpled and scarred from the thirty-five-mile trek from the top of the dam where it had been released. My diploma for this day was a fifteen pound twenty-nine inch coho salmon. When I was finally able to move, I broke the line, leaving the fly where it was. I shored the rest of my line, then grabbed the salmon through the jaws. Holding it at my side, the tail drug on the ground. Noticing that was yet another moment. I saw a standing pool of water separate from the river and out of respect, paused to wash the salmon clean, then headed downriver to the sounds of honking and yelling.

Walking back to the car to my boys, having now found the sound, pole in one hand, fish in the other, was a feeling like I'd never encountered. Satisfaction. Accomplishment. Amazement. Grateful. It wasn't as simple as an old drill sergeant once said, "Success is where preparation meets opportunity." I felt more like Sir Gawain after his improbable defeat of the invincible Green Knight than I did a fisherman trying his first time to catch a salmon with a fly rod. I knew then that my walk back towards my boys, all three of them watching me, wondering where I was, then seeing me and wondering what the hell that thing was that I was holding firmly in my left hand, then closer, realizing it was a fish, then not just a fish but a salmon, and wondering, for a moment being me in my triumph, was yet another certified moment.

Some people go their whole lives without ever catching a salmon on a fly rod,” Kurt said to me.

I glowed with accomplishment and thanked the river for her lessons in fishing.


After pictures and several mandatory retellings of my fish story and those of my boy Brad, who’d caught a salmon just a bit larger on a spin fishing rig, we all found ourselves in a moment of silence. A moment filled with what could have beens, what had beens, and remembrances of similar moments, each of us had shared individually or together as we'd fished this great wild world. Then Kurt broke the silence. He brought out the rest of the Leffe Blonde. We opened them and drank. We’d found our sound… the river, forever running and falling, and our heartbeats, still moving fast with the epic thrill of our salmon hunt, and our blood through our temples, reminding us how alive we were, at this moment, together.
 

Salmo_g

Well-Known Member
#2
DM,

Congratulations for your experience as well as your ability to turn a phrase. I'm not sure where you got the idea that you would be fishing for fresh coho salmon in the Cispus River before Labor Day. The Cispus River is located upstream of three large hydroelectric dams on the Cowlitz River, to which the Cispus is tributary. Salmon and steelhead return to the Cispus River only when they are trapped at the salmon hatchery located at what is known as the barrier dam on the Cowlitz, downstream of Cowlitz Falls, Mossyrock, and Mayfield powerdams. Coho are only now beginning to make an appearance at the barrier dam. Most of the arriving salmon are currently fall Chinook. From your photographs, it looks like the fish that you and Brad caught are spring Chinook salmon that were trucked upstream of Cowlitz Falls Dam in April and May, and into June. This is the time of year the spring Chinook mature sexually and spawn.

Sadly, it looks like the fish that you fellas caught are spawned out spring Chinook that soon would naturally die. They are fare beyond being prime table fare. I hope you didn't cook them and eat them.

Sg
 
#4
DM,

Congratulations for your experience as well as your ability to turn a phrase. I'm not sure where you got the idea that you would be fishing for fresh coho salmon in the Cispus River before Labor Day. The Cispus River is located upstream of three large hydroelectric dams on the Cowlitz River, to which the Cispus is tributary.
Hi Sig,

"not sure where you got the idea..." Lol. I made it up, Sg. This was all an invention. Pictures too. It's amazing what photoshop can do. But seriously, Sg, I was aware of the dams. My friend from the local area said that Game and Fish transplanted them above the dams. He said they were Coho, of course he could be wrong and they very well could be Chinook. For this fisherman from the Mexican Border who can't tell the difference between Salmon unless it's listed under the ingredients, I don't really care if they are Martian salmon. It was just nice to catch something. The idea of the article wasn't the Darwinian ethos to identify genus and species, but to try and capture the excitement of catching a big fish on a small rod. That said, I appreciate your encyclopedic correction.

You go on to say sadly, they would soon naturally die. Not sure why you'd say that? I felt fortunate that instead of dying, one decided to take my fly and give me a great fight. It certainly fought like it had everything to live for (as did the others, to include the one I fought for over an hour). And for that, I tip my hat to Mother Nature and say thank you. That it would eventually die -- sooner than later -- is the natural order of things. But nothing about it is sad, especially when one is dancing at the end of a line.

-Weston
 

Shad

Active Member
#7
DM:

First off, congrats on what seems to have been a great experience. Always fun to read about a guy setting out on a mission and making it happen.

That said, I have two bits of friendly advice:

1. Always learn to identify the various species you may encounter. There is no excuse for not doing this, especially where endangered stocks may be in the mix (most WA rivers).

2. DO NOT eat any more of that fish. Salmon in that advanced state of decay taste awful at best, and can make you very, very sick at worst.

Also, although I can see you had fun (that's the goal, right?), please know that the situation you guys found yourselves in (on a river full of spawning salmon) is not what folks round here would consider an ideal fishing scenario. Essentially, fishing for salmon in that condition amounts to harrassment and is regarded as poor fishing practice. The fact that their flesh is literally decaying from within should be all you need to know to understand why you don't want to eat fish in that condition.

I'm not trying to be a jerk, and I'm sorry if I come across that way. You seem like a guy with his heart in the right place, and that's the kind of person I like to share water with. As far as I can tell, you didn't break any rules. I'm just trying to steer you onto a better, safer course for targeting salmon with rod and reel.

If you enjoyed catching the fish in your post, next time you should consider a visit to the Cowlitz, or maybe the nearby Kalama, where you can catch fish like that in condition much more suitable for eating. They make for epic grip 'n grin shots when they're silvery bright, and that adds nice bling to your blog posts!
 
#8
DM:

First off, congrats on what seems to have been a great experience. Always fun to read about a guy setting out on a mission and making it happen.

That said, I have two bits of friendly advice...
All great comments. Thank you, Shad. As a fisherman unfamiliar to the area, this is all good information. I had no control over where we fished, but I've heard from several other friends that the Cowlitz is a great fishery. I'd love to fish there one day. My father and I caught a pair of Chinook just west of where it enters the Columbia a few years ago-- both immense and bright silver.

The fish wasn't decaying, though. Or at least it didn't seem so when we filleted them and then smoked them. Sure made for excellent sandwiches. Much better than the Chum salmon that my local grocery store sells as Deca Salmon. That's just not good. But in the future, if I ever catch a salmon after spawning, I wont eat it.

And nope, you didn't come off as a jerk. I appreciate you taking the time. Fishing is a constant state of education which is why I love boards like this one.

Thank you.
 

Jim Wallace

Smells like low tide.
#9
Desert Man, your report was a real hoot to read! Yessir! That's great writing. A fine story, indeed! I love to start the day off with a hearty ROFL sesh.:D
A fresher King, hooked little closer to the salt, would be completely unmanageable on a 5 wt. Those ones you got look like they were "running on empty," with maybe only 10% to 20% (max) of the power they once had out in the salt.
You should book a trip where you can go after some fresher Kings!
My 8 wt with 12# Maxima leader is a bit under gunned for Kings in the coastal rivers and estuaries. Its barely adequate with 15#test. A fresh King salmon can display mind-blowing formidable power, as well as phenomenal endurance.
Out trolling herring in the salt for them, I prefer to use conventional gear with 40# test mainline and 30# test leader, just in case I hook into a larger one.

I might go try and see if I can get one to bite a fly in a local river that has a hatchery return, using my 8 wt rod with a 6 wt sink-tip line and only 12# test Maxima Ultragreen leader (since my 8 wt line is trashed, and I ran out of the 15#test). I don't have any heavier fly gear. I'll be seriously under gunned. But its do-able.;)
 
#10
Desert Man, your report was a real hoot to read! Yessir! That's great writing. A fine story, indeed! I love to start the day off with a hearty ROFL sesh.:D
A fresher King, hooked little closer to the salt, would be completely unmanageable on a 5 wt. Those ones you got look like they were "running on empty," with maybe only 10% to 20% (max) of the power they once had out in the salt.
You should book a trip where you can go after some fresher Kings!
My 8 wt with 12# Maxima leader is a bit under gunned for Kings in the coastal rivers and estuaries. Its barely adequate with 15#test. A fresh King salmon can display mind-blowing formidable power, as well as phenomenal endurance.
Out trolling herring in the salt for them, I prefer to use conventional gear with 40# test mainline and 30# test leader, just in case I hook into a larger one.

I might go try and see if I can get one to bite a fly in a local river that has a hatchery return, using my 8 wt rod with a 6 wt sink-tip line and only 12# test Maxima Ultragreen leader (since my 8 wt line is trashed, and I ran out of the 15#test). I don't have any heavier fly gear. I'll be seriously under gunned. But its do-able.;)

I caught a 25# Chinook on the Columbia once, but it wasn't on a fly rod.... big assed spoon. I can't imagine a fresh King, certainly not on a 5wt. I also have a 4wt, but that's going the wrong way. I'm definitely in the market for a 7wt or 8wt rod. One of these days I'll find one I like and maybe next year try a coastal river either in Wash or Oregon.
 

Stonefish

Triploid, Humpy & Seaplane Hater
#11
Keta & Siverbrite.....now Deca.
That is some new marketing lingo for chums to me.
Sounds like the new name hasn't improved the taste thoough.
SF
 

Jim Wallace

Smells like low tide.
#12
I caught a 25# Chinook on the Columbia once, but it wasn't on a fly rod.... big assed spoon. I can't imagine a fresh King, certainly not on a 5wt. I also have a 4wt, but that's going the wrong way. I'm definitely in the market for a 7wt or 8wt rod. One of these days I'll find one I like and maybe next year try a coastal river either in Wash or Oregon.
25# is a nice fish.My biggest King ever was only 31#, caught casting a spinner from the banks of the lower Willapa River, close to the Bay, downstream from the town of Raymond. Took nearly a half hour to bring it to the net. I use only 12# line on my salmon spinning reel, since anything heavier doesn't cast worth a chit, and the spinner body helps protect the line from teeth cuts. So 12# might be OK with a fly, if it doesn't get bitten through.
My bait(herring) hook rigs have the leader snelled to the hook shank, where it comes into contact with the salmon's teeth, and is more susceptible to getting bitten through. 15#or 20# won't hold up to the tooth abrasion a King can dish out. I have one trolling reel set up with 30#mainline, used with 20# or 25# leader. I might use that one if I troll a spinner (or spoon) in the tidewater of the lower river, near the Bay.
I have another rod set up for trolling unweighted spinners (with a trolling rudder,to prevent line twist) farther upstream, near the head of tidewater. Its more "Coho sized" with 15# mainline and 12# leader.
The fly rods come along for the boat ride, in case I find a spot where I can anchor and cast, or get out and cast from a bar.
 
#13
25# is a nice fish.My biggest King ever was only 31#, caught casting a spinner from the banks of the lower Willapa River, close to the Bay, downstream from the town of Raymond. Took nearly a half hour to bring it to the net....
That's why I love the Northwest. So many great fishing opportunities. Down here I have to drive five hours to get a trout larger than 9 inches, and even then it's hardly guaranteed.
 

Luke77

I hope she likes whitefish
#14
Cool story, but damn, those are some clapped out kings.

No need to smoke em, just take a cracker and stick it into the zombies side and you'll have instant fish spread. I've caught some boots in my life, but those take the cake!
 

Penobscot

Active Member
#15
We've all made mistakes with regards to boot salmon or steelhead especially if we were new to the NW.
But this one's a doozy.


Leave those fish alone next time.
 

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