Sunday, September 21, 2014

A September Beauty

H: September 21, 2014: It's been a while since I've posted some good fish porn on this blog. Lately, most of the times when I catch a nice fish, I'm fishing alone. And I'm just not dexterous enough to take a good photo holding a big squirming trout in one hand while fumbling with my camera or iPhone in the other.

This weekend looked to be a perfect fishing weekend on the Delaware. I fished with friends both days. I didn't have a great weekend but at least my friends did. Just as we get down to the river, Jess says to me, "I forgot my phone (for pics) and I forgot my net. Watch me catch a fish." Sure enough, she does :)

Close up of big brown trout from the Delaware
A big, beautiful Delaware river brown.
Not just any fish, but one of the prettiest browns I've seen in quite some time. Estimated at 20 inches, it fell for a yellow sally of all things—a fair imitation of the flying ants struggling and lying spent in the film. Glad I was there to offer my net and take some photos.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Full Circle

H: For 40 years I've been a steadfast city girl. Raised in the Big Apple, I use to thrive on its endless bounty of distractions. Like living in an adult amusement park, I took one ride after another. It's myriad sights, sounds, tastes, and smells became part of me.

That was until about 5 years ago when I started fly fishing. Since then my world has been flipped upside down, turned inside out. The girl, once in sync with her city, who researched the hottest new restaurants, exhibit openings, concerts and bands was replaced by a fly fishing addict who religiously checked water levels and temps, weather forecasts and fishing reports, and practiced her casting in the dead of winter.

My once beloved Gotham became a concrete & metal cage from which I'd engineer my escape every chance I could. Spring, summer, and fall, I fled to the tranquil rivers and wide open spaces of the nearby countryside and more recently to my fishing shack, my sanctuary.

Just over a month ago, one of my best friends from University came to visit with his family. I'd seen him 4 years ago on my last non-fishing holiday, a 17-day solo trek through China. Hong Kong was my last stop and Phil went out of his way to share with me the unique wonders of his recently adopted home. Naturally I would reciprocate when he came to New York... But my unpredictable work, as usual, interfered with my intentions and I turned out to be a poor tour guide (thank god for John and Sam!).

Yet, for 12 days of their visit, during prime trout fishing season, I did not fish. I tried to think as little as possible about fishing and the big fat healthy rainbows in front of my shack ;). Surprisingly, it wasn't that difficult for this normally obsessed flygirl. A group of long time friends reunited, ate, drank, talked, laughed, and reminisced till 3 am in the morning. Then, we would get up and do it all over again a few days later.

I confess to walking the walk of shame into work a few times after crashing at my friend's place. And I'd sooner forget the $1,500+ spent on food and wine (that's easily 2 new fly rods ;). But somehow, after 12 days, I fell back in love like with my city. Love is too strong a word. I am forever changed in that regard. Let's just say I gained a newfound appreciation for New York, and I learned that true friends ask nothing of each other but presence, in any form or capacity. 25+ years of friendship sustained on a scant 3 meetings and a smattering of emails is proof. 

Thank you, Phil, Connie, Ola, Ethan, John, Sam, Miranda, and Chester!

Last year, I spent a day walking around my hood in the Catskills, taking pics. It's only fair I pay tribute to my full-time neighborhood, NYC. Here are some pics (a mere handful from close to 800 taken) of my home city, seen through the eyes of my dear friend, Phil—a serious foodie, wonderful father, perpetual philosopher, oh, and an architect (or rather a city scaper?). Photos courtesy of Phil K.

12 Days in my Hood (NYC)

My friend Phil and his family came to visit. We all ate very well...

Chef's omakase at one of my favorite izakayas.
Oysters grilled over special Japanese charcoal, bincho-tan
2nd course: raw oysters and scallions grilled over Japanese bincho-tan, the most expensive charcoal in the world. Whatever! It was absolutely oishii!!!

Strolled along the High Line...
 
View from along the High Line, NYC

Walked and biked through the park...

Boat pond in Central Park, NYC
Model boat pond, Central Park, NYC
Reservoir in Central Park, NYC
The reservoir, Central Park, NYC
Hyun Kounne and Ola Kim biking in Central Park, NYC
Cycling the loop, Central Park, NYC

Hiked to Brooklyn... several times (for food ;)...

Brooklyn Bridge at dusk, NYC

Brooklyn street scape, Williamsburg, NYC

Caught a nap in between...

Z Z Z z z z ... life is good ... lamb chops

Paid respects...

Reflecting Pools at Ground Zero, NYC
Reflecting Pool, Ground Zero, NYC
Ground Zero museum, NYC
Ground Zero Museum, NYC

Admired the local architecture...

View from the Kimms' apartment, NYC
View from P18A, NYC.
Brooklyn bridge, NYC
The iconic Brooklyn Bridge.

Enjoyed the sights...

Statue of Liberty, NYC
Lady Liberty, NYC
A street in Chinatown, NYC
Giant bubble maker in Central Park, NYC
Bubbles in Central Park, NYC
NYC grafitti art
Local art scene.

Just no fishing.

NYC fish porn from the Chelsea market
NYC fish porn ;). Chelsea Market, NYC

P. S. I don't normally write about non-fishing aspects of my life. I try to keep that side private. So, to what/whom do I owe this reflection on friendship and life?

Phil.

There is, of course, a fly fishing connection...

It was a couple of days after Phil & Connie's wedding in New Zealand that I first held/attempted to cast a fly rod on a beautiful river by Lake Taupo on the North Island. I wish I could say that fly fishing came easily to me, that I was a natural. But that would be a boldface lie. To put it succinctly: I sucked ;).

By day's end, my poor saint of a guide (a charming transplanted gillie from the UK) must have had enough. He hooked a trout (it took him all of 2 minutes to find and hook one ;) and handed me the rod. I recall there was a good strong fish at the end of it but I was a saltwater spin fishergirl back then, accustomed to muscling in stripers and blues on 25 lb test mono (no finesse required). Naturally, I broke it off.

My friend John had better luck. He hooked and landed a beautiful rainbow... and it was absolutely delicious! The talented chefs at the lodge expertly sashimied it for us. I regretfully salivate while remembering its firm orange-pink flesh gently bathed in ponzu sauce. Sigh... That was before my catch and release days.

I recall swimming in ginormous men's waders (size Large? XL?) in a flattering shade of puke green with attached boots that were 4-5 sizes too big. I remember the frustration of not being able to see the numerous trout that my guide pointed out. Polarized sunglasses would have helped! Despite my ridiculous appearance, my stumblings and fumblings, on and off water, the overall experience of spending a day on those pristine rivers, clearly left it's mark. When I returned home, I was determined to learn how to fly fish.

The rest is, as they say, history herstory ;)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

10 degrees

The first day of September 2014

7 am: I woke up to pea soup. A thick dove gray blanket of fog obscured everything. By 9, with the sun's help, it transformed into this dreamy pearlescent mist.

The beautiful result of 10 degrees difference in temps—air: 68º, river: 58º.

A foggy morning on the Delaware river
A peaceful, foggy morning on the Delaware river. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Spey Nation VII

H: June 28, 2014: It was SN III for this flygirl. Despite a lower than usual turn out, I had a great time at Spey Nation. I admit I had second thoughts about going this year since I'd already seen just about all of the presenters before. But I had promised friends that I would go, so I went, and I'm glad I didn't miss it! A big thanks to Geoff and the rest of the SN crew for another great clave and the free Friday night F3T film tour at the Tailwater Lodge.

You couldn't have asked for better weather. I arrived at the Pineville parking lot around 8:30 am. My first order of business was to cast some new rods. I walked over to the LTS booth and was immediately drawn to the 12' 6" 8-weight X1 with its sexy matte black finish and high-gloss wraps. I wish more rod companies would leave their rods in this natural matte graphite finish. Now, if the X1 cast half as well as it looked...

Hyun Kounne double spey casting with the LTS X1 spey rod at Spey Nation 2014
Double speying with a LTS X1 spey rod at the Nation. Photo courtesy of W. Robin Hill. See more great photos from Spey Nation 2014. 
Manning the LTS stand was the 2014 Spey-o-rama women's casting champion, Whitney Gould. She was super nice and offered to come down to the river and cast with me. We talked and cast for a while. We tried out different lines on the X1, including a well matched Gaelforce line. And I even got some spey casting tips from the champ. That was pretty cool! Oh, and the X1 was a sweet rod—lightweight, smooth progressive taper, really easy to cast and feel the rod load.

I also cast the LTS Explosive spey rod, another 12' 6" 8-weight. It was "explosive" all right, but not in a good way, at least for me. It felt way too tippy. I also took the new Beulah Onyx and latest Sage Method spey rods out for a spin (6–8 weights). While I enjoyed casting them, I'm still waiting to find a spey rod I like better than my G. Loomis NRX two-handers ;).

I met Poppy from the Red Shed fly shop. He and Mrs. RedShed drove all the way from Idaho to attend Spey Nation. They were the nicest people and I hope to make it out to their Clearwater clave some day! I really liked the 54-ft. Gaelforce lines Poppy brought along. And I regret not taking one of the Gaelforce rods for a spin. But they were huge! 12- and 10-weights (16 ft!). A bit too much rod for this flygirl and for this river.

2014 Spey-o-rama casting champion, Whitney Gould at Spey Nation
2014 Spey-o-rama casting champion, Whitney Gould. No errors in this cast.
I caught bits and pieces of some of the demos, but I spent most of the day on the water, casting. I sat down for Whitney's presentation on common casting errors. She was definitely nervous and started off a bit shaky but pulled it together for a good demo. She's such a good caster, she had a hard time demonstrating the errors. It's tough trying to go against muscle memory ;) Throughout the day, I saw her on the river, generously giving tips and lessons to both novice and experienced casters. Reminded me what Spey Nation is all about.

Speaking of lessons, my friend Sam had taken one with Travis Johnson (2014 Spey-o-rama men's champion) at last year's Nation. She heard he was giving a lesson later that afternoon, so we both signed up. But casting all day long finally caught up with me and I was too tired to get the most out of it. I lasted maybe 80 mins. Which was a bummer, because Travis turned out to be a good instructor. I picked up some pointers (different hand/arm setup positions) that I'm eager to experiment with. Plus, I was able to cast a prototype mid-belly line Travis designed (to be manufactured by Scientific Angler and distributed by Beulah shortly). A really nice casting line, definitely a contender for my 13' 8-weight NRX.

Sam Decker taking a lesson with Travis Johnson after Spey Nation
Sam, clearly having a miserable time ;) during the lesson with Travis Johnson after the Nation.
A couple of things I realized at SN VII: 1. I'm no longer too self conscious to cast in public (as long as other people are casting, too ;). 2. I've finally reached a level of proficiency in my spey casting where I'm comfortable and knowledgeable enough to move beyond the basics, to analyze both the style and substance of different casters and decide what might work best for me. Now, if only Master Buhr would head back East... ;)

See you at SN VIII!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Dam Good Film

H: June 8, 2014: A few nights ago, I joined some friends from the NYC Fly meetup group at a free screening of the Patagonia produced documentary, DamNation. It was inspiring and made me want to rappel down the side of a deadbeat dam in the cover of night with paint can and brush in hand... But I'll leave that to veteran daredevil activists like Mikal Jakubal and just write something on this blog instead ;).

Patagonia's DamNation documentary poster
DamNation is not an impartial look at the history and proliferation of dams in the U.S. (over 75,000). In fact, the history and rationale for dam construction is too quickly glossed over. Rather, it's beautifully filmed, unabashed propaganda for freeing our rivers of obsolete dams whose economic and environmental costs now outweigh any previous benefits. It advocates restoring our watersheds to their natural state, allowing salmon and steelhead to return unimpeded to their spawning grounds and vital nutrients to be dispersed throughout its ecosystem.

Watching the demolition footage of several dams, including one on the Elwah River in Washington's Olympic Peninsula, was uplifting, especially knowing the immediate impact its removal has had on rejuvenating wild fish populations.

Despite touching upon a wide range of issues and historic events—the negative impact of hatcheries and hatchery fish, the loss of Native American fishing traditions on the Columbia River, the flooding of beautiful places such as Glen Canyon in Arizona—DamNation's message is loud and clear. It's time for deadbeat environmentally damaging dams to go.

As a fly fisher who supports wild rivers and fisheries, I wholeheartedly embrace its message and urge everyone who cares about the health of our rivers to step up and take action. We need to be the guardians of the watersheds and fisheries we hold dear, yet so easily take for granted.

You can watch DamNation on demand at Vimeo, find a free screening near you, or purchase the DVD from Patagonia. I highly recommend it!p

After watching the documentary, if you, too, are inspired, go to change.org and sign this petition urging President Obama to crack down on deadbeat dams, specifically 4 dams on the lower Snake River in Washington.

DamNation. Directed by Ben Knight and Travis Rummel. Produced by Matt Stoecker and Travis Rummel. Executive Producer: Yvon Chouinard (Yvon rocks! :).

Friday, May 16, 2014

What Flygirls Do for Fun

H: May 15, 2014: What do flygirls do for fun? Besides fishing, and more fishing, they definitely enjoy participating in a fly casting round robin.

My friends, the Wild Trout Flyrodders, recently held a Casting Rendezvous at the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum in Livingstone Manor, NY. I got to hang out with fellow casting geeks, took an advanced spey casting class, and watched some local tyers, including my friend Richard, tie trout flies for the upcoming season. It was a lot of fun!

Wild Trout Flyrodders Casting rendezvous: Fly casting round robin at the Catskills Fly Fishing Museum and Center
Fly casting round robin at the Catskills Fly Fishing Museum, Livingston Manor, NY. Photo: M. Gallart

But probably the MOST FUN thing that weekend was the casting round robin organized by easterncaster on Sunday. There were about 16 of us, mostly fly casting instructors. And there were over 20 different outfits to try out! It was cold and windy that morning and the field wasn't deep enough to really push some of the rods for distance, but I got to cast everything from a 4-ft(?) 2-weight to some powerful 7s. G. Loomis, Guideline, Hardy, Orvis, Sage, Scott, St. Croix, Swift, TFO, and Winston were all part of the line-up.

Hyun Kounne casting a Swift Epic fiberglass fly rod.
Casting a Swift Epic glass rod. Photo: M. Gallart
We spent a few minutes casting each outfit, channeling our inner Goldilocks. Some were too stiff. Some, too soft... And after the 12th rod, it all started to blur. But I remembered the ones that felt just right (a 5-weight G. Loomis Streamdance and a 6-weight Winston BIIIx), and the ones that felt so wrong (a hollow-feeling TFO instructor rod and the tiny 2-weight). Granted, with different lines, the experience might have been different. Overall, there were several rods I liked and it was an invaluable exercise trying to adjust my casting stroke to each rod's action.

If you've never participated in a casting round robin, I highly recommend it. But be warned. You'll leave the field with a list of new fly rods you want to buy! ;)

Monday, April 21, 2014

Steelhead Math: 8 • 3[5,000?] + |–1| = 0

H: April 17, 2014: Apologies for the delay in posting but my head has been filled with numbers since I returned from the Pacific Northwest—number crunching for the Juliana's Anglers' annual financial report followed by taxes for Uncle Sam (hence the alphanumeric title to this post ;). Where to begin… 8 straight days swinging flies for steelhead. This was easily the most exhausting fishing trip I've taken to date! That much fishing calls for a flygirl mini-novella.

2 weeks of spring steelhead fishing on the Olympic peninsula. When Sam mentioned this trip to me last fall, I immediately replied, "OK, sign me up for a week!" I have a really hard time saying "no" to fishing trips ;). Sam, Demetre, and Mary (Sam's sister) have been going there to fish for the past 8(?) years. They knew the local guides and fishing spots. I just had to pack my gear and show up in Forks.

Mist shrouded Crescent Lake, Olympic Peninsula, WA
Crescent Lake, Olympic Peninsula, WA
It was raining (as it should be) when I landed in Seattle-Tacoma airport, after a 5.5-hour plane ride. I took the Link into downtown Seattle to pick up my rental car and provisions (good wine, cheese, meats) before boarding the 35-minute ferry to Bainbridge island. After a gorgeous 3-hour drive through mist shrouded mountains and around Crescent lake, I finally arrived at our cozy house on the banks of the Sol Duc river. After a relentless winter back East, I was ecstatic to see signs of life, of spring, everywhere. Sam and Demetre were there to greet me, having arrived the day before. I had 3 days of wade fishing with the ladies before we went out with guides.

View of the Sol Duc river from the deck of our cozy river house, Forks, WA
View of the Sol Duc river from our deck, Forks. WA.
Day 1: I had to first get my fishing license, so we drove into Forks. Population: 3,500; Fictional setting for the Twilight series; And one of the wettest places in the continental U.S., averaging 212 rainy days and an annual rainfall of 120 inches. I knew it had received a major tourism boom from the Twilight books and movies but I didn't know what to expect. The main strip contained a gas station, a couple of motels, diners, and souvenir shops selling Twilight this and Twilight that. While paying for my license at the Forks Outfitters (grocery/clothing/hardware store), I noticed a plaque by the register—Bella Swan was employee of the month ;).

Sam Decker at 3-tug run on Bogachiel river, Olympic Peninsula
Sam at 3-Tug Run on the Bogachiel.
With license in hand we set off to fish a spot Sam and Demetre had fished before on the upper Bogachiel (Bogey). With rivers high and off-color from several days of steady rain, it seemed a good bet. After a few hours fishing and 0 action, we left to do some scouting. We discovered another trail to the Bogey from an empty parking spot we suspected was used by anglers. It was a lovely and fishy looking spot. I took out my camera to take a picture, shouting at Sam to turn around. Immediately after I took the pic, Sam yells excitedly that a fish just jumped behind me. We rushed back to the car to get our gear.

The 3 of us each took a shot at that fish by the undercut bank, and we each received 1 tug for our efforts, but no takes. It was a gray drizzly day and by mid-afternoon March Browns were hatching everywhere. They made me think of home and whether spring might soon arrive on my home waters, melting the snow and ice covered banks I had left behind.

Upstream of our newfound fishing spot (3-Tug Run ;), we discovered another prime stretch of water, perfect for swinging. But by 3 pm, I was seriously dragging. Jet lag, the previous day's travels, and hunger (I forgot my lunch on the kitchen counter) took its toll and 5 hours of fishing was all I could manage. We decided we'd return to fish another day.

When we got back to the house, Mary, Sam's sister, was waiting for us. Prior to the trip, I heard stories about her buying new pots and pans to cook with and how she wouldn't eat food touched by someone's bare hands. I tried to keep an open mind. And while she did bring pots and pans ;), she turned out to be great company and very easy to get along with.

Hyun Kounne hiking to bus top pool, Olympic peninsula, WA
On the trail to Bus stop pool. Photo: D. Bove.
Days 2 & 3: The 4 of us fished the Sol Duc and Bogachiel. Sam, Demetre, and I swung flies while Mary nymphed. But none of us had any luck. Despite the lack of steelhead action, I was having fun. I especially enjoyed our hike to Bus Stop pool one morning. The ladies had fished there before but weren't quite sure where the trail began. So we just blazed our own for part of the way, before eventually meeting up with the existing trail. It was a gorgeous hike through lush forest and dense vegetation. I was glad to be in the company of other women game enough to blindly hike 40 mins. into a rainforest on the slim hopes of finding a spot they had fished years ago and a river that might be fishable.

Later that evening, after a very long day of fishing, I joked with Sam that I wished there was a cast-o-meter—a gadget I could wear around my wrist that would track all my snap Ts and double speys. I was curious to know how many casts I had made that day. 500 perhaps? 600? Exactly how many casts are made by the average angler on a normal day pursuing the fish of a 1,000 casts?

I estimated 70–80 casts per fishing hour depending on 3 primary variables: efficiency (e) and skill of the caster, speed (s) of the water, and average distance (d) of the cast required to cover that water (minus time (t) spent admiring scenery or wildlife ;). After 3 days of swinging, I was definitely getting comfortable with my new Rio Skagit Max line and sink tips on my 13-ft, 8-weight NRX two-hander. It was quite a different experience from the Scandi lines and polyleaders I had fished in the past. I was also hitting the sack before 10 pm every night. I can't remember the last time I went to bed so early.

For the next 4 days, we were scheduled to fish with guides. Sam, Demetre, and Mary have been fishing with Jim Kerr of Rain Coast Guides for many years and spoke highly of him. In the past, he would take 3 of them out on his boat and they took turns nymphing, stopping occasionally to swing a fly. But with 4 of us, we needed an additional guide. I had told Sam before the trip that I really only wanted to swing. I hoped Jim had lined up some good guides with spey fishing experience for me and whoever my fishing partner would be.

I didn't think I'd get a chance to fish with Jim as he had been booked by the other ladies. But the evening before our first guided trip we get a text from Jim saying he's taking the swingers the following morning. So the next day, Demetre and I fished with Jim while Sam and Mary nymphed with Ryan, one of 4 different guides booked for the next 4 days.

Day 4: We met in the parking lot of Forks Outfitters at 6:30 am. Turned out all of us were floating the Upper Hoh as water levels had finally dropped enough for it to be fishable. Perhaps today would be the day…

Hyun Kounne, Jim Kerr, and Demetre Bove on the Upper Hoh river.
Demetre and I on the Upper Hoh with guide, Jim Kerr.
Demetre suggested nymphing between swing spots. I reluctantly agreed but warned Jim that my nymphing skills were extremely rusty (severe understatement). He gave a good, concise, 1-minute refresher on nymphing and off we went. I summarily whacked myself on the head with my yarn fly and heavy tungsten putty wrapped around my leader. Ouch! I quickly got the hang of it but I resented staring at that orange bobber while the beauty of the river passed by. (I guess I wouldn't have complained if 20 pounds of chrome found its way to the end of it ;).

Fortunately we only nymphed a few prime stretches of water. The rest of the time was spent swinging through some lovely runs. The first spot was a relatively new side channel formed by the last major flood. Jim mentioned that the Hoh had been unfishable for most of March due to the heavy rainfall they had received. Hence none of the guides had the usual intel on where fish might be holding. While the side channel looked very promising, I had 0 tugs.

In terms of scenery, the Hoh did not disappoint. It was one of the most beautiful floats I've experienced, especially the canyon—it's walls lined with towering old spruces and hemlocks. The temperature literally dropped 5+ degrees as Jim deftly maneuvered us around boulder gardens. A picture is worth... As luck would have it, I misplaced my camera that day :(.

There was one stretch marred by enormous man-made log jams which Jim explained had been constructed to protect the nearby highway. While they're an improvement over the completely ineffective rip rap revetments they replaced, I still wouldn't put my money on them. A powerful river like the Hoh, known for constantly altering her course, will not be stopped by log jams, even ones reinforced with steel sheet pilings and heavy metal chains.

In fact, everywhere you looked on the Upper Hoh there was evidence of the raw unstoppable force of nature—vast expanses of exposed rock and gravel beds where the river had flowed just a few years before; 200-ft tall trees teetering on the edge of sheer cut banks, roots daggling and exposed, waiting to be toppled by the next big storm.... 

As for the fishing, I had one good take that day but I screwed up the hook set. Later that afternoon, we met up with Mary and Sam on the river. They both had had fish on and they landed one along with a SDR (short distance release). Sam described how a huge steelhead had gone after her bobber, scaring the living daylights out of her! ;)

Day 5: Demetre and I fished the lower Hoh with Bret. The ladies had fished with him before. He was a gear fishing guide who had recently picked up spey fishing. That morning, while waiting in line for a coffee, a guy walked in and stood behind me. He turned out to be my guide. When I returned to the parking lot, Demetre asked if I had met Bret. I replied that I had. "Did you notice his jacket?" she asked. "No," I said. "I was looking at his face when I said hello". "How could you miss his jacket!" she replied astoundedly. It turns out Bret is (in)famous for wearing a very torn shabby jacket (1 sleeve is about to fall off) and driving a beat up red pickup with a boarded-up rear window.

Don't judge a guide by his jacket ;). Brett turned out to be a great guy, super smart, and a good guide. I asked him all kinds of questions about gear fishing for steelhead which I knew 0 about. He desperately wanted us to catch a steelhead. But after 8 hours swinging, as we neared the take-out, it didn't look good. Fortunately, in the 9th hour, Demetre hooks and lands 1, on 1 of Bret's flies, too. Yay! Bret looked relieved.

I ended up fishing with Jim for 2 more days, since he decided to take the swingers. Sam joined me those 2 days and was finally able to swing some flies. She had opted to nymph so she could fish with her sister, Mary. But like me, she'd rather swing than stare ;).

Jim Kerr fishes a run on the Lower Hoh river.
You can almost smell the ocean from here. Jim Kerr on the Lower Hoh.
Day 6: We fished the lower Hoh (the same stretch I fished with Brett the day before). It rained for most of the day—the kind of soaking rain that chills you to the bone. I was grateful when Jim heated up some soup for our lunch (along with a side of river stones—nature's hand and foot warmers ;). But neither Sam or I had a tug that day.

I must confess to feeling pretty discouraged by this point. I was exhausted, both physically and mentally, and the glass was looking pretty, damn near empty. At least Mary and Demetre had a great day nymphing with Caleb.

Jim, Mary, Caleb, and Demetre on the Lower Hoh.
Day 7: We met Jim at 6 am and headed for the lower Bogachiel. Our first stop was the Pine Tree. It was there, early on, that I hooked and played a super hot steelhead. It peeled line from my reel like a bonefish but with so much more power behind it. In less than a minute, I was more than halfway into my backing. I stood there somewhat dumbfounded watching my line vanish, thinking it's got to slow down soon, but it just kept taking more... I finally came to my senses and decided I'd better head downriver in pursuit. I shifted the angle of my rod as I turned towards the bank and suddenly, it was all over. God, I wish I had a do-over!

Well, at least I caught a flash of chrome roll on the surface (about 400 feet away) and felt the raw power of this magnificent creature, however briefly. I don't want to think about how amazing this fish would have been to behold... And that was pretty much it, for me. Later that afternoon, Sam caught a bull trout, which Jim said was unheard of on the Bogey.

If I return to this beautiful place, I will definitely fish with Jim again. He's exactly what you want in a guide—has deep knowledge of and respect for the rivers and fishery, an experienced angler, skilled oarsman, and terrific company with a keen sense of humor. But if you want him to just shut up and row the damn boat, he'll do that too ;). I'm not sure how comfortable he felt around me. He definitely swore and cussed a lot less with me than with the others. He gave me some good pointers on spey casting and swinging flies through a run and shared some interesting stories about the local area. I wish I could have landed one for him...

Day 8: For my last day, I planned to do some exploring and wade fish solo. The ladies had Jim for 2 more days but Sam didn't want me fishing by myself. So rather than fish with Demetre, Mary, and Jim, she joined me. We returned to the Pine Tree on foot. It was a good 2+ mile hike in. Jim had warned us about the maze of trails and the likelihood of getting lost. But with the help of my iPhone to reference the river's position, and Sam's tracking skills, we found our way to the spot we had fished with Jim the day before. We even beat the guide boats there. As we walked out onto the gravel bar, we saw a boat upstream, making its way towards us. Sam yells, "run!" I walked briskly to stake our claim but surely etiquette would have demanded they find another spot.

Sam lands some steel on the Bogey.
It wasn't long before Sam hooked and landed a  steelhead from roughly the same spot I had hooked mine the day before. I had a couple of tugs early, and later on I landed a small steelhead, about 16 inches long, which I learned is called a jack. We left by mid-afternoon, following the tracks of a Patagonia crampon shod angler who must have walked in behind us. We swung briefly between plunkers at the Bar further downstream. Smolts were rising everywhere in response to a strong March Brown hatch. But after inadvertantly hooking a few smolts, we called it a day.

And that was it. I was done.

I've never fished so hard in my life! 8 straight days swinging; 3 beautiful rivers; 5,000(?) casts; a few tugs; 1 amazing steelhead hooked; 0 landed (not counting smolts and a jack). Lord knows, I must be crazy! But that's steelhead math for you—it just doesn't add up ;). Many would say this is the norm for steelhead fishing. I guess I've just been very lucky in the past. If you rely on balance sheets and need your columns to add up, find a different sport! ;)

While number of days, rivers, and casts may be quantified, the experience of fishing these beautiful waters of the Olympic Peninsula can't be. Nothing can measure the wonder of hiking into a primordial rainforest—the overwhelming, almost suffocating lushness, the damp musty smell of wet fertile earth, being dwarfed by enormous trees adorned in moss and lichen from head to toe; Or the meditative tranquility of swinging a fly countless times through the milky waters of a mist covered river, ever hopeful of that sweet pull followed by an epic battle, the priceless reward for your crazy persistance and perseverance.

View of the Seattle skyline from the Bainbridge island ferry.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A New Vice

H: March 11, 2014: I finally took the plunge at the Somerset Fly Fishing Show this year—I picked up my first vice vise ;). For the past year, I've resisted the natural inclination to start tying my own flies, primarily because of all the STUFF you need to buy, organize, store, hoard...

You haven't been to my friend, Kat's, fly tying cave. Granted she's a professional salmon fly tier and a serious tying history buff (there's an upcoming article on her in Fly Tyer magazine). She ties in hand, makes her own dyes from lichen and barks, and has even considered cultivating silk worms so she can harvest and stretch their guts. The amount of tying materials she has accumulated puts most fly shops to shame! While I admire her singular passion, it's also a tiny bit scary (her husband, Rob, would agree with me ;).

Hence, my resistance to go over to the dark side of fly fishing—that bottomless black hole of feathers, furs, notions, and hooks.

Regal Revolution vise
My new vice: the Regal Revolution.
But one can resist for only so long...

At the show, I ended up getting a top-of-the-line, full rotary, Regal vise. Crazy, huh? Well, this flygirl doesn't mess around. I figured I'd never outgrow it and it would last me a lifetime, or two. Kat helped me select some hackle materials and get a few basic tools and supplies. A couple of shopping bags and several $$$ later, I was ready to knit some flies ;).

These past couple of months, I've tied with the Julianas (classic Catskills style March Brown dry, emerger, and comparadun) and my NYC Fly Meetup group (Caddis emergent sparkle pupa, deep sparkle pupa, and buzzball, a la Gary Lafontaine). I must admit, it's been a lot fun, very educational, and hopefully rewarding once Spring decides to finally get here (hurry up already!!!and I can put some of these flies to good use.

NYC Fly Meetup group Fly tying workshop
My new knitting circle ;). A great group of tiers from the NYC Fly Meetup. Photo courtesy of Brent Taylor

Next up, I'm going to try my hand at tying a few intruders for my upcoming steelhead trip. Yeap, this flygirl is headed West to the Olympic peninsula in 2 weeks time. I can't wait! Now, I just need to get some more STUFF...

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Come Rain or Shine

H: January 19, 2014: Unfortunately there was more rain than (sun)shine during our bonefishing trip to Abaco. Nonetheless, it was a wonderful trip including 2 great days of fishing.

It was a miracle we even got to Abaco that day given the snow storm and airport closures the day before. Everyone was delayed (me at JFK; Shannon, Doug, Linda, Kat, and Rob at Newark) but somehow we all made it! It was dark when I finally arrived on the island. Anne and Ken of Abaco Lodge were kind enough to meet me at the airport, help me get my bearings, and showed me the way to the house.

The following morning, I woke up to:
View of bonefish flats from deck of house, Abaco, the Bahamas
View of bonefish flats from the deck of our house. Abaco
Definitely worth the grueling 8 hours of travel from NYC the day before. Day 1: slept in; took a leisurely stroll along the beach; paid a visit to Abaco Lodge (which looked like a great place to stay and fish); then fished the flats in front of the house at low tide just before dusk.

Kat Rollin ready to hunt for bonefish on the Marls, Abaco, the Bahamas
Kat's first day bonefishing. The Marls, Abaco
The next day, I fished the Marls with Kat. The last time we fished together was on the Deschutes, our first time steelhead fishing. This was her first bonefishing trip but you never would have guessed it. Her many years of experience sight fishing for stripers off the East End of Long Island made this a cakewalk. It was a bright sunny day and she was spotting bones almost as well as our guide, David. By day's end, we both had caught our fill of bones. They were on the small side, in the 3–4 pound range, but still fun to catch. I'm glad I was there to watch her perform her first bonefish dance ;).

Some of you might be wondering how Hulk (my new 8-weight Sage TCX rod) performed? He did great but he really wasn't tested that day. Most casts were in the 30–40 ft. range. It was breezy (15-20 mph winds) but nothing out of the ordinary for a day on the flats. He definitely appreciated the 75 degree weather.

Abaco Lodge discourages needless (bone)fish porn, which I totally respect. David would handle our catch as minimally as possible when releasing them. Therefore, we did not take any pics with our fish. Instead, we both tried our hand at underwater photography. It was rather hit or miss at first but I did manage to get a few good shots, including the one below.

underwater photo of Abaco bonefish, Bahamas
One of many lovely (and happy ;) bones caught and released. Abaco
When we returned to the lodge, we were thrilled to hear that Doug, too, had caught his very first bonefish. Doug has been fly fishing for about an year now. This was his first time saltwater fly fishing and with a spanking new 8 weight (plastic still on the cork ;)! I can well imagine what he went through that day. I certainly will never forget my first day bonefishing. I was a wreck!

Hyun, Kat, Shannon, Doug at Abaco Lodge after first day bonefishing.
Sharing stories and Kaliks after our first day bonefishing on Abaco. Abaco Lodge

Dark and Stormy

...best describes the days that followed. It's also the name of Shannon's signature cocktail, one of many we drank during those stormy days and nights. Drinking and eating some great meals cooked by our personal 5-star chef (Kat :), would be the primary activities enjoyed during this trip. It would be hard to top the feast we had of stone crab claws and lobster tails, simply prepared and served with black truffle butter.... Well, maybe stalking and landing a gorgeous double-digit bone on a perfect cast ;).

I must confess, it felt strange not holding a fishing rod for the majority of my vacation. While Hulk brooded, neglected in a corner, I wondered: When did I become such a singleminded fly fisher girl? I used to be a well-rounded individual with all sorts of diverse interests and hobbies. Then I realized that ALL my vacations for the past 3 years have been centered around just one thing—fly fishing. So naturally, it made sense that I was out of sorts when I couldn't fish every day (or even every other day). Reminder to self: There is more to life than fly fishing ;).

But despite the rain and wind, Shannon, Doug, and I took kayaks out one morning, attempting to reach a nearby island (it was further than we thought!). In the afternoon, Kat and I tried paddleboarding for the first time which was great fun and somewhat challenging in the choppy waters. And despite dark ominous clouds and 30 mph gusts, Shannon and I fished the flats one late afternoon. Probably, the only way we could have spotted a bonefish in those conditions would have been if it swam right up to us and gave us the fin (or the tail). But we enjoyed our walk out on the flats, admired huge colorful starfish, all the while keeping a close eye on a nearby 5-foot + shark.

When it Rains... It Pours!

We originally planned for 3 days of fishing with the option to add more, but time was running out. We had just 2 days left and I was determined to fish if at all possible. Thursday's forecast did not look good. But I spoke with Ken and he said there was a chance for some clear weather in the morning, so Linda and I decided to take a gamble. We would fish with Abaco Lodge. Shannon and Doug were fishing different waters (southeastern part of the island) with a guide arranged through the owners of the house were staying at.

Ken told me we'd be fishing with Marty, the Crocodile Dundee of Abaco guides. From one of the oldest Bahamian families on the island, he hunts for wild boar (with just a knife ;), knows the Marls better than anyone, and is quite the character. Ken shared a few Dos and Don'ts with me: Don't get on Marty's boat without first asking permission; Don't drink the Coca Colas that are in the cooler specifically for him; Do EXACTLY as he says and you will have a great day fishing. I tried to keep an open mind...

Linda Hotchkiss ready to catch her first bone in Abaco, Bahamas
Linda, ready to catch her first bone. Abaco
Our second day fishing (Linda's first time bonefishing) did not get off to an auspicious start. Marty had engine problems so we had to take another boat and were late leaving the dock. We had perhaps an hour of somewhat clear skies and saw a few bones before the skies darkened and it started to drizzle.

Right before we left, Anne told us that Marty, being a true Bahamian, was rather superstitious of rain. Many believe if their heads get wet, they'll catch a cold. As the rain became more steady and black clouds closed in on us, Marty tells us we're leaving.

Bonefish guide Marty "Crocodile Dundee" on the Marls, Abaco, the Bahamas
Crocodile Marty on the Marls, Abaco
We donned our raingear and headed towards the Lodge. As we're speeding back, the skies opened and it poured. It rained so hard it felt like hail as it hit what little bits of us were exposed (foreheads, sliver of skin between sunglasses and buffs, fingertips, tops of our feet...)

Marty took us to a relatively dry spot not too far from the Lodge. There were no signs of any bones. Just one lone grey heron. As Marty prepares to move us to a different spot, Linda steps down from the bow and takes a spill on the slick, rain-soaked deck. She's bruised and shaken but otherwise seems okay. But there's no question now, we head back to the Lodge.

I did go back out briefly with Marty in the afternoon (Oops! I forgot to ask permission to come aboard his boat ;). He clearly thought it was a hopeless venture. And it's true, we didn't spot a single bone during the hour we were out. I would have been happy with just one. I'm afraid I can't comment on how good a guide "Crocodile Marty" is. I really didn't get a chance to fish with him. But I can say, he definitely does not like being out in the rain.

Doug Barone with his second bonefish, Abaco, Bahamas
Doug's second bonefish, a real beauty!
While our day was unfortunately a washout, when we returned to the house, we learned that Shannon and Doug had had a great day. The weather further south and to the east had held and they had wade fished and hooked into numerous bones. Doug landed his second bonefish, a real beauty!

Friday was our last full day on Abaco and our last day of fishing. It was just the girls today, the Julianas: Shannon and I (with David); Kat and Linda (with Marty). Weather-wise, it turned out to be a decent day. Lord knows it couldn't have been much worse than the day before. The Marls were glass calm that morning with barely a whisper of a breeze. We ran into some spooky bones early on along with an amazing school of baby hammerhead sharks, not much bigger than my forearm. The Marls are simply an incredible marine nursery!

Flygirl Hyun Kounne on the hunt for bonefish in Abaco, Bahamas
Hyun + Hulk on the hunt.
By mid afternoon, clouds rolled in, the wind picked up considerably, and Hulk was finally tested. Perhaps it was disappointment from the previous day or knowing this was our last day, but I was a bit wound up and missed a couple of very nice bones. I really can't complain. By day's end, we were spotting bonefish from 100 ft. out (even in hazy light), stalking tailers in super skinny water, and we caught our fair share of lovely bones. I don't think I've ever seen Shannon smile as much as she did that day, catching bone after bone. She wore a perpetual grin ;). And Linda caught her first bonefish that day, too!

Later that evening, we celebrated Kat's upcoming birthday with yet another feast. Anne and Ken joined us at the house. It was a great end to a wonderful trip... Come rain or come shine.

Shannon Brightman fighting and landing another Abaco bonefish
Shannon, smiling while she lands another Abaco bone.
underwater photo of Abaco bonefish
Another view from below. Abaco

Abaco bonefish in your face
A big thanks to:
  • Shannon and Doug for the invitation to share in their Abaco bonefishing adventure.
  • Jon Fisher of Urban Angler for putting me in touch with Oliver White of Abaco Lodge and Nervous Waters.
  • Ken and Anne, the super friendly and helpful managers of Abaco Lodge.
  • David, Trevor, and Marty, our guides.
  • Chef Kat and grillmaster Rob.
  • The whole gang (Linda, Kat, Rob, Shannon, and Doug), whose company cheered up this flygirl suffering from the bonefish blues on a couple of dark and stormy days.
So, where next???