Chad Shmukler's blog

Spending time here will make you a better husband. Chaperoning your wife to Target won't.

I very rarely, if ever, write about topics that aren’t specifically fishing related. It isn’t that I rarely care to. I often do. It is that I know I am mouthy and am likely to come off like an asshole. In this case, I’m entirely certain I’m going to come off like an asshole, but have decided the importance of writing about this topic outweighs whatever harm can come from me sounding like a prick.

This is a piece about relationships. Bad ones. I’ve reached the end of an unreasonably long rope, watching both friends and family, acquaintances and individuals I don’t know -- but have observed -- struggle with the fruits of the lousy, interminable relationship they’ve fixed themselves in.

Don’t misunderstand, I have friends and family members that are in strong, healthy relationships. These are relationships characterized by two partners that honestly love and support each other, a fact which is wholly evident to the other people they share their lives with.

Much of this is written from the male point of view, since that’s my lens on the situation. It is the perspective I have. I would no more presume to write about fishing from the fish's perspective than I would presume to write about relationships from a woman's perspective. As a result, much of this is about men who made the mistake of co-mingling their lives with a woman that doesn’t respect them, one who chronically and cavalierly puts their own petty needs before the important duty of loving and caring for their partner.

A beautiful Amago caught on a tenkara rod (photo: Tenkara USA).

As I noted last week in another post, I finally tried tenkara earlier this summer -- quite unexpectedly to fish for Alaskan salmon -- after years of interest. There's a satisfying simplicity and unparalleled portability to Tenkara, but perhaps its most notable feature is the removal of the cast as a possible focal point for the angler. With the cast out of the way, there's inherently a much more intent focus placed on the other, equally important, parts of the fly fishing equation such as fly selection, fly placement, angler behavior and approach, and so on.

Tenkara's roots are in Japan -- where Tenkara USA founder Daniel Galhardo first discovered tenkara in his travels there years ago -- has recently returned to Japan to reconnect with his tenkara teachers, share and innovate new rod designs, but most importantly to maintain Tenkara USA's connection to Japan. According to Daniel, maintaining that connection helps maintain a connection to the philosophy behind tenkara, which shows us how "to keep fly-fishing simple and how to maintain its effectiveness without relying so much on equipment."

The Gardiner River in Yellowstone National Park (photo: Tom Estilow).

Delivering the conservation message is one of the most important tasks for anyone that considers themselves a steward of our natural environments. Unfortunately, that message sometimes is delivered in a way that seems to be asking the reader to add another task to the already long list of responsibilities that life brings their way, without reminding us in a compelling way why conservation remains such an important charge in our rapidly changing world, but incredibly rewarding.

Day After Tomorrow

In yet another piece of beautiful writing, Hal Herring poses a rarely asked question: is teaching our children and others to have a passion and love of wild places a pointless task, as those places continue to be overtaken by the unstoppable growth of human population? In answering this question, Hal takes us through his childhood in backwoods Alabama, years on a pre-tourist boom Outer Banks of North Carolina and his last few decades making a life and raising children in the wilderness of Montana's Bitterroot Valley.

I count 19 (photo: Togiak National Wildlife Refuge).

In a recent post, oh-so cleverly titled Mousing Accomplished, I related how my pledge to catch a trout on a deer hair mouse pattern while on a brief summer tour of Alaska was saved at nearly the last opportunity by a stroke of good luck. The good news is, my experience was entirely atypical, thanks to a preposterous, never-before-seen Alaskan heat wave. Normally, luring voracious Alaskan rainbows to swung and skated deer hair mouse patterns is relatively easy and fantastically entertaining monkey business.

The picture above of the stomach contents of an unintentionally mortally wounded trout caught on the Kanektok River, shared by the staff of the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Alaska, should provide all the proof one would ever need to confidently tie on a mouse pattern when hunting Alaskan rainbow trout. To be fair, the unfortunate souls above are those of the common shrew, and not mice. This is, however, an altogether unimportant distinction. The point is that trout like rodents. A lot.

From left: Chris Hunt, Mark Heironymous, Kirk Deeter, Steve Duda, Hal Herring, Earl Harper, Chad Shmukler. (photo: Matt Smythe)

We don't often feature grip and grin shots here, mostly because they're not all that interesting. The image seen below, in my opinion, bucks that trend. Taken earlier this summer on a glacier-fed creek just north of Juneau, Alaska in the Tongass National Forest, it is a testament to the staggering biomass of the Tongass.

Seven Pink Salmon
Singles? Sure. Doubles? Sure. But what the hell do you call seven? (photo: Matt Smythe) Click to enlarge.

As I wrote in a post I made while on the road in southeast Alaska earlier this year, salmon overwhelm the rivers of the Tongass. When you consider that the moment captured in this image -- the result of seven anglers swinging streamers and all hooking and landing pink salmon fresh from the saltwater within moments of each other -- was neither the group's first nor last opportunity of the day to record such an occurrence, the hope is that it helps illustrate or qualify just how plentiful the bounty of these rivers is.

Sockeye salmon stage at the mouth of a tiny creek in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska.

As we all remain waiting, hopeful that the EPA will choose to exercise its well established power to veto large-scale open-pit mining in the Bristol Bay region, Alaskan representatives continue to spout nonsense in regards to the Pebble Mine project.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, who recently received some accolades for urging Pebble Partnership CEO John Shively to move forward with formally presenting a mining plan that can be scrutinized by the public and state and federal agencies, was quoted this week indicating that she has confidence that humans now have the technology to safely construct and maintain a mine such as Pebble. Murkowski stated, "there may have been a time when you could not build a dam, a tailings pond like Pebble is talking about, without it impacting the watershed.” She continued, “I happen to believe we’re pretty smart nowadays. Our technology has come a long way.”

Murkowski noted this after acknowledging multiple past failures in Alaska's attempts to safely develop and harness its natural resources, calling those projects "actions and development proposals that we’re not exactly proud of in our state." Murkowski elaborated, providing examples of these failures such as overharvesting of fish leading to nearly decimated fisheries and clear cutting in the Tongass National Forest.

Trout eats mouse.

I've only recently returned from an almost 3 week stint in Alaska, a trip which turned out quite differently than expected. This was due in part to inaccurate or ignorant assumptions on my behalf, but resulted mostly from a wholly unexpected, never before seen, record-breaking heat wave that set upon Alaska virtually the moment my plane touched ground in state. The result, during large stretches of the trip, was an out-of-the-ordinary sensory experience, a half duffel full of cold weather gear that never saw the light of day and a muted -- albeit still spectacular -- fishing experience.

One of the unexpected turns of the trip was in regards to my lustful anticipation of spending time in Alaska mousing. Before leaving for the trip, I wrote that I would "finally lay to rest my obsession with catching a big, fat rainbow on a skated mouse pattern", words which I very nearly ended up eating. And, truth be told, it would have most certainly been for lack of trying. Regardless of how long I've been doing this, and regardless of how many unreasonable expectations I've had dashed, I've yet to learn that there are no sure things in the world of fishing. This lesson likely applies to a world far beyond that of fishing, but assuming it does, I've yet to learn that too.

This chum aggressively chased and took a deer hair popper.

The first time you cast a pink streamer -- whether the ubiquitous "humpy hooker", a pink egg-sucking leech, or anything else that's pink -- and hook into an Alaskan pink salmon fresh from the salt, it's exhilarating. Somewhere between there and the hundredth one, you start looking for ways to liven up the game. One way to do so is to head to the top with surface poppers.

When most people think of popper flies, they think of stalking largemouth bass and other warm water species on still water lakes and ponds, not chasing wild Alaskan salmon. But as it turns out, on southeast Alaska's many tidal rivers and creeks, pods of staging or migrating salmon can provide prime opportunities for taking to the surface to entice salmon to your popping, waking or gurgling fly.

Chris Hunt holds an egg-eating chum salmon.

Though I can't say it comes as much of a surprise, my best laid plans of providing frequent updates from Juneau have fallen by the wayside. It's not that the connectivity has been an issue, but that there's simply been too much of the Tongass to breathe in.

Several days of uncharacteristic weather that brought balmy temperatures and bluebird skies have given way to more expected grey, cloudy days with sprinkling rains. We've seen the Tongass by foot, by boat and by air and each day's destination has brought new views of the staggering biomass of the rainforest.

With now 19 hours to go, this looks more organized than it is. Half those reels don't even have backing. And the list of 25 other TODO items isn't helping.

In about 20 hours, I'll be boarding a plane for Juneau, Alaska, the starting point for what I'm taking for granted will prove to be the trip of a lifetime. During this trip, I'll have the privilege of touring two regions which are inarguably two of the last great strongholds of wild salmon worldwide.

My trip begins in southeastern Alaska, where I'm lucky enough to be included in a ensemble tour of the Tongass National Forest -- also known as the American Salmon Forest -- that is comprised of representatives from Trout Unlimited, a diverse group of journalists and bloggers, professional photographers and more. We'll get a first hand look at the commercial and recreational fishing industries and the amazing ecosystem that sustains them.


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