Chad Shmukler's blog

A beautiful leopard rainbow trout near Reel Wilderness Adventure's camp in Bristol Bay, Alaska.

Eight days remain in the EPA's open public comment period regarding the feasibility of mining in Bristol Bay, Alaska. To date, 523,320 have been received. While there is no question that over half a million comments represents a large number of individuals making their opinion heard on the issue, more voices are needed. The proponents of mining in Bristol Bay continue intense lobbying efforts to prevent the EPA from exercising its power to preemptively veto large-scale open pit mining in Bristol Bay.

Earlier this week, Pebble Limited Partnership CEO John Shively criticized the EPA, expressing doubts that the assessment process was being handled fairly. Shively was smugly critical of the conclusions in the EPA's latest draft of its assessment of risks associated with projects such as Pebble Mine, calling the EPA out for having drawn conclusions about the mining process without having a mining plan to review. Shively, however, failed to acknowledge that although the PLP has sunk almost $600 million dollars into researching and preparation for the Pebble Mine site, they have refused to publicly release a mining plan, despite numerous and repeated requests that they do so.

A closeup of the Redington Vapen clearly shows the new 'X-Wrap' blank construction.

A couple of weeks ago, Redington sent a 5 weight Vapen Red our way for field testing and we headed out last week to do just that. Although we've only spent a small amount of time with the rod, I thought I'd take the time to relate some initial thoughts on this provoking new offering from Redington. For more about the Vapen, and what makes it different, head here.

Redington Vapen Red
A closeup of the Redington Vapen clearly shows the new 'X-Wrap' blank construction.

Arriving on a new piece of water for the first time, I was hoping to put the Vapen through its paces. Once I arrived, seeing the small (20-30' wide in most places) stream with some of the most consistently dense forest canopy I'd ever seen, I immediately began to fear I had brought along the wrong tool for the job. So much for doing your homework.

And, for the most part, I had brought along the wrong rod for the day. After all, Vapen means "weapon". Redington had built the rod in my hands to fire line, not make delicate 15-20 foot presentations. After struggling to make a few short casts, unable to load the rod properly at such close range, I was about to head back to the car for another rod. I gave it a bit more time however, and given the opportunity, the Vapen started finding ways to shine.

Fat from gorging on tasty cicadas.

This year's emergence of the 17-year periodical cicada, or magicicada, has proven to be a highly localized affair. Travel along the road in some of the areas expected to see a cicada emergence this spring and you may see trees and shrubs blanketed by cicadas in various life stages. Cross a ridge line or a hillside and you may see none. Even in areas where cicadas have emerged, they may not make their way to the water, in order to delight unsuspecting trout and impatient fishermen.

During a busy spring that has presented precious few opportunities to spend time on the water, earlier this week we headed out in search of cicadas and eager trout. And luckily, we found both, thanks to a bit of persistence, research and helpful advice. The day that resulted was a memorable one filled with beautiful scenery and easy catching the likes of which are rarely, if ever, otherwise seen on eastern waters.

Cloud covered peaks in the Tongass National Forest.

In just a few weeks, I'll be boarding a plane headed for Juneau, Alaska where I'll be joining a group of other journalists, bloggers, photographers and conservationists on a tour of the Tongass National Forest, a trip that is being generously sponsored by Trout Unlimited, Fishpond, Tenkara USA and RIO. The Tongass, located in southeast Alaska, is the last remaining large tract of temperate rainforest, the only remaining ecosystem of its kind. It is commonly referred to as the "Salmon Forest", a place where -- quite literally -- trees grow salmon and salmon grow trees.

As noted in the article we published a few weeks ago, Protecting the Tongass: Lessons Already Learned, the Tongass National Forest is facing a myriad of challenges that are wholly familiar to the temperate rainforests of the lower 48 and Canada. Over the last century, these forests in the lower 48 and Canada have seen themselves divided and destroyed by logging, their salmon populations severely diminished by over-harvesting and habitat destruction that is the direct result of human development such as hydroelectric dam construction.

Guide Owen Plair with a first day Ponoi River Atlantic Salmon

If you're not already familiar with Western Russia's Ponoi River (also spelled Ponoy), you should be. The Ponoi is the antithesis of virtually every other Atlantic Salmon river you've heard of. The Ponoi doesn't produce tales of fly fishing for Atlantic Salmon that you're used to, with fishermen in Eastern Canada or the British Isles heading off to the river for a week, casting a billion times, and landing a single fish or counting the success of the trip in tugs. Days on the Ponoi are often measured in dozens of fish caught.

The Ponoi is a pristine river, free of commercial fishing or significant human influence, which flows through the Kola peninsula, eventually dumping into the White Sea almost 800 miles north of Moscow. Getting there isn't easy, and it isn't cheap, but it provides most that visit it a sure-fire bet at the fishing trip of a lifetime.

One of the vast number of streams and rivers that flows through the Tongass National Forest (photo: Mark Brennan).

The Tongass of Southeast Alaska is the largest national forest in the United States and the world’s largest remaining tract of temperate rainforest. Comprised of a dizzying 18,000 miles of streams and rivers which annually produce tens of millions of salmon, it has been described as “a place where trees grow salmon and salmon grow trees”, a depiction which finds its roots more in science than in prose.

The temperate rainforest of the Tongass National Forest is the last of its kind. Similar habitat in the lower 48 and British Columbia has been divided or destroyed, the result of more than a century of logging and other human development. In contrast, the Tongass remains vibrant, playing a vital role both economically and ecologically.

2011 saw record salmon harvests in Southeast Alaska, 80% of which is covered by the forests of the Tongass. 73.5 million salmon were harvested, representing one third of salmon harvested from the entire Pacific Rim. A 2007 study determined the economic value of the Tongass commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries and related activities to be almost $1 billion dollars annually. In addition to its economic importance, the Tongass is also the lynchpin of native Southeastern Alaskan cultures.

Right?

There's a quote that suggests something to the effect of "your own advice is the hardest pill to swallow," a quote which I've realized holds some significant merit. Very recently, I published an article entitled Brookies for Beginners, in which I suggested that beginner fly fishermen, those that are faced with the frustrations and defeats presented by the challenges confronting the novice angler, head for the less demanding and often rewarding waters of mountain brook trout streams. So one might expect, during the early parts of a season in which my time to hit the water has been limited and what time I have had has brought frustrations of its own due to my repeated choice to snobbishly seek wild trout on technical waters, that I might have heeded the advice I felt comfortable to give to others.


Right?

Instead, given the opportunity for an afternoon on the water, I chose to visit for the first time one of my home state's most notoriously difficult and demanding waters. Falling Springs Branch Creek is one of the most storied streams on the east coast. Less than 10 feet across in spots, Falling Springs is a tiny, weed choked, classic limestone spring creek like its nearby neighbors Letort Spring Creek and Big Spring Creek. Polluted with food for fish, abundant cover and clean, cold water, Falling Springs grows large, spectacular, wild trout. These fish are educated and reside in a stream where aquatic vegetation strives to destroy every drift you attempt and where glass still waters render water droplets that sprinkle to the surface from your false cast a potential trout spooker. This is not easy fishing.

Even if you've got nimble salad fingers like I do, picking midges, small nymphs and tiny dries out of slit foam fly boxes or the like is an exercise in mounting frustration. Putting them back is worse and you know you're not taking the time, when streamside, to do it gracefully. A messy, disorganized fly box is the result. And, if you're like me, you live with that mess for most of the season instead of tidying it up when you get home.

Over the last couple of years, I've moved away from larger fly boxes and towards smaller boxes in an effort to increase my on-the-stream minimalism as well as the potential for horrific fly box messes. I almost always carry my camera and lenses, in my beloved Patagonia Stormfront Backpack, when I'm on the water. This means a no go for most vests and packs (although some hip packs will work). That said, I'm working only with wader pockets and -- when warm weather hits -- only with shirt pockets. Cutting down on big bulky items is a must. Enter small fly boxes.

In truth, the video that follows isn't about how fly lines are made, it's about how Airflo fly lines are made. If you don't think there's a distinction there, think again. As you'll learn in the video, produced by Todd Moen of Catch Magazine and Todd Moen Creative, Airflo makes fly lines differently than any other company. Starting with the material all their fly lines are coated with, polyurethane (all other fly line manufacturers use PVC), Airflo has an entirely unique process that allows their lines to stand out from the competition.

I've been a big supporter of Airflo fly lines for some time. As I've noted in line reviews such as that of Airflo's Ridge Bonefish / Redfish line, Airflo lines always seem to exceed my performance expectations.

So, if you've ever wondered what goes into creating what Airflo calls the most important and technical member of your troop of fly fishing gear, be sure to check out the video below, entitled "The Airflo Story". It's a well made look at the process from design to shipment and, more importantly, at the folks behind all of it. There are some casting shots that will make you want to get out on the river, pond or field and practice. Don't feel bad though, as Tim Rajeff notes in the video, these people fly fish for a living. Chances are, you don't.

The ranks of the catch and release fisherman, whether fly or otherwise, are growing. Even if you're not a no-kill fisherman, it stands to reason that if the fish you're targeting isn't intended for your dinner plate, it is wise to take care to insure that fish is released safely. Not just released, mind you, but released in a manner that takes all reasonable measures to insure that -- once released -- that fish will survive and live on to be caught another day and hopefully spawn. The fact of the matter is that simply releasing a fish does little to insure it's survival if that fish isn't played and handled correctly.

Following are 10 tips for insuring that your catch makes it back into the water for another angler to pursue. While these guidelines are written from the perspective of the trout and salmon fisherman, virtually all of these guidelines apply to other species as well.

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