Puget Sound Kings: 2018 Season

We wrapped up our local king season a couple weeks back, but we’ve had our hands full with Skyla’s high-school volleyball tryouts and practices, a huge family reunion, book events, and all the usual summer fun. So just finding the time to post now. In short, it was a surprisingly decent season, with good numbers of fish around, at least in the places and times we fished. The majority of fish we boated, saw and heard about, though, were exceptionally small this year–perhaps a result of an ocean still recovering from The Blob hot water event. They did, however, provide some fantastic eating for us. King chunks and belly strips, pre-smoke drying phase, below.

My standard late-night, just-out-of-the-smoker shot. Gotta vac-seal and freeze as much as possible for kids’ favorite school lunch!

And king caviar as part of a “deconstructed” ikura sushi bowl, below, with a mix of white, brown and wild rice and toasted, crumbled nori on top. Once again, much as I love smoked king, the eggs are my favorite part of the fish. At the rate the kids are plowing through our cured eggs, I think they agree.

Awesome Book Event

Attention fellow Bainbridgers, Seattleites and Puget Sounders: My good friend, the novelist John Larison, is reading from his new book, Whiskey When We’re Dry, at Elliott Bay Books this Thursday, 7:00pm. This is a rare chance to meet and hear a writer on the brink of superstardom with a book that’s destined for The Big Time. As in big time publisher, big time movie rights already sold, big time–and well deserved–accolades pouring in from the critics.

I was lucky enough to read an early draft of Whiskey When We’re Dry, and I can tell you the story of a teenage girl gunfighter leaps off the pages. One reviewer called it incandescent, and I think that’s about as good a description as I could come up with. But I will try a few more specifics: It’s a literary Western with the luminous, lyrical prose of Cormac McCarthy but without the apocalyptic undertones; a voice as real and singular as Charles Portis’ Mattie in True Grit; the gripping, epic storytelling of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. All in one book that’s as true to it’s 19th Century setting as it is relevant to our current world.

As a writer, I’m swallowing my jealousy of Larison’s talent to be there tomorrow night. As a reader, I’m stoked to hear the words from the man who put them together so beautifully. And as friend, well, I’m just looking forward to a bit of hang time with a good buddy. Meet you there!

Wild Fish Montana

In the late 1960s, Montana experienced declining trout populations across the most popular rivers in the state. A young biologist named Dick Vincent was tasked with finding the cause. In his studies, he found that the population declines were most precipitous wherever the state was planting hatchery trout to supplement the fishing. It turned out that adding more fish was actually resulting in less fish to catch. It was so counter-intuitive that many people couldn’t believe his findings and he waged a lonely battle to stop the hatchery planting. In 1974, the state of Montana finally listened to Dick Vincent and the science, and canceled trout hatchery plantings in rivers statewide. The effects were immediate, profound, and fortunately for us, long lasting. Within four years, trout populations were up 800%, and trout biomass increased 1000%.

Today, Montana is the crown jewel of American trout fishing, and the beneficiary of tens of millions of dollars in annual fishing tourism. As participants in that wild-fish-tourism economy, the kids and I are thankful for the decision the state made back in 1974, and thoroughly enjoy the results. As these pictures from our visit last week demonstrate, the cold-water fish of Montana are healthy, gorgeous, and thriving. Not to mention valuable.

At the very top, a 25-inch native Yellowstone Cutthroat from a small, winding, high-elevation creek. Second from the top, one of the more than 5,000 incredibly strong trout per mile from the Madison. And just above, a gorgeous little brookie from a boulder-strewn tributary.

Another of many feisty, bright rainbows we found. The health and vibrancy of these fish is spectacular.

Watching these native grayling track and attack dry flies in clear water and bright mid-day sun is something we’ll remember forever.

Same goes for the jewel-toned native cutthroats that seem to fill all of the smaller creeks we explored. We also landed good numbers of buttery-yellow, heavily spotted brown trout and native whitefish, too, but didn’t snap any shots. So we’ll wrap it up with yet another luminous Madison River rainbow. Here’s to wild fish!

Montana Dreams

It’s not easy to leave Puget Sound in summer, especially during king salmon season, but Montana–and our friends Craig, Jackie, Finn, Dozer, Gizmo and Bee The Cat–were calling. So the kids and I traded industrial-strength downriggers and gear rods for five-weights and waders, and headed east for what turned out to be one of the best trips of our lives so far. After a couple days on the road, we had a welcome home-cooked feast of thick, juicy elk burgers at Craig and Jackie’s, then headed to the river. That’s the kids and Craig soaking up that gorgeous Montana light, waiting for the post-dinner hatch to come on.

With Craig’s expert tutelage, Skyla struck first with a gorgeous, bright rainbow that jumped five times and nearly ran out of the pool. Weston hooked a big fish at dark that did run out of the pool and under a logjam, jumping all the way. It finally broke off, and Weston, probably for the first time, felt that gut punch of a good fish getting away.

In the days that followed, we wet-waded meadow streams, hiked up boulder-filled canyons, and fished the Madison in the evenings, finding healthy, fat, drag-pulling, wild fish everywhere we went. That’s Skyla, below, with one of eight selectively feeding rainbows the kids landed one night on pink lady spinners. (Photo by Craig Mathews)

And the incredible meals from Craig and Jackie’s kitchen! I think the antelope steaks took top prize, although the ruffed-grouse-jalapeno sandwiches were right there, too, as were the elk burgers. We actually looked forward to dinners–the food, the friends, the dogs and cat–as much as the fishing. Huge thank you to Craig and Jackie for making our visit so special, and for all their conservation work that’s kept this part of the world the incredible place that it is.

One day we left the rods behind and drove through Yellowstone as pure tourists. Skyla chose the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Yellowstone Falls as something she wanted to see. They did not disappoint, although the hike back up to the car nearly killed me. About 3/4 of the way back up the trail, huffing, puffing and sweating, I had to take an old-guy break while the kids sprinted, yes, sprinted, past me to the top. Humbling. My cell-phone pix don’t do it justice–if you’re ever in The Park, go check out the canyon and falls. Breathtaking…in more ways than one.

Both kids fished well, even going to some single-handed Spey casting along brushy banks. Their dad about burst with pride. Watching neon-colored grayling rise up through five feet of air-clear water to eat a dry fly was a highlight.

As were chrome rainbows taking soft-hackle flies (sent to us by our friend Yvon specifically for this place) in a 30-knot headwind down in Idaho.

And yes, Weston found redemption for the big one he lost the first night.

That’s him putting the wood to something big, above, with paparazzi in tow. (Photo by Craig Mathews) And finally, after an epic battle, lifting Troutzilla for a quick picture. When he released it, he stood there with a funny look on his face. “Dad,” he said, “there’s something wrong with my hands.” He extended them for me to see–they were shaking from adrenaline. Welcome to Montana, Buddy!