Wednesday, June 30, 2010


SalmonsKin from Thomas B. Dunklin on Vimeo.

This piece is a collaborative effort between Joanna Mariana Reichhold and Thomas Bang Dunklin, combining poetry and incredible underwater salmon visuals. A groove track from Aubergine 3 sets the tone. This eleven minute clip was created for the 2009 gathering of the Fisher Poets, in Astoria, Oregon. It features all five species of wild salmon found in the Pacific Northwest, plus steelhead. Geographically, this film spans the entire length of the temperate rainforest, from Kodiak, Alaska to the middle fork of the Eel River.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Drifting for years

Sean McCormick has invited me to float Maine’s Kennebec River with him for the last four years and we just made it a consecutive half decade this past Sunday. This trip has become one of those anticipated events that quietly emerges as a fixed point in one's life. This year I invited old friend and ski industry veteran Tom Maneggia to join me for the drift. The plan was to fish the 8 and 1/2 mile Bingham stretch which would be a variation on the established groove. We have concentrated on the Solon section in all our previous drifts. One distinction between the two float choices is that Solon offers the possibility of battling fiesty browns while Bingham is well known for its wild, never-stop-pulling rainbows. The similarities are that an angler has the potential to also catch a smorgasbord of other river species including brook trout, splake, landlocked salmon, smallmouth, suckers and chubs. I've heard whitefish are even a remote possibility but catching the whole array in one trip would probably be impossible, like finding a pot of gold.

Tom and I were both pleased to be throwing 4 and 5 weight floating lines as opposed to chucking our typical 3oo grain cable on saltwater sticks but we didn't verbalize it to each other until the following day. Surface activity was light but consistent and we caught fish with regularity as we meandered our way down river. Three way conversations drifted from topic to topic and would be punctuated only by something needing to be netted. Over time our focus became lunch. We anchored the drift boat along an exposed gravel bar separating two river channels and as we ate a ceremonial meal things began to change. We noticed that the bar was disappearing and the Coleman stove was sitting in water where it once sat on the dry stones. The river flow is dam controlled and it was coming up which wasn't expected until much later according to the authorities' published forecast. Given the situation we readied our watercraft and began the next phase of our journey. The water continued to rise and the definition of surface activity changed from seeing rising fish to looking out for floating debris. The water column was now filled with all the flotsam and jetsam that was once on dry ground.

There is a significant difference between fishing and catching and we were now immersed in the first one of those activities. Our confidence level for catching began to erode as we drifted along but our hope was maintained by the thought that the higher water would actually improve our chances on the dead water section at our journey's end. Visions of something resembling a lake with dimples left by big cruisers occupied our minds eye while we made unsuccessful casts in what would have been productive pools before the increased flow. Conversation was now intermittent and there were long pauses of silence as we drifted toward the last section. Bugs danced on the water as if they knew that the fish were off duty.

We hadn't caught a fish in hours and we saw no rises on the final expanse of river. Our hopeful theory was now in question. It looked like time to throw in the towel. We sat silent with eyes searching for any sign of a rise. Darkness was beginning to dominate the landscape and Venus was visible in the sky. I recall watching a bald eagle cruise the tree line just before a subtle shift began to happen. Off in the upstream distance we saw a lone rising fish which stirred our dwindling motivation. Within a few minutes there were three or four more risers on a waterscape that was as big as three football fields. Instead of packing it in we decided to chase after a few of these cruisers even though our chances of catching a bat were much better than catching one of these skittish fish. Sean delivered and put both Tom and I on 11th hour opportunities before the last trace of light was gone. Tom hooked a nice salmon and played it to the boat before it vanished in the black water avoiding the net. I connected with muscular brookie (photo below) that made it to hand. It was too dark to really get a good look at him especially after the camera flash went off, but with the shot taken, we slipped him back into darkness.

Sean rowed us toward the lights of the dam and pointed out the line of stone deadmen from logging days gone by. At the take out we readied the drift boat and gear for travel and headed for home at the day's last hour. The next morning I remember thinking that it was the kind of trip which tests patience, skill and endurance. It wasn't the kind of trip where you knocked it out of the park, yet I felt as if we did, maybe even more so. At any rate, I figured this post needed a few more words than usual. Thanks for reading.

Photos by Steve Stracqualursi

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Peter Gander Fish Collection

English artist Peter Gander has been producing a variety of fish inspired pieces over the last month and it gave me the idea to bring you an exhibition of this particular collection here at Way Upstream. The title and media are detailed under each of the 7 pieces on exhibit. Links are contained for all the work, including a short story that goes with "Onto a Big One". Visit Peter Gander Fine Art to see a wider scope of his work or for art inquiries.

Onto a Big One (Illustration for a short story)
Black Biro and white Conté pencil on brown envelope

Fish 100501

The ripple watchers (Final print version)

Brown trout 100505

Blue fish 100513

Fish-shaped shoal
White ink on sketch pad paper

Fish 100428

Peter Gander Fish Collection 2010 Way Upstream Gallery

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Perpetual learning process

The Bay of Fundy lies in a rift valley called the Fundy Basin which is located along the Atlantic Canadian coast tucked in between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The Inner Bay of Fundy is most famous for the almost overnight extinction of Atlantic salmon. Some of Atlantic Canada’s most prolific salmon runs used to visit the IBOF rivers, now they are virtually all extinct with nothing but a remnant population. Runs in excess of 40,000 salmon dwindled to a couple hundred in a few short years during the late 1980’s. The exact cause is unknown – but the likely candidates are an over-abundance of aquaculture, dams and development. The Inner Bay became known as the black-hole, with The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans being under-funded and under-staffed to do their job properly and assess the real cause of the problem. There is an IBOF Recovery Strategy in place now, but it’s difficult to say what its effect will be. Meanwhile, local anglers have taken up interest in another species - Striped Bass. Way Upstream community member Mike Bardsley sent me some images and information about chasing "linesiders" in this historic Atlantic salmon region. Here's what Mike shared about stripers:

I’ve only been chasing the spring stripers for the last two seasons – and as I’m sure you know, it’s a perpetual learning process. The rivers that I typically fish are the Shubenacadie River and the Stewiacke River. They are deep in the Inner Bay of Fundy, both stemming from the same inlet about 45 minutes outside of Halifax. There are many other options though, between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The St. John River in New Brunswick is famous for big stripers, and in Nova Scotia there are other options like the Gaspereau River, the Annapolis and others. Basically, any big watersheds that stem from the Inner Bay of Fundy (IBOF) generally offer the chance to catch stripers. Interestingly, though I’ve never tried the fishing up there, Cape Breton also gives up lots of opportunity for stripers, with the Nova Scotia record being broken twice last year! The Bras D’Or lakes in the Cape Breton are very large saltwater lakes and good catches of bass come from that area. You can see the picture of the record fish, plus get a bit more info here: Canada Striped Bass Fishing

The striper run varies year to year, and size classes of the fish are cyclical, but generally the run comes in mid-May and will stay in some rivers right through October, though they are concentrated in schools and easiest to catch from mid-May to mid-June. They come in the rivers mainly to feed – their favorite eats are assumed to be eels and baitfish. In some rivers, the fish come in to spawn which can be an amazing site. Picture an 8’ x 8’ area of water on the surface that is boiling and frothing with big stripers in their mating ritual. For the most part, you see a lot people with heavy spinning gear fishing for the stripers with an assortment of soft baits, rapalas, jigs, etc. Live bait has been restricted over the last couple of years, so you don’t see quite as many “bait & wait anglers” – though they do still exist. There is a small but growing contingent of fly fishers who are chasing this anadramous species – you have to be willing to hunt the schools of bass, often walking several kilometers looking for signs of schools of fish. Fishing from boats is a good option as well, but good boat launches are hard to come by and the boat would need to draw a minimal amount of water (think small aluminum, jon boat or a skiff).

The runs of stripers seem to be in pretty good shape right now. The main concern though is the abundance of the older age class fish. It is becoming more and more of a concern that the majority of fish being seen and caught are older bigger fish. Which seems pretty good, but considering the only fish that are allowed to be kept are those over 26.8 inches. Fortunately though, the bag limit in most places is now one fish, with many places being catch & release only. Also, the elimination of live bait should help prevent some fish from being mortally wounded. I’ve been out half a dozen times this year and run the full gamut of conditions. From spotty fishing with hundreds if not thousands of bass spawning all the way up and down the river, to crazy awesome fishing with big fish being hooked every couple of minutes – triple and double headers were common, to nights like last night where five of us, all good fly fishers, hunted up and down the river for the fish and only managed to land one.

Photos and contribution courtesy of Mike Bardsley