Louisiana Gulf Memories

June 11, 2010

Though I can’t remember exactly where we were, I do remember the tremendous fishing.  I remember my dad and the early morning wakeup and  the long boat ride in the salty morning air.  I remember the hilarious and warm charter boat captain.  Some of the best fishing we had was directly off the oil rigs.  When we got there the workers would play music over the  loudspeaker system and we would pull up red snapper after red snapper.  I definitely remember the delicious eating in the weeks after we returned to Chicago.

In the ensuing fifteen years I’ve often thought about going back, and am disappointed that I never did.  The Gulf is devastated now.  While the direct responsibility lies in the hands of BP, their subcontractors, the MMS, and the rest of those that pushed for lax regulation of the oil industry, the truth is that we all own it.  Oil is involved in nearly every facet of our lives.  I’m not sure where our country and our world goes from here.  It is a finite resource and will at some point run out.  The fact that BP was drilling in water as deep as they were is indicative of the fact that we’ve already drilled and recovered the easy to access oil fields.  The time to start transitioning away from oil was thirty years ago. That didn’t happen, obviously.

The harder and more difficult the oil is to extract, the more likely events like the Deepwater Horizon spill are to happen. Perhaps as a society we’ve become willing to accept the destruction of the Gulf of Mexico as collateral damage resulting from our way of life.  The ridiculous slogan “drill, baby, drill!” makes me uncomfortable.  It makes me uncomfortable because I want to abhor those people, but I am forced to look at my own actions and realize how big a part of the problem I am.

Last Tuesday morning I drove an hour and a half up to Mt. Hood by myself to go skiing for a few hours and thought about what an excess that was.  And I thought about the thousands of miles I’ve driven and flown over the last ten years to go climbing.  And all the petroleum based products, from my synthetic clothing to my plastic helmet, that I use.

The truth is that I feel like a hypocrite.  I am disgusted by our dependence as a nation on oil, but am myself an addict.  I don’t WANT to stop.  I love climbing and skiing, traveling and getting out and more often than not oil is involved in some way.  But I can still smell the Gulf air and I remember the fishing and the wildlife, the beauty of the bayous, and am deeply saddened when I see pictures of the devastation.  Is it worth it?  Will we be able to escape our oil dependence before it’s too late?  I’m not entirely sure that we can, but I do know that in order to stay sane I’m going to have to do something to change my own relationship to oil.

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John Day Steelhead Fishing

December 9, 2008

In mid-November I had the opportunity to go on a guided steelhead trip on the John Day. The guide I went with had access to a large ranch with a bunch of rarely fished river access. He specializes in spey fishing. Spey rods are super long (13+ foot) fly rods that require both hands to cast. Good spey casters can cast a very long distance with much greater ease than one can with a traditional single handed rod. This day was my first with a spey rod and I was pretty amazed at how easy it was to get a lot of line out. We fished hard all day and I learned a ton about steelhead fly fishing. It was very rewarding to catch my first, a small five pound buck that had been in the ocean about a year.

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Salmon

November 22, 2008

Aside from the trip that we took to Alaska during summer of ’07, I had no experience with fishing for salmon on the fly. Alaska is an amazing place and to spend 15 days floating down a river, seeing at least two grizzlies a day, and just existing in the vast wildness that is Southwest Alaska was an experience unto itself.

The timing of the trip was meant to coincide with the King salmon run. Kings, also known as Chinook, are the largest and most powerful species of salmon. At any rate either we were too early, or the Chinook run was really light, there just weren’t many fish in the river. Combine the lack of fish with little experience or knowledge of how to fly fish for them, you can imagine the outcome. On our last day on the river, determined to land one, we walked upstream and spotted a group of Chinook holding in the middle of the river.

When salmon enter a river they are there for one purpose: to spawn. They swim upriver against the current, flinging themselves over rocks and rapids, guided only by a prehistoric sense that humans have yet to fully understand. When they arrive in the waters where they were born they spawn and then die. Their carcasses float downstream feeding scavengers and returning nutrients to the system. It is an awesome natural phenomenon to witness as it clearly demonstrates both the cyclical ways of the natural world and Darwin’s ideas on fitness all in a way that is usually not easily observable. In terms of feeling a connection to the environment, there is little that can compare to standing in a stream full of running salmon.

The salmon’s single-minded pursuit of procreation means that they have almost zero interest in food so fishing for them is difficult. Since they aren’t hungry you must appeal to their territorial nature, which pretty much means annoying the shit out of them until they take your offering in anger. Being able to see the fish in the river is an asset because it means you can do your best to put the fly in front of the fish’s face. That last day on the river I chose one fish and must have cast my big, ugly, purple fly to it fifty times before I saw it get angry, turn and take it. The fight was on and after a number of reel screeching runs, I landed my first salmon on the fly.

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This fall I spent a number of days on the rivers of Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington in pursuit of salmon. I was able to get out a bunch with my friend Kent, an experienced Northwest fly fisherman, who showed me the way. Some photos (although not very good ones due to a crappy camera):

5165814-r1-013-51 Kent and Chris fishing a hole full of Coho on the Gray’s River, Wa.

5165814-r1-017-7 It’s hard to see unless you look closely, but there are probably a hundred salmon in this picture.

salmon A beautiful Coho.