Friday, March 28, 2014

A Steelheaders Passage

Words By: Asher Koles of Bloodknots Fly Fishing Photos by:Asher Koles and Bryan Roller

The water we fish is a part of us. We are protective, secretive, but  willing to open the lines of communication with people from all sides of the spectrum without spoiling the sense of discovery one receives as a steelheader . It’s not because we don’t want other anglers and guides to catch fish. It has much more to do with the process, experience and body of knowledge we have built through grinding out days in high water, low water, and prim-o conditions. Through hooking fish, farming fish, falling apart mid-run, scouting water, loosing flies, having banner days and heart crushing dry spells. Revealing the conclusions from those experiences would spoil one's passage as a steelheadders. We don’t want to diminish the discovery but be willing to guide anglers to the steelhead passage and educate on respecting the resources .

Mia and Marty’s devotion to the steelhead is apparent upon first meeting them. Their fervor for swinging flies, guiding, and protecting these fish has inserted itself into every aspect of their lives. Their daily routine is dictated by the ebb and flow of their home waters. They play an integral role in the community of fisher people, guides, industry folks and conservationists in their region that are all connected to these fish. Their livelihood is based on the health and sustainability of the river systems and the return of wild steelhead. It was very apparent that they would give up that part of their lives to ensure the health and longevity of wild steelhead.

Our foray into this community was intimidating at first. Our experience with people that swing flies, was that they were generally vague, covert, elusive and purposely baffling about their practices. Bring a camera into the room and things get quiet quick. We are as guilty of this behavior to anyone outside our circles as much as the next guy. From our first introduction to Mia, Marty, Brian and their friends we got the feeling that this tight knit culture was in turmoil. Not only the steelhead, but the anglers and organizations that are involved in one way or another were at odds concerning the best way to manage the future of the fish, river-ways, and economic opportunities that beckon. 

What keeps coming to mind in all of these different aspects of protecting and managing steelhead is the simplicity of the fish. The fish has few goals: be at the top of the food chain, and pass on the best genes to the next generation to ensure biological succession. The goals of anglers and interest groups are convoluted and anthropocentric at their core. We want to catch fish. Some of us want to catch and release wild fish, some want to harvest fish. We want to do it a certain way. We think some ways are better than others. What we all have in common is the connection to the fish and the rivers.

When explaining the passion we have for steelhead, we are commonly asked, “Well if you care so much about this fish, why do you potentially threaten their well being by catching them?”. Before spending time around the Sheppards and their friends, that was a hard question to answer. The anglers are the reason these fish have any protection. Without the stewardship of the angling community, the fisheries and natural resources that are connected would continue to be mismanaged by politicians and government entities that have no tactile interactions with the ecosystems. We are the voice of the fish. It’s a double edged sword in many ways because of the multitude of the connections people have to these fish, but at the end of the day we as anglers, guides, scientists, politicians and conservationists must come to common ground on deciding the future of wild steelhead. The fish will keep running, spawning, doing their part. Let’s ensure that they are in a position to do so for both species sake.

Project Background:
Bloodknots is in the process of crafting a documentary on the connections the steelhead angling community, scientists and conservationists have to these fish. What drives both these species (human, salmonid) to go to such lengths to make the connection (swung flies and drive to the home waters)? Investigating what the primary threats are to the fish, what is making their journey harder than ever, and what are the passionate anglers, conservationists and scientists doing to restore sustainable conditions and populations?

Stay tuned on the film’s progress on our website, and our blog,